Christ Dwelling In The Heart By Faith
excerpts from "Notes and Reflections on the Epistle to the Ephesians" by Arthur Pridham

Ephesians 3:14-21

Verse 16--"…to be strengthened with power by His Spirit in the inner man." The Apostle, with a deep appreciation of the glory of the mystery, and bowed low under the exceeding weight of the mercy which he had himself obtained, he now desires for the saints in Ephesus an ability to taste, with a fuller and more sensible perception of its blessedness, the communion of that love which had been so unreservedly lavished on them as partakers of the unsearchable riches of Christ.

It is according to the riches of His own glory that the Father provides for the supply of every want that can be felt by those who are begotten of Himself. It is the inner man that is contemplated here. The Father of glory makes no provision for the flesh, though in merciful kindness He considers our need as in the body. But the point to which the Spirit always leads us is the steady consideration of our portion, as united by faith to Him who is in heaven. God seeks to wean our hearts from the world, by setting His own glory in our view. He would have our minds already familiarized to the idea of that which is presently to be revealed. But Divine glory is too bright a thing for dust and ashes to endure. And although the new nature is in its essence as pure as the God from whom it is derived, and looks earnestly towards that glory as its promised rest, yet it lives here in weakness and incessant conflict with the evil which hems it in on every side. Believers are weak babes, though children of the Lord Almighty. Their strength is never in themselves. It comes to them from Him in whom they trust, in greater or less measure as they know the secret of their weakness, and lean implicitly upon the Lord. An unfeigned confession of dependence never fails to bring, as its response, His strength into the soul (Ps. 138:3; 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

That they might abound in that strength, is, therefore, the Apostle's first desire. But the connection in which this request is found is worthy of all attention. The strength here sought is desired not with a view to the performance of outward acts of service, but in order that the believing soul may be empowered to grasp and hold firmly fast the Divine treasure placed within its reach. It is, perhaps, not sufficiently remembered by us, that securely as we are preserved in Christ, who is Himself our hidden Life, we are, nevertheless, cast entirely upon the active operation of the Spirit in our hearts for an adequate enjoyment of our portion. We have already seen that, in his former prayer {in Eph. 1}, the sum of the Apostle's desire was the Spirit in His active and unhindered energy. It is the same in the present instance, the form of manifestation only being changed. Instead of wisdom and revelation, the desired effect of His operation is an increase of hidden strength, with a view to personal communion with God. It is, indeed, most important to remember that, while conscience helps us often to a knowledge of our duties, we need, for the right understanding and enjoyment of our privileges, the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 17--"that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith," etc. This, his second request, expresses what would be an effect of their attainment of the former. For, if the Spirit confers strength upon the inner man, it is by filling the heart more abundantly with Christ, and so shedding abroad in it the love of God. The desire here expressed is equivalent to what the Lord had already promised to the disciples as the chief fruit of the advent of the Comforter. They should know in that day not only their spiritual oneness with the Lord, but His indwelling presence in themselves (John 14:20). The Lord dwells in His people's hearts by faith. Occasional visitations of mercy are the experience of all believers. Abiding enjoyment of Christ belongs to those only who give diligence to make their calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:5-10). He who holds us all with equal firmness in the strong hand of His salvation is willing to be held by us in the secret chambers of our hearts. If we make no effort to detain Him there, He presently withdraws from that sanctuary, though ever ready to return at our cry. His detention is well worth the effort of a little watchfulness, as we find to our cost when, through carelessness, we lose for a season the conscious enjoyment of His presence.

Christ cannot dwell in a divided heart. If He enters it, He claims to be the undisputed Lord of its affections. He will abide in that dwelling-place alone. When received with honor, in the simplicity of our faith, He willingly remains there in the fullness of His peace. If we delight in Him, He will delight in us, giving us, in the intelligent enjoyment of Himself, far more than the desires of our hearts (Ps. 37:4). A single eye is needed to discern Him, and a single heart to hold Him fast. Most Christians know something of the difference between the rich and happy fullness of a heart which, in simple and unclouded faith, must speak of blessedness, because the Blessed One Himself is there, and the comparative and sometimes (for a while) entire destitution of that sense of blessedness, because some barrier has been suffered to grow up between the heart and the gracious Object of its trust. Faith must be kept in exercise, or truth will lose its power, and spiritual deadness be the result. Nothing is more necessary than to keep this principle in mind. For it is a fixed law of spiritual life, which, whether observed or neglected on our parts, never fails of its effects.

