The phrase which has been governing our leading, our consideration, is that in a prayer of the apostle Paul which we have in his letter to the Ephesians, "the exceeding greatness of His power" (Eph. 1:19).
We began by reminding ourselves that at this point in the life of the apostle, that is, when he was reaching the end of his journey here, all the full stored-up greatness of his apprehension of Christ, the revelation which had come to him of his Lord Jesus, was seeking to burst the vessel and break forth. And it came out in a whole number of superlatives, the words which represent the very extremes of human language. Among them there is this one - "the exceeding greatness of His power". There are others in this letter, and if I am not mistaken, the others are Paul's own conception of how that exceeding great power works towards us, and so he uses superlatives of the same kind, and sometimes the very same superlative in relation to two other words: grace and love.
Love - "the breadth and length and height and depth", the knowledge-surpassing love. Grace - the riches, the exceeding riches, of His grace, the unsearchable riches of His grace. As you read what comes from this man's pen, not only here but at other times elsewhere, you are led to this conclusion, that while Paul has such a conception of the magnitude of the power of God, he sees that that is mediated to the church and for the church in terms of grace and love. And I feel that is a good note upon which to conclude, so in this chapter we shall be contemplating what that means - but only contemplating, by no means exhausting.
Christ Above All by the Working of God's Power
Let us return to this basic fragment: "the exceeding greatness of His power". There are three things connected with that phrase. Firstly, where it put Christ. And so it says, "according to that working of the strength of His might". Can you find any more words to add to that? The working, and remember that the Greek word is 'energeia'; it is a very strong word. It is not the passive working, it is a mighty working, it is Divine energy, that working, that energy of "the strength of His might which He wrought (or again, energised) in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come". It tells us where this exceeding greatness of Divine power put Christ.
The second thing is where it puts believers, and the statement is here a corresponding statement, that it puts believers in exactly the same place. "Having made us to sit together with Him in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph. 2:6). Exceeding great power is said to put us where it has put Him.
The third thing is what it really means, now in this life, for us to have been put there in Christ; to really understand the first, where it has put Him, is to understand the other two; what it means that we have been placed there.
The Apparent Contradiction of Circumstances
Well, let us look into it. Again we must bring together two fragments and this question: what does the combination of these two fragments mean: "The exceeding greatness of His power" in setting Him "far above all"? Now, is that true, that the Lord Jesus has been put now at this very time far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named? How can you prove it? There is no other way of proving it except by experience. But is it true? Turn your eyes upon that scene in Jerusalem on the day when the vehement ferocity of the Jewish leaders was let loose and vented upon those who bore the Name of the Lord Jesus, and bore down upon that splendid young man Stephen. There seems to be no rein whatever put upon their fury, their malice, but dragging him out, they take the stones, hurl them until they have broken his body and he is there maimed, bleeding, dying. Is Jesus far above all rule and authority?
Presently James will be taken and martyred. Is Jesus far above all rule and authority? Or later, Paul's own life, and that unspeakable wickedness of Nero spreading itself over thousands of believers in the Lord Jesus, covering them with tar and setting them alight as living torches in the light of which they carry out their sports, hurling them to wild beasts, sewn up in the skins of animals that wild beasts should tear them to shreds, and so on and on. Is Jesus far above all rule and authority?
And so we could go on right down the years and the history of His followers and servants to our own day. We think of our dear brother who may still be alive, perhaps, in the torture house of the Communists in China, [most likely referring to Watchman Nee] and many like that in China, Russia, Siberia, and other parts of the world, tortured daily because of Him. Unspeakable hatred and wickedness is being expressed towards those dear to the Lord Jesus. Is He far above all rule and authority? Is it true?
