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Barnes' Notes on the New Testament

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Ephesians Chapter 3


THIS chapter consists, properly, of three parts :--

I. A statement that the Gentiles were to be made partakers of the gospel, and that the work of proclaiming this was especially entrusted to Paul, Ephesians 3:1-12. In illustrating this, Paul observes:--

(1.) That he was the prisoner of Jesus Christ in behalf of the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:1. He was in bonds for maintaining that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles, and for endeavouring to convey it to them.

(2.) He reminds them all of the fact that he was called, by special revelation, to make known this truth, and to convey to the Gentiles this gospel--supposing that they had heard of the manner of his conversion, Ephesians 3:2,3.

(3.) He refers them to what he had said before in few words on this point as proof of his acquaintance with this great plan of the gospel, Ephesians 3:3,4.

(4.) He speaks of this great truth as a "mystery"--the "mystery of Christ;" the great and important truth which was concealed until Christ came, and which was fully made known by him, Ephesians 3:4-6. This had been hidden for ages. But now it had been fully revealed by the Spirit of God to the apostles and prophets in the Christian church, that the great wall of partition was to be broken down, and the gospel proclaimed alike to all.

(5.) The apostle says, that to him especially was this office committed, to proclaim among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, Ephesians 3:8,9.

(6.) The design of this was to illustrate, in view of all worlds, the great wisdom of God in the plan of salvation, Ephesians 3:10-12. It was intended to show to other intelligent beings the glory of the Divine perfections, and to make manifestations of the Divine character which could be perceived nowhere else.

II. Paul expresses an earnest wish that they should comprehend the glory of this plan of salvation, Ephesians 3:13-19. Particularly he desires them not to faint on account of his afflictions in their behalf; declares that he bows his knees in prayer before the great Father of the redeemed family, that God would be pleased to strengthen them, and enlighten them, and give them clear views of the glorious plan.

III. The chapter concludes with an ascription of praise to God, in view of the great goodness which he had manifested, and of the glory of the plan of salvation, Ephesians 3:20,21.

Verse 1. For this cause. On account of preaching this doctrine; that is, the doctrine that the gospel was to be proclaimed to the Gentiles.

I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ. A prisoner in the service of the Lord Jesus; or made a prisoner in his cause. Not a prisoner for crime, or debt, or as a captive in war, but a captive in the service of the Redeemer. This proves that, at the time of writing this, Paul was in bonds, and there can be no question that he was in Rome. This would be more correctly rendered, "For this cause I, Paul, am the prisoner," etc. So Tindal renders it, "For this cause I, Paul, the servant of Jesus, am in bonds." So also Locke, Rosenmuller, Doddridge, Whitby, Koppe, and others understand it. By this construction the abruptness now manifest in our common version is avoided.

For you Gentiles. Made a prisoner at Rome on your behalf, because I maintained that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles. See Acts 22:21-23. He was taken first to Cesarea, and then to Rome. The cause of his imprisonment and of all his difficulties was, that he maintained that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles; that when the Jews rejected it, God rejected them; and that he was specially called to carry the message of salvation to the heathen world.

Verse 2. If ye have heard. \~eige\~. "If at least, if indeed, if so be, spoken of what is taken for granted." Robinson. Comp. 2 Corinthians 5:3; Galatians 3:4; Ephesians 4:21; Colossians 1:23, for the use of the particle. The particle here is not designed to express a doubt whether they had heard of it or not, for he takes it for granted that they had. Doddridge renders it, "Since I well know you have heard," etc. He had informed them of his being called to be the minister to the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:3, but still there was a possibility that they had not received the letter containing the information, and he goes, therefore, into another statement on the subject, that they might fully comprehend it. Hence this long parenthetical sentence--one of the longest that occurs in the writings of Paul, and expressed under the impulse of a mind full of the subject; so full, as we would say, that he did not know what to say first. Hence it is exceedingly difficult to understand the exact state of mind in which he was. It seems to me that the whole of this long statement grew out of the incidental mention Ephesians 3:1 of the fact that he was a prisoner for the Gentiles. Instantly he seems to have reflected that they would be grieved at the intelligence that he was suffering on their account. He goes, therefore, into this long account, to show them how it happened; that it was by the appointment of God; that it was in the evolving of a great and glorious mystery; that it was in a cause adapted to promote, in an eminent degree, the glory of God; that it was according to an eternal purpose; and he, therefore, Ephesians 3:13, says, that he desires that they would not "faint" or be unduly distressed on account of his sufferings for them, since his sufferings were designed to promote their "glory." He was comforted in the belief that he was making known the glorious and eternal plan of God, and in the belief that was for the welfare of mankind; and he, therefore, entreated then also not to be troubled inordinately at his sufferings.

The dispensation, Gr. economy; rendered stewardship Luke 16:2-4; and dispensation, Ephesians 1:10; 3:2; Colossians 1:25. See Barnes "Ephesians 1:10". It means here, that this arrangement was made that he should be the apostle to the Gentiles. In the assignment of the different parts of the work of preaching the gospel, the office had been committed to him of making it known to the heathen.

Of the grace of God. In the arrangements of his grace.

Which is given me to you-ward. Toward you who are Gentiles. Not to the Ephesians particularly, but to the nations at large. See Barnes "Galatians 2:7".

{*} "ye have heard" "since"
{a} "dispensation of the grace" Colossians 1:25
{b} "of God" Romans 12:3.