That Christ should dwell in our hearts by faith, is assuredly the will of Him who has sent forth the Comforter in His Name. It may be well to add a word as to the mode of recovering the joy of His fellowship, when we are conscious of having lost it. We must seek Him if we would regain His peace…The love that gave itself for our sins alone has tenderness enough to heal our backslidings, and is of power to subdue our hearts.

Verse 18--The effect of faith is to establish our souls in love. Two expressions of the strongest kind are here used in order to describe that effect. Believers are said to be rooted and grounded in love. Each of these words has its own peculiar force and beauty. We are rooted in love from the moment that we know Jesus, He being our Root who is the Lord of love. The Lamb who is the Root of David, is the Tree of life to our souls. On that Root the Church already grew in God's purposes before the worlds. But our Foundation is likewise Christ, God's elect and precious Stone. We have been built there by the hand of Him who quickened us by His power. Christ crucified is the palpable demonstration to our hearts of that great love which is now, through grace, become the rest of our souls.

The essential connection between a radical establishment of the heart in the love of God, and real progress in the knowledge of Him in whom all fullness dwells, is rendered very apparent in this verse. He asks for his brethren that, "being rooted and having been grounded in love, they may be able to comprehend," etc. The force of this is very clear. Until settled in the grace of God, the soul has neither power nor encouragement to venture on a search into the infiniteness of a God who is not known. A doubting spirit comprehends nothing but the fact of its own wretchedness. A purged conscience is the first lesson that the Spirit of grace imparts to our souls as the Revealer of Jesus. Then, and not earlier, are we enabled (by the power of the same Spirit) to enter, with all saints, on the study of that which is the children's portion.

The action of the spiritual understanding is always in sympathy with the affections of the heart. If, in one sense, we know before we truly love, yet love thus awakened becomes in turn the fountain of desires which nothing can satisfy but perfect knowledge. It may, perhaps, be doubted, whether the subjects of this verse and the following one are identical. One thing is, however, abundantly and most blessedly evident; that the believer is here invited by the Holy Spirit to cease from all mournful retrospections, and to lose himself with an abiding confidence in the infinity of Christ. The terms employed are, by their very indefiniteness, expressive, in the strongest manner, of the disparity that exists between our present powers of apprehension and the inconceivable range of Divine knowledge for which, with all saints, we have already been renewed in Christ. The treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him. Perfection and immensity are the two ideas which usually strike our minds when thinking of the works of God; and these ideas are conveyed exactly by the Apostle's language in this place. Length and breadth, and depth and height, are indeed terms of measurement and limitation; but they are here employed for the double purpose of reminding us that order and perfection are in all the works of God, and of confessing their utter inadequacy to bring within the mastery of our definite conception the richness of that portion which is freely given us in Christ.

And if creation and its fullness be to our thoughts a thing of infinite perfection and extent, more perfect still, and infinite in a yet stronger sense, must be the almighty and all-effecting love and wisdom that produced it. God is greater than His work; and it is Him whom we are born, in Christ, to know. A certain indefiniteness belongs thus, of necessity, to the expression of true spiritual desire, inasmuch as that which is infinite cannot be mentally conceived, much less expressed by words. But although ignorant of the full extent of our blessedness, we are sure, upon the faith of Him who cannot lie, that all is ours; we are thus enabled, in the holy confidence of that assurance, to send up true aspirations of desire for a still increasing measure of that spiritual strength by which alone our faith can bear, without staggering, the exceeding weight of that rich blessing which we are called to inherit in the Beloved. If, through grace, we rest in Him as "all our Salvation," we shall not slack to seek for Him as "all our Desire" (2 Sam. 23:5).

