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THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST.
REMARKS ON EPHESIANS III.
WHEN we think of our wretchedness, of our state of sin, and of how unworthy we are of any relationship whatsoever with God, if it were not that divine grace was altogether free, and that God has been pleased to shew the exceeding riches of His grace to the ages to come, we could scarcely realise the possibility of such relationships as are here presented to us with a God of Holiness. No; we should not dare to take the Bible, and to speak of these things as of things that pertain to ourselves. Certainly, if we did not know that the Lord has been pleased to manifest the exceeding riches of His grace, we could not even conceive that He should take sinners such as we are to establish us in His
presence. When conscience is alive to all the sin and to the amount of selfishness and vanity that is in us, we are tempted to say, even in view of the glory of God, “ As for me, there is nothing in me but sin.”
It is the consciousness of sin which leads us towards God, when God acts in grace and love. If we had nothing but the consciousness of sin, we should not dare to think of the judgment of God. What sets us at ease is the thought of that grace and love in God, which unfolds itself in spite of our sin and of our corrupt flesh.
Title in man to the love of God there is none. I cannot form for myself any relationship with God, I cannot even touch that which pertains to Him. That which can alone set us at liberty is the consciousness that it is grace which acts, and that thus, in a certain sense, the
greater sinners we are, the more we owe to God the more is He glorified, and made manifest to be excellent in His ways.
This it is which opens the lips of a poor sinner; it is
a subject of interest as connected with himself, and of importance to others.
We see, in the case of the Apostle Paul, how full his heart was of this thought. The words which he employs when he desires to express that he, “the chiefest of sinners, is less than the least of all saints," sets at defiance all the rules of common language. Thinking of himself, and of the preciousness of the free gifts which God had bestowed upon him, in pardoning all his sins, and (not only so, but further) in instructing him with the word of that grace for others, he is abashed before God.
Two examples of this grace, two chosen vessels, have been remarkable in their work-Peter and Paul.
What was Peter's preparation for the strengthening of his brethren, for the feeding of the lambs? The denial of the Saviour. That was his preparation; that was the education which made him understand that he was worse than nothing
And Paul, how was he prepared? By persecuting and ravaging the Church, by displaying an energy most execrable against Christ. If Peter could say to the Jews, “You have denied the Holy One and the Just," they might say to him, " And you, you too, did the same !" If Paul could say to them, “ You have filled up the cup of the wrath of God,” they might answer him, “ And you, what were you? You were a minister of Satan when you persecuted the Christians, forcing them to blaspheme, and dragging them to prison !" Such circumstantially was the preparation, according to God, of these two men, in order that the flesh might be known for that which it is, and the heart as it is.
When Paul is proclaiming the faith to the Gentiles, he who had been caught up to the third heavens must, on account of the importance of the revelations, have a thorn in the flesh.
I add this, in order to shew that the wickedness of the flesh is always the same.
As to the other Apostles, they disappear, so to speak, from the scene. The work is, for the greater part, placed in the hands of Peter and Paul; the former was Apostle of the Circumcision, the latter Apostle of the Uncircumcision.
It was very humbling to the flesh, at least, when we think of all that these two men had done, for one of them to have to say—“I have denied the Lord, He who has been so good toward me, who has so loved me, who has anticipated and met for me all the danger"; and for the other to have put Christians to death, and to be obliged to say—“I did it with my whole heart; all that my religion did for me was to make me a bitter enemy of God.” At the same time, it tended to fill the heart with the taste of grace, because God was there; and there where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Not only so, but the vessels in which this treasure had been deposited, the vessels themselves, had been prepared, not by good qualities, but by sad experiences. Paul was well fitted, because, as a man, he must have been rendered sensible of the grace which was needed by himself, so that in him those that should afterwards believe might know what were the riches of that grace.
The Apostle was to be the witness of the kindness and of the grace of Christ. In him was to be shewn sin, just as it is, set in the presence of the love and of the grace of God. Then the flesh was in its proper place, and Paul could preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. We see in Paul how grace overflows constantly, when his thoughts turn towards the
grace of God.
