The Prayers of St. Paul
by W. H. Griffith Thomas
THE SHORT COURSE SERIES
THE PRAYERS OF ST. PAUL
I. GRACE AND
IV. LOVE AND
V. KNOWLEDGE AND
VI. CONFLICT AND
VII. WISDOM AND
IX. LOVE AND
The title of the present series is a sufficient indication of its
purpose. Few preachers, or congregations, will face the long courses of
expository lectures which characterised the preaching of the past, but
there is a growing conviction on the part of some that an occasional
short course, of six or eight connected studies on one definite theme,
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subjects which might possibly be utilised in this way.
The appeal, however, will not be restricted to ministers or
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It need scarcely be added that while an effort has been made to
secure, as far as possible, a general uniformity in the scope and
character of the series, the final responsibility for the special
interpretations and opinions introduced into the separate volumes,
rests entirely with the individual contributors.
A detailed list of the authors and their subjects will be found at
the close of each volume.
Volumes Already Published
A Cry for Justice: A Study in Amos.
By Prof. JOHN E. MCFADYEN, D.D.
By Rev. ROBERT H. FISHER, D.D.
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The Psalm of Psalms.
By Prof. JAMES STALKER, D.D.
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A Mirror of the Soul: Studies in the Psalter.
By Rev. CANON VAUGHAN, M.A.
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By Rev. D. J. BURRILL, D.D., LL.D.
The Son of Man.
By ANDREW C. ZENOS, D.D., LL.D.
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The Prayers of St. Paul.
By Rev. W. H. GRIFFITH THOMAS, D.D.
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REV. JOHN ADAMS, B.D.
PRAYERS OF ST. PAUL
REV. W. H. GRIFFITH THOMAS, D.D.
PROFESSOR OF OLD TESTAMENT LITERATURE AND EXEGESIS
WYCLIFFE COLLEGE, TORONTO
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
W. G. J.
I. GRACE AND HOLINESS 1
1 Thessalonians iii. 11-13
II. CONSECRATION AND PRESERVATION 15
1 Thessalonians v. 23, 24
III. APPROBATION AND BLESSING 27
2 Thessalonians i. 11, 12
IV. LOVE AND PEACE 39
2 Thessalonians iii. 5, R.V.; 2 Thessalonians iii. 16
V. KNOWLEDGE AND OBEDIENCE 55
Colossians i. 9-12
VI. CONFLICT AND COMFORT 73
Colossians ii. 1, 2
VII. WISDOM AND REVELATION 89
Ephesians i. 15-19
VIII. STRENGTH AND INDWELLING 109
Ephesians iii. 14-19
IX. LOVE AND DISCERNMENT 125
Philippians i. 9-11
One of the most valuable elements in the Epistles of St. Paul is
their revelation of the writer's spiritual life. While they are
necessarily doctrinal and theological, dealing with the fundamental
realities of the Christian religion, they are also intensely personal,
and express very much of the Apostle's own experience. They depict in a
marked degree the sources and characteristics of the spiritual life.
This is especially seen when the various prayers, thanksgivings,
doxologies, and personal testimonies are considered.
I. GRACE AND HOLINESS.
GRACE AND HOLINESS.
Now God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,
way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in
toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before
even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with
saints.1 THESS. iii. 11-13.
There are few more precious subjects for meditation and imitation
than the prayers and intercessions of the great Apostle. He was a man
of action because he was first and foremost a man of prayer. To him
both aspects of the well-known motto were true: To pray is to labour,
and To labour is to pray.
There is no argument for or justification of prayer; nor even an
explanation. It is assumed to be the natural and inevitable expression
of spiritual life. Most of the Apostle's prayers of which we have a
record are concerned with other people rather than with himself, and
they thus reveal to us indirectly but very really what St. Paul felt to
be the predominant needs of the spiritual life.
In this series of studies we propose to look at some of these
prayers, and to consider their direct bearing upon our own lives.
Taking the Epistles in what is generally regarded to be their
chronological order, we naturally commence with the prayer found in 1
Thess. iii. 11-13. In this passage we have what is not often found, a
prayer for himself associated with prayer for others.
1. HIS PRAYER FOR HIMSELF (ver. 11).
Let us notice Who it is to Whom he praysGod Himself and
our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. The association of Christ with
God as One to Whom prayer is addressed is of course very familiar to
us, but it ought never to be forgotten that when the Apostle penned
these words the association was both striking and significant. For
consider: these words were written within twenty-five years of our
Lord's earthly life and ascension, and yet here is this quiet but clear
association of Him with the Father, thus testifying in a very
remarkable and convincing way to His Godhead as the Hearer of prayer.
And this fact is still more noticeable in the original, for St. Paul in
this verse breaks one of the familiar rules of grammar, whether of
Greek or English. It is well known that whenever there are two nouns to
a verb the verb must be in the plural; and yet here the Greek word
direct is in the singular, notwithstanding the fact that there are
two subjects, the Father and Christ. The same feature is to be found in
2 Thess. ii. 17. It is evident from this what St. Paul thought of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and it is in such simple, indirect testimonies that
we find the strongest and most convincing proofs that the early Church
believed in the Deity of our Lord.
Let us consider what it is for which he praysDirect our
way. He asks for guidance. There had been certain difficulties in the
way of his return to Thessalonica. He had been hindered, and now asks
that God would open the way for him to go back to his beloved friends.
Nothing was outside the Apostle's relationship to God, and nothing was
too small about which to pray to God. As it has been well said:
Nothing is so small that we do not honour God by asking His guidance
of it, or insult Him by taking it out of His hands. The need of
guidance is a very real one in every Christian life, and the certainty
of guidance is just as real. The steps of a good man are ordered by
the Lord (Ps. xxxvii. 23); and this is as true now as ever. I will
guide thee with Mine eye (Ps. xxxii. 8) is a promise for all time, and
we may confidently seek guidance in prayer whenever it is needed. The
answer to our prayer will come in a threefold way. God guides us by His
Spirit, reigning supreme within our hearts. He also guides us by the
counsels and principles of His Word. These two agree in one, for the
Holy Spirit never guides contrary to the Word. And then, in the third
place, He guides us by His Providence, so that when the Word, the
Spirit, and Providence in daily circumstances agree we may be sure that
the guidance has been given.
2. HIS PRAYER FOR OTHERS (vers. 12, 13).
Consider the immediate request he makesThe Lord make you
to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men.
He asks for love on their behalf, that God would grant them this
greatest of all giftsthe very bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before Him. Love in the
New Testament is no mere sentiment, for it involves self-sacrifice. It
is not limited to emotion; it expresses itself in energy. It does not
evaporate in feeling; it expresses itself in fact. Love is of God,
for God is love; and the Apostle in praying this prayer asks for the
supreme gift of their lives.
The measure of the gift is noticeableIncrease and abound in
love. The increase has to do with their inner life, their hearts
being more and more enlarged in capacity to possess this love; the
abounding has to do with their outward life, and points to the
overflow of that love towards others.
Consider, too, the objects of this loveToward one another,
and toward all men. There was, first of all, the special love to be
shown toward Christians, according to the new commandment (John xiii.
34). In the New Testament the emphasis is laid again and again upon
brother-love, or love of the brethren, and the brotherhood. This was
something entirely new in the world's historya new tie or bond, the
union of hearts in Christ Jesus. To see how these Christians loved one
another was a proof of this new affection based upon the new
commandment. But, further, their love was to extend beyond their
fellow-Christianseven to all men, just as we have in St. Peter's
Epistle, in that long chain of graces, first, love of the brethren, and
then, love towards all (2 Pet. i. 7).
And yet it may perhaps be asked, How is it possible for us to love
everybody? What about those who are not lovely and lovablehow can we
love these? It may help us to remember that there is a clear
distinction between loving and liking. While it is
impossible to like everybody, it is assuredly possible to love
everybody. A mother loves her wayward son, but she cannot like him, for
there is practically nothing alike between them. In the same way we
may love with the love of compassion if we cannot love with the love of
complacency, and thus fulfil our Lord's command and realise the answer
to the Apostle's prayers. This, we may be perfectly certain, is the
supreme thing, and our Christianity will count for nothing in the eyes
of men if it is not permeated and energised through and through with
active, whole-hearted, Christ-like love.
Consider the ultimate purpose he expressesTo the end He
may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness. The love for which
he prays is to be expressed in holiness. The meaning of holiness
throughout the Old and New Testaments is separateness. The idea is
that of a life separated unto God, dedicated, consecrated to His
service. Wherever the words holiness, sanctification, and their
associated and cognate expressions are found, the root idea is always
that of separation rather than of purification. It involves the
whole-hearted and entire dedication of the life to God. The cognate
word saint does not strictly mean one who is pure, but one who
belongs to God.
The sphere of this holiness is to be in your hearts. It is always
to be noticed that in Scripture the heart includes the intellect, the
emotions, and the will. In a word, it is the centre of our moral and
spiritual being; and when this is understood we can see at once the
point and importance of the heart being holy, for it is only another
way of saying that our entire being is to be separated from all else in
order to be possessed by, and consecrated to, God.
The standard of holiness is also brought before us in this
prayerStablish your hearts unblameable in holiness. The Apostle
prays that they may be steadfast, not weak and vacillating. The great
need was for solidity and steadfastness, as it is in the present day,
for it is only when the heart is established by grace and in holiness
that it can in any true sense serve God. This emphasis on a fixed or
stablished heart is brought before us several times in Holy Scripture
(cf. Ps. lvii. 7, cviii. 1, cxii. 7; Heb. xiii. 9).
And steadfast hearts will be unblameable hearts, hearts that are
not blameworthy. A clear distinction is to be drawn between unblameable
hearts and unblemished hearts. A little child may perform a task which
in the result is full of blemishes, though the child, having done his
best, is entirely without blame. In like manner, though the believer is
not free from blemish, it is nevertheless possible for him to live free
from blame. This is the meaning of the Apostle, and the reason of his
In all this we can see the close connection between love and
holiness. When our hearts are filled to overflowing with the love of
God to us, and of our love to Him, the inevitable result is holiness, a
heart separated unto God, strengthened with all might, and ready
unto every good work.
Consider the great incentive he urgesBefore God, even our
Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
The Apostle puts before his readers the great future to which they were
to look, and he urges upon them this love and this holiness in the
light of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all that it will mean
to the people of God. St. Paul draws a wonderful picture of that day in
a very few words. He speaks first of all of God's presence there:
Before God, even our Father. Then he reminds us of the presence of
the Lord Jesus Christ. And last of all he tells us that the saints
will be there also. Thus, surrounded by our fellow-Christians, and in
the presence of our God and Saviour, we shall see as we are seen, and
know as we are known, with hearts unblameable in holiness.
This, then, is what the Apostle prays for his beloved friends in
Thessalonicaabounding love and perfect holiness. This is Christianity
and the normal Christian life. How simple it all is, summed up in the
words Love and Holiness. And yet how searching it is! The simplest
things are often the most difficult, and while it is possible for the
believer to do great things and to shine in great crises, it is not
always so easy to go on loving day by day, and to continue growing in
grace and holiness, until the heart becomes so stablished in grace that
our Christianity becomes the permanent character of our life. Yet this
is God's purpose for each one of us. And the fact that the Apostle
prayed for this is a clear proof that an answer was expected, and that
the purpose can be realised.
II. CONSECRATION AND PRESERVATION.
CONSECRATION AND PRESERVATION.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God
whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the
of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, Who
will do it.1 THESS. v. 23, 24.
As we consider these prayers of the Apostle, we become increasingly
aware of what he felt to be the most important elements in the
Christian life. The prayers all have reference to Christian living, and
whether we think of the character of the life portrayed, or the
standard held up in them, we can readily see their intense practical
value for daily living. We may be pretty sure that those things for
which he prayed on behalf of his converts were the things he regarded
as most essential in Christian character and conduct.
The prayer that now calls for consideration is that found in 1
Thess. v. 23, 24.
