Why remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh…
Wherefore remember, that aforetime. The Ephesian Christians are reminded of what they were "aforetime," that is, before they received the gospel. It is a good exercise of memory for us all to go back on what we once were. For we did not all receive the gospel when it was first presented to us. Many of us who now believe were for years in a state of indifference; How well, then, does it become us to "remember" our former unconverted condition! The memory of what we were aforetime should make us humble and thoughtful, and quicken us in present duty.
I. THOSE THAT WERE GENTILES BY NAME. "Ye, the Gentiles in the flesh." The name "Gentiles," both in the Hebrew and in the Greek, is "nations." It was applied by the Jews to all nations except their own, just as we distinguish Christians and heathen. The Jews were one nation over against many; and though Christians are relatively more numerous than were the Jews, still they are the few and the heathen the multitudinous. But the apostle has reference to what the Gentiles were "in the flesh," and so he applies a second name to them.
II. THOSE THAT WERE THE UNCIRCUMCISION. "Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands." The Jews were distinguished by a bodily mark. It is referred to in the language "in the flesh, made by hands." By this surgical mark on them, they were known as God's. They were therefore properly called "the Circumcision," as all others who had not the mark were properly called "the Uncircumcision." And when the apostle uses the noticeable language here, "Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision," he is not to be regarded as reflecting on the distinction, or on the names founded on it. He is simply exercising a little caution. Those who called themselves Circumcision, as superior to those whom they called Uncircumcision, should have answered to the name. But he will not say that circumcision in the flesh was also circumcision in the spirit. There is often this distinction to be drawn between what we are called and what we are. We are Christians in name; but are we also Christians in truth? We have many honorable names applied to us as Christians; but do we answer to them? Is there a broad line of distinction between us and men of the world in our characters?
III. THEIR BEARING THE NAME OF THE UNCIRCUMICISION IMPLIED MUCH.
1. Separate from Christ. "That ye were at that time separate front Christ." They were not, indeed, without some connection with Christ. For it is only on the ground of his suretyship and work that men have a lifetime on earth, brief at it is. There was, therefore, indebtedness to Christ, even on the part of the uncircumcised; but they were separate from him in that they did not have him as their Messiah. There were Greeks and Romans that had more culture than Jews; where they came behind was in their having no Messianic privilege. There was no intimation to them of a Savior who was to come into the world. There was no presentation in type to them of the atonement that was to be made for sin. They were, therefore, excluded from such saving relation to Christ as was open to the Jews. The want of Christ is still the greatest want of the heathen world. He is not made known to them for their salvation. The radical defect in an unconverted man's position is that he is out of Christ, and so has none to give him shelter and help.
2. Separate from the Church. "Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." Israel was a commonwealth, as constituted, not for the good of a section, but for the good of all alike. It was constituted, not for mere political purposes, but for religious purposes principally. It was the Church more than the state. And the great privilege which every member of the commonwealth enjoyed was nearness to God. He was allowed to draw near to him and worship him in his temple, Now, when the Jews were thus constituted into a Divine commonwealth, the Gentiles were kept at an outside. The arrangement we know was for the ultimate benefit of the whole race; but none the less deplorable was their condition as aliens, or persons out of privilege. There is no arrangement now by which any are excluded from the Church of God, and yet it is with many as though such an arrangement existed. There are some, in Christian lands, who are alienated from the Christian Church, it may be, to a certain extent owing to the faults of its members; but can it be wholly put down to that, when there is in the gospel such a representation of goodness as ought to attract all who are not prejudiced against goodness? "Strangers from the covenants of the promise." There were promises to the Gentiles, but they did not pertain to them who lived before the coming of the Messiah. The Jews had the covenants of promise, viz. the covenants made to the patriarchs, founded, not on what had been effected for them, but on what was to be effected for them in the future, and which was promised. These covenants were their charter as a Church; what they could fall back upon as the reason for their existence. To these covenants the Gentiles were strangers; they had no share in them; theirs was an uncovenanted position. The covenant is not founded now on promise; it is founded on accomplished fact, it has been sealed with Christ's blood. None now occupy an uncovenanted position, such as the old heathen world did; and yet it is with many as though no change had taken place.
