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Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Coke's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ephesians 2". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tcc/ ephesians-2.html. 1801-1803.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ephesians 2". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
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By comparing what we were by nature with what we are by grace, the Apostle declareth that we are made for good works; and, being brought near by Christ, should not live as Gentiles and foreigners in time past, but as citizens with the saints, and the family of God.
Anno Domini 62.
THE Apostle begins this chapter with observing, that even the Ephesians, though lying, bynature, under the sentence of death, on account of their trespasses and sins, Christ had filled with his gifts and graces, Eph 2:1 then describes the character and behaviour of the Ephesians in their heathen state, to make them sensible, that, notwithstanding the advantages which they pretended to have derived from the heathenmysteries,alltheGentiles,notexceptingtheinitiatedthemselves,weredeeply sunk in the grossest ignorance and wickedness, Ephesians 2:2.—Then, speaking in the name of the converted Jews, he acknowledged, that they likewise, before their conversion, had spent their life after the manner of the Gentiles, in fulfilling the lustsof their flesh, and their corrupt imaginations; so that they were naturally children of wrath, even as the Gentiles, Ephesians 2:3.—Consequently, they had not the least reason to expect any favour from God. Nevertheless, from the great love which he bare to the Jewish nation, God had made them, as well as the Gentiles, alive together by Christ, Ephesians 2:4-5.—and had set them down together in the heavenly places of the Christian church, wherein salvation is promised as a free gift to all, through faith, and had sealed that promise to them bythe gifts of the Spirit, Ephesians 2:6.—That future generations, knowing the exceeding greatness of God's grace, may be encouraged to expect pardon upon their repentance, Ephesians 2:7.—Then he told the Ephesians, that the admission, not of the Gentiles only, but even of the Jews, into the Christian church, and their having the promise of salvation, through faith, sealed to them, were owing entirely to the unmerited benevolence of God, and not to their own good works, so that no one could boast of having merited salvation, Ephesians 2:8-9.—At the same time he told them expressly, that these great favours were bestowed on them to fit them for good works, Ephesians 2:10.
The Apostle having thus described the character and state of both Jews and Gentiles before their conversion, he desired the Gentiles to remember, that, in their heathenstate, none of them, not even the initiated in the mysteries, had any knowledge of Christ the Saviour, or hope of the pardon of sin, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants, and without hope of pardon, nay, without the knowledge of the true God, Ephesians 2:11-12.—But now, by the pure favour of God, being seated in Christ's church, they enjoyed equal knowledge and hopes and privileges with the Jews, God's ancient people; for, though not circumcised, God had brought them nigh to himself, and to the Jews, by the blood of Christ, Ephesians 2:13.—who is the author of peace both to Jews and Gentiles, and hath made of both one church or fellowship, in which the true God is to be worshipped; having thrown down the Jewish peculiarity, which was the partition-wall that had hitherto separated theJews from the Gentiles, Ephesians 2:14.—and, by his death in the flesh, hath taken away the cause of the enmity which subsisted between them, even the Levitical ordinances; that he might create the two into one new man, body, or well agreeing society under himself, as head or governor, thus making peace between them, Ephesians 2:15.—also that he might reconcile both in one body, or visible church to God, having, through his cross, slain the cause of their enmity to God, even the wicked affections and passions of both, Ephesians 2:16.—and this peace with God, Christ preached by his Apostles to the Gentiles, and to the Jews, Ephesians 2:17.—And therefore, through him, both have access in the Christian church, to worship the Father of the universe with hope of acceptance and pardon; a privilege much greater than any which the initiated in the heathen mysteries could claim, Ephesians 2:18.—Withal, that such of the asiarchs, or priests of Diana, as were now become members of the fellowship of the mystery of God's will by faith, and all in the province of Asia, who formerly were employed about the temple of that idol, might have no cause to regret their having forsaken her worship, the Apostle assured them that they were no longer strangers to the covenants, and foreigners, as they had been, in the commonwealth of the true God; (see Ephesians 2:12.) but by the knowledge and belief of the mystery of God's will, they were become joint citizens in that commonwealth with the saints, and οικειοι, belonging to the house, or visible church of God, as constituent parts of that great fabric, which is constructed for the use, not of the inhabitants of Asia alone, but of believers of all nations, the true saints of God, Ephesians 2:19.—For they were built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone, Ephesians 2:20.—by which the whole building, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, being fitly joined together, groweth into an holy temple forthe Lord Jesus, to officiate in as a high priest, Ephesians 2:21.—And in regard the apostles and prophets, the foundations of the temple of God, who raised the glorious edifice by the power of the Holy Ghost, were, of course, supernaturally fitted for their office, as is mentioned afterwards, (ch. Ephesians 4:7-13.) this great temple of the Christian visible church, both in the manner in which it was built, and in the materials of which it is composed, as well as in its dimensions, described chap. Eph 3:18-19 infinitelyexcelled the temples at Ephesus and at Jerusalem. Besides, being reared, not for the purpose of a ritual worship, and far less for celebrating the impure rites of an idol, like those performed in the temple of Diana, but for the holy spiritual worship of the true God, according to the Christian manner, this temple infinitely excelled the temples at Ephesus and at Jerusalem in the use for which it was built. To conclude, the Apostle informed the Ephesians and the Judaizers, that this great temple, the Christian church, in which the believing Jews also were built as constituent parts, is rendered glorious, not like the temple at Ephesus by the presence of a lifeless image of an idol, vainly pretended to have fallen down from Jupiter, nor even like the ancient temple at Jerusalem, by any outward visible symbol of the presence of the true God; but by his real, though invisible presence, fitting every part of the fabrick with the gifts and graces of his Spirit, Ephesians 2:22. See chap. Ephesians 1:23.