Verse 3. How that by revelation. See Barnes " :". He refers to the revelation which was made to him when he was called to the apostolic office, that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles, and that he was converted for the special purpose of carrying it to them. See Acts 9:15; 22:21.

Unto me the mystery. The hitherto concealed truth that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles. See Barnes "Ephesians 1:9", on the meaning of the word mystery.

As I wrote afore in few words. Marg., a little before. To what this refers commentators are not agreed. Bloomfield, Doddridge, Rosenmuller, Erasmus, Grotius, Locke, and others, suppose that he refers to what he had written in the two previous chapters respecting the plan of God to call the Gentiles to his kingdom. Calvin supposes that he refers to some former epistle which he had written to them, but which is now lost. He remarks in regard to this, "If the solicitude of Paul be rightly considered; if his vigilance and assiduity; if his zeal and studious habits; if his kindness and promptitude in assisting his brethren, it is easy to suppose that he wrote many epistles, publicly and privately, to this place and to that place. But those only which the Lord saw necessary to the welfare of his church has he taken care to have preserved." In this opinion there is nothing in itself improbable, - comp. Introduction to Isaiah,  6,

(1.)--but it may be doubted whether Paul here refers to any such epistle. The addition which he makes, "whereby, when ye read," etc., seems rather to imply that he refers to what he had just written.

{c} "he made known" Galatians 1:12
{+} "mystery" "Secret"
{1} "afore" "a little before"

Verse 4. Whereby when ye read. By the bare reading of which you may understand the view which I entertain of the plan of salvation, and the knowledge which I have of God's method of saving men, particularly of his intention in regard to the salvation of the Gentiles.

In the mystery of Christ. This does not refer to anything mysterious in the person of Christ; or the union of the Divine and human nature in him; or to anything difficult of apprehension in the work of the atonement. It means the hitherto concealed doctrine, that through the Messiah the Gentiles were to be received to the same privileges as the Jews, and that the plan of salvation was to be made equally free for all. This great truth had been hitherto concealed, or but partially understood, and Paul says that he was appointed to make it known to the world. His knowledge on the subject, he says, could be understood by what he had said, and from that they could judge whether he was qualified to state and defend the doctrines of the Gospel. Paul evidently supposed that the knowledge which he had on that subject was of eminent value; that it was possessed by few; that it was important to understand it. Hence he dwells upon it. He speaks of the glory of that truth. He traces it back to the counsels of God. He shows that it entered into his eternal plans; and he evidently felt that the truth which he had communicated in the former part of this epistle was among the most important that could come before the mind.

{a} "mystery" Ephesians 1:9
{*} "mystery" "secret"

Verse 5. Which in other ages. The great purposes of God in regard to the salvation of mankind were not revealed. See Barnes "Romans 16:25".

And prophets. Those who exercised the office of a prophet or inspired teacher in the Christian church. See Barnes "1 Corinthians 12:1".

By the Spirit. This proves that those who exercised the office of prophet in the Christian church were inspired. They were persons endowed in this manner for the purpose of imparting to the newly-formed churches the doctrines of the Christian system. There is no evidence that this was designed to be a permanent order of men in the church. They were necessary for settling the church on a permanent basis, in the absence of a full written revelation, and when the apostles were away. When the volume of revelation was finished, and the doctrines of the gospel were fully understood, the functions of the office ceased.

{b} "made known" Matthew 13:17; Romans 16:25; 1 Peter 1:10-12

Verse 6. That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs. Fellow-heirs with the ancient people of god--the Jews--and entitled to the same privileges. See Barnes "Romans 8:17 Eph 2:13-18"

Verse 7. Whereof I was made a minister. See Barnes " :".

According to the gift of the grace of God. It was not by my own seeking or merit; it was a free gift.

Of the grace of God. The sentiment is, that throughout it was a mere matter of grace that he was called into the ministry, and that so important an office was entrusted to him as that of bearing the gospel to the Gentiles.

By the effectual working of his power. Not by any native inclination which I had to the gospel, and not by any, power which I have put forth. It is by "the energy of his power. Comp. See Barnes "Galatians 2:8". Locke understands this of the energy or power which God put forth in converting the Gentiles under his ministry. But it seems to me that it refers rather to the power which God put forth in the conversion of Paul himself, and putting him into the ministry. This is clear from the following verse. The meaning is, that such was his opposition to the gospel by nature, that nothing but the "energy of God" could overcome it, and that his conversion was to be traced to that alone.

{c} "effectual working" Isaiah 43:13

Verse 8. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. This is one of the class of expressions peculiar to Paul. The ordinary terms of language do not express the idea which he wishes to convey, and a word is therefore coined to convey an idea more emphatically. Comp. See Barnes "2 Corinthians 4:17". The word here used--\~elacistoterov\~--does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It is a comparative made from the superlative. Similar expressions are found, however, in later Greek writers. See Bloomfield and Rosenmuller for examples. The word means here, "who am incomparably the least of all the saints; or who am not worthy to be reckoned among the saints." It is expressive of the deep sense which he had of the sinfulness of his past life; of his guilt in persecuting the church and the Saviour; and perhaps of his sense of his low attainments in piety. See Barnes "1 Corinthians 15:9". Paul never could forget the guilt of his former life; never forget the time when he was engaged in persecuting the church of God.

