Ephesians 3:18
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(18) May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.—It has been asked, Of what? Various answers have been given; but as St. Paul has obviously of set purpose omitted all definition, leaving the phrase incomplete in absolute generality, no answer can be perfectly satisfactory. The early fathers delighted to refer it to the cross, and to trace in the four dimensions of the cross a symbol of this four-fold extension of the love of God in Christ. The clause following, “to know the love of Christ,” though partly explanatory of this, hardly seems to be identical or co-extensive with it. The knowledge there described is a part—perhaps the chief part, but not the whole—of the comprehension here prayed for. If anything is to be supplied, it should probably be “of the mystery”—i.e., of the whole mystery on which St. Paul had been dwelling, including the predestination, the redemption, the call and union of Jews and Gentiles. The prayer is that we may know it every way, in every direction in which the soul can go forth towards God.

It may be noted that comprehension is placed after love, just as in Philippians 1:9, “I pray that your love may abound (that is, overflow) in knowledge and in all judgment.” The spiritual order of revelation differs from that of the “wisdom of the world.” It has first faith, next love, and finally knowledge, because its object is a person, not an abstract principle. That knowledge must, even here, “grow from more to more;” but St. Paul’s prayer can never be perfectly realised till we “know even as we are known.”

EPHESIANS

LOVE UNKNOWABLE AND KNOWN

Ephesians 3:18This constitutes the third of the petitions in this great prayer of Paul’s, each of which, as we have had occasion to see in former sermons, rises above, and is a consequence of the preceding, and leads on to, and is a cause or occasion of the subsequent one.

The two former petitions have been for inward strength communicated by a Divine Spirit, in order that Christ may dwell in our hearts, and so we may be rooted and grounded in love. The result of these desires being realised in our hearts is here set forth in two clauses which are substantially equivalent in meaning. ‘To comprehend’ may be taken as meaning nearly the same as ‘to know,’ only that perhaps the former expresses an act more purely intellectual. And, as we shall see in our next sermon, ‘the breadth and length and depth and height’ are the unmeasurable dimensions of the love which in the second clause is described as ‘passing knowledge.’ I purpose to deal with these measures in a separate discourse, and, therefore, omit them from consideration now.

We have, then, mainly two thoughts here, the one, that only the loving heart in which Christ dwells can know the love of Christ; and the other that even that heart can not know the love of Christ. The paradox is intentional, but it is intelligible. Let me deal then, as well as I can, with these two great thoughts.

I. First, we have this thought that only the loving heart can know Christ’s love.

Now the Bible uses that word know to express two different things; one which we call mere intellectual perception; or to put it into plainer words, mere head knowledge such as a man may have about any subject of study, and the other a deep and living experience which is possession before it is knowledge, and knowledge because it is possession.

Now the former of these two, the knowledge which is merely the work of the understanding, is, of course, independent of love. A man may know all about Christ and His love without one spark of love in his heart. And there are thousands of people who, as far as the mere intellectual understanding is concerned, know as much about Jesus Christ and His love as the saint who is closest to the Throne, and yet have not one trace of love to Christ in them. That is the kind of people that a widely diffused Christianity and a habit of hearing sermons produce. There are plenty of them, and some of us among them, who, as far as their heads are concerned, know quite as much of Jesus Christ and His love as any of us do, and could talk about it and argue about it, and draw inferences from it, and have the whole system of evangelical Christianity at their fingers’ ends. Ay! It is at their fingers’ ends, it never gets any nearer them than that.

There is a knowledge with which love has nothing to do, and it is a knowledge that for many people is quite sufficient. ‘Knowledge puffeth up,’ says the Apostle; into an unwholesome bubble of self-complacency that will one day be pricked and disappear, but ‘love buildeth up’-a steadfast, slowly-rising, solid fabric. There be two kinds of knowledge: the mere rattle of notions in a man’s brain, like the seeds of a withered poppy-head; very many, very dry, very hard; that will make a noise when you shake them. And there is another kind of knowledge which goes deep down into the heart, and is the only knowledge worth calling by the name; and that knowledge is the child, as my text has it, of love.

Now let us think about that for a moment. Love, says Paul, is the parent of all knowledge. Well, now, can we find any illustrations from similar facts in other regions? Yes! I think so. How do we know, really know, any emotions of any sort whatever? Only by experience. You may talk for ever about feelings, and you teach nothing about them to those who have not experienced them. The poets of the world have been singing about love ever since the world began. But no heart has learned what love is from even the sweetest and deepest songs. Who that is not a father can be taught paternal love by words, or can come to a perception of it by an effort of mind? And so with all other emotions. Only the lips that have drunk the cup of sweetness or of bitterness can tell how sweet or how bitter it is, and even when they, made wise by experience, speak out their deepest hearts, the listeners are but little the wiser, unless they too have been scholars in the same school. Experience is our only teacher in matters of feeling and emotion, as in the lower regions of taste and appetite. A man must be hungry to know what hunger is; he must taste honey or wormwood in order to know the taste of honey or wormwood, and in like manner he cannot know sorrow but by feeling its ache, and must love if he would know love. Experience is our only teacher, and her school-fees are heavy.

Just as a blind man can never be made to understand the glories of sunrise, or the light upon the far-off mountains; just as a deaf man may read books about acoustics, but they will not give him a notion of what it is to hear Beethoven, so we must have love to Christ before we know what love to Christ is, and we must consciously experience the love of Christ ere we know what the love of Christ is. We must have love to Christ in order to have a deep and living possession of love of Christ, though reciprocally it is also true that we must have the love of Christ known and felt by our answering hearts, if we are ever to love Him back again.

So in all the play and counterplay of love between Christ and us, and in all the reaction of knowledge and love this remains true, that we must be rooted and grounded in love ere we can know love, and must have Christ dwelling in our hearts, in order to that deep and living possession which, when it is conscious of itself, is knowledge, and is for ever alien to the loveless heart.

‘He must be loved, ere that to you

He will seem worthy of your love.’


If you want to know the blessedness of the love of Christ, love Him, and open your hearts for the entrance of His love to you. Love is the parent of deep, true knowledge.

Of course, before we can love an unseen person and believe in his love, we must know about him by the ordinary means by which we learn about all persons outside the circle of our sight. So before the love which is thus the parent of deep, true knowledge, there must be the knowledge by study and credence of the record concerning Christ, which supplies the facts on which alone love can be nourished. The understanding has its part to play in leading the heart to love, and then the heart becomes the true teacher. He that loveth, knoweth God, for God is love. He that is rooted and grounded in love because Christ dwells in his heart, will be strengthened to know the love in which he is rooted. The Christ within us will know the love of Christ. We must first ‘taste,’ and then we shall ‘see’ that the Lord is good, as the Psalmist puts it with deep truth. First, the appropriation and feeding upon God, then the clear perception by the mind of the sweetness in the taste. First the enjoyment; then the reflection on the enjoyment. First the love; and then the consciousness of the love of Christ possessed and the love to Christ experienced. The heart must be grounded in love that the man may know the love which passeth knowledge.

