Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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what man has received in the salvation of Christ.
He thinks and speaks of it as summing up in
itself every conceivable good. Blessed be God!
he cries. Why? Because He hath blessed us!
How.? With every possible blessing! For that
is what this outburst of praise means. Every
conceivable blessing, says Paul, is poured out on
us in the salvation in Christ. And the form of
the language shows that he means this to the utter-

As the Apostle goes on to describe the blessings
received in the salvation in Christ, it would almost
seem as if his pen had run away with him. Only
it is not a matter of the pen, but of the heart: it
is not a question of words, but of the feelings. But
it must needs be confessed that the Apostle has
so accumulated phrases at this point in the fervour
of his emotions of gratitude and praise that it is
very diflficult to follow him in his heaped-up
epithets. He is not content to say that in the
salvation in Christ, God has blessed us with
"every kind of blessing." He adds two further
characterizations which seem to pile Pelion on
Ossa and which distress us as we unavailingly
strive to rise to the height of the great argument.
"Blessed be God," he cries, "who hath blessed
us — in every kind of spiritual blessing — in the
heavenlies — in Christ." What are we to make of
this chain of threefold enhancement?


No wonder the commentators are divided as
to how the successive clauses are to be related to
one another. When the heart speaks, there is
such a fullness of meaning that the analyzing
.understanding stands sometimes aghast at the
task set it. Are we, it asks, to take these clauses
in one continuous string, each qualifying the im-
mediately preceding? Or, are we to take them
as parallel to one another, each further explaining,
in the light of the preceding, the one matter of the
nature of the blessing adverted to? In other
words, is this what Paul praises God for — "that
He has blessed us in the salvation in Christ with
every kind of Spirit-given blessing that is in the
heavenly places in Christ": so that he affirms
that all the blessings that heaven contains are
poured out on us by the Spirit, nay, that all the
blessings deposited in Christ, Christ the exalted
Conqueror of sin and death, seated now in heaven,
clothed with all power in heaven and earth in be-
half of His people, His body. His church, are lav-
ished on us by His Spirit sent forth to minister to
the heirs of salvation? Or is it rather this that
the Apostle praises God for — "that He has blessed
us with every possible kind of blessing that is
given by the Spirit of God — that is to say with
specifically heavenly things, supernatural things,
those precious heaven-born gifts which are so
much greater and more to be desired than any
earthly things — that is to say, rather, with Christ


himself, in whom are hidden not only all the
treasures of knowledge and wisdom, but of blessing
as well, and who is Himself so much greater than
all His gifts that in Him are summed up all and
more than all that we can mean by every kind of
blessing"? One or the other of these things is
what Paul seems to have meant. It is hard to
say which: and it is probable that expositors will
always differ as to which.

It does not seem to be of much importance, to
be sure, after which fashion we analyze this great
utterance of a full heart. For in either case, has
not Paul said everything that could be said, to
declare the blessing that has come to men in the
salvation in Christ the supremest blessing man
can conceive, nay, as "what eye hath not seen, nor
ear heard, and what hath entered not into the
heart of man, what God hath prepared for them
that love him.^^" As he permits what God has
prepared for them that love Him to display itself
before his astonished eyes, Paul is overwhelmed
with a sense of the blessing it brings to sin-laden
men. What wonder if we are overwhelmed with
his description of what he saw! What God has
prepared for them that love Him ! Ah ! here is the
key-note of the passage. It is all of God. It is
not of our deserving : it is not of our doing. It is
all of God. It is, therefore, that Paul blessed
God for it all with such fervour of language. Were
it of man, in any of its items, so far the voice of


his praise would be stilled. And it is, therefore,
that he simply sows his expressions of grateful
praise with asseverations of the origin of all our
blessings in Christ in God's gracious purpose, and
with acclamations of praise to Him alone for its
gift. The fundamental note in all Paul's praise is
the note of "soli Deo gloria." All that comes to
man in this salvation is of the grace of God alone,
a grace prepared of God in eternity past, poured
out on us now in the sovereign work of the Spirit,
and to abide on us to the eternities to come in ac-
cordance with His gracious purpose — all to the
praise of the glory of His grace. It is for this
cause, says the Apostle, that when he heard that
his readers now believed in Christ, he turned his
eyes in thanksgiving to God — ^because to believe
in Christ is of God, and he that believes in Christ
is in the hands of His unutterable grace. It is
obviously only another way of saying that "if
God be for us, there is none who can be against
us." And it is this thought that moves the Apos-
tle with the deepest emotion of praise.


