Ephesians 2:3. “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
Our original state is again represented. Dark and hateful as the picture is, the contemplation is most profitable. It silences all boastings; it utterly strips us of all self-righteousness; it excites self-loathing and self-abhorrence; it loudly proclaims the sentence of just condemnation in our ears; above all, it exalts the glory of God in His free grace and unspeakable mercy in Christ Jesus. May these blessed effects be wrought by the Spirit in our souls, while we fix our eyes on the portrait before us! It exhibits to us “our former conversation:” we “fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” (1.) Let us consider this truth; (2.) Let us proceed to the fearful consequence, we “were the children of wrath, even as others.” Heavenly Father, enlighten our darkness!
(1.) We fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind. Before the Spirit of God enters the soul, the whole nature is carnal and corrupt. The mind, in its various operations, only lusts after evil; the flesh is one mass of depravity, greedy after low and base gratifications. The mind suggests, and plans, and invents; the flesh is eager to obey. The mind is enmity to God; the flesh never can become spiritual. Hence the old man is given to works of unrighteousness. The mind is the nest of every unclean bird—the fountain-head of polluted streams, and the flesh is the instrument of unholy indulgence. In this Epistle, the Gentiles are described as “walking in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;” and then it immediately follows, that being thus “past feeling, they gave themselves over to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
Here we have the mind desiring and devising, and the flesh executing, all evil. Hence the Spirit so continually represents the flesh or carnal nature as the enemy or opposing principle to Christ. “The carnal mind is enmity against God—because it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be—so then those who are in the flesh,” or carnal state, who have not received the Spirit, and become partakers of the divine nature, “cannot please God.” This is their one conversation—”they fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” They offer no restraint to their ungodly propensities; they are carried rapidly down the destructive stream of sensual indulgence. Their one desire is to crowd the largest portion of worldly pleasure into the narrow speck of this little life. They know no higher desires—they are ignorant of God—they tremble not at His Word—they are utter strangers to His fear—they are blind to the real character of sin—they are reckless of the dreadful consequences—their eyes are closed to the realities of eternity, the approach of judgment, and the appalling terrors of the wrath to come. Such were we—so we walked, having no holier object than to fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind. But believers are “renewed in the spirit of their minds,” and strive now to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” It is their privilege to give blessing, and praise, and thanksgiving to God, and to the Lord Jesus, and to the quickening Spirit! We ascribe all inward life, all spiritual power, to the free grace of our God, who loves us and has such mercy on us!
(2.) The fearful consequences of such conversation. We were “the children of wrath, even as others.” God abhors all evil—it is infinitely repugnant to His holy nature—His wrath burns like fire against it. So while we were thus wholly given to work iniquity, God’s pure anger was against our every word, and thought, and work. We were every moment treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. This is the way of all the generation of the ungodly. We differed not from their principles and proceedings, and therefore we were rapidly hastening to the endurance of the wrath to come. But who can tell what that wrath is? Then will it be known, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ—who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”
But though in ourselves we were thus “the children of wrath, even as others;” yet in the secret purposes of God’s grace, we were the children of His love, and given unto Jesus, and appointed not unto wrath, but to obtain salvation. Therefore Jesus came, and drank the cup of wrath for us; and “has delivered us from the wrath to come.” Lord Jesus, we adore You! Give us grace to know that no wrath remains for us.
Ephesians 2:4. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us.”
How beautiful is this ray of cheering light, which breaks in upon the gloomy darkness of the preceding verses! In them man appeared “dead in trespasses and sins;” “walking according to the course of this world;” “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind;” “the children of wrath, even as others.” We beheld the hideous features of Satan’s progeny; we trembled at the prospect of the smoke of the torment ascending up forever and ever, which is justly prepared as their portion. But now all is brightness and celestial joy. God appears—not as a consuming fire—not in the garments of fierce indignation and vengeance—but as the God whose name is Love, arrayed in the riches of His gracious mercy. Blessed Lord, help us by Your Spirit, to see and know You as here revealed—the very God of our salvation! Send out Your light and Your truth, to give us light, and to lead us into all truth! The points for consideration are (1.) God rich in mercy; (2.) God loving us with great love.
(1)”God is rich in mercy.” Mercy is that tender attribute which looks with compassion on the wretched, and hastens to their relief. Who is more completely wretched than man in his natural condition? Ignorant of God, he knows no real enjoyment; for all real joy consists in likeness to, and communion with God—a slave of the Devil, he toils throughout all his days in the vilest drudgery; and the wages at the end is the blackness of darkness forever. This is real wretchedness. This is the state which mercy flies to alleviate. Mercy ceases to be mercy, if no efforts are made to rescue these sufferers from perishing. But our “God is rich in mercy.” When He proclaimed His great Name to Moses, what a precious train of graces seem pressing for the foremost place! But mercy outstrips her fellows, and the first sound we hear is “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Again we are told that “He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in mercy;” that “He is plenteous in mercy and truth;” that “as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.” He has said, “Mercy shall be built up forever;” and we are encouraged to trust in “the multitude of His tender mercies.”
Surely then Mercy will not leave us in our low abyss of misery! It cannot be. See God sparing not His own Son, but delivering Him up for us all; putting Him to shame and grief—being pleased in bruising Him—sheathing the sword of vengeance in His heart; taking of Him the full payment of our countless iniquities; and say, has not mercy yearned over us to help us? God is rich in mercy! Where we abound in sin, He far more abounds in mercy. Let believers put all their trust in God, “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” When their sins rise up in dreadful crowds against them, let them think of Jesus, God’s mercy of mercies—God’s mercy in the highest—and hasten to the fountain opened, and wash them all away. When conscious of infirmity, and terrified by Satan’s assaults, let them go quickly to the mercy-seat, that they may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. When conscience accuses, let them go to God, and plead with Him that “He is rich in mercy,” and they will find indeed that “with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption.”
(2.) Next, let us consider God as “loving us with great love.” This is the precious truth so inconceivably dear and supporting to believers. Their God is Love. His whole nature, His entire essence, His every feeling, His every dealing towards His people, is pure, unmixed, infinite love. His love gave them to Christ before all worlds; His love gave Christ unto them; His love called them in time; His love sends out the teaching Spirit to enlighten them, and to excite the cry, “Abba, Father,” in their hearts. His love keeps them amid their many perils, through faith unto eternal salvation. His love sustains them daily looking unto the Lamb slain, whose meritorious blood cleanses them from all sin. His love sends out His rod to chasten and correct them—to humble them—to keep them low in dust and ashes. His love binds up their wounds, and pours in heavenly consolation, and whispers unto them, “Be not afraid.” His love is from everlasting to everlasting. Nothing can separate the believer “from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”