That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise…
Step by step descending into darker and darker depths, St. Paul describes the awful condition out of which heathens had been rescued when they became Christians. Regarded from a Jewish point of view, this condition is seen to consist in the loss of all the high privileges of Israel, and the salvation of the Gentiles appears as an adoption into the circle of those privileges. But larger things of more general import are covered by the description, so that it applies virtually to all who are outside the pale of the gospel. Let us go through the descending and darkening series and observe the several woeful characteristics.
I. CHRISTLESS. The Gentile world had no Messiah. Worldly interests - business, pleasure, culture - have their advantages; but they bring no Savior, no Physician of sick souls. As Christ is the Foundation-stone of the new temple, to be without Christ is to have nothing on which to erect subsequent Christian blessings. If we have the doctrine and discipline of the New Testament without the Christ, we have nothing of real profit. The dumb, pathetic helplessness of spiritual hunger in the finer inquiring and doubting minds of our day is a proof that to be without the light and life and love of Christ is as great a loss to us as it was to any in old times.
II. CHURCHLESS. "Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." The Church is now what Israel was in pro-Christian times - the home and family of the people of God. Only it is not marked by the visible boundaries of any "Holy Land." The true Church, the fellowship of kindred followers of Christ, contains many a choice soul that has been accounted a schismatic and cut off from the organized communities of Christendom. Real excommunication comes not by the fulmination of an anathema, but by the breach of spiritual sympathy. Without the union that comes through our relation to Christ we voyage in solitude over lonely seas of thought.
III. UNEVANGELIZED. "Strangers from the covenants of the promise." The Jew had a gospel in Messianic prophecy. The Christian has his in New Testament history. What covenant is there in science? What promise in art? What gospel in commerce? We may discover laws and hers of the universe, and create works of skill and beauty, and accumulate treasures of wealth. But still stricken souls cry, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" for all this brings no peace to the weary and the brokenhearted.
IV. PESSIMIST. "Having no hope." Pagan Rome and Greece were verging towards pessimism in the days of St. Paul, when philosophers advised suicide and historians taught contempt of mankind. Pagan Europe now manifests the same tendency. Culture fails to convert the Philistine. Science dwarfs humanity before nature, and discovers no soul and no heaven. Business, politics, and society drive man to a weariness that sees no rest.
V. ATHEISTIC. Speculative atheism is rare, if it ever exists. Practical atheism is more common and more disastrous. It is worse to believe in God and to live as if there were no God, than to doubt his existence. To be without God is not to look for his help nor to obey his will. This is death, since in God we live and move and have our being. Glorious must be the gospel that redeems us from such a depth of ruin. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: