Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
10. Prayer of Gratitude
Ephesians Presents the inestimable treasures of divine wisdom, the knowledge-surpassing manifestations of God’s love to His people. The book sets forth "the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7), yes, "the exceeding riches of his grace" (Eph. 2:7), "the riches of his glory" (Eph. 3:16), and "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8). Ephesians contains the fullest opening up of the mystery, or the contents of the everlasting covenant. Here we are shown in greater detail than elsewhere the intimate and ineffable relation of the Church to Christ. Here as nowhere else we are conducted unto and into the "heavenlies." Here are revealed depths which no finite mind can fathom and heights which no imagination can scale.
Paul Bows in Worship
Before Paul proceeded to the orderly development of his wonderful theme, he bowed in worship. As his mind was absorbed with the transcendentally glorious subject on which he was to write, as he contemplated the exceeding riches of God’s grace to His people, his soul was overwhelmed—"lost in wonder, love, and praise." The heart of Paul was too full to contain itself and overflowed in adoring gratitude. That is the highest form of worship, and only in such a spirit can we truly enter into the contents of this epistle. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). As a prayer those words may be viewed thus: first, its nature—an ascription of praise; second, its Object—the God and Father of Christ; third, its incitement—our enrichment in Him. Were we to sermonize the verse, our divisions would be (1) The believer’s excellent portion: blessed with all spiritual blessings. (2) The believer’s exalted position: in the heavenlies in Christ. (3) The believer’s exultant praise: "blessed be the God and Father."
What It Means to Bless God
"Blessed be the God and Father." That those words signify an act of prayer is clear from many passages. "I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth" (Ps. 34:1). "Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name" (Ps. 63:4; cf. 1 Tim. 2:8). "Sing unto the LORD, bless his name" (Ps. 96:2). "Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD" (Ps. 134:2). To bless God is to adore Him, to acknowledge His excellency, to express the highest veneration and gratitude. To bless God is to render Him the homage of our hearts as the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The three principal branches of prayer are humiliation, supplication, and adoration. Included in the first is confession of sin; in the second, making known our requests and interceding on behalf of others; in the third, thanksgiving and praise. Paul’s action here is a summons to all believers to unite with him in magnifying the Source of all our spiritual blessings: "Adored be God the Father."
By way of infinite eminency God is the "blessed" One (Mark 14:61)—a title which is peculiar and solely proper to Himself. Nevertheless, He is graciously pleased to hear His saints attest to His blessedness. This was intimated by Paul when, after declaring Him to be "God blessed for ever" he at once added his "Amen" to the statement (Rom. 1:25). This amen, "so be it," was added not to a blessing of invocation but to a joyful acclamation that expressed Paul’s own satisfaction and joy. "All thy works shall praise thee" (Ps. 145:10). His works alone bless Him, for they alone bear Him goodwill. They bless Him not only for what He is to them and for what He has done for them but for what He is in Himself.
The nature of this prayer, then, is not a petitionary one like those which come later in Ephesians, but it is an ascription of praise, evoked by an apprehension of the spiritual blessings with which God the Father has blessed His people. The principal blessings are described in the verses which immediately follow Ephesians 1:3. The prayer was an adoring of God for such an amazing portion, such inestimable treasure, such a glorious inheritance. The apostle was filled with overwhelming gratitude for such infinite love and grace, and like new wine bursting out of the old bottle into which it was poured, fervent thanksgiving flowed forth from him. Someone has beautifully said, "The first notes of the everlasting song of the heavenly world are sounded here below, and are produced and drawn forth by a sense of God’s goodness and mercy as revealed to the soul, and especially when the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit." It was this which made David exclaim, "Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name" (Ps. 103:1). He blessed God for having so richly blessed him.
The Object Adored
We turn now to consider the Object adored. God the Father is not absolutely considered, for as such—apart from Christ—He is "a consuming fire" to sinners such as we. Nor is the Object simply the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, for we could have no approach to Him as such. Rather the Object is "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," the One who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Him. A wealth of theological instruction is in the divine titles, and we are greatly the losers if we fail to pay due attention to them. This title is the peculiar and characteristic designation of the Father as the God of accomplished redemption (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3). This blessed relationship is the ground of our confidence. We stand related not to the absolute Jehovah but to the God of redemption as He is revealed in Jesus Christ, the One whom the Savior declared, whose will He perfectly accomplished. Because God spared not His own dear Son but "delivered him up for us all," He is our God and Father, and through Christ and by the Spirit we have access to Him.