The unsearchable riches of Christ. On the word riches, as used by Paul, see See Barnes "Ephesians 1:7". The word rendered unsearchable-- \~anexicniaston\~ occurs but once elsewhere in the New Testament, Romans 11:33, where it is rendered, past finding out. See Barnes "Romans 11:33". It means that which cannot be traced out, or explored; Which is inscrutable, or incomprehensible. The meaning here is, that there was a sufficiency in Christ which could not be traced out or explored. It was wholly incomprehensible. The fulness of the riches in him could not be appreciated. There is no more emphatic expression in the New Testament than this. It shows that the heart of the apostle was full of admiration of the sufficiency and glory that was in the Saviour; that he wanted words to express it; and that he considered it the highest honour to be permitted to tell the world that there were such riches in the Redeemer.

{d} "less than the least" 1 Corinthians 15:9
{e} "riches of Christ" Colossians 1:27

Verse 9. And to make all men see. In order that the whole human family might see the gloW of God in the plan of salvation. Hitherto the revelation of his character and plans had been confined to the Jews. Now it was his design that all the race should be made acquainted with it.

What is the fellowship of the mystery. Instead of fellowship here--\~koinwnia\~--most Mss. and versions read \~oikonomia\~ dispensation. See Mill. This reading is adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, Rosenmuller, Koppe, and is regarded by most critics as being the genuine reading. The mistake might easily have been made by a transcriber. The meaning then would be, "to enlighten all in respect to the dispensation of this mystery;" that is, to cause all to understand the manner in which this great truth of the plan of salvation is communicated to men. If the word fellowship is to be retained, it means that this doctrine, or secret counsel of God, was now common to all believers. It was not to be confined to any class or rank of men. Locke renders it, "and to make all men perceive how this mystery comes now to be communicated to the world." Archbishop Whately (Errors of Romanism, ii.  1) renders it, "the common participation of the mystery;" that is, of truths formerly unknown, and which could not be known by man's unaided powers, but which were now laid open by the gracious dispensation of Divine Providence; no longer concealed, or confined to a few, but to be partaken of by all. The allusion, according to him, is to the mysteries of the ancient pagan religions; and he supposes that the apostle designs to contrast those "mysteries" with Christianity. In those "mysteries" there was a distinction between the initiated and uninitiated. There was a revelation, to some of the worshippers, of certain holy secrets from which others were excluded. There were in some of the mysteries, as the Eleusinian, great and lesser doctrines, in which different persons were initiated. In strong contrast with these, the "great mystery" in Christianity was made known to all. It was concealed from none, and there was no distinction made among those who were initiated. No truths which God had revealed were held back from any part, but there was a common participation by all. Christianity has no hidden truths for a part only of its friends; it has no "reserved" doctrines; it has no truths to be entrusted only to a sacred priesthood. Its doctrines are to be published to the wide world, and every follower of Christ is to be a partaker of all the benefits of the truths which Christ has revealed. It is difficult to determine which is the true reading, and it is not very important. The general sense is, that Paul felt himself called into the ministry in order that all men might understand now that salvation was free for all a truth that had been concealed for ages. Bearing this great truth, he felt that he had a message of incalculable value to mankind, and he was desirous to go and proclaim it to the wide world. On the word mystery, See Barnes "Ephesians 1:9".

Hath been hid in God. With God. It has been concealed in his bosom. The plan was formed, but it had not before been made known.

Who created all things. This is plain enough; but it is not quite so plain why the declaration is introduced in this place. Locke and Rosenmuller suppose that it refers to the new creation, and that the sense is, that God frames and manages this new creation wholly by Jesus Christ. But the expression contains a truth of larger import, and naturally conveys the idea that all things were made by God, and that this was only a part of his great and universal agency. The meaning is, that God formed all things, and that this purpose of extending salvation to the world was a part oś his great plan, and was under his control.

By Jesus Christ. As this stands in our common Greek text, as well as in our English version, there is a striking resemblance between the passage and that in Colossians 1:15,16. But the phrase is wanting in the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Coptic, and in several of the ancient MSS. Mill remarks, that it was probably inserted here by some transcriber from the parallel passage in Colossians 1:16; and it is rejected as an interpolation by Griesbach. It is not very material whether it be retained in this place or not, as the same sentiment is elsewhere abundantly taught. See John 1:3; Colossians 1:16 Hebrews 1:2. If it is to be retained, the sentiment is, that the Son of God--the Second Person of the Trinity--was the great and immediate Agent in the creation of the universe.

{f} "mystery" Ephesians 3:4,5
{*} "mystery" "secret"
{a} "Jesus Christ" Psalms 33:6

Verse 10. To the intent. Greek, "that"--\~ina\~. The sense is, that it was with this design, or that this was the purpose for which all things were made. One grand purpose in the creation of the universe was, that the wisdom of God might be clearly shown by the church. It was not enough to evince it by the formation of the sun, the stars, the earth, the seas, the mountains, the floods. It was not enough to show it by the creation of intelligent beings, the formation of immortal minds on earth, and the various ranks of the angelic world. There were views of the Divine character which could be obtained only in connexion with the redemption of the world. Hence the universe was created, and man was made upon the earth, not merely to illustrate the Divine perfections in the work of creation, but in a still more illustrious manner in the work of redemption. And hence the deep interest which the angelic hosts have ever evinced in the salvation of man.

That now. The word now--\~nun\~--is wanting in the Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic; and is omitted by many of the Fathers. See Koppe. If it is to be retained, it means that this display is to be made under the gospel. "Now, since the Messiah is come; now, under the Christian dispensation, this revelation is to be made to distant worlds."

Unto the principalities and powers. To the angelic hosts--the intelligent beings that surround the throne of God. See Barnes "Ephesians 1:21".

