Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
12. Prayer for Understanding
"The Eyes Of Your Understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling" (Eph. 1:18). In taking up this second petition in the apostle’s prayer we shall endeavor to supply answers to the following questions: What relation does the opening clause of our verse bear to that which precedes and that which follows? Exactly what is signified by the "hope of his calling"? What is meant by a knowledge of the same? It is one thing to be familiar with the sound of a verse, but it is quite another to ascertain its sense, as there is much difference between answering these questions and proving them to be correct. It is just because so many people assume they understand the meaning of various passages that they never obtain a clear insight of the passages’ purport. Because the wording of a verse is simple, it does not follow that we understand its connections or even its connotations. The mere fact that either "hope" or "calling" signifies a certain thing in some verses gives no guarantee that it means precisely the same thing when used in others. We are only on safe ground when we plead ignorance and prayerfully study each verse for ourselves.
"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened." Four different views have been taken on the relation of this clause. First, that it is to be taken absolutely and regarded as a separate petition. This appears to have been the idea entertained by our translators, as their punctuation suggests. Second, that it is in apposition to and explanatory of the verse preceding—the view adopted by Charles Hodge. Third, that it states an effect of the gift of "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him"—the concept of J. C. Philpot. Fourth, that it is separate from the preceding petition and introductory to this second one. This is the way Thomas Goodwin expounds it and the way we personally understand it. No difference in doctrine is involved whichever view is taken. According to the hermeneutical principle of the analogy of faith, it is equally permissible to link this clause with what precedes or with what follows, or even with both. Because we are addressing ourselves to critical students as well as the more ordinary reader, we have penned this paragraph, for a word of explanation was required as to why we have deviated from the common course.
The Glory of God
Goodwin has well pointed out that there are two things to be considered in connection with our blessedness in heaven: "the happiness that the saints themselves shall enjoy" there and their "communion with God, which is the cause of their happiness." As to which is the greater of them there can be no room for doubt: the Fountain of all blessedness infinitely surpasses our draught therefrom, no matter how abundantly we may drink. Hence Paul began his prayer with a request for a fuller measure of the Spirit that the Ephesians might be brought into a closer communion with God, and then he asked for illumination of understanding that they might obtain a better apprehension and enter into a fuller enjoyment of those things which belonged to their peace. The same two things are kept distinct in Romans 5. First, Paul said that by faith we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Eph. 1:2), that is, of the glory we expect to receive from God. This expectation makes us "glory in tribulations also" (Eph. 1:3) despite the unpleasantness thereof. But blessed as that is, when Paul reached the climax, he said, "Not only so: we also joy in God" (Eph. 1:11)—in God Himself.
Two things are indispensable to vision, whether it be physical or spiritual: sight and light. A blind man is incapable of perceiving objects even when the midday sun is shining. The strongest eyes are useless when a person is in total darkness. Now the natural man is without either spiritual sight or spiritual light. He has eyes, but they do not see, perceiving no beauty in Christ that he should desire Him. He is alienated from Him who is Light and therefore dwells and walks in darkness. Hence the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to him, for he is devoid of spiritual discernment (1 Cor. 2:14). But at regeneration the objects of sovereign grace are brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light and are "given an understanding, that they may know him that is true" (1 John 5:20), so that they are now capacitated to discern, understand, and enjoy spiritual things. Nevertheless, because ignorance, prejudice, pride, and carnality ever tend to becloud his vision so long as he remains in this world, the Christian is in constant need of having the eyes of his understanding enlightened afresh and of praying with David, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Ps. 119:18).
As the eye is the organ of the body by which we see physical objects, so the understanding is the faculty by which truth is perceived. Yet far more than a mental perception is involved in the apprehension of truth. God’s Word is very much more than a species of intellectual propositions; it is a divine revelation, an unveiling of spiritual things, requiring a spiritual faculty to take them in, producing spiritual effects where the revelation is received. Therefore "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened" must not be narrowed down to "your minds being furnished with new ideas." In the Scriptures "light," when used with reference to spiritual things, includes both holiness and happiness. When the Lord Jesus said, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12), He signified much more than intellectual illumination. Saints are the "children of light" (1 Thess. 5:5) because they have been renewed in the image of Him that is Light; and therefore they are bidden to conduct themselves as such (Eph. 5:8) Thus, "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened" signifies their being divinely anointed, spiritualized, made "single" (Matthew 6:22) and more holy.