1. THE PETITION.
He prays for their sanctificationSanctify you wholly. As
already noted, the root idea of sanctification, and of its cognate
expressions, holiness, holy, and the like, is separation. We
see this very clearly in connection with buildings or things which are
said to be holy or sanctified. It is obvious that no thought of
purification is applicable to buildings and inanimate objects. We must,
therefore, understand sanctification in this case as equivalent to
consecration. This is also the root-meaning of the word sanctify in
relation to persons, and it may be questioned whether the word, as used
in the original, ever really includes in it the idea of purification;
the latter thought has another set of words altogether. The Apostle
therefore prays that they may be consecrated, set apart from all else,
for the possession and service of God. This meaning may be aptly
illustrated from our Lord's words about Himself: For their sakes I
consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated through
the truth (John xvii. 19).
The extent of this consecration is very noteworthySanctify
you wholly. The word rendered wholly is used in connection with the
Old Testament sacrifices in the Septuagint, and implies the entire and
complete separation of the offering for the purpose intended. The
Christian life must be wholly, entirely, and unreservedly consecrated
to God, no part being reserved or held back, but everything handed over
and regarded as permanently and completely belonging to Him.
He prays for their preservationPreserved blameless. The
consecration is to be maintained in continual preservation, in and for
God. The consecration as an act is to be deepened into an attitude, so
that, day by day, and hour by hour, the separated life may be
maintained, and preserved in readiness for every call that God may
The extent of this preservation is also observableYour
whole spirit and soul and body. The spirit is that inmost part of our
life which is related to God. The soul is the inner life regarded in
itself, as the seat and sphere of intellect, heart, and will. The body
is the outward vehicle and expression of the soul and spirit through
which we are enabled to serve God. The order of these three should be
observed. It is not, as we often say, and sing in certain hymns, body,
soul, and spirit, but the very reversespirit, soul, and body. The
Apostle starts from within and works outward, thereby reminding us that
if the spirit or deepest part of our nature is wholly surrendered to
God, this fact will express itself in every part of our nature, and we
shall be consecrated wholly. What a searching requirement this is, and
what a solemnity and responsibility it gives to life! Whether in
relation to God, or in relation to man, whether for worship or work,
character or conduct, prayer or practice, we are to be wholly
consecrated, and continually kept for the Master's use
That all my powers with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.
2. THE PRE-REQUISITE.
The God of Peace Himself. The Divine title associated with this
prayer as its definite presupposition and pre-requisite is very
significant, as, indeed, is every title of God. There is always some
special point of direct connection between the way in which God is
addressed and the prayer that follows. In the present instance the
prayer for consecration and preservation is addressed to The God of
The Apostle lays special stress upon the fact that it is God
Himself Who consecrates and keeps us. As with salvation, so with
consecrationit is and must be Divine. The work is entirely beyond any
mere human power, and while there is a truth in our frequent reference
to consecration as something that we ourselves have to effect, it is
far more scriptural, and, therefore, much more helpful, to endeavour to
limit the idea of consecration to the Divine side, and to think of it
as an act of God, to which the corresponding human act and attitude is
that of dedication. It is God Himself Who separates us, marks us
off as His own, and designates us for His use and service. It is God
Himself, and no one else, for we are here brought into personal and
blessed association with the Divine power and grace.
Further, God is described as The God of Peace, and we naturally
ask what it means, and why peace is thus associated with consecration
and preservation. This title, The God of Peace, is found very
frequently in the writings of St. Paul, and it deserves careful
consideration in each passage. There is a twofold peace in Scripture,
sometimes described as peace with God (Rom. v. 1), at others as the
peace of God (Phil. iv. 7); and they both have their source in the
God of Peace (Phil. iv. 9). Peace is the result of reconciliation
with God. Our Lord made peace by the Blood of His Cross (Col. i. 20),
and the acceptance of His atoning sacrifice through faith brings peace
to the soul. This consciousness of reconciliation in turn causes a
blessed sense of restfulness and peace to spring up in the heart, and
thus we have the peace of God within us.
The connection between peace and holiness is close and essential. It
is impossible for anyone to understand consecration until they have
experienced reconciliation. Holiness must be based on righteousness,
and righteousness is only possible to those who have accepted the Lord
Jesus as God's righteousness through faith. So long as there is any
enmity in the heart, or even any uncertainty as to our acceptance in
Christ Jesus, holiness is an impossibility. May not the forgetfulness
of this fact be the cause of surprise and disappointment at Christian
Conventions from time to time? May it not be that many go to such
gatherings longing to be made holy who have not settled this question
of their standing before God and their peace as the result of
acceptance of Christ's atonement? To understand and experience what
holiness means before enjoying peace with God is like trying to take a
second step before attempting the first. Only through peace can
holiness come, and only as we have blessed personal experience of God
as the God of peace can a prayer like this be answered.
3. THE PROSPECT.
Unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Once again the Apostle
prays with special reference to that glorious day to which he was
always looking and pointing his readers. As he looks forward to that
day he uses again a favourite word, blameless, and suggests to us the
great and wonderful possibility of being so consecrated and preserved
that we may lead a blameless life day by day until the coming of our
Lord. Holiness is thus associated once again with the great future. The
Apostle finds in the coming of the Lord one of the most potent reasons
why Christians should be consecrated and preserved. This close and
intimate connection between holiness, and what we term the Second
Advent, needs much stronger emphasis in daily living and in church
teaching than it often has in the present day. There is, in its way,
nothing more powerful as a reason for holiness than the thought of the
certainty and imminence of the Lord's coming.
4. THE PROMISE.
Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it. Lest we
should be tempted to think that so wonderful a prayer could not be
fulfilled in daily experience, the Apostle adds this blessed assurance
that God, Who puts this ideal before us, will enable us to realise it.
The promise is undoubtedWho also will do it. What He has promised
He is also able to perform. If only our hearts are right with Him, and
are willing to say, Yea, let Him take all, God will, indeed,
consecrate and preserve us blameless unto the end. The guarantee of
this lies in His Divine faithfulness. Faithful is He that calleth
you. We are touching the bed-rock of Divine revelation when we
contemplate the faithfulness of God. This phrase is often found in the
New Testament: God is faithful. The Lord is faithful. Faithful is
He. This is a faithful saying. If our hearts will only rest upon
this we shall find in it, not only the most exquisite joy and assured
peace, but also the ground of our perfect confidence that He will
accomplish His purposes in us, and glorify Himself in our lives.
It is well and necessary from time to time to look at holiness from
the human point of view, and to see our duty and responsibility; but it
is equally essential and important that we should also dwell upon
holiness, as in the passage before us, from the Divine standpoint, and
keep well in view the glorious realities of God's faithfulness, God's
power, God's grace. To be occupied unduly with self in the matter of
holiness is to become self-centred, morbid, fearful, and weak; to be
occupied with God is to be restful, quiet, strong, confident, and ever
growing in grace.
III. APPROBATION AND BLESSING.
APPROBATION AND BLESSING.
Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count
worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of His
goodness, and the work of faith with power: that the name of
Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according
grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.2 THESS. i. ii,
Two words sum up the Christian lifeGrace and Glory; and both are
associated with the two Comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace
particularly with the first Coming, and Glory especially with the
second. This twofold aspect of Christianity comes before us in the
prayer of the Apostle which we now have to consider.
1. THE REASON OF THE PRAYER.
This thought is brought before us very clearly in the Revised
Version: To which end we also pray. In the Authorised Version
it is: Wherefore also we pray. Following the original, the
R.V. refers definitely to what has preceded. The whole context is a
reason for the prayer which now follows.
The Triumphant Future is part of the reason of his prayer.
When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be marvelled
at in all them that believe in that day. The Apostle looks forward to
the crowning day that is coming, and bases upon this glorious hope
the prayer that follows.
The Testing Present is another part of the reason for this
prayer. The Church of Thessalonica was suffering persecutions and
afflictions, and was passing through the fire of testing (vers. 4-7);
and it was this facttheir then-existing severe experiencesthat
prompted the Apostle to pray for them, as well as to express the hope
concerning their deliverance from the furnace of affliction.
Thus present and future are blended in his thought, and form the
ground or reason of his intercession.
2. THE NATURE OF THE PRAYER.
Two elements sum up this beautiful prayer.
He asks for the Divine Approval on their life: That God may
count you worthy of your calling. God's calling is His summons into
His kingdom. The kingdom may be regarded both as present and future. In
the Gospels it would seem as though the calling were limited to His
invitation or appeal, while in the Epistles it appears to include the
believer's response to the call. For this reason it is sometimes spoken
of as God's calling, and at others, as in this case, as your
calling. The thought of a Divine calling responded to by the believer
is prominent in the teaching of St. Paul, and should be carefully
studied. Even in these Epistles to the Thessalonians, the idea is
frequently found (1 Thess. ii. 12, iv. 7, v. 24; 2 Thess. ii. 14).
Count you worthy is a notable phrase repeated from verse 5:
Counted worthy of the kingdom of God. Seven times this verb is used
by St. Paul. As we ponder it we catch something of the wondrous glory
of our life as contemplated by the King of Kings. Surely, it may be
said, the believer can never be worthy; and this is true if he is
considered in himself. But just as it is with justification, which
means accounted just, so with sanctificationby the unspeakable
grace of God we are actually counted worthy. Hooker's well-known
words about justification may be quoted in this connection as
illustrating the thought of worthiness in sanctification. God doth
justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief,
but for His worthiness Who is believed. So we may say, God doth count
the believing man worthy, yet not for any personal worthiness, but for
the worthiness which is wrought by grace. We must, however, not fail to
notice that the believer is responsible for his use of grace, and that
the very thought of God counting us worthy has included in it the
thought of scrutiny with a view to decision.
He seeks the Divine Blessing on their life: And fulfil every
desire of goodness and every work of faith with power. This, which is
the rendering of the R.V., seems, on the whole, the more intelligible
and appropriate. It means, all that goodness can desire, and all that
faith can effect. It blends together the two ideas of aspiration
and activitythe aspiration of goodness and the activity of
trustand it prays that God would fulfil with power, or
powerfully, every aspiration that comes from goodness, and every
activity that springs from faith. Just as in the familiar words of the
Collect for Easter Day, God first puts into our minds good desires,
and then by His continual help we are enabled to bring the same to
good effect. By His holy inspiration we think those things that are
good, and by His merciful guiding we perform the same.
3. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PRAYER.
Notice the twofold consequence here stated.
He expects that God will be glorified in us. Glory in the New
Testament, and, indeed, in the whole Bible, is the outshining of
splendour, and the Apostle seeks in answer to prayer that Christ may
reveal in our lives the glory of His grace. This includes both our
present and future lives. Christ is to be manifested by and glorified
in us here, and He will be manifested by and glorified in us hereafter
(ver. 10). What an unspeakable privilege and what a profound
responsibility lie in this simple fact that Christ is to shine forth
from our lives, and that men around us are to see something of Christ
as they associate with us. One of the most beautiful testimonies ever
given to a Christian was that of a poor dying outcast girl to a lady
who had befriended her: I have not found it hard to think about God
since I knew you.
He also expects that we shall be glorified in Christ. This
is, in a way, more wonderful still. There is to be a reciprocal glory;
and, actually, marvellous though it seems, we are to have our share of
glory in Christ. This, again, has its application to the present, as
well as to the future, for every life that is loyal to Christ is
glorified in union and communion with Him. And in the great future it
will be seen and known on every hand who have been faithful to their
Lord and Master. Then shall the righteous shine forth as stars in the
kingdom of their Father.
4. THE GUARANTEE OF THE PRAYER.
The Apostle scarcely ever prayed without reminding himself and his
readers of the secret whereby prayer is answered. Accordingly he closes
this prayer with a reminder that the guarantee of its fulfilment is the
grace of GodAccording to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus
God is the Source of all grace. How lovingly the Apostle
speaks of our God and our Lord Jesus in this verse! Elsewhere in
his Epistles we also find this appropriating phrase, Our God (1
Thess. ii. 2, iii. 9; 1 Cor. vi. 11). As in the still more personal
phrase, My God, which we find about seven times in his writings, St.
