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  • ADAM CLARKE'S BIBLE COMMENTARY -
    EPHESIANS 2

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    CHAPTER II.

    The character of the Ephesians previously to their conversion to Christianity, 1-3. By what virtue they were changed, and for what purpose, 4-7. They were saved by faith, 8, 9. And created unto good works, 10. The apostle enters into the particulars of their former miserable state, 11, 12. And those of their present happy state, 13. Christ has broken down the middle wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles, and proclaims reconciliation to both, 14-17. The glorious privileges of genuine believers, 18-22.

    NOTES ON CHAP. II.

    Verse 1. "And you hath he quickened" - This chapter should not have been separated from the preceding, with which it is most intimately connected. As Christ fills the whole body of Christian believers with his fullness, (chap. i. 23,) so had he dealt with the converted Ephesians, who before were dead in trespasses, and dead in sins. DEATH is often used by all writers, and in all nations, to express a state of extreme misery. The Ephesians, by trespassing and sinning, had brought themselves into a state of deplorable wretchedness, as had all the heathen nations; and having thus sinned against God, they were condemned by him, and might be considered as dead in law - incapable of performing any legal act, and always liable to the punishment of death, which they had deserved, and which was ready to be inflicted upon them.

    Trespasses, paraptwmasi, may signify the slightest deviation from the line and rule of moral equity, as well as any flagrant offense; for these are equally transgressions, as long as the sacred line that separates between vice and virtue is passed over.

    Sins, amartiaiv, may probably mean here habitual transgression; sinning knowingly and daringly.

    Verse 2. "Wherein in time past ye walked" - There is much force in these expressions; the Ephesians had not sinned casually, or now and then, but continually; it was their continual employment; they walked in trespasses and sins: and this was not a solitary case, all the nations of the earth acted in the same way; it was the course of this world, kata ton aiwna tou kosmou toutou, according to the life, mode of living, or successive ages of this world. The word aiwn, the literal meaning of which is constant duration, is often applied to things which have a complete course, as the Jewish dispensation, a particular government, and the term of human life; so, here, the whole of life is a tissue of sin, from the cradle to the grave; every human soul, unsaved by Jesus Christ, continues to transgress. And the nominally Christian world is in the same state to the present day. Age after age passes on in this way and the living lay it not to heart! The prince of the power of the air] As the former clause may have particular respect to the Jewish people, who are frequently denominated hzh lw[ olam hazzeh, this world, this latter clause may especially refer to the Gentiles, who were most manifestly under the power of the devil, as almost every object of their worship was a demon, to whom the worst of passions and practices were attributed, and whose conduct his votaries took care to copy.

    Satan is termed prince of the power of the air, because the air is supposed to be a region in which malicious spirits dwell, all of whom are under the direction and influence of Satan, their chief.

    "The spirit that now worketh" - tou nun energountov The operations of the prince of the aerial powers are not confined to that region; he has another sphere of action, viz. the wicked heart of man, and in this he works with energy. He seldom inspires indifference to religion; the subjects in whom he works are either determinate opposers of true religion, or they are systematic and energetic transgressors of God's laws.

    Children of disobedience] Perhaps a Hebraism for disobedient children; but, taken as it stands here, it is a strong expression, in which disobedience, h apeiqeia, appears to be personified, and wicked men exhibited as her children; the prince of the power of the air being their father, while disobedience is their mother. Thus they are emphatically, what our Lord calls them, Matt. xiii. 38, children of the wicked one; for they show themselves to be of their father the devil, because they will do his works, John viii. 44. Some think that by children of disobedience the apostle means particularly the disobedient, unbelieving, refractory, and persecuting Jews; but I rather think he speaks this generally, and refers to the Jews in the following verse.

    Verse 3. "Among whom also we all had our conversation" - We JEWS, as well as you Gentiles, have lived in transgressions and sins; anestrafhmen, this was the course of our life; we lived in sin, walked in sin, it was woven through our whole constitution, it tinged every temper, polluted every faculty, and perverted every transaction of life. The lusts - the evil, irregular, and corrupt affections of the heart, showed themselves in the perversion of the mind as well as in our general conduct.

