Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,…
The form of the text marks the confidence of St. Paul's prayer. The exuberant fervour of his faith, as well as his natural impetuosity and ardour, comes out in the heaped up words expressive of immensity and duration. He is like some archer watching, with parted lips, the flight of his arrow to the mark. He is gazing on God, confident that he has not asked in vain. Let us look with him, that we, too, may be heartened to expect great things of God.
I. THE MEASURE OF THE POWER to which we trust. Now there are three main forms under which this standard, or measure, of the Redeeming Power is set forth in this Epistle, and it will help us to grasp the greatness of the apostle's thought if we consider these. Take, then, first, that clause in the earlier portion of the preceding prayer, "that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory." The measure then, of the gift that we may hope to receive is the measure of God's own fulness: The "riches of His glory" can be nothing less than the whole uncounted abundance of that majestic and far-shining nature, as it pours itself forth in the dazzling perfectnesses of its own self-manifestation. And nothing less than this great treasure is to be the limit and standard of His gift to us. But another form in which the standard, or measure, is stated in this letter is: "The working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:19, 20); or, as it is put with a modification, "grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7). That is to say, we have not only the whole riches of the Divine glory as the measure to which we may lift our hopes, but lest that celestial brightness should seem too high above us, and too far from us, we have Christ in His Human-Divine manifestation, and especially in the great fact of the resurrection, Set before us, that by Him we may learn what God wills we should become. In Him we see what man may become, and what His followers must become. The limits of that power will not be reached until every Christian soul is perfectly assimilated to that likeness, and bears all its beauty in his face, nor till every Christian soul is raised to participation in Christ's dignity and sits on His throne. But there is a third form in which this same standard is represented. That is the form which is found in our text, and in other places of the Epistle "According to the power that worketh in us." What power is that but the power of the Spirit of God dwelling in us? And thus we have the measure, or standard, set forth in terms respectively applying to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For the first, the riches of His glory; for the second, His resurrection and ascension; for the third, His energy working in Christian souls. The first carries us up into the mysteries of God, where the air is almost too subtle for our gross lungs; the second draws nearer to earth and points us to an historical fact that happened in this every day world; the third comes still nearer to us, and bids us look within, and see whether what we are conscious of there, if we interpret it by the light of these other measures, will not yield results as great as theirs, and open before us the same fair prospect of perfect holiness and conformity to the Divine nature.
II. THE RELATION OF THE DIVINE WORKING TO OUR THOUGHTS AND DESIRES. The apostle, in his fervid way, strains language to express how far the possibility of the Divine working extends. He is able, not only to do all things, but "beyond all things" — a vehement way of putting the boundless reach of that gracious power. And what he means by this "beyond all things" is more fully expressed in the next words, in which he labours by accumulating synonyms to convey his sense of the transcendent energy which waits to bless: "exceeding abundantly above what we ask." And as, alas! our desires are but shrunken and narrow beside our thoughts, he sweeps a wider orbit when he adds, "above what we think." He has been asking wonderful things, and yet even his farthest reaching petitions fall far on this side of the greatness of God's power. One might think that even it could go no further than filling us "with all the fulness of God." Nor can it; but it may far transcend our conceptions of what that is, and astonish us by its surpassing our thoughts, no less than it shames us by exceeding our prayers. Of course, all this is true, and is meant to apply, only about the inward gifts of God's grace. That grace is like the figures in the Eastern tales, that will creep into a narrow room no bigger than a nutshell, or will tower heaven high. Our spirits are like the magic tent whose walls expanded or contracted at the owner's wish — we may enlarge them to enclose far more of the grace than we have ever possessed. We are not straitened in God, but in ourselves. "According to thy faith," is a real measure of the gift received, even though. "according to the fiches of His glory" be the measure of the gift bestowed. Note, again.
III. THE GLORY THAT SPRINGS FROM THE DIVINE WORK. "The glory of God" is the lustre of His own perfect character, the bright sum total of all the blended brilliancies that compose His name. When that light is welcomed and adored by men, they are said to "give glory to God" and this doxology is at once a prophecy that the working of God's power on His redeemed children will issue in setting forth the radiance of His name yet more, and a prayer that it may. So we have here the great thought expressed in many places of Scripture, that the highest exhibition of the Divine character for the reverence and love — of the whole universe, shall we say? — lies in His work on Christian souls, and the effect produced thereby on them. Amid all the majesty of His works and all the blaze of His creation, this is what He presents as the highest specimen of His power — the Church of Jesus Christ, the company of poor men, wearied and conscious of many evils, who follow afar off the footsteps of their Lord. How dusty and toil worn the little group of Christians that landed at Puteoli must have looked as they toiled along the Appian Way and entered Rome! How contemptuously emperor and philosopher and priest and patrician would have curled their lips, if they had been told that in that little knot of Jewish prisoners lay a power before which theirs would cower and finally fade! Even so is it still. Among all the splendour of this great universe, and the mere obtrusive tawdrinesses of earth, men look upon us Christians as poor enough; and yet it is to His redeemed children that God has entrusted His praise, and in their hands He has lodged the sacred deposit of His own glory. Think loftily of that office and honour, lowly of yourselves who have it laid upon you as a crown. His honour is in our hands. We are the "secretaries of His praise."
IV. THE ETERNITY OF THE WORK AND OF THE PRAISE. As in the former clauses, the idea of the transcendent greatness of the power of God was expressed by accumulated synonyms, so here the kindred thought of its eternity, and consequently of the ceaseless duration of the resulting glory, is sought to be set forth by a similar aggregation. The language creaks and labours, as it were, under the weight of the great conception. Literally rendered, the words are — "to all generations of the age of the ages" — a remarkable fusing together of two expressions for unbounded duration, which are scarcely congruous. We can understand "to all generations" as expressive of duration as long as birth and death shall last. We can understand "the age of the ages" as pointing to that endless epoch whose moments are "ages"; but the blending of the two is but an unconscious acknowledgment that the speech of earth, saturated, as it is, with the colouring of time, breaks down in the attempt to express the thought of eternity. Undoubtedly that solemn conception is the one intended by this strange phrase. The work is to go on forever and ever, and with it the praise. As the ages which are the beats of the pendulum of eternity come and go, more and more of God's power will flow out to us, and more and more of God's glory will be manifested in us. It must be so. For God's gift is infinite, and man's capacity of reception is indefinitely capable of increase.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,