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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


In this chapter, the Apostle applies to the Ephesians in particular, what he had said in general regarding the power of God exerted in the spiritual resuscitation of sinners (chap. 1 verse 19). He depicts the wretched condition of the Ephesians when dead in sin; and he shows, that the same description applied to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles (1–3). He also shows how, through the infinite mercy of God, they were resuscitated unto a spiritual resurrection—of which the resurrection of Christ was the model—and made sharers in his heavenly kingdom (4–7). He reminds them, that those favours were purely the result of God’s gratuitous goodness, without any merits of theirs; for, their justification was a kind of new creation, and as well might the world glory in its production out of nothing, as they, in their new spiritual existence (8–12). In order to inspire them with due feelings of gratitude, and to stimulate them to serve God with greater fervour, he tells them, in the next place, to keep always in mind, their former spiritual destitution, and wretched state, and their present blessedness secured for them through the merits of Christ; and he explains how Christ brought about such exalted ends (11–19). From all this he concludes, that they are no longer strangers, but domestics of God; and he illustrates the union that subsisted between the Ephesians and the rest of the faithful by the metaphor of a spiritual edifice of which they form a part, having been built on Christ and his Apostles.


1. “And when you were spiritually dead by reason of your sins and transgressions, having been deprived of the life of sanctifying grace,”

2. (In which state of sinfulness you lived in former times, following, or rather led away by the foolish vanities of the world, and instigated by the prince of these wicked spirits, who exert their power in the air which we inhale—spirits, that now exercise dominion over the children of unbelief—

3. In which state of sinfulness, we also, Jews, continued at one time to live, consenting to the desires of carnal concupiscence, and externally consummating in deed, its suggestions with regard to both carnal and spiritual sins, and by the very corruption of our nature, we were sinners and children of wrath, like all the other nations of the earth).

4. God, who is rich in mercy, owing to the excessive charity with which he loved us,

5. Even when, like you (verse 1) we were spiritually dead in our sins, bestowed upon us spiritual life, after the example of Christ, by raising us from spiritual death, as he raised him from the grave (by whose grace you have been saved).

6. And rendered us partakers of the new and glorified life of Christ, and made us sit with him in heaven, by the assurance and pledge given us, that our present hopes shall, at a future day, be surely realized.

7. And all this he has done for the purpose of manifesting in future ages, unto the end of time, the abundant riches of his grace by the benignity he has shown us in Christ Jesus—that thus he may be glorified in his gifts.

8. For, it is owing to the gratuitous benefits of Christ, you have obtained initial salvation, or justification through faith; and this faith is not of yourselves, it is to be classed as a grace; for, it is the gift of God.

9. By faith, and not by works preceding faith, you have been saved, or justified; that no man may glory as if he was justified through any merit of his own.

10. For, we are his workmanship, having received from him a second creation in our spiritual regeneration in baptism through Christ Jesus, for the purpose of performing the good and holy works which lie prepared, in order that we should perseveringly exercise ourselves in them.

11. As, then, you have been justified by the grace of Christ, always keep in mind what you formerly were, and what you have now become, and thus you will see the magnitude of the benefits conferred on you; call to mind, that you, formerly Gentiles by birth—having been born of Gentile parents—and called through contempt, in consequence of not being circumcised, uncircumcision, by the Jews who, owing to the carnal circumcision made in the flesh, were called circumcision or circumcised;

12. Were at that time without any knowledge of Christ, our Redeemer, without faith or hope in him, which the Jews had, by whom he was expected, and to whom he was promised—excluded from all intercourse with the chosen people of God—strangers to the testimonies or compacts which God had, at different times, made with Moses and the Patriarchs—without any hope in the promises of redemption and the graces that were to come through the Messiah—and without God, whom you either imperfectly knew, or failed to serve and adore, mere Atheists, and that, “in this world,” where he is to be honoured, as in his own house and temple.

