THE SAINTS' KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST'S LOVE; OR, THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST.
BY JOHN BUNYAN
PREFATORY REMARKS BY THE EDITOR.
This treatise is one of those ten distinct works, which the author had prepared for the press, when he was so suddenly summoned to the Celestial City. Well did his friends in the ministry, Ebenezer Chandler and John Wilson, call it "an excellent manuscript, calculated to assist the Christian that would grow in grace, and to win others over to Jesus Christ."
It was first published, with a selection of Bunyan's Works in a folio volume, in 1692, about four years after the author's decease; and although it is a treatise exhibiting very deep research and calculated for extensive usefulness, it does not appear ever to have been published as a separate volume. Like all other of his works, it is original; no one before him treated this subject with such profound depth of thought, nor with such clear Christian philosophy.
The revered John Bunyan proves in this, as in all other of his works, that he was a real and not a pretended descendant from the apostles,—he breathes their spirit—he knew his Master's work, and faithfully discharged his solemn requirements. His object was as pure as it was apparent; to preach not himself, but Christ Jesus his Lord. One desire appears to have influenced him in writing all his works—that of shrinking back and hiding himself behind his Master, while exhibiting the unsearchable, Divine, eternal riches of His grace.
This treatise is admirably adapted to warn the thoughtless—break the stony heart—convince the wavering—cherish the young inquirer—strengthen the saint in his pilgrimage, and arm him for the good fight of faith—and comfort the dejected, doubting, despairing Christian. It abounds with ardent sympathy for the broken-hearted, a cordial suited to every wounded conscience; while, at the same time, it thunders in awful judgment upon the impenitent and the hypocritical professor: wonders of grace to God belong, for all these blessings form but a small part of the unsearchable riches.
The reader should keep in his recollection, that this treatise was originally conceived for the pulpit; and afterwards, probably with great additions, written for the press. This will account for the divisions and sub-divisions, intended to assist a hearer's memory; or to enable a ready writer, by taking notes of each part, to digest prayerfully in private, what he had heard in the public ministry of the word,—a practice productive of great good to individuals, and by which families may be much profited while conversing upon the truths publicly taught in the church; instead of what Bunyan would have justly called, frothy conversation about the dress or appearances of their fellow-worshippers.
This discourse has been published in every edition of the works of our great author, but, most strangely, the references to Scripture are omitted in all the editions since that of 1737. Bunyan's anxiety at every step of this momentous inquiry is to shew a "thus saith the Lord," in proof of every assertion. In this treatise only, there are nearly four hundred and forty distinct references to the holy oracles. These are all carefully restored, and have been collated with the standard text, for want of which some imperfections had crept in, even to the old editions; and where the author preferred the Genevan or Puritan version, it is shewn by a note at the foot of the page.
To point out beauties in such a discourse, is to point to the whole treatise—it is all admirable; a solemn earnestness is found in every sentence; even where Bunyan modestly differs with many excellent divines, when treating upon the sufferings of the Saviour, between the period of his crucifixion and of his resurrection: this is worthy of our prayerful consideration; ever keeping in remembrance those deeply impressive—those awfully triumphant words of our Lord, "It is finished."
The catholic spirit, which so pervaded the mind of Bunyan, appears conspicuously in this discourse; and whatever bitter controversy this spirit occasioned him, it ought to be impressed upon the heart of every Christian professor. It is a liberality which shines more brightly, as reflected by one, whose religious education was drawn solely from the pure fountain of truth—the holy oracles; and however unlettered he was, as to polite literature or the learned languages, his Christian liberality can no more be enlightened by the niggard spirit of learned sectarians, than the sun could be illuminated by a rush-light. The inquiry was then, as, alas, it is too frequent now, Are there many that be saved? forgetful of the Saviour's answer and just rebuke, What is that to thee, follow thou me, seek thine own salvation. The inquiry is pursued a step farther, "Can those who differ with me be saved?" Hear the reply of one so honest and so fully imbued with the Scriptures, into the truths of which his spirit had been baptized, "A man, through unbelief, may think that Christ has no love to him; and yet Christ may love him, with a love that passeth knowledge. But when men, in the common course of their profession, will be always terminating here, that they know how, and how far, Christ can love; and will thence be bold to conclude of their own safety, and of the loss and ruin of all that are not in the same notions, opinions, formalities, or judgment, as they. This is the worst [pride] and greatest of all [delusions]. The text, therefore, to rectify those false and erroneous conclusions, says, [the love of Christ] is a love that passeth knowledge."
Throughout the whole, there is a continued effort to comfort the sincere, but doubting, Christian. "Does Satan suggest that God will not hear your stammering and chattering prayers? Does Satan suggest that thy trials, and troubles, and afflictions, are so many that you shall never get beyond them?—relief is at hand, for Christ loves thee with a love that passeth knowledge. This is a weapon that will baffle the devil, when all other weapons fail."
The practical application of these soul-encouraging truths is, "To walk in love—filled with all the fullness of God." Bunyan has, in enforcing this duty, a very remarkable expression, "these are the men that sweeten the churches, and bring glory to God and to religion. Why should anything have my heart but God, but Christ? He loves me, he loves me with love that passeth knowledge, and I will love him. His love stripped him of all for my sake; Lord, let my love strip me of all for thy sake. I am a son of love, an object of love, a monument of love; of free love, of distinguishing love, of peculiar love, and of love that passeth knowledge: and why should not I walk in love—in love to God, in love to man, in holy love, in love unfeigned?"
And will our ministering elders bear with me in respectfully and affectionately commending to them John Bunyan, as an example of devotedness to his Master's service; of humble walking with God, of tender faithfulness to the souls of men, of holy fervour? Under such a course of sermons as this treatise would make, how attentively would our children listen with reverence to the voice of truth, and with a Divine blessing our earthen vessels would be replenished with heavenly treasure. It is delightful to read the testimony of Bunyan's ministerial friends, of various denominations, when recording his extensive usefulness. His works do follow him. And upon reading of them, we cannot wonder when we hear, that on a week-day morning, in the depth of winter, long before daylight, the inclemency of frost and snow was braved by crowded assemblies of hungry and thirsty souls, who eagerly listened to hear him proclaim "The Saints' Knowledge of Christ's Love, or the unsearchable riches of Christ—which passeth knowledge."
May the effectual blessing of the Holy Spirit attend the reading, as it did the preaching, of these soul-saving truths.
HACKNEY, Oct., 1848. GEO. OFFOR.
THE SAINTS' KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST'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."—EPHESIANS 3:18,19.
The Apostle having, in the first chapter, treated of the doctrine of election, and in the second, of the reconciling of the Gentiles with the Jews to the Father, by his Son, through the preaching of the gospel; comes in the third chapter to shew that that also was, as that of election, determined before the world began. Now lest the afflictions that attend the gospel should, by its raging among these Ephesians, darken the glory of these things unto them; therefore he makes here a brief repetition and explanation, to the end they might be supported and made live above them. He also joins thereto a fervent prayer for them, that God would let them see in the spirit and faith, how they, by God and by Christ, are secured from the evil of the worst that might come upon them. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named; 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," &c. Knowing, that their deep understanding what good by these were reserved for them, they would never be discouraged, whatever troubles should attend their profession.
BREADTH, and LENGTH, and DEPTH, and HEIGHT, are words that in themselves are both ambiguous, and to wonderment; ambiguous, because unexplained, and to wonderment, because they carry in them an unexpressible something; and that something that which far out-goes all those things that can be found in this world. The Apostle here was under a spiritual surprise, for while meditating and writing, he was caught: The strength and glory of the truths that he was endeavouring to fasten upon the people to whom he wrote, took him away into their glory, beyond what could to the full be uttered. Besides, many times things are thus expressed, on purpose to command attention, a stop and pause in the mind about them; and to divert, by their greatness, the heart from the world, unto which they naturally are so inclined. Also, truths are often delivered to us, like wheat in full ears, to the end we should rub them out before we eat them, and take pains about them, before we have the comfort of them.