3. Miserable condition in the world. "Having no hope." Not having the "covenants" to go upon, they had no hope at all. Reason did not suffice to give them a hope beyond the grave. The hereafter was not a certainty, but only a vague conjecture. It was not lightened up as it was to Old Testament saints. We Christians have a rich hope. It is the hope of a glorious resurrection, and of a perfected and. endless life with Christ as our risen Savior. When such a hope has been brought to the world, how sad that there are so many in heathen lands who are looking forward into a dark and cheerless future! And sadder far it is that there are those in Christian lands who place no value on the life and immortality that have been brought to light by the gospel. "Without God in the world." Out of the Church, they were in the world. And the great evil of their being in the self-seeking, God-forgetting world was that there they were unbefriended by God. They could not live in the sunshine of his love, for they did not know him to be the God of love. It was a loss for which nothing could compensate. What a gain would it be to the heathen of our day to conceive of God as having given his Son for them! And yet, of those who have the opportunity, how few enter into the felicity of the enjoyment of God's love!
IV. THEIR ALTERED POSITION. "But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ." God had his earthly dwelling-place in the temple at Jerusalem. The Gentiles were literally far off from this center, compared with the Jews. But the distance in space was only emblematic of the moral distance at which they stood from God. They were at a distance, in their being out of harmony with his character. They were at a distance, in the displeasure with which he regarded their actions. But in Christ, in his becoming the personal historical Jesus, all this was altered. They were brought into a position of nearness to God. Christ ejected this by his blood. The blood which was shed on Jewish altars was only for Jews. The Jewish high priest represented the twelve tribes, but no more. The blood of Christ had a wider reference. It was for Gentiles as well as for Jews. And that being the case, Gentiles were kept no longer at a distance.
V. JEWS AND GENTILES BROUGHT INTO AMICABLE RELATIONS. "For he is our Peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the twain one new man, so making peace." There is a change from "ye" to "our." There is a difference of opinion as to the extent of meaning belonging to the words, "he is our Peace." It is admitted that, in the two verses here, the idea of peace between both receives decided expression. But some think that there is also to be brought in, though subordinately, the idea of the peace of both toward God. The objection to that is, that it is superfluous. For already it has been said of the Gentiles that obstacles have been removed out of their way, and afterward there is the thought of both being reconciled to God, and also of peace, i.e. reconciliation to God, being preached to both. It seems much simpler, then, here to confine the thought to peace between both. Christ is this Peace in his own person. In him there is neither Jew nor Gentile. His work is described as making both (parts) one; and the manner of his doing it as breaking down the middle wall of partition. It seems warrantable to explain this by an intended reference to the arrangement in the temple. There was there a separating of Jews from Gentiles. There was a wall or boundary beyond which Gentiles were forbidden to advance. As by the rending of the veil was signified the opening of the way into the holiest of all, so by what is described as the breaking down of the middle wall of partition we are to understand that Jews and Gentiles are brought into the same nearness to God. The middle wall of partition is explained to be the late of commandments contained in ordinances. The Mosaic Law was, on one side, a system of separation. It was like a wall enclosing the Jews and shutting off the Gentiles. It forbade all familiar intercourse with the Gentiles. As Christ was called Peace, so the Mosaic system is here made synonymous with enmity or estrangement. The Jews were not to hate other nations (for Jehovah was the God of all the earth, and they were told of a time when all nations were to be blessed); but, as things were, they were necessarily separated in feeling from them. And the Gentiles, on their side, were not slow to hate the Jews for their exclusiveness. The Mosaic system, then, in its incidence especially on the Gentiles, was enmity. And this enmity, we are told here, Christ abolished in his flesh. The Jewish Law he fulfilled, and, by fulfilling, abolished, so that it was no more a separation, or cause of estrangement. The rending of the veil pointed to a rending of his flesh. So the breaking down of the wall suggests a breaking in his flesh. It was a breaking, it is further suggested, that, Jew and Gentile perishing, there might rise out of both a new creation, viz. Christian. "That he might create in himself of the twain one new man." The breaking thus resulted in a peacemaking: "So making peace."
VI. HOW THIS WAS SHOWN.
1. In their being placed in one Church as reconciled to God by the same means. "And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." There is an advance from "one new man" to "one body." "Christian" was created; but it was in order that a body of Christians might be formed. In this body Jews and Gentiles might very well be together; for they had the deepest ground of union in their both being reconciled to God. This equality extended even to the instrument of reconciliation, viz. the Cross. When they were thus reconciled to God by the same means, "the enmity was slain;" and there was no need for two Churches - the Jewish Church continuing, and a Gentile Church forming a separate community. But there was the clearest case for one Church, viz. the Christian Church, containing both.
