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EPHESIANS 1:19-20 WE HAVE NOW ARRIVED at the fourth petition in this prayer. In pondering the petition it is both important and necessary to realize that, equally with the two preceding requests, this final one is based upon and governed by the initial blessing. We can no more know spiritually and experimentally the “exceeding greatness of his [God’s] power to us-ward” without first having the “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” As a result, the eyes of our understanding are enlightened so that we can know “what is the hope of his calling and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” We are as entirely dependent upon the gracious operations of the Spirit for the one as we are for the other. Grammatically, logically, doctrinally, and experimentally the one is governed by and follows from the other. Something far more than a mere speculative or intellectual knowledge of God’s mighty power is here supplicated, namely, a personal acquaintance, a heart apprehension. For that anointed eyes — as the consequence of an increased measure of the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” — are indispensable. “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward” ( Ephesians 1:19).
It may not be so apparent to some of us why Paul felt the need to make this particular petition. To a greater or less degree all Christians are conscious of their need for a fuller supply of the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” in the knowledge of God and of their being granted a clearer and enlarged apprehension of “what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” But probably many Christians are less aware that it is equally desirous and essential for them to know more about the mighty operations of God to them. If they have good grounds for believing they have received an effectual call, then they do realize that a miracle of grace must have been wrought in them, that nothing short of omnipotence could have brought them from death to life.
Yet much more than that is included in this petition. We shall therefore begin our study of it by suggesting several reasons why the apostle should have made this particular request.
The natural man is so self-confident and self-sufficient that he deems himself quite competent to determine his own destiny. But over all his fancied efficiency, egotism, and independence, God has written “without strength” ( Romans 5:6). Not without physical, mental, or moral strength but without spiritual. Fallen man is spiritually dead. Therefore he is not only utterly unable to perform a spiritual act in a spiritual way and from a spiritual principle but also devoid of any spiritual desires or aspirations, though he may be very devout as the world conceives of “religion.” “Without strength” Godward. But who believes this today? Few indeed, and fewer still have confirmed it by actual experience. The boast of Christendom is, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” — ignorant of her true condition, for the divine Judge says to her,” [Thou] knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” ( Revelation 3:17). Nothing but God’s great power can subdue the workings of such pride and bring the sinner as a humble suppliant and empty-handed beggar to the throne of grace.
To believe on Jesus Christ with all our hearts appears to be one of the simplest acts imaginable, and to receive Him as our personal Lord and Savior seems to present no great difficulty. Yet, in reality, before any soul actually submits to the Savior, there has to be the working of God’s mighty power. In other words, a miracle of grace must be wrought in him. Before a fallen and depraved creature will voluntarily and unreservedly surrender to the just claims of Christ, before he will forsake his cherished sins and abandon his beloved idols, before his proud heart is brought to repudiate all his righteousnesses as filthy rags, before he is willing to be saved by grace alone, before he is ready to whole-heartedly receive Christ as his Prophet, Priest, and King, God must draw him by His mighty power.
Nothing short of the exercise of onmipotence is sufficient.
The Fall has wrought fearful havoc in the whole of man’s nature and constitution. Every descendant of Adam was “shapen in iniquity” and born into the world the slave of sin; no efforts of his own nor any attempts by his fellowmen can, to the slightest degree, deliver him from his fearful bondage. It is apparent that a supernatural power must intervene if the sinner is ever to be emancipated from his captivity, that none but the hand of God can smite off his fetters and bring him out of prison. If the spiritual darkness of man’s understanding, the perversity of his will, the disorderliness of his affections and passions were better understood, then it would be more evident that no mere reformation could suffice, that nothing short of personal regeneration — the communication to him of a new nature and life — could be of any avail.
SLAVERY OF THE NATURAL MAN TO SIN AND SATAN Second , Paul requested knowledge of God’s power because men are so ignorant of the terrible powers arrayed against them. When engaged in a serious conflict, nothing is so fatal to success as to underestimate the strength of our opponents. Only as our judgment of the might and malignity of our spiritual foes is formed by the teaching of Scripture can we really assess the same. Unless our thoughts concerning the enemies of our souls are regulated by what God’s Word reveals about them, we are certain to err. Above we have referred to the potency of indwelling sin, but how little its awful dominion and prevalence is realized! “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” ( Jeremiah 13:23).
The natural man cannot improve his sinful nature and make himself love God. As neither external applications nor internal potions could whiten the Ethiopian’s dark complexion, so neither education, culture, nor reformation can change the sinner’s nature and bring him to hate what he now loves or love that to which he is inveterately averse.