Paul expresses his consciousness of personal possession and the blessed
reality of fellowship with God. This God is our God, as the
Christ is the Channel of grace. The Lord Jesus Christ being
associated with God in this connection is a reminder that it is the
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ as much as the grace of our God. He
mediates grace to us, and through faith in Christ we are linked to God
as the God of all grace.
What a cheer and inspiration it is to have the assurance and
guarantee that even a prayer like this, with its high standard and
far-reaching possibilities, can and will be answered. Christianity
provides not only an appeal, but a dynamic. He Who bids, enables; He
Who calls, provides. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at once a precept, a
promise, a provision, and a power. The religions of the world often
tell us to Be good, but it is left for Christianity to proclaim that
He died to make us good. As a result, the Christian can say
with Augustine: Give what Thou commandest and then command what Thou
wilt. That is: Only give me the spiritual power, and then I can do
anything that Thou requirest of me. As the Psalmist cried: I will run
in the path of Thy commandments, when Thou hast set my heart at
Thus the Christian life is at once a life of Grace and a life of
Glory. First Grace, then Glory. No Grace, no Glory. More Grace,
more Glory. If Grace, then Glory.
Grace, 'tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to the ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
IV. LOVE AND PEACE.
LOVE AND PEACE.
The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the
patience of Christ.2 THESS. iii. 5, R.V.
The Lord of peace Himself give you peace always by all
THESS. iii. 16.
It is striking to note the number of prayers in these two short
Epistles to Thessalonica. They are probably the earliest of the
Apostle's writings, and the frequency of his prayers is a significant
testimony to his thought for his converts and their needs.
Hardly less striking is the variety of the prayers, of which we have
already had several proofs. There are still two prayers to be
considered in the second Epistle, very terse petitions, yet full of
suggestiveness and importance. It will be convenient to consider these
two together, not only because of their brevity, but also because of
the spiritual connection between them.
1. THE GOAL.
The context of the prayer is noteworthy. The Apostle had been asking
for their prayers, more particularly for deliverance from evil men.
Then comes the strong assurance that God in His faithfulness would keep
them from evil, together with the expression of his own personal
confidence concerning them that they would be faithful to his counsels
and commands. And then follows the prayer of our text in which he asks
that their hearts may be directed to that Divine goal which is, and
ever must be, the true home of the soul.
Your hearts. Once again does the Apostle lay stress on this
central reality of their spiritual and moral being. The heart is the
citadel of the life, and the usage of the term in the Word of God must
ever be kept clearly before us. It includes, as we have already seen,
intellectual, emotional, and volitional elements. There is no such
contrast in the New Testament between the head and the heart as we
are now often accustomed to make, for intellect, feelings, and will are
all comprised in the Biblical meaning. If, therefore, the heart is
right, all else will be right. It was for this reason that Solomon gave
the counsel to keep the heart above all keeping, since out of it are
the issues of life.
Into the love of God. The phrase seems to suggest the
direction of the heart towards a goalInto the love. This
must mean first and foremost the love of God to us, for this is the
true goal and home of the soul. Home is at once a protection, a
fellowship, and a joy. There's no place like home; and there is no
place like the love of God as a home for the soul. In that love we find
constant protection, for all the refuge and safety of a true home are
experienced there. In that love we find the fullest, truest fellowship,
for truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus
Christ; and we know also the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. Not least
of all, in this home of the soul, is perfect and permanent
satisfaction. Just as when the door closes upon us and we know that we
are within the privacy, comfort, cheer, and fellowship of home, we find
blessed restfulness and satisfaction, so when the soul enters the home
of God's love it soon realises the fulness of satisfaction, for it is
satisfied with favour, full with the blessing of the Lord. Love that
is deep, unfathomable, constant, pure, unchanging, Divine, is our
everlasting home. It is recorded that Spurgeon once saw a weathercock
with the words on it, God is love. On remarking to the owner that it
was very inappropriate, since God's love did not change like a
weathercock, he received the reply that the real meaning was, God is
love whichever way the wind blows. This is the experience of the
believer. Whatever comes, wherever he is, he knows that God is love.
It is possible, perhaps probable, that this phrase, the love of
God, may also include our love to God. At any rate, in several
passages it is almost impossible to make a rigid distinction between
the two ideas (cf. Rom. v. 5). The one is the source of the other, and
we love Him because He first loved us. Love from God begets love to
God, and when once the soul has entered into God's love as its goal and
home, love at once begins to be the spring, the strength, the
sustenance, and the satisfaction of its life.
Into the patience of Christ. The Authorised Version has
somewhat misread this verse by translating it into the patient waiting
for Christ, which would need another expression in the Greek. It
really refers to active, persistent, steady endurance rather than to
patient waiting. It refers to present patience, not to a future
prospect. The patience of Christ must mean the active endurance which
is like His, the endurance of which He is the pattern. How marvellously
He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself! How striking
is the statement that He set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem!
Whether in suffering or in service, our Lord endured as seeing Him who
is invisible; and having endured to the end, He became our Saviour.
But the patience of Christ is also the endurance which comes from
Him. He is not only our pattern, but also our power, since He enables
us to endure with a like endurance to His own. As the Apostle says
elsewhere: I have power for all things in Him who is empowering me.
To have a pattern without the power to realise it, to have our Lord's
example without His efficacy and energy, would be of little practical
use except to discourage and to mock us; but He who sets the standard
supplies the strength, and our hearts are thus enabled to enter into
and abide in the endurance of Christ.
The need of patient endurance is obvious. Those early Christians of
Thessalonica were soon put to the test. A few days and their new-born
experiences were severely proved. Persecution, ostracism, suffering,
and, it may be, death put a real strain upon their Christian
profession; yet they endured, and the Apostle's prayer was answered;
for we know with what joy he received tidings of their endurance and
continuance (ch. i. 4). The same endurance is needed to-day, though the
circumstances are very different. Sin is still powerful, and trials,
suffering, sorrow and death are found on every hand. Many things would
tempt us from our allegiance and continuance. Like the Psalmist, we see
the wicked prospering, and we are ready to burst out with the faithless
cry: I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in
innocency. Or we have been toiling in the vineyard for long without
seeing any fruit, and like the prophet, we are tempted to cry: I have
laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought. Then we hear
the voice of the Apostle reminding us of the love of God and the
patience of Christ.
The secret of patience is love. If only we live in the love of God
we shall thereby find the grace of patience. The union of love and
patience was exemplified in our Lord's earthly life. He kept His
Father's commandments and abode in His love, and if only we will
continue in His love we shall thereby be enabled to keep His
commandments, and endure as He endured.
2. THE GUIDE.
The Lord direct your hearts. We need direction. Sin has
blinded us, and kept us from knowing the way home into the love of God,
and into the endurance of Christ. Still more, sin has biassed our
hearts, and kept us from going along the way. Thus we need nothing
short of a Divine direction. If the Lord does not make straight our way
home we never shall arrive there.
How does our Lord direct our hearts? First, by constant and
ever-increasing experience of His love. God is love, and as it is of
the essence of love to communicate itself, God is ever revealing to our
hearts and bestowing upon them His own Divine love. Along the straight
pathway He guides the soul into deeper and fuller experience of His
unchanging, unerring, and unending love.
He also guides by bestowing upon us an ever-fuller experience of the
power of Christ. Patient endurance is not learned all at once, and the
Lord leads us as we are able to bear His disclosures and His
discipline. Every lesson of testing brings with it a fresh experience
of grace, and every call to endure carries with it the assurance of
sufficient strength and power.
The means used for our direction, as we have already seen, are three
in number, but the truth is so important that it needs renewed
emphasis. The Lord directs us by His Word. Its examples, its
counsels, its promises, its warnings, it anticipations, its incentives
all come with force and blessing upon the heart, impelling it to go the
right way home. He also directs us by His Holy Spirit dwelling
within us. The Divine Spirit possesses and purifies our thoughts,
cleanses and clarifies our motives, freshens and fertilises our soul,
sanctifies and sensitises our conscience, guides and guards our will;
and thus every virtue we possess, and every victory won, and every
thought of holiness are the work of the Holy Spirit of God in guiding
and directing our hearts into the love of God and into the patience of
The Lord also guides by His Providence. He uses the
circumstances of our daily life to indicate His will. The discipline,
the thousand and one little events and episodes, the ordinary
experience of daily duty, the shadows and the sunshine, are all part of
His providential guidance as He leads us along the pathway home into
the love of God. All things are continually working together for good
to them that love God.
Now we pass to consider the second and complementary prayer.
3. THE GIFT.
In this concluding prayer of the Epistle the Apostle sums up by
speaking of that which is in some respects the greatest gift of God in
Christ, the gift of perfect and perpetual peace.
Our first need is peace of conscience. The burden of sin
weighs heavily upon the awakened soul, and the condemnation of the law
consciously weighs upon it. As we look back over the past, and realise
what it has been, we long for rest in the removal of condemnation and
the bestowal of forgiveness. Our hearts cry out for peace with God.
Our second need is peace of heart. The soul set free from the
burden of condemnation and guilt soon finds the need of a new strength,
new interests, new hopes. The past has been obliterated by mercy, but
the present looms large with difficulty. Temptations to fear and
discouragement arise, and the soul longs for peace. Peace with God by
reconciliation must therefore be followed by the peace of God through
restfulness of heart day by day.
Our third need is peace of fellowship. The true Christian
life is never solitary, but is lived in association with others. Our
relationship to Christ necessarily carries with it a relationship to
those who are in Christ with us, and as a consequence the peace which
is ours in Christ is expressed in peace and fellowship with our
fellow-believers. The context of this prayer shows that the Apostle had
this aspect of peace in mind, and no true peace can be enjoyed with God
that is not shared with our fellow-Christians. Our Lord has broken down
the wall of partition between us; He has made us all one in Himself,
for He is our peace.
4. THE GIVER.
The source of this threefold peace is The Lord of peace Himself. By His death He brings us peace of conscience, by His Resurrection
life peace of heart, by His Holy Spirit peace of fellowship. Peace I
leave with you is the legacy of His Death. My peace I give unto you
is the gift of His Spirit. On the Resurrection evening He came with
this twofold peace. First, He said, Peace be unto you, and showed
them His hands and His side, thus assuring them of peace of conscience
through His Death. Then He said unto them again, Peace be unto
you, and bestowed upon them His Holy Spirit, thus guaranteeing to them
peace of heart. His own peace, which had been so marked a feature of
His own life and ministry, was now to be theirs. He, the possessor of
peace, was now to be the provider of peace to them.
The title, The Lord of peace, in this passage is very noteworthy.
It is only found here, though the title God of peace occurs several
times. What are we to understand by it? Surely it is a hint to us that
only in His Lordship, acknowledged and experienced by us, can we find
peace. In very significant words we read in the prophet of His
government and peace. First government and then peace, since peace is
only possible as a result of government. In like manner we read in the
psalm of righteousness and peace, for it is only as He is the Lord
our righteousness that He becomes the Lord our peace. When the
government is upon His shoulder, and He is the Lord of our life, the
inevitable and blessed result is peace, perfect peace.
The continuity of this peace is very noteworthyGive you peace
always. It is a constant peace. It is independent of
circumstances, and does not change with changing experiences, since it
is independent of our variableness, and depends entirely upon the Lord
of peace and His Divine gift. Peace is associated with our permanent
relationship to God in Christ, and a relationship of this kind is
unalterable by any experiences or circumstances. The Lord gives peace
The channels of this peace are also significantPeace always by
all means. In every manner, by all conceivable channels and
methods this peace comes. No circumstance or condition of life can be
ours which does not give some opportunity for the bestowal, experience,
and enjoyment of peace. Not only does peace come always, but all
Love, Patience, Peacehow beautiful and suggestive the combination
and association! Patience is the fruit of love, and peace is the fruit
of patience. When the soul is dwelling in the love of God patience and
peace flow naturally into the life, and are as naturally exemplified in
it. And so the heart rejoices in the love, reproduces the patience, and
reposes in the peace of the Lord of peace, because it is ever at rest
in the presence and grace of the God of love and peace.
