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TEXTS FOR THE TIMES :
VI.-MEASURELESS POWER AND ENDLESS GLORY :
BY THE REV. ALEXANDER MCLAREN, D.D. Xow unto Him that is able do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,
according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ
Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.'—EPHESIANS III. 20, 21. Oxe purpose and blessing of faithful prayer is to enlarge the desires which it expresses, and to make us think more loftily of the grace to which we appeal. So the Apostle, in the wonderful series of supplications which precedes the text, has found his thoughts of what he may hope for his brethren at Ephesus grow greater with every clause. His prayer rises like some songbird, in ever-widening sweeps, each higher in the blue and nearer the throne, and at each a sweeter, fuller note.
'Strengthened with might by His Spirit'; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'; 'that ye may be able to know the love of Christ'; “that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.' Here he touches the very throne. Beyond that nothing can be conceived. But though that sublime petition may be the end of thought, it is not the end of faith. Though God can give us nothing more than it is, He can give us more than we think it to be, and more than we ask, when we ask this. Therefore the grand doxology of our text, crowns and surpasses even this great prayer. The higher true prayer climbs, the wider is its view; and the wider is its view, the more conscious is it that the horizon of its vision is far within the borders of the goodly land, And as we gaze into what we can discern of the fulness of God, prayer will melt into thanksgiving, and the doxology for the swift answer will follow close upon the last words of supplication. So is it here : so it may be always.
The form of our text, then, marks the confidence of Paul's prayer. The exuberant fervour of his faith, as well as his natural impetuosity and ardour, comes out in the heaped-up words expressive of immensity and duration. He is like some archer watching, with parted lips, the flight of his arrow to the mark. He is gazing on God, confident that he has not asked in vain. Let us look with him, that we too may be heartened to expect great things of God. Notice, then,
I. The Measure of the Power to which we trust.
standard, or measure, in accordance with which the great facts of redemption take place. The things on the earth'—the historical processes by which salvation is brought to men and works in men-are ever traced up to the things in heaven '—the Divine counsels from which they have come forth. That phrase,
according to,' is perpetually occurring in this connection in the Epistle. It is applied mainly in two directions. It serves sometimes to bring into view the ground or reason of the redemptive facts, as, for instance, in the expression that these take place 'according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself.' It serves sometimes to bring into view the measure by which the working of these redemptive facts is determined, as in our text, and in many other places.
Now there are three main forms under which this standard or measure of the Redeeming Power is set forth in this Epistle, and it will help us to grasp the greatness of the Apostle's thought if we consider these.
Take, then, first, that clause in the earlier portion of the preceding prayer, • That He would grant you according to the riches of His glory. The measure, then, of the gift that we may hope to receive is the measure of God's own fulness. The riches of His glory' can be nothing less than the whole uncounted abundance of that majestic and far-shining Nature, as it pours itself forth in the dazzling perfectnesses of its own Self-manifestation. And nothing less than this great treasure is to be the limit and standard of His gift to us. We are the sons of the King, and the allowance which He makes us even before we come to our inheritance is proportionate to our Father's wealth. The same stupendous thought is given us in that prayer, heavy with the blessed weight of unspeakable gifts, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God': this, then, is the measure of the grace
we may possess. This limitless limit alone bounds the possibilities for every man, the certainties for every Christian.
The effect must be proportioned to the cause. And what effect will be adequate as the outcome of such a cause as 'the riches of His glory'? Nothing short of absolute perfectness, the full transmutation of our dark, cold being into the reflected image of His own burning brightness, the ceaseless replenishing of our own spirits with all graces and gladnesses akin to His, the eternal growth of the soul upward and Godward. Perfection is the signmanual of God in all His works, just as imperfection and the falling below our thought and wish is our 'token in every epistle' and deed of ours. Take the finest needle, and put it below a microscope, and it will be all ragged and irregular, the fine, tapering lines will be broken by many a bulge and bend, and the point blunt and clumsy. Put a blade of grass to the same test, and see how true its outline, how delicate and fine the spear-head of its point. God's work is perfect, man's is clumsy and incomplete. God does not leave off till He has finished. When He rests, it is because, looking on His work, He sees it all very good.' His Sabbath is the Sabbath of an achieved purpose, of a fulfilled counsel. The palaces which we build are ever like that in the story, where one window remains dark and unjewelled, while the rest blaze in beauty. But when God builds, none can say, 'He was not able to
finish.' In His great palace He makes her windows of agates,' and all her borders of pleasant stones.'