Among the high and honorable titles of God, this is used to describe His goodness to the children of men: "He that teacheth man knowledge" (Ps. 94:10). Therefore David added, "Blessed is the man whom thou... teachest . . . out of thy law" (Ps. 94:12). It is this divine teaching of the saints that is signified by "eyes of your understanding being enlightened," namely, bestowing upon them a teachable disposition, a humble desire to be instructed of God. That teaching consists of God’s enabling the mind to perceive spiritual and divine objects and to see their importance and value in such a way as to incline the affections to love them and the will to choose them. God first prepares the heart to receive His truth (Prov. 16:1) and then fills it with the "knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col. 1:9). His established method is by the Word and by the Spirit, for these two always go together, the Word explaining and the Spirit applying the Word. When the Spirit works by the Word He makes it effectual, through His operations, to build up and perfect the saint.
"Hope" in Scripture
But we must now inquire, "What is meant by ‘the hope of His calling’?" This is really a double question: What is meant by the word hope in this passage, and what is meant by "his calling"? Before supplying answers may we remind our friends that we are seeking to furnish something more than mere generalizations or even topical chapters, namely, studies in the Scriptures. We are not just jotting down the first thoughts on this verse which come to mind but desire to open its meaning, to expound it.
In Scripture "hope" always respects something future, and signifies far more than a mere wish that it may be realized. It sets forth a confident expectation that it will be realized (Ps. 16:9). In many passages "hope" has reference to its object, that is, to the thing expected (Rom. 8:25), the One looked to: "O LORD, the hope of Israel" (Jer. 17:13; cf. 50:7). In other passages "hope" refers to the grace of hope, that is, the faculty by which we expect. Hope is used in this sense in 1 Corinthians 13:13: "Now abideth faith, hope, charity." Sometimes "hope" expresses the assurance we have of our personal interest in the thing hoped for: "Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed" (Rom. 5:3-5.) That is, hope deepens our assurance of our personal confidence in God. In still other cases "hope" has reference to the ground of our expectation. The clause "there is hope in Israel concerning this thing" (Ezra 10:2) means there were good grounds to hope for it. "Who against hope believed in hope" (Rom. 4:18): though contrary to nature, Abraham was persuaded he had good and sufficient ground to expect God to make good His promise. The unregenerate are "without hope" (Eph. 2:12). They have hope, but it is based on no solid foundation.
Now in the last mentioned sense we regard the word hope as being used in our present passage: that you may know the ground on which rests your expectation of His calling, that you may be assured of your personal interest therein, that you may stand in no doubt regarding the same, that you may be so enlightened from above as to be able to clearly perceive that you have both part and lot therein. In other words, that your evidence of this ground of faith may be clear and unmistakable. First, Paul prayed for an increased knowledge of God, that is, such spiritual sights and apprehensions of Him as led to more real and intimate fellowship with Him, which is the basic longing of every renewed soul. And what did he desire next to that? Was it not that which contributed most to his peace and comfort, namely, to be assured of his own filial relation to God? What does it avail my soul to perceive the excellency of the divine character unless I have scriptural warrant to view Him as my God? That is what I need to have continually kept fresh in my heart. This, then, is the second thing which the apostle sought for these saints.
The Gospel’s Twofold Call
What is meant by "his calling"? Here is another term which is used by no means uniformly in the Scriptures. Broadly speaking, there is a twofold calling of God or call from God: an external one and an internal one. The former is made to all who hear the gospel: "Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man" (Prov. 8:4). "Many be called, but few chosen" (Matthew 20:16). That external call through the Scriptures is addressed to human responsibility and meets with universal rejection. "I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded" (Prov. 1:24); "Come, for all things are now ready; and they all with one consent began to make excuse" (Luke 14:18).
But God gives another call to His elect: a quickening call, an inward call, an invincible call, what the theologians term His "effectual call." "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified" (Rom. 8:30). This is calling from death to life, out of darkness into God’s "marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). As the closing verses of 1 Corinthians 1 tell us, not many receive this call; it is one of mercy and discriminating grace.
