Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
18. Prayer for Comprehension of God’s Love
"That Ye... 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" (Eph. 3:18-19) was Paul’s third petition. It is of prime importance for the nourishment, health, and fruitfulness of the believer’s spiritual life that he should be constantly occupied with the love of Christ, which is a bottomless, shoreless sea. Samuel Pierce designated Christ’s love thus: "A subject altogether wonderful, mysterious, and Divine, so great and so immense that the more real saints think of it, the more the Holy Spirit is pleased at any time to give them spiritual conceptions of it, the more they are swallowed up in admiring and adoring thoughts of it, and crying out, ‘O the depth!’"
There is nothing in nature which illustrates Christ’s love, nothing in human history or experience which exemplifies it. Only in the divine relations can we find any analogy. There one is given us which, though it fills the heart with joy and satisfaction, is nevertheless far above the grasp of our finite minds. Said the Lover of our souls, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you" (John 15:9). Such a love we can neither express nor conceive, yet it should be the one subject on which our hearts are continuously set and from which we daily drink.
Christ’s Love for His Church
"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." As the Father loved Christ from everlasting, so Christ loved them: with delight, with special affection, with an unchanging, abiding, eternal love. Christ has loved His Church with all His soul from everlasting. His heart was fixed upon His Bride before all time. He loved her as the gift of the Father’s love to Him. He loved her as presented to Him by the Father in all her beauty, glory, and excellence, in which she was forever to shine forth as His Wife in the kingdom of glory. He loved her as His mystical Body, in whom all His glory was to be displayed and admired. He loved her as His "peculiar treasure," as His very own. He was to be her life, her light, her holiness, her righteousness, her perfection and glory; for she was to receive all from Him as her eternal Head and Husband. The origin—the spring—of Christ’s love to His beloved is high and incomprehensible. His love originated in the Father’s everlasting love to Him as God-man and to believers as the Spouse which He had chosen, loved, beautified, and bestowed on His dear Son.
The love of Christ for His people and His feeling toward them transcends all conception. His divine person stamps eternal perfection on His love, as well as everlasting worth, virtue, and efficacy on all His mediatorial acts. He who is the Son of the living God as considered in His distinctive person in the Trinity, who is the God-man in His theanthropic person, is the One in whom the Church was loved, chosen, and accepted before the foundation of the world. His people were divinely appointed to partake with Him in all His communicable grace and glory, to share in all His honors, titles, and dignities, so far as they are shareable. Nothing would satisfy the heart of Christ but that His redeemed should live with Him in heaven, to behold Him in His glory, and to be perfected in happiness by seeing Him as He is. The wonders contained in Christ’s love can never be fully explored. All that is contained in His love will never be comprehended by the saints this side of glory. That which has been manifested of it in His incarnation and in His obedience and suffering is altogether beyond what saints can ever sufficiently appreciate and bless Him for. It is cause for deepest gratitude that we have been brought to know it, to believe it, and to enjoy it.
But since the love of Christ is so transcendent and mysterious, so infinite and incomprehensible, how can it be comprehended and known by us? Completely and perfectly it cannot, yet truly and satisfyingly it may be. Christ’s love to us is discovered in the Word of truth, and as the Holy Spirit enlightens our understanding we are capacitated to apprehend something of its wonders and blessedness. As the Holy Spirit strengthens us within and calls our faith into exercise, we are enabled to take in some spiritual views of Christ’s love. Faith is to the soul what the eye is to the body—the organ or faculty by which light is admitted and by which objects are seen and known. "Through faith we understand" (Heb. 11:3) that which is beyond the comprehension of mere reason. Though we cannot fathom the love of Christ, we may drink deeply of it. We can know how wonderful, how free, how transcendent, how selfless, how longsuffering, how constant, how infinite is His love. And this knowledge will have a sanctifying influence on our lives. Though we shall never be able to exhaust its unsearchable fullness, it is our privilege to know very much more of this love and have a fuller enjoyment of it than any of us have yet obtained.