So we have a right to enlarge our desires and stretch our confidence of what we may possess and become to this, His boundless bound : “The riches
But another form in which the standard or measure is stated in this letter
The working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead' (i. 19, 20); or, asit is put with a modification, 'grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ' (iv. 7). That is to say, we have not only the whole riches of the Divine glory as the measure to which we may lift our hopes, but lest that celestial brightness should seem too high above us, and too far from us, we have Christ in His Human-Divine manifestation, and especially in the great fact of the resurrection, set before us, that by Him we may learn what God wills we should become. The former phase of the standard may sound abstract, cloudy, hard to connect with any
definite anticipations ; and so this form of it is concrete, historical, and gives human features to the fair ideal. His resurrection is the high-water-mark of the Divine power, and to the same level it will rise again in regard to every Christian. That Lord, in the glory of His risen life, and in the riches of the gifts which He received when He ascended up on high, is the pattern for us, and the power which fulfils its own pattern. In Him we see what man may become, and what His followers must become. The limits of that power
will not be reached until every Christian soul is perfectly assimilated to that likeness, and bears all its beauty in his face, nor till every Christian soul is raised to participation in Christ's dignity and sits on His throne. Then, and not till then, shall the purpose of God be fulfilled, and the gift which is measured by the riches of the Father's glory, and the fulness of the Son’s grace, be possessed or conceived in its measureless measure.
But there is a third form in which this same standard is represented. That is the form which is found in our text and in other places of the Epistle : * According to the Power that worketh in us.'
What power is that but the power of the Spirit of God dwelling in us ? And thus we have the measure or standard set forth in terms respectively applying to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For the first, the riches of His glory; for the second, His resurrection and ascension ; for the third, His energy working in Christian souls. The first carries us up into the mysteries of God, where the air is almost too subtle for our gross lungs; the second draws nearer to earth and points us to an historical fact that happened in this every-day world; the third comes still nearer to us, and bids us look within and see whether what we are conscious of there, if we interpret it by the light of these other measures, will not yield results as great as theirs, and open before us the same fair prospect of perfect holiness and conformity to the Divine nature.
There is already a Power at work within us, if we be Christians, of whose workings we may be aware, and from them forecast the measure of the gifts enlarge them to enclose far more of the grace than we have ever possessed. We are not straitened in God, but in ourselves. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or think.' Therefore let us stretch desires and thoughts to their utmost, remembering that while they can never reach the measure of His grace in itself, they make the practical measure of our possession of it. “According to thy faith' is a real measure of the gift received, even though 'according to the riches of His glory' be the measure of the gift bestowed. Note, again,
