Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
16. Prayer for Inner Strength
Note The Contents of our present portion. Consider the radical and immense difference between that prayer and those we are accustomed to hear in public—and our own in private. Must there not be a reason, some very definite cause, why the petitions of most Christians today are so very different from those of the apostle? Must it not be because many of God’s people are now living upon a much lower plane of spiritual experience? Surely that cannot be gainsaid. And why do they dwell so much in the valleys and so little on the mountains? Is it not because they have failed to apprehend the wonderful portion which is theirs in Christ, because they do not grasp and enjoy the inestimable privileges which are already theirs, because they do not possess their possessions, because they are regulated so much by their moods and feelings instead of living by faith in the One who loved and gave Himself for them? This is true, in varying degrees, of all of us.
It has been pointed out that the fervor and subject of our prayers are in accordance with our knowledge and apprehension of God and our practical relation to Him. If our concept of God is virtually restricted to Maker, Lawgiver, and Judge, and we rarely view Him or address Him in any other character than "the Most High," though our hearts may be awed and our souls humbled before Him, yet there is likely to be very little freedom of approach or joy of heart in our communion with Him, and our requests will be regulated accordingly. Or, if we regard Him as having given us only the hope of obtaining salvation by Jesus Christ, then naturally and necessarily our constant desire before Him will be for the strengthening and brightening of that hope, for we shall feel that is the one thing most needed for the comfort of our hearts and the peace of our minds. We can feel but little interest in any further revelation which God may have given regarding the purpose of His grace to His people.
So long as we entertain a doubt of our being personally concerned and having a portion in the riches of divine grace, they can have no power on our hearts. On the other hand, if the Christian realizes that the first Person in the blessed Trinity sustains to him precisely the same relation as He did and does to Christ, namely, covenant God and personal Father, and if in faith he takes his stand on the sure foundation laid for every believing sinner in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation of God’s dear Son, then his desires will naturally be for a fuller knowledge of the purpose of God in connection with the manifestation of the glory of Him "in whom we have obtained an inheritance."
And thus it is in the prayer we are about to ponder. Request is made to the Father that, by the strengthening operation of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ, the saints may know the "mystery," learn by deeper experience the unsearchable love of Christ, and be filled with all the fullness of God. Oh, that our souls may be so quickened that the petitions we are considering will become our own breathings.
It will help us to an understanding both of the scope of this prayer and the meaning of its petitions if we observe the place it occupies in this epistle, namely, at the close of the doctrinal section and introductory to the practical portion, for it turns the contents of the former into supplication and prepares the heart for obedience to the precepts of the latter. When doctrine is rightly apprehended, it exerts a powerful effect upon the heart and influences our devotional life. Likewise, when the affections and the conscience are stirred by God’s exhortations to His people, they are brought to their knees before Him seeking grace. These two features—doctrine and exhortation—throw light on our present passage.
An analysis of the prayer indicates the following general divisions. First, the occasion of it, indicated by "for this cause I bow my knees" (Eph. 3:14). Second, its Object, namely, "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:14-15). Third, its appeal, "that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory" (Eph. 3:16). Fourth, its petitions, which are four in number (Eph. 3:16-19). Fifth, its doxology (Eph. 3:20-21).
Occasion of This Prayer
"For this cause I bow my knees." In those words the apostle tells us what moved him to so address the throne of grace on this occasion, for the obvious meaning of them is "On this account, for this reason, I now approach the mercy seat." For what cause? This requires us to examine the context and note the contents of the preceding verses. The attentive reader will observe that the same clause is also found at the beginning of the chapter: "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles." Scholars have pointed out that there is no verb there of which "I Paul" is the nominative, and hence there has been considerable diversity of opinion as to the probable construction of the passage. The most natural conclusion seems to be that the sentence begun in verse 1 is recommenced and completed in verse 14. That is the view taken by numerous commentators. Thus, what the apostle intended to say at the beginning of the chapter was interrupted by the flowing of other thoughts into his mind.
"For this cause I Paul" (in view of the wondrous and blessed truth which had engaged his pen throughout chapter 2) "bow my knees unto the Father." But he was interrupted from immediately doing so, for as soon as he added, "I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles," the realization of his "bonds" awakened a fresh train of ideas which he expanded to the end of verse 13. Consequently the "for this cause" of verse 14 has a double reference: immediately to the divine revelation made in verses 2-13 which chiefly concerns an unfolding of "the mystery of Christ," that is, of the mystical Christ, the spiritual Body of which He is the Head—that Body in which the elect of God from the Hebrews and from the Gentiles have been made fellow members, fellow heirs and fellow partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel. More remotely, the "for this cause" of verse 14 looks back to verse 1 and makes known the breathings of Paul’s soul as evoked by what had occupied his mind throughout chapter 2, where he had expounded the grand doctrine of regeneration and reconciliation—the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, and of both to God.
"For this cause." Combining the double reference in verse 1 and again in verse 14 and what each looks back to, we understand Paul to be saying, "Since the saints have been divinely quickened, reconciled to God, made members of the mystical Body of Christ, I long to see them living and acting as becomes those so highly favored of God and made partakers of such inestimable privileges. Therefore I supplicate God on their behalf to that end."
It is both interesting and instructive to closely compare this prayer with that found at the close of chapter 1. The principal difference between them is not accounted for so much by the different aspects of truth presented in Ephesians 1 and 2 as it is by the different effects which the apostle desired might be wrought in those to whom he wrote. There are indeed different branches of doctrine unfolded in those two chapters, and undoubtedly that difference determined the keynote of each of the prayers, yet that is neither the sole nor main reason for their varied tones. The variations in the petitions of those respective prayers expressed the particular quickenings the believers needed in order to respond suitably to the glorious revelations he had set before them.
God’s Sovereign Grace to His Elect
In Ephesians 1 we have a wonderful opening up of the eternal purpose of God’s sovereign grace concerning His elect, an unveiling of those spiritual blessings with which He has blessed them in the heavenlies in Christ, having chosen them, accepted them, and given them an inheritance in the Beloved. So transcendent and amazing are those riches of the divine grace, so entirely different from anything which man had conceived, that the apostle requests the Father would vouchsafe "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him" so that, the eyes of our understanding being enlightened, we might know. It is important that the saint should apprehend that it is the sovereign grace of God which has brought him into the place of unchanging blessing in Christ, for he had been made "the righteousness of God in him." This is the first thing that the converted soul needs to learn, that he has been reconciled to God by the blood of the Cross and thereby established in peace in Him forevermore: that he has been justified once and for all by the obedience of Christ, that he has been perfected forever and made fit for the inheritance of the saints in light. There can be no lasting peace within, no growth in grace, no loving and grateful obedience, until that is laid hold of by intelligent faith.
But essential as it is for the believer to recognize the perfect standing which is his in Christ before the throne of God, it is no less necessary for the glory of God, the honor of Christ, and his own good, that he should be exercised in his soul: that his affections should be set upon Christ, that he should be more and more conformed to His image both experimentally and practically, that he should "grow up unto him in all things." Accordingly, while in Ephesians 1 the apostle had unfolded what God had purposed for us and prayed that we might know the same, in Ephesians 2 he treated more of what God has wrought in the saints, and asked Him to fully accomplish the same in them. While we are to hold fast in our minds the perfect and unchanging standing which is ours in Christ, we also need to be deeply concerned about our state: about health being maintained in our souls, about Christ having His proper place in our hearts, about the whole household of faith being cherished in our affections, about being filled with all the fullness of God.
Thus the prayer of Ephesians 3 is supplementary or, rather, complementary to the prayer at the close of chapter 1. As might be expected, the two together present a perfect balance between the principal aspects of the Christian’s life—the objective and the subjective—faith being occupied with the riches of God’s grace outside himself, love being concerned with what is going on within himself. That wondrous portion which he has in Christ does not change, for it is perfect and entire; but that which has been wrought within him needs perfecting until the day of redemption. His justification can never be more complete than it was the moment he first believed, but he may and should obtain a better understanding of it. Hence in Ephesians 3 the apostle prays not merely that the saints should know what divine grace had wrought for and given to them but what God would now work by His Spirit in them. The first petition is that they might be "strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man," that is, renewed by Him day by day. And what would be the evidence of that? This, Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, our hearts fixed on Him as their Object, their supreme Attraction.
