William Bell Riley Books
THE THREE-FOLD EPISTLE
WILLIAM BELL RILEY, D.D.
CHAPTER ONE. THE THREE AUTHORS OF SALVATION! 4
CHAPTER TWO. THE THREE SUBJECTS OF SALVATION. 19
CHAPTER THREE. THE THREE-FOLD EFFECT ON PAUL. 35
CHAPTER FOUR. THE THREE-FOLD APPEAL TO THE CHURCH 50
CHAPTER FIVE. THE THREE FEATURES OF THE BELIEVER’S WALK 66
CHAPTER SIX. THE THREE-FOLD APPEAL TO THE FAMILY. 81
CHAPTER SEVEN. THE THREE-FOLD EXPRESSION OF SPIRITUAL LIFE 98
William Bell Riley Books
In the study of the seven epistles to the seven churches of Asia, memorialized in the second and third chapters of the Revelation, it is significant that the first message is addressed to the Church at Ephesus. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesian church was the first in order of his prison epistles; and may have been read to both the Ephesian and Laodicean Christians (Col. 4:16). It is peculiarly a church epistle, but presents to the individual Christian the certainty of conflict and the way of conquest. The writer believes that the three-fold feature of this book is not arbitrarily introduced. He began its study with no thought whatever of reducing the book to any numerical basis. The divisions were, in every case, the result of careful investigation. He commits this volume to the reading public in the hope of making the epistle to the Ephesians as attractive to students as it has seemed instructive and inspiring to recent auditors!
William Bell Riley Books
CHAPTER ONE. THE THREE AUTHORS OF SALVATION! William Bell Riley Books
Its date is approximately 64 A. D. and it is probably the first in order of his prison epistles. Tychicus was his postman, carrying not alone this epistle, but with it probably the one to the Colossians and to Philemon. In view of the fact that in his epistle to the Colossians (4:16), he speaks of another epistle already written to the Laodiceans, and to be read by them. This may have been a somewhat circular letter, sent to Ephesus first, and later to the Laodiceans.
It is peculiarly a church epistle. It deals with that body of which Christ is the Head; and which is called “the Church of God.”
The Apostolic Greeting (vss. 1:2), is worthy a chapter, but we pass it over in the interest of what follows, viz. the three authors of salvation.
This chapter indelibly impresses three great truths,—The believer is predestinated by the Father; the Believer is purchased by the Son; the Believer is empowered by the Spirit.
THE BELIEVER IS PREDESTINATED BY THE FATHER.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us, in Him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.
This language holds a number of words upon which the student of Scripture should pause. First upon the word—“Father.” God is not a force, but a Father! A writer says, “When I say ‘A force’ I am somewhere, at large; and almost think I am lost; but when I say ‘Father’ I am at home, and all my heart grows still.” You remember the language of the sweet singer:
“I was in God’s nursery to-night as the evening was getting dim, [Him;]
And I sat with God’s children, and they were talking of
And another child was with them, though Him I could not see,
They say that God has an elder Son, I think it was He.
‘Father’ He said first of all; though I could not see for the gloom,
Yet the instant He said it I felt someone else in the room;
And the room itself must have grown in a very little space,
For the child called to Father in heaven and heaven is a far-away place.
But oh, what an echo was left by that one single sound.
It crept into every corner and wandered round and round;
The very air felt holy wherever the echo came;
Cried the children, ‘Oh, that it were ever so. ‘Hallowed be that Name’!”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sir Robert Anderson once said to me, “Never again speak of “Jesus,” it suits the Unitarian too well, and the critical student as well; employ the biblical phrase “the Lord Jesus Christ. Defend His claims; decry His critics; declare His deity!”
“Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.” We are told that “places” is a poor translation and that “in the heavenlies” is right, reminding us that in the earth we are but “pilgrims and strangers;” and that our spiritual experiences are forever suggesting the Home to which we journey and the land to which we truly belong, to all of which we are heirs in Christ, “according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”
It is a remarkable phrase—“Chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” God always expected to have a Church. God, from the beginning, knew what agency He would set against the world’s sin; and from the beginning, God knew that “the gates of Hell should not prevail” against Him “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” Here let us pause and begin an outline!