God's Purpose in Allowing the Circumstances
Where is the answer? The answer is not sufficient as a written thing in this sacred book, the Bible. The answer must be found somewhere in practical forms and terms. In another of Paul's letters, that to the Romans, he uses a phrase. It is set in a very comprehensive paragraph at the end of Romans 8. The whole paragraph is this: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we were accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (v. 35-37). This is a man who is not talking theoretically about some possible things that might happen in imagination. This is a man who knew these things actually and literally in his own life, every one of them. "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities (far above all principalities), nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers (far above all 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" (v. 38-39). Within that comprehensive statement there is just one little clause. We, in all these things, are "more than conquerors", and if you could discern it, right at the heart of that little fragment lies the answer to the question: is He far above all rule and authority, with all this going on? What is it to be "more than conquerors"? Surely it is enough to be a conqueror. Does it only mean degree, that you not only conquer, but you overwhelm? No, that is not the answer.
I remember some many years ago I tried to illustrate that very clause in this way, and I think I can illustrate it now with something more up to date in the same connection. Quite recently a man in South Africa died who had become very greatly beloved by this country and many others, highly respected, and regarded as a great leader and a worthy man. His name was Smuts. There was a time when, as he was then known, General Smuts, was the sworn enemy of this country, and some of us well remember the days of the Boer war, and how Smuts figured in it with his colleague, General Botha. Well, what ravages they wrought! How they nearly brought this proud country to its knees, but then this country won the Boer War. It was a sorry win, but it was a win. They were conquered, but that was not the end. These men were still suffering, smarting in spirit, still enemies, but this country went to work so wisely, so generously, so understandingly in the clearing up of the situation that gradually those men were won right over onto the side of this country. And instead of remaining just conquered, they added their full weight and strength to the benefit of this country. The enemy was not only a conquered enemy, but all his power was brought in the favour of the former foe, in the favour of the conqueror, and that is being more than conqueror. If you cannot only quench and subdue your enemy, but also take hold of your enemy and make him serve your ends, that is being more than conqueror, and that is the story here.
We are more than conquerors. How? Why? The very things that have been against us are being used by Divine grace and love to bring about the things against which they were set. They are fulfilling the very purpose which they set out to frustrate. "I would have you know" said the apostle, "that the things which have happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel" (Phil. 1:12), and they were pretty hard things. You see, there is the coming in of this exceeding great power through the grace of God, which robs the enemy of his power to do harm, and makes his work do good. That is something transcendent; that is something exceeding great.
The Power of God's Grace Over Against Sin
And so it is with one great enemy. Is it not wonderful that the apostle uses this very word in that connection? "Where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly" (Rom. 5:20). Oh, sin, then - that dark, sinister, evil, destructive thing - has been taken hold of to bring out the greatness of God's grace. It has not left everything desolate and barren. It has been taken hold of by God as the very ground and occasion for showing how great His grace is. Sin abounded, and, oh, yes, that is a tremendous thing, but grace did exceedingly abound. This exceeding great power coming through grace has brought us to that place, has it not? Is it not something very great to discover the grace of God, the love of God? Oh yes, it is a very great thing to find out the heart of God, and we have found it out by the way in which He has handled sin.
Oh, you and I have yet to come into a really adequate apprehension of the grace of God in relation to sin and our sinfulness. You see, here it is in this letter to the Ephesians. Before the apostle gets to this word about the exceeding greatness of His power, he says, "which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (v.6). The old version says, "made us accepted". The word 'accepted' is 'freely bestowed'. Accepted... is that not grace? Accepted in the Beloved. There is the heart and wonder of the gospel of the grace of God. We can all believe and understand that Jesus Christ, God's Son, is beloved of God. That does not want much straining after; there is not much difficulty about that. He certainly is God's well-beloved Son. He stands before His Father without the suggestion or hint of a doubt or a reservation. His acceptance by the Father is full and utter. There is no shadow between them. They are one in a oneness so utter that there is nothing like it anywhere, and do you see what this says - that that belovedness of the Lord Jesus to the Father is transferred to you and to me. We inherit it in Christ; it is ours. Exactly the same position held by Him with the Father is given to us. Oh, how can that be? That defeats all our attempts at understanding and explaining. Freely bestowed, accepted in the beloved One, so that what He is to the Father we are in Him. What the Father is to Him, He is to us in Him.