Then notice that there is also here another condition for this deep and blessed knowledge laid down in these words, ‘That ye may be able to comprehend with all saints.’ That is to say, our knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ depends largely on our sanctity. If we are pure we shall know. If we were wholly devoted to Him we should wholly know His love to us, and in the measure in which we are pure and holy we shall know it. This heart of ours is like a reflecting telescope, the least breath upon the mirror of which will cause all the starry sublimities that it should shadow forth to fade and become dim. The slightest moisture in the atmosphere, though it be quite imperceptible where we stand, will be dense enough to shut out the fair, shining, snowy summits that girdle the horizon and to leave nothing visible but the lowliness and commonplaceness of the prosaic plain.

If you want to know the love of Christ, first of all, that love must purify your souls. But then you must keep your souls pure, assured of this, that only the single eye is full of light, and that they who are not ‘saints’ grope in the dark even at midday, and whilst drenched by the sunshine of His love, are unconscious of it altogether. And so we get that miserable and mysterious tragedy of men and women walking through life, as many of you are doing, in the very blaze and focus of Christ’s love, and never beholding it nor knowing anything about it.

Observe again the beginning of this path of knowledge, which we have thus traced. There must be, says my text, an indwelling Christ, and so an experience, deep and stable, of His love, and then we shall know the love which we thus experience. But how comes that indwelling? That is the question for us. The knowledge of His love is blessedness, is peace, is love, is everything; as we shall see in considering the last stage of this prayer. That knowledge arises from our fellowship with and our possession of the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ. How does that fellowship with, and possession of the love of God in Jesus Christ, come? That is the all-important question. What is the beginning of everything? ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’ There is the gate through which you and I may come, and by which we must come if we are to come at all into the possession and perception of Christ’s great love. Here is the path of knowledge. First of all, there must be the simple historical knowledge of the facts of Christ’s life and death for us, with the Scripture teaching of their meaning and power. And then we must turn these truths from mere notions into life. It is not enough to know the love that God has to us, in that lower sense of the word ‘knowledge.’ Many of you know that, who never got any blessing out of it all your days, and never will, unless you change. Besides the ‘knowing’ there must be the ‘believing’ of the love. You must translate the notion into a living fact in your experience. You must pass from the simple work of understanding the Gospel to the higher act of faith. You must not be contented with knowing, you must trust. And if you have done that all the rest will follow, and the little, narrow, low doorway of humble self-distrusting faith, through which a man creeps on his knees, leaving outside all his sin and his burden, opens out into the temple palace-the large place in which Christ’s love is imparted to the soul.

Brethren, this doctrine of my text ought to be for every one of us a joy and a gospel. There is no royal road into the sweetness and the depth of Christ’s love, for the wise or the prudent. The understanding is no more the organ for apprehending the love of Christ than the ear is the organ for perceiving light, or the heart the organ for learning mathematics. Blessed be God! the highest gifts are not bestowed upon the clever people, on the men of genius and the gifted ones, the cultivated and the refined, but they are open for all men; and when we say that love is the parent of knowledge, and that the condition of knowing the depths of Christ’s heart is simple love which is the child of faith, we are only saying in other words what the Master embodied in His thanksgiving prayer, ‘I thank Thee, Father! Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’

And that is so, not because Christianity, being a foolish system, can only address itself to fools; not because Christianity, contradicting wisdom, cannot expect to be received by the wise and the cultured, but because a man’s brains have as little to do with his trustful acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a man’s eyes have to do with his capacity of hearing a voice. Therefore, seeing that the wise and prudent, and the cultured, and the clever, and the men of genius are always the minority of the race, let us vulgar folk that are neither wise, nor clever, nor cultured, nor geniuses, be thankful that all that has nothing to do with our power of knowing and possessing the best wisdom and the highest treasures, but that upon this path the wayfaring man though a fool shall not err, and all narrow foreheads and limited understandings, and poor, simple uneducated people as well as philosophers and geniuses have to learn love by their hearts and not by their heads, and by a sense of need and a humble trust and a daily experience have to appropriate and suck out the blessing that lies in the love of Jesus Christ. Blessed be His name! The end of all aristocracies of culture and superciliousness of intellect lies in that great truth that we possess the deepest knowledge and highest wisdom when we love and by our love.

II. Now a word in the next place as to the other thought here, that not even the loving heart can know the love of Christ.

‘It passeth knowledge,’ says my text. Now I do not suppose that the paradox here of knowing the love of Christ which ‘passeth knowledge’ is to be explained by taking ‘know’ and ‘knowledge’ in the two different senses which I have already referred to, so as that we may experience, and know by conscious experience, that love which the mere understanding is incapable of grasping. That of course is an explanation which might be defended, but I take it that it is much truer to the Apostle’s meaning to suppose that he uses the words ‘know’ and ‘knowledge’ both times in the same sense. And so we get familiar thoughts which I touch upon very briefly.

Our knowledge of Christ’s love, though real, is incomplete, and must always be so. You and I believe, I hope, that Christ’s love is not a man’s love, or at least that it is more than a man’s love. We believe that it is the flowing out to us of the love of God, that all the fulness of the divine heart pours itself through that narrow channel of the human nature of our Lord, and therefore that the flow is endless and the Fountain infinite.

I suppose I do not need to show you that it is possible for people to have, and that in fact we do possess a real, a valid, a reliable knowledge of that which is infinite; although we possess, as a matter of course, no adequate and complete knowledge of it. But I only remind you that we have before us in Christ’s love something which, though the understanding is not by itself able to grasp it, yet the understanding led by the heart can lay hold of, and can find in it infinite treasures. We can lay our poor hands on His love as a child might lay its tiny palm upon the base of some great cliff, and hold that love in a real grasp of a real knowledge and certitude, but we cannot put our hands round it and feel that we comprehend as well as apprehend. Let us be thankful that we cannot.

His love can only become to us a subject of knowledge as it reveals itself in its manifestations. Yet after even these manifestations it remains unuttered and unutterable even by the Cross and grave, even by the glory and the throne. ‘It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.’