By the Church. By the incarnation of the Redeemer to save it; by the mercy shown to it; by the wise arrangement made to recover his people from the fall; and by all the graces and beauties which that redeemed church will evince on earth and in heaven.

The manifold wisdom of God. Literally, much-variegated. It means the greatly-diversified wisdom. It does not mean merely that there was great wisdom, but that the wisdom shown was diversified and varied; like changing, variegated colours. There was a "beautiful and well-ordered variety of dispensations" towards that church, all of which tended to evince the wisdom of God. It is like a landscape, or a panoramic view passing before the mind, with a great variety of phases and aspects, all tending to excite admiration. In the redemption of the church, there is not merely one form or one phase of wisdom. It is wisdom, ever-varying, ever-beautiful. There was wisdom manifested when the plan was formed; wisdom in the selection of the Redeemer; wisdom in the incarnation; wisdom in the atonement; wisdom in the means of renewing the heart, and sanctifying the soul; wisdom in the various dispensations by which the Church is sanctified, guided, and brought to glory. The wisdom thus shown is like the ever-varying beauty of changing clouds, when the sun is reflected on them at evening. Each aspect is full of beauty. One bright cloud differs in appearance from others; yet all tend to fill the mind with elevated views of God.

Verse 11. According to the eternal purpose. See Barnes " :". Literally, "the purpose of ages," or of eternity. Locke, Chandler, and Whitby render this, "according to that disposition or arrangement of the ages which he made in Jesus Christ, or through him." The object of such an interpretation seems to be to avoid the doctrine that God had a purpose or plan in the salvation of men, and hence such expositors suppose it refers to the arrangement of the ages of the world by which the plan of redemption was introduced. On the word here rendered purpose--\~proyesiv\~-- See Barnes "Romans 8:28". Comp. Ephesians 1:11. It is rendered shewbread-- "the bread of setting before," Matthew 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4; Hebrews 9:2; purpose, Acts 11:23; Acts 27:13; Romans 8:28; 9:11; Ephesians 1:11; 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:10. It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. In most of these cases it refers to the purpose or intention of God; in not a single case does it mean arrangement or disposition in any sense like that of making an arrangement of ages or periods of the world; and the interpretation proposed by Whitby, Locke, Clarke, and others, is wholly at variance with the settled use of the word. The word rendered eternal--\~aiwnwn\~--may mean ages; but it also most usually means eternity. See Ephesians 3:9. Here it may mean "the purpose of ages;" i.e., the purpose formed in past ages; but the word is most commonly used in the New Testament in the sense of ever, and for ever. Comp. the following places, where it is so rendered in our common version, and beyond a doubt correctly: Matthew 6:13; 21:19; Mark 3:29; 11:14; Luke 1:33,55; John 4:14; 6:51,58; 8:35; 14:16; Romans 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; 2 Corinthians 9:9; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:5. The fair meaning of the passage here is, that God had formed a plan which was eternal in reference to the salvation of men; that that plan had reference to the Lord Jesus; and that it was now executed by the gospel. It is impossible to get away from the idea that God has a plan. It is too often affirmed in the Scriptures, and is too consonant with our reason to be disputed. It is as undesirable as it is impossible to escape from that idea. Who could respect or honour an intelligent Being that had no plan, no purpose, no intention, and that did all things by caprice and hap-hazard? If God has any plan, it must be eternal. He has no new schemes; he has no intentions which he did not always have.

Which he purposed. Literally, "which he made."

In Christ Jesus. With reference to him; or which were to be executed through him. The eternal plan had respect to him, and was to be executed by his coming and work.

{c} "eternal purpose" Ephesians 1:9

Verse 12. We have boldness. The word here used--\~parrhsian\~--means, properly, boldness of speaking, 2 Corinthians 7:4; John 7:26; Acts 4:13,29,31. Here it seems to mean, "freedom of utterance;" and the idea is, that we may come to God now in prayer with confidence through the Lord Jesus. See Hebrews 4:16.

And access. See Barnes "Ephesians 2:18".

By the faith of him. By faith in him. The sense is, that we may now come confidently and boldly to the throne of grace for mercy in the name of the Redeemer. Boldness is not rashness, and faith is not presumption; but we may come without hesitating, and with an assurance that our prayers will be heard.

{d} "boldness" Hebrews 4:16
{*} "boldness" "freedom of speech"

Verse 13. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not. The connexion here is this. Paul was then a prisoner at Rome. He had been made such in consequence of his efforts to diffuse the Christian religion among the Gentiles. See Barnes "Ephesians 3:1". His zeal in this cause, and the opinions which he held on this subject, had roused the wrath of the Jews, and led to all the calamities which he was now suffering. Of that the Ephesians, he supposes, were aware. It was natural that they should be distressed at his sufferings, for all his privations were endured on their account. But here he tells them not to be troubled and disheartened. He was indeed suffering; but he was reconciled to it, and they should be also, since it was promoting their welfare. The word rendered "faint"- \~ekkakew\~--means, literally, to turn out a coward, or to lose one's courage; then to be faint-hearted, etc. See Barnes "2 Corinthians 4:1". It is rendered faint in Luke 18:1; 2 Corinthians 4:1,16; Ephesians 3:13 and weary in Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13. It does not elsewhere occur. It is rendered here by Locke, dismayed. Koppe supposes it means that they should not suppose that the Christian religion was vain and false because he was suffering so much from his countrymen on account of it. But it rather means that they might be in danger of being discouraged by the fact that he was enduring so much. They might become disheartened in their attachment to a system of religion which exposed its friends to such calamities. Paul tells them that this ought not to follow. They were to be profited by all his sufferings, and they should, therefore, hold fast to a religion which was attended with so many benefits to them--though he should suffer.