The chief spiritual employment of the Christian should be to live in consideration and admiration of the wonderful love of Christ, to dwell on it in his thoughts until his heart is warmed, until his soul overflows with praise, until his whole life is constrained or influenced. He should meditate daily on its characteristics: its freeness, its pureness, its unstintedness, its immutability. Christ loves us more than we love ourselves. He loved us even while we hated Him, and nothing can change His love for us. We should ponder the manifestations of His love: first, in His acceptance of the Father’s proposals in the everlasting covenant, whereby He freely consented to become the Sponsor of His fallen people and serve as their Surety; and then in His actual carrying out of that engagement. View Him leaving the holy tranquillity and ineffable bliss of heaven, where He was so worshiped and adored by all the celestial hosts, and coming down to this scene of sin, strife, and suffering! What love that was!
Consider Jehovah’s condescending to take upon Him a nature that was inferior to the angelic, so that when the Word became flesh His divine glory was almost completely eclipsed. Contemplate the unspeakable humiliation into which the Son of God descended, a humiliation which can only be gauged as we measure the distance between the throne of heaven and the manger of Bethlehem. Bear in mind that even as the incarnate One He made Himself of no reputation, that instead of appearing in pomp and splendor, He "took upon him the form of a servant." That He came not to be ministered to but to minister, not deeming the most ignominious acts as beneath Him. Remember that He knew from the beginning the kind of treatment He would receive from those He befriended. He knew that instead of being welcomed, appreciated, loved, and worshiped, He would be despised and rejected of men. He knew that though He went about doing good, healing the sick, relieving the needy, preaching the gospel to the poor, He would be opposed and persecuted by the religious leaders, hated without a cause, and misunderstood and ultimately deserted even by His own disciples. What love that was—love indeed which passes knowledge, love which should ceaselessly occupy our hearts and shape our lives.
The Unparalleled Sufferings of Christ for Us
Reverently contemplate the unparalleled and immeasurable sufferings which the eternal Lover of your soul endured. Remove the shoes of carnal curiosity from your feet and enter the dark shades of Gethsemane, and behold your Savior in agony of soul so intense that He shed great drops of blood. Then observe Him led as a lamb to the slaughter and treated as the vilest of criminals. Ponder afresh the horrible insults which were heaped upon the Holy One as wicked hands smote Him, spit in His face, plucked out His hair, and scourged Him. Behold the blasphemy of that mock coronation when they put a purple robe upon Him, placed a reed in His hand and a crown of thorns on His head, and cried, "Hail, King of the Jews." View Him suspended upon the cross between two malefactors; mocked with vinegar and gall when He said, "I thirst"; derided by the spectators. But more: contemplate Him there made sin for His people, made a curse for them, and accordingly smitten by the sword of divine justice, so that He exclaimed, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In view of this must we not say, "Christ... hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor" (Eph. 5:2).
But the love of Christ for His people did not cease at His death, nor did the manifestations and evidences of it. His love was as fresh, as intense, and as active when He ascended on high as it was when He was here below. He ascended with the interests of His people before Him, entering heaven in their name: "whither the forerunner is for us entered" (Heb. 6:20). Having purged our sins with His own precious blood, Christ sat down upon the mediatorial throne and, having been given a name which is above every name, was crowned with glory and honor as the Head of the Church, as the triumphant Conqueror over Satan and the grave. There, in His exalted state, He now shines forth within the veil before the saints, His heart filled as ever with the same love toward His people. As Aaron wore a breastplate on which were inscribed all the tribes of Israel, so our great High Priest bears all the names of His people on His heart as He appears before God on their behalf. The exercise of His love to them is seen in that "he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). So tender is His heart for His own that, even in the glory, He is still "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15).