Not only is the natural man the slave of sin but he is also the captive of the devil. Immediately after praying the prayer we are now pondering, Paul reminded the saints: “In time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” ( Ephesians 2:2).
So complete is Satan’s dominion over the unregenerate that he not only tempts them from without but works within them so that they are made both to will and to do of his evil pleasure. Therefore he is termed their father, and as Christ declared to the Pharisees, “The lusts [desires] of your father ye will do” ( John 8:44). Unregenerate men fondly imagine they are “free agents,” pleasing themselves, but in concluding this they are deceived by their archenemy, their master and king, for they are held fast in the “snare of the devil,... taken captive by him at his will” ( 2 Timothy 2:26).
They are no more able to escape from his toils than they are to create a world; indeed, they have no desire to do so. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” ( 2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
What then can Satan’s victims do? As the “prince of this world” he influences its politics and policies. As the “god of this world” he controls its superstitions and religions. In this way he maintains his “kingdom” ( Matthew 12:26) and governs his subjects. In our Lord’s parable of the wheat He intimated something of the fearful dominion of our great foe: “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart” ( Matthew 13:19).
How helpless then are his victims! One has but to read in Mark 5 the case of the poor demoniac whom “no man could bind,... no, not with chains” ( Mark 5:3) to ascertain how thoroughly unavailing are all human attempts to escape Satan’s thralldom. Yet how little this is realized!
When the Lord saves a person He delivers him from Satan’s control, and that is a work of exceeding great power such as He alone is capable of putting forth. This was clearly made known by Christ’s statement “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace [i.e., secure]: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils” ( Luke 11:21-22).
Only divine omnipotence can turn souls “from the power of Satan unto God” ( Acts 26:18). Nor does the devil admit defeat even when any of his captives are taken from him by force. No, he makes the most relentless and persevering efforts to recapture them, employing his powerful and numerous emissaries to reach that end. Therefore are the saints warned, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood [merely human beings], but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” ( Ephesians 6:12).
Third , Paul made his request because of the unbelief and timidity of the saints. We are creatures of extremes. When our self-confidence and selfsufficiency are subdued, we are prone to become occupied with our weakness and insufficiency instead of keeping our eyes fixed steadily on the One who began a good work in us. As we learn something of the might of our foes — both within and without — and of our feebleness and incompetence to resist them, we are apt to become thoroughly discouraged and give way to despair. This explains why Paul reserved this petition for God’s power for the last. He had just asked that the saints might know what were the “riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,” and then it was as though he anticipated their inevitable objection: “How shall vile creatures as we ever come to be made glorious? Even though we have been delivered from a bondage worse than Egyptian bondage, are we not likely, as the Israelites of old, to perish in the wilderness before we reach the promised land?” It was to quiet such fears that Paul reminded the Ephesians of the exceeding greatness of God’s power.
DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE In the early part of Ephesians 1 Paul spoke much about the goodwill of God toward His people. In the second part of the chapter, in order to warm their hearts and strengthen their faith, Paul had the Ephesians contemplate divine omnipotence. The power of God executes His counsels.
That power has ever been the confidence and glory of His saints. His “mighty arm” is the security of their salvation. It is inexpressibly blessed to see that the power of God is exactly proportioned to His promises. Has He given us “exceeding great and precious promises” ( 2 Peter 1:4)? Then there is the “exceeding greatness of his power” to make them good! That was the ground of Abraham’s assurance when God declared he should have a son in his old age: “Being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead..., neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” ( Romans 4:19-21).
When we remember the power of God, weakness and readiness to faint are changed into confidence and joy ( Psalm 77:7-15). “That ye may know... what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward. ” That petition only meets with a suitable response from us when we remember that divine omnipotence is engaged to uphold, strengthen, and defend God’s people, to complete the good work which it has begun in them, to fully redeem them from sin, Satan, and death, to conform them perfectly to the image of His dear Son. Just in proportion as believers realize that the infinite power of God is available for them to lay hold of and draw from do they answer to Paul’s design in placing on record this request for them. When we are most conscious of our weakness and the might of our enemies, our privilege is to come boldly to the throne of grace and there find “grace to help in time of need” ( Hebrews 4:16). It is one thing to believe intellectually in the exceeding greatness of God’s power, but it is quite another for us to personally and experimentally take hold of His strength ( Isaiah 27:5). Then it is that we prove for ourselves the meaning of those words “out of weakness were made strong” ( Hebrews 11:34); then we know what it is to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” ( 2 Timothy 2:1).