We have no measure by which we can translate into the terms of our experience, and so bring within the grasp of our minds, what was the depth of the step, which Christ took at the impulse of His love, from the Throne to the Cross. We know not what He forewent; we know not, nor ever shall know, what depths of darkness and soul-agony He passed through at the bidding of His all-enduring love to us. Nor do we know the consequences of that great work of emptying Himself of His glory. We have no means by which we can estimate the darkness and the depth of the misery from which we have been delivered, nor the height and the radiance of the glory to which we are to be lifted. And until we can tell and measure by our compasses both of these two extremes of possible human fate, till we have gone down into the deepest abyss of a bottomless pit of growing alienation and misery, and up above the highest reach of all unending progress into light and glory and God-likeness, we have not stretched our compasses wide enough to touch the two poles of this great sphere, the infinite love of Jesus Christ. So we bow before it, we know that we possess it with a knowledge more sure and certain, more deep and valid, than our knowledge of ought but ourselves; but yet it is beyond our grasp, and towers above us inaccessible in the altitude of its glory, and stretches deep beneath us in the profundity of its condescension.

And, in like manner, we may say that this known love passes knowledge, inasmuch as our experience of it can never exhaust it. We are like the settlers on some great island continent-as, for instance, on the Australian continent for many years after its first discovery-a thin fringe of population round the seaboard here and there, and all the bosom of the land untraversed and unknown. So after all experiences of and all blessed participation in the love of Jesus Christ which come to each of us by our faith, we have but skimmed the surface, but touched the edges, but received a drop of what, if it should come upon us in fulness of flood like a Niagara of love, would overwhelm our spirits.

So we have within our reach not only the treasure of creatural affections which bring gladness into life when they come, and darkness over it when they depart; we have not only human love which, if I may so say, is always lifting its finger to its lips in the act of bidding us adieu; but we may possess a love which will abide with us for ever. Men die, Christ lives. We can exhaust men, we cannot exhaust Christ. We can follow other objects of pursuit, all of which have limitation to their power of satisfying and pall upon the jaded sense sooner or later, or sooner or later are wrenched away from the aching heart. But here is a love into which we can penetrate very deep and fear no exhaustion; a sea into which we can cast ourselves, nor dread that like some rash diver flinging himself into shallow water where he thought there was depth, we may be bruised and wounded. We may find in Christ the endless love that an immortal heart requires. Enter by the low door of faith, and your finite heart will have the joy of an infinite love for its possession, and your mortal life will rise transfigured into an immortal and growing participation in the immortal Love of the indwelling and inexhaustible Christ.

EPHESIANS

THE PARADOX OF LOVE’S MEASURE

Ephesians 3:18Of what? There can, I think, be no doubt as to the answer. The next clause is evidently the continuation of the idea begun in that of our text, and it runs: ‘And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.’ It is the immeasurable measure, then; the boundless bounds and dimensions of the love of Christ which fire the Apostle’s thoughts here. Of course, he had no separate idea in his mind attaching to each of these measures of magnitude, but he gathered them together simply to express the one thought of the greatness of Christ’s love. Depth and height are the same dimension measured from opposite ends. The one begins at the top and goes down, the other begins at the bottom and goes up, but the distance is the same in either case. So we have the three dimensions of a solid here-breadth, length, and depth.

I suppose that I may venture to use these expressions with a somewhat different purpose from that for which the Apostle employs them; and to see in each of them a separate and blessed aspect of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

I. What, then, is the breadth of that love?

It is as broad as humanity. As all the stars lie in the firmament, so all creatures rest in the heaven of His love. Mankind has many common characteristics. We all suffer, we all sin, we all hunger, we all aspire, hope, and die; and, blessed be God! we all occupy precisely the same relation to the divine love which lies in Jesus Christ. There are no step-children in God’s great family, and none of them receives a more grudging or a less ample share of His love and goodness than every other. Far-stretching as the race, and curtaining it over as some great tent may enclose on a festal day a whole tribe, the breadth of Christ’s love is the breadth of humanity.

And it is universal because it is divine. No human mind can be stretched so as to comprehend the whole of the members of mankind, and no human heart can be so emptied of self as to be capable of this absolute universality and impartiality of affection. But the intellectual difficulties which stand in the way of the width of our affections, and the moral difficulties which stand still more frowningly and forbiddingly in the way, have no power over that love of Christ’s which is close and tender, and clinging with all the tenderness and closeness and clingingness of a human affection and lofty and universal and passionless and perpetual, with all the height and breadth and calmness and eternity of a divine heart.

And this broad love, broad as humanity, is not shallow because it is broad. Our love is too often like the estuary of some great stream which runs deep and mighty as long as it is held within narrow banks, but as soon as it widens becomes slow and powerless and shallow. The intensity of human affection varies inversely as its extension. A universal philanthropy is a passionless sentiment. But Christ’s love is deep though it is wide, and suffers no diminution because it is shared amongst a multitude. It is like the great feast that He Himself spread for five thousand men, women, and children, all seated on the grass, ‘and they did all eat and were filled.’

The whole love is the property of each recipient of it. He does not love as we do, who give a part of our heart to this one and a part to that one, and share the treasure of our affections amongst a multitude. All this gift belongs to every one, just as all the sunshine comes to every eye, and as every beholder sees the moon’s path across the dark waters, stretching from the place where He stands to the centre of light.

This broad love, universal as humanity, and deep as it is broad, is universal because it is individual. You and I have to generalise, as we say, when we try to extend our affections beyond the limits of household and family and personal friends, and the generalising is a sign of weakness and limitation. Nobody can love an abstraction, but God’s love and Christ’s love do not proceed in that fashion. He individualises, loving each and therefore loving all. It is because every man has a space in His heart singly and separately and conspicuously, that all men have a place there. So our task is to individualise this broad, universal love, and to say, in the simplicity of a glad faith, ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me.’ The breadth is world-wide, and the whole breadth is condensed into, if I may so say, a shaft of light which may find its way through the narrowest chink of a single soul. There are two ways of arguing about the love of Christ, both of them valid, and both of them needing to be employed by us. We have a right to say, ‘He loves all, therefore He loves me.’ And we have a right to say, ‘He loves me, therefore He loves all.’ For surely the love that has stooped to me can never pass by any human soul.

What is the breadth of the love of Christ? It is broad as mankind, it is narrow as myself.

II. Then, in the next place, what is the length of the love of Christ?

If we are to think of Him only as a man, however exalted and however perfect, you and I have nothing in the world to do with His love. When He was here on earth it may have been sent down through the ages in some vague way, as the shadowy ghost of love may rise in the heart of a great statesman or philanthropist for generations yet unborn, which He dimly sees will be affected by His sacrifice and service. But we do not call that love. Such a poor, pale, shadowy thing has no right to the warm throbbing name; has no right to demand from us any answering thrill of affection. Unless you think of Jesus Christ as something more and other than the purest and the loftiest benevolence that ever dwelt in human form, I know of no intelligible sense in which the length of His love can be stretched to touch you.