The One whom Paul addressed is here named "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:14-15). God is our Father, first, as the Author of our beings, and in this sense we are His "offspring" (Acts 17:28); He is our Father, second, as we are formed after His natural image: God is spirit (John 4:24) and therefore "the Father of spirits" (Heb. 12:9). In both these senses God is the Father of angels, and therefore they are designated "the sons of God" (Job 1:6; 38:7). God is our Father, third, in a higher sense, spiritually, having by regeneration made us partakers of His nature, or moral likeness (James 1:18; 2 Peter 1:4). He is "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" as the God-man Mediator, by covenant relation, and was owned by Him as such all through His life (Luke 2:49; John 5:17; 20:17). Because God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ He is our Father in the spiritual and highest sense of the term, as John 20:17 intimates. All mercies flow to us through Christ from the Father, and all our petitions ascend through Christ to the Father. Because God is the Father of the Redeemer He is the Father of the redeemed, and therefore we have access to Him by faith in prayer. This relation, which God sustains to the Lord Jesus as His Father, is made the ground of the apostle’s appeal. Blessed truth for us to lay hold of.
The attentive reader will note the change of address of this prayer of the apostle. In chapter 1 he approached Him as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 3:17), which still more distinctly views Him in the covenant relationship in which He stands both to Christ and to us. That is the foundation of His being "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "our Father" (note the order in John 20:17), as it is the ground on which we have access to Him. Charles Hodge said, "We can approach Him in no other character than as the God who sent the Lord Jesus to be our propitiation and Mediator. It is therefore by faith, as reconciled, that we address Him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Thus we see again how the doctrinal contents of those chapters give tone to the details of their respective prayers. Not in Ephesians 1 but in Ephesians 2 is the fact of God’s reconciliation to us brought out, and therefore in the prayer which follows that doctrinal revelation He is addressed as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Just as the wonders of God’s handiwork in creation are made more apparent under the microscope, so the more closely we examine the Word its perfections are revealed in every detail. That Word which He has magnified above all His name will bear the most minute examination. Only as we so examine it shall we perceive its excellence on every jot and tittle.
The Titles of Deity
Our appreciation of the titles by which God is addressed (and described) will be determined by the measure of our apprehension of the doctrinal expositions which occasioned those prayers. In chapter 1 the apostle had desired both light and knowledge for the saints, that as the conscious objects of Almighty grace and power they might understand the nature, reality, and blessedness of their calling. But now he requests for them an enlarged ability to taste, with a fuller and more sensible perception of its blessedness, the communion of that love which had been so unreservedly lavished upon them in making them participants of the unsearchable riches of Christ. God, in the majesty of His government, is fully glorified to the eye of faith as the just Awarder of all honor in the exaltation of Christ. His will, wisdom, and power all have their own exemplification in giving the Lord Jesus the seat of preeminence. But the One who thus magnified the Mediator is also the Father of His beloved Son, and in Him, too, Father of those whom Christ is not ashamed to own as "brethren" (Heb. 2:11). That is what regulated the apostle in his choice of this particular address.
It was with particular regard for the foregoing doctrine in chapter 2 that Paul now addressed God as "Father." Note carefully how our special relation to Him who begat us is brought out. We are spoken of as "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus" by Himself (Eph. 2:10). We are viewed as "reconciled" to Him (Eph. 2:16). It is declared that "we have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph. 2:18). We are spoken of as "the household of God" (Eph. 2:19), yes, as a "habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22). The same blessed fact also gave color to the particular requests which the apostle made here. That which occupies the central place in the petitionary part of this prayer is the saints’ apprehension of the surpassing love of Christ. This request for increased enjoyment of divine love is most suitably made to the Father, as that is the believer’s privilege by virtue of his filial relationship—even as the hope of glory is his righteous expectation as a justified heir of salvation (Rom. 5:1-2).
"Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Concerning the precise meaning of that clause there is perhaps room for difference of opinion as to the exact meaning of its terms. First, as to whether the antecedent of the "of whom" is "the Father" or "our Lord Jesus Christ." Grammatically the antecedent is a double one, but we prefer to take the nearest and understand it of the latter. Second, as to what is the "whole family in heaven and earth." Most commentators restrict it to the household of faith, those who have finished their earthly pilgrimage and those who are still left in this scene. But in view of Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20, and Hebrews 12:22-23, we would not limit its scope thus. We understand "the whole family" to be the entire company of the redeemed plus the holy angels. Third, the word "named" does not mean that all are called by the same name, that the designation "Christian" is given to angels, but, as one writer says, "The expression is taken from the custom in a family, where all bear the same name as the head of the family." All God’s elect among angels and men are gathered together under one Head and constitute one community.
According to Hebrew custom, a group or class of families all claimed descent from one father, for instance, the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph was "of the house and lineage [family; Greek patria] of David" (Luke 2:4). The word occurs only in Luke 2:4, Acts 3:25, and Ephesians 3:15, and indicates a clan of persons descended from the same root. Thus the word was well suited to express the community which is headed up in Christ.
"For this cause I bow my knees" (Eph. 3:14). In effect Paul was saying, "Because God has dealt so wondrously and bestowed upon you such favors [as those described in 2:1-3:12], I seek from Him further blessings on your behalf; yea, in view of those marvelous exercises of divine grace and power, my heart is drawn out to ask for the highest possible benefits." "Unto the Father of our [not the] Lord Jesus Christ." That is to say, "I supplicate our gracious Father, and He is such as the covenant God of our Head." "Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Since all things have been gathered together in one in Christ, "both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him" (Eph. 1:10), the entire family receives its name from Him. Since Christ has been made the Head of all—of the celestial hierarchies as well as of the Church (Eph. 1:21-23; Colossians 2:10)—He has a proprietary right in the whole community: they all own Him, and He owns them all. Such is our understanding of verse 15.
"That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be" (Eph. 3:16). That states the rule by which the Lord is entreated to confer His favors: on the one hand, not according to the faith or faithfulness of His people; on the other, not according to their spiritual indigence and need; but rather and better, according to His own glorious riches. Indirectly it is indeed an admission of our poverty and unworthiness, but directly it is faith eyeing the fullness and sufficiency of the Lord of glory. Everything in God renders Him glorious. He is the proper Object of adoration. The apostle prayed for God to deal with His people according to the plenitude of His grace and power, which constitutes His glory and makes Him the source of all good. But "the riches of his glory" includes more than His grace and power; it comprehends everything in God which makes Him glorious. The apostle’s prayer was an appeal to God’s goodness, His munificence, His infinite resources, and the plenitude of His perfections.
"That he would grant you according to the riches of his glory." To aid our feeble understanding, the Spirit here, as so frequently, speaks after the manner of men. The things which they count of highest value are termed their "riches." Now elevate that concept to a vastly superior plane. The Lord too has his "riches." As our thoughts can rise no higher than that which is super-eminent or glorious, these riches are styled "the riches of his glory." They are not only the riches of glory, or glorious riches, but "riches in glory" too (Phil. 4:19), that is, celestial riches, His riches on high—an earnest or foretaste of which the saints are granted even in this life. The reference is to Christ’s abundant fullness, as He is "the heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2). As such He is possessed of inexhaustible resources for the supplying of our every need. There are in Him amplitude and plenitude of glory. And "according to" the same we should ask Him to minister to us.
Glory is something more than excellence. It is excellence made manifest and brought into high esteem. It is the perfection of the divine character displayed and made real and ineffable to our hearts. The wondrous and blessed fact is that God has joined His glory with the good of His people. The two things are inseparably connected together: they glorying in Him, He being glorified in them. It is therefore our happy privilege to present our requests with this fact before us and ask Him to bestow His favors on us accordingly. The apostle was about to rise to the very pinnacle of petitionary prayer, seeking for Christians the most glorious things they could be granted. He stated as his plea, "Will it not be to Thy glory to grant such requests and vouchsafe such blessings!" If we are straitened, it is not in the Lord but in ourselves, and the fault is entirely our own. We should eye by faith the fullness of the divine perfections, for the riches of the God-man Mediator are as unlimited as the illimitable glory of the divine nature itself.