Bythis grand figure the Apostle has taught us, that, under the gospel dispensation, the presence of God is not any longer manifested in a material temple, as under the Mosaic dispensation; neither is his worship limited to particular places and seasons; nor does it consist in ritual services.But any society of believers, met for worshipping God in spirit and in truth, is a real temple of God, because, in that society, prayers and praises are publicly offered to God: nay, every individual believer is a temple, because God is revealed in him, and is always inwardly worshipped and praised by him. And with respect to the Ephesians in particular, since they were constituent parts of the great temple of God, the Christian church, their honour as the keepers of this temple, and as worshippers therein, was infinitely greater than their honour as priests and worshippers of Diana: nay, greater than it would have been had they become priests and worshippers in the temple at Jerusalem.
Ephesians 2:1. And— This particle gives us the thread of St. Paul's discourse, which it is impossible to understand without seeing the train of it: without that view it would be like a rope of gold dust; all the parts would be excellent, and of value, butwould seem heaped together without order or connection. This and here, it is true, ties the parts together, and points out the connection and coherence of St. Paul's discourse; but yet it stands so far from the verb set, in Ephesians 2:20, of the foregoing chapter, and quickened, in Ephesians 2:5, of this, which are the two verbs it couples together, that it would scarcely be observed or admitted by one unacquainted with St. Paul's stile; and therefore it may not be amiss to lay it in its due light before the reader. In Ephesians 1:18-20 : the Apostle prays, that the Ephesians may be so enlightened, as to see the great advantages they received by the gospel: those which he specifies are, 1. What great hopes it gave them. 2. What an exceeding glory accompanied the inheritance of the saints. 3. The mighty power exerted by God on their behalf, which bore some proportion to that which he employed in the raising of Christ from the dead, and placing him at his right-hand: upon the mention of which, his mind being full of that glorious image, he lets his pen run into adescription of the exaltation of Christ, which lasts to the end of the chapter; and then resumes the thread of his discourse, which runs briefly thus: "I pray God thatthe eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may see the exceeding great power of God, which is employed upon us who believe; corresponding [κατα την ] to that energy wherewith he raised Christ from the dead, and seated him at his right-hand; for so likewise has he raised you, who were dead in trespasses and sins: us, I say, who were dead in trespasses and sins, hath he quickened and raised together with Christ, and seated together with himin his heavenlykingdom." This is the train andconnection of his discourse from ch. Eph 1:18 to ch. Eph 2:5 though it be interrupted by many incident thoughts, which, after his usual manner, he enlarges upon by the way, and then returns to the main subject: for here again we must observe, that having, in the verse before us, mentioned their beingdead in trespasses and sins, he proceeds to enlarge upon that forlorn estate of the Gentiles before their conversion; and then comes to what he designed, namely, that God, out of his great goodness, quickened, raised, and placed them together with Christ in his heavenly kingdom.
Ephesians 2:2. Wherein in time past ye walked— The Ephesians were remarkable, in the midst of all their learning, for a most abandoned character. They banished Hermodorus merely for his virtue; thereby in effect making a law, that every modest and temperate man should leave them. The word αιων, rendered world, may be observed in the New Testament to signify the lasting state and constitution of things in the great tribes or collections of men, considered in reference to the kingdom of God; whereof there were two most eminent, and principally intended by the word αιωνες, when that is used alone; and that is ο νυν αιων, this present world, which is taken for that state of the world wherein the children of Israel were God's people, and made up his kingdom upon earth; the Gentiles, that is to say, all the other nations of the world, being in a state of apostacy and revolt from him, the professed vassals and subjects of the devil, to whom they paid homage; and αιων μελλων, the world to come,—i.e. the time of the gospel, wherein God, by Christ, broke down the partition-wall between Jew and Gentile, and opened a way for reconciling the rest of mankind, and taking the Gentiles again into his kingdom, under the Lord Jesus Christ, under whose peculiar rule he had put it. The phrase, prince of the power of the air, whatever it may mean besides, intimates, that Satan possessed great power; and, consequently, that our Saviour's virtue, which was able to struggle with and conquer him, both in the wilderness and in the garden of Gethsemane, was inconceivablygreat, and remarkably illustrious. The original, which we render, now worketh in the children of disobedience, is very strong and emphatical, both in the denomination it gives to the heathen in general, as children of rebellion and obstinacy, who would yield to no persuasion which would urge them to a better course of life (as the etymology of the word απειθεια imports) and in the forcible manner in which it expresses the influence of Satan over them—as inspired, or possessed by him. The words might be rendered here, even that Spirit who now operates powerfully in the children of disobedience.
Ephesians 2:3. Among whom also we, &c.— The Apostle, changing the expression from ye to we, seems plainly to declare, that he meant to include himself and all other Christians in what he here says. See Romans 3:9. Instead of the desires of the flesh and of the mind, some render the Greek, the dictates of the flesh and of the passions; observing that the word θεληματα, here made use of, expresses a kind of dictatorial power; and the plural, διανοιων, which we render mind, as it cannot here signify its intellectual powers, must denote the various passions, according to the prevalence of which our minds take as it were different colours and forms, and become strangely different from themselves. Some think that the meaning of the phrase, by nature children, &c. is only that they were so truly and indeed. But though Dr. Taylor has taken great pains to establish this interpretation, it appears incomparably more reasonable, upon the whole, to understand the words of the original apostacy and corruption, in consequence of which, men do, according to the course of nature, fall early into personal guilt. And we may venture to affirm, that the word φυσει, by nature, signifies a natural disposition, and not merely an acquired habit.
Ephesians 2:4. But God,— This connects the present verse admirably well with that immediatelypreceding,andmakesthepartsofthat incidental discourse cohere; which ending in this verse, St. Paul, in the beginning of Ephesians 2:5, takes up the thread of his general discourse again, as if nothing had come between. See on Ephesians 2:1.