V. KNOWLEDGE AND OBEDIENCE.
KNOWLEDGE AND OBEDIENCE.
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease
pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the
of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye
walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in
good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened
all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience
long-suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the
The Epistles of the (first) captivity of the Apostle (Philippians,
Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon) represent his maturest experiences. As
a consequence the prayers found in them are particularly noteworthy,
revealing some of the deepest things of the writer's spiritual life. In
this respect they are at once tests and models for us; and it is
perhaps not too much to say that careful and prolonged prayerful
meditation on the prayers found in these Epistles will prove one of the
most valuable and helpful methods of deepening the spiritual life. The
first of these we now consider.
1. THE REASON OF THE PRAYER.
Colosse was one of the Churches which Paul had neither founded nor
visited (ch. ii. 1). Christianity was brought there by Epaphras, one of
his disciples (ch. i. 7). But the Apostle was as keenly interested in
its spiritual welfare as if he had been instrumental in founding it. So
when he had heard of their faith and love (ch. i. 4), and the
fruitfulness of their life (ch. i. 6), he thanked God on their behalf
(ch. i. 3), and prayed this prayer. Deep interest in the spiritual life
of others was one of the prominent marks of the Christian character of
St. Paul. His was no self-centred life, for he was ever keenly alert to
appreciate the marks of grace in others. This is a test, and at the
same time a rebuke, for us. How unlike we are to a Christian of the
type of Barnabas, of whom we read: Who, when he came, and had seen the
grace of God, was glad (Acts xi. 23). This is only possible by having
a heart at leisure from itself; and when we are thus deeply
interested in the marks and manifestations of the Divine working in
other people's lives we shall not only praise God on their behalf, but
also, like the Apostle, pray for them; and thus the blessing will
extend and deepen.
2. THE NATURE OF THE PRAYER.
The main point of his prayer was that they might be filled with
the knowledge of His will. The will of God known and done is the
secret of all true living. It was the key-note of our Lord's earthly
life. He came to do the will of the Father, and in one of the deepest
experiences of His life He said: Not My will, but Thine be done. He
told His disciples that His meat was to do the will of Him that sent
Him; and He taught them to pray, Thy will be done in earth as it is in
heaven. The will of God is the substance of revelation, for what is
the Bible from beginning to end but the revelation of God's will for
man? Perhaps the most all-embracing prayer is: Teach me to do Thy
will; and certainly the ideal life is summed up in the phrase, He
that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. Well might the Apostle
pray for these Christians of Colosse to be filled with the knowledge of
The word rendered knowledge means mature knowledge, and is one
of the characteristic words of these four Epistles written from Rome.
The Apostle evidently regarded mature knowledge, or deep spiritual
experience, as the pre-eminent mark of a ripening Christian. In this
respect St. John bears the same testimony, in his reference to the
three stages of the Christian life represented by little children,
young men, and fathers. The little children have; the young
men are; the fathers know (1 John ii. 12-14). This
spiritual knowledge or experience is the great safeguard against error,
in that it gives power to distinguish between good and evil, between
truth and falsehood.
The measure of this knowledge is to be carefully notedfilled
with the knowledge of His will. The word also implies a fulness
which is realised continuallynot a bare knowledge, but its
completeness; not an intermittent stream, but a perpetual flow. When
the soul experiences this it is provided not only with the greatest
safeguard against danger, but also with the secret of a strong,
growing, powerful Christian life.
The characteristics of this knowledge should be observed: In all
wisdom and spiritual understanding. Wisdom is a general term
which implies the capacity and faculty for adapting the best means to
bring about the best ends in things spiritual. Spiritual
understanding is the specific coming or putting together of principles
by means of which true action is taken. It really means putting two
and two together, comparing ideas and principles, for the purpose of
adopting the best in any given course of action. Of the importance and
necessity of wisdom and spiritual understanding scarcely anything need
be said. Christian wisdom, Christian understanding, Christian
perception in the thousand and one things of lifethis surely is one
of our greatest necessities and choicest blessings. How many errors
would be avoided, how many wanderings checked, by means of this
spiritual wisdom! Still more, how much joy would be experienced and how
much genuine service rendered, if we were always saying and doing the
right thing, at the right time, in the right way.
Filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and
spiritual understanding. This means for its complete realisation
constant touch with that Book which presents the clearly expressed will
of God. The will of God is in that Word, and when the Word is
illuminated by the Spirit of God we come to know His will concerning
us. No one will ever have the full knowledge of that will, no one can
possibly be mature in experience, if the Word of God is not his daily,
definite, direct study and meditation. It purifies the perception of
the faculties by its cleansing power; it illuminates the moral
faculties with its enlightening power; it controls the emotional
faculties with its protective power; it energises the volitional
faculties with its stimulating power; and thus in the constant,
continuous use of the Word of God in personal practice, with meditation
and prayer, we shall become filled with the full knowledge of His will
in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.
3. THE PURPOSE OF THE PRAYER.
Knowledge is not an end in itself, but the means to an end; and so
the Apostle states the purpose for which he asks this knowledge of
God's will: That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all-pleasing
... fruitful ... increasing ... strengthened ... giving thanks.
Their life is to be influenced by this knowledgewalk worthy of
the Lord. Knowledge is to be translated into practice. Walking
is the characteristic Bible word descriptive of the character of the
Christian life, the full expression of all our powers. As it
presupposes life, so it means energy, movement, progress; and for this,
knowledge is essential. How can we walk unless we know why and whither
we go? The knowledge of God's will gives point and purpose to the
activities of life.
Walk worthy of the Lord. What a profound and searching
thought is hereWorthy of the Lord. Surely this is impossible; yet
these are the plain words of the inspired writer. To walk worthy of the
Lordit is almost incredible, and yet this is one of the possibilities
and glories of grace. The Apostle is fond of the word worthy. We are
to walk worthy of our vocation (Eph. iv. 1), worthy of the Gospel
(Phil. i. 27), worthy of the saints (Rom. xvi. 2), worthy of God (1
Thess. ii. 12). We may be perfectly sure that Paul would not put such
an ideal before us if it could not be realised. God's commands always
Unto all pleasing. Bishop Moule beautifully renders this
phrase: Unto every anticipation of His will (Colossian Studies).
Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth Thee (P. B. version). What a
glorious ideal! We are so to walk as to please Him in everything. Not
only doing what we are told, but anticipating His commands by living in
such close touch with Him that we instinctively know the thing that
will please Him. These words sound a depth of the spiritual life with
which comparatively few are familiar; and yet here they are, facing us
definitely, with their call to realise that which God has placed before
The specific details of this worthy walk are next brought before us
in four pregnant phrases:
Being fruitful in every good work. Notice every word of
this sentence. Our life is to be characterised by good works, and in
each and every one of these we are to be fruitful, manifesting the
ripeness, and, if it may be so put, the beauty and lusciousness
associated with fruit. Mark, too, that it is fruitful in every
good work, that is, in the process of doing the work, and not merely
as the result or outcome of it. The very work itself is intended to be
fruitful apart from particular results. There may be very few results
of our service for God, but the service itself may and should be
Increasing in the knowledge of God. Notice the difference
between the knowledge of His will and the knowledge of Himself. That I
may know Him (Phil. iii. 10); They might know Thee
(John xvii. 3); Ye have known Him (1 John ii. 13). The
knowledge of His will will lead us to the knowledge of Himself, and
beyond this it is impossible to go.
Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power,
unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. The Apostle's
thought pours itself out in rich abundance in these words. It seems as
though he could not adequately express the possibilities and
characteristics of the Christian life about which he prays. They are to
be strengthened, and not only so, but with all might. The principle
or standard of it is according to His glorious power, and the end of
it is unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. The man of
the world might see in this phrase an anticlimax, when it is said that
the end of strength is patience and longsuffering; and yet Christianity
finds its ideal in energy expressed in character, activity manifesting
itself in passivity, and might in meekness.
Notice, too, the suggestive addition, with joyfulness.
Patience and longsuffering without joy are apt to be cold, chilly,
unattractive. There is a stern, stoical endurance of suffering which,
while it may be admired sometimes, tends to repel. But when patience
and longsuffering are permeated and suffused with joyfulness, the very
life of Christ is lived over again in His followers. Resignation to the
will of God is only very partially a Christian virtue; but when we take
joyfully the things that come upon us we are indeed manifesting the
very life of God Himself.
Giving thanks unto the Father. This is the crowning grace
for which the Apostle praysthankfulness. How much it means. The heart
full of gratitude and gladness, the life full of brightness and
buoyancy, the character full of vitality and vigour. The joy of the
Lord is, indeed, the strength of His people, and when this element of
thanksgiving characterises our life, it gives tone to everything else,
and crowns all other graces.
4. THE CHARACTER OF THE PRAYER.
We have seen what the Apostle desired for the Christians of Colosse,
and in so doing we have learnt some of the deepest secrets of Christian
living. It remains to notice the characteristics of this prayer, in
order that our prayers may be taught and guided and inspired with
His prayer was urgentSince the day we heard. From
the moment the tidings came by Epaphras of the Christian life in
Colosse the Apostle's heart went up to God in prayer.
His prayer was incessantDo not cease to pray.
Again and again he asked, and kept on asking, so fully was his heart
drawn out in prayer for these Christians whom he had never seen.
His prayer was intenseAnd to desire. This was no
mere lip service. His heart had evidently been stirred to its core by
the tidings of the Christian life at Colosse, and as he heard of their
faith, their love, their hope, their holiness, their service, a deep,
intense, longing desire came into his soul to seek for still fuller and
deeper blessing on their behalf. What a man he was, and what prayers
His prayer was offered in fellowship with othersSince
the day we heard. Timothy was associated with the Apostle in these
petitions. United prayer is one of the greatest powers in the Christian
Church. If two of you shall agree as touching anything that they shall
ask, it shall be done. Personal prayer is precious, united prayer is
still more powerful.
Thus in these verses we have one of the fullest, deepest and most
precious of the Apostle's prayers, and as we consider its union of
thought and experience, of profound teaching and equally profound
revelation of Christian life, we learn two of the most urgent and
necessary lessons for the Christian life to-day.
The first of these shall be given in the words of Bishop Moule:
Beware of untheological devotion. If devotion is to be real it should
be characterised by thought. There is no contradiction between
mind and heart, between theology and devotion. Devotional hours do not
mean hours when thought is absent. Meditation is not abstraction, nor
is devotion dreaminess. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy
mind is an essential part of the commandment. If genuine thought
and equally genuine theology do not characterise our hours of devotion,
we lose some of the most precious opportunities of grace and blessing.
A piety which is mere pietism, an evangelicalism which does not
continually ponder the profound truths of the New Testament, can never
be strong or do any deep service. We must beware of untheological
We must also beware of undevotional theology. This is the opposite
error, and constitutes an equally great danger. A hard, dry,
intellectual study of theology will yield no spiritual fruit. Accuracy
in knowledge of Greek, careful balancing of aspects of truth, large
knowledge of the doctrinal verities of the New Testament, are all
essential and valuable; but unless they are permeated by a spirit of
devotion they will fail at the crucial point. Pectus facit theologum
it is the heart that makes the theologian; and a theology which does
not spring from spiritual experience is doomed to decay, to deadness,
and therefore to disaster.
When, therefore, our devotions are theological, and our theology is
devotional, we begin to realise the true being, blessing, and power of
the Christian life, and we go from strength to strength, from grace to
grace, and from glory unto glory.
VI. CONFLICT AND COMFORT.
CONFLICT AND COMFORT.
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you,
them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in
flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, being knit together
love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of
the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father,
Christ.COL. ii. 1, 2.
Although he was in prison the Apostle was constantly at work for his
Master, and not least of all at the work of prayer. If ever the words
orare est laborare, to pray is to labour, were true, they were
true of St. Paul, for to him to pray was to work with all his might, as
we shall see from a study of another of the prayers offered in his
1. WHAT PRAYER MEANS.
Prayer is described as a conflict. We have a similar
expression used of the prayers of Epaphras, in the words labouring
fervently (Col. iv. 12). The same word conflict is associated with
faith, the good fight of faith (1 Tim. vi. 12), and with the good
fight of the Apostle's entire life (2 Tim. iv. 7). Prayer regarded as
a conflict includes the two ideas of toil and strife.
