Wherefore remember that ye being in times past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
Because ye are saved by pure grace ….
Because it is not of works, lest any man should boast ….
Because ye were dead through trespasses and sins, wherein ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience ….
Because there was nothing on your part that made you worthy before God of anything but damnation, while you walked in the lusts of the flesh, and fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind, so that by nature ye were mere children of wrath even as all men ….
Because it was the revelation of the rich mercy of God, and of His great love wherewith He loved us even then, when we were dead in sins, that we were quickened together with Christ, and raised up together, and placed together with Him in heavenly places; and because the revelation of this exceeding great kindness and grace toward us in Christ Jesus is the purpose of it all, in order that He alone may be glorified ….
Never forget your past!
Bear constantly in mind from what depth of darkness and hopelessness you have been saved and delivered into your present state of liberty and hope and joy!
Let nothing of yourselves ever enter into the work which was purely a revelation of God’s mercy!
Let it be perfectly clear before your consciousness that, when God saved you, your salvation was impossible as far as you were concerned!
And, too, never forget the deep misery of your condition in that former state!
In order that the glorious grace of God may be extolled!
For by grace are ye saved ….
Far off ye were!
O, how far: absolutely separated!
Even your flesh witnessed to the fact that ye were far off, for in the flesh ye were Gentiles, uncircumcised.
And that which is called the Circumcision, and which is made by hands, which, therefore, was also in the flesh, even that despised you and expressed your despicable state by calling you the Uncircumcision!
Far off ye were from the commonwealth of Israel, and from the covenants of promise, aliens and strangers ye were to that commonwealth and to those covenants, having no part in them whatever!
Such was your legal state.
For God had established His covenant with Israel, exclusively ….
The covenants, the apostle writes, in the plural Not, indeed, as if there were many covenants, for the covenant is one. There is only one God, and one Christ, and one covenant of God with His people; and this is the everlasting covenant of friendship of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. But this one covenant is revealed repeatedly and in different forms throughout the old dispensation. It is revealed as a covenant of friendship even in Paradise, when God promises that He will set enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. It is revealed to Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and who walked with God, as a covenant that will be made with all creation, embrace every creature, and that will continue in the line of Noah’s seed. It is revealed to Abraham, as the covenant that will continue in the line of, and that will be definitely fulfilled in his seed, so that in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed. It is revealed to Isaac and Jacob, to Israel at Sinai, where the seed of Abraham is constituted into the “commonwealth of Israel,” it is revealed to the king after God’s heart as “the sure mercies of David”.
It is finally realized in Christ!
One covenant frequently “covenanted”.
And they are “the covenants of promise”! The covenant is called a covenant of promise, not because the essence of the covenant is the promise, the realization of which would be contingent on our acceptance of it. For the essence of the covenant of God is the fellowship of friendship which is a reflection of His own glorious triune life of perfect communion. But, in the first place, the apostle is writing about the dispensation of the Old Testament, when reality had not yet come, when all the blessings of salvation, when the covenant itself still existed in the form of shadows, and the people of God looked forward in hope for the realization of all things. The covenant was a matter of promise. And, secondly, even though God’s covenant is centrally realized now, in the new dispensation, through the blood and in the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a view to the final revelation of the blessedness and glory of that covenant it still remains a promise, and will remain such until the heavenly commonwealth shall be realized, and the tabernacle of God shall be with men!
That covenant had been established with, and limited to the generations of Abraham!
And it had been very definitely circumscribed and exclusively defined by the law!
Of that definite limitation circumcision had been the sign!
No, indeed, not as if all that were children of Abraham according to the flesh were also children of the promise. Such was never, and such will never be the case. There were, indeed, those that were Israelites in the flesh only, even as by the absence of circumcision the heathen were Gentiles in the flesh. And many there were who boasted of this circumcision made by hands, as if their carnal relation to the commonwealth of Israel had any saving significance. And it was this “so-called Circumcision,” that which is called Circumcision made by hands, that looked with disdain upon the Uncircumcision. But even in the old dispensation no flesh had any reason to glory in the presence of God. The children of the promise only were counted for the seed. Yet, the law of circumcision was exclusive. All that belonged to the commonwealth of Israel received the sign of circumcision in the flesh; and all that lived outside of the scope of circumcision were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel!
This, then, was the state of the Gentiles before they were brought nigh by the blood of Christ.
No right had they to the circumcision.
No part did they have with the blessings of the constituted theocracy.
The covenants of promise did not concern them!
Absolutely separated from it all were they!
Far off, indeed!
And, O, the misery of it!
The Ephesian Christians knew historically what it meant to be aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise; for they had been Gentiles in the flesh.