Ephesians 2:5. Even when we were dead, &c.— "In this wonderful love, with which he of his own good pleasure has loved us, even when we Jews, as well as Gentiles, one as much as another, were in such forlorn, wretched, and desperate circumstances, as to be dead in sin, and so helpless, hopeless, and loathsome in our fallen state; he even then quickened us;"—that is, by the Spirit given to those who by faith in Christ were united to him, became his members, and sons of God, partaking of the adoption: by which Spirit they were put into a state of life, (see Romans 8:9-15.) and made capable, if they would, to live to God, and not to obey sin in the lusts thereof, nor to yield their members instruments of sin unto iniquity; but to give up themselves to God, as men alive from the dead. See Rom 6:11-13 and, concerning the last clause of this verse, the Inferences and Reflections.
Ephesians 2:6. And hath raised us up, &c.— What the Apostle here says, does not merely signify our being raised to the hope of pardon and glory by the resurrection and ascension of Christ, but seems to refer to that union which there is between him and all true believers; byvirtue of which they may look onhis resurrection, ascension, and glory, as a pledge and security of something of a similar nature, to be accomplished in due time in and upon them, if faithful unto death. Thus we are taught to consider Christ as a public person, the elder brother of the family, and the guardian of the younger branches of it, who look up to him for succour.
Ephesians 2:8. By grace are ye saved through faith;— He that reads St. Paul with attention, cannot but observe, that, speaking of the Gentiles, he calls their being brought back again from their apostacy into the kingdom of God, their being saved. Before they were thus brought to be the people of God again under the Messiah, they were, as they are here described, aliens,—enemies, —without hope,—without God,—dead in trespasses and sins; and therefore, when by faith in Christ they came to be reconciled, and to be in covenant again with God, and his subjects, and liege people, they were in the way of salvation; and, if they persevered, could not miss of attaining it, though they were not yet in actual possession. The Apostle, whose aim it is in this Epistle to give them a high sense of God's extraordinary grace and favour to them, and to raise their thoughts above the mean observances of the law, shews them that there was nothing in them, in their miserable state of nature, no deeds or works of theirs, nothing that they could do, to prepare and recommend themselves, which contributed aught to God's calling them into his kingdom under the gospel;that it was all purely the work of grace, for they were all by nature dead in trespasses and sins, and, without the Spirit of God, could not make one step, or the least motion towards it. Faith, which alone gained them admittance, and alone opened the kingdom of heaven to believers, was the gift of God. Men, by their natural faculties, could not attain to it: it is faith which is the source and beginning of this new life.—By a revelation of that, which they could never discover by their own natural faculties, God bestows on them the knowledge of the Messiah, and the faith of the gospel; which, as soon as they have received, they are in the kingdom of God, in a new state of life; and, being thus quickened by the Spirit, may, as men alive, work, if they will. Hence St. Paul says, Rom 10:17 that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; having in the foregoing verses declared, that there is no believing without hearing, and no hearing without a preacher, and no preacher unless he be sent; that is, the good tidings of salvation by the Messiah, and the doctrine of faith, was not, could not be known to any, but those to whom God communicated it by the preaching of his prophets and apostles, to whom he revealed it, and whom he sent on his errand with this discovery. And thus God now gave faith to the Ephesians and the other Gentiles, to whom he sent St. Paul and others his fellow-labourers, to bestow on them the knowledge of salvation, reconciliation, and restoration to the kingdom of the Messiah: to all which, though revealed by the Spirit of God in the writings of the Old Testament, yet the Gentile world were kept wholly strangers by the ceremonial law of Moses, which was the wall of partition that kept the Gentiles at a distance and aliens: this wall God, according to his gracious purpose before the erecting it, having now broken down, communicated to them the doctrine of faith, and admitted them, upon their acceptance of it, to all the advantages and privileges of this kingdom: all which was done of his free grace, without any merit or procurement of theirs;—He was found of them who sought him not, and was made manifest to them that asked not after him. He that would clearly understand this second chapter of the Ephesians, should read carefully with it Romans 10:0 and 1Co 2:9-16 where he will see, that faith is owing to the revelation of the Spirit of God, and the communication of that revelation by men sent by God, who attained this knowledge, not by the assistance of their own natural parts, but from the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Thus faith, we see, is the gift of God; and, with it, comes the Spirit of God, which brings life to the soul. GOD himself, by the gift of faith, creates them, that is, every genuine penitent, unto good works; but when by him they are made living creatures, in this new creation, it is then expected that, being quickened, they should act; and from henceforward works are required, not as the meritorious cause of salvation, but as a necessary indispensable qualification of the subjects of God's kingdom under his Son Jesus Christ; it being impossible that any one should at the same time be a rebel and a good subject too. And though none can be subjects of the kingdom of God, but those who, continuing in the faith which has once been bestowed on them, sincerely endeavour to conform themselves to the laws of their Lord and Master Jesus Christ; and though God gives eternal life to all those, and to those only, who do so; yet eternal life is the gift of God, the gift of free grace, as purchased solely by the blood of the covenant for every faithful saint
Now, that when God hath, by calling them into the kingdom of his son, and bestowing on them the gift of faith, thus quickened the penitent, and they are by his free grace created in Christ Jesus unto good works,—that then works are required of them, is hence evident—that they are called upon and pressed (1 Thessalonians 2:12.) to walk worthy of God, who hath called them to his kingdom and glory; and to the same purpose, ch. Ephesians 4:1.Philippians 3:17; Philippians 3:17. Colossians 1:10-12. So that of those who are in the kingdom of God, who are actually under the covenant of grace, good works are strictly required, under penalty of the loss of eternal life. See Romans 6:11-13; Romans 8:13.