13. But now call to mind what you are become through the merits and goodness of Christ Jesus, or, since you embraced the faith of Christ. You, who before were far off from Christ, from his covenant, from his saving hope, and from God himself, are now made nigh, you have a full participation in all these blessings, owing to the redemption purchased for you by the blood of Jesus Christ.

14. For, he is our peace-maker, who, of both Jews and Gentiles, has made one people, beaking down the middle wall of partition, which was the cause of perpetual enmities between both peoples, by the death which he suffered in his flesh.

15. By the middle wall of partition and the cause of enmities, are meant the ceremonial precepts of the law of Moses, which Christ made void by substituting the precepts of the Christian religion in their place, so as to make of the two men, in whom the Jews and Gentiles are represented, but one new man, in himself as head, making peace between them, and taking away all cause for disunion.

16. And to reconcile both peoples in the one body of the Church of God, by his death on the cross, having destroyed by his own sufferings the enmities that subsisted between Jews and Gentiles, and between both and God.

17. And having come into the world, he preached by his ministers, peace, reconciliation with God, and union with men, to you, who were far removed from his hope and saving knowledge, and in person to us Jews, who already hoped in him and expected him.

18. For, it is through him, we Jews and Gentiles have a confidential access as children, to the heavenly Father, under the guidance and direction of the same Holy Spirit, so as to call him by the endearing name of Father.

19. Now, therefore, you are no longer, as you were in your Gentile, unconverted state, strange citizens and mere guests in the family; but you are fellow-citizens of the saints, and inmates of God’s own house.

20. You are built upon the Apostles and Prophets, who hold the place of secondary foundations in the spiritual edifice of the Church, Jesus Christ himself being its primary foundation, as chief corner-stone laid at the bottom of the building, supporting in one, both Jew and Gentile.

21. Upon whom, as chief corner-stone, the entire edifice of the Church, compactly joined and cemented together, is reared up unto a holy temple consecrated to the Lord.

22. Upon whom as chief corner-stone, you Ephesians also are built together with the rest of Christians, constituting parts of this temple, so as to become the habitation of God; this is effected by the Spirit of God, who by his holy grace cements you together and prepares you to be his holy habitation.


1. “And you, when you were dead in your sins.” This verse is to be connected with following verse, 5, thus: “and you, when dead in your sins,” God (4) “hath quickened together in Christ” (5). The intervening verses, 2, 3, are to be read within a parenthesis. “Offences” and “sins,” differ in this, that “offence” is an omission, “sin,” commission; or, more probably in this; that “offence” refers to sins of ignorance, “sins,” to those of knowledge.

2. “The course of this world.” The “world” is the first source of sin. Another cause of sin is “the prince of the power of this air;” or, the instigation of the devil. “The power of this air,” is used for “the powers of this air,” the singular for the plural. “Of the spirit” is also used for “spirits,” and means the same as “powers.” They were instigated by the prince of the powers that dwell in the air, spirits that now work upon those who obstinately persevere in resisting the faith. They are called “powers,” after the fall, retaining the same name which they had before they rebelled against God. The same is also true of the other eight orders of fallen spirits, who retain the names and respective hierarchical rank they had before their revolt. If we retain the word “power” and “spirit” in the singular number, the sense will be the same; for, it is through the other devils, that the prince of them exerts his power and carries on his fiendish war against mankind; “that now worketh,” του νῦν ενεργοῦντος, that now exerts his energies. From this passage the Holy Fathers inferred, that the air which we inhale is peopled by the contrary powers. St. Jerome assures us that “the entire space between Heaven and Earth is filled with these hostile powers.” Against their attacks we have, however, the prayers of the Church.