Fourth , Paul made request that the Ephesians might know God’s power because only thus is He honored. To give place to fear as David did when he said, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul” is most dishonoring to God. It is the consequence of being absorbed with our enemies rather than with the Lord. Let self-diffidence be accompanied with confidence in God, and all will be well. Since the glory of God is concerned in the salvation and preservation of His people and since Paul was about to make requests concerning the furtherance of the same, he here addressed Deity as “the Father of glory” ( Ephesians 1:17). It is blessed to realize the import of that. Since the Father of glory is the Author of our salvation, He will certainly be the Guardian of it. The same motive which disposed Him to contrive and effect our salvation will also move Him to ripen all the fruits of it. It is for this reason chiefly that He who has begun a good work in us will finish it ( Philippians 1:6). His glory requires our perseverance and His power will secure it; therefore it is termed “his glorious power” ( Colossians 1:11).
TO GOD BE THE GLORY “That ye may know... what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward” in removing our enmity against Him, in dispelling the native darkness of our understanding, in subduing our rebellious wills, in drawing our hearts to Himself, in giving us a love for His law and a longing for holiness, in delivering us from the power of Satan. It is most necessary for us to know all that if all the praise and glory are to be ascribed to Him to whom alone it is due. As we compare ourselves with the unregenerate — who naturally may shame us in many respects but who spiritually are on the broad road that leads to destruction, unconcerned about their eternal interests — we do well to ponder that question: “Who maketh thee to differ?” ( 1 Corinthians 4:7). The answer is, and only can be “A sovereign God who puts forth His omnipotence and makes us willing to receive Christ as our Lord in the day of His power.” And if we can now perceive any good thing, the root of the matter in us, the fruits of a new nature, then we must exclaim, “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory” ( <19B501> Psalm 115:1).
This fourth petition then was a request that the saints might have a clearer understanding and a better apprehension of how that miraculous change within them had been brought about and of what that initial change was the sure down payment. The change was not produced by rational considerations, by moral suasion, nor by the power of the preacher, for he can no more quicken dead souls than he can dead bodies. It did not originate in any act of our wills; it was not effected by any human agency.
There was something prior to the consent of our wills, namely, a radical and permanent inward transformation wrought by the hand of the Most High. And observe how energetic and impressive is the language used: not only the power of God or the greatness of that power but the “exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward.” So weighty and emphatic is the language of the Greek that it is difficult to reproduce in English: “the super-excellent, sublime, and overcoming, or triumphant, greatness of His power” is how one rendered it.
J. C. Philpot gave an excellent definition of that power: “The power put forth in first communicating; second, in subsequent maintaining; third, in completing and consummating the work of grace in the heart.”
We would include God’s power in working on our behalf and in the resurrection of our bodies as well. But what we most desire to impress upon and leave with the Christian reader is that the exceeding greatness of God’s power is toward us. It is not merely latent in Himself; still less is it against us — as was the case with Pharaoh — but is engaged on our behalf, making all things work together for our good. Then what is there to fear! Join the apostle in praying for an enlarged heart apprehension of God’s power. “That ye may know... what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward” ( Ephesians 1:18-19).
In our last chapter we suggested several reasons why it is necessary that such a request should be made. It is of no small importance, both for our own good and for the glory of God, that we should obtain a better understanding and clearer apprehension of how the wondrous change within us has been brought about, for our ignorance concerning the same is very great. Nevertheless, the workings of omnipotence toward us must by no means be restricted to the initial miracle of regeneration, amazing and blessed though that is, for it was but the forerunner, the sure earnest, of further marvels of grace. None but God can save a sinner, and He alone can preserve him in such a world as this. If the exceedingly great power of God is required to deliver a soul from spiritual death, the continued exercise of it is equally essential in bringing him safe home to heaven. If nothing short of the infinite strength of the Almighty was sufficient to free one of Satan’s captives, anything less would be quite inadequate to prevent the archenemy of man from recovering his former victim.
THE LORD OUR KEEPER “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” ( 1 Peter 1:5). “He that keepth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper” ( <19C104> Psalm 121:4-5).
Such blessed assurances are not given to encourage carnal confidence and presumptuous carelessness but are recorded for the comfort and heartening of those who have been brought to realize they have “no might” of their own and would certainly make shipwreck of the faith were they left to themselves and their own resources. But, thank God, the same mighty power which was put forth at first to make them new creatures in Christ is engaged to carry forward the work of grace within them, to defend from all enemies, to supply their every need while left in this “howling wilderness.”