    The mind was darkened by the lusts of the flesh, and both conjoined to produce acts of unrighteousness. It was not the will of God that was done by us, but the will of the flesh and of the mind.

    "And were by nature the children of wrath" - For the import of the phrase, by nature, fusei, see the note on Gal. ii. 15, and Rom. ii. 14. To what is said on those passages, I may add, from Dr. Macknight:-"Nature often signifies one's birth and education, Gal. ii. 15: We, who are Jews BY NATURE. Also, men's natural reason and conscience, Rom. ii. 14: The Gentiles who have not the law, do BY NATURE the things contained in the law, &c. Also, the general sense and practice of mankind, 1 Cor. xi. 14: Doth not even NATURE itself teach you, that if a man have long hair, &c. Also, the original constitution of any thing, Gal. iv. 8: Who are not gods BY NATURE, Also, a disposition formed by custom and habit; thus Demetrius Phalereus said of the Lacedemonians: fusei ebraculogoun lakwnev? The Lacedemonians had naturally a concise mode of speaking. Hence our word laconic; a short speech, or much sense conveyed in a few words." The words in the text have often been quoted to prove the doctrine of original sin, but, though that doctrine be an awful truth, it is not, in my opinion, intended here; it is rather found in the preceding words, the lusts of the flesh, and the desires of the flesh and of the mind. The apostle appears to speak of sinful habits; and as we say HABIT is a second nature, and as these persons acted from their originally corrupt nature - from the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, they thus became, by their vicious habits, or second nature, children of wrath - persons exposed to perdition, because of the impurity of their hearts and the wickedness of their lives. Here we see that the fallen, apostate nature produces the fruits of unrighteousness. The bad tree produces bad fruit.

    Children of wrath is the same as son of perdition, son of death, &c.; i.e. persons exposed to God's displeasure, because of their sins.

    Verse 4. "But God, who is rich in mercy" - As they were corrupt in their nature, and sinful in their practice, they could possess no merit, nor have any claim upon God; and it required much mercy to remove so much misery, and to pardon such transgressions.

    "His great love" - God's infinite love is the groundwork of our salvation; in reference to us that love assumes the form of mercy, and that mercy provides the saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore the apostle adds, ver. 5: By grace ye are saved - it is by God's free mercy in Christ that ye are brought into this state of salvation. See on ver. 8.

    Verse 5. "Even when we were dead in sins" - Dead in our souls; dead towards God; dead in law; and exposed to death eternal, Hath quickened us together with Christ] God has given us as complete a resurrection from the death of sin to a life of righteousness, as the body of Christ has had from the grave. And as this quickening, or making alive, was most gratuitous on God's part, the apostle, with great propriety, says; By grace ye are saved.

    Verse 6. "And hath raised us up together in Christ" - Or rather, by Christ; his resurrection being the proof that he had made the full atonement, and that we might be justified by his blood. Believing, therefore, the record which God gave of his Son, we received this atonement, and were raised from a death of sin to a life of righteousness; and now we sit in heavenly places-we have a right to the kingdom of God, anticipate this glory, and are indescribably happy in the possession of this salvation, and in our fellowship with Christ Jesus.

    Verse 7. "That in the ages to come" - God has produced us an example, and one which shall be on record through all generations, that he quickens dead souls; that he forgives the sins of the most sinful, when they repent and believe in Christ Jesus. So that what God has done for the sinners at Ephesus will serve as an encouragement to all ages of the world; and on this evidence every preacher of the Gospel may boldly proclaim that Christ saves unto the uttermost all that come unto God through him. And thus the exceeding riches of his grace will appear in the provision he has made for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles.

    This observation of the apostle is of great use and importance; because we are authorized to state, in all the successive ages of the world, that he who saved the sinners at Ephesus is ever ready to save all who, like them, repent of their sins, and believe in Christ Jesus.

