And you has he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;…
The concluding thought of the first chapter was the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. In order now to bring out how they were benefited thereby, he calls up to them their original condition. He shows them the pit out of which they have been dug, the rock out of which they have been hewn. In the first and second verses he has special reference to Gentile Christians, in the third verse he includes Jewish Christians in his description.
I. GENTILE CHRISTIANS.
1. They were dead. "And you did he quicken, when ye were dead." It is a comprehensive word for the evil of their condition. There is a natural condition for plants, which they lose in their decay. There is a natural condition for animals, which they lose in their death. So there is a natural condition for rational beings, which they lose in what we call spiritual death. And, as there is nothing higher in kind than spiritual life, so there is nothing more dreadful than spiritual death. It is not extinction, but it is a condition against nature, on the ground of an immortal existence. It is not loving God with our whole soul and strength and mind, but living at enmity with him; and how wearing out to contend with our Maker! It is not loving our neighbor as ourselves, but seeking our own selfish ends; and how narrowing is this to our souls!
2. Their deadness was caused by themselves. "Through your trespasses and sins." If there is any difference between these two words, it is that the former refers more to overt transgressions, while the latter is inclusive of evil thoughts that have only been entertained in the heart. When Adam and Eve overtly transgressed in eating of the fruit, death at once passed upon them in the loss of confidence in God, of unconsciousness, of ingenuousness, of devotedness to each other. And the act was not long in bearing bitter fruit in the hate, which led Cain to take a brother's life. Overt transgression makes matters worse, in the evil that is wrought on others in the entanglements to which it leads. At the same time, it is true that evil imaginations that never find expression in words or acts have a deadening effect on the soul. They may indicate daring rebellion against God; and, even though they are only vain thoughts that lodge in the mind, they are not there without the spreading of a baneful influence over the life.
3. They were only causes of deadness. "Wherein aforetime ye walked." In trespasses and sins they walked. Their life was one continual trespassing and sinning. Their fountain was constantly sending forth bitter water. Their tree only brought forth evil fruit. And how could it be otherwise, seeing that they were corrupted at the very center of their being? There were some of their acts that were better than others, but none that were thoroughly right in principle or motive. All their acts had a fatal defect, and many of them, as the first of Romans shows, had a positive vileness.
4. They stood related to this world. "According to the course of this world." This world is opposed to the world as it should be, or the kingdom of God among men. It is the world content with itself, and seeking to be independent of God. And as the kingdom of God has an age or ages for its holy development, so this world, it is implied here, has an age for its unholy development. For the word translated "course" is properly "age." In the mysterious providence of God evil has scope for its development. "The mystery of iniquity doth work." And when it is said here that they once walked according to the course of this world, the meaning is that their characters had not the normal form of the kingdom, but had one or other of those abnormal forms which belong to the world.
5. They stool related to the head of evil. "According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience." He is here called the prince of the power of the air. He is a prince with other evil spirits under him. Evil is divisive; his then must be a mighty, prince-like influence that he keeps them united under him for evil ends. He is dependent on God, a mere instrument in his hand, at his absolute disposal, as it is with every creature; but he is allowed, through his emissaries, to have great power upon earth. The singular epithet is applied to him here in allusion to his surrounding us with temptation as the atmosphere surrounds the earth. As the air borders on the earth, so there is a sphere bordering on our spirits, subtle, invisible like air, through which evil suggestions can readily be conveyed to us. Or it may be that the evil spirits have an affinity to air, which they do not have to grosser matter, so that it is their haunt within this region. There is here what we cannot understand; but we can understand this - temptation being skillfully presented to our minds, against which we must invoke the skill of another, else we are taken in the tempter's meshes. He is further called the prince of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience. It is not usual to connect a spirit, or principle, with its prince. But he is undoubtedly the principal representative of the spirit of disobedience. In him disobedience takes its most virulent form. The object on which he is bent is to spite God, to thwart his holy ends. This is the spirit which he as its original source breathes into his subordinates, and which they in turn under his direction seek to breathe into men. And those in whom it finds a sphere of operation are called the children of disobedience. They stand related to the evil principle as its unclean progeny. It was from heathendom that the description here was taken. It was very much man left to himself. It was the truest representation of what "this world" is. It was Satan having his own way. It was rampant disobedience. For though the heathen world was under the Divine providence, yet it was without special helps, without special checks. Depraved human nature was allowed to bring out its own ignorance of God, its own profanity, its own licentiousness. It was from that heathen world that these Gentile Christians had been taken. There they could see what they once had been. But, lest the Jewish Christians might think that it had been better with them, he proceeds to bring them under the same description in respect of their original condition.