Thus, their eternal security is infallibly guaranteed and the Lord of hosts is their sole but all-sufficient confidence, the might of His omnipotence their ever available resource.
The exceeding greatness of God’s power to us not only includes all the operations of His grace to and within His people but also comprehends His wondrous providences to them in meeting every need and making all things work together for their good. There is also one other exercise of the divine omnipotence to the saints which we must at least mention, and that is their glorification, when in spirit and soul and body they shall be perfectly and permanently conformed to the image of God’s Son. Their very bodies which were sown in dishonor will be raised in glory, and what before was natural will then be made spiritual. Whatever difficulties carnal reason and unbelief may advance about the supposed change of the particles which comprise our present bodies and the alleged impossibility of the same bodies coming forth on the resurrection morning, faith disposes of them all by a confident appeal to God’s promise: “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” ( Philippians 3:21).
We turn now to a technical detail, yet it is not devoid of interest and importance. Careful readers will have observed that in our quoting of Ephesians 1:19a we stopped at the word usward rather than believe as in the Authorized Version. Two things must be determined, namely, the precise point at which the petitionary part of the prayer ends and the punctuation of verse 19. Really the two things are one, for as soon as the former is settled, the latter is at once determined. In chapter 11 we outlined the prayer thus:
First , its occasion ( Ephesians 1:15); Second , its nature ( Ephesians 1:15-16); Third , its object ( Ephesians 1:17); Fourth , its requests ( Ephesians 1:17-19); Fifth , its revelation ( Ephesians 1:19-23) — our reason for so designating its last section, we give below.
Now it is our impression that we have already reached the conclusion of the petitionary portion of this prayer at the word usward and that a colon should follow it; therefore we believe that the “who believe” is to be connected and considered with what immediately follows.
It is quite clear that the requests begin at the words “may give unto you” ( Ephesians 1:17) Whether they end at the word usward or at believe is a point on which the commentators differ, the great majority favoring the latter as our translators did. Yet personally we much prefer the former, for the following reasons.
First , the added “who believe” is not necessary for the purpose of defining the “us-ward” — the subject or beneficiaries of God’s power — for they are manifestly the “saints” of the preceding clause.
Second , to say that God’s power is “to us-ward who believe” unwarrantably restricts the idea, for God’s omnipotence wrought in the saints previously, and had it not done so they never would have believed!
Third , if the “who believe” is linked to the preceding clause, the final section of the prayer begins too abruptly — “according to.”
Fourth , if the “who believe” commences a new clause the words present a most important truth which our passage would otherwise omit, namely, that our believing is itself the immediate result of the divine operations. “Who believe according to the working of his mighty power.” Before attempting to open up the meaning of those words let us seek to point out their wider scope or the relation which they bear to what follows. True prayer is something more than making our requests known to God, even with thanksgiving: it is something more than an act of adoration, wherein the believer praises and adores Deity. It is also communing with God, and communing, or fellowship, is mutual. When the redeemed soul is favored to have an audience with the divine Majesty, not only does He hearken to his petitions but He graciously condescends to speak with him. A beautiful illustration of that is found in Numbers 7:89: “When Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with... [God], then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat” (cf. Exodus 33:11). This was the case here in Ephesians 1: while the apostle was making known his requests to the Father of glory, he received a revelation from Him, which is recorded in the closing verses of our chapter.
Wondrous things were here made known, things which had not been disclosed before. In the closing verses of Ephesians 1 certain aspects of truth are revealed which are nowhere else set forth in the Scriptures. <19B003> Psalm 110:3 plainly intimated that there must be a putting forth of divine power before the people of God are made willing to abandon their prejudices and idols. Once and again Christ affirmed the natural man to be incapable of exercising faith ( John 5:44; 8:43; 10:26), but here alone we learn that God puts forth the same power in working faith in us as He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. On the day of Pentecost Peter declared that God had raised the crucified Jesus and made Him “both Lord and Christ” ( Acts 2:36), but here alone it is formally stated that the Redeemer has been exalted “far above all principality and power, and might and dominion.” In 1 Corinthians 15:27 we read that God has “put all things under” Christ, but here alone do we discover that God “gave him to be the head over all things to the church” ( 1 Corinthians 15:22).