Before turning to the petitions in detail, let us proffer a few general remarks. The requests which the apostle was about to make are prefaced by the explanatory words "for this cause." He was on the point of asking that they should be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man and that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith, from which petitions it might be inferred that their condition was critical, or at any rate that they were in a weak and low state. Yet there is nothing whatever in the whole of the context which lends color to that idea. Rather, because of the wonderful things God had already done for them, Paul was encouraged to ask Him that these saints might be granted enlarged apprehensions and enjoyment of His favors. Far from settling on our leas when the Lord has bestowed signal blessings on us, we should be stimulated to desire and seek further gifts from His hand.
But that is not all there is for us in the particular detail to which we have just directed attention. There is something else in it which we need to take to heart, namely, that those who have received the highest favors from God are in real need of prayer, of coming to the mercy seat. Why? That they may be enabled to make good use of what has been conferred on them and walk worthy of the same. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48). Only fresh supplies of divine grace can enable us to meet that requirement; and such supplies must be earnestly and daily sought by us. Privileges entail obligations, and spiritual obligations cannot be discharged in our own strength. God had richly blessed the Ephesians, and for that cause or reason the apostle prayed for them to be strengthened with might by Christ’s Spirit in the inner man, that they might truly appreciate those blessings and express their gratitude in lives which would redound to the glory of the Giver of them.
We should also ponder these petitions in the light of how God is here addressed and the plea made to Him. No doubt the reader, like the writer, has heard prayers in which the body bore little or no relation to the opening language: prayers that began by addressing the Deity in high-sounding names but which had no connection with or appropriateness to the petitions that followed. The prayers of Scripture are very different. There we find the introductory ascriptions are most suited to what follows; the particular character in which God is addressed bears an intimate respect to the requests made to Him. For example, when Jacob was in deadly fear of Esau he prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, . . . deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother" (Gen. 32:9-11). It was to his fathers (and their seed) that God had promised to give Canaan! Also when the souls under the altar begged God to avenge their blood, they addressed Him as "O Lord, holy and true" (Rev. 6:10).
In the prayer before us, the address is made to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and what follows is an appeal to His fatherly affection and solicitude. He has told us that "like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him" (Ps. 103:13). What freedom of heart the realization of that blessed fact should give us when we approach the throne of grace! The Redeemer has assured us, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?" (Matthew 7:11). The saint approaches not an unwilling Bestower, whose reluctance to communicate has to be overcome by entreaties, but a loving Father who is more ready to give than we are to ask. How that ought to melt and encourage us! Because He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He is our Father too, and as such more ready to impart good things to us than the tenderest earthly parent can be to his little ones. The apostle here viewed Him thus, and he framed his requests accordingly.
Nor should we overlook the clause that immediately follows: "of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." It seems to us that the apostle turned that into a plea also. It was as though he said, "Blessed Lord, many of Thy dear children are now in Thine immediate presence on high, but there are some of Thy beloved ones still in the place of need here below. Those with Thee above are enjoying the beatific vision. Let not all blessedness be confined to them, but grant at least a portion of the same to those who are yet in this howling wilderness."
So should we make practical use of every doctrinal statement of the epistles, turning each into a supplicatory plea. "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory." Paul’s gaze was directed upward to a sphere of ineffable purity and felicity, to the One who occupied the central place in it. It was that which moved him to seek for no ordinary favors but for blessings which were according to and commensurate with the infinite riches of His glory.
The blessings Paul here sought for the saints stand out in glaring contrast from the mean and meager petitions which many believers are wont to make today. The great majority of professing Christians seem to regard the substance and sum of salvation as consisting in deliverance from the penalty of their sins and the assurance that they will spend eternity in heaven. They appear to have little or no concept of the glorious privileges that are theirs in this present interval: their being mightily energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit, their access to and enjoyment of Christ within the veil, their growing up unto Him in all things, their being filled with all the fullness of God. Those petitions of Paul present possibilities in the Christian life that few contemplate, and fewer still strive after. A knowledge of sins forgiven is indeed an inestimable boon, yet that stands at the very onset of Christian experience and is but an earnest of far greater and grander blessings which the Father will bestow on us if we follow on to know Him, and seek to lay hold of that for which we were laid hold of by Christ Jesus, reaching for those things which are before (Phil. 3:12-14).
