by T. Austin-Sparks
By way of coming to some few, inclusive, comprehensive implications in this letter of the Lord's message through it for the age, I want to look closely at some of the statements, some of the phrases, which represent the very essence of this message. We shall not read the complete sentences, but just take the fragments and put the fragments together which do represent the essential message. You will see that the method that we are employing is intended to indicate, to point to something, and I want you to get hold of that indicative factor.
"He chose us... that we should be..." (Eph. 1:4).
That is enough for our purpose. The other parts of the whole statement are, of course, essential, but this will serve our purpose for a moment.
"Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself... to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:5).
He chose us that we should be ... He foreordained us unto something. He chose us for something; He foreordained us to something, and the issue: that we should be to the praise of the glory of His grace.
"We were made a heritage... to the end that we should be to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:11,12).
Something has been done by God in eternity past which is the object of God in the present age and in the ages of the ages as the result. The great eternal past in the counsels of God and the great eternal future in the realisations of those counsels, both the past eternity with the counsels, and the future eternity with their realisation, is focused upon this present age, and these remarkable words - that... that... that... - it is light upon us, they relate to us, they bring us in. He chose us that... He foreordained us that... He made us a heritage to the end that....
"Ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest..." (Eph. 1:13,14) - something done with something else in view, still keeping to the same realm: Divine acts with an end in view.
"That ye may know what is the hope of His calling, what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:18). God has something before Him - the hope of His calling, the riches of His inheritance in the saints.
"That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). God's prospect - that the exceeding riches of His grace may be shown in the ages to come. It is something settled in His intention.
"Fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:6). Heirs! That has something in view: an inheritance. Fellow-heirs; fellow-members. That has co-operation in view. Fellow-partakers, partners, of the promise in Christ Jesus. The apostle in Hebrews 3:1 puts it this way, "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling...". Well, that is just what is here.
"To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenlies 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" (Eph. 3:10,11).
"...To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:19).
Take all those 'thats' and see what is gathered to them and around them, and take account of the immense thing that God has before Him concerning the church which is Christ's Body, which is the object of His supreme concern in this dispensation in which we live.
There is one word which will help you tremendously if you look at it in its constant repetition. It is that word 'according', in accordance with.
According as He chose us in Him (1:4).
According to the good pleasure of His will (1:5).
According to the riches of His grace (1:7).
According to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will (1:11).
According to the working of His mighty power (3:20), all in accordance with something that God has intended and projected and is energizing.
The Need for an Adequate Apprehension of the Greatness of the Calling
All this is focussed upon us now. This lies behind that grace of God which finds us in His presence now. This is why God has brought us into His grace and salvation. This is that which is actuating God in all His dealings with us. It is a tremendous thing that we have been brought into.
What I feel so much in my heart so strongly at this time is that the great need of the Lord's people is of an adequate sense of vocation, of calling. Our Christian lives are not nearly serious enough in the sense of purpose, either as to our own calling in Christ or as to our relationship to others that they might know, that they might enter in.
That is just what lies behind this letter in the case of the apostle himself. On the one hand, the letter is a great, heart-bursting, heart-throbbing agony that the people should know. "I cease not to make mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of your heart being enlightened, that ye may know...".
Then he goes on later to show that it must not stop there, but that those who have come to know shall fulfil a ministry of making others know. In various ways, he makes it quite clear to them that their knowing is to be turned to account that others should know; "for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministry". And then the praying to which he refers at the end of the letter is for all saints and for this ministry that others may know, and it all means that the Lord's people should have a mighty sense of the greatness of their calling. If you go to some school or college where great careers and exalted positions are being prepared for, where high office and solemn responsibility is in view, where the influencing, perhaps of nations, is the prospect of some of those under tuition, then you find a serious atmosphere pervading, you find that things are taken quite seriously there and everything is held very firmly and solemnly in the light of the great vocation which lies ahead of those pupils.
The Power of God Bound up with the Calling
There is nothing on earth to compare with this. You and I are in the spiritual seminary of the Holy Spirit for responsibilities throughout the ages of the ages which no mortal has ever been able to contemplate. That is not mere language. Why, any approach to this letter from any angle will prove that to be so. Why, if God is infinitely mighty, should it call forth the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward, if there is not some immense thing in view? And that is what it says.
"The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His own right hand... far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come; and He put all things in subjection under His feet".
The power of God which has gone that far, which has ranged that universe, is to us-ward who believe. What for? Why is that necessary? It is not just to save us from our sins and get us to heaven; not just to make respectable Christians of us. Oh no, it is this vocation of which the apostle speaks: "Walk worthily of the vocation wherewith ye are called". You are called with a vocation in view, and all that exceeding greatness of God's power is bound up with the vocation of the church now and in coming ages.
You can look again and again at this letter and see those tremendous things that are brought in from God's side, such as - "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us...".