Manifestations of the infinite and unchanging love of Christ are made to His people while they are left in this wilderness of sin: by His supplying their every need, by His making all things work together for their good, by His personal communings with them. The gift of the Holy Spirit was an outstanding evidence of His love to them (John 16:7; Acts 2:33). Nor was that all. "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12). Are you favored to sit under the ministry of a faithful pastor who breaks to you the Bread of life, feeds you with knowledge and understanding, and stimulates you to run with patience the race that is set before you? Then you should look upon that pastor as the love gift of your ascended Savior. Do you find a book written by a servant of God, or even a monthly magazine, edifying to your soul, made a blessing to your heart, supplying motives for a godly walk and affording comfort and encouragement amid the difficulties of the way? Then you should look upon the same as a gracious provision made for you by the love of Christ.
The Dimensions of Christ’s Love
Note that the apostle did not pray that the saints might comprehend absolutely the love of Christ itself but rather the dimensions of it. First, "what is the breadth." This writer has long been impressed with the fact that the breadth comes first, for is it not there our thoughts are most faulty? Are not many of us so wrapped up in the consideration of Christ’s wondrous love to us, that we fail to appreciate its wider scope and blessed extent? Is it not to correct this selfish tendency that the Holy Spirit mentions the breadth of Christ’s love first? And is it not also to counteract that sectarian spirit which cramps the affections of so many of God’s people? It is also opposed to the error of those who would restrict the riches of Christ’s love to New Testament believers. No doubt the placing of this phrase was immediately intended for the instruction of the Jewish saints, who were so slow to realize the love of Christ reached also to sinners among the Gentiles. Christ’s love extends to all the elect, in every age, in every place, in every state and case. It is a love which embraces the whole family of God, from the least to the greatest.
"And length." Is not the order of these measures quite different from the manner in which an uninspired writer would have arranged them? Is it not different from the natural and logical order? Would we not have gone from "breadth" to "depth"? But the Holy Spirit places first what we are apt to put last. If we are slow to grasp (in an experimental way) the compass of Christ’s love, many are most tardy in apprehending (in a doctrinal way) the eternity of it. How many suppose that Christ began to love them only when they set their own affection upon Him; but "we love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19); and as His love knows no end, so it has no beginning, being from everlasting to everlasting. The Lord says to each of His people, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee" (Jer. 31:3). His drawing us to Himself is the effect of His love. Nor can our infirmities or even our iniquities quench it. "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (John 13:1). Nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:35-39).
"And depth." That can indeed be best comprehended by considering the amazing love of Christ to me personally, for if I have been made the subject of an inward work of grace, then I realize to some extent, actually and experimentally, the horrible pit in which I lay and the awful moral distance to which my sins had separated me from the Holy One. I can better apprehend my own sad case than I can the plight of others, and therefore I can better comprehend the amazing love of Christ in stooping so low to lift me out of the miry clay than I can in the cases of others. The depth of Christ’s love is to be contemplated in the light of the abject wretchedness into which the fall plunged the Church, for its members "are by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:3). This love is to be contemplated in the light of our individual history, when as unregenerate we departed farther and farther from God. It is to be contemplated in the light of the unparalleled depth of abasement and suffering into which the Lord of glory descended to effect the deliverance and salvation of His people.
"And height." If the breadth of Christ’s love is boundless, its length endless, its depth fathomless, then assuredly its height is measureless. The "height" to which the love of Christ has elevated His redeemed is to be viewed in the light of two things: their present privileges and their future happiness, both of which are best set forth in the language of Holy Writ itself. "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory" (1 Sam. 2:8). "Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off" (Isa. 56:5). "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16-17). "They shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 22:4-5).