If we content ourselves with that altogether inadequate and lame conception of Him and of His nature, of course there is no present bond between any man upon earth and Him, and it is absurd to talk about His present love as extending in any way to me. But we have to believe, rising to the full height of the Christian conception of the nature and person of Christ, that when He was here on earth the divine that dwelt in Him so informed and inspired the human as that the love of His man’s heart was able to grasp the whole, and to separate the individuals who should make up the race till the end of time; so as that you and I, looking back over all the centuries, and asking ourselves what is the length of the love of Christ, can say, ‘It stretches over all the years, and it reached then, as it reaches now, to touch me, upon whom the ends of the earth have come.’ Its length is conterminous with the duration of humanity here or yonder.

That thought of eternal being, when we refer it to God, towers above us and repels us; and when we turn it to ourselves and think of our own life as unending, there come a strangeness and an awe that is almost shrinking, over the thoughtful spirit. But when we transmute it into the thought of a love whose length is unending, then over all the shoreless, misty, melancholy sea of eternity, there gleams a light, and every wavelet flashes up into glory. It is a dreadful thing to think, ‘For ever, Thou art God.’ It is a solemn thing to think, ‘For ever I am to be’; but it is life to say: ‘O Christ! Thy love endureth from everlasting to everlasting; and because it lives, I shall live also’-’Oh! give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.’

There is another measure of the length of the love of Christ. ‘Master! How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?-I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.’ So said the Christ, multiplying perfection into itself twice-two sevens and a ten-in order to express the idea of boundlessness. And the law that He laid down for His servant is the law that binds Himself. What is the length of the love of Christ? Here is one measure of it-howsoever long drawn out my sin may be, this is longer; and the white line of His love runs out into infinity, far beyond the point where the black line of my sin stops. Anything short of eternal patience would have been long ago exhausted by your sins and mine, and our brethren’s. But the pitying Christ, the eternal Lover of all wandering souls, looks down from heaven upon every one of us; goes with us in all our wanderings, bears with us in all our sins, in all our transgressions still is gracious. His pleadings sound on, like some stop in an organ continuously persistent through all the other notes. And round His throne are written the divine words which have been spoken about our human love modelled after His: ‘Charity suffereth long and is kind; is not easily provoked, is not soon angry, beareth all things.’ The length of the love of Christ is the length of eternity, and outmeasures all human sin.

III. Then again, what is the depth of that love?

Depth and height, as I said at the beginning of these remarks, are but two ways of expressing the same dimension. For the one we begin at the top and measure down, for the other we begin at the bottom and measure up. The top is the Throne; and the downward measure, how is it to be stated? In what terms of distance are we to express it? How far is it from the Throne of the Universe to the manger of Bethlehem, and the Cross of Calvary, and the sepulchre in the garden? That is the depth of the love of Christ. Howsoever far may be the distance from that loftiness of co-equal divinity in the bosom of the Father, and radiant with glory, to the lowliness of the form of a servant, and the sorrows, limitations, rejections, pains and death-that is the measure of the depth of Christ’s love. We can estimate the depth of the love of Christ by saying, ‘He came from above, He tabernacled with us,’ as if some planet were to burst from its track and plunge downwards in amongst the mist and the narrowness of our earthly atmosphere.

A well-known modern scientist has hazarded the speculation that the origin of life on this planet has been the falling upon it of the fragments of a meteor, or an aerolite from some other system, with a speck of organic life upon it, from which all has developed. Whatever may be the case in regard to physical life, that is absolutely true in the case of spiritual life. It all originates because this heaven-descended Christ has come down the long staircase of Incarnation, and has brought with Him into the clouds and oppressions of our terrestrial atmosphere a germ of life which He has planted in the heart of the race, there to spread for ever. That is the measure of the depth of the love of Christ.

And there is another way to measure it. My sins are deep, my helpless miseries are deep, but they are shallow as compared with the love that goes down beneath all sin, that is deeper than all sorrow, that is deeper than all necessity, that shrinks from no degradation, that turns away from no squalor, that abhors no wickedness so as to avert its face from it. The purest passion of human benevolence cannot but sometimes be aware of disgust mingling with its pity and its efforts, but Christ’s love comes down to the most sunken. However far in the abyss of degradation any human soul has descended, beneath it are the everlasting arms, and beneath it is Christ’s love. When a coalpit gets blocked up by some explosion, no brave rescuing party will venture to descend into the lowest depths of the poisonous darkness until some ventilation has been restored. But this loving Christ goes down, down, down into the thickest, most pestilential atmosphere, reeking with sin and corruption, and stretches out a rescuing hand to the most abject and undermost of all the victims. How deep is the love of Christ! The deep mines of sin and of alienation are all undermined and countermined by His love. Sin is an abyss, a mystery, how deep only they know who have fought against it; but

‘O love! thou bottomless abyss,

My sins are swallowed up in thee.’


‘I will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.’ The depths of Christ’s love go down beneath all human necessity, sorrow, suffering, and sin.

IV. And lastly, what is the height of the love of Christ?

We found that the way to measure the depth was to begin at the Throne, and go down to the Cross, and to the foul abysses of evil. The way to measure the height is to begin at the Cross and the foul abysses of evil, and to go up to the Throne. That is to say, the topmost thing in the Universe, the shining apex and pinnacle, glittering away up there in the radiant unsetting light, is the love of God in Jesus Christ. Other conceptions of that divine nature spring high above us and tower beyond our thoughts, but the summit of them all, the very topmost as it is the very bottommost, outside of everything, and therefore high above everything, is the love of God which has been revealed to us all, and brought close to us sinful men in the manhood and passion of our dear Christ.

And that love which thus towers above us, and gleams like the shining cross on the top of some lofty cathedral spire, does not flash up there inaccessible, nor lie before us like some pathless precipice, up which nothing that has not wings can ever hope to rise, but the height of the love of Christ is an hospitable height, which can be scaled by us. Nay, rather, that heaven of love which is ‘higher than our thoughts,’ bends down, as by a kind of optical delusion the physical heaven seems to do towards each of us, only with this blessed difference, that in the natural world the place where heaven touches earth is always the furthest point of distance from us: and in the spiritual world the place where heaven stoops to me is always right over my head, and the nearest possible point to me. He has come to lift us to Himself, and this is the height of His love, that it bears us, if we will, up and up to sit upon that throne where He Himself is enthroned.

So, brethren, Christ’s love is round about us all, as some sunny tropical sea may embosom in its violet waves a multitude of luxuriant and happy islets. So all of us, islanded on our little individual lives, lie in that great ocean of love, all the dimensions of which are immeasurable, and which stretches above, beneath, around, shoreless, tideless, bottomless, endless.