Eph. 3:14-19, especially 16: — "That he would grant you, accord-
ing to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with
power through his Spirit in the inward man."

This certainly may be fairly called one of the
great passages of the Bible. Note the series of
great topics which are adverted to in it: the in-
ward strengthening of the children of God by the
Holy Ghost, the continual abiding of Christ in
their hearts, their rooting and grounding in love,
their enlargement in spiritual apprehension, even
to the knowledge of the unknowable, their filling
with all the fullness of God. Surely here is a cat-
alogue of great things for God's people! These
great topics do not lie on one level, however, set
side by side as parallel facts, but are exhibited
in special relations the one to the other. Paul is
praying here for these high blessings to descend
on the Ephesian Christians. But he does not
pray for them simply as a bunch of blessings, arbi-
trarily selected to be on this occasion sought at
the great Father's hands — the Father of these
Ephesian Christians too, because He is the God
of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews, and from
Him every fatherdom derives its name. Here are
rather a connected body of blessings which go
naturally together: one being the ground and an-



other the effect of the one great thing he craves
for his readers.

The central thing he prays for is spiritual
strengthening. "I bow my knees to the Father
that He may give to you to be strengthened by
His Spirit in respect to the inner man." Spiritual
strengthening, then, that is the main thing that
he prays for. By the mere term "spiritual
strengthening" two things might be suggested to
us. We might think of spiritual as distinguished
from physical strengthening. Or we might think
of strengthening by the Spirit as distinguished
from some earthly agency. The Apostle's prayer
includes both ideas. He prays that we may be
strengthened in the inner man; that is, for the
strengthening of our spirit, in distinction from the
body. And he prays that we may be strength-
ened with respect to the inner man by God's
Spirit; that is, for the Divine strengthening of our
inward man. And this, I say, is the substance of
his prayer — that we may be strengthened with
respect to the inner man by the Spirit of God.
All else is descriptive of this and tells us what it is,
and what it results in ; and so enhanees our idea of
what spiritual strengthening is.

First, Paul tells us somewhat further what it is.
It is identical, he tells us, with the abiding of
Christ by faith in our hearts. Of course it is not
absolutely certain what the relation of this second
clause is to its predecessor. It might express the


aim or end of the spiritual strengthening, or (what
comes to practically the same thing) its result, as
well as (as we should take it), its more precise ex-
planation. As it is followed by a series of ex-
pressly telic clauses, formally introduced by the
proper telic particle, it would seem most natural
to take it as epexegetical of the preceding clause.
"I bow my knees to the Father, . . . that He may
give to you, according to the riches of His glory,
to be strengthened with might as to the inner
man — to wit, that Christ may abide in your
hearts by faith." To be sure, the sense would not
be essentially different if we took it otherwise — ^to
the end that, or so that, Christ may abide in your
hearts by faith. In the one case it tells what the
spiritual strengthening consists in — ^it is identical
with the abiding of Christ in the heart; in the other,
what it eventuates in, — it issues in the abiding
of Christ in the heart. In either case the thing to
be noted is that it is not the coming of Christ into
the heart that is spoken of, but His abiding in the
heart; and that it is just this idea that receives
the emphasis in the sentence, the position of the
words being such as to throw a strong stress on