The fact was just the same as to the Jews; but then they were expecting something, because they had the promises. Peter, the Apostle of the Circumcision, addressed himself to a people who were outwardly the people of God. He could say to them—“ Ye are the children of Abraham, the first-fruits. As to the Gentiles, they were dogs, as Jesus said to the woman of Canaan,
It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs'” (Matt. xv. 26).
When Paul addresses himself to the Gentiles, he founds his right to speak to them of Christ on the depth of that grace which recognised nothing, but that God has the right to shew grace.
This poor Syro-Phænician, who was of a race to appearance cursed, who had a right to nothing, and ac
knowledges that she is but a dog, it is she who tastes all the sweetness of the grace
of God. « Be it to thee even as thou wilt," said the Lord. “If it was a question of thy right, I tell thee, thou hast a right to nothing. I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and thou art not one of these sheep.” But it is to grace that this woman addressed herself, and there is so much grace in God, that she can say, “ Dog though I be, yet I may eat”; thereupon the Lord could not say to her, “ No, thou mayest not. Salvation proclaimed to the Gentiles brought to light all the riches of the grace which God for us. The circumstances which
occasion to the flesh, gave occasion also to that manifestation of the unsearchable riches of Christ, of which we speak, and which, indeed, are incomprehensible.
A Jew, as such, could not speak of the unsearchable riches (though grace was always grace); he could say, “ Lo,'tis grace which comes to me.” The prophets, Isaiah, for instance, or any other prophet, would have taken the law, and found things which belonged to him; he had found the Messiah. This the law shewed to him.
“See what a magnificent promise will be fulfilled for us." He could shew the wonderful favour of God towards His people: it was a thing understood by him who had intelligence in the words of God. It was a promise made to a race to whom God declared remarkable blessings, but which placed man in relationship with God upon revealed promises.
But as soon as a Gentile was in question, all that was gone. For the grace of Christ, it must be they that are spiritual, for such alone could seek it in the prophets. À Jew could say, He will be a king exalted above all people; all the promises of God will form his crown of glory. But when the Gentile was in question, blessings which flowed from the eternal counsels of God must be discovered; not only a people called to enjoy blessings, but Christ must be received according to the counsels
of God. Grace was about to find a poor sinner, who had a right to nothing, who was incapable of enjoying the promises, and incapable of understanding them. It took these poor sinners, who had not an idea or feeling in
He could say,
If it was
harmony with God, to place them in the enjoyment of all the riches of the thoughts of God, in Christ Himself. This is why the Apostle says, they are the unsearchable riches of Christ. It was not only things which were suitable to man, but things which were meet for God; even things which were quite new, not in the thoughts of God, but as to revelation, and which were to be manifested to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places by the Church itself, and by this revelation.
Let us examine a little what this grace is; and in order to understand it better, let us take Colossians i. 26, 27—“The mystery which had been hidden from ages and generations, but now is made manifest to the saints: to whom God would make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This it is which manifests what these unsearchable riches are. a Christ for the Jews, it was not a Christ the hope of glory, but a Christ who was the fulfiller of the glory. Here it is a Christ who is not the glory, but only the hope of glory, because, though He is in heaven He dwells in us, and in the midst of us, by His Spirit. It is a thought entirely new; but, after all, it is but a hope: this is the idea the Apostle presents to us. We are about to see how he brings this in, and leads us up to that blessed position of the child of God, to have Christ in him, by His Spirit, as it is said, Rom. viii. 9, 10. Christ in us the source of strength, and of hidden relationships is the hope of glory. This is the position in which he puts us, and it is our joy.
In Ephesians ii. 12, Paul says, speaking of the Gentiles — «Ye were at that time without Christ, being strangers to the covenants of promise, and without God in the world.” Children of wrath, even as others, without hope, and Godless.
Now, on what basis, on what foundation is it, that God builds this glorious hope? At the very beginning God had said to Adam- In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread." This is not a promise, for there is none made to Adam, and thorns and thistles are not a promise. What God said He said to the serpent, judging