But, remember, this ocean of love you can shut out of your lives. It is possible to plunge a jar into mid-Atlantic, further than soundings have ever descended, and to bring it up on deck as dry inside as if it had been lying on an oven. It is possible for men and women-and I have them listening to me at this moment-to live and move and have their being in that sea of love, and never to have let one drop of its richest gifts into their hearts or their lives. Open your hearts for Him to come in, by humble faith in His great sacrifice for you. For if Christ dwell in your heart by faith, then and only then will experience be your guide; and you will be able to comprehend the boundless greatness, the endless duration, and absolute perfection, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.3:13-19 The apostle seems to be more anxious lest the believers should be discouraged and faint upon his tribulations, than for what he himself had to bear. He asks for spiritual blessings, which are the best blessings. Strength from the Spirit of God in the inner man; strength in the soul; the strength of faith, to serve God, and to do our duty. If the law of Christ is written in our hearts, and the love of Christ is shed abroad there, then Christ dwells there. Where his Spirit dwells, there he dwells. We should desire that good affections may be fixed in us. And how desirable to have a fixed sense of the love of God in Christ to our souls! How powerfully the apostle speaks of the love of Christ! The breadth shows its extent to all nations and ranks; the length, that it continues from everlasting to everlasting; the depth, its saving those who are sunk into the depths of sin and misery; the height, its raising them up to heavenly happiness and glory. Those who receive grace for grace from Christ's fulness, may be said to be filled with the fulness of God. Should not this satisfy man? Must he needs fill himself with a thousand trifles, fancying thereby to complete his happiness?May be able to comprehend with all saints - That all others with you may be able to understand this. It was his desire that others, as well as they, might appreciate the wonders of redemption.

What is the breadth, and length, ... - It has been doubted to what this refers. Locke says it refers to the mystery of calling the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Chandler supposes there is an allusion in all this to the temple at Ephesus. It was one of the wonders of the world - exciting admiration by its length, and height, and dimensions in every way, as well as by its extraordinary riches and splendor. In allusion to this, the object of so much admiration and pride to the Ephesians, he supposes that Paul desires that they should become fully acquainted with the extent and beauty of the spiritual temple. But I do not see that there is clear evidence that there is allusion here to the temple at Ephesus. It seems rather to be the language of a heart that was full of the subject, and impressed with its greatness; and the words are employed to denote the "dimensions" of that love, and are similar to what would be meant if he had said, "that you may know how "large," or how "great" is that love." The apostle evidently meant to express the strongest sense of the greatness of the love of the Redeemer, and to show in the most emphatic manner how much he wished that they should fully understand it. On the phrase "depth and height," compare notes on Romans 8:39.

18. May be able—even still further. Greek, "May be fully able."

breadth … length … depth … height—namely, the full dimensions of the spiritual temple, answering to "the fulness of God" (Eph 3:19), to which the Church, according to its capacity, ought to correspond (compare Eph 4:10, 13) as to "the fulness of Christ." The "breadth" implies Christ's world-wide love, embracing all men: the "length," its being extended through all ages (Eph 3:21); the "depth," its profound wisdom which no creature can fathom (Ro 11:33); the "height," its being beyond the reach of any foe to deprive us of (Eph 4:8) [Bengel]. I prefer to understand "the breadth," &c., to refer to the whole of the vast mystery of free salvation in Christ for all, Gentile and Jew alike, of which Paul had been speaking (Eph 3:3-9), and of which he now prays they may have a fuller comprehension. As subsidiary to this, and the most essential part of it, he adds, "and to know the love of Christ" (Eph 3:19). Grotius understands depth and height of God's goodness raising us from the lowest depression to the greatest height.

May be able to comprehend, more fully and perfectly to perceive and understand, with all saints, which are or have been, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, the immense vastness, dignity, and perfection; either:

1. Of redemption by Christ, extending both to Jew and Gentile, and so the mystery before mentioned. Or rather:

2. Of the love of Christ, as follows. May be able to comprehend with all saints,.... This is the end of their being rooted and grounded in love, that they, together with the rest of the saints interested in it, might have a larger and more comprehensive view of

what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; not of God himself, who is incomprehensible by finite minds, and is not to be found out to perfection; see Job 11:7 but either of the great mystery of salvation, particularly the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles mentioned in the beginning of the chapter; or of the spiritual building, the church, the dimensions of which are given, Revelation 21:15 or rather of the love of God, which in its length reaches from one eternity to another; in its breadth to all the elect, in all ages, places, and nations; and in its depth to saints in the lowest state of life; and in its height to bring them to an exalted state in glory.

May be able to comprehend with all saints {i} what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

(i) How perfect that work of Christ is in every part.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Ephesians 3:18. Ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἐῤῥιζ. κ. τεθεμ.] is not to be separated by interpunction from the following ἵνα, because it belongs to ἵνα κ.τ.λ. (comp. Lachmann): in order that, rooted and grounded in love, ye may be able, etc. Thus the aim of the two preceding parallel infinitive clauses is expressed, and the emphatically prefixed ἐν ἀγ. ἐῤῥιζ. κ. τεθεμ. is quite in keeping with the Pauline doctrine of the πίστις διʼ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη, Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13. Through the strengthening of their inner man by means of the Spirit, through the κατοικῆσαι of Christ in their hearts, the readers are to become established in love, and, having been established in love, are able to comprehend the greatness of the love of Christ. How often ἵνα and other conjunctions follow a part of the sentence which is with special emphasis prefixed, no matter whether that part of the sentence be subject or object (Romans 11:31; 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; Acts 19:4; Galatians 2:10, al.), may be seen in Fritzsche, ad Rom. II. p. 541; Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 333 [E. T. 389]. Comp. on Galatians 2:10. This construction is here followed by Beza, Cajetanus, Camerarius, Heinsius, Grotius, Calixtus, Semler, Storr, Rosenmüller, Flatt, Meier, Schenkel, and others, including Winer, ed. 6 [E. T. 715], and Buttmann [E. T. 299]. Comp. already Photius in Oecumenius. ἐν ἀγ. ἐῤῥιζ. κ. τεθεμ. is, on the other hand, connected with what precedes by Chrysostom, Erasmus, Castalio, Luther, Estius, Er. Schmid, Michaelis, Morus, Koppe, and others, including Rückert, Matthies, Harless, Olshausen, Baumgarten-Crusius, de Wette, Bleek, holding that it attaches itself, with abnormal employment of case, predicatively to ἐν ταῖς καρδ. ὑμῶν.[187] To the abnormal nominative of the construction continued in participles there would be in itself nothing to object (see already Photius in Oecumenius, ad loc.; Winer, p. 505 [E. T. 715]; Buttmann, p. 256 [E. T. 299]); but here the perfect participles are opposed to this, since they in fact would express not the state into which the readers are to come (“ita ut in amore sitis stabiles,” Morus), but the state in which they already are (so also Rückert), the state which is presupposed as predicate of the readers (so Harless and Olshausen). But to the desire that the readers might be strengthened, and that Christ might make His dwelling in their hearts, the presupposition that they were already ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἐῤῥιζωμένοι would stand in quite illogical relation. Present participles would be logically necessary: “inasmuch as ye are being confirmed in love,” namely, by the fact that Christ takes up His dwelling in you. De Wette, on the other hand, is wrong in appealing to Colossians 2:7, where, indeed, in the case of ἐῤῥιζωμένοι the having received Christ appears as having already preceded.