Our text then speaks of the effectual call, and it is termed "his calling" because God is the Author of it. The regenerate are "the called according to his [eternal] purpose" (Rom. 8:28), because God is the Caller. Yet, having said that much, we have only generalized, and the expositor must particularize if he is to bring out the various shades of meaning which the same word bears in different verses. In some passages the effectual call which God gives His people refers to that work of grace itself, as in 1 Peter 2:9. In others, it concerns more especially that to which God has called them—"unto his kingdom and glory," (1 Thess. 2:12), "unto holiness" (1 Thess. 4:7). As there seems to be nothing in our present verse which requires us to restrict the scope of the word, we shall interpret it in its double sense: "that ye may be assured ye have been made partakers of God’s effectual or regenerative call: that ye may perceive the sure grounds of hope which God has called you unto."
Take the calling itself first. Paul desired that the Ephesians might have a better knowledge, or assurance, that they had been supernaturally quickened, personally called out of darkness into God’s light. If the Christian measures himself impartially by the Word, he should have no difficulty on that score. He should be certain of his salvation. He ought to be able to say, humbly yet confidently, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25). If I see, with a feeling sense in my heart, what a heinous and filthy thing all sin is, what a depraved and loathsome creature I am by nature, what a sink of iniquity still remains within me, what a suitable and sufficient Savior Christ is for such a wretch as me, what a lovely and desirable thing holiness is, then I must have been called to life. If I am now conscious of holy desires and endeavors to which I was previously a stranger, then I must be alive in Christ.
Take, second, that to which the Christian is called—in this verse, an assured expectation: "that ye may know what is the hope of his calling." As God has called His people to holiness, so also He has called them to be full of hope and good cheer. The apostle prayed in another place, "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 15:13). Thus, we may understand that by His calling we may know that hope which God has commanded us as Christians to have. 1 Thessalonians 4:7, "God hath called us not to uncleanness, but unto holiness," means that He bids us to be holy, for the third verse of that same chapter declares, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." In that passage the "will" and "calling" of God are one and the same thing. Thus it may also be understood here: "That ye may know the hope of His revealed will," which He requires us to have.
"That ye may know," not being ignorant or doubtful. This denies one of the doctrines of the Council of Trent: "If any one affirm that a regenerate and justified man is bound to believe that he is certainly in the number of the elect, let such an one be accursed." The very fact that Paul was inspired to place on record this petition shows clearly that it is God’s will for His people to have assurance, that it is both their privilege and duty to earnestly seek it. and that an increased experience of assurance should be theirs. A doubting Thomas does not honor God.
Assurance of Salvation
Now let us put the whole together. Only as the eyes of our understanding are divinely enlightened are we able to know "what is the hope of his calling"—know it, not by carnal presumption nor by mental acumen but perceive it with anointed vision. Nevertheless, if our eyes are not enlightened, the fault is entirely our own, for it is the revealed will of God that each regenerate person should have assurance that he is a new creature in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit has given us one whole epistle to that very end: "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God: that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). Hence, those who would have the Christian believe that a firm and abiding assurance is not desirable are standing on an unscriptural doctrine.
Note how emphatic it is: "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened that ye may know." That cannot signify less than that your own eyes should see what grounds of assurance the Christian really has to know that eternal life is his, that his own heart may realize the hope which God has bidden him to exercise. Not to see with someone else’s eyes, not to read through creedal spectacles, not to take any man’s say-so for it, but to live by your own God-given faith and read in the light of Holy Writ your own clear evidences. The apostle prayed here that they might know what great, infallible, multitudinous grounds of hope God had called them to; that they might appreciate what grounds of assurance and evidence they had that heaven was theirs; that they might have assurance of their own interest in heaven! Every time I truly mourn over my sins, feel my poverty of spirit, hunger and thirst after righteousness, I have an indubitable evidence that I am among the "blessed."
Precepts and petitions are complementary one to the other. The precepts tell me what God requires and therefore what I need to ask Him for most, that enabling grace may be given me to perform the same. The prayers intimate what it is my privilege and duty to make request for, thus they indirectly reveal my duty. "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10) is the divine precept making known my duty. That "the Father of glory, may give unto you... wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling" is a request that I may be enabled to successfully carry out that task of making my election sure. This petition tells us we ought to labor after and pray earnestly for a clearer insight into and a fuller acquaintance with the great objects of the Christian’s hopes and expectations.
We have endeavored to show that the opening clause of this verse is not a separate petition for a distinct blessing but rather the stating of an essential spiritual qualification. We cannot obtain a true and influential knowledge of the grounds which regeneration gives its subject to hope that he has passed from death to life, nor realize what confidence of God has bidden him to have (for both things are included) unless our eyes are divinely anointed. This essential qualification applies with equal force to the following clause. The grammatical construction of our passage makes it quite clear that an enlightened understanding is also indispensable for a spiritual knowledge of both "the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" and "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward." Thus, that opening clause governs all the petitions that follow it.