Indeed, this is the tenor of the whole New Testament; the apostate heathen world were dead, and were of themselves in that state not capable of doing any thing to procure their translation into the kingdom of God; that was purely the work of grace: but, when they received the gospel in sincerity, they were then made alive by faith, and by the Spirit of God; then they were in a state of life, and working and works were expected of them. Thus grace and works are consistent without any difficulty; and that whichhath caused the perplexity, and seeming contradiction, has been men's mistake concerning the kingdom of God. God, in the fulness of time, set up his kingdom in this world under his Son, into which he admitted all those who believed on him, and sincerely received Jesus the Messiah for their Lord. Thus by faith in Jesus Christ men became the people of God, and subjects of his kingdom, and were henceforth, during their continuance in the living faith and profession of the gospel, accounted saints,—the beloved of God,—the faithful in Christ Jesus,—the people of God, —saved, &c.—for in these terms and the like the Sacred Scripture speaks of them. And indeed, those who were thus translated into the kingdom of the Son of God, were no longer in the dead state of the Gentiles; but, havingpassed from death to life, were in the state of the living, in the way to eternal life, which they were sure to attain, if they persevered in that life which the gospel required, viz. faith and sincere obedience. But yet this was not an actual possession of eternal life in the kingdom of God in the world to come; for, by apostacy or disobedience, this, though sometimes called salvation, might be forfeited and lost; whereas he that is once possessed of the other, has actuallyan eternal inheritance in the heavens, which fadeth not away. These two considerations of the kingdom of heaven some men have confounded, and made one; so that a man being brought into the first of these wholly by grace without works (faith being all that was required to instate a man in it) they have concluded, that, for the attaining eternal life, or the kingdom of God in the world to come, faith alone, without good works, is required,—contrary to the express words of Scripture, and the whole tenor of the gospel. It is, however, by grace that we are made partakers of both these kingdoms; it is only into the kingdom of God in this world that we are admitted by faith alone without works; but for our admittance into the other, both faith and obedience are requisite,—internal holiness, and a sincere endeavour to perform all those duties,—all those good works which are incumbent upon us, and come in our way to be performed, from the time of our believing until the hour of death. See the Inferences and Reflections.
Ephesians 2:9. Lest any man— That no one.
Ephesians 2:10. We are his workmanship,— "In this new state in the kingdom of God, we are, and ought to look upon ourselves, not as deriving any thing from ourselves, but as the mere workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus, to the end that we should do good works, for which he hath prepared and fittted us to walk in them. It is not by any works of the law, nor in consideration of our submitting to the Mosaical institution, or having any alliance with the Jewish nation, that we Gentiles are brought into the kingdom of Christ: we are in this entirely the workmanship of God; we are as it were created therein, framed, and fitted by him to the performance of those good works in which we were thenceforth to live; and so owe nothing of this our new being, in this new state, to any preparation or fitting that we received from the Jewish church, or any relation that we stood in thereunto." The latter part of the verse before us is conformable to what he says, Eph 2:5-6 that those who were dead in trespasses and sins, God quickened with Christ; they being by faith united to him, and partaking of the same Spirit of life, which raised him from the dead; whereby, as men brought to life, they were enabled, if they would not resist or quench that Spirit, to live unto God in righteousness and holiness, as before they were under the absolute dominion of Satan and their lusts.
Ephesians 2:11.— From the foregoing doctrine, that God, of his free grace, according to his purpose from the beginning, had quickened and raised the convert Gentiles together with Christ, and seated them with him in his heavenly kingdom, that is, his gospel kingdom, St. Paul draws this inference to keep them from Judaizing, That though they, as was the state of the heathen world, were heretofore, by being uncircumcised, shut out from the kingdom of God, strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope, and without God in the world, yet they were by Christ,—who had taken away the ceremonial law, that wall of partition, which kept them in that state of distance and opposition,—now admitted to be the people of God, without being subjected to the law of Moses; and were with the Jews now created into one new man, or body of men; so that they were no longer to look on themselves as aliens, or as more remote from the kingdom of God than the Jews themselves: Ephesians 2:11-22. The terms circumcision and uncircumcision in the abstract, are put for persons circumcised or uncircumcised, as in Romans 2:26; Rom 3:30 and Romans 4:9.
Ephesians 2:12. That—ye were without Christ, &c.— "Without any knowledge of the Messiah, or any expectation of deliverance or salvation by him." Though the covenant, for substance, was one and the same, the Apostle speaks of it in the plural number, covenants, as it was delivered at several times, with various explications and enlargements, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and afterwards to the whole body of the Israelites: and as the promises which it contained centered in the great promise of the Messiah, and of salvation by him, St. Paul therefore speaks of them inthe singular number, as but one promise; which is agreeable to the Scripture style in other places. Some propose to render this passage, Strangers from the covenants,—having no hope of the promise. The Gentiles were without God in the world, as they neither knew nor served the true God. It is in this sense that they are here called Αθεοι, without God, for there were few of them Atheists in our sense of the word; that is to say, deniers of a superior power; and many of them acknowledged one supreme eternal God: but as St. Paul says, Romans 1:21. Even when they knew God, they glorified him not as God: they owned not him alone; but turned from the invisible God to the worship of images and the false gods of their countries. It has been observed upon the clause of this verse, having no hope, that though a general knowledge and uncertain idea of a future state prevailed among the heathens, yet it is certain that they reasoned very weakly upon the subject; that they had no well-grounded hope of future happiness, and that they were but very little impressed with it: so that they had no deity to which they prayed for eternal life, as the fathers often remonstrate; and by far the greater part of their most learned philosophers either expressly denied, in private lectures to their pupils, the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, or taught principles quite inconsistent with it.
Ephesians 2:13. Are made nigh by the blood of Christ.— There seems to be an evident allusion here to the privilege of those Israelites who were not under any ceremonial pollution, or who were cleansed from their guilt by the blood of atonement; and so had free liberty of entering the temple, and conversing with God: upon which account they are called "A people near unto him;" Psa 148:14 comp. Exodus 19:4-6. Leviticus 10:3. Psa 65:4 and see Colossians 2:13-14.