3. “In which,” is rendered by some, among whom. Estius prefers “in which,” referring them to both “offences and sins” (verse 1). The Greek will admit of this. The Apostle here shows, that all had sinned, as was also shown in his Epistle to the Romans. “Desires of our flesh,” refer to the sinful motions of concupiscence. “Fulfilling the will of the flesh and of our thoughts,” externally consummating in deed, sins of a carnal and spiritual kind to which corrupt concupiscence impelled us. “By nature, children of wrath.” “By nature” some understand our natural propensities and inclinations; others, more probably, refer it to our nativity. Hence they make it refer to original sin, of which these words are commonly understood. And the Greek word for “children,” τεκνα, favours this; as if he said, from our nativity we were children of wrath; in other words, we were begotten children of wrath, owing to the sin of Adam. The corrupt nature which we inherit from him after his fall from original innocence, renders us liable to wrath, or to the just judgment of God. We must, therefore, have sinned in our nativity, since God could not otherwise justly punish us; for, he is rendered angry by sin only.

From the frightful picture drawn by the Apostle, in this passage, of the state of the sinner, we can judge of his wretched condition. He is dead before God—deprived of grace—subject to the devil—animated by the spirit of the world, and a slave to his own disorderly passions—the child of wrath—and the victim of God’s eternal and just vengeance. Oh! what gratitude do we not owe our good God for having rescued us so often from this deplorable condition. “Misericordiæ Domini quia non sumus consumpti.” “Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quæ retribuit mihi?”

4. “But God.” The particle “but,” which breaks the sentence, has been introduced, in the opinion of St. Jerome, by some copyist, or, its introduction may be owing to the ardour of the Apostle. “His exceeding charity.” God’s love for us may be justly termed excessive, and hence his passion is termed “his excess” in the Gospel. The master is humbled for the slave, the Creator for the work of his own hands, an outraged God submits to unparalleled torture to atone for the outrages offered himself by a sinful creature. Good God! how the thought of thy Passion, with all its circumstances, confounds all human reasoning. Ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti.

5. From verse 1 to verse 4, should be included in a parenthesis. The Apostle here repeats what he commenced in verse 1, with merely a difference of person, “us” for “you,” (verse 1). “And when we were dead in sins, he quickened us,” (of course the word “you,” is also included). “Together in Christ,” i.e., after the example of Christ. His resurrection was the model of our spiritual resuscitation from the grave of sin. (“By whose grace,” &c.); “whose” is not in the Greek, which runs thus, χαριτι εστε σεσωσμεν οι, by grace, ye are saved.

6. “And hath raised us up together,” &c., is understood by some of a spiritual resuscitation from sin to a life of justice, thereby causing us to have our conversation with Christ in heaven. Others make it refer to the future resurrection and glorification of our bodies, which, although a future event, is still read in the past tense. “Hath raised us up,” on account of the certainty of its accomplishment. The Apostle here refers to the exercise of the power of which he spoke, verse 19, of preceding chapter. Hence, it includes our spiritual resurrection at present, and the future resurrection of our bodies, and all has been effected “through Christ Jesus.”

7. “Ages to come,” are understood by some of the time after the general judgment. They more probably refer, however (as in Paraphrase), to the ages that are to elapse from the coming of Christ to the end of the world. “In his bounty towards us.” He has displayed his superabundant riches in the magnitude and number of the blessings conferred on us through Christ Jesus.

8. The Apostle here shows why it is he said in the preceding verse, that the final cause of God’s blessings towards us was to manifest the abundant riches of his grace, “for, by grace you are saved,” which is generally understood of justification, which is initial salvation, and which, if persevered in, will infallibly lead to consummate salvation. It is through faith also we obtain this salvation or justification, which faith, although not absolutely the first grace received by infidels, who receive many actual graces before it: (hence, the proposition, fides est prima gratia, was condemned in the bull, “Auctorem fidei,”) is still the first grace in the order of justification, being, according to the Council of Trent, initium humanæ Salutis, radix et fundamentum omnis justificationis.—(SS. vi. chapter 8). St. Paul, far from supposing faith itself not to be a grace, supposes it to be the first in the order of graces, by which we are justified. “And this not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God.” Some include these words within a parenthesis. They make “this” refer to faith, as if he said: I do not exclude faith from the number of graces to which I ascribe justification, for, “it is a gift of God,” and they connect “not of works,” in the following verse, with “you are saved through faith … not of works,” &c. Others make “this” refer to salvation through faith, but it would be quite a useless tautology in that case; for, by saying “by grace,” he would have sufficiently conveyed that it was “not of yourselves.” From this passage many of the Holy Fathers proved that faith was the gift of God.