BREADTH, LENGTH, DEPTH, and HEIGHT. In my attempting to open these words, I will give you, some that are of the same kind. And then show you, First, The reasons of them; and then also, Secondly, Something of their fullness.
Those of the same kind, are used sometimes to shew us the power, force, and subtilty of the enemies of God's Church, (Dan 4:11, Rom 8:38,39). But,
[Sometimes] Most properly to shew us the infinite and unsearchable greatness of God, (Job 11:7,8,9, Rom 11:33).
They are here to be taken in this second sense, that is, to suggest unto us the unsearchable and infinite greatness of God; who is a breadth, beyond all breadths; a length, beyond all lengths; a depth, beyond all depths; and a height, beyond all heights, and that in all his attributes: He is an eternal being, an everlasting being, and in that respect he is beyond all measures, whether they be of breadth, or length, or depth, or height. In all his attributes he is beyond all measure: whether you measure by words, by thoughts, or by the most enlarged and exquisite apprehension; His greatness is unsearchable; His judgments are unsearchable (Job 5:9): He is infinite in wisdom. "O! the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Rom 11:33) "If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong" (Job 9:19); yea, "the thunder of his power who can understand?" (Job 26:14) "There is none holy as the Lord" (1 Sam 2:2): "and his mercy is from everlasting to everlasting, upon them that fear him" (Psa 103:17). The greatness of God, of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is that, if rightly considered, which will support the spirits of those of his people that are frighted with the greatness of their adversaries. For here is a greatness against a greatness. Pharaoh was great, but God more great, more great in power, more great in wisdom, more great every way for the help of his people; wherein they dealt proudly, he was above them. These words therefore take in for this people, the great God who in his immensity and infinite greatness is beyond all beings. But, to come
FIRST, to the reason of the words. They are made use of to shew to the Ephesians, that God with what he is in himself, and with what he hath in his power, is all for the use and profit of the believers. Else no great matter is held out to them thereby. "But this God is our God!" there is the comfort: For this cause therefore he presenteth them with this description of him. To wit, by breadth, and length, and depth, and height: As who should say, the High God is yours; the God that fills heaven and earth is yours; the God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, is yours; yea, the God whose works are wonderful, and whose ways are past finding out, is yours. Consider therefore the greatness that is for you, that taketh part with you, and that will always come in for your help against them that contend with you. It is my support, it is my relief; it [is] my comfort in all my tribulations, and I would have it ours, and so it will when we live in the lively faith thereof. Nor should we admit of distrust in this matter from the consideration of our own unworthiness, either taken from the finiteness of our state, or the foulness of our ways (Psa 46). For now, though God's attributes, several of them in their own nature, are set against sin and sinners; yea, were we righteous, are so high that needs they must look over us, for 'tis to him a condescension to behold things in heaven: How much more then to open his eyes upon such as we: yet by the passion of Jesus Christ, they harmoniously agree in the salvation of our souls. Hence God is said to be love (1 John 4), God is love; might some say, and justice too: but his justice is turned with wisdom, power, holiness and truth, to love; yea, to love those that be found in his Son: forasmuch as there is nothing fault-worthy in his righteousness which is put upon us. So then, as there is in God's nature a length, and breadth, and depth, and height, that is beyond all that we can think: So we should conclude that all this is love to us, for Christ's sake; and then dilate with it thus in our minds, and enlarge it thus in our meditations; saying still to our low and trembling spirits: "It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? the measure thereof is longer than the earth, and1 broader than the sea" (Job 11:8,9). But we will pass generals, and more particularly speak
SECONDLY, something of their fullness, as they are fitted to suit and answer to the whole state and condition of a Christian in this life. The words are boundless; we have here a breadth, a length, a depth, and height made mention of; but what breadth, what length, what depth, what height is not so much as hinted. It is therefore infiniteness suggested to us, and that has engaged for us. For the Apostle conjoins therein, And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Thus therefore it suits and answers a Christian's condition, while in this world, let that be what it will. If his afflictions be broad, here is a breadth; if they be long, here is a length,; and if they be deep, here is a depth; and if they be high, here is a height. And I will say, there is nothing that is more helpful, succouring, or comfortable to a Christian while in a state of trial and temptation, than to know that there is a breadth to answer a breadth, a length to answer a length, a depth to answer a depth, and a height to answer a height. Wherefore this is it that the Apostle prayeth for, namely, that the Ephesians might have understanding in these things, "That ye may know what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height."
Of the largeness of the Apostle's heart in praying for this people, to wit, "That they might be able to comprehend with all saints, what," &c. of that we shall speak afterwards.
But first, to speak to these four expressions, breadth, length, depth, and height.
First, What is the BREADTH. This word is to shew, that God is all over, everywhere, spreading of his wings, stretching out his goodness to the utmost bounds, for the good of those that are his people (Deu 32:11,12, Gen 49:26).
In the sin of his people there is a breadth; a breadth that spreadeth over all, wheresoever a man shall look. The sin of the saints is a spreading leprosy (Lev 13:12). Sin is a scab that spreadeth; it is a spreading plague; it knows no bounds (Lev 13:8, 57): or, as David saith, "I have seen the wicked spreading himself" (Psa 37:35). Hence it is compared to a cloud, to a thick cloud, that covereth or spreadeth over the face of all the sky. Wherefore here is a breadth called for, a breadth that can cover all, or else what is done is to no purpose. Therefore to answer this, here we have a breadth, a spreading breadth; "I spread my skirt over thee": But how far? Even so far as to cover all. "I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness" (Eze 16:8). Here now is a breadth according to the spreading nature of the sin of this wretched one; yea, a super-abounding spreading; a spreading beyond; a spreading to cover. "Blessed is he whose sin is covered" (Psa 32:1), whose spreading sin is covered by the mercy of God through Christ (Rom 4:4-7). This is the spreading cloud, whose spreadings none can understand (Job 36:29). "He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light in the night" (Psa 105:39).
This breadth that is in God, it also overmatcheth that spreading and overspreading rage of men, that is sometimes as if it would swallow up the whole church of God. You read of the rage of the king of Assyria, that there was a breadth in it, an overflowing breadth, to the filling of "the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel" (Isa 8:8). But what follows? "Associate yourselves, O ye people, [ye Assyrians] and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries; gird yourselves and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand, for God is with us" (Isa 8:8-10); God will over-match and go beyond you.
Wherefore this word, breadth, and what is the breadth: It is here expressed on purpose to succour and relieve, or to shew what advantage, for support, the knowledge of the overspreading grace of God by Christ yieldeth unto those that have it, let their trials be what they will. Alas! the sin of God's children seemeth sometimes to overspread not only their flesh, and the face of their souls, but the whole face of heaven. And what shall he do now, that is a stranger to this breadth, made mention of in the text? Why he must despair, lie down and die, and shut up his heart against all comfort, unless he, with his fellow-christians, can, at least, apprehend what is this breadth, or the breadth of mercy intended in this place. Therefore Paul for the support of the Ephesians, prays, that they may know "what is the breadth."
This largeness of the heart and mercy of God towards his people, is also signified by the spreading out of his hand to us in the invitations of the gospel. "I said," saith he, "Behold me, behold me,—I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people.—to a people that provoketh me continually" (Isa 65:1-3).
I have spread out my hands, that is, opened my arms as a mother affectionately doth, when she stoopeth to her child in the warm workings of her bowels, and claspeth it up in them, and kisseth, and putteth it into her bosom.
For, by spreading out the hands or arms to embrace, is shewed the breadth or largeness of God's affections; as by our spreading out our hands in prayer, is signified the great sense that we have of the spreading nature of our sins, and of the great desires that are in us, that God would be merciful to us (Ezra 9:5-7).