ἐν ἀγάπῃ] is, in accordance with the following figures, the soil in which the readers were rooted and grounded, namely, in love, the effect of faith, Christian brotherly love; hence there is no reason in the relation of faith to love[188] for supplying after ἐῤῥιζ. κ. τεθεμ., with Holzhausen and Harless, ἐν Χριστῷ, which is not even required by the anarthrous ἀγάπῃ; for without an article (in amando) it has “vim quasi verbi,” Kühner, ad Xen. Mem. i. 1. 9. Such a supplement is, however, the more arbitrary, inasmuch as there is already a definition by ἐν; consequently the reader could not light upon the idea of supplying such in thought. ἐν ἀγ. ἐῤῥιζ. κ. τεθεμ. is prefixed with emphasis, because only the loving soul is in a position to recognise the love of Christ (comp. 1 John 4:7 ff.). Erroneously Beza says: “charitatem intellige, qua diligimur a Deo” (so also Calovius, Wolf, and others), and Bengel holds that the love of Christ, Ephesians 3:19, is meant; against which in the very mention of love along with faith (Ephesians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 13.) the absence of a genitival definition is decisive.

ἐῤῥιζ. καὶ τεθεμελ.] a twofold figurative indication of the sense: stedfast and enduring. Paul, in the vivacity of his imagination, conceives to himself the congregation of his readers as a plant (comp. Matthew 13:3 ff.), perhaps a tree (Matthew 7:17), and at the same time as a building. Comp. Colossians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 3:9. Passages from profane literature for the tropical usage of both words may be seen in Raphel, Herod. p. 534; Bos, Exerc. p.183; Wetstein, p. 248. Comp. the Fathers in Suicer’s Thes. II. p. 905.

ἐξισχύσητε] ye may be fully able (Sir 7:6; Plut. Mor. p. 801 E; Strabo, xvii. p. 788).

καταλαβέσθαι] to apprehend, κατανοεῖν. Comp. Acts 4:13; Acts 10:34; Acts 25:25; Josephus, Antt. viii. 6. 5, with classical writers in the active. Comp. on John 1:5. Strangely at variance with the context (because the object is not suited thereto), Holzhausen takes it to mean to lay hold of, as a prize in the games (1 Corinthians 9:24; Php 3:12).

σὺν πᾶσι τοῖς ἁγίοις] The highest and most precious knowledge (Php 3:8) Paul can desire only as a common possession of all Christians; individuals, for whom he wishes it, are to have it in communion with all; as the knowledge of (the ground of salvation, so the attaining of the salvation itself (Acts 20:32).

τί τὸ πλάτος κ.τ.λ.] Sensuous illustration (arbitrarily declared by de Wette to be “hardly” in keeping with the Pauline style) of the idea: how great in every relation. The deeply affected mind with its poeticoimaginative intuition looks upon the metaphysical magnitude as a physical, mathematical one, σωματικοῖς σχήμασι (Chrysostom) extending on every side. Comp. Job 11:7-9. The many modes of interpreting the several dimensions in the older expositors may be seen in Cornelius a Lapide and Calovius. Every special attempt at interpretation is unpsychological, and only gives scope to that caprice which profanes by dissecting the outpouring of enthusiasm.[189] Of what, however, are these dimensions predicated? Not of the Christian church, as the spiritual temple of God, Revelation 21:16 (Heinsius, Homberg, Wolf, Michaelis, Cramer, Koppe, and others; comp. Bengel), which is at variance with the context; inasmuch as a temple is not spoken of either before or after (τεθεμελιωμένοιτὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ Θεοῦ!). Not of the work of redemption (Chrysostom: τὸ μυστήριον τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν οἰκονομηθέν, Theophylact, Oecumenius, Theodoret, Beza, Piscator, Zanchius, Calovius, and others, including Rückert, Meier, Harless, Olshausen, Baumgarten-Crusius, Bleek), because, after a new portion of the discourse is commenced with Ephesians 3:14, the μυστήριον is not again mentioned; hence also not of the mystery of the cross, in connection with which marvellous allegories are drawn by Augustine and Estius from the figure of the cross.[190] Not of the love of God to us (Chrysostom: τὸ μέγεθος τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Θεοῦ, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Erasmus, Vatablus, Grotius, Baumgarten, Flatt); because previously ἐν ἀγάπῃ does not apply to this love. Not of the “divine gracious nature” (Matthies), which would only be correct if the predicates were exclusive attributes of the divine nature, so that, as a matter of course, the latter would suggest itself as the subject. Not of the wisdom of God, which de Wette quite irrelevantly introduces from Colossians 2:3; Job 11:8. The love of Christ to men, Ephesians 3:19, is the subject (Castalio, Calvin, Calixtus, Zachariae, Morus, Storr, Rosenmüller, Holzhausen), the boundless greatness of which is depicted.[191] Instead, namely, of the apostle adding τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Χριστοῦ immediately after ὕψος and thus bringing to a close the majestic flow of his discourse, now, when he has written as far as ὕψος, there first presents itself to his lively conception the—as regards sense, climactically parallel to the just expressed καταλαβέσθαιὕψος—oxymoron γνῶναι τὴν ὑπερβάλλουσαν τῆς γνώσεως; he appends this, and can now no longer express the love of Christ in the genitive, so that τὸ πλάτοςὕψος remains without a genitive, but lays claim to its genitival definition as self-evident from the ἀγάπην τοῦ Χριστοῦ immediately following.

[187] Harless holds that the changing of the construction is here, as Colossians 2:2, the more natural, inasmuch as the predicate is equally applicable to καρδίαις and ὑμῶν, and as an essential element must stand forth independently.

[188] Calvin already aptly remarks: “neque enim disputat P., ubi salus nostra fundata sit … sed quam firma et tenax debeat in nobis esse caritas” (rather: “quam firmi et tenaces debeamus esse in caritate”).

[189] By way of example, we subjoin some of these modes of explanation, e.g. Oecumenius; it is indicated that redemption and the knowledge of Christ were foreordained from eternity (μῆκος), extend to all (πλάτος), reach even to hell in their efficacy (βάθος), and that Christ has ascended above the heavens (ὕψος). Erasmus, Paraphr.:altitudine ad angelos usque se proferens, profunditate ad inferos usque penetrans, longitudine ac latitudine ad omnes hujus mundi plagas sese dilatans.” Grotius, “latissime se effundit in omnes homines, et in longum, i.e. in omnia saecula se extendit, et ex infima depressione hominem liberat, et in loca suprema evehit.” For other instances, see Calovius.