Two things result from this. The first is, that
Christ is supposed to have already entered the
hearts of those whom the Apostle is praying for.
It is not a question of His coming but of His abid-
ing. The Apostle is not praying that his readers


should be converted; but, presuming their con-
version, that they may be spiritually strengthened.
The second result is that the spiritual strength-
ening is contingent on, or let us rather say, is
dependent on the abiding presence of Christ in
their hearts. The indwelling Christ is the source
of the Christian's spiritual strength. This is, of
com-se, not to set aside the Holy Spirit. But he
has read his New Testament to little purpose who
would separate the Holy Spirit and Christ:
Christ abides in the heart by the Spirit. The
indwelling of the Holy Ghost is the means of
the indwelling of Christ and the two are one and
the same great fact. We are strengthened in the
inner man with might by the Holy Spirit, be-
cause by the operation of the Spirit in our hearts,
Christ abides there — thus and not otherwise.
And here we learn then the source of the Chris-
tian's strength. Christ is the ultimate source.
His indwelling is the ground of all our strength.
But it is only by the Spirit — the executive of the
Godhead in this sphere too — that Christ dwells in
the heart. It is the Spirit that strengthens us,
and He so strengthens us that He gives us
"might" in our inner man. The way He does
this is by forming Christ within us.

The Apostle is one of the most fecund writers
extant, and thus it happens that he does not leave
the matter even there. It is by the Spirit that
Christ dwells in us — that is the objective fact.


But there is a subjective fact too, and the Apos-
tle does not fail to touch it — it is by our faith,
too, that Christ dwells in us. "That Christ may
abide in your hearts by your faith," he says. He
does not say "by faith" merely, though he might
well have said that, and it would have covered the
whole necessary idea. But, in his habitual full-
ness of expression, he puts in the article, and thus
implies that he recognizes their faith as already
existent. They are Christians, they already be-
lieve, Christ is already dwelling in them by faith;
he prays that He may abide in them by their
faith. The stress is everywhere laid on contin-
uance. May God strengthen your inner man, he
says, by His Spirit. That is to say, he adds, may
that Christ whom ye have received into your
hearts by faith abide continuously in your hearts
by that faith of yours. As much as to say, Christ
is brought into your hearts by the Holy Ghost.
He abides there by that Holy Ghost. May God
thus continually strengthen your hearts by His
Spirit, and that, even with might. I pray to Him
for it, for it is He that gives it. But do not think,
therefore, that you may lose hold on Christ. It
is equally true that He abides in your hearts by
your faith. When faith fails, so do the signs of
His presence within: the strengthening of the
Spirit and the steady burning of the flame of
faith are correlative. As well expect the ther-
mometer to stand still with the temperature


varying as the height of your faith not to index
the degree of your strength. Your strength is
grounded in the indwelhng Christ, wrought by
the Spirit by means of faith.

Thus we have laid before us the sources of the
Christian's strength. It is rooted in Christ, the
Christ within us, abiding there by virtue of the
Spirit's action quickening and upholding faith in
us. And only as by the Spirit our faith is kept
firm and clear, will Christ abide in us, and will
we accordingly be strong in the inner man.

Such then is the nature and source of the Chris-
tian's strengthening. What does it issue in.^
How does it exhibit itself.? Briefly, the Apostle
tells us, in love and knowledge. "May God
grant you," he says, "to be strengthened as to
the inner man by His Spirit, that is, the abiding
presence of Christ in your hearts, to the end that
being rooted and grounded in love, you may be
fully enabled to apprehend. ..." The end of
the prayer is, then, expansion of spiritual appre-
hension. May God grant that you may be
strengthened with might ... to the end that you
may be full of strength to apprehend. The ap-
propriate result of strengthening is that they may
have full strength. The Apostle accumulates
words expressive of strength to enhance the idea.
He uses three separate words, but all impinging
on the one idea, that he wishes his readers by
the Holy Spirit's operations to be raised to the


capacity of spiritual apprehension indicated.
"God grant that ye may be empowered (relative
and manifested power) with might (inherent
general power), with which ye may have full
strength (as your own endowment) to appre-
hend. ..." This then is the proximate end of the
prayer: Expansion of heart for the apprehension
of spiritual things. "God grant that you may be
strengthened with might by the Holy Spirit in
the inner man, that you may have full strength
to apprehend. ..." These things to be appre-
hended are too great for man's natural powers
He must have new strength from on high given
him to compass them. He may by the Spirit be
raised to a higher potency of apprehension for
them. God grant it to you !