God Our Covenant God
When the Deity is said to be "the God" of any person, He is his covenant God. Thus, after the first covenant described in Genesis, we find Noah speaking of "the LORD God of Shem" (Gen. 9:26), for through that son God’s covenant with Noah was to be accomplished. Later, He became known as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex. 3:6). These patriarchs’ names conveyed the covenant blessings and consequently redounded to praise and blessing to God. Thus Noah exclaimed, "Blessed be the LORD God of Shem." Later, as in a parallel case, the Prophet Jeremiah declared, "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel" (Jer. 16:14; 31:31). So we may say that, under the fuller revelation of the gospel, God has said, "I will no longer be known as the God of Abraham, but as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and I will be owned and adored as such."
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." This unspeakably precious title views God as He is related to us in Christ, that is, to Christ as the covenant Head and to His elect in Him; He was, is, and ever will be the God and Father of the Lord Jesus. We question whether there is here any direct reference to the miraculous begetting of our Lord. Rather do we consider that He is contemplated in His mediatorial character, that is, as the eternal Son invested with our nature. In view of our Lord’s own utterances it is abundantly clear that He owned the Father as His God. "I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly" (Ps. 22:10). "I delight to do thy will, O my God" (Ps. 40:8). On the cross Christ owned the Father as His God (Matthew 27:46). After His resurrection He spoke of the Father as "my God" (John 20:17). Enthroned in heaven, Jesus Christ still declares the Father to be His God four times over in a single verse (Rev. 3:12). Though God the Son, coequal and co-eternal with the Father, Christ assumed the form of a servant.
The Father is the God of Christ in the following respects: (1) In regard to His human nature. Being a creature ("a body hast thou prepared me," Hebrews 10:5), Christ was subject to God. (2) In regard to His human nature being predestinated to union with His divine person. Goodwin said, "Christ as man was ‘predestinated’ (1 Pet. 1:20) as well as we, and so hath God to be His God by predestination, and so by free grace, as well as He is our God in that respect." (3) In regard to His well-being. Goodwin again said, "God is the Author and immediately the matter of Christ’s blessedness (as He is man) and therefore blessed be God as the God of Christ, who hath ‘blessed Him forever’ as appears in what follows: ‘God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows’ (Ps. 45:2, 7)." (4) In regard to the covenant between the Father and the Son. "Thus saith God the LORD,... I the LORD have called thee..., and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles" (Isa. 42:5-6). (5) In regard to His relation to the Church as the Head and Representative of His people. "For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one" (Heb. 2:11).
God must be the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be the God and Father of His people whom He chose in Christ. The relation which the Church sustains to God is determined by Christ’s own relation to God, for she is Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:23). The general principle of this is established by those words, "God sent forth his Son,... that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4-5). Still more explicitly it is found in Christ’s own words, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). Not "our," be it carefully noted, but "my"; first His and then ours—His originally, and ours by participation.
In view of all that follows in Ephesians 1 it is clear that Paul’s design here in Ephesians 1:3 was to show us that those "spiritual blessings" issue from God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus in Ephesians 1:5 God the Father "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself." It should also be pointed out that "our Lord Jesus Christ" pertains only to His people. In a special way He is Lord of the saints, as He is called "King of the nations" (Jer. 10:7); and certainly He is the Savior of those alone who acknowledge Him as their Savior.
God Alone Can Bless
What was it that occasioned Paul’s outburst of joyous praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? This: "Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." As God alone is styled the "Blessed" One (Mark 14:61) so, as Goodwin points out, He alone blesses or is able to do so. When creatures bless, they can only do so "in the name of the LORD" (Ps. 129:8). When man is made an instrument to convey good things to us, he cannot make them blessings. We are to have recourse to God for those. God has blessed us under the relation of His being our covenant God and our Father through Christ.
"God [even our own God] shall bless us" (Ps. 67:6), for having taken upon Himself to be such to us, He cannot but bless us. This is obviously the force of the duplication which immediately follows: "God shall bless us" (Ps. 67:7). He has blessed us by giving Himself to us. And how is it that He has become "our own God"? Why, by choosing us to be His. Therefore we are termed "his own elect" (Luke 18:7)—made His own by sovereign choice.
As "Our Father," God Blesses Us
Likewise God blesses us under the relation of "our Father." This was purposely foretold of old, for the first human beings who pronounced blessing upon others were those who bore the relation of fathers. Having love and goodwill to their children, it was natural to wish them well. Therefore the fathers sought God to perform their desire as that which was not in their own power to do. Thus we find the patriarchs blessing their children and posterity (Gen. 27:1-36; 48:9). So too we recall that utterance of our Lord’s, "If ye then, being evil [filled with self-love, yet moved by natural affection], know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things?" (Matthew 7:11). To this very end He was pleased to become a Father to us. Being the Blessed One He is in Himself an ocean of all blessings, which seeks an outlet for itself to communicate to those whom He has loved and chosen. He has become our Father for the very purpose of lavishing His love and grace upon His dear children.