Something has happened. There has been some power at work somewhere to bring that about, seeing what we are by nature and in ourselves, and you tell me that knowing myself as I do, that is true at this very moment. Then I have misread the Bible if it is not. "Hath made us" - is not going to make us, but hath made us. It is already done. He has done something over this question of sin in you and in me. He has done something about it, with all the power that was required to do it. He has exercised that power; it was done in the Cross. Oh, wonderful gospel, true beyond our power really to grasp, almost beyond our power to believe! Power working through grace, and it is just grace, and that is all there is about it. Marvellous grace, unspeakable grace, that what the Lord Jesus, the Son of God is to His Father, I am, you are, in Him. That is something about which to go and tell the world, that is the good news, the gospel, of the grace of God.
You have got something to get over to take your place on that, because you are always bringing this self of yours, as it is, this sinful self, and there is nothing to say that He has annihilated our sinful selves; don't you tell me that. I am prepared to believe, if you tell me that there are certain sins that you were once in bondage to, from which you are now free, and they no longer go on. But if you tell me that you are no longer capable of doing anything wrong and sinning, I cannot believe you and that is not what is said. If Paul can say, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18), and we cannot differentiate between trespasses and sins; if it says, "having forgiven us all our trespasses" (Col. 2:13), it also says, "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself (consider your own selves), lest you also fall into the same trespass" (Gal. 6:1). That does not look as though the trespassing man, or the man capable of trespassing, sinning, has been annihilated, but being what we are, still capable of sinning, still with a sinful nature, still righteousness unperfected, because Paul almost says with his last breath, "that I may be... found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own... but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phil. 3:8,9). That is an aspiration right to the end. Righteousness still unperfected, yet this fact that in Christ Jesus we are to the Father as He is. There is power at work in that, and it requires, of course, the whole explanation of His Cross to make that clear, but I am stating facts.
Now, you can analyse it, and you can get nearer to it in this way. In order to understand what has happened, you must recognise and remember the effect of sin, the result of sin. What was the result of sin? In the first place it separated from God. In the next place it brought condemnation upon man. In the next place it brought death. Well, I will ask you two questions.
You are a child of God; you know it, you have been born again. Firstly, are you sinless, are you incapable of sinning? Do you still have a sinful nature? If you are honest, you will say, "Yes", and you well know it. While you are saying, "Yes", are you united with God? Have you come to know that you are no longer separated from God, that something has happened by which union has been made between you and God? Is that not your greatest treasure? These two things are true at the same time. Therefore something must have happened as to the effect of sin, and that is exactly what Christ did. He took the effect of sin for you and me in separation from God, and bore all that effect in His own consciousness on the cross and drained it to the last dregs for you and for me in the cup which He drank - separation from God. There is no more separation for you and for me who are by faith in Jesus Christ. The question of our sinful nature continuing is quite another thing altogether, and you will not get anywhere with that until you have settled this: what He has done for you in dealing with the result of sin in the first instance, bringing you to the place from which sin drove you out: union and fellowship with God. Oh, wonder of wonders, that we, still sinful creatures in our own natures, are enjoying fellowship with God. How is it? Well, just for that reason, that this exceeding great power working through grace dealt with that first consequence of sin, and in the same way it dealt with the second. It dealt with the matter of condemnation, and the phrase is almost worn threadbare now: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
That is so in the third matter of death. We come to that in a moment. But you see basically in a matter of relationship this tremendous thing called sin which brings separation, condemnation and death and has been overcome by the exceeding greatness of His power working through grace, and has brought about our acceptance in the Beloved on the same terms that He enjoys with His Father. Wonderful! But we just know a little bit about it in experience. That is more than conquerors, is it not? Of course, we would all be very glad if Adam had never sinned, and we had never inherited a sinful nature, and were quite sinless.