Ephesians 2:14. He is our peace,— Mr. Locke would have this to be the same with your peace, and to be meant of the Gentile converts of whom the Apostle had been speaking just before; but it is evident that the reconciliation as well as the enmity was mutual; and the Jews were at least as strongly prejudiced against the Gentiles as the Gentiles against the Jews. The Apostle therefore, with consummate propriety, makes use of terms which were intended to include all true believers, whether originally belonging to the one or the other. The middle wall of partition, or separation, is mentioned in reference to that wall in the temple which was called the Chel, and separated the court of the Gentiles from that into which the Jews only were allowed to enter, and of which we have the most authentic account in Josephus. See Acts 21:28.
Ephesians 2:15. Having abolished—the enmity,— It was the ritual law of the Jews which kept them and the Gentiles at an irreconcileable distance, so that they could come to no terms of a fair correspondence: the force whereof was so great, that even after Christ was come, and had put an end to the obligation of that law, yet it was almost impossible to bring them together; and this was that which in the beginning most obstructed the progress of the gospel, and disturbed the Gentile converts. The Apostle says, that Christ abolished that part of the law which consisted in positive commands and ordinances, that so he might make or frame the two, namely, Jews and Gentiles, into one new society or body of God's people, in a new constitution under himself,—so making peace between them. This appearing to be the Apostle's meaning, it may not he amiss to look into the reason why he expresses it in this more figurative manner, To make in himself, of twain, one new man; which being more suitable to the ideas that he had, was in fewer words more lively and express to his purpose. He always has the Lord Jesus Christ in his mind, as the head of the church, which was his body; from and by whom alone, by being united to him, the whole body, and every member of it, received life, vigour, and strength, and all the benefits of that state: which admirably well shews that whoever were united to the head, must needs be united to each other; and also that all the privileges and advantages they enjoyed were wholly owing to their union with and adherence to him, their head; which were the two things that he was here inculcating on the convert Gentiles of Ephesus, to shew them that now, under the gospel, men became the people of God, merely by living faith in Jesus Christ, and having him for their head, and not at all by keeping the ritual law of Moses, which Christ had abolished, and so had made a way for the Jews and Gentiles to become one in him; since now living faith in him alone united them into one body under that head, without the observance of the law, which is the meaning of so making peace. This note may lead ordinary readers into an understanding of St. Paul's style, and, by making them observe the reason, give them an easier entrance into the meaning, of his figurative expressions.
Ephesians 2:17. To you which were afar off, &c.— To those that were afar off, and to those, &c. that is, Gentiles and Jews. See Junius in Wetstein.
Ephesians 2:18. We both have access by one Spirit— The word προσαγωγη, which we render access, properly refers to the custom of introducing persons into the presence of some prince, or any other greatly their superior. See the Inferences.
Ephesians 2:19. Strangers and foreigners,— If there be any distinction between these two words, ξενοι and παροικοι, the latter signifies something more than the former, and seems plainly to allude to the case of sojourning strangers among the Jews, who were not incorporated by complete proselytism into the body of the Jewish people, and made, as such proselytes were, fellow-citizens, with equal privileges: and perhaps, when οικειοι του Θεου, domestics of God, is added, it may have some relation to that peculiar nearness to God, in which the Jewish priests stood, and refer to that great intimacy of unrestrained converse with God, to which we, as Christians, are admitted. In which respect our privileges seem to resemble, not only those of the people praying in the common court of Israel, but also of the priests, worshipping in the house itself: nay, it is elsewhere added, by a figure which seems beautifully to rise even on this, that we have boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus; Hebrews 10:19.
Ephesians 2:20. And are built upon the foundation, &c.— "And ye are still more closely united to Christ, and to the Father in him, not only as citizens to their supreme magistrate, and as children to their father; but as a building to its foundation, which is another figure under which the church of Christ may be considered in its relation to him (1 Peter 2:4-5.), who is a sure foundation, which God himself has laid in Zion, besides which no man can lay any other; but which is ministerially laid both by my preaching (1 Corinthians 3:10-11.), and by the doctrine of the twelve apostles, as master-builders, under Christ, in the New-Testament dispensation (Revelation 21:14.); as it also has been in the writings of the ancient prophets (Psalms 118:22.Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 28:16.), which testified of Christ (John 5:39.). The doctrine of all these is in substance the same, with regard to salvation and eternal life by Jesus Christ, who is not only the rock, on which he has built his church (Matthew 16:18.); but is also the principal corner-stone,whichunites,holds,andbindstogetherbothbelievingJewsandGentiles in himself as one church, and gives strength, solidity, and beauty to the whole spiritual edifice that is erected upon him." The heads of Israel, who bore the weight of government, are called the chief, and the stay, or, as it is in the Hebrew, פנות, the corners of the people (1 Samuel 14:38. Isaiah 19:13.); accordingly Christ is called the chief corner-stone and the head-stone of the corner (Psalms 118:22.), because the church depends as entirely upon him as its foundation, when considered in allusion to a house or building, as it does upon him as its head, when considered in allusion to a natural or political body.
Ephesians 2:22. In whom ye also are builded together— I take the sense of this allegory to be as follows, says Mr. Locke: It is plain from the attestation of the apostles and prophets, that the Gentiles who believe in Christ are thereby made members of his kingdom, united together under him their head into such a well-framed body, wherein each person has his proper place, rank, and function, to which he is fitted, that God will accept and delight in them as his people; and live among them as in a well-framed building dedicated to him, whereof the Gentiles make a part; and without any difference put between them, are framed in equality, and promiscuously with believing Jews, by the Spirit of God, to be one people, among whom he will dwell, and be their God.