"That ye . . . 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." Is not the reader at once struck with the difference between this request and those he is accustomed to hearing in public prayers—very likely in his own prayers? Many of God’s people are wont to ask for an increase of their love to Christ. We generally ask for more enjoyment of Christ’s love for us. But even that is not what Paul directly made supplication for. His request was that we might have a fuller comprehension and a deeper knowledge of Christ’s love. We may be sure that he prayed aright; therefore it is wise to follow his example. Man ever reverses God’s order, and of course he is the loser by doing so. Our poor love is increased by faith’s occupation with the infinite love of Christ and meditations upon its characteristics and manifestations.
The Apostle’s Request for the Saints
The apostle here made request that God’s people might have a more spiritual and enlarged view of the immeasurable love of Christ, that their understanding might be swallowed up in it, that their renewed minds might be more and more filled with the wonders of it, that they should enter into a deeper experimental acquaintance with the same. All the discoveries of the love of Christ which the Holy Spirit makes unto us are in the Word and by the Word, and we are brought to spiritual discernment of that love by the exercise of faith. Christ’s love is apprehended only as it is evidenced in its manifestations, and we obtain a spiritual knowledge thereof only as we personally imbibe it. Even the renewed understanding is not able of itself to grasp the surpassing love of Christ, but the understanding led by the heart can lay hold of it and find in it fuller satisfaction. Though necessarily imperfect and incomplete, the Christian’s knowledge of Christ’s love is real and ravishing, and it should be constantly deepening and enlarging. It "passeth knowledge" not only because it is infinite and therefore incomprehensible to the finite mind but also because our personal experience and enjoyment of it can never exhaust it—we but touch its edges and skim its surface.
We have intimated somewhat in the last paragraph what we regard as the difference between "comprehending" and "knowing." Perhaps it was no part of the Spirit’s design that we should draw any broad line between them, but so far as we can perceive, it seems to us that the "comprehending" is via the understanding, the "knowing" via the heart; the former being more the result of mental effort, the other of intuition. Thus "knowing" in addition to "comprehending" is feeling a sense of the love of Christ or having an experimental acquaintance with it. Though it transcends the grasp of our intellect, yet it is a subject of inward consciousness. Though it can be only faintly recognized, it may be adoringly appreciated. As the Spirit graciously takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us, as He opens to us more and more the love of Christ by His own effectual teaching, and as He opens our minds in a gradual and imperceptible way to understand, to exercise our thoughts upon it, we enjoy the same in our hearts. That knowledge being formed within becomes a spiritual part of us, so that what we read in the Word concerning the love of Christ we know to be truth, for we have the reality of it within our own souls.
Knowledge of the Love of Christ
"To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." We do not agree with those who say that phrase is a paradox: rather it is a plain statement of fact. We may, we can, we do, know the love of Christ in the sense explained above. We believe it, we experience it, we enjoy it as a blessed and glorious reality. Yet our knowledge is inadequate and imperfect, for the infinite love of Christ can never be entirely compassed, explored, or exhausted by us. As Pierce pointed out, "All that is known of the love of Christ in and by all the saints on earth: all that is known and enjoyed of the love of Christ by all the saints in heaven, is far below what is contained in the person and love of Christ, as considered in His own heart towards us. I have under this view of the subject often said we shall never know anything of the love wherewith Christ hath loved us, either in time or eternity, but by its fruits and effects . . . The love of Christ surpasseth the whole of His sufferings, as much as they surpass all our guilt and sin. His love was the cause, and His sufferings the effect of it." As the cause excels the effect, as the tree is greater than its fruit, so the fountain of Christ’s love exceeds all the streams which flow from it to us.