I do not want to open up a very difficult discussion, but I really believe that it must be like this, that in the end God will be so wholly vindicated along the line of grace, that we shall no longer have any question as to why He allowed sin, and why He created man, knowing what would happen. The end will be God's absolute vindication. There will be no question as to whether He ought, after all, to have created man and allowed sin to come in. God will be vindicated, but He is going to be vindicated by His grace, and there will be more worship and adoration through eternity to God because of grace, than there would have been if grace had never been necessary. That is more than conquerors.
The Power of God's Grace Over Against the World in Us
Think of the world. Is He far above all rule and authority? Are we really where He is in this matter, far above all in Him, where the world is concerned? Well, the answer is no theory, no beautiful ideal just to contemplate. It is something in practical experience. But what a tremendous power this world is, what a force, how much the world is to its own, is it not? The world is everything, and it is a tremendous thing to the people of it. Think of all the fear, almost terror, that people feel when they contemplate having the world against them, not being in its favour; its opinion, judgment and attitude all against them. It strikes a note of terror; it has such a power. What we were speaking about earlier, this world system in the realm of the soul, the soul life, the standards of this world, the motives and judgments of this world do govern our souls so much. Well, how can we illustrate that? There is a simple little thing which we have often used which really does give us the clue to understanding. It is what Paul said in his letter to the Galatians in his last reference to the Cross, the last of several references to the Cross, in that letter. He said, "Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). And what did he mean? Well, the immediate context shows.
Paul says, "These Judaisers are following me around everywhere and seeking to undo the work that I have been doing by telling you that circumcision avails nothing and uncircumcision avails nothing - circumcision has nothing to do with it; it is a new creation. They are following me around and saying, 'You must be circumcised or you cannot be saved.'" And he says what they are after is to get people converted to their beliefs in order that they may go home and say, 'We have had so many converts!' "That they may glory in their flesh..." you see the principle. Paul calls that the world principle. Oh, glorying in men, glorying in numbers, glorying in what looks like success and prosperity in your work, glorying in being able to send in a report of so many converts, to be able to say, 'You see how successful our work is.' He says that is the world. "I have been crucified to that, I am no longer one little bit influenced by that kind of thing; what I can show for my work. The thing that matters is that I am faithful to God, faithful to Jesus Christ, and it is not of any account to me at all whether I can report back to Antioch or Jerusalem and say, 'Look here, we have had three thousand conversions, we have got so many people to follow our teaching.' That is not it. That is the world", he says. It is the principle, you see. I only take it as an example of this thing, the world, and you know it is not an easy thing to the flesh to have no reports like that to send home, never to be able to write up a report of your work and point out how successful it is, to have something to point to that vindicates you, justifies you, that establishes you and your reputation, never to have anything like that. It goes hard against the flesh.
And here was Paul seeing his converts turned aside everywhere and at last having to say, "All they in Asia be turned from me", but he is in victory. He is saved from the world spirit, the world motive, which is always a glorifying of the flesh. Is that not the world principle, the world motive? And it works in many other ways. But what a mighty thing it is to be completely delivered from that.
Now, you see, the Lord Jesus was offered all the kingdoms of this world and the glory thereof and the tempter said, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9). The world on the one hand and all its glory; on the other, the cross and all its shame, and He chooses the cross. He has victory over the world, but on the ground of that victory there is a prophetic psalm which runs, "Ask of Me". This is addressed by the Father to the Son: "Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (Ps. 2:8), and He is getting it, and the day is in view when "the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ", and no longer in the hands of the devil. Christ has overcome the world in that sense. But what a mighty thing that is, to have that world rooted out of us so that it no longer matters what the world thinks, what its judgments are, what attitudes it takes towards us, on these very serious matters of our having nothing much to show for the course we are taking with the Lord, and certainly nothing to write up, but our faithfulness to the Lord is the only thing that remains. That is victory, but it is also mighty grace working, and the power of God over the world in us. Is He not above all?