Inferences on Ephesians 2:8; Ephesians 2:18.—St. Paul, in the beginning of this chapter, is speaking of the condition in which the Ephesians were before their conversion from a state of heathenism to the genuine belief of the gospel, and magnifying God's mercy and the exceeding riches of his grace towards them, from the first to the eighth verse; in which he goes on to make them sensible of their obligations to God, who had thus quickened them that were dead in sins: for by grace are ye saved; that is, "For it is very fit you should know and consider, that it is by the mere grace, or favour, or mercy of God, (as the word signifies) that ye are saved through faith; that ye are put into a method and state of salvation, by means of your receiving in sincerity the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is his own act, his mere mercy, that you have terms of acceptance offered you, upon your believing in Christ. The being saved, I say, in this method, is by the grace or mercy of God; not of yourselves, that is, by no contrivance or appointment of your own;—not owing to yourselves; but it is the gift, the free contrivance, and offer of God to you, that ye should be put into this happy state by the gospel:" this is the meaning of the expression,—and that not of yourselves; not, (as it may found in our translation) "and that faith, or believing, is not of yourselves, but entirely, the gift of God;" (for the word that, in the Greek, is of the neuter gender, and so cannot easily be supposed to relate to the word faith going before it:) but, "that or this whole matter,—this your being saved by faith, this being called into a state of salvation by the gospel, is not of yourselves, but the gift, the favour, the offer of God, previous to all design and thought of your own." Then follow those words, Ephesians 2:9. Not of works, lest any man should boast: that is, "And as the proposal of this gracious method of salvation was not owing to yourselves and your contrivance, so neither was such a favour merited at the hands of God by any past perfection, by any good behaviour of your own preceding it: for, as I have told you already, Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5, you were dead in trespasses and sins, when you were called to the knowledge of this merciful dispensation. And this I add, Lest any of you should boast, as if you had deserved at the hands of Almighty God, by your past behaviour, so merciful a dispensation, so gracious a proposal, as is made to you in the gospel." And then he goes on to assure them farther, that their happy condition is owing entirely to God, who had, without any contrivance or desert of theirs, so ordered affairs by his good providence, that they were now believers in Jesus Christ, and had the offers of salvation upon the terms of the gospel brought home to them.
This therefore is the manifest design of the Apostle in the text;—To raise the gratitude of the Ephesians to Almighty God, and to inspire them with all possible regard to him, by putting them in mind, that they were formerly in a helpless and miserable condition,—dead in sins, void of the true life of reasonable creatures; that they had no thought of themselves of such salvation as had been offered them by the Christian religion; that they had no merit to engage the Almighty to make them such an offer, and preach to them such a state of reconciliation and salvation; that it was of his grace, or favour, that they were saved from their former evil condition of sin and ignorance, by receiving and believing the gospel; for which they were obliged therefore to magnify the exceeding riches of God's mercy towards them in Christ, and not to attribute any thing to themselves, who were before this void of every thing that could be pleasing to Almighty God, or influence him to shew them so great and remarkable a kindness. "It is by grace that ye are delivered from your former miserable condition; it is an act of grace that ye are saved through faith, or put into a state of salvation by believing the gospel; and this being saved by this method, and by means of this believing, is not of yourselves, but wholly owing, in respect to the merit of it, and to the first moving causes of it, to the good will of God, whose free offer and gift it is." Having thus guarded against any erroneous or pernicious sense, in which Christians may be led to understand the passage in question, it may not be improper to consider briefly in what sense it is that Christians can be said to be saved through faith, or by believing in Jesus Christ.
And 1st, We may well be said to be saved through faith, because it is by believing in Christ that we come to know and embrace those terms which are offered by God for our salvation and happiness. He came to save us; and only by closing in with his proposals in full confidence, we can be saved: and this we cannot do without believing in him as the God-man, as the Mediator between God and man, and as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and receiving him as such. This, therefore, being absolutely necessary, we may well find salvation attributed to this, which is the first moving principle of the instrumental kind towards it; and without which we should not go one step forward in that way to salvation, which he came to point out to us. He is the way, and the truth, and the life; and without knowing him, and believing in him, how should we know the way, or the path to that eternal life which he came to unfold to us; who otherwise must have wandered every one after the peculiar imagination and humour of our own hearts?—As salvation, therefore, comes in the method proposed by Christ, so may it well be attributed to the believing in him, because that alone can put us into the method, proposed by him, and that is the only means of pardon and acceptance through the Beloved.—We are justified by faith alone, that Christ may have all the glory.
[ I am here only speaking of those who are called to be members of the Christian dispensation. Every allowance which is consistent with infinite mercy and justice, will be made for inferior degrees of light: though all must be saved through faith. See the notes on the Epistle to the Romans.]
2nd, Christians are saved through faith, because it is the principle of their obedience, and of all their good actions. It is the tree which bears that good fruit, without which there is no salvation.
In these senses, therefore, and on these accounts, amongst others, great things might well be said of faith in the New Testament, and salvation attributed to it; but the great point in which we are concerned, is, not to be deceived in a matter of such importance; and to that end, not to interpret any one expression of the New Testament so as to contradict its plainest and most repeated declarations.
Let the conclusion, therefore, of this first head of our inferences be to this effect:—"Faith is an act of the mind most acceptable to God; faith in his Son saves us, as it puts us in the secure way to salvation, as it brings to us, by virtue of the Divine promises, justification and pardon, and as it is the principle of all our Christian graces, and of all our best and most godlike behaviour. This faith alone,—that is, the method proposed in the gospel, without the works of the ceremonial law of Moses, is sufficient to secure to us our future happiness: but faith alone, in another sense,—that is a belief in Christ, with out holiness and obedience to his laws, an empty unfruitful faith, accompanied with an impenitent life, will condemn us at last. We are not saved through faith, or by believing in Christ, unless we be influenced by it; For faith is requisite to holiness and practice; and without holiness no man can see the Lord. Faith is indispensably necessary in order to salvation; and so likewise is a holy and good life indispensably necessary in order to salvation: or, in other words, a faith working by love, and manifesting itself by good works, is that alone which will be of any account to us at the last; for as the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." See the Reflections.