In that historical sense, we, who are born in the line of the covenant of God and thus, from our infancy by God’s grace, brought nigh through the blood of Christ, cannot remember this state of alienation. But we, too, can remember! For we know what we are by nature: dead through trespasses and sins. And we know the spiritual misery and hopelessness of it all.
Having no hope!
Without God in the world!
In these three phrases the apostle sums up the elements in the miserable, inexpressibly sad and desperate condition of those that are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.
Without Christ, separated from Him, having no connection with Him, no claim on Him. This is mentioned first, because it is basic. Of course, Christ, the Messiah, is the promise par excellence of the covenant of God with His people. And if the covenant is limited by the law of circumcision, Gentiles in the flesh have no part with this covenant of promise. And if they are strangers to this covenant, they are strangers to the promise: they are separate from Christ. They cannot reach Him, embrace Him, believe on Him, hope in Him. And to be without Christ means to be outside of the sphere in which the blood of atonement and reconciliation is valid, outside of the sphere of the Spirit of Christ, the sphere of life, the sphere of redemption and of resurrection. . . .
And, therefore, without hope!
O, the unspeakable misery expressed in that brief phrase: without hope! For notice, that the apostle does not specify the expression. He does not say: without the hope of eternal life; or simply: without the hope. No, he leaves the matter unlimited: without hope. He that is an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger to the covenant of promise, and who is, therefore, separated from Christ, what hope has he? He has no hope at all! There is no hope, no ground of hope, no possibility of hope, no room for hope in this world without Christ!
It may seem different.
Or rather, the ungodly, he that is without Christ, may simulate hope, may act as if he, too, is full of hope. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast/’ We are children of time. And always we move onward. In the present we cannot rest. And because of that very fact, and because death is in every moment of our life, is always in the present moment, the present never satisfies. And so man always looks forward in time. He stretches Himself to some future moment. And always, whenever that future moment has become present, it disappoints: in it, too, is death. And again he looks toward the future to bring him the desired rest and satisfaction. He hopes and always lives in expectation. . . .
But in vain!
For that death, that is present in every moment of his existence, compasses him about on every side!
There is no way out!
The only way out is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
But he is without Christ!
His expectation perishes, always perishes when it it seems to be realized; perishes finally in death, eternal desolation!
Without Christ. . . .without hope in the world!
No, indeed, not without a god the Gentiles were in the world. They were not atheists in the strict sense of the term. Many were the gods they had invented, and in whom they attempted to put their trust. But without God, without the living God, were they in the world. And again, without God they were, not in the sense that anyone will ever be able to rid himself of God. He is everywhere. He encompasses us. He meets us. He demands that He shall be acknowledged as God, glorified and feared with thanksgiving. He surrounds us in His wrath. He is our terror. A consuming fire is He. . . .
But without the God of our salvation, separated from His favor in which there is life!
Without His saving help!
And that, too, in this world, full of sin and death!
O, the misery!
But now! . . . .
Ye who were so far off are made nigh!
Ye, who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel in the past, now have been received as citizens of the kingdom of heaven!
Ye, who were strangers to the covenants of promise, now have been included in the number of those with whom God establishes His everlasting covenant of friendship. And the promises, which in times past were limited to those that were comprised within the law of the circumcision, now have been extended to you!
Ye, that were without God in the world, now may call Him your God, and He will not be ashamed! He is for you! His friendship embraces you! His saving love encompasses you! He is the God of your salvation in the midst of this world of darkness, sin and death! And you seek Him, and thirst after Him as a hart panteth after water brooks!
Ye, that were without hope, now have become heirs of the incorruptible, undefilable inheritance, that never fadeth away, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! The darkness is passed and the light of hope that maketh not ashamed now shines!
From afar ye were brought nigh; from strangers ye were made citizens; from children of wrath ye were transformed into dear children of God’s marvellous love; from death ye were called into everlasting life; from darkness ye were translated into light; from the despair of hell ye were lifted to the heights of the hope of eternal glory!
All in Christ!
O, yes, He is Abraham’s seed, the Seed of the promise, the Head of the commonwealth of Israel, the central realization of the covenant of promise. In Him all the promises of God are Yea and Amen! To be in Him means to be reckoned in Him, and to have a right to all the blessings of the covenant. And to be in Him signifies, too, to become one plant with Him, to be ingrafted into Him, to live out of Him, to become partakers of all His benefits. In Him we are brought nigh to the covenant that was established with Abraham and his seed, for in Him we are indeed the seed of Abraham, and children of the promise! . . . .
And through His blood!
For in that blood there is the end of the law of circumcision, and the reconciliation of all whom the Father gave Him from before the foundation of the world, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles!
Wherefore remember! Lest flesh should glory in His presence!
By grace are ye saved!
Soli Deo gloria!