2. In their having the same gospel of peace preached to them. "And he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh." When it is said that Christ came and preached peace, we are to understand that it was under his authority and through his instruments. In comparison with what he himself had to do with it, others might very well be left out of account. There were obvious reasons for the clause in the parting command, "beginning from Jerusalem." But that only, as is implied, indicated the point of departure. And it was the same gospel that was to be proclaimed to all alike: "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his Name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." So here, with a certain emphasis in the repetition of the word "peace," as the purport of the message (to be understood in its God-ward sense) - "peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh." If, then, the gospel was preached to them in the same Name and in the same terms, they might well be "one body."
3. In their having, as reconciled, the same spiritual privileges. (Ver. 18.)
(1) Access unto the Father. "For through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father." To Old Testament saints God was not unknown as Father. "I said, Thou shalt call me, My Father." But it is true that this is the distinction and favorite designation of God in the New Testament. And the Messiah is correspondingly the Son of God. The relationship stands out as it did not do before, and gives peculiar pathos to the whole story of redemption. Sonship too becomes a more blessed reality, as it was a new-gained right. The idea here is that both could exercise the right of sonship in going to the Father and asking his blessing. Why, then, should they be apart?
(2) Same Introducer. In Eastern courts there was one who acted the part of introducer into the presence of royalty. This part Christ performs for us. He not only acted for us on the cross, but, on the ground of his sacrifice, he still intercedes for us. And every time we go into the presence of God we need his services, if we are to be acceptable. This part Christ performed for both alike.
(3) Assistance of the same Spirit. There is not one Spirit with Jewish proclivities, and another Spirit with Gentile proclivities. But there is the one Spirit, making their interests one, and putting common desires into their hearts when approaching God. The equality thus extends along the whole line.
VII. PRACTICAL CONCLUSION, IN WHICH THE EPHESIAN CHRISTIANS ARE ADDRESSED IN A THREEFOLD CHARACTER.
1. They are members of the spiritual commonwealth. "So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints." "Fellow-citizens with the saints." They are citizens in relation to God as Head of the commonwealth. "They are no more strangers and sojourners." There were those who stood in this relation to the Grecian states. They did not live on Grecian soil, or they lived on it without possessing the rights of "citizens." Such had been the relation of the Ephesians to the Jewish commonwealth. But now they were fully enrolled and recognized as citizens in that commonwealth in which were incorporated both Jews and Gentiles. The members of this commonwealth are designated "saints," as were the Ephesians in the opening of the Epistle. It points to their bearing a certain character, and having certain duties to perform. But the leading idea is the privileges of citizens. And these may be particularized.
(1) There is the privilege of good laws. In a civil community, laws are good where as much liberty of the subject is secured as is consistent with the public good, and where the interests of all classes are equally regarded. In this land we have been blessed in large measure with good laws. And our legislators are always trying to work out more perfectly the idea of justice. In the spiritual community, we do not need to concern ourselves about the improvement of the laws. They have had the character of finality from the beginning. We never need to distinguish here between law and equity. We can feel that the whole Divine dealing is characterized by the utmost fairness, reasonableness. "I know the thoughts which I think concerning you."
(2) There is the privilege of protect/on. A British subject, so long. as he keeps within the laws, has really the whole British power at his back. If a foreign state allows him to be trampled upon, he can claim protection from home. Such cases not unfrequently have arisen, and, where redress has not been given, there has been resort to punishment. A member of the Divine commonwealth who is possessed with its spirit has the theocratic power at his back - has, it may be said, ten legions of angels at his command, as the Master had. "Whoso toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye." There was this protection enjoyed by the Israelites very remarkably in connection with their going up to their feasts. And, in the Christian commonwealth, we can feel there is a wall of protection round about us. We can boldly say, "If the Lord is on our side, who are all they that can be against us?"
(3) There is the privilege of petitioning. It is a fundamental principle of the British constitution that every British subject has the right of petitioning the sovereign or Houses of Parliament. There is the same right vested in those who belong to the commonwealth of God. This right Daniel exercised when he made his petition three times a day.
2. They are members of the household of God. "And of the household of God." The relation in the family is closer than in the state. The theocracy was as a house in relation to which they had been strangers or sojourners; but now they had the full rights of members of the family.
(1) There is the right of a place in the household. "The servant abideth not in the house forever; but the son abideth ever." There is no breaking up of the household of God, such as is witnessed in earthly families. There is no banishment, such as there was from the household of David.