III. The Glory that springs from the Divine Work.
• The glory of God’is the lustre of His own perfect character, the bright sum total of all the blended brilliancies that compose His name. When that light is welcomed and adored by men, they are said to 'give glory to God': and this doxology is at once a prophecy that the working of God's power on His redeemed children will issue in setting forth the radiance of His name yet more, and a prayer that it may. So we have here the great thought, expressed in many places of Scripture, that the highest exhibition of the Divine character for the reverence and love-of the whole universe, shall we say ?—lies in His work on Christian souls, and the effect produced thereby on them. God takes His stand, so to speak, on this great fact in His dealings, and will have His creatures estimate Him by it. He reckons it His highest praise that He has redeemed men, and by His dwelling in them, fills them with His own fulness. And this chiefest praise and brightest glory accrues to Him in the Church in Christ Jesus.' The weakening of the latter words into by Christ Jesus,' as in the English Version, is to be regretted, as substituting another thought, Scriptural no doubt and precious, for the precise shade of meaning in the Apostle's mind here. As has been well said, 'the first words denote the outward province; the second, the inward and spiritual sphere in which God was to be praised.' His glory is to shine in the Church, the theatre of His power, the standing demonstration of the might of redeeming love. By this He will be judged, and this He will point to if any ask what is His Divinest work, which bears the clearest imprint of His Divinest self. His glory is to be set forth by men on condition that they are “in Christ,' living and moving in Him, in that mysterious but most real union without which no fruit grows on the dead branches, nor any music of praise breaks from dead lips.
So, then, think of that wonder that God sets His glory in His dealings with us. Amid all the majesty of His works and all the blaze of His creation, this is what He presents as the highest specimen of His power—the Church of Jesus Christ, the company of poor men, wearied and conscious of many evils, who follow afar off the footsteps of their Lord. How dusty and toil-worn the. little group of Christians that landed at Puteoli must have looked as they toiled along the Appian Way and entered Rome ! How contemptuously emperor and philosopher and priest and patrician would have curled their lips, if they had been told that in that little knot of Jewish prisoners lay a power before which theirs would cower and finally fade ! Even so is it still.
Among all the splendours of this great universe, and the mere obtrusive tawdrinesses of earth, men look upon us Christians as poor enough; and yet it is to His redeemed children that God has entrusted His praise, and in their bands He has lodged the sacred deposit of His own glory.
Think loftily of that office and honour, lowly of yourselves who have it laid upon you as a crown. His honour is in our hands. We are the 'secretaries of His praise.' This is the highest function that
any creature can discharge. The Rabbis have a beautiful bit of teaching buried among their rubbish about angels. They say that there are two kinds of angels, the angels of service and the angels of praise, of which two orders the latter is the higher, and that no angel in it praises God twice, but having once lifted up his voice in the psalm of heaven, then perishes and ceases to be. He has perfected his being, he has reached the height of his greatness, he has done what he was made for, let him fade away. The garb of legend is mean enough, but the thought it embodies is that ever true and solemn one, without which life is nought : 'Man's chief end is to glorify God.'
And we can only fulfil that high purpose in the measure of our union with Christ. 'In Him' abiding, we manifest God's glory, for in Him abiding we receive God's grace. So long as we are joined to Him, we partake of His life, and our lives become music and praise. The electric current flows from Him through all souls that are ' in Him,' and they glow with fair colours which they owe to their contact with Jesus. Interrupt the communication, and all is darkness. So, brethren, let us seek to abide in Him, severed from whom we are nothing. Then shall we fulfil the purpose of His love, Who hath shined in our hearts,' that we might give to others the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.' Notice, lastly,
IV. The Eternity of the Work and of the Praise.
As in the former clauses, the idea of the transcendent greatness of the power of God was expressed by accumulated synonyms, so here the kindred thought of its eternity, and consequently of the ceaseless duration of the resulting glory, is sought to be set forth by a similar aggregation. The language creaks and labours, as it were, under the weight of the great conception. Literally rendered, the words are—'to all generations of the age of the ages'-a remarkable fusing together of two expressions for unbounded duration, which are scarcely congruous. We can understand 'to all generations' as expressive of duration as long as birth and death shall last. We can understand the age of the ages 'as pointing to that endless epoch whose moments are 'ages;' but the blending of the two is but an unconscious acknowledgment that the speech of earth, saturated as it is with the colouring of time, breaks down in the attempt to express the thought of eternity. Undoubtedly that solemn conception is the one intended by this strange phrase.
The work is to go on for ever and ever, and with it the praise. As the ages which are the beats of the pendulum of eternity come and go, more and more of God's power will flow out to us, and more and more of God's glory will be