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 apostle does not give this text as a detached sentence. It is the culmination of a statement; it is something that comes after a serious, anxious effort which he himself has made; and we must look into the preliminary statement if we would know how Paul was dazzled, overwhelmed, made speechless by the infinite capacity of God to transcend all mortal prayer and all finite imagination. The apostle has been uttering a prayer which reads thus: — "That He would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man — able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith — able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: That ye being rooted and grounded in love — Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge — Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God — Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask." Reading the prayer in this manner, using the text as a kind of refrain to each petition, and each petition itself seeming to exhaust the very mercy and love of God, we get some notion of the apostle's conception of God's infinite wealth, infinite grace, and infinite willingness to give. Understand, then, that in coming to God and availing ourselves of the doctrine of this text, it is incumbent upon us that we should specify what we want from God. Suppose that a number of petitioners should go to the legislature with a petition worded thus: "We humbly pray your honourable house to do everything for the nation, to take infinite care of it, to let the affairs of the nation tax your attention day and night, and lavish all your resources upon the people." Suppose that a petition like that should be handed into the House of Commons, what would be the fate of it? It would be laughed down, and the only reason, the only good reason, why the petitioners should not be confined to Bedlam would be, lest their insanity should alarm the inmates. That is not a petition. It is void by generality; by referring to all it misses everything. You must specify what you want when you go to the legislature. You must state your case with clearness of definition, and with somewhat of argument. If it be so in our social, political prayers, shall we go to Almighty God with a vagueness which means nothing, with a generality which makes no special demand upon his heart. Read the text in the light of the gospel, and you will see the fulness of its glory, so far as it can be seen by mortal vision. Ask anything of God and I am prepared to quote these words of the text in reply. What will you ask? Let us in the first instance ask what we all want — whatever may be our condition, age, circumstances. Let us ask for pardon. Is your prayer, God forgive my sins? Now you may apply the apostle's words: "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that you ask." You cannot conceive God's notion of pardon. You have an idea of what you mean by forgiveness; but when you have exhausted your own notion of the term forgiveness, you have not shown the Divine intent concerning the soul that is to be forgiven. When God forgives, He does not merely pardon, barely pardon — He does not by some great straining effort of His love, just come within reach of the suppliant, and lay upon his heart the blessing which is besought. He pardons with pardons. He multiplies to pardon! What will you ask for now? Ask for sanctification. Is your prayer, Sanctify me body, soul, and spirit? Then I am ready once more to quote you the apostle's text: "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." Now this ought to stimulate us in all saintly progress, to inspire us in the study of Divine truth, to recover our jaded energies, and tempt, lure, and draw us by the mighty compulsion of inexhaustible reward. This is the peculiar glory of Christian study — that it does not exhaust the student. His weakness becomes his strength. At sunset he is stronger than at sunrise; because Christian study does not tax any one power of the mind unduly. It trains the whole being, the imagination, the fancy, the will, the emotion; lifts up the whole nature equally, with all the equability of complete power — not by snatches and spasms of strength, but with the sufficiency, breadth, and compass of power which sustains the balance always. This ought to rebuke those of us who imagine we have finished our Christian education. I believe there are some persons in the world who are under the impression that they have finished God's Book. They say they have "read it through." There is a poor sense in which it may be read through; but there is a deeper, truer sense in which we can never get through the Book of God. It is an inexhaustible study — new every day, like morning light. You have seen splendour before, but until this morning you never saw this light. So it is with this great wonderful Book of God in the study of it. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Here then is a stimulus, a spur to progress, a call to deeper study. We think we have attained truth. We have not attained all that is meant by the word truth. No man who knows himself and who knows God will say that he has been led into all the chambers of God's great palace of truth. This is the sign of progress; this is the charter of the profoundest humility. The more we know the less we know. We see certain points of light here and there, but the great unexplored regions of truth stretch mile on mile beyond all our power to traverse the wondrous plain. How is it with us today then? Are we fagged men, exhausted students? Do we sit down under the impression that there is nothing more to be known? If we have that idea let us seek to recover our strength and to recover our inspiration by the word — He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. There are attainments we have not made, depths we have not sounded, and heights, oh, heights! We can but look up and wonder, expect, adore. If this be so, we ought to look calmly, with a feeling of chastened triumph, upon all hindrances, difficulties, and obstacles in the way of Christ's kingdom upon the earth. We may look at these in relation to our own puny strength, and quail before them. But, we are not to depend upon our own resources, but upon God's, in attempting the removal of everything that would intercept the progress of His holy kingdom in the world. There is a great mountain: I cannot beat it down, all the instruments I can bring to bear upon it seem utterly powerless. But God touches the mountains and they smoke. The Alps, the Apennines, the Pyrenees, and great Himalayas, shall go up like incense before Him, and His kingdom shall have smooth uninterrupted way. I say, in my hours of weakness, yonder is a stone which I cannot remove. If I could get clear of that obstacle all would be right; but the stone is heavy, the stone is sealed, the stone is watched. What can I do? I go up the hill wearily, almost hopelessly, and behold! the stone is rolled away, and on the obstacle there sits the angel of God. Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think! It may be difficult for some minds to follow the argument out spiritually; we must therefore descend to illustration. Here is a very clever artist, who has made a beautiful thing he brings before us, and we gather round it and say, "It is most exquisitely done. What is this, sir?" "That," replies the artist, "is my notion of a flower, and I am going to call that flower a rose." "Well, it is a beautiful thing — very graceful, and altogether beautifully executed: you are very clever." So he is, and now that exhausts his notion of the rose. But let God just hand in a full-blown rose from the commonest garden in the world, and where is your waxen beauty? Underneath every leaf is written, "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." Let Him just send the sweet spring morning in upon us with the first violet, and all your artificial florists, if they have one spark of wit left, will pick up their goods and go off as soon as possible. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. The meanest insect that flutters in the warm sunlight is a grander thing than the finest marble statue ever chiselled by the proudest sculptor. Now we are going to have a very festive day. We are going to pluck flowers and fashion them into arches, and we shall make our arches very high, very beautiful — and, so far as the flowers go, they are most gorgeously and exquisitely beautiful. We have put up the wires; we have festooned these wires, and we say, "Now, is not that very beautifully done?" and of course, we who always drink the toast "our noble selves," say yes. But God has only to take a few raindrops and strike through them the sunlight, and where are your pasteboard arches and your skilful working! He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. My fellow students, in this holy mystery, believe me, as in nature, so in the higher kingdom of grace. As in matter He beats all your sculptors, and is in all schools infinitely superior to men, so in the revelation of truth to the heart, in the way of redeeming man from sin, in the way of sanctifying fallen corrupt human nature — all your theorists and speculators, all your plaster dealers and social reformers and philanthropic regenerators, must get out of the way as artificial florists when God comes to us with the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley. Then let us leave all inferior teachers and go straight to the Master Himself. We have to deal with sin, and the only answer to sin, which answer is comprehended in one word, is the Cross. God's foolishness is better than our wisdom. God's weakness is infinitely superior to our strength. "He everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters."
(J. Parker, 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,