"Open Thy Mouth Wide"
We say again, if we are straitened it is in ourselves and not in the Lord; the fault is entirely ours. He has set before us a rich feast in the gospel: "a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined" (Isa. 25:6). Our God is no niggardly Host, nor would He have us partake sparingly of His bounties: "Eat O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved"(Song of Sol. 5:1) is the call of His largess to us. "Open thy mouth wide" is His invitation; "and I will fill it" is His promise (Ps. 81:10). How deeply ashamed of ourselves we should be if we have occasion to cry, "My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!" (Isa. 24:16). Such "leanness" brings no honor to Him. Such leanness reveals how far below our privileges we are living. Such leanness is the consequence of failing to avail ourselves of the rich provisions God has made for us, and such failure is traced back to the defectiveness of our prayer lives: "Ye have not, because ye ask not" (Jam. 4:2).
Observe that the apostle did not preface his petitions by saying, "O God, if it can be possible, bestow these glorious spiritual riches on Thy people." No indeed, he would not insult the One who has told us, "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?" (Rom. 8:32). "Freely," not grudgingly. Not once in their prayers for the saints do we find any of the apostles qualifying their petitions with "if it be thy will." It is true that the Redeemer prayed in Gethsemane, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt"; but He was there in a situation which we can never occupy, and never once did He teach His disciples to pray thus. Compare Matthew 7:7; John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23; compare too His own "Father, I will" of John 17:24! True, our wills must be subordinated to the divine, yet it is both our privilege and duty to be "understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17).
His Revealed Will
"This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us" (1 John 5:14). That does not refer to His eternal decree, or secret will, which concerns no part of our responsibility, but to His revealed will as made known to us in the Word. In the Word, God has plainly declared that He is ready to bestow, in response to the prayer of faith, whatever will be for His glory and for our good. Nor has He left undefined what is for His glory and our good: the recorded prayers of the apostles plainly reveal the same to us. We need therefore have no hesitation whatever in praying that we may be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God; for it is God’s revealed will that we should ask for those very things, and it is nothing but a false or mistaken humility for us to add to His words "if it be thy will." It is God’s will or the apostle would not have been moved by the Holy Spirit to make such requests and then place them on record for our guidance.
In view of such passages as Psalm 81:10, Song of Solomon 5:1, and Romans 8:32, it is truly pitiful to hear so many professing Christians praying as though God were either a hard master or one whose riches were limited. He has expressly bidden them to "covet earnestly the best gifts (1 Cor. 12:31), yet how few of them do so. They have so little holy ambition to enter into God’s best for them, to grow in grace, to be fruitful branches of the Vine, to show forth His praises. How little of His truth, His holiness, His grace seems to satisfy them! They exist rather than live, paddle in the ocean of His love rather than swim in it. Their desires are weak, their expectations small, their aspirations almost nil. To "covet earnestly the best gifts" is to long intensely for them with the implication of a corresponding zealous effort to obtain those divine bestowments which will make for increased piety and usefulness; not only for ourselves but for our fellow saints too. That is exactly what the apostle was doing here: coveting earnestly the best gifts for the Ephesians.
"That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16). That was the first thing which Paul requested of the Father on their behalf. Let each Christian ponder it thoughtfully and hopefully. Let him seek to realize now, if he has never done so before, that the pardon God bestowed upon him at the hour of conversion was but the beginning of the fulfillment of His purposes of grace toward him, that He has far better things awaiting him in this life. God’s forgiveness of his sins was but a means to an end, with a design of something further and richer. Let the Christian reader recognize that he has not yet begun to conceive of the rich heritage unto which God has begotten him unless he perceives that it is his privilege, his duty, his rightful portion, to be strong with the strength of the divine Spirit. The devil seeks to persuade us that God would have His children remain frail and feeble in this life, but that is one of his many lies. God’s revealed will for us is the very reverse, namely, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might" (Eph. 6:10). Reader, do not allow Satan to deceive you any further, but seek right now to possess what Christ has purchased for you.