Wondrous indeed are those things to which we have just called attention, things which it should be our joy to carefully contemplate and not carelessly dismiss with a passing glance. Some readers may chafe at the slowness of our progress, but why should we hurry over such a passage as this? Is there anything more sublime or precious in the prayers yet to follow that we should get through with this one as quickly as possible? If the writer followed his own inclinations, he would write another twelve chapters on these closing verses of Ephesians 1, but he realizes that would unduly tax the patience of many. On the other hand, not a few welcome a detailed exposition and sermonizing of such a passage, desiring something more instructive and edifying than the superficial generalizations which characterize most of the productions of our day. May the Spirit of truth graciously shine upon our understanding and enable us to so “open” these verses that faith may be instructed, souls fed, God glorified, and His Son endeared to His redeemed.
THE NATURAL MAN’S WILL RUINED AND DEPRAVED “Who believe according to the working of His mighty power.” To savingly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ does not lie within the ability of the natural man’s will, for his will, like every other faculty of his being, has been depraved and ruined by the fall. The will follows the dictates of the mind and the inclinations of the affections; in other words, we will or choose that which is most agreeable to us. We do not choose that to which we are averse. Now the heart of the natural man is averse to the thrice holy God and his carnal mind is enmity against Him. How then can he voluntarily and gladly choose Him for his Lord and Portion? The bent of his desires must be changed before his will embraces God as his absolute End. No man by a mere act of his will can make himself love any person or thing that he hates. If then I have been brought to esteem and receive as my Lord the One whom I formerly despised and rejected, a radical change must have been wrought within me. Hence we read of “the faith of the operation of God ” ( Colossians 2:12). “Who believe. ” That word must be understood here in its widest scope, as including repentance and as issuing in conversion. Such believing is the outcome of “the working of God’s mighty power.” Not a single word of Holy Writ is superfluous, and there is good reason why the power of God is here called “mighty”. Speaking after the manner of men, we may say that God proportions His power according to the work before Him, exercising more in one particular operation than another — as we put forth the utmost of our strength only when faced with a more than ordinary occasion. This is clearly borne out by the language of Scripture, wherein its Author is pleased to accommodate His terms to our feeble intelligence.
Thus, where physical miracles were wrought it was by “the finger of God” ( Exodus 8:19; Luke 11:20), but it was by strength of hand ” He brought forth His people from Egypt ( Exodus 13:3) and “upholdeth” His saints ( Psalm 37:24). In other passages we read that God has a “mighty arm ” ( Psalm 89:13) and that “he hath shewed strength with his arm” ( Luke 1:51).
Had such distinctions as the above, particularly their import and purport, been more closely attended to, it would have been much easier to bring to a decisive conclusion our age-long controversy between Arminians and Calvinists concerning the invincibility of God’s power upon the unconverted. The great majority of Calvinists erred when they denied the contention of their opponents that there is a power of God which works in the hearts of men that can be and is resisted, as they failed to fairly interpret many of the verses advanced by Arminians. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost” ( Acts 7:51) must not be explained away but honestly expounded in harmony with the Analogy of Faith. There are “differences of administrations” and “diversities of operations” of the Spirit ( Corinthians 12:5-6) according to His several designs. The Spirit puts forth different proportions of power according to the various ends before Him.
Those spoken of in Hebrews 6:4-5 and 2 Peter 2:20 were the subjects of His lesser operations but not of His regenerating power. Many are enlightened by the Spirit (as Balaam), their corruptions are restrained, their consciences pricked, yet without His making them new creatures in Christ Jesus.
A VITAL DISTINCTION The writer has no hesitation in declaring he is convinced that thousands of people have been drawn by God to sit under a faithful preaching of His Word, been convicted by the Spirit of their sinful and lost condition, felt something in their souls of “the powers of the world to come” ( Hebrews 6:5), but were not brought from death to life. Yet while we believe many are the subjects of God’s power working upon and within them, which power they resist and quench, yet we emphatically deny that a single soul ever did or will defeat or defy the “working of God’s mighty power.” That such a distinction is a necessary and valid one is surely indicated in the verse now before us, else why should the Holy Spirit here declare that God’s work in bringing us to believe holds proportion with that stupendous wonder when He “raised him [Christ] from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places!” Such power He does not put forth in His lesser and lower works. This “working of His mighty power” is effectual, prevailing, invincible, and cannot be withstood.