Having pondered the opening request of this prayer in verse 17 and the first request mentioned in verse 18, we turn now to consider the prayer’s third petition. We propose to concentrate on these three things: First, what is the relation of this petition to what precedes? Second, what is the precise meaning of its terms? Third, what use is the Christian to make of knowing what are the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints? We shall devote most of our space to the second. First, the apostle prayed that the saints might experience and enjoy closer and fuller communion with God. Then he asked that the grace of hope might be more operative within them; that they should realize God’s revealed will for them to "abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13) and not to live in a state of uncertainty. That they might perceive how many sure grounds they had for believing they were recipients of an effectual call, as when we ask a doctor concerning a loved one who is seriously ill, "What hope is there?" We mean, "What ground is there to expect his recovery?"
Spiritual Discernment Required
No matter how clearly and vividly the landscape appears when the sun is shining, a blind man does not behold it. Christ is manifestly set forth in the gospel, but the hearer must be given spiritual sight before he will perceive the absolute suitability of such a Savior to his own desperate case. Even after regeneration, the Christian is still completely dependent on divine illumination in order for him to continue apprehending spiritual things. That was exemplified in the case of Peter. Some time after he had become a disciple of Christ, he made his memorable confession of Christ’s deity. Then the Lord Jesus informed him, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). The same thing is repeatedly illustrated in the experience of every saint. At one time he will read a portion of Scripture and perceive little in it which impresses his heart or stirs his soul; at another time the same passage appears scintillating with divine beauty and glory. The difference is that at the latter time his eyes are divinely anointed.
No reading of commentaries can secure an answer to this petition, and even a searching or study of the Scriptures will not of itself convey to the believer a spiritual and influential knowledge of what are the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints. Only as and when the eyes of his understanding are enlightened will that delightful and wondrous experience be his. Thus Paul asked for such illumination to be granted them so that the Ephesians might know not only the hope of God’s calling but also the excellency of His inheritance, that they might apprehend more clearly and comprehensively the greatness of that glory which they had a personal interest in, for when the God of all grace quickens His elect they are "called unto his eternal glory by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 5:10). The Father has "begotten us again unto a lively [living] hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us" (1 Pet. 1:3-4). The one is preparatory to and ensures the other: begetting and inheritance, calling and eternal glory. But some who have been spiritually begotten of the Father are doubtful of that birth; they should not be. Instead, their duty and privilege are to know what is "the hope of his calling."
Now the apostle goes further. He desires that they might enjoy a better apprehension of the hope itself, that is, of its object. This is what we understand to be the relation between the second and third petitions. That the two things are not to be separated is intimated by their connecting "and," but that they relate to distinct blessings is clear from the "what is." This consideration determines the meaning of the word hope in the second petition, namely, that it is not the thing hoped for (which is named in the third) but rather the confidence and assurance which God commands His called people to have. The third petition announces what a great and glorious inheritance they have a personal interest in, and the fourth tells of the exceeding greatness of God’s power which works in those who believe and which preserves them unto that glorious inheritance.
First, the apostle prayed for communion with God. Next he prayed that they would have the grounds of their assurance kept continually fresh in their hearts, that they would know the hope of their calling. And then he prayed that they would know the greatness of that glory in which they had an interest. Link those three things together, and this makes a perfect Christian: full of comfort, full of peace and joy in believing. And for the Christian to enter into experimental enjoyment of each and all of those ineffable favors he is dependent upon the Spirit of wisdom and revelation for the eyes of his understanding to be divinely enlightened. It utterly transcends the powers of the human mind to so much as conceive of the "things which God hath prepared for them that love him." Yet in response to earnest and expectant prayer, real and satisfying thoughts on the subject may be obtained even in this life, for "God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:9-10).
When Paul was commissioned to preach to the Gentiles, it was "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me [God]" (Acts 26:18). To the Hebrews Paul declared that Christ was the Mediator of the new covenant so that they who were called might receive the "promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:15). Thus we see again how closely connected and yet distinct are the effectual call of God and the inheritance to which the called are begotten. That inheritance is described in part in 1 Peter 1:4. But in Ephesians 1:18 it is designated God’s "inheritance in the saints," which at once brings to mind that remarkable statement: "For the LORD’S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance" (Deut. 32:9; cf. Psalm 78:70-72; "my jewels" in Malachi 3:17). The one is complementary to the other. God has an inheritance in the saints, and they have an inheritance in and from God; for if they are His children, then they are also heirs—"heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).