The words in Eph 2:18 rightly understood, will give us a distinct conception of the nature of the Christian religion, as it stands distinguished from all others, whether natural, or pretending to revelation. All the false religions pretend to give access to God or the gods, by instructing men in what manner to approach him by prayer and supplication; how to please him, and obtain his favour and protection, by such works as each religion accounts to be holy and acceptable to God; and how to reconcile ourselves to him, after having offended him by our transgressions, through sorrow and repentance, or such other means as have been devised and instituted as effectual to this end. But the access to God which the gospel opens to us, is to be had only under the guidance and direction of his Holy Spirit, and in the name and through the mediation of God's own eternal Son. This access is the only one which the Christian religion knows any thing of; for we cannot come to God but by his Holy Spirit, and through his Son, and this is what no other religion does or can pretend to.
To give us a distinct conception of these words, and of the different offices of the Son and the Spirit, we must conceive the Spirit of God as always present with us, and the Son as always in the presence of the Father. The Spirit dwells with the faithful to guide and direct them, to begin, second, and encourage all their good desires, to help them in overcoming their infirmities, and to labour together with them in the work of their salvation, to make their calling and election sure. The Eternal Son of God is at the right hand of the Majesty on high; there he is our advocate; he intercedes for us; he receives and offers up our prayers; he obtains for us a remission of our sins, in virtue of the one oblation which he once made of himself upon the cross, the memorial of which is ever in the sight of God.
This will teach us what it is to have access by the Spirit through Christ; for the Spirit abideth with us, he is at our right hand, and by his happy influence it is that we draw near to Christ, and by him approach to the Father. The Son is our High-priest cloathed with majesty and power, and seated at the right hand of God, able to save all who will come to him; through whose powerful and always prevailing intercession, the way is open to pardon and reconciliation. The Spirit is our Comforter, given us to dwell and abide with us, to be a new principle of life within us, to quicken our mortal bodies, that, dying to sin, we may live unto God through holiness. To draw men to God is the work of the Spirit, who therefore resides and dwells with men: to reconcile God to man is the work of our High-priest, who lives in the glory of God, making continual intercession for us. Nay, both the Father and the Son, as well as the Spirit, make their abode with the faithful soul. See John 14:16; John 14:23.
And now, consider the calamitous condition of mankind under what view you please, you will always find a proper remedy provided by the mercy of God. If you reflect upon the holiness of God, and his hatred of sin, and begin to fear that he can never be reconciled to sinners; Take courage; the work is difficult,—but the Son of God has undertaken it; and how great soever the distance between God and you is, yet, through faith in the Eternal Son, you may have access unto him. If still you fear, that all may again be lost through your own weakness and inability; Even here help is at hand; the Spirit of God is your support, he is the pledge and earnest of the redemption of the faithful.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Behold the miserable state of every man by nature.
1. We are dead in trespasses and sins,—spiritually dead, as criminals under the curse and condemnation of a broken law, and the life of God extinguished in our souls; and in this state of desperate misery we must for ever continue, till redeemed by the blood, and quickened by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.
2. Though dead to God, we have been but too much alive to the practice of sin; wherein in time past we walked according to the course of this world; our spirit apostate; our ways perverse, conformed to the maxims, and copying the manners of a world that lieth in the wicked one; the consequence of which cannot but be condemnation with the world, unless we repent, and are converted.
3. We were at that time the bond-slaves of the god of this world; acting according to the instigation of the prince of the power of the air, the devil, who, with his legions, is permitted to exercise sometimes his power and agency in the aerial regions, and is the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, by himself, and those foul fiends his fellows, tempting, seducing, governing, hardening the unbelieving and disobedient. Among whom also we all, Jews as well as Gentiles, even apostles as well as others, had our conversation in times past, enslaved by sin, and led captive by the devil at his will; a state how fearful!
4. We then lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging every corrupt appetite, and fufilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, as the beasts which perish; devoted to the gratification of brutal passions, and in our souls filled with pride, envy, malice, hatred, revenge, and the whole train of spiritual wickednesses; disposed to every abomination, and only wanting temptation and opportunity to commit every iniquity in which body or soul can be engaged.
5. As the source of all our evil, we are by nature the children of wrath, obnoxious to the displeasure of that God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and born with every evil propensity. The more we are acquainted with this our natural state of desperate corruption, remediless guilt, and hopeless misery, the more we shall value the unsearchable riches of Christ, and be filled with admiration, love, and praise, in the view of an incarnate Redeemer.
2nd, With exultation and wonder should we contemplate the astonishing mystery of redeeming love. Here in its brighter glories we see it displayed; and God in that delightful attribute of mercy appears exalted in the highest.
1. The fontal cause of our redemption is God's infinite love and grace, who is rich in mercy, the source inexhaustible of all our blessings, for his great love wherewith he loved us; his very name and nature being Love, and only Love, to all who submit to be saved by his grace; which is the only way of salvation, because he will not, he cannot, give his glory to another.
2. What serves as a foil to set off in the most distinguished lustre this mercy of our God, is the state in which we lay, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins; and, instead of any thing to engage his love, had in us every thing to excite his loathing: even then, when we were foul, odious, and in a condition as desperate as that of the fallen angels, did the God of all grace regard us, and plucked us as brands from the burning. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
3. The inestimable blessings conferred upon such wretched sinners, coming to him in repentance and faith, and cleaving to him perseveringly in love, are, [1.] Life in Christ our living head. He hath quickened us together with Christ, by the same Spirit by which Christ was raised from the dead. By grace ye are saved; and thus, through the transcendently rich and unmerited love of God, restored to his favour here, and, if faithful, will be crowned with glory hereafter, through the same grace. [2.] He hath also raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: as God the Father raised up Christ to glory, and set him at his own right hand in heavenly places, so he has raised us up, all true believers, both Jews and Gentiles together, without distinction, and has made us to sit together with him in the heavenly mansions, by faith, hope, meditation, contemplation, and divine union and communion with him; and, if we be faithful, will seat us there with Christ for ever.