    Verse 8. "For by grace are ye saved, through faith" - As ye are now brought into a state of salvation, your sins being all blotted out, and you made partakers of the Holy Spirit; and, having a hope full of immortality, you must not attribute this to any works or merit of yours; for when this Gospel reached you, you were all found dead in trespasses and dead in sins; therefore it was God's free mercy to you, manifested through Christ, in whom ye were commanded to believe; and, having believed by the power of the Holy Spirit, ye received, and were sealed by, the Holy Spirit of promise; so that this salvation is in no sense of yourselves, but is the free gift of God; and not of any kind of works; so that no man can boast as having wrought out his own salvation, or even contributed any thing towards it. By grace arc ye saved, through faith in Christ. This is a true doctrine, and continues to be essential to the salvation of man to the end of the world.

    But whether are we to understand, faith or salvation as being the gift of God? This question is answered by the Greek text: th gar cariti este seswsmenoi dia thv pistewv? kai touto ouk ex umwn? qeou to dwron, ouk ex ergwn? ina mh tiv kauchshtai? "By this grace ye are saved through faith; and THIS (touto, this salvation) not of you; it is the gift of God, not of works: so that no one can boast."The relative touto, this, which is in the neuter gender, cannot stand for pistiv, faith, which is the feminine; but it has the whole sentence that goes before for its antecedent." But it may be asked: Is not faith the gift of God? Yes, as to the grace by which it is produced; but the grace or power to believe, and the act of believing, are two different things. Without the grace or power to believe no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a man's own. God never believes for any man, no more than he repents for him: the penitent, through this grace enabling him, believes for himself: nor does he believe necessarily, or impulsively when he has that power; the power to believe may be present long before it is exercised, else, why the solemn warnings with which we meet every where in the word of God, and threatenings against those who do not believe? Is not this a proof that such persons have the power but do not use it? They believe not, and therefore are not established. This, therefore, is the true state of the case: God gives the power, man uses the power thus given, and brings glory to God: without the power no man can believe; with it, any man may.

    Verse 10. "For we are his workmanship" - So far is this salvation from being our own work, or granted for our own works' sake, that we are ourselves not only the creatures of God, but our new creation was produced by his power; for we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. He has saved us that we may show forth the virtues of Him who called us from darkness into his marvelous light. For though we are not saved for our good works, yet we are saved that we may perform good works, to the glory of God and the benefit of man.

    "Which God hath before ordained" - oiv prohtoimasev? For which God before prepared us, that we might walk in them. For being saved from sin we are made partakers of the Spirit of holiness; and it is natural to that Spirit to lead to the practice of holiness; and he who is not holy in his life is not saved by the grace of Christ. The before ordaining, or rather preparing, must refer to the time when God began the new creation in their hearts; for from the first inspiration of God upon the soul it begins to love holiness; and obedience to the will of God is the very element in which a holy or regenerated soul lives.

    Verse 11. "Wherefore remember" - That ye may ever see and feel your obligations to live a pure and holy life, and be unfeignedly thankful to God for your salvation, remember that ye were once heathens in the flesh - without the pure doctrine, and under the influence of your corrupt nature; such as by the Jew's (who gloried, in consequence of their circumcision, to be in covenant with God) were called uncircumcision; i.e. persons out of the Divine covenant, and having no right or title to any blessing of God.

    Verse 12. "That at that time ye were without Christ" - Not only were not Christians, but had no knowledge of the Christ or Messiah, and no title to the blessings which were to proceed from him.

    "Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" - Ye were by your birth, idolatry, &c., alienated from the commonwealth of Israel-from the civil and religious privileges of the Jewish people.

    Strangers from the covenants of promise] Having no part in the promise of the covenant made with Abraham, whether considered as relating to his natural or spiritual seed; and no part in that of the covenant made at Horeb with the Israelites, when a holy law was given them, and God condescended to dwell among them, and to lead them to the promised land.

    "Having no hope" - Either of the pardon of sin or of the resurrection of the body, nor indeed of the immortality of the soul. Of all these things the Gentiles had no rational or well-grounded hope.

    "Without God in the world" - They had gods many, and lords many; but in no Gentile nation was the true God known: nor indeed had they any correct notion of the Divine nature. Their idols were by nature no gods - they could neither do evil nor good, and therefore they were properly without God, having no true object of worship, and no source of comfort.