The angels never can enter fully into the love of Christ for His Church and people. Also, the finite-minded saints can never fully understand the fullness of Christ’s love. Nevertheless it is important that the saint should make it his paramount concern to be more and more absorbed with the love of Christ, exercising his mind thereon, feeding his soul therefrom, delighting his heart therein, praying earnestly that he may more fully understand the love of God. He should attentively consider the revelation given of it in the Word of truth, meditating on its ineffable characteristics, contemplating its wondrous manifestations, and realizing that Christ’s love to His own is eternal, infinite, and unalterable—not only without cessation but without the least diminution. Such a subject is worthy of the saint’s best attention and constant pursuit. It will amply repay his best efforts and greatly enrich his spiritual life. Nothing will so much excite gratitude in his heart as a contemplation of the love of Christ to such an unlovely creature as he. Nothing will prompt so effectually to a life of self-denial. Nothing will make so pleasant and easy a walk of obedience to God. Nothing will so deaden the saint to the world. Nothing else can so fill him with peace, yes, and with joy, in a season of affliction or bereavement.
Saints to Be Filled with All the Fullness of God
"That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). This is the closing and climactic request. It is one which has met with ridicule from skeptical and cold critics, for regarding its language in a carnal manner, they suppose it teaches the absurdity of the finite compassing the Infinite, or of man being deified. They imagine the apostle’s enthusiasm ran away with him, that in his devotional ecstasy he forgot the limits that separate the creature from the Creator. But of those who would, by grace, promptly reject such horrible impieties, some are probably inclined to ask, How is it possible for such creatures as we are, compassed with infirmity, harassed and handicapped by indwelling sin, to expect such a favored and exalted experience to ever be realized by us in this life? It appears to us that such a doubting and doleful question ought to be met with the retort, How was it possible that such a prayer should ever have issued from inspired lips, unless the blessings requested are attainable? Surely no real Christian is prepared to affirm that the beloved apostle was wasting his breath in so supplicating God.
Instead of questioning this petition, we ought to be rebuked and humbled for being surprised at Paul’s asking that saints might be "filled with all the fullness of God." Such a petition should shame us for the paucity and pettiness of our requests, indicative as they are of comparative contentedness with a sadly low level of spirituality—failing to act according to our privileges, as those who are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Instead of counting upon the divine munificence, instead of availing ourselves of the fullness which there is in Him, we limit the Holy One and think of Him almost as though He were as poor as ourselves. Alas, how often our expectations are measured by our meager attainments, instead of our expectations being formed by the revealed character of the One who is "the God of all grace." View this petition then as the spiritual corrective to our faithless doubtings and groveling hopes. View it as intimating what the Christian, every Christian, may legitimately aspire to and what he ought daily to pray for. View it as a revelation of the Father’s heart, making known to His children the high privilege and favored portion which it is His will for them to enjoy. Yet remember that this is not the first but the final petition!
We have sought to show how that our being "rooted and grounded in love" was both a consequence of Christ’s dwelling in our hearts by faith and also the necessary condition of our being able to comprehend and know His surpassing love. It is equally true that having our hearts and minds constantly occupied with the love of Christ is an essential preparation for our becoming "filled with all the fullness of God." For it is by the increasing apprehension and experience of the former that we are fitted for and led on to the latter. The more we revel in the wonderful love of God in Christ, the more our minds are exercised upon the same, and the more largely we drink of that divine nectar, the more are our capacities enlarged and the greater and higher become our expectations for the reception of other blessings. Then we too begin reasoning with the apostle: "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). As we become more and more occupied with the love of God in Christ, both our desires and our expectations are raised, so that we look to God and count on His giving us all things necessary for our holiness, happiness, and satisfaction.