Which is your glory. Which tends to your honour and welfare. You have occasion to rejoice that you have a friend who is willing thus to suffer for you; you have occasion to rejoice in all the benefits which will result to you from his trials in your behalf.

{e} "where is your glory" 2 Corinthians 1:6

Verse 14. For this cause. Some suppose that this is a resumption of what he had commenced saying in Ephesians 3:1, but which had been interrupted by a long parenthesis. So Bloomfield explains it. But it seems to me more probable that he refers to what immediately precedes. "Wherefore, that the great work may be carried on and that the purposes of these my sufferings may be answered in your benefit and glory, I bow my knees to God, and pray to him:"

I bow my knees. I pray. The usual and the proper posture of prayer is to kneel. Comp. 2 Chronicles 6:13; Daniel 6:10; Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60; 9:40; Acts 20:36; 21:5. It is a posture which indicates reverence, and should, therefore, be assumed when we come before God. It has been an unhappy thing that the custom of kneeling in public worship has ever been departed from in the Christian churches.

Unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. To whom, undoubtedly, prayer should ordinarily be addressed. But this does not make it improper to address the Lord Jesus in prayer. See Barnes " :".

Verse 15. Of whom the whole family. This expression, "of whom," may refer either to "the Father" or to the Lord Jesus. Commentators have been divided in opinion in regard to it. Bloomfield, Chandler, Erasmus, Koppe, and some others, refer it to the Father. Locke, Doddridge, Calvin, and some others, refer it to the Lord Jesus. This is the more natural interpretation. The whole "family of God" means all his children; and the idea is, that they all bear the same name, derived from the Redeemer; all are Christians. No matter where they are, in heaven or in earth; no matter from what nation they are converted, whether Jews or Gentiles, they an have one name, and one Redeemer, and all belong to one family. See Ephesians 4:4-6.

In heaven. Spirits of just men made perfect. It does not properly refer to angels, for he is not speaking of them, but of the family of the redeemed. If the phrase, "in heaven," could ever be taken to denote the Jews as contradistinguished from the Gentiles, I should think that this was one of the places. Many expositors have supposed that it is frequently so used in this epistle, but I see no clear evidence of it, and no instance where it seems very probable, unless this should be one. And it is not necessary here, for it may mean all the redeemed, whether in heaven or earth, though the connexion would seem rather to have suggested a reference to the Jews and the Gentiles. An expression similar to this occurs in Colossians 1:20:--"To reconcile all things to himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." The passage before us is one that is commonly explained by a reference to Jewish opinions. The Jews were accustomed to call the angels in heaven God's upper family, and his people on earth his lower family. See the passages cited from the Rabbinical writers in Wetstein.

Is named. This means substantially the same as is. They are all of one family. They all have one Father, and are all of one community. The expression is taken from the custom in a family, where all bear the name of the head of the family; and the meaning is, that all in heaven and on earth are united under one head, and constitute one community. It does not mean that all are called by the same name, or that the name Christian is given to the angels, but that they all pertain to the same community, and constitute the same great and glorious brotherhood. Part are in heaven, near his throne; part in distant worlds; part are angels of light; part redeemed and happy spirits; part are in the church on earth; but they are all united as one family, and have one Head and Father. This glorious family will yet be gathered together in heaven, and will encompass the throne of their common Father rejoicing.

Verse 16. According to the riches of his glory. According to the glorious abundance of his mercy. See Philippians 4:19. Out of those stores of rich grace which can never be exhausted. The word riches, so often used by Paul, denotes abundance; and the idea here is, that his grace was inexhaustible and ample for all their wants.

To be strengthened with might. To be powerfully strengthened. That is, to give you abundant strength to bear trials; to perform your duties; to glorify his name.

In the inner man. In the heart, the mind, the soul. See Barnes "Romans 7:22". The body needs to be strengthened every day. In like manner the soul needs constant supplies of grace. Piety needs to be constantly invigorated, or it withers and decays. Every Christian needs grace given each day to enable him to bear trials, to resist temptation, to discharge his duty, to live a life of faith.

{a} "of his glory" Philippians 4:19
{b} "strengthened" Ephesians 6:10; Colossians 1:11
{c} "inner man" Romans 7:22

Verse 17. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. See Barnes "Ephesians 2:22". Expressions like this often occur in the Scriptures, where God is said to dwell in us, and we are said to be the temples of the Holy Ghost. See Barnes "John 14:23"; See Barnes "1 Corinthians 6:19".

That ye being rooted. Firmly established--as a tree is whose roots strike deep, and extend afar. The meaning is, that his love should be as firm in our hearts as a tree is in the soil, whose roots strike deep into the earth.

And grounded. \~teyemeliwmenoi\~--founded--as a building is on a foundation. The word is taken from architecture where a firm foundation is laid; and the meaning is, that he wished them to be as firm in the love of Christ, as a building is that rests on a solid basis.

In love. In love to the Redeemer--perhaps also in love to each other-- and to all. Love was the great principle of the true religion, and the apostle wished that they might be fully settled in that.

{d} "dwell in your hearts" John 14:23; Ephesians 2:2
{e} "rooted" Colossians 2:7

Verse 18. May be able to comprehend with all saints. That all others with you may be able to understand this. It was his desire that others, as well as they, might appreciate the wonders of redemption.