Predestination is by the exercise of God’s will. It is, therefore, all of grace. Peter, in his first epistle, second verse, speaks of the “elect according to the fore-knowledge of God, the Father.” Jesus said to His own disciples, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” The sinner, of himself, would never even seek salvation, much less secure it! “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” and it is all of grace; all of the good will of God from the beginning. The term “predestination” which has alarmed many, is only another expression of the eternal compassion, the eternal plan, the eternal purpose, the eternal project—redemption!
The Believer’s position, however is by the exercise of man’s will. He has “purchased us unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will but He will never foreclose on that which He has purchased without our personal consent. The day one is willing to be adopted, that day he becomes God’s child. And yet, lest we boast, that after all we have the merit of our wills, we ought to be reminded that He makes us “willing in the day of His power,” Now, adoption is to be bring to all the privileges of the truly born. Dr. Jowett, says truly that “sin is a voluntary breaking away from the Divine order, a conscious and deliberate violation of the Divine will” and that “sin results in a certain distortion, a certain twist in our relationship to the Highest, which evidences itself in the disturbing and maiming sense of guilt.” A great experimental thinker has said that “sin is the God-resisting disposition in virtue of which, man, in self-sufficiency and pride, opposes himself to God, and thereby withdraws himself from the active ministry of God’s life and love.”
Whatever relationship we may have maintained by reason of original creation it has been distorted and twisted and needs to be righted and straightened and God has provided for that “by Jesus Christ.” As Jowett says “Matthew Arnold once told us that “sin is an infirmity to be got rid of but forgot to tell us how!” Another counsels “Get rid of sin by healthy developments and favorable conditions.” But, alas, who has found such conditions and accomplished such development? Men who have made endeavors, have been compelled to cry out at last, as Paul—the educated, as Paul—the beautifully environed, as Paul—the noble, as Paul—the eloquent cried, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” And no man who has been unable to say “I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord” has ever found another way. All of this is “to the praise and glory of His grace, wherein He hath accepted us in the Beloved.”
Now, experience is the realization of this relationship. We saw a child taken out of a Home, a few days since, to be adopted. The act itself had little significance to him; but of the fruitfulness of that adoption he will find out from experience! As he comes later under the hand of that beautiful woman: as he comes into the fullness of her love, and into that of the noble man who united with her in that adoption; as he shares with them that home, and sees that the best even is reserved for him; as he goes forth beautifully clothed and abundantly fed; as he goes forth to the public school, and later finds himself in the University, his experience will deepen his relationship. It is so with us! Our adoption is done the moment we consent to it; but the joy of it all, to the praise and glory of His grace— comes to us in ever increasing measure until we shall break forth in song:
“My Father is rich in houses and lands,
He holdeth the wealth of the world in His hands!
Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,
His coffers are full,—He has riches untold.”
And then add the refrain to express our relationship—“I am the child of a King!”
But, as we have been predestinated by the Father so we have been
PURCHASED BY THE SON.
“In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace; wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him; in whom we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who work- eth all things after the counsel of His own will: that we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (vss. 7-13).
This Scripture justifies three remarks. First;
The Believer was bought by the Son of God. You can object as much as you like to the term redemption, defined as “buying back;” you can say as often as you will that ‘you never belonged to the devil, consequently you could not be bought back,’ but the testimony of all human experience is against your claim. Christ said, “Ye are of your father, the devil” and men have never failed to illustrate it. “His servants ye are whom ye obey.” If we are to be manumitted, One must appear and purchase us that He might set us free. Dr. James M. Gray had occasion to write:
“O listen to our wondrous story,
Counted once among the lost,
Yet, One came down from heaven’s glory
Saving us at awful cost.
No angel could His place have taken
Highest of the high tho’ He,
The loved One on the cross forsaken,
Was one of the Godhead three.”
and greater occasion even for his refrain:
“Who saved us from eternal loss?
Who but God’s Son upon the cross?
What did He do,
He died for you?
Where is He now?
In heaven interceding.