What are these things .^^ The Apostle speaks
quite generally about them. He says "that ye
may have full strength to apprehend with all the
saints, what is the breadth and length and height
and depth. ..." His mind is for the moment
not on the thing itself but on the bigness of the
thing. It is because the thing is so big that they
need strengthening in the inner man before they
have full strength to apprehend it. Yet it is not
something for these special readers alone, but for
all Christians. This strengthening the Apostle
asks for is the heritage of the saints. The Apostle
prays not that we may be expanded in spiritual
apprehension by these great ideas, but up to


them. This expanding is not to be done by them,
but by the Holy Ghost. To enhance our con-
ception of how big they are, he gives us a sample, —
for that the last clause here is not adjoined as a
parallel but as a subordinate clause seems indi-
cated by the particle by which it is adjoined and
as well by the concluding words "unto the whole
fullness of God," which appear to return to a
quite general idea : that ye may have full strength
to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth
and length and height and depth and to know the
"knowledge-surpassing love of Christ."

Here is a sample of the broad and wide and high
and deep knowledge to apprehend which we need
to have our minds stretched: the quality of the
love of Christ. It is too high for us; we cannot
attain unto it. Do we wonder that the thing the
Apostle prays for is that we should be strength-
ened in the inner man by the Spirit of God, that
we may have full strength to apprehend this?
Do we wonder that he speaks of this and such
knowledge as too broad and wide and high and
deep for us, not to be apprehended save by him
in whose heart Christ abides? If, indeed, Christ
be in us — then, possibly, we may know Christ
without us. But surely in no other way. Here
then is the gist of the matter, as to the end of our
strengthening in the inner man. It is to give us
full strength for the apprehension of these great
and incomparable mysteries of our faith.


But in that fullness of the Apostolic speech
to which we have already alluded, Paul does not
content himself with simply saying this. He so
says it as both to suggest an intermediate step
in the attainment of this large spiritual appre-
hension, and to indicate a still higher goal. He
suggests, I say, an intermediate step. He does
not say simply, " God grant you spiritual strength-
ening, that you may have enlarged spiritual ap-
prehension." He says, "God grant you spiritual
strengthening that, having been rooted and
grounded in love, you may have enlarged spiritual
apprehension." Here then is an intermediate
link between the strengthening by the Spirit and
the enlargement of our spiritual understanding.
It is "love." The proximate effect of the Spirit's
work in empowering the inner man with might is
not knowledge but love; and the proximate cause
of our enlarged spiritual apprehension is not the
strengthening of our inner man, but love. The
Spirit does not immediately work this enlargement
of mind in us; He immediately works love, and
only through working this love, enlarges our ap-
prehension. The Holy Ghost "sheds love abroad
in our hearts." Love is the great enlarger. It is
love which stretches the intellect. He who is
not filled with love is necessarily small, withered,
shrivelled in his outlook on life and things. And
conversely he who is filled with love is large and
copious in his apprehensions, Only he can ap-


prehend with all saints what is the breadth and
length and height and depth of things. The
order of things in spiritual strengthening is there-
fore: (1) the working by the Spirit of a true faith
in the heart, and the cherishing by the Spirit of
this faith in a constant flame; (2) the abiding of
Christ by this faith in the heart; (3) the shedding
abroad of love in the soul and its firm rooting in
the heart; (4) the enlargement of the spiritual
apprehension to know the unknowable greatness
of the things of Christ.