The toil of prayer shows us the work involved in it. Sometimes we
hear the expression, If you can do nothing else, you can pray, as
though prayer were the easiest of all things. As a simple fact, it is
the hardest. No man knows what prayer means unless he knows what it is
to labour in prayer. The strife involved in prayer implies
oppositionthe opposing force of one who wishes above all things to
check and thwart our prayers. We discern something of this opposition
in the well-known words, We wrestle (Eph. vi. 12); and the words of
the hymn are as true as they are familiar
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.
The Apostle knew by spiritual experience that to pray was to rouse
up against himself a mighty opposition, and it was this force that made
his prayer such a great conflict. No believer should be surprised at
his prayers being hindered (1 Pet. iii. 7). It is evidently one of
Satan's main objects to get the Christian to restrain prayer. The
Christian man or the Christian Church that continues instant in prayer
may rest assured of malignant opposition from the hosts of spiritual
wickedness in high places. On the other hand, we may be sure that Satan
scarcely troubles himself about the believer or congregation whose
private, family, and public praying is neglected or thought little of.
Prayer is, therefore, a great conflict. It is not solicitude only,
but a struggle; not merely anxiety, but activity. As Bishop Moule says:
Prayer is never meant to be indolently easy, however simple and
reliant it may be. It is meant to be an infinitely important
transaction between man and God. And therefore very often, when
subjects and circumstances call for it, it has to be viewed as a work
involving labour, persistency, conflict, if it would be prayer indeed
(Colossian Studies, p. 124). The Bishop goes on to quote a
familiar incident which illustrates this great truth: A visitor
knocked betimes one morning at the door of a good man, a saint of the
noblest Puritan typeand that was a fine type indeed. He called as a
friend to consult a friend, sure of his welcome. But he was kept
waiting long. At last a servant came to explain the delay: 'My master
has been at prayer, and this morning he has been long in getting
The practical question for us is whether this is our idea of prayer,
or whether we are merely playing at prayer, and not regarding it with
true seriousness. If we know what it is to have great conflict in
prayer, happy are we. If we do not, we may well ask God to search our
hearts and change our minds about prayer.
Prayer is characterised by unselfishness. The conflict of the
Apostle was not self-centred. It was on behalf of others: Great
conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea. This is the essence
of prayerintercession on behalf of others. If our seasons of prayer
are largely taken up with prayers for our own needs, however genuine,
we are failing at a crucial point; but if our time is mainly taken up
with prayers for others, we shall soon find that our own blessings
begin to abound. There is that scattereth and yet increaseth.
Prayer also implies sympathy. The Apostle was praying for
people whom he had never seen, and probably never would see. This is
not easyindeed, is very difficultbut it is a real test of
spirituality. Out of sight, out of mind. We are tempted to limit our
prayers to friends whom we know, causes in which we are interested,
subjects spiritually near and akin to us. Not so the Apostle, whose
heart went out to the whole Church of God in every place where he knew
through friends that little bodies of Christians were to be found. His
sympathy was at once quick, wide, and deep, and it is one of the
supreme tests of true spirituality to have a sympathy possessed of all
these three characteristics. Our sympathy may be quick and yet narrow,
or wide but not deep, or even deep and not wide; but to be at once
quick, wide, and deep in sympathy is to be a true follower of Christ.
As we ponder these thingsconflict, unselfishness, sympathydo not
our hearts condemn us? Instead of conflict, how easy-going have been
our prayers! Instead of unselfish, how self-centred, instead of
sympathetic, how contracted! Thus the Apostle searches and tests us as
we dwell on his wonderful life of prayer.
2. WHAT PRAYER BRINGS.
What were the objects for which the Apostle prayed so earnestly on
behalf of these unknown Christians? What were the precise gifts that he
sought for them from God? This is no unnecessary question, for the same
gifts will surely be suitable to us.
He asked for spiritual strength: That their hearts might be
comforted. St. Paul always went to the very centre and core of things,
and so we find him constantly praying with reference to the hearts of
these Colossian Christians. Since, as we have seen, the heart in
Scripture is the centre of our moral and spiritual being, if the heart
is right, all will be right, for out of it are the issues of life. He
prays that their hearts might be comfortedthat is, in the full
sense of the word, encouraged, exhorted, strengthened. Comfort
includes the three elements of strength, courage, and consolation. We
must be strong, brave, and cheery. This is the full meaning of the term
Comforter as applied to the Holy Spirit. He is the One Who gives
strength, courage, and consolation. This, too, is the true meaning of
the familiar phrase of the English Prayer Book, Comfortable
wordswords that minister strength, fortitude, and cheer. The fact
that this thought of hearts comforted was often in the mind and on
the lips of the Apostle shows the importance he attached to it (2
Thess. ii. 17; Eph. vi. 22). With hearts made strong, courageous, and
cheerful, Christians can face anything; while with hearts that remain
weak, fearful, and sad the Christian life is a prey to all the
temptations of the Evil One. It is exactly similar with a Church or a
congregation of Christians, for one of the supreme needs in any
community is comforted heartsthe centres of life made strong,
courageous, and happy. Then it is that Churches live, grow, extend, and
witness for Christ in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit the
He asked for spiritual unity: Being knit together in love,
or, quite literally, having been compacted in love. He prayed that
these Christians might be kept together, knit together, joined together
in a spirit of love. Solitary Christians are always weak Christians,
for union is strength. If Christians are not knit together, the cause
of Christ must necessarily suffer, for through the severances caused by
division the enemy will keep thrusting his darts. That is why the
Apostle elsewhere urges them earnestly to strive to keep the unity of
the Spirit (Eph. iv. 3). One of the greatest powers that Satan wields
to-day is due to the disunion among the people of God. It is true of
the Christian home, congregation, and denomination. The wedge of
discord is one of the enemy's most powerful weapons. On the other hand,
where the brethren dwell together in unity, the Lord commands His
blessing. In almost every Epistle the Apostle emphasises unity, and we
can readily understand the reason.
This unity is only possible in love. It is the love of God to
us that unites us to Him, and it will be the love of God in us
that unites us to our brethren. There is no power like love to bind
Christians together. We may not see eye to eye on all aspects of truth;
we may not all use the same methods of worship and service, but if we
love one another God dwells in us and among us, and adds His own seal
of blessing to the work done for Him. Let every Christian be fully
assured that in so far as he is striving, praying, and labouring for
the union of God's people in love, he will be doing one of the most
powerful and blessed pieces of work for his Master, and one of the
greatest possible pieces of disservice to the kingdom of Satan.
Contrariwise, the Christian man or Christian Church that stands out for
separateness and exclusiveness is one of the best allies of Satan, and
one of the most effective workers for the kingdom of darkness.
He asked for spiritual certitude: Unto all riches of the
full assurance of understanding. Wealth is a favourite metaphor of St.
Paul, and is used to denote the fulness and abundance of the Christian
life as conceived by him. Mark how he piles phrase upon
phraseunderstanding, fulness of understanding, and then wealth
of fulness of understanding. To the Apostle, the mind was one of the
essential powers and principles of the Christian life. So far from
thinking according to a modern fashion that the less one uses the mind
the better Christian one is, St. Paul, following his Master, ever
emphasised the duty and glory of loving God with all the mind. This
wealth of the fulness of understanding means an abundance of
conviction, both intellectual and moral, that Christianity is what it
claims to be, and that the Christian life is the perfect satisfaction
of all the different parts of man's nature. He prays that they may
rise to the whole wealth of the full exercise of their intelligence
(Moule). Just as we find elsewhere the fulness of faith (Heb. x. 22),
the fulness of hope (Heb. vi. 11), and much fulness (1 Thess. i.
5), so here the Apostle desires them to enjoy to the full the
intelligent grasping of assurance of Christian truth which was theirs
In the same spirit Luke writes to Theophilus: That thou mightest
know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.
A firm conviction of the understanding is one of the greatest needs, as
it is also one of the greatest blessings, of the Christian life. If a
Christian cannot say, I know, I am persuaded, he is lacking in one
of the prime essentials of a vigorous experience. Let us ponder, then,
this remarkable phrase, the whole wealth of the fulness of
intelligence, and see in it one of the absolute necessities of daily
But how does it come? It is the result of the foregoing comfort
and love. Hearts made strong mean minds fully assured. Hearts full of
love mean intellects full of knowledge and conviction. Let no one say
that love is blind: on the contrary, it is love that sees and knows. It
was the Apostle of love who was the first with spiritual insight to
say, It is the Lord, on that memorable early morning on the Lake of
Galilee. It is the Christian with a heart strong and full of love who
will have the wealth of the fulness of intelligence. The same is true
of a Church, for when it is strong and united in love, there will come
such an influx of conviction and certitude that the world will be
impressed by the demonstration of the truth of the Christian Gospel.
He asked for spiritual knowledge: To the full knowledge of
the mystery of God and the Father, even Christ (not as A.V.). Here,
again, we have a favourite word of these Epistles, full knowledge,
that is, ripe, mature experience; and it means the experience of all
that is summed up in the one word Christ. In view of the dangerous
errors, then rife and increasing, of a special knowledge confined only
to a few, to an intellectual aristocracy, the Apostle lays stress upon
the possibility of every Christian becoming acquainted in personal
experience with all the knowledge of God that is stored up in Christ.
He declares Christ as the Image of God (ch. i. 15), as the Head of the
Church (ch. i. 18), as the One in Whom all fulness dwells (ch. i. 19),
as the Redeemer from sin (ch. i. 20), as the Hope of glory (ch. i. 27),
as the One in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
(ch. ii. 3). There is no mistiness here, no vagueness, no hesitation,
no limitation, but a full, free, open opportunity for all believers to
become acquainted with Christ in His Divine fulness. This is the
crowning-point of the Apostle's prayer, for in the full knowledge of
Christ everything else is included. This knowledge, at once
intellectual, moral, and spiritual, is the safeguard from all error,
the secret of all progress, and the guarantee of all blessing.
Let this prayer, then, be our constant and careful study. We shall
find in it much to rebuke the shallowness, the selfishness, the
dulness, and the sluggishness of our prayers; and we shall also find in
it a model of instruction, and the inspiration of all true petition and
intercession. The Christian who learns from the prayers of the Apostle
will learn some of the deepest secrets of the Christian life.
VII. WISDOM AND REVELATION.
WISDOM AND REVELATION.
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord
love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you,
mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus
the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and
revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your
being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His
and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the
what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who
according to the working of His mighty power.EPH. i. 15-19.
If prayer for others is a barometer of our own spiritual life, we
can realise what St. Paul felt was necessary for himself by his prayers
for others. In Ephesians there are two petitions, and nothing fuller
and deeper is found in any of the Apostle's writings. This Epistle
represents the high-water mark of Christian privilege and possibility.
1. THE FOUNDATION.
We see from verse 15 that his prayer is closely and definitely based
on what precedes, and this introduces us to a feature not hitherto
found. Up to now the prayers at the opening have been recorded almost
immediately after the personal greetings. But here a long paragraph
intervenes, and the prayer is not recorded until after fourteen verses
full of spiritual teaching have been given. This section deserves
special attention because it is the basis of the prayer. Let us review
it briefly in order to obtain the true perspective of the petition.
The key-thought is in verse 3, where the Apostle praises God for
having actually blessed them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly
places in Christ. Then comes a wonderful statement of the way in which
these blessings had become their own. (a) They had been
eternally purposed in God the Father (vers. 3-6_a); (b) they had
been historically mediated through God the Son (vers. 6_b-12); (c
) they had been spiritually applied by God the Spirit (vers. 12-14). And
in connection with each Person of the Sacred Trinity practically the
same phrase occurs in this paragraph, showing that all the blessings
were given in order that they might be used for the Divine glory: To
the praise of the glory of His grace (ver. 6); To the praise of His
glory (ver. 12); To the praise of His glory (ver. 14).
