“And you (did He make alive) when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”—Eph. 2:1-4.
The attentive reader, who lives by faith in Christ Jesus, having read the quotation here from the pen of Paul, must have observed both to his joy and blessed comfort, that for him all the old things of sin, guilt and death are gone forever, and that by faith all things are new, not only for the present age, but also into the endless ages to come.
Such is the rich and glorious import of this Scripture passage.
For by faith the redeemed child of God stands in the new state of justification and adoption to sons through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And in this faith in Christ he has free entrance into the holy place of God, and receives all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places, to wit, the blessings of sanctification and the hope of everlasting glory. Prior to and apart from faith we are without the possession of God’s blessing and favor, but in this faith in Christ crucified we are assured of the possession of salvation to the end.
And what a change this is! It is the change from “what we were once” to what “we are now”. It is a complete change from the darkness of sin and death to the brightness of the Light of God shining in our hearts in the face of Jesus Christ. A greater change is unthinkable. It is the work of God in His redeeming grace. God brings us up out of the deepest depths of sin and guilt to the highest pinnacle of life and liberty in Christ. For He has claimed us from death and hell and has set us in the heavens in Christ Jesus.
And all the way it is His work alone.
For it is a work so great in magnitude that it is the very work of “creation”, the calling of things that are not as though they were; the illustriousness of it is so exceedingly great, that it will require the entire span of ages to come to display the riches of God’s goodness in us the saints!
All things will then sing and rejoice, saying: Behold, what God hath wrought!
There is nothing of the work of proud man in this. God alone is the Builder and the Architect. And for this very reason every mouth must be stopped, and the whole world stand condemnable before God. This change here wrought in us, who believe, has nothing in common with the false claim of the moralist that it is a change from being morally bad to becoming less evil in a moral sense. Salvation is not a matter of morality, of man’s lifting himself up out of the miry clay by inches, but it is the work of God whereby in Christ He completely justifies and sanctifies the godless!
For this is the glad tidings of the Gospel, which the Ambassadors of Christ, the King, bring, namely, “that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses”! (II Cor. 5:19).
This reconciliation of God brings a complete change about in the relation of man, of redeemed man, to God. Oh, the change is so very complete; so very radical it is.
To this complete change, this complete translation out of the authority of the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son, Paul calls the attention of his readers, and through this letter to them he also speaks to us. And since Paul prefaces this part of His letter with the prayer to God, the Father of glory, that He give the readers, the saints in Ephesus the Spirit, of revelation and wisdom that thereby the eyes of their heart may be enlightened and since this letter is also addressed to us, it follows, that the content of this prayer must be realized by God through the Holy Spirit shall we have a spiritual understanding of this wonderful work of God’s salvation by grace alone. It is indeed only by the Holy Spirit that we also have a believing understanding of what God’s hope unto which He has called us in Christ means, and what the riches of the glory of God in Christ in the saints implies, not to forget the exceeding greatness of God’s power in saving us through the resurrection and glorious, triumphant ascension of Christ to the Father’s right hand.
This receiving of enlightenment of the heart from God is not merely necessary in the sense of the first impartation of the new life of faith in Christ by the Spirit, but it is a constant necessity, a gift given upon prayer to those who “have faith in Christ Jesus and have love to all the saints”. (Ephesians 1:15-23)
And to this our prayerful and believing attention Paul pictures, describes to us in these verses (Eph. 2:1-10) the greatness of salvation alone on the background of the awful depth of sin and death in which we were by nature.
The contrast is as sharply stated by Paul in verse 5: Ye were dead in your trespasses and sins—but now ye have been made alive with Christ Jesus!
Now it is quite certain that the main description, the very heart of the awfulness and hopelessness of our former state and condition, of our state and condition, of our state and condition by nature, apart from God’s salvation in Christ, our Lord, is stated by Paul in verse 1 by the phrase “ye being dead by reason of the sins and trespasses of you.” The remaining clauses of the verses 2-4, which deal with this same question are evidently meant as a somewhat broader description of this awful depravity.
That such is indeed the case is not merely suggested by the very natural law that the important and central matter is stated, first, but in this case is proven from the very striking fact, that Paul in verse 5 briefly repeats the entire content of the former verses, and that, too, for the sake of the special emphasis that this truth needed, in verse 5, where we read in abbreviated form “and ye being dead by the trespass”.
This repetition of this thought shows clearly that the essence of the death from which we have been saved by grace is our “being dead by reason of our trespasses and sins”.
Now, what does this latter really imply?
It is salutary to prayerfully and believingly consider this.