Is Paul only exhausting his vocabulary for effect? Surely not! Exceeding abundantly above! Why all that? To us-ward because of the calling wherewith we are called. Yes, it is a greater sense of heavenly vocation which we need. Until we have it, our lives will be poor things, weak things, defeated things, and we shall not be answering to God's thought. What does your life represent in the light of that? How much real spiritual dignity is there about your spiritual life - the Divine dignity of those who are called with a great calling? How much downright reality, as of those who have a tremendous thing on hand and in view? How much earnest outpouring of heart unto God for His people that they might not miss it, that they might know it? How much of this real intercession which is found in this letter? Are we playing at things? After all, in the light of this, are we playing at Christianity? Are we wasting our lives? For how much do we count in that realm of God's great purpose?
I feel what the Lord desires to do now is not to give us a great deal more light, but to seek to bring home to us the significance and implication of what He has given, and if He can bring us more abreast in our lives of what we know in our heads.
Let me repeat that if this letter represents one thing more than another, it does represent the need of the church for having an adequate apprehension of the greatness and significance of its existence from heaven's standpoint, from God's standpoint, from eternity's standpoint, and when I say 'the church', of course, that is of personal application to every one of us. I do hope you do not adopt an attitude that what is in Ephesians is something extra to the ordinary Christian life and is therefore optional; that it is a sort of extra teaching, it is 'the higher life'. That phrase is very often employed and used as meaning, well, something that you can go in for if you like, but you need not unless you are inclined - advanced teaching - 'They are people who believe in advanced teaching!' I have heard it from various quarters lately that we here are regarded as the 'university' and only special people go to the university. I do not know the best way to answer that, but I do feel this - Ephesians cannot be set aside without setting aside God's own full thought in our being born again.
It is not that being born again is one thing and Ephesians is another. No, this is the object of being born again. God in grace has saved us with a great purpose, and if only the Lord's people had this in their hearts - "What a great salvation ours is because of the greatness of the purpose!" - we would be greater Christians. And where there is no vision, the people go to pieces, and that is just the explanation. For the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened that we may see, that we may know!
The Full Meaning of the Death, Resurrection-Ascension and Exaltation of Christ
Now, what I have just said can be borne out by looking at the letter a little more closely, because this letter does not really take up extra things so much as it leads out what is already in first things. The foundation, the basis, of what is in this letter is basic union with Christ, and where does that union commence? Where is union with Christ secured?
Well, you begin and you find that it is in the death of Christ, and so right early in this letter, you find that the truth more fully touched upon for special purposes in the letter to the Romans - that is, identification with Christ in death, burial and resurrection - that truth is here brought in as foundational to all the eternal purpose of God. We were dead through our trespasses and sins. The Lord Jesus voluntarily entered into that position where we were and died a death you and I could not die - a death to sin. We were dead in sin; He died a death to sin. You and I can never do that. His was such a mighty death that the very death that held us in bondage was destroyed. But He came into it as us - that is implied here at the beginning, and we are given clearly to understand that there is a fuller meaning in the cross than that our sins were dealt with. That is true; because of His cross we have forgiveness, pardon, remission, deliverance from sin. But, blessedly true as all that is, what this letter brings in is the full meaning of everything, and so it brings into view the fact that the death of the Lord Jesus has a far fuller meaning than forgiveness of sins and remission of sins and deliverance from sin. His death was a death to a whole realm in which death was lord, and His death was the making of a way out, a way right out, of that entire realm of death, Satan's power, sin's tyranny and death's dominion.
So you come into Ephesians 4 and you have this: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive". This means that a whole realm which was in God's purpose had gone into captivity and had to be delivered, released, and led out, set free, and turned to account for God. The release from that captivity was accomplished by the mighty death of the Lord Jesus, oh! a mighty death in which death itself was destroyed. The letter to the Hebrews puts it in this way - "deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:15). His death destroyed the bondage of death and delivered. His death was a way out, as is made clear on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses and Elias appeared unto Him and talked with Him of the exodus which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. And what an accomplishment! It takes you right back to the book which goes by that name and you see what judgment - God bringing home the impact of His mighty power upon sin, upon the power of evil in Egypt, until that thing was smashed beyond repair, and led the people out with the doom of their enemies - He accomplished an exodus in His infinite power, and that was the death of the Lord Jesus, the Lamb slain, the Blood shed. Ephesians will make us understand that what is typified by Israel being brought through the exodus made by God, has its counterpart in the church; captivity led captive, that which was in captivity to one mighty hierarchy of evil now brought into the captivity of our glorious victor Lord by His death which was His exodus - the full meaning of the death of the Lord Jesus.
And the full meaning of His resurrection - "The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead (do not stop there) and set Him at His own right hand... far above all...".
That is the meaning of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It is a resurrection-ascension; it does not stop with a coming back on to the earth, but it cleaves its way through all powers until it reaches the place of absolute supreme ascendancy over all rule and authority and every name in this age and in that which is to come. That is the meaning of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus today. Now that is to us-ward who believe; it is for the church.
The full meaning of the exaltation of the Lord Jesus is brought out also in this letter. It is the letter of fulness on every point, and the exaltation, the enthronement of the Lord Jesus is here shown to be - not as in the letter to the Hebrews, for there it is personal very largely, although of course the church is, as it were, in the background, but there it is very largely personal. We see Jesus crowned with glory and honour, the personal view of the exalted Lord, we behold Him. But in Ephesians you have got the fuller thing. His exaltation is the exaltation of the church - "...made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus". The exaltation of the Lord Jesus is our exaltation, the church's exaltation. What is true of Him is not true for Himself alone, but for His church. He and they are one Body.