9. He speaks of works performed by their own natural powers, without faith; for, he opposes such works to faith (verse 8), and it is only in such works a “man could glory.” He is here speaking of first justification, which we must all hold to be quite gratuitous, and to which no merits on our part, either actual or foreseen, could give a claim.

10. We are, in our justification, his creation, his work, which proves that justification is to be ascribed to God’s grace, and not to our own natural strength. Hence, we have no more cause for glorying in our justification, which is a kind of second creation conferred on us, through the merits of Christ, than would the world have for glorying in its first creation. “In good works,” i.e., for, or, unto good works. The Hebrew idiom often gives, in, the meaning of, unto, for. “Which God has prepared,” &c. God is said to prepare good works, by determining to grant us grace, the seed without which no good works conducing to salvation could exist. There is no argument here against our own free co-operation in the work of justification; because the implied comparison between our justification and creation is introduced merely for the purpose of showing the utter gratuitousness of justification, and how little grounds it leaves for glorying. Qui creavit te sine te, non salvabit te sine te.—St. Augustine.

11. In order to make the Ephesians sensible of the magnitude of the benefits bestowed on them, and how much they owed to Christ, through whose grace they had been saved or justified, the Apostle begs of them to call to mind their past deplorable condition, and contrast it with their present state. In their former state they were “Gentiles in the flesh,” i.e., by birth; contemptuously “called uncircumcision,” because they had not been circumcised, “by that which is called circumcision,” that is to say, by the Jews, who were circumcised in the flesh, which the Apostle expresses in allusion to circumcision of another kind, the true spiritual Christian circumcision of the heart and of all the passions of our corrupt nature.

12. He wishes them to call to mind with grateful remembrance, for their liberation and their present happiness, their former wretched spiritual condition. They were then without faith or hope in Christ; they were without the grace of Christianity, which they now enjoy, and which is the source of all their spiritual blessings. “Having no hope of the promise,” which some understand of the promise of the Messiah, (as in Paraphrase); others of the promise of eternal life, and the resurrection of the body “Without God,” in the Greek, αθεοι, Atheists; “in this world,” the Greek is, ἐν τῶ κοσμω, “in the world.”

We, too, were, like the Ephesians, Gentiles in the flesh. Hence, everything said of the Ephesians by the Apostle equally applies to us. Our miseries and crimes would be the same as theirs. Hence, the benefits in our vocation to the faith are equal to those conferred on them. Should we not, therefore, feel equal gratitude to God, who has shown such excessive love for us, in preference to millions, whom he has never called?

13. Having pointed out their former hideous and deplorable state, the Apostle shows what they are become “now in Christ Jesus,” which some interpret, through the merits of Christ Jesus, giving the words the same meaning with the words at the end of the verse, “the blood of Christ.” Others understand them to mean—since you became Christians. (Both meanings are given in the Paraphrase). “Afar off” and “made nigh,” are figurative expressions, denoting the pious worshippers of God admitted to his presence, and the impious far excluded from his presence and favour.

14. He says it was owing to the merits and passion of Christ, that we were admitted to an equal participation with the Jews in the blessings referred to. “For he is our peace,” i.e., peace-maker, hence, called “our peace,” from being its cause in us, just as he as called “our justice, Redemption,” &c. “Wall of partition;” the Apostle uses this expression, in allusion to the middle wall in the temple of Jerusalem dividing the court of the Gentiles from that of the Jews. “Enmities,” i.e., the cause of enmities “in his flesh,” by his death and bodily sufferings.