And then we would remark, first of all, that to him who is thoroughly Reformed, to him who believes that our whole nature became vitiated by the fall, our understanding darkened, our will hard and obdurate and wholly estranged from the life of God—to him, I say, the question arises why Paul does not say: Because ye were dead by reason of the one trespass in Adam ye sin and trespass. It is rather remarkable that Paul does not explain our actual sins and transgressions out of our original guilt and pollution here. At least that is not the way it is stated.
Now by way of warning against a false assumption it may be well to state that we are also convinced that Paul here does not deny that death came upon all by the one transgression of Adam.
Paul does here deny in Eph. 2:1-4 what he had taught in Romans 5:12-21.
But what then?
To be sure the truth of Romans 5:12-21 stands i:i all its awful reality. We all died in the one transgression of Adam. On the other hand it also remains true that we are dead by reason of our trespasses and sins!
There are two basic considerations that here come to the foreground. The one is that we should bear in mind the nature of the guilt of Adam and his relation to the whole human race both as representative head and as father, or the “root” of the human race. The other is, that we have and keep a rather clear conception of the moral, rational nature of the sinner, upon whom death has come, as this sinner concretely performs moral-rational sinful acts!
In the first place we may point out that while Paul in Rom. 5:12-21 speaks of “death came through to all men”, and says “that the trespass of one many died”; “for the judgment came by one to condemnation”; “by the trespass of one death reigned through that one”, and “so then; through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; for through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners”.
How is this to be accounted for? How could this awful guilt of Adam come upon all of us?
To this Paul answers in Rom. 5:12 “Because that all had sinned” in Adam. This does mean that everyone in the human race was very really in Adam, consciously sinning. It surely means that legally Adam represented the whole human race before God. When Adam sinned his transgression was imputed to all of us. And very really the death-sentence, which was before already threatened to Adam, is immediately executed by God. And Adam and Eve very really died, as is attested by their whole conduct subsequent to the fall and prior to the gracious giving of the Protevangel in Genesis 3:15. They were guilty, the sentence of guilt was written by God in their conscience, and they could not love each other anymore. For they accuse each other, and do not humbly confess their sins. They could not confess their sins, but could only admit their sin and guilt and that, too, while they accused each his own respective tempter. They thus became “children of wrath”.
Now this verdict of guilt was passed on to the whole human race. Cain was a child of wrath, but so was Abel by nature!
Since we have mentioned Abel it being convenient to us, we will demonstrate the point of “being dead by reason of trespasses and sin” in his case.
That Abel was “dead by means of trespasses and sins” does not mean that there was an endless number of “falls” in him and in all who like him are “children of wrath”. We do not experience, do not pass through the “fall”. There is only one fall, the one trespass of Adam. And so, to return to Abel, Abel was born and conceived in the guilt of Adam, with the law of sin in his members. He was by nature “inclined to all evil, incapable of doing any good.” His whole nature was corrupt, his will perverse, and his mind darkened. That was due to the one transgression of his immediate father, Adam! And in this he was just like the “rest” by nature, that is, he was as such just like Cain!
But, and here we come to our second consideration, which we have stated earlier in this essay, Abel sinned as a moral-rational being under the same law of God under which Adam had been placed. The original command to love God perfectly and to obey Him did not change! By nature Abel was under the perfect law. And the law Abel could only transgress! For by nature he was a child of wrath. And in this wrath he was in the vicious-circle, the perpetual motions of sin. Sin bears more sins. It is endless! Each new transgression and sin is written indelibly by God in the conscience the verdict of guilt. The conscience becomes ever more defiled and the mind more reprobate unto every good work!
And so as Abel lived concretely, by nature he with Cain, was dead and ever more dead by reason of the verdict of God upon each added trespass and sin. Hence, they were dead by reason of their trespasses and sins. This is also the experience of the godly, when the eyes of their heart have been enlightened, and they have died unto the very sin and trespass which has very exceedingly resided in them, that they experience “that their conscience accuses them for each transgression and sin. And the confession is: I find in me, that is, in my flesh, no good; I am carnal, sold under sin. O, wretched man that I am. And with David the godly confess it is not only because of these trespasses and sins that I am dead, ever dead in my conscience and, therefore, further by nature do nothing but sin, but this reaches back to my having been conceived in sin by my mother, and her having given birth to me in unrighteousness!
That such is the awful state and condition where the rich mercy of God finds us, is evident from the further description of Paul of the state and condition of the believers as they, as we were by nature.
But this must wait till the next issue, D. V.