You could never have taken that position but for some power greater than the world in your life. It does matter to us, let us be quite honest, it does matter to our flesh, our natural life, what the reactions of people are, how they talk about us and think about us, and what they do where we are concerned, and whether they open or close their doors to us, whether we get the advantages that they are able to put in our way or not. All that sort of thing does touch our flesh, if we like to live in that realm, but the grace of God does something that simply lifts us clean out of that so that it no longer matters. But that is a mighty thing, you know, because that flesh is very real, is it not? It is very real, and some of you young people know it, and because of your relationship to the Lord Jesus and your stand for the Lord Jesus, the 'plums' do not come your way in this world. You do not get the special privileges and advantages that could be yours; they are withheld. Is that not true? Oh yes, you have to suffer the loss of many things because of your relationship with the Lord Jesus, but how does it affect you? Well, in your own flesh, of course; it hurts. It does not hurt so much that you go right down under and out. The grace of God makes you triumph. Grace triumphs. This is very practical. That is how you know that He is on the throne above all rule, the rule of this world in principle, the rule of sin in effect.
The Power of God's Grace Over Against Suffering
And so we could go on with the various other ways in which this great power works, but perhaps we might just close with a word on the sufferings and the sorrows of the Lord's people. We have read of Paul's sufferings, and he has other catalogues in his letters of the sufferings which came his way because of Christ, and the sorrows that came to his heart because of Christ; great suffering, heartbreaking sorrows, not a few, great and many. Read his letters again with this one thing in mind to discover what this man had to put up with, what he had to go through, what he had to endure. These words in Romans 8 that we have read are enough in themselves, but as I say, he has got other catalogues, and there are many indications that this man had no ordinary sufferings and sorrows, but sufferings and sorrows enough to utterly desolate and devastate, to bring to full and final despair. He could have said, 'He is not on the throne, the devil is on the throne, the world is having it all its own way, my enemies are just being allowed to do as they like, the Lord does not deliver me from suffering and sorrow.' Looked at from one standpoint, there was enough to make up a case like that, but the marvellous thing (and God only knows how we are involving ourselves when we say this) is that this man not only managed to cope with it all, but he said, "We rejoice (glory, ASV margin) in our tribulations" (Rom. 5:3), "that I may know Him... and the fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:10). That is not just being conqueror; that is more than conqueror.
Why? Well, he had come to see that this was the very way and the very means employed by the Lord to make him know, firstly, grace, "My grace is sufficient" (2 Cor. 12:9), triumphant grace. And on the other hand, to make these very sufferings, as we have said, work out for spiritual increase in himself and in the church. There was a certain vicariousness about his sufferings. I do not mean in the same sense as Christ's vicarious and atoning death, but there was a vicariousness about this man's sufferings. He said, "I... fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). My sufferings are all being turned to account for the church. These very sufferings are an advantage to the church, a gain to the church. He saw that, and that is being more than conqueror. The point is, and you cannot fail to see it, that this man, with this mountain of suffering and sorrow, knew some power that deprived all these sufferings and sorrows of their power to destroy him.
It is a marvellous thing at the end in the prison, that he is so triumphant after all, with all that is going on, talking here about being in the heavenlies. There is something there that is not natural. It is no ordinary, human strength of endurance. No, there is a mighty infinite power at work here, the exceeding greatness of His power working through grace, and thus proving that, after all, Jesus is far above all rule, whatever that rule may be - the rule of sin, of the world, of suffering and sorrow, of death. For so many contemplation of death brings fear and terror, but that is all extricated, like its sting, by the grace of God, by the love of God, by the power of God, and death is no longer the terror that it is to those who know not the grace of God.