[190] According to Estius, the length applies to the upright beam of the cross as far as the cross-beam; the breadth, to the cross-beam; the height, to the portion projecting above the cross-beam; the depth, to the portion fixed in the ground. He comprehends the length of the cross, who perceives that from the beginning to the end of time no one is justified save by the cross; the breadth, who reflects that the church in all the earth has come forth from the side of Christ! the height, who ponders the sublimity of the glory in heaven obtained through Christ; the depth, who contemplates the mystery of the divine election of grace, and is thereby led to the utterance, Romans 11:32! This as a warning instance how even the better exegetes, when they give the reins to subjectivity, may lose themselves in the most absurd attempts at interpretation.

[191] Comp. Luther: “that nothing is so broad, long, deep, high, as to be beyond the power and help of Christ.”Ephesians 3:18. ἵνα ἐξισχύσητε καταλαβέσθαι σῦν πᾶσι τοῖς ἁγίοις: that ye may be fully able to comprehend with all the saints. The “may be strong” of the RV is a less happy rendering than usual, as it obscures the fact that the verb is different from that expressing the strengthened in Ephesians 3:16. The strong compound ἐξισχύειν, = to be eminently able, to have full capacity, occurs only this once in the NT and is rare in ordinary Greek. καταλαμβάνειν, = “take hold of” (1 Corinthians 9:24; Php 3:12, etc.) or in the sense of mental grasp (Plato, Phaedr., 250 D), in its various NT occurrences in the Middle Voice (Acts 4:13; Acts 10:34; Acts 25:25) has only the latter meaning. Here, therefore, it is = understand, not = occupare, take possession of (Goth., Kypke). The RV substitutes the more neutral apprehend—a word capable of either sense—for the “comprehend” of the AV. This gift of spiritual comprehension is contemplated further as to be possessed and exercised σῦν πᾶσι τοῖς ἁγίοις, not as a matter of private experience, the peculiar faculty of some, or an exceptional bestowment like the rare privilege of visions, but as a gift proper to the whole community of believers and one in which these Ephesians might share together with all God’s people; for the phrase cf. Ephesians 1:15, Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Philemon 1:5; Revelation 8:3; and for the sense of ἅγιος see under Ephesians 1:1 above.—τί τὸ πλάτος καὶ μῆκος καὶ βάθος καὶ ὕψος: what is the breadth and length and depth and height. So the AV. But height and depth, according to the RV. The order of the TR, βάθος καὶ ὕψος, is that of [344] [345] [346], Syr., etc.; ὕψος καὶ βάθος is that of [347] [348] [349] [350], 17, Vulg., Boh., etc. The latter is preferred by LTrWH, the former getting a place in the margin with Tr and WH. What is the object in view in the mention of these dimensions? It is left unnamed. Hence the many conjectures on the subject; e.g., that it is the Christian Church (Mich., Koppe, etc.), or Temple (Bengel), the work of redemption, or the mystery previously noticed (Theophy., Harl., Olsh., Bleek, etc.), the mystery of the Cross (Est.), the love of God (Chrys., Erasm., Grot., etc.), the wisdom of God (De Wette), love (Moule), all that God has revealed or done in us and for us (Alf.). But the context naturally suggests the love of Christ (Calv., Mey., Ell.), that being the supreme theme and the one which is immediately set before us in express terms. The imagination of the Fathers, Augustine, Gregory Nyss., Jerome and others, ran riot in the endeavour to find some distinctive, spiritual meaning in each of the four things here named, the shape of the Cross, e.g., being supposed to be signified (Estius), the Divinity of Christ being found in the figure of the height, His human nature in the depth, the extent of the Apostolic Commission in the length and breadth, etc. Nor are the feats of interpretation less forced or fanciful which have been performed by some more modern exegetes. But the terms length, breadth, depth, height are introduced with no other purpose than the simple and consistent one of setting forth the surpassing magnitude of Christ’s love for us. The power to comprehend that love in its utmost conceivable grandeur and its furthest-reaching relations is what Paul prays God to grant his Ephesians.

[344] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[345] Codex Mosquensis (sæc. ix.), edited by Matthæi in 1782.

[346] Codex Angelicus (sæc. ix.), at Rome, collated by Tischendorf and others.

[347] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[348] Codex Ephraemi (sæc. v.), the Paris palimpsest, edited by Tischendorf in 1843.

[349] Codex Claromontanus (sæc. vi.), a Græco-Latin MS. at Paris, edited by Tischendorf in 1852.

[350] Codex Boernerianus (sæc. ix.), a Græco-Latin MS., at Dresden, edited by Matthæi in 1791. Written by an Irish scribe, it once formed part of the same volume as Codex Sangallensis (δ) of the Gospels. The Latin text, g, is based on the O.L. translation.18. may be able] R. V., may be strong; more lit. still, may get strength; the verb being aorist, pointing to a new crisis. The idea is of a wide grasp, a mighty stretch of thought and faith, only to be made by spirits perfectly assured (Ephesians 3:17) of their footing.

to comprehend] R. V., “apprehend; a minute and over-careful change.—The Gr. is used (e.g. Acts 4:13; Acts 10:34; Acts 25:25) of mental perception, or ascertainment.

with all saints] Lit., with all the saints. For the phrase cp. Ephesians 1:15, Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Philemon 1:5; Revelation 8:3, and perhaps Revelation 22:21. On the word “saint” see note on Ephesians 1:1.—The thought emphasized here is that of the great Community. The Apostle has spoken of experiences possible only in the sanctum of the individual regenerate “heart,” but he reminds the reader here that these are never to terminate in themselves. The individual, as he is never other than a “member” of Christ, is never other than a “member” of his brethren (see Romans 12:5). His grace and light are to be, as it were, contributions to the combined experience of the true Church, as the grace and light of the true Church are to enhance his own.

what is the breadth, &c.] The Object is left unnamed. What is it? We explain it, with Monod, as the Divine Love, which has just been named (see last on Ephesians 3:17), and is to be named (as the Love of Christ) immediately again. At least, it is that Work, Purpose, Covenant, of God in Christ which is ultimately resolved into the Eternal and Sovereign Love.

The imagery is perhaps suggested by a vastly spacious building, with its high towers and deep foundations. But may it not rather be suggested by the visible Universe itself, as if a spectator gazed from horizon to horizon, and at the boundless air above, and thought of the depths beneath his feet? We may partially illustrate the language, in any case, by such passages as Psalm 103:11-12.