Let us notice carefully the tense of the verb in Ephesians 1:3. It is not "who will bless us," nor "who is blessing us" but "who hath blessed us." The time when God bestowed all spiritual blessings upon His people in Christ was when He chose them in Him, even before heaven and earth were called into existence. Super creation blessings are here in view. In His eternal decree God the Father gave to His people both being and well-being in Christ. In the order of His counsels, that was prior to His foreview of their fall in Adam. This is evident from what follows: "According as he hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him" (Eph. 1:4). Note the "having predestinated" in verse 5 and the "hath made us" in verse 6 and contrast with "in whom we have redemption" in verse 7, which harmonizes with 2 Timothy 1:9: which "according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." The purpose in that verse is all one with the blessing of Ephesians 1:3.
"Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings." Each word is selected with divine precision and propriety. It is not all spiritual "gifts" or "enrichments" but "blessings," because the word blessing accords with God’s new-covenant title here and emphasizes that these are covenant bestowments. As Goodwin reminds us, this is "that original word under which the promise of the covenant of grace was at the first given to Abraham the father of the faithful, as that which contained all particular good things—as his loins did [contain] that ‘seed’ to whom that promise was made."
"In blessing I will bless thee" (Gen. 22:17). Though the New Testament uses higher terms than the Old to express spiritual things, it did not alter this expression, for no better was to be found. In His first public sermon Christ repeatedly declared, "Blessed are . . ." When He ascended, His last act was to bless (Luke 24:50), and at the last day—when heaven’s doors are opened to all the righteous—their eternal happiness is expressed by, "Come, ye blessed of my Father" (Matthew 25:34).
Our Spiritual Blessings
"Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings." (1) In contrast with the blessings promised to the nation of Israel under the old covenant, which were material and temporal (Deut. 28:1-8). (2) In contrast with the common blessings of creation and providence which the nonelect share with the people of God, for He "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth the rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). (3) In explanation of His promise to Abraham: "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:14). The second clause of this verse is an exposition of the first showing what sort of blessing was meant. (4) Spiritual blessings are withheld from the reprobate and are tokens of our eternal heritage. (5) Spiritual blessings are actually what dispose the heart to thanksgiving. Temporal mercies simply furnish motives to give thanks.
Universality of the Blessings
"Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings." Note well it is not simply "who hath blessed me" but "us." The spiritual blessings which God bestows upon one of His people He bestows upon them all. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30). Some believers think they can be justified and yet not be sanctified. However Romans 8:32 says, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" If Christ be mine, then all spiritual blessings are mine. As Paul declared in another epistle, "All things are yours," and the proof he gave was "And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s" (1 Cor. 3:21-23). As Goodwin puts it, "If any one blessing, then . . . all; they hang together and go in a cluster." Everything necessary to give each Christian title and fitness for heaven is his.
Our Heavenly Blessings
"Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." The Greek New Testament has the article before heavenly and nothing to warrant the word places supplied by our translators. Bagster’s Interlinear is much to be preferred—"in the heavenlies." Nor need the English reader have any difficulty: the same expression occurs again in Ephesians 1:20, where its meaning is plain. Our spiritual blessings are said to be "in the heavenlies" to mark the distinction between them and the blessings Israel enjoyed in Canaan. More remotely still, they point a contrast with those blessings God blessed us with in Adam while he was in Eden (Gen. 1:27-28). Christians have their "citizenship" in heaven (rendered "conversation" in Philippians 3:20). They are "partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1). They have been begotten to an inheritance which is "reserved in heaven" for them (1 Pet. 1:4). Again quoting Goodwin: "Christ is the Lord from heaven, a heavenly man (1 Cor. 15:47-48); therefore being blessed in and together with Him we are blessed with heavenly blessings and raised up to heavenly places in Him (Eph. 2:6)."
"Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ." Out of Christ there is no spiritual blessing whatever for any soul, but in Him there is blessing abundant for all eternity. The words "in Christ" signify "in union with Him": a mystical, legal, and vital union. It is in Christ we are loved by God (Rom. 8:39). It was in Christ he drew us nigh to Himself (Eph. 2:13). In Him we are "complete" (Col. 2:10). We are "all one in Christ" (Gal. 3:28). The departed saints are still "in Christ" (1 Thess. 4:16). And it is of the Father that we are "in Christ" (1 Cor. 1:30). But though all our blessings are in Him we can only live in the power and enjoyment of them as faith looks away from self and all its concerns and is occupied entirely with Him. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15).