The Fullness of the Divine Character Displayed in Christ
Is there not a glorious fitness in God’s imparting His fullness to us through our knowledge of the love of Christ? In the first place, it is in, by, and through Christ, and particularly in His dying love, that the fullness of the divine character is displayed. Not a little is seen of Him in His other works, but only in Christ are His perfections fully revealed. "No man hath seen God [adequately and clearly; cf. Matthew 5:8] at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). Some of God’s attributes were exhibited in creation and in God’s providence, but in the work of redemption—and in that alone—His full excellence appears. Great as were some of the displays of His glory under former dispensations—as at the Flood and His appearing at Sinai—they contained only a partial manifestation of Him. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets"—whose communications were at most but occasional and fragmentary—"hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). Christ is the perfect, final, climactic revelation of God. He said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
In the second place, through the dying love of Christ a way has been opened for the communication of divine blessing for guilty creatures. The fullness of God, especially His philanthropy and munificence, may be likened to a mighty stream, and sin to an extensive and high mountain, which stands in the way of God’s fullness, and so prevents our being filled by it. Had He so pleased, God could, by the simple fiat of His invincible will, have removed that mountain. But then how would His justice and holiness have been displayed? Nor could man by his own efforts—not even the combined efforts of the entire human race—obliterate that abominable thing which kept him at a guilty distance from God and cut him off from His favor. God deemed it most for His glory, best suited to His moral perfections, to ordain that the mediatorial work of His incarnate Son should take away the sins of His people and open a way through which His infinite blessings should flow forth to them. Accordingly, by the sacrifice of Christ the mountain of our sins was removed and cast into the depths of the sea. Then the way was all clear for the fullness of God’s heart to believing sinners to flow forth to them without the least dishonor attaching to His character as having connived at sin. Through Christ the bounties of God come to His people.
In the third place, as we come to partially know the love of Christ, we imbibe, drink of, become recipients of, the divine fullness. To be filled with the fullness of God it is not only necessary that that fullness be exhibited to us, and a way opened for its being consistently (or morally) communicated to us, but also that the soul be emptied of those impediments which obstruct its entrance. The unrenewed mind is incapable of being filled with the fullness of God: there is no room in it for the same, for it is already preoccupied with other things. All its thoughts, desires, and affections are centered upon the trash of this world. Even though it assumes a religious pose, it is still so bloated with self-sufficiency and self-righteousness that there is no place for a free salvation, for divine grace. But where the love of Christ is personally and experimentally known, as revealed in the gospel and realized in the soul by the supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit, all other things are counted loss, and the fullness of God finds ready access. Occupation of the heart with Christ and His love both capacitates us for and causes us to imbibe the divine fullness. So much then for the connection of the fourth to the third petition.
"That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." What a petition is this! It is cumulative in its force. That ye might be filled: filled with God; filled with the fullness of God; filled with all the fullness of God. Who can comprehend all it contains? What human pen is capable of opening its significance? We can only do our poor best according to our limited measure and the light which God has granted us. It should be obvious to any anointed eye that such language cannot signify that the finite shall ever contain the Infinite, or that we should cease to be human creatures and become as God Himself. No, that can never be. But the Christian may be filled with all the fullness of God according to his measure as a new creature in Christ, and in such a proportion as he is capable of in this life. Not that he is ever to be satisfied with any present measure of attainment in divine things, but constantly seeking after and reaching forth to an enlarged degree of the same. Only those who "hunger and thirst" are assured of being "filled" (Matthew 5:6).
How to Understand the Fullness of God
The expression "the fullness of God" is capable of being grammatically construed in two ways, according as we regard "God" as the genitive of the subject (i.e., the "fullness" of which God Himself is full), or the genitive of the object, namely, the fullness which flows from Him or that plenitude which He communicates in His gifts to us. The commentators differ as to which is to be preferred. Personally we take both, declining to place any limitation on the expression, and shall discuss it accordingly. It may also be pointed out that the Greek word "filled with all the fullness of God" is rendered in the Revised Version "filled unto all the fullness of God," which suggests the idea of a continuous process, a progressive and enlarging experience, for the ultimate aim of all genuine spiritual desire is to know God so intimately as to be filled to satiety by Him. This too we include in our understanding of the expression. Thus, a vessel may be filled up to its very brim. But suppose the size of that vessel should be enlarged, and continue to be enlarged, then its capacity to receive is ever increasing! Such is indeed the case, and ever will be throughout the unending ages of eternity, with the heart of the regenerate. The more the soul finds its satisfaction in God Himself, the larger its desires become and the more it takes in of Him.