II. JEWISH CHRISTIANS ALSO. (Ver. 3.) "Among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." Especially are they classed with Gentile Christians, as having originally been children of disobedience. Among whom we also all once lived. Their disobedience appeared in their living in the lusts of the flesh. Those lusts that had their root in the flesh, or unrenewed nature, they ought to have brought into subjection to reason or the will of God; but, instead of that, they lived in them. This is further described as "doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind." Evil wishes spring from the flesh; but in order to be gratified they require the consent of the mind, and so they become desires, not only of the flesh, but of the mind. And were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest. "By nature" is a qualifying clause. The Jews could not be spoken of in the same terms as the Gentiles without qualification. For they were different in having a covenant position, in having Divine helps vouchsafed to them, in being placed under special training. And though they did testify to depravity in their frequent rebellions, yet was there alongside a work of grace, which showed itself conspicuously in some. It could only be said, then, that by nature, that is, apart from covenant grace, they were the children of wrath, even as the rest. What a testimony is there here to universal depravity! All have the Divine displeasure imprinted on their nature. In the condemning voice of conscience there is an echo, often very faint, of the condemnation of God. Our evil tendencies, which we so soon exhibit, are tokens that God is angry with us. His righteous sentence has gone forth upon us, even in our present condition. This is unpalatable truth, but it agrees with the facts. It is well that we should keep it in mind, in order that we may be humbled by it, and in order that we may realize the forces against which we have to struggle.
III. OUR SALVATION.
1. Its explanation. "But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses." The mercy is mentioned first, as standing in closest connection with the miserable state which has been described. And as their former state was described in strong terms, so now is there set over against it the superlative quality of the mercy. He is not content with the expression," God in his mercy." That language is too bare in view of what they once were. So he applies his common epithet, "rich." "God, being rich in mercy." The mercy is a particular outgoing of the Divine love, viz. toward sinners. So he traces it up to the more general feeling, which leads him to seek the good, and nothing but the good, of all his creatures whatsoever. And to this in turn he applies another common epithet," great." "The great love wherewith he loved us." And the greatness of the Divine love is here presented under a special aspect. In the fifth of Romans it is said, "God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The thought is very similar here. "Even when we were dead through our trespasses he quickened us." Stress is laid upon the moment of the Divine movement. When we were dead and could do nothing for ourselves, that was the time for the going forth of the great love of God in rich mercy toward us. And it is in this connection that we are to bring in the words within brackets, "By grace have ye been saved." For, though he has it in his mind to magnify the Divine grace further on, yet now, having the opportunity to make a point, he cannot let it pass. And the incidental way in which he brings it in shows the great importance which he attached to that doctrine.
2. Its nature. "Quickened us together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus." It is set forth in relation to our previous deadness. And it will be observed that the description here is connected with a certain historical point. The idea is that we were dead up to the time when Christ was quickened. We were dead, even as Christ was dead in the tomb. Nay, more, we were dead with Christ in the tomb. For it was as our Representative that he was lying there. And when he was quickened, it was as our Representative too. He was quickened, not for himself, but for us whom he represented. And therefore it can be said that, when the life-giving power went forth upon him in the grave, we were quickened with him. And it did not stop there; but when he was raised up we were raised up with him, in the whole breadth that language can bear. And not only so, but the consummation applies to us too. It is not indeed said that we were made to sit at the right hand of God, as is said of Christ in the first Chapter and twentieth verse. But it is said that we were made to sit with Christ in the heavenly places. Even here on earth we are sitting with Christ in the heavenly places. We are sitting there in him as our Head. That is no fancy, but the actual language which is applied to us by an inspired apostle. Oh, what a glorious privilege is conferred on us! How does it become us to be thankful, and to be humbled! Let us, in our life, rise to the height of our position. Let us not be as creeping on the earth, but as sitters with Christ in the heavenly places.
3. A purpose served by our salvation. "That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The language is applicable to after ages on earth. There is encouragement to us, even now, in the fact that such kindness was shown to Ephesians who had been dead through trespasses and sins. But the language is also applicable to the eons of which the Scripture speaks beyond this life. For if there is not room there for sinners being encouraged, there certainly is room for the demonstration, the more complete realization, of the Divine grace. It will be one of the lessons of those ages to learn how much in our history on earth we were individually indebted to grace. Here again, in the fullness of emotion, he gives an ample characterization of the grace, the exceeding riches of his grace, in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The latter expression has reference to benefits conferred, viz. our quickening.
(1) The exceeding riches of his grace appears in the complete exclusion of human merit. "For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory." Our salvation is given to the subjective disposition of faith. It is when we believe, that the union between our souls and Christ takes place, and the first, not the completed, quickening goes forth upon us. But this believing does not make us the authors, or give us the merit, of our salvation. It, that is to say, our salvation, is the gift of God. And believing is just taking it as a Divine gift, taking it as that for which we have given nothing. Christ has paid the full price for it; he has paid the uttermost farthing, and so we can receive it as a free gift. But works are out of the question; for it is just as impossible for a dead man to rise and do the works which he was wont to do, as it is for the dead through trespasses and sins to work out their salvation. Divine help is the plainest necessity, and to such an extent that there is no room for boasting.
(2) The exceeding riches of his grace appears in good works following on the Divine workmanship. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them." "An honest man's the noblest work of God." A Christian is certainly the noblest work of God. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus." We are the result of all the means that God has used. It may be seen in us, as saved persons, what Christ has done by his blood. And we are not his workmanship because of works which we were afterwards to do; but we were created "for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them." It may be said of a tree that it is afore prepared for the fruit which it is to bear. It may be said of a vessel that it is afore prepared for the uses which it is to serve. But as the fruit is not the cause of the tree, nor the uses served by a vessel the cause of the vessel, so neither can it be said that the works we perform are the cause of the Divine workmanship that has gone before. Our salvation, then, is wholly of grace. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;