What is the breadth, and length, etc. It has been doubted to what this refers. Locke says it refers to the mystery of calling the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Chandler supposes there is an allusion in all this to the temple at Ephesus. It was one of the wonders of the world--exciting admiration by its length, and height, and dimensions in every way, as well as by its extraordinary riches and splendour. In allusion to this, the object of so much admiration and pride to the Ephesians, he supposes that Paul desires that they should become fully acquainted with the extent and beauty of the spiritual temple. But I do not see that there is clear evidence that there is allusion here to the temple at Ephesus. It seems rather to be the language of a heart that was full of the subject, and impressed with its greatness; and the words are employed to denote the dimensions of that love, and are similar to what would be meant if he had said, "that you may know how large, or how great is that love." The apostle evidently meant to express the strongest sense of the greatness of the love of the Redeemer, and to show, in the most emphatic manner, how-much he wished that they should fully understand it. On the phrase "depth and height," See Barnes "Romans 8:39".

Verse 19. And to know the love of Christ. The love of Christ towards us; the immensity of redeeming love. It is not merely the love which he showed for the Gentiles in calling them into his kingdom, which is here referred to; it is the love which is shown for the lost world in giving himself to die. This love is often referred to in the New Testament, and is declared to surpass all other which has ever been evinced. See Barnes "Romans 5:7", See Barnes "Romans 5:8"; See Barnes "John 15:13". To know this; to feel this; to have a lively sense of it, is one of the highest privileges of the Christian. Nothing will so much excite gratitude in our hearts; nothing will prompt us so much to a life of self-denial; nothing will make us so benevolent and so dead to the world. See Barnes "2 Corinthians 5:14".

Which passeth knowledge. There seems to be a slight contradiction here in expressing a wish to know what cannot be known, or in a desire that they should understand that which cannot be understood. But it is the language of a man whose heart was full to overflowing. He had a deep sense of the love of Christ, and he expressed a wish that they should understand it. Suddenly he has such an apprehension of it, that he says it is indeed infinite. No one can attain to a full view of it. It had no limit. It was unlike anything which had ever been evinced before. It was love which led the Son of God to become incarnate; to leave the heavens; to be a man of sorrows; to be reviled and persecuted; to be put to death in the most shameful manner--ON A CROSS. Who could understand that Where else had there been anything like that? What was there with which to compare it? What was there by which it could be illustrated? And how could it be fully understood? Yet something of it might be seen, known, felt; and the apostle desired that, as far as possible, they should understand that great love which the Lord Jesus had manifested for a dying world.

That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. What an expression! How rich and glorious! Who can comprehend all that it implies? Let us inquire into its meaning. There may be here in these verses an allusion to the temple. The apostle had spoken of their being founded in love, and of surveying the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of that love, as of a vast and splendid edifice; and he now desires that those whom he addressed might be pervaded or filled with the indwelling of God. The language here is cumulative, and is full of meaning and richness.

(1.) They were to be full of God. That is, he would dwell in them.

(2.) They were to be filled with the fulness of God--\~to plhrwma tou yeou\~. On the word rendered fulness, See Barnes "Ephesians 1:10", See Barnes "Ephesians 1:23". It is a favourite word with Paul. Thus he speaks of the fulness of the Gentiles, Romans 11:25; the fulness of time, Galatians 4:4; the fulness of him that filleth all in all, Ephesians 1:23; the fulness of Christ, Ephesians 4:13; the fulness of the Godhead in Christ, Colossians 1:19; 2:9. It means here, "that you may have the richest measures of Divine consolation and of the Divine Presence; that you may partake of the entire enjoyment of God in the most ample measure in which he bestows his favours on his people."

(3.) It was to be with all the fulness of God; not with partial and stinted measures of his gracious presence, but with all which he ever bestows. Religion is not a name. It is not a matter of form. It is not a trifle. It is the richest, best gift of God to man. It ennobles our nature. It more clearly teaches us our true dignity than all the profound discoveries which men can make in science; for none of them will ever fill us with the ruiness of God. Religion is spiritual, elevating, pure, Godlike. We dwell with God; walk with God; live with God; commune with God; are like God. We become partakers of the Divine nature, (2 Peter 1:4;) in rank we are associated with angels; in happiness and purity we are associated with God.

{a} "fulness of God" John 1:16

Verse 20. Now unto him. It is not uncommon for Paul to utter an ascription of praise in the midst of an argument. See Romans 9:5; Romans 11:36; Galatians 1:5. Here his mind is full of the subject; and in view of the fact that God communicates to his people such blessings, that they may become filled with all his fairness, he desires that praise should be given to him.

That is able to do. See Barnes "Romans 16:25".

Exceeding abundantly. The compound word here used occurs only in this place, and in 1 Thessalonians 3:10; 5:13. It means, to an extent which we cannot express.

Above all that we ask or think. More than all that we can desire in our prayers; more than all that we can conceive. See Barnes "1 Corinthians 2:9".

According to the power that worketh in us. The exertion of that same power can accomplish for us more than we can now conceive.

{b} "unto him" Romans 16:25; Hebrews 13:20,21; Jude 1:24

Verse 21. Unto him be glory. See Barnes "Romans 16:27".

In the church or, by the church, Ephesians 3:10. The church was to be the instrument by which the glory of God would be shown; and it was by the church that his praise would be celebrated.