Some curiosities of interpretation attach to this verse. Severianus (cent. 4, 5), quoted by Alford, finds here an allusion to the shape of the Cross, and in it to the Lord’s Godhead (“height”) and Manhood (“depth”), and to the extent of the apostolic missions (“length and breadth”). St Jerome (cent. 4, 5) in his Commentary here interprets the words at some length, and finds in the “height” the holy angels, in the “depth” the evil spirits, in the “length” those of mankind who are on the upward path, and in the “breadth” those who are “sinking towards vices. For broad and ample is the way which leadeth to death.” The Calvinist Zanchius (cent. 16) adopts from Photius (cent. 9) the explanation that the reference is to “the mystery of the free salvation through Christ of the Gentiles and the whole human race”; called long, because decreed from eternity; broad, because extended to all; deep, because of the descent of Christ to Hades, and because of the resurrection of the dead; high, because Christ ascended above all heavens. (Quoted in Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum.)Ephesians 3:18. Ἐν ἀγάπῃ, in love) of Christ: Ephesians 3:19, note.—ἐῤῥιζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι, rooted and founded [grounded]) The root is, of a tree—the foundation, of a house. A Syllepsis[49] precedes, which must thus be explained: that you may have Christ dwelling in you, being rooted, comp. Colossians 2:2, note; unless the Nominative rather agrees with you may be able,[50] as the ardour of Paul was eagerly intent on what follows. So, in the middle of the sentence, if and how are placed, 1 Corinthians 11:14-15; 1 Corinthians 14:7; 1 Corinthians 14:16; and ἵνα itself, that, 1 Corinthians 14:12;[51] 2 Corinthians 2:4; but the words which precede these particles render the earnest striving [of his prayers] very emphatic.—ἘΞΙΣΧΎΣΗΤΕ) you may be able: even still further.—καταλαβέσθαι) to attain, to comprehend.—τί τὸ πλάτος καὶ μῆκος καὶ βάθος καὶ ὕψος, what is the breadth and length and depth and height) These dimensions of the spiritual temple refer to the fulness of God, Ephesians 3:19, to which the Church according to its capacity ought to correspond; comp. ch. Ephesians 4:10; Ephesians 4:13, concerning Christ. For the breadth of the fulness and of the love of Christ is signified, and that too in respect of all men and all peoples; and its length, extending through all ages, Ephesians 3:21 : as also its depth, which no creature can fathom; and its height, Ephesians 4:8, such as no enemy can reach. Comp. Psalms 117. In regard to this breadth, length, depth, height, all which are one magnitude, there is nothing broad, long, deep, high in any creature. By Chiasmus the order of the ideas is, love [Ephesians 3:17], breadth [length, depth, height, Ephesians 3:18]: [then in Ephesians 3:19] love, fulness; of these four, the third corresponds to the first, therefore the second to the fourth. In Ephesians 3:19 the love is at length expressly mentioned; but in Ephesians 3:18 the fulness of God in itself; but this very fulness is also tinctured with love.

[49] A syllepsis is when the regular syntax of the parts of the sentence is set aside, so that more regard in the construction is paid to the sense, in the mind of the writer, than to the words and their connection. As here the nom. ἐῤῥιζωμένοι is put as if the sentence were, “that you may have Christ dwelling in your heart, etc., you being rooted,” etc. As the sentence stands, syntax would require ἐῤῥιζωμένων to agree with ὑμῶν. I think there is attraction exercised by the ἐξισχύσητε, as if ἐῤῥιζ, were agreeing with its subject.—ED.

[50] The margin of both Ed. favours this connection of the words, and the Germ. Vers. agrees with it.—E. B.

[51] Οἰκοδομὴν ζητεῖτε ἵνα περισσεύητε, for ζητ, ἵνα περισς, ἐν οἰκοδομῇ. So here ἐῤῥιζωμένοι ἵνα ἐξιοχύσητε, for ἵνα ἐῤῥιζωμένοι ἐξισχ.—ED.Verse 18. - May be made strong to comprehend with all the saints. The subject to be comprehended is not only beyond man's natural capacity, but beyond the ordinary force of his spiritual capacity. The thing to be grasped needs a special strength of heart and soul; the heart needs to be enlarged, the mental "hands of the arms" need to be made strong (Genesis 49:24). But the attainment is not impossible - it is the experience of "all the saints;" all God's children are enabled to grasp something of this (comp. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6). What is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. No genitive being given, it has been a difficult point to settle to what these dimensions must be held to be applicable. Some think that the love of Christ in the following clause must be meant; but surely when that is made the subject of a separate part of the prayer, and is not in the genitive but the objective case, governed by a verb of its own, this explanation is not to be enter-rained. Others, with more reason, think that the idea of a temple was in the mind of the writer, as it certainly was in Ephesians 2:21, 22, and that it is the dimensions of the temple he had here in his eye, the prayer being that the Ephesians might comprehend the vastness and glory of that spiritual temple which is constituted by all believers, and in which God dwells by the Spirit. Even this, however, would not divest the construction of abruptness, and it would fit in but poorly with the context, in which the tenor o f the apostle's prayer is that a profusion of Divine blessing might be enjoyed by the Ephesians. If a genitive must be supplied, may we not conceive the apostle to have had in his view the entire provision God has made in Christ for the good of his people, so that the dimensions would be those of the gospel storehouse, the vast reservoir out of which the Church is filled? "Breadth" might denote the manifoldness of that provision; "length," its eternal duration; its "depth" might be represented by the profundity of Christ's humiliation; and its "height" by the loftiness of the condition to which his people are to be raised. To comprehend this, to understand its existence and its richness, is to get our faith enlarged, our expectations expanded; it is through this comprehension that "all the saints" have got their wants supplied, and their souls filled as with marrow and fatness. Rooted and grounded (ἐῤῥιζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι)

Compare Colossians 2:7, and see note. Grounded or founded, from θεμέλιον foundation. The dwelling in Ephesians 3:17 would naturally suggest the foundation. Rooting and grounding are consequences of the strengthening of the Spirit and of Christ's indwelling.

In love

Standing first in the sentence and emphatic, as the fundamental principle of christian life and knowledge.

May be able (ἐξισχύσητε)

Rev., may be strong. This compound verb occurs only here. The preposition ἐξ has the force of fully or eminently. Ἱσχύς is strength embodied; inhering in organized power. Hence it is an advance on δυνάμει might in Ephesians 3:16 (see note). Paul prays that the inward might or virtue may issue in ability to grasp. Compare Luke 14:30 (note); Luke 16:3 (note); Acts 27:16 (note); James 5:16 (note).

Comprehend (καταλαβέσθαι)

To English readers this conveys the meaning understand. Rev., better, apprehend: grasp. See on John 1:5, and compare Philippians 3:12, Philippians 3:13.

Breadth, etc.

No special interpretations are to be given to these words. The general idea of vastness is expressed in these ordinary terms for dimension. Notice that the article is attached only to the first, breadth, all the rest being included under the one article; the intention being to exhibit the love of Christ in its entire dimension, and not to fix the mind on its constituent parts.

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