How many of our difficulties are self-created! How the exercise of our natural minds upon such a statement as "filled with all the fullness of God" serves to prevent us from grasping anything of its true import. We need to be much on our guard lest our mental approach to those words filled and fullness is altogether too gross and carnal: not that we are to evacuate them of all meaning, but rather that we should endeavor to contemplate them spiritually and not materially. Do we not cause ourselves unnecessary perplexity when we ask how the finite can contain the Infinite? Are we to think of God, principally and chiefly, as the eternal, infinite and immutable One? Surely not, for those are His incommunicable attributes, which bear no relation to us, and about which we know next to nothing. But there are other attributes of His nature and being which come closer to us, for they are communicated to His people. The final words concerning Him are "God is light," "God is love" (1 John 1:5; 4:8), and surely we should be most occupied with them, for they best enable us to comprehend Him. Cannot the light which is in God pour itself into my darkness? Cannot His love be shed abroad in my heart? Filled with all the fullness of God as "light" and as "love"!
This prayer asks that by viewing God objectively, believers may, through a contemplation of His manifold perfections, take into their renewed minds a full-orbed concept of His excellency. It includes such a contemplation of the Deity that can fill the mind with a satisfying view of all three Persons—like the sun, shining through clear windows, fills a room with light. The prayer requests that God will abundantly communicate His grace and comforts to us, that we may be filled with His light and love—like a vessel filled to overflowing. It also requests that we shall be constrained to yield ourselves wholly to God, that He may fill and possess our entire being—like a king occupying the whole of the royal suite in his palace.
Paul’s Longing for the Saints
"That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." Regard the expression relatively and comparatively. Paul longed that the saints might not rest content with a contracted and inadequate concept and apprehension of the divine character, but aspire after a well-balanced, full, and symmetrical view and experience of God. Many believers are satisfied with a most limited idea of the divine perfections. Some almost restrict their thoughts to His majesty and sovereignty, some to His power and holiness, some to His love and grace; while others also take in His goodness, His faithfulness, His immutability, His righteousness, His longsuffering. We should not dwell on one or two of His glorious attributes only, to the exclusion of others, but should pray for and strive after spiritual knowledge and experimental acquaintance with each alike, that our minds and hearts may be filled with all His excellences. We should pant after such views of His manifold glory that would produce peace in the conscience, love in the heart, and satisfaction in the soul. We should be occupied with the riches of His grace, the wonders of His wisdom, the miracles of His might, with all His blessed attributes as engaged for His people and pledged to them in the everlasting covenant.
"That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" is not to be restricted to the perfections of Deity abstractly considered, but is to be regarded as pertaining to all three Persons of the adorable Trinity. So we also understand it as signifying "filled with all the fullness of the triune God," and not of one Person only to the exclusion of the others. There are some denominations which make most of the Father, some which make most of the Son, some which make most of the Spirit. Each is equally glorious, each is equally interested in us: our salvation is due to Their joint operations and combined counsels, and therefore They should have an equal place in our thoughts and affections. Do not confine your minds to the grace of the Father in choosing and in so loving His people as to give His only begotten Son for them; for we are required to "honor the Son, even as... [we] honour the Father" (John 5:23). Do not confine your meditations to the amazing condescension and inconceivable sufferings of the Son on behalf of His saints, but contemplate also "the love of the Spirit" (Rom. 15:30) as He quickened you when dead in sins, as He indwells you, as He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto you. Seek to be filled with the triune God.