A Glorious Inheritance
Now this inheritance is a glorious one. Nothing is in heaven but that which is glorious. The central and all-absorbing Object there is the God of glory, particularly as He shines forth in the person of our glorious Redeemer. There our souls and bodies will be glorious (Rom. 8:30; Philippians 3:20). Our employments will be glorious—praising and glorifying God forever and ever. We shall be surrounded by the glorious angels. Nothing shall ever enter there which can defile. For a brief season Paul himself had been caught up into paradise, where he had received "revelations of the Lord" and heard "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful [nor possible] for a man [returned to earth] to utter" (2 Cor. 12:1-4). Little wonder then that he longed so vehemently that the saints in general might be admitted into a clearer and enlarged apprehension of the things which God had prepared for them that love Him. Little wonder that in Ephesians 1 he should be found laboring for words to express the same to us: an "inheritance," "his inheritance," "the glory of his inheritance," "the riches of the glory of his inheritance."
Our ideas of heaven, of glory, of perfection—even after the partial revelation of them in the Scriptures—is at very best defective. Yet enough is revealed to fill us with admiration, astonishment, and adoration; and in proportion as the eyes of our understanding are enlightened and as faith is exercised on what God has made known to us thereon in His Word, our hearts will be affected and our lives influenced. The term "God’s inheritance in the saints" is used to show the greatness and grandeur of it. It is "his inheritance" because He is the Deviser and Author of it. And let it not be overlooked that "his inheritance" as the "Father of glory" (Eph. 1:17) emphasizes the surpassing excellence of it.
It is God’s inheritance, yet the saints are the "heirs" of it. That it is designated an "inheritance" announces that it is a free gift which we can do nothing to earn or merit. It is an inheritance of God’s own planning, preparing, and bestowing. Such an inheritance must be inexpressibly grand, inconceivably wonderful, unspeakably glorious. It is the "inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12).
Let us now observe the qualities by which the inheritance is described in our text: "the riches of the glory of his inheritance." In human speech that word is applied to things which men value most highly, in order to attain which the majority are prepared to sell their souls. In Scripture, when "riches" is employed in connection with spiritual and divine things, it is for the purpose of emphasizing the excellency and copiousness of them. Thus we read of God being "rich in mercy" (Eph. 2:4), of the "riches of his grace," of the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8), and of the "riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Rom. 11:33).
It should enable us to form a better concept of this rich inheritance by recalling that verse "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). Christ was the Beloved of the Father, the Lord of glory, the Heir of all things, and therefore "thought it not robbery to be equal with God" (Phil. 2:6). Yet He laid aside His glory, became incarnate, was born in a manger, and entered into such poverty that He had nowhere to lay His head. He voluntarily endured such unspeakable humiliation for the express purpose that His people "might be rich." How rich then are they? How rich will they become? Those riches will bear a proportion to the unparalleled shame and penury into which the Son of God descended for our sakes.
"The Riches of His Glory"
But not only "riches" and "the riches" are meant but "the riches of his glory." How little are we capable of entering into the meaning and blessedness of that! Goodwin has pointed out that if "riches" connote excellency, the "glory" of them imports superexcellency. Thus we read of the "excellent glory" (2 Pet. 1:17), or height of excellency, and of the "glory that excelleth" (2 Cor. 3:10). That gives perhaps as full a definition as can be furnished. It signifies all excellencies, and all excellencies in the height, and such a weight of excellencies which the ordinary understanding of a man cannot bear. Joy, when it excels, is called "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8). Now put the two together: the "riches of his glory," that is, of "the Father of glory!"
The two things are combined again in that familiar verse "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glow by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). Not "out of" but "according to" His riches. It is the standard of measurement rather than the source of supply. God is a rich and glorious God: nor will He have those riches of glory lie idle. When Abraham had no son, he said, "Lord, Thou hast given me these riches, but to me Thou hast given no seed—no son to inherit." Therefore God gave him Isaac, on whom he might bestow his riches and inheritance (Gen. 15:1-4). God had riches of glory lying by, and therefore He chose His sons to inherit them.
When Alexander the Great gave a city to a mean man, he said, "I do not give a city away according to the proportion of the man, but as it is fit for me to give."