Now it is upon this wealth of provision that the Apostle bases his
prayer: On this account. God had so wonderfully blessed them in
Christ by His Spirit, and this fulness of blessing was so clearly
intended to be used to the praise and glory of God that he could pray,
as he does here, assured that the answer would come. God's revelation
of Himself is invariably and inevitably the foundation of our prayers.
Because of what He has done and is doing we can be sure of grace.
Because His power has provided all things that pertain to life and
godliness we can be certain of power for daily living.
2. THE APPEAL.
The names and titles of God are particularly noteworthy and are
always full of spiritual significance, shedding light on the passages
in which they occur. St. Paul prays to the God of our Lord Jesus
Christ. This title as it stands is unique, though already he has
referred to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 3), and
will refer again to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in connection
with prayer (ch. iii. 14). The God of our Lord Jesus Christ seems to
suggest the highest point and peak of power and grace. God, as the God
of Christ, is the primary source of all blessing.
He is also the Father of Glory. This, too, is a phrase not found
elsewhere. He is the Father to Whom all glory belongs as its Divine
source. In Acts vii. 2 He is the God of glory, and in 1 Cor. ii. 8
Christ is the Lord of glory. In Rom. vi. 4 Christ is said to have
been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. Glory is a
characteristic quality of God. It is the manifestation of His splendour
and the outshining of His excellence. All radiance, all brightness, all
magnificence come from Him and are intended to be returned to Him in
praise. The glory of God in Romans is threefold: it is God's proof for
man's past life (ch. iii. 23); it is God's prospect for man's future
life (ch. v. 2); it is God's principle for man's present life (ch. xv.
7). And the association of glory with prayer seems to suggest that the
praise of His glory which is to characterise our life can only come
from God Himself as the Father of glory. If our lives are to be lived
to His praise, His must be the power. If our lives are to manifest
His glory, His must be the grace. Thine is the kingdom, the power, and
3. THE REQUEST.
Now we come to this profound prayer which teaches the inmost secrets
of the spiritual life.
(1) A Divine Gift. May give to you a spirit of wisdom and
revelation. He has spoken of the wealth of blessing stored up in
Christ (ver. 3), and of God's grace abounding to us in all wisdom and
prudence (ver. 8). Now he asks for wisdom and illumination to perceive
all this for themselves as a personal experience. The word spirit
seems to refer to their human faculty, though of course as indwelt and
possessed by the Divine Spirit. But the absence of the definite article
from the word spirit seems to suggest a gift rather than a Person.
The Holy Spirit of God enters into our spirit, and the result is wisdom
and revelation. These two words refer to general illumination and
specific enlightenment. He desires his readers to enter fully into the
meaning of these great realities to which he has given such full
expression (vers. 1-14).
(2) But this Divine gift is only possible by means of a simple yet
important condition. It is in the full knowledge of Him. The word
rendered knowledge is characteristic of these prison epistles, and
always means full knowledge, the mature experience of the spiritual
man. It is invariably connected with God; it refers to the deep,
growing, ripening consciousness which comes from personal fellowship
with Him. Philosophy can only say Know thyself, but Scripture says,
Know God. This is how wisdom and revelation become ours, and
Christian history and experience testify abundantly to the simple yet
remarkable fact of spiritual insight and moral understanding which are
due solely to fellowship with God. Nothing is more striking than the
fact of a deep, spiritual apprehension and appreciation which are
independent of intellectual conception and verbal expression. Believers
can have a true spiritual consciousness of God without the possession
of great capacity or attainments. Many whose natural education and
intellectual opportunities have been slight have had this spiritual
perception in an uncommon degree, and it always marks the spiritually
ripe Christian. It is not the one whose intellectual knowledge is
critical, scholarly, and profound, but he whose spiritual insight is
suffused with grace, love, and fellowship. This does not mean that
natural knowledge or culture is to be despised or avoided as evil, but
that the two kinds of knowledge should be carefully distinguished. The
Christian Church has at least for the last three hundred years set
great store by knowledge and science, but deeper than all this is the
spiritual instinct, insight, knowledge, and illumination which
constitute the supreme requirement of the true Christian life. We can
see this spiritual perception in its various stages in several passages
of the New Testament. We have seen how St. John divides believers into
three classes (1 John ii. 12-14). But while in his repetition the
Apostle can vary the description of the children and the young men,
when he has to speak the second time of the fathers he has nothing
new to say, for they cannot be otherwise or more fully described than
as those who know Him Who is from the beginning.
(3) The immediate consequence of this fellowship is that the eyes of
the heart become permanently enlightened (Greek). Keeping in view the
Scripture truth of the heart as including the elements of Mind,
Emotion, and Will, the result of fellowship with God is that every
feature of the inner life becomes purified and enlightened. The mind is
illuminated to perceive truth, the emotions are purified to love the
good, and the will is equipped to obey the right. It is not that new
objects meet the gaze so much as that a new and deeper perception is
given to enable the heart to see and understand what had hitherto been
dark and difficult. This illuminated heart is one of the choicest
blessings of the spiritual life and one of the greatest safeguards
against spiritual error. Ye have an unction ... and ye know (1 John
ii. 20). The Son of God hath come, and hath given us an understanding
(1 John v. 20). Many of the problems affecting the spiritual life are
solved only in this way. Criticism, scholarship, intellectual power may
be brought to bear upon them, but they will not yield to this
treatment. The illuminated heart of the babe in Christ is often enabled
to understand secrets which are hid from the wise and prudent.
(4) The outcome is a permanent spiritual experience. That ye may
know, i.e. possess an immediate, instinctive, direct knowledge
(eidenai). Three great realities are thereupon mentioned as the objects
and substance of our spiritual knowledge.
(a) The first is What is the hope of His calling. His
calling is the appeal and offer of the Gospel with all its Divine
meaning and purpose, and the hope of His calling is that which is
intended by and included in the offer of God. This hope is either
that to which God calls us, or by which He calls; either
objective or subjective; either the substance or the feeling. Hope when
regarded as objective, as the substance of our experience, is full of
promise, on which the believer fixes his faith. Hope when regarded as
subjective, as the possession of the soul, is full of inspiration, as
it encourages and confirms belief that He is faithful that promised.
Hope as an objective reality is fixed on Christ, and since God has a
purpose in calling us, we can exercise hope. Hope as a subjective
realisation is based on the fact of experience. God calls us by the
Gospel, and therefore hope becomes possible. Hope is the top-stone of
life and follows faith and love (cf. ver. 15). Faith draws the curtain
aside; hope gazes into the future; while love rejoices in the present
possession of Christ. Faith accepts; hope expects. Faith appropriates;
hope anticipates. Faith is concerned with the person who promises; hope
with the thing that the person promises. Faith is concerned with the
past and present; hope with the future alone. Hope is invariably fixed
on the future and is never to be regarded as merely a matter of natural
temperament. It is specifically connected with the Lord's Coming, and
we are thus reminded that the calling of God covers past, present, and
future. It starts from regeneration and culminates in the resurrection
of the body at the Coming of Christ.
(b) The second is The riches of the glory of His inheritance
in the saints. This may mean the wealth which God possesses for
them or in them; our wealth in Him or His in us. If we take it
in the former sense it will mean that God is the inheritance and we are
the heirs; that the saints now possess imperfectly, and anticipate in
its fulness, the inheritance of grace, the spiritual Canaan which they
are to enjoy here and hereafter. If, however, we take it, as is more
likely, in the latter sense, it will mean that we are the inheritance
and God is the Possessor and Heir. We must never forget that the
Biblical ideas associated with heir and inheritance always refer to
possession, and not, as in ordinary phraseology, to succession. In the
Bible the heir does not merely expect, but already enjoys in part that
which he will possess in full hereafter. Adopting, then, the second of
these interpretations, the saints belong to God and are precious in His
sight. They are His peculium, or special treasure, like Israel
of old (Deut. iv. 20). They have been formed for Him and are to show
forth His praise (Isa. xliii. 21). He sets store by them, as is
suggested by the significant words, Hast thou considered My servant
Job? There are several indications in Scripture that God values and
trusts His people; I know him, that he will command his children and
his household after him (Gen. xviii. 19). The Lord taketh pleasure in
His people (Ps. cxlix. 4). The steps of a good man are ordered by the
Lord: and He (that is, God) delighteth in his way (Ps. xxxvii. 23).
And the wealth is a further proof of the value placed on believers by
God. Five times in Ephesians the Apostle uses this metaphor of
riches, showing his thought of those who have been bought with a
price (1 Cor. v. 20). Believers are God's riches, wealth, treasure;
they belong to Him in view of that day on which He will enter in full
upon His inheritance when He comes to be glorified and admired in them
that believe (2 Thess. i. 10). And we are to see this, to know it, to
realise the spiritual possibilities of each believer and all God's
people together as God's own inheritance.
(c) The third is the exceeding greatness of His power to
us-ward who believe. In this marvellous association of almost
inexpressible thoughts the dominant note is power (dúnamis), and the
Apostle prays that the Ephesian Christians may know what this means.
Power is a characteristic word of St. Paul as expressive of
Christianity. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. i.
16). By the Resurrection Christ was designated the Son of God with
power (Rom. i. 4). He is the power of God (1 Cor. i. 18). Man needs
power, not merely a philosophy or an ethic, but a dynamic, and it is
the peculiar privilege of His Gospel to bring this to us. But let us
try to analyse this power. There are no less than four comparisons
stated or illustrations given. (1) It is exactly the same power that
God wrought in Christ at the Resurrection. Nothing less than this is
the standard of the Divine working. We are to possess and experience
the spiritual and moral dynamic exercised by God on Christ when He
raised Him from the dead. This is described as the exceeding greatness
of His power. The same adjective is used of grace (ch. ii. 7), and of
love (ch. iii. 19), and it is intended to express the superabundance of
that power which was put forth in the Resurrection and is now exercised
on our behalf. Then the four words used for power are particularly
noteworthy: power, energy, strength, might. Each conveys an
aspect of this great spiritual force. Might is power in possession
; strength is power as the result of grasping, or of coming
into contact with the source of that power; and energy is a power in
expression. (2) Not only so, but the power exercised by God in the
Ascension is also intended to be bestowed on and experienced by us.
When we are told that Christ was set at God's right hand far above all
powers, we can understand something of the Divine might exercised. (3)
Still more, it is the same power by means of which God put all things
under the feet of Christ. This, too, is the Divine force and energy for
believers. (4) Not least of all, it was Divine power that gave Christ
to be the Head over all things to the Church, and it is exactly this
power that is exercised on our behalf. When we contemplate all this as
intended by God for us, we can see something of the vigorous and
victorious life He can and will enable us to live.
As we review this wonderful prayer it is impossible to avoid
noticing that the first petition refers mainly to the past (His
calling"); the second mainly to the future (His inheritance"); and the
third mainly to the present (His power"), though of course each
petition has its bearing on the other two points of time. Every part of
our life is thus adequately supplied and intended to be abundantly
satisfied. Nor may we omit to observe that all through the prayer the
emphasis is on God: His calling; His inheritance; His
power. Everything is regarded from the Divine standpoint, because we
are not our own but His. The contemplation of this glory of the Divine
love and grace overwhelms the soul with wonder, love, and praise.
In the presence of such a prayer, dealing with such profound
realities, three thoughts naturally arise in our minds. (a) How
little we know, and how much we might and should know. (b) How
little we are, and how much we might and should be. (c) How
little we do, and how much we might and should do. And yet if we will
but remind ourselves of the simple secret of true living, as here
described, we might become and accomplish infinitely more than we have
ever experienced up to the present. To us-ward who believe. Faith is
the simple yet all-sufficient secret. Trust relies on God and receives
from Him. It puts us in contact with the source of blessing, and in
union with Him we shall find spiritual illumination, spiritual insight,
spiritual experience, and spiritual power that shall all be lived and
exercised to His praise and glory.
VIII. STRENGTH AND INDWELLING.
STRENGTH AND INDWELLING.
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,
would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be
strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that
may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and
in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the
breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the
Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with
fulness of God.EPH. iii. 14-19.