    He who has neither God nor Christ is in a most deplorable state; he has neither a God to worship, nor a Christ to justify him. And this is the state of every man who is living without the grace and Spirit of Christ. All such, whatever they may profess, are no better than practical atheists.

    Verse 13. "Ye who sometimes were far off" - To be far off, and to be near, are sayings much in use among the Jews; and among them, to be near signifies, 1. To be in the approbation or favour of God; and to be far off signifies to be under his displeasure. So a wicked Jew might be said to be far off from God when he was exposed to his displeasure; and a holy man, or a genuine penitent, might be said to be nigh to God, because such persons are in his favour. 2. Every person who offered a sacrifice to God was considered as having access to him by the blood of that sacrifice: hence the priests, whose office it was to offer sacrifices, were considered as being nigh to God; and all who brought gifts to the altar were considered as approaching the Almighty. 3. Being far off, signified the state of the Gentiles as contradistinguished from the Jews, who were nigh. And these expressions were used in reference to the tabernacle, God's dwelling-place among the Israelites, and the sacrifices there offered. All those who had access to this tabernacle, or were nigh to it or encamped about it, were said to be nigh to God; those who had no access to it were said to be far off.

    Hence the latter phrase is used to distinguish the Gentiles from the Jewish people; and this appears to be the meaning of the prophet, Isa. lvii. 19: I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; i.e. I give cause of praise and rejoicing to the Gentile as well as to the Jew. And to this scripture, and to this thing, the apostle seems here to allude. You Gentiles, who were unacquainted with God, and were even without God in the world, are brought to an acquaintance with him; and are now, through Christ Jesus, brought into the favour and fellowship of God. And as the Jews of old approached God by the blood of their sacrifices, so you approach him by the blood of Christ.

    Verse 14. "For he is our peace" - Jesus Christ has died for both Jews and Gentiles, and has become a peace-offering, wl shalom, to reconcile both to God and to each other.

    "Who hath made both one" - Formed one Church out of the believers of both people.

    "The middle wall of partition" - By abolishing the law of Jewish ordinances, he has removed that which kept the two parties, not only in a state of separation, but also at variance.

    This expression, the middle wall, can refer only to that most marked distinction which the Jewish laws and customs made between them and all other nations whatsoever.

    Some think it refers to their ancient manner of living among the Gentiles, as they always endeavoured to live in some place by themselves, and to have a river or a wall between them and their heathen neighbours. Indeed, wherever they went, their own rites, ordinances, and customs were a sufficient separation between them and others; and as Jesus Christ abolished those customs, admitting all into his Church, both Jews and Gentiles, by repentance and faith, he may be said to have broken down the middle wall of partition. When, at the death of Christ, the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom, it was an emblem that the way to the holiest was laid open, and that the people at large, both Jews and Gentiles, were to have access to the holiest by the blood of Jesus.

    Some think there is an allusion here to the wall called chel, which separated the court of Israel from the court of the Gentiles; but this was not broken down till the temple itself was destroyed: and to this transaction the apostle cannot be supposed to allude, as it did not take place till long after the writing of this epistle.

    Verse 15. "Having abolished in his flesh" - By his incarnation and death he not only made an atonement for sin, but he appointed the doctrine of reconciliation to God, and of love to each other, to be preached in all nations; and thus glory was brought to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will were diffused among men.

    The enmity of which the apostle speaks was reciprocal among the Jews and Gentiles. The former detested the Gentiles, and could hardly allow them the denomination of men; the latter had the Jews in the most sovereign contempt, because of the peculiarity of their religious rites and ceremonies, which were different from those of all the other nations of the earth.

    "The law of commandments" - Contained in, or rather concerning, ordinances; which law was made merely for the purpose of keeping the Jews a distinct people, and pointing out the Son of God till he should come. When, therefore, the end of its institution was answered, it was no longer necessary; and Christ by his death abolished it.

    "To make in himself" - To make one Church out of both people, which should be considered the body of which Jesus Christ is the head. Thus he makes one new man - one new Church; and thus he makes and establishes peace. I think the apostle still alludes to the peace-offering, wl shalom, among the Jews. They have a saying, Sephra, fol. c21: Whosoever offers a peace-offering sacrifice, brings peace to the world.