Because it is God’s revealed will that we should be spiritually hale and hearty, we are to seek strength from Him, and seek it expectantly. Had He not shown us His good pleasure in this matter, we might have been in some doubt how to act; but since He has made known His mind on it, our course is quite clear. Let the reader turn to Ezekiel 36:25-36 and observe the blessed promises which God has there made to His people, closing with the declaration "I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it." Then let the reader attentively observe that in the very next verse (Ezek. 36:37) we are told, "Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the [spiritual] house of Israel, to do it for them." Divine favor does not release us from our duty of realizing and acknowledging our dependence on Him. Divine promises are given for faith to lay hold of and plead before the throne of grace. It is God’s revealed will that Christians should be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, but it is also His will that they should earnestly covet the same and believingly seek it by fervent supplication.
The Apostle Paul had declared, "Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). Nevertheless, the knowledge of that fact did not render it meaningless or needless to pray for that very thing! God does not treat us as though we were irrational creatures, but as moral agents, and therefore He requires our concurrence and cooperation—not to assist Him, but for the discharge of our responsibility, and especially for the calling into exercise of those spiritual graces which He has imparted to His children. We must ask if we would receive. And we must ask expectantly, for according to our faith will it be unto us. It is much for which to be thankful if we have been made conscious of our deep need, yet that will avail us nothing unless we have also learned how to obtain daily supplies of grace. In answer to importunate prayer God gives of His best to us. David was in sore straits, but he knew where to turn for relief: "In the day when I cried thou answerest me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul" (Ps. 138:3).
The Christian is as entirely dependent on the continued operations of the Spirit as he was for His initial workings, for of himself he can no more sustain his spiritual life or maintain his faith than he would originate them. If the Spirit were to suspend His operations, we should be helpless, for He it is who works in us both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure. The flesh is not weakened by regeneration, and it never ceases its exertions. So it is from without: Satan is ever seeking an advantage against us. Moreover the soul is strangely deluded by the treachery of our senses and the result of our passions when temptations assail us; so unless opportune relief is granted we are soon overcome. Without the Spirit’s help we can neither mortify our lusts (Rom. 8:13), pray aright (Rom. 8:26), nor bear fruit (Eph. 5:9). Yet there must be our concurrence: we may, we can, concur or we should not appear different from the unregenerate. God works all works for and in us, yet also by us.
"That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." What a prayer is this! As it was an apostle, one who in some respects was the most highly favored of the apostles, who made those petitions, so it requires one with deep spiritual experience to open to us the sublime contents of the petitions. Far more than strength of intellect or even exegetical skill is required in opening up such a portion of the Scriptures as this. Spirituality of mind, elevation of heart, and close communion with God are also required. In proportion as an expositor realizes that, he will be conscious of his own unfitness for such a task.
"That he would grant you . . . to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." That is our first great need, and it is good for us to be truly aware of it. As none but the Spirit of God could impart spiritual life to our souls, so He alone can maintain that life. It is true that, for the most part, the Spirit works by our concurrence, blessing the means of grace to us as we make proper use of them. It is also true that the Spirit first works in us the desire and the diligence in using those means, and only by His gracious operations in subduing our native pride are we preserved from being complacent with our diligence. We are entirely dependent upon Him to strengthen that gracious principle which He communicated to us at the new birth, for the exercise and employment of it. If it is true, naturally, that "in him we live, and move, and have our being," it is nonetheless so spiritually even as Christians.
The "Inner Man"
Expositors differ as to exactly what we are to understand by "the inner man": whether the reference is only to the new nature, or principle, of grace and holiness, or whether it includes the soul with all its faculties. We define it as the soul so far as it is renewed by divine grace. The body, considered separately, is not the subject of moral good or evil: the soul is the seat of all moral qualities. It is true that in many passages indwelling sin or the principle of evil in fallen man is denominated "the flesh," yet it must be borne in mind that the Scripture speaks of the mind of the flesh (Rom. 8:7), and among its "works" or products mentions hatred, variance, envyings (Gal. 5:19-21), which are more than physical passions. When the apostle said, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" he undoubtedly referred to the new nature within him. And when he added, "But I see [perceive] another law [or principle of operation] in my members [the faculties of his soul], warring against the law of my mind" (Rom. 7:22-23), he had in mind his native depravity.