How may we be filled with all the fullness of God? First, by our contemplation of Him objectively: the affections of the new man drawing out the heart after its Author, faith enabling us to take in such satisfying views of Him as lead to intimate fellowship with Him, fill the soul with a real and absorbing knowledge of Him, and cause us to make Him our all-sufficient Portion. Second, by our receiving subjectively from Him, God communicating to us out of the plenitude of His own being. To be filled with Him thus is to have Him imparting all that He can bestow upon us and all that we are capable of receiving, showering down upon us His richest blessings, that we have no further sense of want, no aching emptiness. We, whose hearts were by nature empty of any good, who drank from the streams of this world only to thirst again, who experienced the insufficiency and vanity of all earthly things, may be filled to all satiety with what He bestows from Himself. We may experience the amplest measure of His grace and consolation; we may be filled with such peace and joy that no rival will have any power to attract us.
Let us now consider more directly the phrase "that ye might be filled." Was not the apostle here praying that God might more fully possess us in a personal way, that we might be brought to yield ourselves more completely to Him? Think of the Christian being filled by and with God, not only as a dwelling may be filled with sunlight or a vessel with liquid, but also as a many-roomed house may be completely occupied with guests. The saint desires that Christ should dwell in his heart by faith, but is there any restriction on that desire? Is there any portion of his being marked "private"—reserved solely for himself? In other words, is there any part of his complex being not fully given up to God in Christ, not yet consciously, definitely, voluntarily, and gladly surrendered to His occupancy and sway? That is a searching question which each of us needs to honestly face. If there is any department of my outward life or any compartment of my inner man which is not fully surrendered to God, then I am not filled with Him. Am I really yielding my entire self to Him, so that I am sanctified in my "whole spirit and soul and body" (1 Thess. 5:23)?
The Place This Prayer Occupies
Earlier we pointed out that 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: at the close of the doctrinal section and as introductory to the practical portion. The prayer turns into supplication the contents of the former and prepares the heart for obeying the precepts of the latter. Among those precepts is this: "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18), that He should occupy us unreservedly, pervading the innermost depths of our beings, energizing and using all our faculties. Have we not reason then to pray earnestly and daily that in this sense too we might be filled? Not that God may possess us in part, but wholly; that our obedience may be such as to receive the fulfillment of Christ’s promise: "My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). May the surrender of myself be so complete that I may say, "Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name" (Ps. 103:1). I cannot do so unless all is freely dedicated to Him.
How full and many-sided is this fourth petition! In addition to those meanings and applications of it given above, we point out still another, which for want of a better term we will call its practical bearing, namely, that the Christian ought to be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. The believer should indeed have His mind on all things, for to walk in darkness is one of the marks of the wicked. But observe that we have placed this signification of the request last, for we shall not have light upon our path nor divine wisdom for our problems unless we are first fully yielded to God. Let us also call attention again to the relation of this prayer to the section which follows it. Among the exhortations found in that portion is "Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17), for all the details of our daily lives, for the various decisions we have to make constantly. Hence in another of the prayers of this apostle we find him asking for the saints that they "might be filled with the knowledge of his will" (Col. 1:9). Being ignorant of God’s will is not merely an innocent infirmity but a sin which should humble us. If the Word dwells in us richly, if we are filled with the Spirit, then we shall have clear discernment, good judgment, a knowledge in all circumstances of that which will be pleasing to Him.
While we think the apostle primarily desired that God’s people should receive a fulfillment of this prayer in this life, it is by no means to be restricted to this life only. Coming as it does at the close of the petitions, and in view of the language used in the next verses, it seems clear that Paul’s anointed eye was also looking forward to the endless ages of eternity—as ours should too. This view of the petition is also confirmed by the fact that the Greek may be legitimately rendered "that ye might be filled unto all the fullness of God," which, as previously pointed out, suggests the idea of a continuous process, a progressive and enlarging experience. The ultimate aim of all genuine spiritual desire is to know God so intimately as to be filled with all the glory of God, filled to satiety by Him—which will only be when heaven is reached. Here human language fails us, for our minds are incapable of conceiving such ineffable heights of bliss. All we can say is that this request expresses an approximation to the supreme perfection which is begun in this life and shall be forever growing in the holiness and bliss of the future state, though an infinite distance will always remain between the Creator and the creature.