This word also answereth to, or may fitly be set against the wiles and temptations of the devil, who is that great and dogged Leviathan, that spreadeth his "sharp-pointed things upon the mire" (Job 41:30): For, be the spreading nature of our corruptions never so broad, he will find sharp-pointed things enough to stick in the mire of them, for our affliction. These sharp-pointed things are those that in another place are called "fiery darts" (Eph 6:16), and he has abundance of them, with which he can and will sorely prick and wound our spirits: Yea, so sharp some have found these things to their souls, that they have pierced beyond expression. "When," said Job, "I say, my bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint; then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions; so that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life" (Job 7:13-15). But now, answerable to the spreading of these sharp-pointed things, there is a super-abounding breadth in the sovereign grace of God, the which whoso seeth and understandeth, as the Apostle doth pray we should, is presently helped: for he seeth that this grace spreadeth itself, and is broader than can be, either our mire, or the sharp-pointed things that he spreadeth thereupon for our vexation and affliction: "It is broader than the sea" (Job 11:9).
This therefore should be that upon which those that see the spreading nature of sin, and the leprosy and contagion thereof, should meditate, to wit, The broadness of the grace and mercy of God in Christ. This will poise and stay the soul; this will relieve and support the soul in and under those many misgiving and desponding thoughts unto which we are subject when afflicted with the apprehensions of sin, and the abounding nature of it.
Shall another man pray for this, one that knew the goodness and benefit of it, and shall not I meditate upon it? and shall not I exercise my mind about it? Yes surely, for it is my duty, it is my privilege and mercy so to do. Let this therefore, when thou seest the spreading nature of thy sin be a memento to thee, to the end thou mayest not sink and die in thy soul.
Secondly, What is the breadth and LENGTH. As there is a breadth in this mercy and grace of God by Christ, so there is a LENGTH therein, and this length is as large as the breadth, and as much suiting the condition of the child of God, as the other is. For, though sin sometimes is most afflicting to the conscience, while the soul beholdeth the overspreading nature of it, yet here it stoppeth not, but oft-times through the power and prevalency of it, the soul is driven with it, as a ship by a mighty tempest, or as a rolling thing before the whirlwind: driven, I say, from God, and from all hopes of his mercy, as far as the east is from the west, or as the ends of the world are asunder. Hence it is supposed by the prophet, that for and by sin they may be driven from God to the utmost part of heaven (Deu 30:4); and that is a sad thing, a sad thing, I say, to a gracious man. "Why," saith the prophet to God, "Art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?" (Psa 22:1). Sometimes a man, yea, a man of God, is, as he apprehends, so far off from God, that he can neither help him, nor hear him, and this is a dismal state. "And thou hast removed my soul," said the church, "far off from peace: I forgat prosperity" (Lam 3:17). This is the state sometimes of the godly, and that not only with reference to their being removed by persecutors, from the appointments and gospel-seasons, which are their delight, and the desire of their eyes; but also with reverence to their faith and hope in their God. They think themselves beyond the reach of his mercy. Wherefore in answer to this conceit it is, that the Lord asketh, saying, "Is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem?" (Isa 50:2). And again, "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear" (Isa 59:1). Wherefore he saith again, "If any of them be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee" (Deu 30:4). God has a long arm, and he can reach a great way further than we can conceive he can (Neh 1:9): When we think his mercy is clean gone, and that ourselves are free among the dead, and of the number that he remembereth no more, then he can reach us, and cause that again we stand before him. He could reach Jonah, tho' in the belly of hell (Jonah 2); and reach thee, even then, when thou thinkest thy way is hid from the Lord, and thy judgment passed over from thy God. There is length to admiration, beyond apprehension or belief, in the arm of the strength of the Lord; and this is that which the Apostle intended by this word, Length; namely, To insinuate what a reach there is in the mercy of God, how far it can extend itself. "If I take the wings of the morning," said David, "and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me" (Psa 139:9,10). I will gather them from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, saith he: That is, from the utmost corners.
This therefore should encourage them that for the present cannot stand, but that do fly before their guilt: Them that feel no help nor stay, but that go, as to their thinking, every day by the power of temptation, driven yet farther off from God, and from the hope of obtaining of his mercy to their salvation; poor creature, I will not now ask thee how thou camest into this condition, or how long this has been thy state; but I will say before thee, and I prithee hear me, O the length of the saving arm of God! As yet thou art within the reach thereof; do not thou go about to measure arms with God, as some good men are apt to do: I mean, do not thou conclude, that because thou canst not reach God by thy short stump, therefore he cannot reach thee with his long arm. Look again, "Hast thou an arm like God" (Job 40:9), an arm like his for length and strength? It becomes thee, when thou canst not perceive that God is within the reach of thy arm, then to believe that thou art within the reach of his; for it is long, and none knows how long.
Again, is there such a length? such a length in the arm of the Lord, that he can reach those that are gone away, as far as they could? then this should encourage us to pray, and hope for the salvation of any one of our backslidden relations, that God would reach out his arm after them: Saying, "Awake,—O arm of the Lord,—art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep, that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?" (Isa 51:9,10). Awake, O arm of the Lord, and be stretched out as far as to where my poor husband is, where my poor child, or to where my poor backslidden wife or dear relation is, and lay hold, fast hold; they are gone from thee, but, O thou the hope of Israel, fetch them again, and let them stand before thee. I say, here is in this word LENGTH matter of encouragement for us thus to pray; for if the length of the reach of mercy is so great, and if also this length is for the benefit of those that may be gone off far from God, (for they at present have no need thereof that are near) then improve this advantage at the throne of grace for such, that they may come to God again. Thirdly, As there is a breadth and length here, so there is a DEPTH. What is the breadth, and length, and depth? And this depth is also put in here, on purpose to help us under a trial that is diverse from the two former. I told you, that by the breadth the Apostle insinuates a remedy and succour to us, when we see our corruptions spread like a leprosy; and by length he would shew us, that when sin has driven God's elect to the farthest distance from him, yet his arm is long enough to reach them, and fetch them back again.
But, I say, as we have here a breadth, and a length, so we have also a depth. That ye may know what is the DEPTH. Christians have sometimes their sinking fits, and are as if they were always descending: or as Heman says, "counted with them that go down into the pit" (Psa 88:4). Now guilt is not to such so much a wind and a tempest, as a load and burden. The devil, and sin, and the curse of the law, and death, are gotten upon the shoulders of this poor man, and are treading of him down, that he may sink into, and be swallowed up of his miry place.
"I sink," says David, "in deep mire, where there is no standing. I am come into DEEP waters, where the floods overflow me" (Psa 69:2). Yea, there is nothing more common among the saints of old, than this complaint: "Let neither the water flood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, neither let the pit shut her mouth upon me" (Psa 69:14,15). Heman also saith, "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves" (Psa 88:6,7). Hence it is again that the Psalmist says: "Deep calleth unto deep, at the noise of thy water spouts: all thy waves, and thy billows are gone over me" (Psa 42:7). Deep calleth unto deep: What's that? Why, it is expressed in the verse before: "O God," says he, "My soul is cast down within me." "Down," that is, deep into the jaws of distrust and fear. And, Lord, my soul in this depth of sorrow calls for help to thy depth of mercy. For though I am sinking and going down, yet not so low, but that thy mercy is yet underneath me: Do of thy compassions open those everlasting arms (Deu 33:27), and catch him that has no help or stay in himself: For so it is with one that is falling into a well or a dungeon.