    Such a peace-offering was the death of Christ, and by it peace is restored to the earth.

    Verse 16. "That he might reconcile both-in one body" - That the Jews and Gentiles, believing on the Lord Jesus, might lay aside all their causes of contention, and become one spiritual body, or society of men, influenced by the Spirit, and acting according to the precepts of the Gospel.

    "Having slain the enmity thereby" - Having, by his death upon the cross, made reconciliation between God and man, and by his Spirit in their hearts removed the enmity of their fallen, sinful nature. Dr. Macknight thinks that abolishing the enmity is spoken of the removal of the hatred which the Jews and Gentiles mutually bore to each other, because of the difference of their respective religious worship; and that slaying the enmity refers to the removal of evil lusts and affections from the heart of man, by the power of Divine grace. This is nearly the sense given above.

    Verse 17. "And came and preached peace" - Proclaimed the readiness of God to forgive and save both Jews and Gentiles. See the note on ver. 13.

    Verse 18. "For through him" - Christ Jesus, we both - Jews and Gentiles, have access by one Spirit - through the influence of the Holy Ghost, unto the Father - God Almighty. This text is a plain proof of the holy Trinity. Jews and Gentiles are to be presented unto God the FATHER; the SPIRIT of God works in their hearts, and prepares them for this presentation; and JESUS CHRIST himself introduces them. No soul can have access to God but by Jesus Christ, and he introduces none but such as receive his Holy Spirit. All who receive that Spirit are equally dear to him; and, whatever their names be among men, they are known in heaven as children of God, and heirs of eternal glory.

    Verse 19. "Ye are no more strangers" - In this chapter the Church of God is compared to a city, which, has a variety of privileges, rights, &c., founded on regular charters and grants. The Gentiles, having believed in Christ, are all incorporated with the believing Jews in this holy city. Formerly, when any of them came to Jerusalem, being xenoi, strangers, they had no kind of rights whatever; nor could they, as mere heathens, settle among them.

    Again, if any of them, convinced of the errors of the Gentiles, acknowledged the God of Israel, but did not receive circumcision, he might dwell in the land, but he had no right to the blessings of the covenant; such might be called paroikoi, sojourners - persons who have no property in the land, and may only rent a house for the time being.

    "Fellow citizens with the saints" - Called to the enjoyment of equal privileges with the Jews themselves, who, by profession, were a holy people; who were bound to be holy, and therefore are often called saints, or holy persons, when both their hearts and conduct were far from being right in the sight of God. But the saints spoken of here are the converted or Christianized Jews.

    "Of the household of God" - The house of God is the temple; the temple was a type of the Christian Church; this is now become God's house; all genuine believers are considered as being oikeioi, domestics, of this house, the children and servants of God Almighty, having all equal rights, privileges, and advantages; as all, through one Spirit, by the sacred head of the family, had equal access to God, and each might receive as much grace and as much glory as his soul could possibly contain.

    Verse 20. "And are built upon the foundation" - Following the same metaphor, comparing the Church of Christ to a city, and to the temple, the believing Ephesians are represented as parts of that building; the living stones out of which it is principally formed, 1 Pet. ii. 4, 5, having for foundation - the ground plan, specification, and principle on which it was builded, the doctrine taught by the prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles in the New. Jesus Christ being that corner stone, or akrogwniaiov, the chief angle or foundation corner stone, the connecting medium by which both Jews and Gentiles were united in the same building. Elsewhere Jesus Christ is termed the foundation stone. Behold I lay in Zion a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, Isa. xxviii. 16; but the meaning is the same in all the places where these terms, foundation and corner stone, occur; for in laying the foundation of a building, a large stone is generally placed at one of the angles or corners, which serves to form a part of the two walls which meet in that angle.

    When, therefore, the apostle says that Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone, it means such a foundation stone as that above mentioned.