In no part of Paul's letters does he rise to a higher level
his prayers, and none of his prayers are fuller of fervour than
wonderful series of petitions. They open out one into the other
some majestic suite of apartments in a great palace-temple,
leading into a loftier and more spacious hall, each drawing
presence chamber, until at last we stand there (MACLAREN).
The second prayer in Ephesians possesses remarkable affinities with
the first; indeed, the two are complementary, and many of the
expressions call for close comparison.
1. THE STANDPOINT.
For this cause (ver. 14). To what does this phrase point back?
Some associate it with verse 1, For this cause, thinking that St.
Paul, having been diverted from his main teaching in verses 1-13, here
resumes it in the form of a prayer. But perhaps it is still better to
regard the resumption of the main teaching as coming in ch. iv. 1,
where the Apostle again speaks of himself as the prisoner. This would
make ch. iii. wholly parenthetical, so that instead of the present
prayer being based on the teaching of ch. ii. the Apostle is led here
to speak of his ministry (ch. iii. 1-13) and its outcome. His ministry
is a gift, a trust, a stewardship, and its purpose is the proclamation
of the Gospel and its results in the accomplishment of God's purposes
for Jew and Gentile. On this view the standpoint of the prayer is
associated closely with his ministry and its effects, as seen in the
immediately preceding verses. It is because of his remarkable ministry,
given to him by God, and all the spiritual privileges brought to the
Gentile Christians thereby that he is able to work for them (ver. 13),
and also to pray for them (ver. 14). Thus, while the prayer in ch. i.
looks at their life from the standpoint of the Divine purposes, this
prayer will be occupied with their spiritual privileges in Christ.
2. THE ATTITUDE.
I bow my knees unto the Father (ver. 14). The intense reverence of
the Apostle in this allusion to bowing his knees is particularly
noteworthy. As a rule the Jews stood for prayer (Luke xviii. 11-13),
and prostration seems to have been an exceptional posture. But in
connection with Christians, kneeling is mentioned (Acts vii. 60, ix.
40, xx. 36). Nothing could more beautifully express the true attitude
of the soul before God than this posture of the body. At the same time
the use of the word Father indicates the other side of the truth and
confidence with which we approach God. He is at once our God and our
Father (ch. i. 17), and our attitude must be expressive both of our
adoration and of our assurance. He is great and good, and we approach
Him as the Holy One and the Loving One.
3. THE ADDRESS.
The Father from Whom every family in heaven and earth is named. It
is interesting that the title God is not associated with this prayer
as in ch. i., although the thought of Deity is found in the allusion to
bowing the knees. And in addition to God as the Father He is described
as the One from Whom every family (Greek, 'fatherhood') in heaven and
earth is named. This seems to mean that whatever element of family
life exists, it comes from God, that all true spiritual life in heaven
or earth has its origin in the Father. The scope of the prayer is
particularly noteworthy, as we contemplate God as the Fount of every
fatherhood and the Parent of all men everywhere. Such a statement will
do more than anything else to guard us against narrow or purely selfish
desires as we approach God in prayer.
4. THE APPEAL.
That He would grant you (ver. 16). As in the former prayer, the
Apostle is clear that what he is about to ask is essentially a Divine
gift. It comes from above, whether he is seeking knowledge (ch. i. 17)
or power (ch. iii. 16). At every step God must give and the believer
must receive. It would be well for us in our Christian experience to
emphasise this simple but searching truth. Every good and every
perfect gift comes from above.
5. THE STANDARD.
According to the riches of His glory (ver. 16). Here again we
begin to realise something of the fulness of the prayer to be offered.
The measure of the Apostle's desire is not our own poverty, but God's
wealth; we are to look away from ourselves to the infinite riches of
the Divine glory. In the former prayer he asked that we might know the
riches of God's glory. But here there is something more; we are to
experience them in our heart and life.
6. THE PETITIONS.
In general St. Paul asks for two great spiritual blessings, the
inward strength of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling presence of
Christ. These are inseparable, and we may regard the first as essential
to the second, and the second as the effect of the first. But the
prayer goes into detail and each part of the petition calls for careful
(1) Strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man
(ver. 16, R.V.). As wisdom was the burden of the former prayer (ch. i.
17), so strength is the main thought here. The order, too, is
significant; wisdom and power, since power without knowledge would be
highly dangerous. This strength comes from the Holy Spirit; He is the
Agent of God's enabling grace. And the strength is to extend into the
inward man. The contrast seems to be between the inward and the
outward, as in 2 Cor. iv. 16; Rom. vii. 22. The strength is not of the
body, or of the mind, but of the soul. The inward is not exactly
identical with the new man, but emphasises the inner essential life
of the spirit as contrasted with the outer life of the body. The
hidden man of the heart.
(2) That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (ver. 17,
R.V.). This is the outcome of the inward strength of the Spirit, and
almost every word needs attention. The indwelling of Christ is
virtually identical with that of the Spirit (ch. ii. 22), although of
course Christ and the Holy Spirit are never absolutely identified in
Holy Scripture (2 Cor. iii. 17, 18). It is only in regard to the
practical outcome in the believer's experience that the indwelling of
Christ and the Spirit amount to the same thing. This is to be a
permanent indwelling and not a mere passing stay, just as believers
together are described as a temple for God's permanent habitation (ch.
ii. 22, Greek). This permanent indwelling of Christ is to be in your
hearts. Almost every prayer is thus concerned with the heart, the
centre of the moral being, and the Apostle prays that Christ may make
His home therein. This is no mere influence, but a Personal Presence,
the Living Christ within, and it is to be through faith. It is faith
that admits Christ to the heart, allowing Him to enter into every part
of the inward man. And the same faith that admits Him permits Him to
remain, reside, and rule. Faith, in a word, is the total response of
the soul to the Lordship of Christ.
(3) That ye, being rooted and grounded in love (ver. 17). Here
again the original expressions imply permanent results, and the two
words rooted and grounded are beautifully complementary. The one
refers to a tree, the other to a house, and the expressions point to
those hidden processes of the soul which are the result of Christ's
indwelling and the Holy Spirit's working. The power of the Spirit and
the indwelling of Christ tend to our permanent inward establishment in
the element and atmosphere of Christian love. This is one of the seven
occasions in this short Epistle where we find the Pauline phrase, in
love, referring to the sphere and atmosphere of our fellowship with
God. The love no doubt means primarily and perhaps almost exclusively
God's love to us, as that in which we are to live, and move, and have
(4) May be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the
breadth and length and height and depth (ver. 18, R.V.). Here again
the emphasis is on strength, and the Apostle prays that we may have
full strength to grasp, may be quite able to accomplish this purpose.
Spiritual ideas can never be appropriated by intellectual action alone.
It is not by brilliant intellect but by spiritual insight that we
become able to comprehend. Although there is now no specific
reference to love, it would seem as though the idea of verse 19 is
already in view, and, assuming this to be the case, we have four
aspects of the Divine love which we are to be strong to grasp. Its
breadth means that there is no barrier to it, reminding us of the
extent of the Divine counsels; its length tells us of the Divine
foreknowledge and His thought of us through the ages; its height
points to our Lord in heaven as the goal for the penitent believer; its
depth declares the possibility of love descending to the lost abyss
of human misery for the purpose of redemption. And the ability to grasp
the Divine love in this fourfold way is to be experienced with all the
saints. It is impossible to accomplish it alone; no spiritual
exclusiveness is thinkable in this connection, to say nothing of the
lower forms of egotism and selfishness. Twice in this brief writing
does the Apostle refer to all the saints (ch. vi. 18), thereby
reminding us of the place and power of each saint in the spiritual
economy of God. One saint will be able to comprehend a little, another
saint a little more, and so on, until at length all the saints together
are strong to grasp the Divine love. The wider our fellowship the
fuller and firmer our hold of the love of Christ. This is doubtless why
public worship is so strongly emphasised in the New Testament. Where
two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I. The
experiences of our fellow-worshippers are always intended to be, and
usually will be, of help to our own fuller realisation of our Lord and
Master. The soul is justified solitarily and alone, but it is
sanctified only in the community of believers.
(5) And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge (ver.
19). If we are correct in interpreting verse 18 of the Divine love, the
present verse will be the climax of this part of the prayer, and it has
been helpfully suggested that we have here the fifth dimension of the
love of Christ after the four already mentioned. Not only are they to
experience breadth and length and height and depth but also the
inwardness; they are to know by personal experience the love of Christ
as it can only be known by those who have fellowship with Him. It is a
love that surpasses knowledge, just as His power surpasses everything
(ch. i. 19). The paradox of knowing that which surpasses knowledge will
not be misunderstood from the standpoint of spiritual experience,
because it is the difference between apprehending and comprehending. We
know, and know deeply, increasingly, blessedly, and yet all the while
there are infinite stretches of love beyond our highest experiences.
(6) That ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God (ver. 19,
R.V.). This is the climax of the prayer and is the culminating purpose
of the work of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ. Strength,
indwelling, love, and knowledge are to issue in fulness, and we are to
be filled unto all the fulness of God. In the former prayer this
fulness is associated with Christ and with His body the Church (ch. i.
23), but here it is specifically associated with God and ourselves as
believers in Christ. When these two passages are associated with ch. v.
18, which speaks of the fulness of the Spirit, we have the word
fulness connected with each Person of the Blessed Trinity. What it
means for the soul to be filled to overflowing with the presence of God
itself is beyond our comprehension; it can only be a matter of personal
experience as we seek to fulfil the proper conditions. Such a prayer
for the fulness of God is best expressed in Miss Havergal's words
Lord, we ask it, scarcely knowing
What this wondrous gift may be;
But fulfil to overflowing,
Thy great meaning let us see.
IX. LOVE AND DISCERNMENT.
LOVE AND DISCERNMENT.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in
knowledge and all judgment: that ye may approve things that are
excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the
Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which
Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.PHIL. i.
One of the most beautiful elements in the Pauline Epistles is the
intimate relation which evidently existed between the Apostle and his
converts. This is especially the case in the Epistle to the
Philippians, for in no other writing is there such a full revelation of
the heart of St. Paul and of his love to those with whom he was united
in Christ. As, therefore, he knew them so intimately, so he prayed for
them, the prayer revealing at once their need, and his conviction as to
essential things. Prayer is always strong in proportion to our
acquaintance with the spiritual life of others, and feeble so far as we
are ignorant of their needs.
1. THE DEFINITE REQUEST.
Let us mark the opening words: this I keep on asking (Greek).
There was one thing for which he asked continually, and this seemed to
him to sum up everything in their life.
(1) He prayed for love; your love. As they already possessed life,
he wished it to be expressed in love. The Epistle is full of this
subject. No writing is so truly characterised by the love of St. Paul
for his converts, or of his converts for St. Paul (see ch. iv. 14-18).
Let us again remind ourselves that love in the New Testament is
something definite, tangible, strong, practical, intense. It is more
than sentiment, though of course it includes that; it is more than
emotion, though undoubtedly it includes that; it is more than desire,
though obviously it includes that. Love is the outgoing of the entire
nature in self-sacrificing service. It is the sympathy of the heart and
the devotion of the life to its object. As such it is the supreme proof
of the reality of our Christian profession. If ye love Me, ye will
keep My commandments (John xiv. 15, R.V.). Lovest thou Me ... feed My
sheep (John xxi. 16). Seeing ye have purified your souls ... love one
another from the heart unfeignedly (1 Pet. i. 22, R.V.). It was with
no cynicism, but with a wonderful astonishment, that the heathen used
to say, See how these Christians love one another. When therefore the
Apostle prayed for love he was asking that the Philippian Christians
might possess and manifest the very finest, truest, most powerful, and
most attractive proof of their Christian life.
(2) He prayed for abounding love; that your love may abound. Not
only some, but abundant love; not a little, but much. Love to be real
must be kept full, intense, overflowing; it calls for continual
reinforcement, replenishing, and the abundance of love is the measure
and proof of the possession of abundant life.