Now mark, as there is in these texts, the sinking condition of the godly man set forth, of a man whom sin and Satan is treading down into the deep; so in our text which I am speaking to at this time, we have a depth that can more than counterpoise these deeps, set forth with a hearty prayer, that we may know it. And although the deeps, or depths of calamity into which the godly may fall, may be as deep as Hell, and methinks they should be no deeper: yet this is the comfort, and for the comfort of them of the godly that are thus a sinking: The mercy of God for them lies deeper "It is deeper than hell, what canst thou know?" (Job 11:8). And this is that which made Paul that he was not afraid of this depth, "I am persuaded," saith he, "that neither—height nor depth shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38,39). But of this he could by no means have been persuaded, had he not believed that mercy lieth deeper for the godly to help them, than can all other depths be to destroy them: This is it at which he stands and wonders, saying, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Rom 11:33), that is to find out a way to save his people, notwithstanding all the deep contrivances that the enemy hath, and may invent to make us come short [of] home.
This is also that, as I take it, which is wrapped up in the blessing, wherewith Jacob blessed his son Joseph. "God shall bless thee," saith he, "with blessings of heaven above," and with the "blessings of the deep that lieth under" (Gen 49:25). A blessing which he had ground to pronounce, as well from his observation of God's good dealing with Joseph, as in a spirit of prophecy: For he saw that he lived and was become a flourishing bough, by a wall, after that the archers had done their worst to him (Gen 49:22-24). Moses also blesseth God for blessing of Joseph thus, and blessed his portion to him, as counting of it sufficient for his help in all afflictions. "Blessed," saith he, "of the Lord, be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath" (Deu 33:13).
I am not of belief that these blessings are confined to things temporal, or carnal, but to things spiritual and divine; and that they have most chiefly respect to soul, and eternal good. Now mark, he tells us here, that the blessings of the deep, do couch beneath. Couch, that is, lie close, so as hardly to be discerned by him that willingly would see that himself is not below these arms that are beneath him. But that as I said, is hard to be discerned by him that thus is sinking, and that has as he now smartingly feels, all God's waves, and his billows rolling over him. However, whether he sees or not, for this blessing lieth couched; yet there it is, and there will be, though one should sink as deep as hell: And hence they are said to be "everlasting arms" that are "underneath" (Deu 33:27): That is, arms that are long and strong, and that can reach to the bottom, and also beyond, of all misery and distress, that Christians are subject to in this life. Indeed mercy seems to be asleep, when we are sinking: for then we are as if all things were careless of us, but it is but as a lion couchant, it will awake in time for our help (Psa 44:22,26, Mark 4:36-39). And forasmuch as this term is it, which is applicable to the lion in his den; it may be to shew that as a lion, so will God at the fittest season, arise for the help and deliverance of a sinking people. Hence when he is said to address himself to the delivering of his people, it is that he comes as a roaring lion. "The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his enemies" (Isa 42:13). However here is a depth against the depth that's against us, let that depth be what it will. As let it be the depth of misery, the depth of mercy is sufficient. If it be the depth of hellish policy, the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God shall go beyond it, and prevail.
This therefore is worthy of the consideration of all sinking souls; of the souls that feel themselves descending into the pit. There is such a thing as this experienced among the godly. Some come to them (when tempted) when you will, they will tell you, they have no ground to stand on, their feet have slipped, their foundation is removed, and they fell themselves sinking, as into a pit that has no bottom (Psa 11:3). They inwardly sink, not for want of something to relieve the body, but for want of some spiritual cordial to support the mind. "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains," said Jonah, "the earth with her bars was about me for ever;—my soul fainted within me" (Jonah 2:6,7).
Now for such to consider that underneath them, even at the bottom there lieth a blessing, or that in this deep whereinto they are descending, there lieth a delivering mercy couching to catch them, and to save them from sinking for ever, this would be relief unto them, and help them to hope for good.
Again, As this, were it well considered by the sinking ones, would yield them stay and relief, so this is it by the virtue whereof, they that have been sinking heretofore, have been lifted up, and above their castings down again. There are of those that have been in the pit, now upon mount Sion, with the harps of God in their hands, and with the song of the Lamb in their mouths. But how is it that they are there? why, David, by his own deliverance shews you the reason. "For great is thy mercy towards me," saith he, "and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell" (Psa 86:13). And again, "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit," (a pit of noise, a pit wherein was the noise of devils, and of my heart answering them with distrust and fear) "out of the miry clay," (into which I did not only sink, but was by it held from getting up: but he brought me up) "and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God" (Psa 40:2,3).
But let me here give, if it may be, a timely caution to them that think they stand upon their feet. Give not way to falling because everlasting arms are underneath, take heed of that: God can let thee fall into mischief, he can let thee fall, and not help thee up. Tempt not God, lest he cast thee away indeed. I doubt there are many that have presumed upon this mercy, that thus do couch beneath, and have cast themselves down from their pinnacles into vanity, of a vain conceit that they shall be lifted up again: whom yet God will leave to die there, because their fall was rather of willfulness, than weakness, and of stubbornness, and desperate resolutions, than for want of means and helps to preserve them from it.
Fourthly, As there is a breadth, and length, and depth, in this mercy and grace of God through Christ towards his people: So there is also a HEIGHT, "That ye may comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth and length, and depth, and HEIGHT." There are things that are high, as well as things that are low; things that are above us, as well as things that are under, that are distressing to God's people. It is said when Noah was a preacher of righteousness, there were giants in the earth in those days (Gen 6:4). And these, as I conceive, were some of the heights that were set against Noah; yea, they were the very dads and fathers of all that monstrous brood that followed in the world in that day. Of this sort were they who so frighted, and terrified Israel, when they were to go to inherit the land of promise. The men that were tall as cedars, and strong as the oaks, frighted them: they were in their own sight, when compared with these high ones, but as grasshoppers. This therefore was their discouragement (Num 13:31-33, Deu 2:10, 9:2).
Besides, together with these, they had high walls, walls as high as heaven; and these walls were of purpose to keep Israel out of his possession. See how it is expressed: The people is greater and taller than we, the cities are great and walled up to heaven: and moreover, we have seen the sons of the Anakims there (Deu 1:28). One of these, to wit, Goliath by name, how did he fright the children of Israel in the days of Saul! How did the appearance of him, make them scuttle together on heaps before him (1 Sam 17). By these giants, and by these high walls, God's children to this day are sorely distressed, because they stand in the cross ways to cut off Israel from his possession.
But now to support us against all these, and to encourage us to take heart notwithstanding all these things; there is for us, a height in God. He hath made his Son higher than the kings of the earth (Psa 89:26-28): His word also is settled for ever in heaven, and therefore must needs be higher than their walls (Psa 119:89): He also saith in another place, "If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter; for he that is higher than the highest, regardeth, and there be higher than they" (Eccl 5:8). 'Twas this that made Paul, that he feared not the height: not things present, nor things to come (Rom 8:39).
But again, As there are these things standing, or lying in our way: So there are another sort of heights that are more mischievous than these: And they are the fallen angels. These are called spiritual wickedness, or wicked spirits, in high places (Eph 6:12): For God has suffered them for a time to take to themselves principality and power, and so they are become the rulers of the darkness of this world. By these we are tempted, sifted, threatened, opposed, undermined: also by these there are snares, pits, holes, and what not made and laid for us, if peradventure by something we may be destroyed. Yea, and we should most certainly be so, were it not for the rock that is higher than they. "But he that cometh from heaven is above all!" (John 3:31) These are they that our king has taken captive, and hath rid (in his chariots of salvation) in triumph over their necks. These are they, together with all others, whose most devilish designs he can wield, and turn and make work together for his ransomed's advantage (Rom 8:28), There is a height, an infinitely overtopping height in the mercy and goodness of God for us, against them.
There are heights also that build up themselves in us, which are not but to be taken notice of: Yea, there are a many of them, and they place themselves directly so, that if possible they may keep the saving knowledge of God out of our hearts. These high things therefore are said to exalt themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5): and do ofttimes more plague, afflict, and frighten Christian men and women, than any thing besides. It is from these that our faith and spiritual understanding of God and his Christ is opposed and contradicted, and from these also that we are so inclinable to swerve from right doctrine into destructive opinions. 'Tis from these that we are so easily persuaded to call into question our former experience of the goodness of God towards us, and from these that our minds are so often clouded and darkened that we cannot see afar off. These would betray us into the hands of fallen angels, and men, nor should we by any means help or deliver ourselves, were it not for one that is higher. These are the dark mountains at which our feet would certainly stumble, and upon which we should fall, were it not for one who can leap and skip over these mountains of division, and come in to us (Song 2:8,17).