THE WORKING OF GOD’S MIGHTY POWER The force of the Greek is conveyed more vividly by the marginal rendering of the Authorized Version “according to the working of the might of his power.” One word was not sufficient to express the power that works so mightily, so the apostle doubled it, as was the manner of the Hebrews: “holy of holies” signifies the most holy, and “the might of His power” His utmost strength. When Scripture would express the greatness of God’s might and the certainty of bringing a thing to pass it adds one term to another or doubles the expression: God is “mighty in strength” ( Job 9:4). “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth” ( Isaiah 40:28).
There can be no failure when He putteth forth the might of His strength.
Despite what they are by nature, and notwithstanding the might of Satan and his determination to retain all his subjects, the mighty power of God works efficaciously and infallibly in all them that believe. The combined efforts of all creatures in the universe could not have prevented God from raising Christ from the dead. Neither can they hinder Him from working faith in His elect.
There has been much disputing among theologians concerning the power put forth by God in the converting of sinners, yet there is no real occasion for it. If you would know what power is put forth in any work, ask the worker himself. Here the Converter of souls is the Inditer of this very verse, and He tells us it is by “the working of the might of his power.” In view of those words all argument on the subject should be at an end. And in view of those words every preacher of the gospel ought to be bowed before God, conscious of his own impotency, begging Him to graciously exercise His omnipotence among his spiritually dead hearers. It is true that in connection with the sudden conversion of a sinner beholders do not perceive that a miracle of divine power has been performed. When the woman was healed by a touch of the hem of Christ’s garment, those that stood by discerned no such thing. But what did He say? “Virtue is gone out of me” ( Luke 8:46). His life-giving power had effected the cure instantaneously. Nor was the subject of that miracle unaware of the grand change wrought, “knowing what was done in her” ( Mark 5:33).
Why is the working of God’s “mighty power” necessary in order for a soul to be converted? Because of the nature of the work performed. As in the case of one who is physically ill, the more desperate his case the more skill is required from the physician if he is to be healed. Only as we learn from Scripture and actual experience the hopeless condition of fallen man can we see the need of Omnipotence intervening if ever man is to be saved.
The converting of a sinner is a greater miracle and calls for the putting forth of more power than the creating of man did. How so? Because creation is simply the bringing of a creature into existence, but conversion is the transforming of one who is opposed to it. In the one there is no impediment; in the other there is every possible resistance. Though there is nothing to help, yet in the creation there was nothing to oppose. But in connection with the new creation there is the carnal mind which “is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be ” ( Romans 8:7).
Water is not more unlike fire than sin is unlike holiness, the natural man unlike God. Only Omnipotence can subdue that enmity and impart a love for His law. “For the weapons of our [ministerial] warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds: casting down... [reasonings], and every high thing that exalteth itself against... God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 10:4).
In those words the apostle intimates something of the difficulties which face the preachers of the gospel. He likens the reasonings of the carnal mind and the prejudices of the depraved heart, behind which the natural man seeks shelter against the demands of the gospel, to a company in a powerful fort who refuse to surrender. No matter how winsomely the invitations are given or how authoritatively the requirements of the gospel are pressed, the natural man has a score of objections which do not yield to these. Only as the truth is made “mighty through God” is the sinner’s pride subdued and is he brought to yield to the claims of Christ’s lordship. So wedded is man to his lusts, so in love with his idols, that unless the “mighty power” of God works within him, all the persuasions of the whole apostolate and the endeavors of all the angels could not induce him to forsake them. “Who believe according to the working of his mighty power.” Was not the truth of those words most strikingly and blessedly exemplified by the one who first penned them? See Saul of Tarsus consenting to the death of Stephen and making “havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” ( Acts 8:1,3). See him “yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” ( Acts 9:1) and going to the high priest and requesting letters of authority that if he found any such in the synagogues of Damascus, “whether... men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” Why was it that less than a week later he preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus?
What had wrought such an amazing transformation? What was it that made this rebel cry, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” What transformed the persecuting Saul into the evangelizing Paul? Nothing less than the mighty power of God, and he declared his was a “pattern” case ( Timothy 1:16). True, there was something extraordinary in the manner of it, but the power is the same in every instance.
In conclusion let us carefully observe that this working of God’s mighty power is not restricted to the past: it is not “who believed,” but “who believe according to.” The reference is not to be limited to God’s working faith in us at the first but takes in His maintaining it. The Christian can no more exercise faith of himself, still less increase it, than he could originate it. This is clear from another prayer of our apostle, in which he requested God to “fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power” ( 2 Thessalonians 1:11).
Faith could continue working only by the divine power. This point is jealously guarded: “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” is immediately preceded by “whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” ( 1 John 5:4).