Throughout all ages, world without end. There is a richness and amplification of language here which shows that his heart was full of the subject, and that it was difficult to find words to express his conceptions. It means, in the strongest sense, FOR EVER. It is one of "the apostle's self-invented phrases," (Bloomfield;) and Blackwall says that no version can fully express the meaning. It is, literally, "unto all generations of the age of ages," or "unto all the generations of the eternity of eternities, or the eternity of ages." It is the language of a heart FULL of the love of God, and desiring that he might be praised without ceasing for ever and ever.


1. It is a great and glorious truth that the offers of the gospel are made to us, who are by nature Gentiles; and that those offers are confined to no class or condition of men--to no nation or tribe, Ephesians 3:1-6. This truth had been concealed for ages. The Jews regarded themselves as a peculiar people, and as exclusively the favourites of heaven. The great effort has been made everywhere to show that there was a favoured class of men--a class whom God regarded with peculiar affection, on account of their birth, or rank, or nation, or wealth, or complexion. In one nation, there has been a distinction of caste carefully kept up from age to age, and sustained by all the power of the priesthood and the laws; and it has been held that that one class was the favourite of heaven, and that every other was overlooked or despised. In another nation, it has been held that the services of an illustrious ancestry made a difference among men, and that this fact was to be regarded even in religion. In another, complexion has made a difference; and the feeling has insensibly grown up that one class were the favourites of heaven, because they had a skin not coloured like others, and that those not thus favoured might be doomed to hopeless toil and servitude. In another, the attempt is made to create such a distinction by wealth; and it is felt that the rich are the favourites of heaven. In all these cases there is the secret feeling, that in virtue of rank, or blood, or property, one class are the objects of Divine interest more than others; and that the same plan of salvation is not needed for them which is required for the poor, for the ignorant, and for the slave. The gospel regards all men as on a level; offers the same salvation to all; and offers it on the same terms. This is one of its glories; and for this we should love it. It meets man as he is everywhere a fallen and a ruined being-- and provides a plan adapted to raise all to the glories of the same heaven.

(2.) Humility becomes us. Ephesians 3:8. Paul felt that he was the least of all saints. He remembered his former life. He recalled the time when he persecuted the church, he felt that he was not worthy to be enrolled in that society which be had so greatly injured. If Paul was humble, who should not be? Who, since his time, has equalled his ardour, his zeal, his attainments in the divine life? Yet the remembrance of his former life served always to keep him humble, and operated as a check on all the tendencies to pride in his bosom. So it should be with us--with all Christians. There has been enough in our past lives to make us humble, if we would recall it, and to make us feel that we are not worthy to be enrolled among the saints. One has been an infidel; one licentious; one intemperate; one rash, revengeful, passionate; one has been proud and ambitious; one has been false, dishonest, faithless; all have had hearts opposed to God, alienated from good, and prone to evil; and there is not a Christian in the world who will not find enough in his past life to make him humble, if he will examine himself--enough to make him feel that he deserves not even the lowest place among the saints. So we shall feel if we look over our lives since we made a profession of religion. The painful conviction will come over our souls, that we have lived so far from God, and done so little in his cause, that we are not worthy of the lowest place among the blessed.

(3.) It is a privilege to preach the gospel, Ephesians 3:8. So Paul felt. It was an honour of which he felt that he was by no means worthy. It was proof of the favour of God towards him that he was permitted to do it. It is a privilege--an honour--to preach the gospel anywhere, and to any class of men. It is an honour to be permitted to preach in Christian lands; it is an honour to preach among the heathen. It is an honour far above that of conquerors; and he who does it will win a brighter and more glorious crown than he who goes forth to obtain glory by dethroning kings, and laying nations waste. The warrior goes with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other. His path is marked with blood, and with smouldering ruins. He treads among the slain; and the music of his march is made up of dying groans, and the shrieks of widows and orphans. Yet he is honoured, and his name is blazoned abroad; he is crowned with the laurel, and triumphal arches are reared, and monuments are erected to perpetuate his fame. The man who carries the gospel goes for a different purpose. He is the minister of peace. He goes to tell of salvation. He fires no city; lays waste no field; robs no one of a home, no wife of a husband, no child of a father, no sister of a brother; he goes to elevate the intellect, to mould the heart to virtue, to establish schools and colleges; to promote temperance, industry, and chastity; to wipe away tears, and to tell of heaven. His course is marked by intelligence and order; by peace and purity; by the joy of the domestic circle, and the happiness of a virtuous fireside; by consolation on the bed of pain, and by the hope of heaven that cheers the dying. Who would not rather be a preacher of the gospel than a blood-stained warrior? Who would not rather have the wreath that shall encircle the brows of Paul, and Swartz, and Martin, and Brainerd, than the laurels of Alexander and Caesar?

(4.) There is ample fulness in the plan of salvation by the Redeemer, Ephesians 3:8. In Christ there is unsearchable riches, None can understand the fulness that there is in him; none can exhaust it. Millions and hundreds of millions have been saved by the fulness of his merits; and still those merits are as ample as ever. The sun in the heavens has shone for six thousand years, and has shed light and comfort on countless millions; but his beams are not exhausted or diminished in splendour. To-day, while I write---this beautiful, calm, sweet day (June 24, 1840 )--his beams are as bright, as rich, as full, as they were when they were shed on Eden. So of the Sun of righteousness. Millions have been enlightened by his beams; but to-day they are as full, and rich, and glorious, as they were when the first ray from that Sun reached the benighted mind of a penitent sinner. And that fulness is not to be exhausted. No matter how many partake of his abundance; no matter how many darkened minds are enlightened; no matter though nation after nation comes and partakes of his fulness, yet there is no approach to exhaustion. The sun in the heavens may waste his fires and burn out, and become a dark orb, diffusing horror over a cold and cheerless world; but not so with the Sun of righteousness. That will shine on in glory for ever and ever; and the last penitent sinner on earth who comes to partake of the riches of the grace of Christ shall find it as full and free as did the first who sought pardon through his blood. Oh, the UNSEARCHABLE RICHES of Christ! Who can understand this? Who can grow weary in its contemplation?