Further, There is a height also that is obvious to our senses, the which when it is dealt withal by our corrupted reason, proves a great shaking to our mind, and that is the height, and exceeding distance that heaven is off of us, and we off it. "Is not God in the height of heaven? and behold the height of the stars, how high they are?" (Job 22:12) Hence heaven is called the place for height (Prov 25:3), Also when Ahaz is bid to ask with reference to heaven, he is bid to ask it, In the height, the height above (Isa 7:11). Now saith reason, how shall I come thither? especially when a good man is at his furthest distance therefore: which is, when he is in the grave. Now I say, every height is a difficulty to him that is loaden with a burden, especially the heaven of heavens, where God is, and where is the resting-place of his, to them that are oppressed with the guilt of sin. And besides, the dispensation which happeneth to us last, to wit, death, as I said before, makes this heaven, in my thoughts while I live so much the more unaccessible. Christ indeed could mount up (Acts 1:9), but me, poor me, how shall I get thither? Elias indeed had a chariot sent him to ride in thither, and went up by it into that holy place (2 Kings 2:11): but I, poor I, how shall I get thither? Enoch is there, because God took him (Gen 5:24), but as for me, how shall I get thither? Thus some have mourningly said. And although distrust of the power of God, as to the accomplishing of this thing, is by no means to be smiled upon, yet methinks the unconcernedness of professors thereabout, doth argue that considering thoughts about that, are wanting.
I know the answer is ready. Get Christ and go to heaven. But methinks the height of the place, and the glory of the state that we are to enjoy therein, should a little concern us, at least so as to make us wonder in our thinking, that the time is coming that we must mount up thither. And since there are so many heights between this place, between us, and that; it should make us admire at the heights of the grace and mercy of God, by which, means is provided to bring us thither. And I believe that this thing, this very thing, is included here by the Apostle when he prays for the Ephesians, that they might know the height.
Methinks, How shall we get thither will still stick in my mind. "I will ascend," says one, "above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High" (Isa 14:14). And I, says another, will set my nest among the stars of heaven (Oba 4). Well, but what of all this? If heaven has gates, and they shall be shut, how wilt thou go in thither? Though such should climb up to heaven, from thence will God bring them down (Amos 9:2), Still I say, therefore, how shall we get in thither? Why, for them that are godly, there is the power of God, the merits of Christ, the help of angels, and the testimony of a good conscience to bring them thither; and he that has not the help of all these, let him do what he can, shall never come thither. Not that all these go to the making up of the height that is intended in the text: for the height there, is what is in God through Christ to us alone. But the angels are the servants of God for that end (Luke 16:22, Heb 1:14): and none with ill consciences enter in thither (Psa 15:1, 24:3,4), What, "know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? be not deceived" (1 Cor 6:9), such have none inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph 5:5).
This then should teach us that in God is a power that is able to subdue all things to himself. In the completing of many things, there seems to be an utter impossibility, as that a virgin should conceive in her womb, as a virgin, and bring a Son into the world; that the body that is turned into dust, should arise and ascend into the highest heaven (Phil 3:21). These things with many more seem to be utterly impossible: but there is that which is called the power of God, by the which he is able to make all things bend to his will, and to make all obstructions give place to what he pleases. God is high above all things and can do whatever it pleaseth him. But since he can do so, why doth he suffer this, and that thing to appear, to act, and do so horribly repugnant to his word? I answer, he admits of many things, to the end he may shew his wrath, and make his power known; and that all the world may see how he checks and overrules the most vile and unruly things, and can make them subservient to his holy will. And how would the breadth and the length, and the depth, and the height of the love and mercy of God in Christ to us-ward, be made to appear, so as in all things it doth, were there not admitted that there should be breadths, and lengths, and depths and heights, to oppose. Wherefore these oppositions are therefore suffered, that the greatness of the wisdom, the power, the mercy, and grace of God to us in Christ might appear and be made manifest unto us.
This calls therefore upon Christians, wisely to consider of the doings of their God. How many opposite breadths, and lengths, and depths, and heights did Israel meet with in their journey from Egypt to Canaan, and all to convince them of their own weakness, and also of the power of their God. And they that did wisely consider of his doings there, did reap the advantage thereof. Come, behold the works of the Lord towards me, may every Christian say. He hath set a Saviour against sin; a heaven against a hell; light against darkness; good against evil, and the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the grace that is in himself, for my good, against all the power, and strength, and force, and subtilty, of every enemy.
This also, as I hinted but just before, shews both the power of them that hate us, and the inability of us to resist. The power that is set against us none can crush, and break, but God: for it is the power of devils, of sin, of death, and hell. But we for our parts are crushed before the moth: being a shadow, a vapour, and a wind that passes away (Job 4:19). Oh! how should we, and how would we, were but our eyes awake, stand and wonder at the preservations, the deliverances, the salvations and benefits with which we are surrounded daily: while so many mighty evils seek daily to swallow us up, as the grave. See how the golden psalm of David reads it. "Be merciful unto me, O God; for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most high" (Psa 56:1,2). This is at the beginning of it. And he concludes it thus, "Thou hast delivered my soul from death: will not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living" (verse 13).
By this also we see the reason why it is so impossible for man or angel to persuade unbelievers to come in to, and close with Christ; why there is a breadth that they cannot get over, a length that they cannot get beyond, a depth that they cannot pass, and heights that so hinder them of the prospect of glory, and the way thereto, that they cannot be allured thither. And that nothing can remove these; but those that are in God, and that are opposite thereto; even the breadth, and length, and depth and height that is in the text expressed, is to all awakened men an undoubted truth. 2
One item I would here give to him that loveth his own soul, and then we will pass on in pursuance of what is to come. Since there is an height obvious to sense, and that that height must be overcome ere a man can enter into life eternal: let thy heart be careful that thou go the right way to overpass this height, that thou mayest not miss of the delectable plains, and the pleasures that are above. Now, there is nothing so high, as to overtop this height; but Jacob's ladder, and that can do it: that ladder, when the foot thereof doth stand upon the earth, reacheth with its top to the gate of heaven. This is the ladder by which angels ascend thither: and this is the ladder by which thou mayest ascend thither. "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it" (Gen 28:12).
This ladder is Jesus Christ, the son of man, as is clear by the evangelist John (John 1:51). And in that it is said to stand upon the earth, that is to shew that he took hold of man who is of the earth, and therein laid a foundation for his salvation: in that it is said the top reached up to heaven, that is to shew that the divine nature was joined to the human, and by that means he was every way made a Saviour complete. Now concerning this ladder, 'tis said, Heaven was open where it stood, to shew that by him there is entrance into life: 'tis said also concerning this ladder, that the Lord stood there, at the top, above it: saying, "I am the Lord God of Abraham" (Gen 28:13), to shew his hearty and willing reception of those that ascend the height of his sanctuary this way. All which Christ further explains by saying, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the father, but by me" (John 14:6). Look to thyself then, that thou do truly and after the right manner embrace this ladder, so will he draw thee up thither after him (John 12:32). All the rounds of this ladder are sound and fitly placed, not one of them is set further than that by faith thou mayest ascend step by step unto, even until thou shalt come to the highest step thereof, from whence, or by which thou mayest step in at the celestial gate where thy soul desireth to dwell.
Take my caution then, and be wary, no man can come thither but by him. Thither I say to be accepted: thither, there to dwell, and there to abide with joy for ever.
"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."