In showing how glorious must be the inheritance which the saints shall have, Goodwin called attention to Psalm 115:15-16 where we read, "Ye are blessed of the LORD which made heaven and earth. The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’S; but the earth hath he given to the children of men." The earth, and all the good things in it, God has given to the human family, but heaven and the heaven of heavens He has reserved for Himself as His possession. The earth He has given away to the children of men, but the celestial courts are His own inheritance. Now this is mentioned in order to show how favored the saints are: "Ye are the blessed of the LORD." God does not prize the earth, but gives it away; but the heavens He has set apart for Himself. Then how happy the saints must be that they are taken up to heaven to share God’s own inheritance! The earth is not good enough for Him, nor does He deem it to be so for them. The Lord is the Possessor of heaven, and blessed indeed must those be who are predestinated to be partakers of God’s own inheritance.
"The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." In an allusion to this verse Calvin remarked, "The eyes of our understanding are not truly ‘enlightened’ unless we discover what is the hope of the eternal inheritance to which we are called." Manton understood it as the inheritance "appointed for those who are renewed by the Spirit of God,... that they might more clearly see and fully believe those good things which they shall enjoy hereafter." Hodge defined it as the "abundance and greatness of that inheritance of which God is the Author." Whether we regard it as God’s inheritance or the Christian’s, it comes to the same thing in effect, for it is displayed in the saints. According as God has glory in the saints, they must be glorious just as the glory of a king is exhibited in the glory of his attendants. God regards the glory which the saints shall have as His inheritance. Moreover, there is a revenue of glory which He receives from them in their worship and thanksgiving.
The Greek may also be fairly rendered "What is the riches of the glory of the inheritance of Him by the saints," meaning that God Himself is the inheritance of the saints. This will constitute the ineffable bliss and blessedness of heaven—that God Himself will be our all-absorbing and eternally satisfying portion and heritage. When the mind soars that high it finds an all-sufficient resting place: "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God" (Rev. 21:7). O what a marvelous and inconceivable prospect: that the saints will possess God Himself; that the Redeemer will yet say to His people, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord"; and that word enter is couched in the language of this very figure, for a man enters into his inheritance when he actually takes possession of the same. Then each saint will exclaim, "The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance . . . In thy presence is fulness of joy" (Ps. 16:5, 11).
The Fullness of Scripture
Yet so full are the words of Scripture that no single definition can exhaust their scope. Our text not only includes the inheritance which God has provided for His saints and which they have in Him but it also refers to what God Himself has in them. 2 Thessalonians 1:10 says that Christ "shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." How will they be glorified? Why, so that He will be admired in them. God makes known the "riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he hath afore prepared unto glory" (Rom. 9:23). Bringing vessels of mercy to glory is to make known the riches of His glory. His glory shall arise out of theirs, and therefore it is said to be "his inheritance in the saints." When the saints are glorified and with Him in heaven, then "he will rejoice over... [them] with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over... [them] with singing" (Zeph. 3:17). What glory must that consist of to be an inheritance for God to rest in forever!
Now Paul prayed the saints might have a better knowledge of that glorious inheritance, in order that the eyes of their understanding should be enlightened in regard to that inheritance. As a well-trained mind is required in order to grapple with an intricate problem in philosophy, as a musical temperament and ear are needed to fully appreciate a master production of melody, so spiritual vision and the eyes of faith are indispensable in order to take in spiritual views of heavenly objects. Certainly Paul would not have prayed for this blessing unless it was of great value and importance. We are bidden to set our affection on things above, and the more real and glorious they appear to us the easier it will be to comply with such a precept. And obviously the more our hearts are set on heavenly objects the less power will the perishing things of time and sense have to enthrall or even influence us.
If we perceived more clearly the riches of the glory of the inheritance to which we are called, we would be well content with "food and raiment" and a covering over our heads while here. We would have more of the spirit of those who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a "better and an enduring substance" (Heb. 10:34). "For the joy that was set before him" the Lord Jesus "endured the cross, despising [treating with contempt] the shame" (Heb. 12:2). If we were more occupied with those "pleasures for evermore" which are at God’s right hand (Ps. 16:11), we would run with patience the race set before us and be less cast down by the petty sufferings and sorrows of the way. If heaven were more real to us, we would be more earnest in seeking to walk as those journeying to it, and we would long more ardently for Christ to come and take us there.