Believe it thou,
In heaven interceding!”
William Bell Riley Books
“There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus; neither is there salvation by any other, for there is none other name given under heaven and among men whereby you must be saved.” It is reported that Charles Lamb on one occasion was sitting with a body of friends and the question was asked “what would you do if Plato, Aristotle or Shakespeare should enter the room at this moment?” “I would rise,” said Lamb, “and receive them with great respect.” “And what would you do if Christ should enter?” “I should kneel at His feet,” replied the same great writer. Lamb is supposed to have belonged to the liberal wing of the Visible church, and to have denied the deity of Christ; yet, by this answer, he practically confessed that, after all, he recognized Him as more than a man—as the very God who appeared in our behalf.
The price He paid for us was His own precious blood. “In whom we have redemption through His blood.” It is the day when men hate the doctrine of the blood. They have found a new name for it, and called it “the gospel of the shambles;” but apart from it, there is no Gospel at all, since “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” The Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” is presented in Scripture as its one and only hope. Abel’s blood by another generation was good, but we must have “a blood that speaks better things than that of Abel,” or sinners are forever doomed.
Dr. Clark tells in his journal of missionary travel, how once in India, he listened in a humble tent to the song of a lot of coolies who had been a band of cutthroats and murderers, and yet had been marvelously redeemed. One of them named Kothabye, had been the chief of a robber band and had at last been captured and sold as a slave. But no master would keep him, he was so wicked. At last a missionary bought him with the hope of saving him. One day he heard the missionary tell how the blood of Christ could cleanse a sinner. Coming to him he asked, “Could He cleanse a murderer?” “Yes” said the missionary. “But if he had killed five men?” “Yes” said the missionary, “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” “But if he had killed ten men?” “Yes,” said the missionary, “all manner of sin shall be forgiven men.” “But if he had killed twenty men?” “Yes” said the missionary “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” “But if he had killed thirty men?” “Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” answered the missionary. “Then” said he “I am that sinner, for I have killed thirty men.” But the blood of Jesus Christ saved even that man, and he was now the leader of the coolie band and they were the greatest company of soul-winners known to that region. The writer, referring to it, said: “Perhaps you have no such record, and no deep sense of sin. Listen, the sin offering was for sins of ignorance especially, the very condition of guilt was this, “Though he wist it not, yet he is guilty.” God knows that without the shedding of blood there is no remission; and Christ appeared to make the sacrifice in behalf of each and every one!
The praise, then, belongs to Him and to Him alone. One of the greatest sermons to which I ever gave audience was preached by Thomas Spurgeon, and one of the most impressive features of it the oft-repeated phrase “It is all of grace!” The blotting out of the sins of the past is His gracious work. A writer declared that he walked across the valley of Dead Men in the South Island. Looking back over the way, he saw his tracks in the sand and marked how crooked his path, though he had intended to walk straight. It became a parable to him, he said, “This is my life. Every footprint, crooked!” “Then I fell asleep. When I awakened hours afterwards, I could see no marks on the sand; every footprint was gone; not one to be seen; the tide had been in, and when it receded there was no sign of the crooked steps; and I said to my soul, “that is a fresh reminder of what God has done for me.” Yes; but it was through the Son, and the praise belongs to Him. That is why we sing:
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
Let angels prostrate fall,
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all.
And that is why
Sinners whose love can ne’er forgot
The wormwood and the gall,
Should spread their trophies at His feet,
And crown Him Lord of all.”
But we call attention to the further suggestion of this Scripture, namely, that if the Church has been predestinated by the Father, and purchased by the Son, it is
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT.
“That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (vs. 12-13).
There is nothing in all human thought so wonderful as the redemption of man. We ought not to marvel, therefore, that the entire God-head— Father, Son and Spirit engaged together; nor should we be surprised to discover that each holds His specific office, and does His specific work. If the Father predestinated redemption and the Son purchased it, the Spirit makes it possible.