15. He explains what this “middle wall of partition,” this cause of enmities, was. It was, “the law of commandments,” which is generally understood to refer to the ceremonial law of the Jews. For, this it was, that upheld the enmities between the Jews and Gentiles; that generated in the Jew, a supercilious, disdainful spirit towards the Gentile, and that reciprocally created in the mind of the Gentile a deadly hatred and contempt for the Jew. Judæus Apelles, was the opprobrious epithet with which the Gentile usually addressed the Jew. “In decrees,” by which some understood the ceremonial law, consisting “in decrees.” Others, more probably, understand by them the precepts of the Christian faith, which not only point out our duties, but also carry with them grace and strength for their fulfilment; hence called, dogmata in the Greek, νομον εντολων εν δογμασι: whereas, the Mosaic law barely commanded, but gave no strength or grace; hence, called “law of commandments,” or, the commanding, preceptive law. Then “in decrees,” mean “by decrees,” he made void the ceremonial law, having substituted the former in its place. “That he might make the two,” &c. The Apostle represents both peoples, as two men, and to show how perfect is the union effected, he says that Christ united both as closely as any one man is united in his own affections. He also insinuates the new form this one man has assumed, and this new form is effected in himself as head, so that they are not only one man, but, “one new man.” All distinctions of Jew and Gentile are merged in the Christian character.

16. Another effect of Christ’s peace-making, he not only reconciled both peoples among themselves, but, by his death on the cross, he reconciled them to God after being formed into one body of the Church. “Enmities,” or the disunion between God and man, owing to the sins of man, unredeemed and unremitted, he “killed,” by paying a ransom for sin, “in himself,” ἐν αὐτῶ, are rendered by others, in it, meaning the cross. Both meanings are given in the Paraphrase.

17. Some understand this of the birth of Christ, when the angels chanted “peace to men,” &c.—(Luke, 2:13). It is better to understand it of his preaching in person to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and preaching through his Apostles and chosen ministers to the Gentiles (as in Paraphrase).

18. He speaks of Christ as the person who ushers us into the presence of God, and affords us that confidential access to him which we enjoy, calling him “Abba, Father;” and this, through “one spirit,” the Holy Ghost, who is the spirit of the adoption of children. Others by the “one spirit,” understands the spirit of concord and charity, in which we are united. He alludes to the usage prevalent with the great ones of this world, who require for admission to their presence an introduction by the person appointed for that purpose.

19. Among the benefits resulting from their justification is this, viz., that they are no longer “strangers,” deprived of the rights of citizens, as they were before, when “strangers to the testament” (verse 12), and “foreigners,” not belonging to the household of God, for they were “afar off” (verse 13), nay, “without God.” But they now are “fellow-citizens with the saints,” which may refer to the Patriarchs and saints of old with whom they were connected, as being the spiritual Israel—or, it may refer to the faithful members of the Church of Christ, who are frequently called “saints,” by the Apostle; and they are inmates of God’s own family.

20. The Apostle introduces the metaphor of the house to which he already had compared the Church of Christ (verse 14). He shows the union that had subsisted between the Ephesians and the rest of the faithful, as they form a part of the spiritual edifice built upon Christ and the Apostles, &c. Christ is the primary foundation in this edifice; it is by his faith and grace it is sustained. “The Prophets,” who ushered in the Gospel, and “the Apostles,” who were the first to announce it, are called a “foundation,” but only secondary foundations, since Christ is the corner-stone, on which both the walls, that is to say, Jews and Gentiles, were united, on which both rested; and by which, both were supported, forming only one edifice. This furnishes no objection against the Primacy of St. Peter; for, there is an order of priority and preference between the secondary foundations, as is shown in the proofs of the Primacy. The Apostles were foundations; but, still, subordinate to St. Peter, the “rock on which Christ built his Church,” the chief shepherd to whom the entire flock was given in charge, “lambs and sheep,” pastors and people.

21. “A holy temple in the Lord,” i.e., of the Lord; or, “holy,” through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

22. The Ephesians form a part of this holy temple; hence, the close union they have contracted with the friends of God, forming a part of the same spiritual edifice with them.

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