Thus the "inner man" signifies the soul so far as it is renewed, for the principle of evil remains unchanged. That renewing consists of a supernatural enlightenment of the understanding, so that things are now viewed in God’s light; the spiritualizing of the affections, so that they are now drawn out to new objects, and the heart is engaged with God; the freeing of the will from the dominion of sin, and the inclining of it to holiness. In addition to that renewing and sublimating of the original faculties of the soul, there is communicated a new "spirit," or principle of grace—a new life. Let us recognize that what takes place at regeneration is but the beginning of God’s good work in the soul, and that the same work is "performed" or continued throughout the Christian life (Phil. 1:6). We "are renewed" (Col. 3:10), but there is also "the renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5), for "though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). The divine promise is "I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day" (Isa. 27:3).
The Necessity of Being Constantly Renewed
Continual renewing is necessitated by the incessant opposition made by the indwelling flesh ever seeking to possess and direct the faculties of our soul, because the new nature received at the new birth is but a creature—entirely dependent upon its Author. It is therefore both the duty and the privilege of the believer to turn to that Author for daily quickening and energizing, begging Him to strengthen him with might by His Spirit in the inner man, pleading His promise: "They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength" (Isa. 40:31), until he is enabled to say "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the LORD"(Micah 3:8). This renewing is the vitalizing of the soul as the dwelling place and organ of the Holy Spirit: the soul in its entirety, including all its faculties—intellectual, emotional, moral. It is also the invigorating of the graces of the new man: holy faith, reverential fear, love, gratitude, hatred of sin, hope, and patience.
"In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst [rahab] with strength [might, oz] in my soul" (Ps. 138:3). That verse is the Old Testament parallel of the petition of Ephesians 3:16, and as the "strengthened [Greek krataioo] with might [dunamis]" exactly corresponds with the two Hebrew words, so "the inner man" is defined as "my soul." David was in sore straits—walking "in the midst of trouble," encountering the wrath of his enemies (Ps. 138:7). Conscious of his own insufficiency, he cried to the Lord, "Revive me; stretch forth thine hand." God at once responded and afforded him relief by strengthening the faculties of his soul and animating the grace of his spirit. The effect of that strengthening would be courage, fortitude, spiritual heroism. The Spirit can make the feeble mighty, the trembling brave, and the weary cheerful. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength" (Isa. 40:29).
But we must now consider more closely the relation of this first petition to what immediately follows. The apostle yearned for an increased measure of grace to be granted the saints and for their spiritual abilities to be enlarged—not with a view to the performance of the outward acts of obedience and duty, but that the believing soul might be empowered to enjoy its spiritual portion and privileges. He longed that Christians might be more in the habit of living by faith in Christ, so that He might be in them not by transient visits but abiding constantly in their thoughts and affections, and that thereby they would be established in joy and abounding fruitfulness. He longed that they might not only have love but be "rooted and grounded" in it, so that their communion with Christ might be a steady experience rather than an occasional luxury. But such is our native weakness in contemplating heavenly objects that without continued grace preparing us, they would be altogether beyond our reach. We need the wind of heaven to blow our barks forward.
Dependence on the Holy Spirit
"That ye may be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" is a request for the communication of energizing enablement that we may be fully absorbed with Christ. As the Christian owes his new life, or nature, to the Spirit, so by His power alone can it be vigorous and flourishing. Only by His strengthening of the heart are we delivered from being engrossed in the things around us, and our earthbound affections are drawn to things above. He it is who creates the desire for Christ, who shows us the things of Christ, who causes us to make Him the grand subject of our spiritual meditations. Only by the supernatural quickening of the Spirit can we be girded for that extraordinary effort of mind if we are to be "able to comprehend . . . and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." And beyond any doubt, only by the operations and influences of the gracious Spirit may we be "filled with all the fullness of God." We are to daily seek from Him that quickening, enablement, and girding.