(2) There is the right of intercourse. Not the right of interview, let it be noticed, but the right of living in the Father's presence, and, in communion with him, entering into his thoughts and plans. "The servant" knoweth not what his master doeth. But of this intercourse we have not yet the full manifestation.
(3) There is the right of being provided for. "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." God holds himself bound by covenant to make all suitable provision for us, here and hereafter. And in our Father's house there is enough and to spare.
3. They are part of the temple of God. We are really subjects and really sons, but we are only compared to stones. It is a comparison by which are brought out some important truths.
(1) Apostles and prophets are foundation-stones. "Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." The latter, in accordance with Ephesians 3:5 and Ephesians 4:11, are regarded as New Testament prophets. It is supposed that the meaning of the language, "the foundation of the apostles and prophets," must be ruled by 1 Corinthians 3:10, where Christ is called the only Foundation. But, apart from the consideration that a figure does not always need to be used in the same way, the sense in which the apostles and prophets are the foundation is supported by Peter being called the Rock, and also by the twelve foundations being identified with the twelve apostles. There is nothing derogatory in such an interpretation to Christ, to whom in the connected clause is given the place of preeminence in the foundation. All that we are to understand is that, in what they had of Christ in their life and teaching, they were stones on which others were laid, and they were not stones far up in the building, but were at the very foundation of the Ephesian Church. Nay, they were foundation-men for the Christian Church as a whole, and it can he said that we are builded on them. And they were men that subserved the Divine purpose well.
(2) Christ Jesus himself is the chief Corner-stone. "Christ Jesus himself being the chief Corner-stone." Having said so much of the subordinates, he could not omit saying this of the Master. They were only ordinary stones of the foundation; but Christ was the chief Stone of the corner, not only supporting, but combining. He was a Stone disallowed by the Jewish builders. He was to be of no use in the Church or theocracy with which they had to do. And yet it was, in the wonderful working of God, in the very disallowing of him by these builders that he became the chief Stone of the corner. It is entirely owing to him as cause that a temple of God is being erected, each stone a saved soul.
(3) There are many buildings, but only one temple. "In whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord." It will be seen that, in the Revised translation, there is a change from "all the building" to "each several building." It is admitted that for the latter there is a necessity of scholarship; but for the former there is supposed to be a necessity of thought. It does not appear, however, that the naturalness and beauty of thought suffer by the translation which the Revisers have adopted. The key to the understanding of it seems to be Matthew 24:1. His disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. Here the very word is used in the plural. There were parts that might have formed buildings by themselves. And if we think of the time when these buildings were going up together, extending in all directions, different sets of builders being employed at different points, would there not have been appropriateness in saying that the buildings were growing into, or toward, a holy temple? These Ephesians knew what a massive imposing structure was, in their temple which covered an immense area. And such is the Church of God, as it is now going forward in the world. Buildings, each with its set of builders, and they are growing, not into separate temples, but into one holy temple. Let us go out with the Master and view them, and form some idea of the imposing structure it is to be.
(4) The temple takes its whole conformation from Christ. "In whom ye also are builded together."
(a) Each several building in its parts. The idea of regulation is brought out in the word which is translated "fitly framed together." "Joint" and "reason both go into the word. There is not a mere putting of parts together, but there is a jointing as in the human body, and a jointing moreover that displays reason. It is in Christ as Cornerstone that this is done. tie, then, is the reason or thought of God (Logos he is called), according to which the various parts of the building are put together. It is on this thoughtful connecting of the parts that the stability of a building, which is a main excellence, depends. A noble craft is that of mason: a good building will last longer than most books, than one book out of a million" (Carlyle).
(b) The several buildings as a whole. Regulation here also is pointed to in the word "grows." For there is a type according to which every living thing grows (which is from the Logos, by whom all things are made). So also is there a plan or distinct thought (in the mind of the Architect) according to which the buildings, separately proceeding, are made to "grow" into a holy temple. This also is in the Lord. The whole connecting of the spiritual structure belongs to him, and is shadowed forth by his being Cornerstone.
(5) The temple is for the habitation of God. "For a habitation of God in the Spirit." In the Revised translation there is an easy transition from the twenty-first verse to the twenty-second verse, from "each several building" to the Ephesian Church. That Church was one of the buildings. It was designed with a view to a habitation of God. But any one Church is too narrow for the dwelling-place of God. And so the Ephesians are reminded in the word which is employed that they were only a building along with other buildings - all of which are needed to make up the habitation of God. How intimate the union between God and his people that they are as a house in which he dwells! We are the habitation of God in the Spirit who puts all holy thoughts within us. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;