Having thus spoke of the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, that is in God's mercy by Christ to us-ward; we will now come more directly to
THE PRAYER OF THE APOSTLE FOR THESE EPHESIANS, WITH REFERENCE THEREUNTO; to wit, that they might be able to comprehend with all saints what they are. And
FIRST, As to THE ABILITY that he prays for, to the end that they may be capable to do this thing.
First, That ye may be able. The weakness that is here supposed to hinder their thus comprehending, &c., did doubtless lie in their grace, as well as their nature: for in both, with reference to them that are Christians, there is great disability, unless they be strengthened mightily by the Holy Ghost. Nature's ability depends upon graces, and the ability of graces, depends upon the mighty help of the spirit of God. Hence as nature itself, where grace is not, sees nothing; so nature by grace sees but weakly, if that grace is not strengthened with all might by the spirit of grace. The breadths, lengths, depths and heights here made mention of, are mysteries, and in all their operations, do work wonderfully mysteriously: insomuch that many times, though they are all of them busily engaged for this and the other child of God, yet they themselves see nothing of them. As Christ said to Peter, "What I do thou knowest not now" (John 13:7); so may it be said to many where the grace and mercy of God in Christ is working: they do not know, they understand not what it is, nor what will be the end of such dispensations of God towards them. Wherefore they also say as Peter to Christ, "Dost thou wash my feet?—thou shalt never wash my feet" (John 13:6-8); Yea, and when some light to convince of this folly breaks in upon them, yet if it be not very distinct and clear; causing the person to know the true cause, nature, and end of God's doing of this or that, they swerve with Peter, as much on the other side (John 13:9,10). They have not known my ways, and my methods with them in this world, were that that caused Israel always to err in their hearts (Heb 3:10), and lie cross to all, and each of these breadths, lengths, depths, and heights, whenever they were under the exercise of any of them in the wilderness.
And the reason is, as I said before, for that they are very mysterious in their workings. For they work by, upon, and against oppositions; for, and in order to the help and salvation of his people. Also (as was hinted a while since) that the power and glory of this breadth, and length, &c. of the mercy and grace of God, may the more shew its excellency and sufficiency as to our deliverance; we by him seem quite to be delivered up to the breadths, lengths, and depths, and heights that oppose, and that utterly seek our ruin: wherefore at such times, nothing of breadths, lengths, depths, or heights can be seen, save by those that are very well skilled in those mysterious methods of God, in his gracious actings towards his people. "Who will bring me into the strong city," and "wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies?" (Psa 60:9,10) is a lesson too hard for every Christian man to say over believingly. And what was it that made Jonah say, when he was in the belly of hell, "Yet I will look again toward thy holy temple" (Jonah 2:4), but the good skill that he had in understanding of the mystery of these breadths, and lengths, and depths, and heights of God, and of the way of his working by them. Read the text at large. "Thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas, and the floods compassed me about. All thy billows and thy waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple" (Jonah 2:3,4).
These, and such like sentences, are easily played with by a preacher, when in the pulpit, specially if he has a little of the notion of things, but of the difficulty and strait, that those are brought into, out of whose mouth such things, or words are extorted, by reason of the force of the labyrinths they are fallen into: of those they experience nothing, wherefore to those they are utterly strangers.
He then that is able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; must be a good expositor of providences, and must see the way, and the workings of God by them. Now there are providences of two sorts, seemingly good, and seemingly bad, and those do usually as Jacob did, when he blessed the sons of Joseph, cross hands; and lay the blessing where we would not. "And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him" (Gen 48:17). I say there are providences unto which we would have the blessings entailed, but they are not. And they are providences that smile upon the flesh; to wit, such as cast into the lap, health, wealth, plenty, ease, friends, and abundance of this world's good: because these, [Manasseh, as his name doth signify,] have in them an aptness to make us forget our toil, our low estate, and from whence we were (Gen 41:51): but the great blessing is not in them. There are providences again, that take away from us whatever is desirable to the flesh; such is the sickness, losses, crosses, persecution and affliction; and usually in these though they make us shuck 3 whenever they come upon us, blessing coucheth, and is ready to help us. For God, as the name of Ephraim signifies, makes us "fruitful in the land of our affliction" (Gen 41:52). He therefore, in blessing of his people, lays his hands across, guiding them wittingly, and laying the chiefest blessing on the head of Ephraim, or in that providence, that sanctifies affliction. Abel! what, to the reason of Eve was he, in comparison of Cain. Rachel called Benjamin the son of her sorrow: but Jacob knew how to give him a better name (Gen 35:18). Jabez also, though his mother so called him, because, as it seems, she brought him forth with more than ordinary sorrow, was yet more honourable, more godly, than his brethren (1 Chron 4:9,10). He that has skill to judge of providences aright, has a great ability in him to comprehend with other saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height: but he that has not skill as to discerning of them, is but a child in his judgment in those high and mysterious things. And hence it is, that some shall suck honey out of that, at the which others tremble for fear it should poison them, I have often been made to say, "Sorrow is better than laughter; and the house of mourning better than the house of mirth" (Eccl 7:3-5). And I have more often seen, that the afflicted are always the best sort of Christians. There is a man, never well, never prospering, never but under afflictions, disappointments and sorrows: why this man, if he be a Christian, is one of the best of men. "They that go down to the sea,—that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep." 4 (Psa 107:23,24) And it is from hence, for aught I know, that James admonishes the brother of high degree to rejoice in that he is made low. And he renders the reason of it, to wit, for that the fashion of the world perisheth, the rich man fadeth away in his way; but the tempted, and he that endureth temptation is blessed (James 1:10-12). Now, I know these things are not excellent in themselves, nor yet to be desired for any profit that they can yield, but God doth use by these, as by a tutor or instructor, to make known to them that are exercised with them, so much of himself as to make them understand that riches of his goodness that is seldom by other means broken up to the sons of men. And hence 'tis said, that the afterwards of affliction doth yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (Heb 12:11).
The sum is, these breadths, and lengths, and depths, and heights of God, are to be discerned; and some that are good, do more, and some do less discern them, and how they are working, and putting forth themselves in every providence, in every change, in every turn of the wheel that passeth by us in this world. I do not question but that there are some that are alive that have been able to say, the days of affliction have been the best unto them; and that could, if it were lawful, pray that they might always be in affliction, if God would but do to them as he did when his hand was last upon them. For by them he caused his light to shine: Or as Job has it, "Thou huntest me as a fierce lion: and again thou shewest thyself marvelously upon me" (Job 10:16). See also the writing of Hezekiah, and read what profit he found in afflictions (Isa 38).
But again, these breadths, lengths, depths, and heights, have in themselves naturally that glory, that cannot be so well discerned, or kept in view by weak eyes. He had need have an eye like an eagle, that can look upon the sun, that can look upon these great things, and not be stricken blind therewith. You see how Saul was served when he was going to Damascus (Acts 9): But Stephen could stand and look up steadfastly into heaven; and that too when with Jonah he was going into the deep (Acts 7). But I have done with this, and proceed.
Second—That ye may be able to comprehend. Although apprehending is included in comprehending; yet to comprehend is more. To comprehend is to know a thing fully; or, to reach it all. But here we must distinguish, and say, that there is a comprehending that is absolute, and a comprehending that is comparative. Of comprehending absolutely, or perfectly, we are not here to speak; for that the Apostle could not, in this place, as to the thing prayed for, desire: For it is utterly impossible perfectly to know whatsoever is in the breadths, lengths, depths, and heights here spoken of. Whether you call them mercies, judgments, or the ways of God with men. "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom 11:33) Or, if you take them to signify his love, unto which you see I am inclined; why, that you read of in the same place, to be it "which passes knowledge." Wherefore should the Apostle by this term, conclude, or insinuate, that what he calls here breadths, lengths, depths, or heights, might be fully, or perfectly understood and known, he would not only contradict other scriptures, but himself, in one and the self same breath. Wherefore it must be understood comparatively; that is, and that he says, with, or as much as others, as any, even with all saints. That ye may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. I would ye were as able to understand, to know, and to find out these things, as ever any were; and to know with the very best of saints, The love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. There are, as has before been hinted, degrees of knowledge of these things; some know more, some less; but the Apostle prays that these Ephesians might see, know, and understand as much thereof as the best, or as any under heaven.