(5.) There is no good reason why any sinner should be lost, Ephesians 3:8. If the merits of the Saviour were limited; if his arm were a feeble human arm; if he died only for a part; and if his merit were already well-nigh exhausted, we might begin to despair. But it is not so. The riches of his grace are unbounded and inexhaustible. And why then does the sinner die? I can answer. He dies like the man who expires of thirst while fountains bubble and streams flow all around him; like him who is starving amidst trees loaded with fruit; like him who is dying of fever in the midst of medicines that would at once restore him; like him who holds his breath, and dies while the balmy air of heaven-- pure, full, and free --floats all around him. If a man thus dies, who is to blame? If a man goes down to hell from lands where the gospel is preached, whose is the fault? It is not because the merits of Christ are limited; it is not because they are exhausted.

(6.) The church is designed to accomplish a most important purpose in the manifestation of the Divine glory and perfections, Ephesians 3:10. It is by that that his great wisdom is shown. It is by that entirely that his mercy is displayed, Ephesians 2:7. His power is shown in the creation and support of the worlds; his goodness in the works of creation and Providence; his truth in his promises and threatenings; his greatness and majesty are everywhere displayed in the universe which he has brought into being. His mercy is shown in the church; and there alone. Angels in heaven, not having sinned, have had no occasion for its exercise; and angels that are fallen have had no offer of pardon. Throughout the wide universe there has been, so far as we know, no exercise of mercy but in the church. Hence the interest which the angelic beings feel in the work of redemption. Hence they desire to look into these things, and to see more of the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of God evinced in the work of redemption. Hence the church is to be honoured for ever as the means of making known to distant worlds the way in which God shows mercy to rebellious creatures. It is honour enough for one world thus to be the sole means of making known to the universe one of the attributes of God; and while other worlds may contain more proofs of his power and greatness, it is enough for ours that it shows to distant worlds how he can exercise compassion.

(7.) All tribulation and affliction may be intended to do some good, and may benefit others, Ephesians 3:13. Paul felt that his sufferings were for the "glory"--the welfare and honour of the Gentiles in whose cause he was suffering. He was then a prisoner at Rome. He was permitted no longer to go abroad from land to land to preach the gospel. How natural would it have been for him to be desponding, and to feel that he was leading a useless life. But he did not feel thus. He felt that in some way he might be doing good. He was suffering in a good cause, and his trials had been brought on him by the appointment of God. He gave himself to writing letters; he talked with all who would come to him, Acts 28:30,31,) and he expected to accomplish something by his example in his sufferings. The sick, the afflicted, and the imprisoned, often feel that they are useless. They are laid aside from public and active life, and they feel that they are living in vain. But it is not so. The long imprisonment of John Bunyan --so mysterious to him and to his friends--was the means of producing the Pilgrim's Progress, new translated into more than twenty languages, and already blessed to the salvation of thousands. The meekness, and patience, and kindness of a Christian on a bed of pain, may do more for the honour of religion than he could do in a life of health. It shows the sustaining power of the gospel; and this is much. It is worth much suffering to show to a world what the gospel can do in supporting the soul in times of trial; and he who is imprisoned or persecuted, who lies month after month, or year after year, on a bed of languishing, may do more for the honour of religion than by many years of active life.

(8.) There is but one family among the friends of God, Ephesians 3:15. They all have one Father, and all are brethren. In heaven and on earth they belong to the same family, and worship the same God. Let Christians, therefore, first love one another. Let them lay aside all contention and strife. Let them feel that they are brethren; that though they belong to different denominations, and are called by different names, yet they belong to the same family, and are united under the same glorious Head. Let them, secondly, realize how highly they are honoured. They belong to the same family as the angels of light and the spirits of just men made perfect. It is an honour to belong to such a family; an honour to be a Christian. Oh, if we saw this in its true light, how much more honourable would it be to belong to this "family" than to belong to the families of the great on earth, and to have our names enrolled with nobles and with kings!

(9.) Let us seek to know more of the love of Christ in our redemption into understand more of the extent of that love which he evinced for us, Ephesians 3:16-19. It is worth our study. It will reward our efforts. There are few Christians--if there are any--who understand the richness and fulness of the gospel of Christ; few who have such elevated views as they might have, and should have, of the glory of that gospel. It is wonderful that they who profess to love the Lord Jesus do not study that system more, and desire more to know the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of Christ. True, it passes knowledge. We cannot hope fully to fathom it in this world. But we may know more of it than we do. We may aspire to being filled with all the fulness of God. We may long for it; pant for it; strive for it; pray for it--and we shall not strive in vain. Though we shall not attain all we wish; though there will be an infinity beyond what we can understand in this world, yet there will be enough attained to reward all our efforts, and to fill us with love and joy and peace. The love of God our Saviour is indeed an illimitable ocean; but we may see enough of it in this world to lead us to adore and praise God with overflowing hearts.

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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". <>.  


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