4. We have the principal end which God proposes in this great salvation. That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us, through Christ Jesus; encouraging to the latest days of time poor and perishing sinners to come and trust in this boundless mercy revealed in the gospel; and that in the better world, when all the glory of his grace in brightest colours shall appear, he might be the object of ceaseless praise and adoration to saints and angels through all the countless ages of eternity.
5. The means appointed to convey all these blessings to us is faith. For by grace ye are saved, freely through faith, which is the way wherein we receive all the great and precious promises; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, and, like all other blessings, flows from his boundless love, and is the work of his Spirit in our hearts; that the glory of the divine grace might not suffer the least diminution.—Not of works, lest any man should boast: neither the salvation itself, nor the faith whereby you are made partakers of it, is owing to any good works done by you, as the meritorious or moving cause of it: as there was certainly nothing of that kind to be found among the Gentile part of you, to induce the great and holy God to shew such high favour to you, who, in violation of the light and law of nature (as it is generally called), or rather of that Divine light which was afforded you under your Heathen dispensation, practised all abominable iniquities; (See Romans 1:18-32.) so there was nothing to engage God's love and kindness among the Jewish part of you, who, in contradiction to the clearer light and higher obligations of revelation, had shamefully perverted and transgressed the law of Moses in numberless instances (See Romans 2:0; Romans 3:0.) But God has manifested his wondrous mercy to you in offering to you the grace of the gospel in these guilty and deplorable circumstances, that all pretences might be equally cut off from one and the other of you, as if it were owing to any works of righteousness performed by you; lest any one among you should be so vain-glorious as to take a share of that honour to himself, which belongs to God alone; or should vaunt and glory in himself, as if he had done something to render him worthy of mercy, which, indeed, in this wretched state of things, was absolutely impossible.
6. Though our salvation be purely of grace, God has taken care to engage to himself, by the strongest ties, the hearts of those who accept of his offers, yield to his grace, and submit to all the operations of his Holy Spirit, whilst all the glory is his own. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus; all that is excellent in us comes from his free grace through faith: (our souls, renewed by divine operation, now produce the genuine fruits of righteousness; he works all that is good in his faithful saints; and, though he excludes their glorying, he both requires and strengthens them unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them; for he will save none but those whose faith works by love, supreme love to himself, and pure disinterested love flowing therefrom to all mankind. Note; The doctrines of grace, far from loosening, as some vainly imagine, the obligations to morality, can alone effectually engage and enable the soul for the practice of righteousness and true holiness.
7. He reminds the Ephesians of what they should ever keep warm upon their memories, to awaken their gratitude, and bind their hearts to God. Wherefore, remember that ye being in time passed Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands; treated by the native Jews with contempt and disdain, and indeed excluded from all the peculiar privileges which they enjoyed: that at that time ye were without Christ, having neither knowlege of him, nor union with him; being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, out of the pale of God's visible church, and strangers from the covenants of promise, which were openly made manifest, by promise only, to Abraham's natural seed; having no hope, at least no well-grounded one, of God's favour, and life eternal; and without God in the world, even while you worshipped gods many, being without the least knowlege of the one true Jehovah. But now in Christ Jesus, since by faith ye have been united to him, and heard and embrace his gospel, ye who sometimes were far off from all good and all hope, are made nigh by the blood of Christ, received into a state of favour and reconciliation with God, and are heirs of the eternal blessedness which he has purchased for, and will bestow upon, all his faithful saints. Note; Sinners, in their natural state, are far removed from God, and must, but for the redemption which is in Jesus Christ, remain so for ever.
3rdly, All the blessings in time and eternity which sinners can ever hope for, flow down to them through the channel of a crucified Jesus. For he is our peace, having reconciled us to God by his own blood, who hath made both one, uniting the believing Jews and Gentiles together in one body under himself their common head, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, which, till now, excluded the nations from the blessings peculiar to the Jews; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that which had been the cause of such enmity between Jews and Gentiles, even the ceremonial law, called the law of commandments contained in ordinances, which, as they pointed all to Christ, were now fulfilled by him, and abrogated, he designing for to make of twain, of believing Jews and Gentiles, one new man, cementing them together in one church, and forming his own blessed image alike in their hearts; so making peace between them, as members of one body, united by faith and love in him; and that he might reconcile both unto God, who, by nature and practice, were alike estranged from him, and must have perished together, but for the same atoning blood which he shed, in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby; the ceremonial law, the great cause of variance between Jews and Gentiles, being abolished; and came and preached peace, by his divinely-constituted ministers, to you, Gentiles, which were afar off, inviting you, who were at the greatest distance from his church, to come and find pardon and peace with God; and the like message he sent to them that were nigh to the Jewish people, who needed the same gracious salvation, and could only, through a Redeemer, be saved from the curses of a broken law; for through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father; the same Spirit of adoption being shed abroad in the hearts of both; the same Advocate standing to plead for us; the same gracious God appearing as the Father of mercies, and ready alike to hear and answer our petitions. Now therefore ye, believing Gentiles, are no more strangers and foreigners, as before, but fellow-citizens with the saints, partaking of the same privileges, and of the household of God, entitled, through faith in this Divine Saviour, to the same inheritance; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, who both concurred in the same testimony, leading the souls of sinners to Jesus Christ himself, as being the chief corner-stone, on whom alone they could safely build for eternity; in whom all the building fitly framed together, of Jews and Gentiles, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, daily accessions of converts being made to it; a temple infinitely more glorious than that of Solomon; a living temple, where the Lord peculiarly dwells, as in his own house; in whom ye also are builded together, and compose part of the glorious fabric, that ye might be for an habitation of God through the Spirit, who takes up his blest abode among you, and in your hearts, until, if ye be faithful unto death, ye shall come to the perfect enjoyment of him for ever in heaven. Note; There is but one safe foundation on which a sinful soul can build, and that is Jesus Christ.