So you go on, and you find here it is all a matter of the full thought of God in Christ in every detail, all with a view to the full purpose of God being realised; the authority, the government, the administration having been usurped, having been ceded to Satan and his hosts and now being exercised in this universe as we see it so clearly - principalities and powers, world rulers of this darkness, hosts of wicked spirits, all being the explanation of present world conditions - to be wrested from them, and they to be cast out of the heavenlies. The church with Christ as sovereign Head is to take that place and take that administration, and we will be in a position to make a different world of it then. The administration will be a different one; it will be the administration of God's Son, all that He is in moral perfection and glory, but that through the church. What a calling!
It is the practical value of such a contemplation that is our concern. In the first place, this must really engage us in a very serious exercise before the Lord that we should see it. I do not know how much all this that has been said means to you. I know quite well that I am not giving you just an accumulation of things from the Scriptures. I know the little apprehension I have of it has cost me everything and has become a tremendous burden and concern in life, and while that is in so much smaller proportion to what was true in the case of the great apostle, we are able to say that we know a little of what he felt and meant when he wrote this letter.
And what I feel so intensely concerned about is not just what do you think about it, but how do you feel about it? All this has been available to you from the day that you first knew the Lord. You had the letter to the Ephesians in your hand, at your disposal, from that very first moment that you came to know the Lord. This is not some new revelation that has come in today. It has been there nearly two thousand years. What does it mean to you? Is the letter to the Ephesians only one of the books of the Bible?
Let me remind you solemnly that it was on the basis of the ministry of the apostle Paul through the letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians that the risen Lord came to the seven churches in Asia to judge them. Ephesians and Colossians, so-called, were encyclical letters. It is believed by some that a space was left blank, "To the saints at..." and then that was to be filled in by each one and sent on. They were for the churches in Asia, and about thirty years after those letters went to those churches, the risen Lord appeared to John in Patmos and said, "Write to the seven churches and write this..." and it was a calling of the churches to account for what He had revealed through these two letters of the apostle Paul, judging them on the ground of that. That is a solemn thought, and if we are right in regarding those seven churches in Asia as representative of the whole dispensation, or if we are right in saying that those messages to the seven churches are up to date now and have an application, then we may take it that the Lord is going to deal with us ultimately upon the basis of Ephesians and Colossians as His ultimate revelation of His eternal purpose.
It should call us to very solemn exercise before the Lord that we have had such a revelation in our hands all these years. It should really move us to seek that what is God's revealed thought here is not missed by us and that we are right in line with it and that we are tremendously moved by it; that we also pray unceasingly for the saints in the light of this calling, this vocation, this great thing which God has in view for the church. Well, that is one practical issue of such a consideration.
Another is this. I said that we are in the Holy Spirit's seminary with this great calling and vocation in view. I mean by that that you and I, under the hand of the Holy Spirit, are in training, and that is the explanation of all that the Lord is doing with us. It is the explanation of a lot of things.
It would have been a very simple matter for the Lord when He went down into death and when God raised Him from the dead, it would have been a very simple matter for Him to have annihilated the whole kingdom of Satan at one stroke. His power is equal to that. It does not take the Lord two thousand years to get rid of the kingdom of Satan. We are told that there will come a moment when He will destroy with the brightness of His countenance that evil power in a moment. God could have done it in the moment when He raised His Son from the dead, and all the principalities and powers and world-rulers of this darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness would have gone forever from God's universe. Why has He left them two thousand years? Why are they there today? Why do we suffer so much at their hands? Why does the Lord allow them to assail us, trouble us and afflict us? It is to educate us as to how to take ascendancy and come to the throne. That is all.
This thing is a church matter. Our wrestling is with them. We are in the school of the throne, and when you are training a king to reign, it is a very serious and a very solemn training. We are in that school for the throne. So all our afflictions, all our trials, all our adversities, all the sufferings of the church, are meant by God to teach the church (and that is the individual believer) how to take spiritual ascendancy.
It works out in this way so often: the enemy assails and you have a terrific time of pressure and you begin to pray and cry to the Lord, 'Lord, deliver me! Drive the devil away! Get rid of this trial for me!', and the Lord does not take any notice, apparently. You don't get through that way, but if you have the eyes of your understanding enlightened, you will come to another position, and you will recognise that the Lord, by not answering you in that way, is calling upon you to take pre-eminence in His Name over the enemy. Not for Him to drive the enemy off, but for you to stand and withstand and, having done all, not to stand, but the literal there is 'to remain victor on the field'. You are being called to do something in this matter, not that you in yourself can do it or are a match for the enemy; that paragraph begins with, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might - stand, withstand, having done all, remain victor on the field." The church has got to come to that place. You and I have got to come to that place.
We are being trained for our great eternal destiny. All trials are unto that end. The pressure which He allows, which the enemy means to press us down, the Lord, when we take a right position, uses to press us upward. The issue of every fresh pressure should be higher up.
The Lord open our heart's eyes!