(3) He prayed for increasing love; that your love may abound yet
more and more. Expression is piled upon expression in order to
emphasise the importance of love and its progress. Love is intended to
grow and not to remain stationary. Just as life makes progress, so must
its result similarly develop in love. The motto for the Christian is
more and more. This is why there is so much in the New Testament
about growth, for just as it is with natural life so it must be with
spiritual. Constant increase, development, progress, extension,
expansion must mark it at every step.
(4) He prayed for discerning love; that your love may abound yet
more and more in knowledge and all discernment (R.V.). The two words
knowledge and discernment are particularly noteworthy. One
expresses the principle, the other the application. Again we observe
this word knowledge as a characteristic expression of the Apostle in
these prison-epistles. Full knowledge (Greek) is one of the marks of
a growing Christian life, and is proved by spiritual perception,
spiritual feeling, spiritual discernment. There is a world of
difference between intellectual ability and spiritual insight. Many
people are clever, but not spiritual, while many people are often truly
spiritual without being possessed of much intellectual capacity. Much
is said in Scripture about sight in regard to things spiritual.
Except a man be born again, he cannot see (John iii. 3).
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt.
v. 8). There are many people in our congregations of average intellect,
and perhaps with mental powers decidedly below the average, who are
nevertheless full of profound spiritual wisdom because love to Christ
has given them keenness of vision and depth of insight.
2. THE IMMEDIATE PURPOSE.
This constant progress and abundance of love was intended for a very
practical purpose; so that ye may approve the things that are
excellent (ver. 10, R.V.). The discernment already mentioned was
intended for spiritual discrimination. They were to be enabled to
distinguish, to prove, and thereby to approve. As Lightfoot points out,
love imparts a sensitiveness of touch, a keen edge to the
discriminating faculty in things moral and spiritual. In things
spiritual at least love is not blind, but keen-sighted. It is endowed
with a spiritual discernment which is able to distinguish not only
between good and bad, but between good and better, between better and
best, and between best and excellent. The words, approve the things
that are excellent, occur also in Rom. ii. 18, and the meaning seems
to be first that they were to distinguish the things that differ, and
then as a result they were to approve the things that transcend. This
spiritual discernment is particularly needful to-day, as the Christian
soul is surrounded by so many views and voices. Much that appears on
the surface to be attractive and charming contains within it the
elements of spiritual danger and disaster, and it is only by spiritual
discernment which comes from abounding and increasing love to Christ
that the soul is safeguarded against evil and led to approve and follow
the things that are superior. It is a vivid picture that the prophet
gives of the Messiah when he describes Him as endowed by the Spirit of
God and made of quick scent in the fear of the Lord (Isa. xi. 3,
Hebrew). It is this quick scent that by the same Spirit the Lord
Jesus Christ bestows upon those who love Him with all the heart.
3. THE PERMANENT RESULT.
Every Christian grace is intended for practical and permanent effect
in character. Our lives are not to be intermittent, but continuous in
their expression of grace and blessing, and all that the Apostle has
been praying for and desiring on behalf of his Philippian Christians
was intended to develop and express in them the solid and permanent
realities of Christian character.
(1) Sincerity; that ye may be sincere (ver. 10). This has to do
with motives. The word is thought to mean tested in the sunlight. Our
lives are to be manifestly true, genuine, sincere, transparent.
Motive makes the man, and from time to time it is essential that we
should allow ourselves to be tested and judged in the sunlight of our
perfect fellowship with Christ, just as St. Peter, when asked by his
Master, said, Lord, Thou knowest all things. Sincerity is one of the
essential features of the true Christian life. The believer, if he is
to do the will of God and commend the Gospel to others, must have no
doubtful arrière pensée but a life lived moment by moment in the
perfect brightness of the presence of perfect holiness.
(2) Consistency; void of offence (ver. 10, R.V.). This has to do
with conduct. Not only are we to be inwardly true, but outwardly sure.
Our lives must not hinder others, or put a stumbling-block in their
way. Just as the Master said, Blessed is he whosoever is not put to
stumble by Me, so must it be with every follower of Christ. Our lives
are to be stepping-stones, not stumbling-blocks.
(3) Character; being filled with the fruits of righteousness. This
has to do with our permanent life both within and without, though the
emphasis is on being rather than on doing. Character is the highest
point and peak of the Christian life, for just as fruit is the outcome
of the life of a tree, so character is the fruit of Christian living,
and is the best proof of its existence. The Apostle's word suggests
that we are to be permanently filled (Greek) with the fruits of
righteousness, those things that are right, straight, true, correct,
upright, without any deflection on either side. The Lord Who is our
Righteousness works in us the fruits of righteousness by the indwelling
of the Holy Spirit.
4. THE ULTIMATE OBJECT.
The Apostle looks forward unto the day of Christ (ver. 10, R.V.),
and then speaks of the Christian life being lived unto the glory and
praise of God (ver. 11). Everything is to tend towards the
manifestation of the splendour of God in human life whereby others will
be led to acknowledge and praise Him (Matt. v. 16). And this will reach
its culminating point in the day of Christ, that time when Christian
people will stand before their Master and receive the reward of their
life and service rendered to Him (ch. i. 6, ii. 16). This was the
Apostle's constant thought, and towards this he strained every nerve
(ch. iii. 11-21). It expresses the highest ideal of Christian living,
for day by day we are to live with this wonderful thought of the glory
and praise of God, and day by day we are to look forward to the coming
of Christ as that day in which our life will find its fullest
realisation, its complete satisfaction, and its unending joy. And all
this reminds us of the essential simplicity of life, for there is
nothing complex, or involved, or mysterious, or difficult in a life
lived day by day to the praise of God and in the light of the coming of
As we review this prayer we may feel perfectly sure that the Apostle
meant it to be answered, and indeed, he himself gives us the hint of
how this may come to pass when he tells us that the fruits of
righteousness are through Jesus Christ. This is only another way of
expressing what he has already shown, his confidence that the
possession of the Christian life is the guarantee of its complete
realisation and full perfection by the indwelling presence and work of
the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (ch. i. 6). Let us therefore take heart
of grace as we contemplate this prayer and the other prayers of the
Apostle. We must not be depressed, or disheartened, or discouraged, as
we ponder the marvellous details and contemplate the stupendous heights
of the Christian life as depicted by St. Paul's wonderful spiritual
insight. On the contrary, we must remind ourselves that he would not
have prayed these prayers unless he had been certain that God would
answer them, and they will assuredly be answered as we set ourselves
resolutely, humbly, lovingly, trustfully to fulfil the required
conditions, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Considerations of space have prevented the inclusion of all the
Prayers of St. Paul, but for the treatment of the prayer in Rom. XV. 13
reference may perhaps be permitted to the author's Royal and Loyal
(ch. v.) and to his Devotional Commentary on Romans (vol. iii.
p. 103 ff.). And a fuller treatment of 2 Thess. iii. 16 is given in his
The Power of Peace.
For the thorough exegetical foundation of the passages included in
these prayers of the Apostle special attention should of course be
given to the various modern standard Commentaries. The following have
proved of particular value in the preparation of these pages. On
Thessalonians: Milligan, Frame, Eadie, and Ellicott. On Romans: Sanday
and Headlam, Godet, and the Notes by Lightfoot. On Ephesians: Armitage
Robinson, Westcott, and Eadie. On Philippians: Lightfoot and Ellicott.
On Colossians: Lightfoot and Ellicott. Preachers will find it nothing
short of an education in Greek to ponder the passages under the
guidance of these master-minds. The first step in all true expository
preaching is the consideration of the words and phrases in order to
elicit their full exegetical value. Following this, and based upon it,
will come the spiritual teaching and personal application, and for this
purpose the following books will be found of great value. On
Thessalonians: Denney in the Expositor's Bible. On Romans:
Bishop Moule in the same series. On Ephesians: G. G. Findlay in the
Expositor's Bible, with R. W. Dale's well-known Lectures. On
Philippians: Rainy in the Expositor's Bible, and Jowett's The
High Calling. On Colossians: Maclaren's peerless treatment in the
Expositor's Bible, with Bishop Moule's Colossian Studies,
and a useful American work, Oneness with Christ, by Bishop
Nicholson. The subject of this book is definitely treated in The
Prayers of St. Paul, by W. B. Pope, D.D.; The Pattern Prayer
Book, by E. W. Moore; Preces Paulinæ, a valuable old book by
an anonymous author, which is now only obtainable second-hand.
On the general subject of Prayer, which will naturally be given
attention in the expository preaching and teaching on this special
topic of St. Paul's petitions, the following among other books may
perhaps be mentioned: Waiting on God, by Andrew Murray; The
Hidden Life of Prayer, by D. M. M'Intyre; Prayer, by
M'Conkey; Praying in the Holy Ghost, by G. H. C. Macgregor;
Quiet Talks on Prayer, by S. D. Gordon; and Prayer: Its Nature
and Scope, by H. C. Trumbull.
A. SCRIPTURE PASSAGES
Gen. xviii. 19 103
Deut. iv. 20 102
Isa. xi. 3 133
xliii. 21 102
Ps. xxxii. 8 6
xxxvii. 23 6, 103
lvii. 7 11
cviii. 1 11
cxii. 7 11
cxlix. 4 103
Matt. v. 8 131
v. 16 136
Luke xviii. 11-13 113
John iii. 3 131
xiii. 34 8
xiv. 15 129
xvii. 3 66
xvii. 19 19
xxi. 16 129
Acts vii. 2 94
vii. 60 113
ix. 40 113
xi. 23 59
xx. 36 113
Rom. i. 4 104
i. 16 104
iii. 23 95
v. 1 22
v. 2 95
vi. 4 94
vii. 22 117
xv. 7 95
1 Cor. i. 18 104
ii. 8 94
v. 20 103
vi. 11 35
2 Cor. iii. 17, 18 117
iv. 16 117
Eph. i. 1-14 92, 96
i. 15-19 91
iii. 14 94
iii. 14-19 111
iv. 1 64
iv. 3 82
vi. 12 76
vi. 22 81
Phil. i. 9-11 127
i. 27 64
iii. 10 66
iv. 7-9 22
iv. 14-18 128
Col. i. 3-6 58
i. 9-12 57
i. 15 87
i. 18-20 87
i. 20 22
i. 27 87
ii. 1, 2 75
ii. 3 87
iv. 12 76
1 Thess. i. 5 85
ii. 2 35
ii. 12 31, 64
iii. 9 35
iii. 11-13 3
iv. 7 31
v. 23, 24 17, 31
2 Thess. i. 10 103
i. 11, 12 29
ii. 14 31
ii. 17 81
iii. 16 41
1 Tim. vi. 12 76
2 Tim. iv. 7 76
Heb. vi. 11 58
x. 22 85
xiii. 9 11
1 Pet. i. 22 129
iii. 7 77
2 Pet. i. 7 8
1 John ii. 12-14 60, 98
ii. 20 99
v. 20 99
Advent, Second, 24, 30, 136.
Assurance, 84 f., 137.
Brotherly love, 8, 51, 83, 120, 128.
Called of God, 31, 100.
Christ, Deity of, 5, 87.
Conscience, peace of, 50.
Devotion, need of, 70.
Endurance, 46, 66.
Faithfulness, Divine, 25.
Family life, 114.
Glory of God, 94.
Grace, 35 f.
Heart, in Scripture, 42, 81, 99, 117.
Holiness, 10, 18.
Joy, Christian, 67.
Knowledge, spiritual, 60 f., 84, 86, 97 f., 121, 131.
Leading, Divine, 6, 48.
Love, God's, to us, 43, 119.
Love, our, to Him, 44, 129.
Ministry, the Apostolic, 112.
Others, concern for, 58.
Patience of Christ, 45.
Peace, 22 f., 52 f.
Peculium, God's, 102.
Power, Divine, 104.
Prayer, practical value of, 17, 57, 75.
Prayer, a thing of labour, 76.
for others, 79, 127 f.
Preservation, Divine, 19 f., 50.
Spirit, the Divine, 49, 96, 116.
Trinity, the, 92.
Unity, spiritual, 82.
Walk, the Christian, 64.
Weathercock, Spurgeon's, 44.
Word, importance of the, 49.
Worthy, counted, 32.