There is yet one further step, for even this spir-
itual apprehension is not its own end. "God
grant," says the Apostle, "that you may be em-
powered with might by the Spirit, so to have
full strength to apprehend the great things of
God" — but he does not stop there. He adds "to
the end that you may be filled unto the whole full-
ness of God." Here is the goal at last. And
what a goal it is! We were weak — ^for it was
"when we were without strength" that Christ
died for us. We are to be strengthened, strength-
ened by the Spirit, by means of the constant in-
dwelling of Christ, the source of all good. We are
to be strengthened so as to know, to know the
great things of God (read some of them in the
parallel passage. Col. 1 :11). But not that we may
know for the mere sake of knowing. What good
would such a bare knowing do us? We are to
know that we may be "filled unto all the full-


ness of God." Look at this standard of fullness.
"Unto" — not "with" — it is the standard, not the
material. God's fullness is not to be poured into
us; we are to be raised toward that standard of
fullness, not in one particular but in all — unto the
whole fullness of God. It may mean unto the
fullness which God possesses; or it may mean
unto the fullness which He provides. It may
mean either that the enlargement of our spiritual
apprehension is a means toward obtaining all
the wonderful goods that God has in store for us;
or it may mean that by it we shall be brought to a
height of attainment comparable only to His at-
tainments. No matter which it means. It is
enough in either meaning for any Christian's hope.
But there is no reason to doubt that it does mean
the greatest thing: we shall be filled unto the
whole fullness of God. We shall be like Him,
and like Him only of all Beings in the universe.
It is a giddy height to which our eyes are thus
raised. No wonder we need spiritual strength-
ening to discern the summit of this peak of

Of course it does not mean that we are to be
transmuted into God, so that each of us will be
able to assert a right to a place of equality in the
universe with God. Of course, again, it does not
mean that God is to be transfused into us, so that
we shall be God, part of His very essence. It
means just what it says, that God presents the


standard towards which we, Christian men, are to
be assimilated. We are to be made like Him,
holy as He is holy, pure as He is pure. Our eyes,
even in the depths of eternity, will seek Him tow-
ering eternally above us as our unattainable
standard towards which we shall ever be as-
cending, but we shall be like Him; He and we
shall belong to one class, the class of holy beings.
We shall no longer be like the Devil, whose chil-
dren we were until we were delivered from his
kingdom and translated into the kingdom of God's
dear Son. No more shall we be what we were as
men in this world, still separated from God by a
gulf of moral difference, a difference so great that
we are almost tempted to call it a difference of
kind and not merely of degree. Nay, we shall,
perhaps, be more like God than even the holy
angels are; in our head, Christ Jesus, we shall be
in Him who in a pre-eminent sense is like God.
The process of the "filling" may take long; it is
but barely begun for most of us in this life; but
that is the standard and that the goal — "we shall
be filled unto the fullness of God"; and it shall
never cease. Such is the goal of the spiritual
strengthening spoken of in our text.


Eph. 3:14-19, especially v. 19:— "That ye may be filled unto all
the fullness of God."

The Epistle to the Ephesians is the poem among
the Epistles. Its whole fabric is wrought in a
grandeur of language, corresponding to the lofti-
ness of its thought. The main subject of the
Epistle is God's infinite and unspeakable mercy to
the Gentiles, and the Apostle busies himself with
two chief ends. These are (1) to beget in his
readers an adequate sense of the immensity of
their privilege, in the mercy of God, in that He
has chosen them before the foundation of the
world, redeemed them in Christ and called them
by the Spirit out of their former Gentile darkness
and alienation to be sharers in the glorious fight
of the Gospel, and to be admitted into the very
household of God; and (2) to quicken them to a
proper apprehension of the duties that grow out
of their changed relation and life.

The noble prayer of the Apostle's, which the
present passage constitutes, stands at the end
of the first section of the letter. Li that section
he has described in the most lofty and glowing lan-
guage the privileges which have been so freely
granted his readers by God, in Christ. That
section had been, it is true, closed at the end of



the second chapter; and the Apostle begins the
third chapter with a clause meant to make the
transition to the* second subject that weighed on
his heart, the duties, arising from their very con-
dition, pressing upon his readers. But he has no
sooner begun the transition than he interrupts
himself to give expression to a thought which
struggled within him for utterance, concerning
the relation of his own apostleship to the announce-
ment of God's unsearchable riches to the Gentiles.
Having unburdened his soul with praise to God
for calling him to be the instrument in His hands
for working out this glorious broadening of the
boundaries of His Church, he resumes the sen-

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 16 of 27)