    Verse 21. "In whom" - By which foundation corner stone, Christ Jesus, all the building, composed of converted Jews and Gentiles, fitly framed together, sunarmologoumenh, properly jointed and connected together, groweth unto a holy temple - is continually increasing, as new converts from Judaism or heathenism flock into it. It is not a finished building, but will continue to increase, and be more and more perfect, till the day of judgment.

    Verse 22. "In whom ye also are builded" - The apostle now applies the metaphor to the purpose for which he produced it, retaining however some of the figurative expressions. As the stones in a temple are all properly placed so as to form a complete house, and be a habitation for the Deity that is worshipped there, so ye are all, both believing Jews and Gentiles, prepared by the doctrine of the prophets and apostles, under the influence of the Spirit of Christ, to become a habitation of God, a Church in which God shall be worthily worshipped, and in which he can continually dwell.

    1. MANY suppose that the apostle in the preceding chapter alludes to the splendour of the temple of Diana at Ephesus, which was reputed one of the wonders of the world. But to me this opinion does not seem sufficiently founded. I believe he has the Jewish temple continually in view; for that temple, above all in the universe, could alone be said to be a habitation of God. Both in the tabernacle and temple God dwelt between the cherubim; there was the symbol of his presence, and there was the worship performed which himself had prescribed. After the model of this was the spiritual temple, the Christian Church, constructed; and God was to dwell in the one, as he had dwelt in the other. This simile, drawn from the temple at Jerusalem, was alone worthy of the apostle's design; to have alluded to the temple of Diana would have disgraced his subject. And as many at Ephesus were Jews, and well acquainted with the temple at Jerusalem, they would both feel and venerate the apostle's simile, and be led to look for the indwelling of God; that which distinguished the Jewish temple from all others on the face of the earth.

    2. The Church of God is very properly said to be a most noble and wonderful work, and truly worthy of GOD himself. There is nothing, says one, so august as this Church, seeing it is the temple of GOD. Nothing so worthy of reverence, seeing God dwells in it. Nothing so ancient, since the patriarchs and prophets laboured in building it. Nothing so solid, since Jesus Christ is the foundation of it. Nothing more closely united and indivisible, since he is the corner stone. Nothing so lofty, since it reaches as high as heaven, and to the bosom of God himself. Nothing so regular and well proportioned, since the Holy Spirit is the architect. Nothing more beautiful, or adorned with greater variety, since it consists of Jews and Gentiles, of every age, country, sex, and condition: the mightiest potentates, the most renowned lawgivers, the most profound philosophers, the most eminent scholars, besides all those of whom the world was not worthy, have formed a part of this building. Nothing more spacious, since it is spread over the whole earth, and takes in all who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

    Nothing so inviolable, since it is consecrated to Jehovah. Nothing so Divine, since it is a living building, animated and inhabited by the Holy Ghost. Nothing so beneficent, seeing it gives shelter to the poor, the wretched, and distressed, of every nation, and kindred, and tongue. It is the place in which God does his marvelous works; the theater of his justice, mercy, goodness, and truth; where he is to be sought, where he is to be found, and in which alone he is to he retained.

    As we have one only GOD, and one only saviour and Mediator between God and man, and one only inspiring Spirit; so there is but one Church, in which this ineffable Jehovah performs his work of salvation. That Church, however scattered and divided throughout the world, is but one building, founded on the Old and New Testaments; having but one sacrifice, the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

    3. Of this glorious Church every Christian soul is an epitome; for as God dwells in the Church at large, so he dwells in every believer in particular: each is a habitation of God through the Spirit. In vain are all pretensions among sects and parties to the privileges of the Church of Christ, if they have not the doctrine and life of Christ. Traditions and legends are not apostolic doctrines, and showy ceremonies are not the life of God in the soul of man.

    4. Religion has no need of human ornaments or trappings; it shines by its own light, and is refulgent with its own glory. Where it is not in life and power, men have endeavoured to produce a specious image, dressed and ornamented with their own hands. Into this God never breathed, therefore it can do no good to man, and only imposes on the ignorant and credulous by a vain show of lifeless pomp and splendour. This phantom, called true religion and the Church by its votaries, is in heaven denominated vain superstition; the speechless symbol of departed piety.

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