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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Near the Journey's End

The last phase of his pilgrimage has arrived. The end of the journey is in sight. The course has been well-nigh run; and what a course it has been! The faithful servant, the war-scarred warrior, the greatest of Christ's missionaries, church builders, and stewards of the heavenly riches, will soon receive "the crown of life" laid up for him. His "journeys oft" are soon to give place to "the rest that remaineth." His "laboring more abundantly" is practically over. He gives expression to a hope that he may yet visit some of his most beloved converts (Philippians 2:24). He is now in imprisonment in Rome, and Luke concludes his record with the period there "in his own hired house." This man, who say the sovereignty of God in every vicissitude of his life, did not fail to do so in this arrival in Rome and sojourn there, so different from what he had hoped for and expected (Romans 1:15).

Disappointment And God's Appointment

Taking stock of his situation, he was not long in arriving at the conclusion that, in that Divine sovereignty, this would make possible the realization of another strong desire that had been in his heart, but which could not be fulfilled while on his many travels. Letters, longer or shorter, he had written, each of which had been written in relation to some particular need and situation. Not one of them went - other than by a passing reference - outside of that special demand. During his long journeys, when plying his trade to support himself and make it impossible for critics to rightly say that he lived on his converts; and by special and extraordinary experiences, such as being "caught up into the third heaven (in a vision or a dream) and hearing unspeakable things" (2 Corinthians 12:1-4); not omitting that two years in the Arabian Desert; several years alone in Tarsus soon after his conversion; and a long imprisonment in Caesarea; all this gave him much time for meditation and for the Lord to speak to him. In this way an immense accumulation of spiritual knowledge became stored up in his heart. Being so sure, as he often said, that this "revelation" was a "stewardship" for "the Body of Christ," he would doubtless be hoping for a time when he would have leisure and detachment enough to unburden his spirit in writing. We now know that such a time and opportunity just had to come, for the fruit of that has been an unspeakable blessing to the Church during these many centuries.

Well, as we have said,strange as the Providence may have seemed when first he looked round his apartment, and, not least, his Roman guard and chain, he soon realized that this could be the great opportunity for which he had been waiting. It would very strongly appear that as this realization came to him, and perhaps in the long nights when visitors had gone, he became almost overwhelmed by the uprush of that store of revelation. We so conclude from the way and manner, as well as the substance of what he then committed to writing. He had those churches in Asia immediately in mind (though the Lord had much greater intentions) and what he wrote was intended to be circulated among them; probably a blank space being left for filling in with the particular name, such as: "to the saints which are at ..." (the name "Ephesus" does not occur in earliest manuscripts.) There is little doubt, however, that this overflow of heart had a special direction for that so great and spiritually influential church at Ephesus. This may be of secondary importance in view of the so-much-greater Divine intention by this inspiration.

The Overflowing Heart

It is his manner that means so much as a first impression. Our sub-title is an example of that manner. The Letter (to the Ephesians, so-called) is written in terms of the superlative. Look at some of these superlatives: "The exceeding greatness of His power" (1:19); "the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (1:23); "the exceeding riches of His grace" (2:7); "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:8); "the breadth and length and height and depth," "the knowledge surpassing love of Christ", "all the fullness of God" (3:18, 19); "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (3:20); "far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things" (4:10); "the fullness of Christ" (4:13); "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (5:27).

Are we not right in saying that the man was just unable to contain his fullness? Then, not only his phrases, but his grammatical form. He will start on a course, and then, when an extra thought comes into his mind, he will diverge and go off at a tangent, not picking up the earlier thread again until some way after. The longest sentence, without a "period" or full stop, in the New Testament occurs in this Letter. He is too full and too eager to stop for literary technicalities. The flood-gates are open, and, like a torrent, he is pouring out this fullness so long pent up. When we come to consider the nature of his revelation we shall understand better why he was so expressive in superlatives. At the moment we are just registering the force of his anxiety to get it out at last.

To dwell a little longer on this Letter.

Some may not agree with us, and some may think that we are exaggerating when we say that this Letter is:

The Greatest Document Ever Penned

We shall have to substantiate that opinion, but we shall not have altogether failed when we have finished.

When we say "greatest," of course we do not mean in length, but in intrinsic value and content.

This is the crown and consummate essence of Paul's ministry. It is the climax of his mission.

Here are a few comments of outstanding Christian scholars:

For one such it is "the consummate and most comprehensive statement which even the New Testament contains of the meaning of the Christian religion, blending as nowhere else its evangelical, spiritual, moral and universal elements."

Or from another:

"The sublimest communication ever made to men was made from a Roman prison by one who in his own esteem was 'the very lest of all the saints.' "

"This Epistle is one of the noblest in the New Testament."

"A divine Epistle glowing with the flame of Christian love, and the splendor of holy light, and flowing with fountains of living water."

"The most heavenly work of one whose very imagination is peopled with things in the heavens."

"In this, the divinest composition of man, is every doctrine of Christianity; first, those doctrines peculiar to Christianity; etc."

"It is emphatically the Epistle of the Ascension. We rise in it, as on wings of inspiration, to the divinest heights. Word after word - and thought after thought - now "the heavenlies," now "spiritual," now "riches," now "glory," now "love," seem, as it were, to leave behind them "a luminous trial" in this deep and shining sky."

"It is the most advanced, the most sublime, the most profound, the most final utterance of Paul's Gospel.

Let us hasten to say that our own appraisal is not the result of reading such estimates as the above, for these are of much later discovery. We have reached our own conclusion after many years of reading and meditating in this Letter, and Paul's ministry in general. But we are so glad to have our judgment confirmed or checked by men of so much greater knowledge than our own.

Thus far we have only introduced the Letter. Its content, teaching and message will occupy the main space, while still remaining so vastly beyond our comprehension. Before we take our plunge into those deeps, and never get much further than the surface, we shall have of necessity to give some attention to the man himself, and to how the man and his ministry are one thing. Before so proceeding, let us remind our readers of one or two obvious, but impressive facts.

When the Apostle Paul set himself to write this Letter, he had no idea that he was writing Holy Scripture - the Bible (in part). His sole thought and desire was to confirm and supplement that "whole counsel of God" which he "had not shunned" to declare to - and through - Ephesus and Asia Minor during the two years that he was there (Acts 19). It was a Letter that - in his own mind - he was writing, and that to a location and a need. It could never have occurred to him that what he was writing would be read by an ever-growing number of people through nearly twenty centuries; that it would go into a world the size of which he knew nothing; that people of every race under heaven would have it translated into their own language or dialect; that it would divide Christiandom world-wide into the largest opposing schools of theology and interpretation; that people of God in every time and realm would feed eagerly upon it; that bookstores in every country would have their shelves growingly bulged with "Expositions," "Commentaries," "Sermons," etc., on this "Letter"; and that, finally, such appraisals as we have given above would be attached to that piece of personal correspondence! He would not only never have imagined this as possible, but would have had a shock of astonishment if he could have foreseen it. What a vindication of his testimony! What a justification of his sufferings! What an unveiling of God's sovereignty and grace! What an inspiration and strength this should be to any who may be suffering in fellowship with Christ, and what a proof of the truth of his own words. "Your labors are not in vain in the Lord!"

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

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