He seals the Lord’s servants. A careful study of the words employed with reference to the Spirit will also show that wherever there is a distinction, there is also a difference. “Baptize” is one word; “endue” is another, “seal” is a third. On one occasion Jesus Christ said to the multitudes that had sought Him for the loaves and fishes: “Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for Him hath God the Father sealed.” A. J. Gordon says: “This sealing must evidently refer back to His reception of the Spirit at the Jordon.” It is maintained that the old Jewish priest had a custom of carefully examining the lamb selected for the offering, and if he found no defect in it, he put the temple seal upon it, thus certifying that it was fit for sacrifice and for food. Just previous to His baptism, John called attention to Christ, by saying “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” It ought not to amaze us, therefore, that when He appeared at Jordan, under the Father’s omniscient scrutiny, He was a Lamb “without blemish and without spot,” concerning whom the Father Himself could say: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased;” and then set upon Him “the seal of the Holy Spirit,” descending in the form of a dove.
Gordon contends that the disciple is like his Lord in this, “In whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” In conversion the believer receives the testimony of God and “sets his seal to it that God is true;” in consecration God sets His seal upon the believer, that he is true. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Now He which establisheth us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (II Cor. 1:21,22).
Christopher Wordsworth, realizing this truth wrote:—
“Come, ever, blessed Spirit, come,
And make Thy servant’s heart Thy home;
May each a living temple be
Hallowed forever, Lord, to Thee;
Enrich that Temple’s holy shrine
With sevenfold gifts of grace divine,—
With wisdom, light and knowledge bless,
Strength, counsel, fear and godliness.
Oh, Trinity, in unity!
One only God and persons three
In whom, through whom, by whom we live,
In Thee we praise and glory give;
Oh grant to us to use Thy grace,
That we may see Thy glorious face,
And ever with the heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
William Bell Riley Books
He instructs the Lord’s Servants.
The Apostle prayed for the Ephesians that,—
“The God of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of glory may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him;
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.
And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us ward who believe” (vss. 17-19).
G. G. Findlay, a great English expositor remarks “The spirit of wisdom and revelation will proceed from the Holy Ghost dwelling in those Gentile believers (vs. 13).
When the mind of the Old Testament prophet is illumined it is the work of the Spirit.
Daniel’s wisdom in interpreting dreams was given to him by “God,—the revealer of secrets”— an adequate description of the Third Person of the God-head. In the New Testament, Christ said of the Holy Ghost, “When He is come He shall guide you into all truth.” The effect of His instruction is found in the circumstance that men of different creeds, and coming from all quarters of the earth, discover a marvellous harmony of thought, when the Holy Ghost illumines them.
Bernard was a monk, steeped in the spirit of Catholicism. But when his heart was opened to the Holy Ghost, he wrote,—
“Jesus, the very thought of Thee,
With sweetness fills my breast.”
And every true member of the Protestant Church, listening to that song, believes that Bernard was visited by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the “eyes of his understanding being enlightened, and that, he knew what was the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of His power to us ward who believe.”
In other words, the Spirit-led men of the earth, called by whatever name you may care to employ, separated by any distance that may intervene, and partitioned by any Denominational labels that may be employed, are, in spite of all, an answer to the Master’s prayer,—
“That the Disciples may be one, even as He and the Father are one.”
But the chapter does not conclude until a further step is taken.
He, the Holy Ghost, exalts God’s Son. It was that Holy Ghost of promise.—
“Which wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might, and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head of all things to the Church, Which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1: 20-23).
The same Spirit that quickened Christ from the dead, inspires every believer in Christ to exalt Him, above all;—all men—all angels—all archangels ; to name Him as the Head over all, “to the Church which is His body,” to mention Him as that one which filleth all in all.
In other words, He is literally fulfilling the Lord’s promise, “He shall not speak of Himself, but He shall take of the things of Mine and show them unto you.” And wherever a man is Spirit- illumined, Christ is not only His Lord, but He is the only Lora and Lord of all. You may find Him in the fold of Unitarianism; his philosophy and theology may be as unsound and unscriptural as commonly characterizes that company, and yet if the Spirit of God ever breathes upon him, He will bring him to say of the Christ as Sir John Bow- ring the great singer,—
“In the cross of Christ I glory
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.”
William Bell Riley Books