1. And this, in the first place, shews us the love of a minister of Jesus Christ. A minister's love to his flock is seen in his praying for them: wherefore Paul, commonly, by his epistles, either first or last, or both, gives the churches to understand, That he did often heartily pray to God for them (Rom 16:20,24, 1 Cor 16:23, Gal 6:18, Eph 1:16, Phil 1:4, Col 1:3, 1 Thess 1:2, 1 Tim 6:21, 2 Tim 4:22): And not only so, but also specifies the mercies, and blessings, and benefits which he earnestly begged for them of God (2 Cor 13:7, 2 Thess 1:11).
2. But, secondly, This implies that there are great benefits accrued to Christians by the comprehending of these things: Yea, it implies that something very special is ministered to us by this knowledge of these; and here to touch upon a few of them.
(1.) He that shall arrive to some competent knowledge of these things, shall understand more thoroughly the greatness, the wisdom, the power, &c. of the God that is above. For by these expressions are the attributes of God set forth unto us: And although I have discoursed of them hitherto under the notion of grace and mercy, yet it was not for that I concluded, they excluded the expressing of his other attributes, but because they all, as it were, turn into loving methods in the wheel of their heavenly motion towards the children of God. Hence it is said, "God is love" (1 John 4:16), "God is light" (1 John 1:5), God is what He is for His own glory, and the good of them that fear Him. God! Why God in the breadth, length, depth, height, that is here intended, comprehends the whole world (Col 1:17). The whole world is in him: for he is before, above, beyond, and round about all things. Hence it is said, The heavens for breadth, are but his span: That he gathereth the wind in his fists (Prov 30:4): measureth the waters in the hollow of his hand, weigheth the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance (Isa 40:12). Yea, that "all nations before him are as nothing, and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity" (verse 17). Hence we are said to live and move in him (Acts 17:28), and that He is beyond all search.
I will add one word more, notwithstanding there is such a revelation of Him in his word, in the book of creatures, and in the book of providences; yet the scripture says, "Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him?" (Job 26:14) So great is God above all that we have read, heard, or seen of Him, either in the bible, in heaven, or earth, the sea, or what else is to be understood. But now, That a poor mortal, a lump of sinful flesh, or, as the scripture-phrase is, poor dust and ashes, should be in the favour, in the heart, and wrapped up in the compassions of SUCH a God! O amazing! O astonishing consideration! And yet "This God is our God for ever and ever; and He will be our guide even unto death" (Psa 48:14).
It is said of our God, "That he humbleth himself when he beholds things in heaven." How much more then when he openeth his eyes upon man; but most of all when he makes it, as one may say, his business to visit him every morning, and to try him every moment, having set His heart upon him, being determined to set him also among his princes. "The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth! He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people" (Psa 113:3-8).
(2.) IF this God be our God; or if our God be such a God, and could we but attain to that knowledge of the breadth, and length, and depth, and height that is in him, as the Apostle here prays, and desires we may, we should never be afraid of anything we shall meet with, or that shall assault us in this world. The great God, the former of all things, taketh part with them that fear Him, and that engage themselves to walk in His ways, of love, and respect, they bear unto him; so that such may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb 13:6). Would it not be amazing, should you see a man encompassed with chariots and horses, and weapons for his defence, yet afraid of being sparrow blasted, or over-run by a grasshopper! Why "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and" to whom "the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers" (Isa 40:22): that is the God of the people that are lovers of Jesus Christ; therefore we should not fear them. To fear man, is to forget God; and to be careless in a time of danger, is to forget God's ordinance. What is it then? Why, let us fear God, and diligently keep his way, with what prudence and regard to our preservation, and also the preservation of what we have, we may: And if, we doing this, our God shall deliver us, and what we have, into the hands of them that hate us, let us laugh, be fearless and careless, not minding now to do anything else but to stand up for Him against the workers of iniquity; fully concluding, that both we, and our enemies, are in the hand of him that loveth his people, and that will certainly render a reward to the wicked, after that he has sufficiently tried us by their means. "The great God that formed all things, both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors" (Prov 26:10).5
(3.) Another thing that the knowledge of what is prayed for of the Apostle, if we attain it, will minister to us, is, An holy fear and reverence of this great God in our souls; both because he is great, and because he is wise and good (Jer 10:7). "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name?" (Rev 15:4)
Greatness should beget fear, greatness should beget reverence: Now who so great as our God; and so, who to be feared like him! He also is wise, and will not be deceived by any. "He will bring evil, and not call back his words, but will rise against the house of evil-doers, and against the help of them that work iniquity" (Isa 31:2). Most men deal with God as if he were not wise; as if he either knew not the wickedness of their hearts and ways, or else knew not how to be even with them for it: When, alas! he is wise in heart, and mighty in power; and although he will not, without cause, afflict, yet he will not let wickedness go unpunished. This therefore should make us fear. He also is good, and this should make us serve him with fear. Oh! that a great God should be a good God; a good God to an unworthy, to an undeserving, and to a people that continually do what they can to provoke the eyes of his glory; this should make us tremble. He is fearful in service, fearful in praises.
The breadth, and length, and depth, and height of his out-going towards the children of men, should also beget in us a very great fear and dread of his majesty. When the prophet saw the height of the wheels, he said they were dreadful (Eze 1:18), and cried out unto them, O wheel! (10:13). His judgments also are a great deep (Psa 36:6); nor is there any "searching of his understanding" (Isa 40:28). He can tell how to bring his wheel upon us; and to make our table a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block unto us (Isa 8:14, Rom 11:8-10). He can tell how to make his Son to us a rock of offence, and his gospel to be a savour of death unto death, unto us (2 Cor 2:15,16). He can tell how to choose delusions for us (Isa 66:4, 2 Thess 2:11,12), and to lead us forth with the workers of iniquity (Psa 125:5), He can out-wit, and out-do us, and prevail against us for ever (Job 14:20); and therefore we should be afraid and fear before Him, for our good, and the good of ours for ever: Yea, it is for these purposes, with others, that the Apostle prayeth thus for this people: For the comprehending of these things, do poise and keep the heart in an even course. This yields comfort; this gives encouragement; this begets fear and reverence in our hearts of God.
(4.) This knowledge will make us willing that he should be our God; yea, will also make us abide by that willingness. Jacob said with a vow, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (Gen 28:20-22). Thus he considered the greatness of God, and from a supposition that he was what he had heard him, of his father, to be; he concluded to choose him for his God, and that he would worship him, and give him that honour that was due to him as God. How did the king of Babylon set him above all gods, when but some sparkling rays from him did light upon him: he calls him "a God of gods" (Dan 2:47), prefers him above all gods, charges all people and nations that they do nothing amiss against him (Dan 3:28,29): he calls him "the most high" God, the God "that liveth for ever"; and confesses, that he doth whatsoever he will in heaven and earth; and concludes with praising and extolling of him (Dan 4). We naturally love greatness; and when the glorious beauty of the King of glory shall be manifest to us, and we shall behold it, we shall say as Joshua did; Let all men do as seems them good; but I, and my house will serve the Lord (Josh 24:15).
When the Apostle Paul sought to win the Athenians to him, he sets Him forth before them with such terms as bespeaks his greatness; calling of him (and that rightly) "God that made the world, and all things:—the Lord of heaven and earth;—One that giveth to all life and breath, and all things"; One that is nigh to every one; "he in whom we live, and move, and have our being": God that hath made of one blood all nations of men, and that hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation, &c. (Acts 17:24-28) These things bespeak the greatness of God, and are taking to considering men. Yea, these very Athenians, while ignorant of him, from those dark hints that they had by natural light concerning him, erected an altar to him, and put this singular inscription upon it, "To the unknown God": to shew, that according to their mode, they had some kind of reverence for him: but how much more when they came to know him? and to believe that God, in all his greatness, had engaged himself to be theirs; and to bring them to himself, that they might in time be partakers of his glory.
(5.) The more a man knows, or understands of the greatness of God towards him, expressed here by the terms of unsearchable breadth, length, depth, and height; the better will he be able in his heart to conceive of the excellent glory and greatness of the things that are laid up in the heavens for them that fear him. They that know nothing of this greatness, know nothing of them; they that think amiss of this greatness, think amiss of them; they that know but little of this greatness, know but little of them: But he that is able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; he is best able to conceive of, and, consequently to make a judgment concerning the due worth, and blessed glory of them.
This is both evident to reason; also experience confirmeth the same. For, as for those dark souls that know nothing of his greatness, they have in derision those who are, through the splendor of the glory, captivated and carried away after God. Also, those whose judgments are corrupted, and themselves thereby made as drunkards, to judge of things foolishly, they, as it were, step in the same steps with the other, and vainly imagine thereabout. Moreover, we shall see those little spirited Christians, though Christians indeed, that are but in a small measure acquainted with this God, with the breadths, and lengths, and depths, and heights that are in him, taken but little with the glory and blessedness that they are to go to when they die: wherefore they are neither so mortified to this world, so dead to sin, so self-denying, so delighted in the book of God, nor so earnest in desires to be acquainted with the heights, and depths that are therein. No, this is reserved only for those who are devoted thereto: who have been acquainted with God in a measure beyond that which your narrow-spirited Christians understand. There doth want as to these things, enlargings in the hearts of the most of saints, as there did in those of Corinth, and also in those at Ephesus: Wherefore, as Paul bids the one, and prays that the other may be enlarged, and have great knowledge thereabout: so we should, to answer such love, through desire, separate ourselves from terrene things that we may seek and intermeddle with all wisdom (Prov 18:1). Christ says, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17, Isa 28:9). Oh! that we were indeed enlarged as to these breadths, and lengths, and depths, and heights of God, as the Apostle desired the Ephesians might.
(6.) Then those great truths; the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, would neither seem so like fables, nor be so much off our hearts as they do, and are (1 Cor 15:35). For the thorough belief of them depends upon the knowledge of the abilities that are in God to perform what he has said thereabout: And hence it is that your inferiour sort of Christians live so like, as if none of these things were at hand; and hence it is again, that they so soon are shaken in mind about them, when tempted of the devil, or briskly assaulted by deceivers. But this cometh to pass that there may be fulfilled what is written: "And while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept" (Matt 25:1-7). Surely, the meaning is, they were asleep about his coming, the resurrection and the judgment; and, consequently had lost much of that knowledge of God, the which if they had retained; these truths, with power, would have been upon their hearts. The Corinthians were horribly decayed here, though some more than others: Hence Paul, when he treats of this doctrine, bids them "awake to righteousness," and not sin, telling them, that some among them had not the knowledge of God (1 Cor 15:34). To be sure, they had not such a knowledge of God as would keep them steady in the faith of these things (verse 51).
Now, the knowledge of the things above-mentioned, to wit, "this comprehending knowledge"; will greaten these things, bring them near, and make them to be credited as are the greatest of God's truth: and the virtue of the faith of them is, to make one die daily. Therefore,
(7.) Another advantage that floweth from this knowledge, is, that it makes the next world desirable, not simply as it is with those lean souls, that desire it only as the thief desireth the judge's favour, that he may be saved from the halter; but out of love such have to God and to the beauties of the house he dwells in; and that they may be rid of this world, which is to such as a dark dungeon. The knowledge of God that men pretend they have, may easily be judged of, by the answerable or unanswerableness of their hearts and lives thereto. Where is the man that groans earnestly to be gone to God, that counts this life a strait unto him: that saith as a sick man of my acquaintance did, when his friend at his bed-side prayed to God to spare his life, No, no, said he, pray not so; for it is better to be dissolved and be gone. Christians should shew the world how they believe; not by words on paper, not by gay and flourishing notions (James 2:18): but by those desires they have to be gone, and the proof that these desires are true, is a life in heaven while we are on earth (Phil 3:20,21). I know words are cheap, but a dram of grace is worth all the world. But where, as I said, shall it be found, not among carnal men, not among weak Christians, but among those, and those only, that enjoy a great measure of Paul's wish here. But to come to the
SECOND PART OF THE TEXT.
AND TO KNOW THE LOVE OF CHRIST WHICH PASSETH KNOWLEDGE. These words are the second part of the text, and they deal mainly about the love of Christ, who is the Son of God. We have spoken already briefly of God, and therefore now we shall speak also of his Son. These words are a part of the prayer afore-mentioned, and have something of the same strain in them. In the first part, he prays that they might comprehend that which cannot absolutely by any means be comprehended: and here he prays that that might be known, which yet in the same breath he saith, passeth knowledge, to wit, the love of Christ. And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. In the words we are to take notice of three things:
FIRST, Of the love of Christ.
SECOND, Of the exceeding greatness of it.
THIRD, Of the knowledge of it.
FIRST, We will begin with the first of these, to wit, Of the love of Christ. Now for the explication of this we must inquire into three things, First, Who Christ is. Second, What love is. Third, What the love of Christ is.
First, Christ is a person of no less quality than he is of whom we treated before: to wit, very God. So I say, not titularly, not nominally, not so counterfeitly, but the self-same in nature with the Father (John 1:1,2, 1 John 5:7, Phil 2:6). Wherefore what we have under consideration, is so much the more to be taken notice of; namely, that a person so great, so high, so glorious, as this Jesus Christ was, should have love for us, that passes knowledge. It is common for equals to love, and for superiors to be beloved; but for the King of princes, for the Son of God, for Jesus Christ to love man thus: this is amazing, and that so much the more, for that man the object of this love, is so low, so mean, so vile, so undeserving, and so inconsiderable, as by the scriptures, everywhere he is described to be.
But to speak a little more particularly of this person. He is called God (John 1:1). The King of glory (Psa 24:10), and Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). The brightness of the glory of his Father (Heb 1:3). The head over all things (Eph 1:22). The Prince of life (Acts 3:15). The Creator of all things (Col 1:16). The upholder of all things (Heb 1:3). The disposer of all things (Matt 28:18). The only beloved of the Father (Matt 11).
But the persons of him beloved, are called transgressors, sinners, enemies, dust and ashes, fleas (1 Sam 24:14), worms, shadows, vapours: vile, sinful, filthy, unclean, ungodly fools, madmen. And now is it not to be wondered at, and are we not to be affected herewith, saying, And wilt thou set thine eye upon such an one? But how much more when He will set his heart upon us. And yet this great, this high, this glorious person, verily, verily loveth such.
Second, We now come to the second thing, namely, to shew what is love; not in a way of nice distinction of words, but in a plain and familiar discourse, yet respecting the love of the person under consideration.
Love ought to be considered with reference to the subject as well as to the object of it.
The subject of love in the text, is Christ; but forasmuch as love in him is diverse from the love that is in us; therefore it will not be amiss, if a little [of] the difference be made appear.
Love in us is a passion of the soul, and being such, is subject to ebb and flow, and to be extreme both ways. For whatever is a passion of the soul, whether love or hatred, joy or fear, is more apt to exceed, or come short, than to keep within its due bounds. Hence, oft-times that which is loved today is hated tomorrow (2 Sam 13:15); yea, and that which should be loved with bounds of moderation, is loved to the drowning of both soul and body in perdition and destruction (1 Tim 6:9,10).