Verse 19--"And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge," etc. This final petition stands in closest connection with what precedes it. If spiritual comprehension is a faculty common to all saints, by virtue of which the renewed mind may expatiate safely and at large, amidst the boundless fields of Divine knowledge, spiritual affections also appertain to them, by means of which they are enabled to appreciate the love of Christ. But that love, though known and rested in, surpasses knowledge. Its outward tokens are, indeed, most evident; and are the proofs to which the Spirit ceases not to appeal when cheering and strengthening the fainting heart. But proofs, though infallible, are but pledges of the love they prove. By their means we are brought into acquaintance with it, and, by a steady contemplation of such tokens, we are gradually certified of that which our hearts desire. But it is the nature of all love to be superior to its own demonstration. It is known by use. Occasion quickens and enlarges its practical effect. Thus, in measures as different as the uncounted varieties of spiritual growth and capacity, that which is the common life and solace of all saints, is tasted and enjoyed. Vessels of every description hang upon that Nail (Is. 22:23-24). Every believer knows the love of Christ; for the Cross is its eternal monument. We love Him in the persuasion of His love. And as that mighty evidence of love is pondered in our hearts, and we think of it not only as the cure of our natural miseries, but as the door of access, likewise, to the sure and never-ending blessedness of the kingdom which we have received by faith, and which is ready even now to be revealed, we perceive that we are held in the embraces of an affection which we shall perfectly enjoy, indeed, but which will be greater than our knowledge to the end.

Doubtless, when our eyes behold the Savior, and the mysteries of sin and grace are understood, not as they now are, in a feeble and at best inadequate appreciation, but with a perfect knowledge of them both, the hearts which even now flow over at the memory of Him who bore our sins in His own body on the tree, will be satiated to the fullness of their deep desire, by beholding all His glory, and participating in His likeness and His joys. Yet, blessedness, though in one sense consummated, will still be a progressive thing. For not even will glory, in its ages of untiring enjoyment, exhaust the fullness of that God whose name is Love. And it is unto that fullness that we are to be filled.

The last clause of this verse requires some further notice, as it has not been exactly rendered in our Version {the KJV}.* The Apostle never meant to say that we should be filled with all the fullness of God. For that would be to deify the Church. All fullness dwells in Christ, but not in us. His words are to be regarded rather as a statement of the limit and measure of spiritual knowledge when considered absolutely. God will be fully known (so far as He is communicable to His creatures) by those whom He has formed for the enjoyment of Himself. We are, in that sense, to seek to be filled to the measure of His fullness. For He will hide no secret but that of His own Being from His children. His Spirit is already given to us, that we may know what things He has freely given us in Christ. That Spirit revealeth all things, even the deep things of God. His fullness, therefore, is the only limit of true spiritual progress. Prayer in the Spirit aims at nothing less than this. For God is our Standard, whether of present truth or of surely coming life. What He has is our safe inheritance laid up for us with Christ in heaven. What He is to us, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be still learning to eternity.

Verses 20, 21--"Now unto Him that is able," etc. The remarkable doxology with which this chapter closes, is a fit as well as natural sequel to the prayer to which it is appended. Having expressed, in the preceding verse, the ultimate aim of all spiritual desire, the heart of the Apostle gives back, as it were, a reverberation of believing praise to Him whose excellent power and majesty are seen to be, in Christ, the pledged security of all our hope. Faith, which sustains prayer, and truth, which gives to it its right direction, are the essential elements, also, of spiritual praise.

The love of Christ has been declared to be beyond our knowledge, even as His glory is above our thoughts. But both have been set before our hearts as objects of desire; for we are called into the fellowship of both. That we may enjoy, even now, a more abundant entrance into our portion, we have been taught to seek from Him who has bestowed it on us, a fuller measure of the Spirit. And now, to encourage our feeble minds, and to stimulate the activity of our desires, we are reminded both of the watchful readiness of the Almighty Father to listen to our prayers, and that the power whose aid we are directed to invoke, is already working in us the good pleasure of His will.

That the mighty power of God has wrought in Christ, has been triumphantly asserted in chapter 1. That power was there said to be to usward who believe. What it will shortly accomplish on us, is the joyful expectation of our hearts. He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in us (Rom. 8:11). We are taught, meanwhile, to reckon on the inward energy of the Holy Spirit as the power by which all godly affections are fostered and sustained, and all acceptable works are wrought. His Divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3).

It is because the revelation of the mystery of Christ brings into our view things so transcending our thoughts, that we are here recalled to a remembrance of the power of God. A sense of personal weakness is the certain effect of growth in Divine knowledge. To meet this, we are constantly reminded by the Spirit of the power of Him who loves us. To insist upon His willingness to bless us, is superfluous in the presence of a testimony whose first announcement is that He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in His Son. But we need continually to be reminded that no gift of God can be worthily known or enjoyed, but by His Spirit's power and in communion with Himself.

Very precious is the assurance here afforded us of the interest with which the faintest aspirations of desire, as well as the most fervent and importunate requests, are considered by our God. One thing, indeed, we do well to remember: His power, ever to usward as it is in grace, can only work His will. Hence the important moral relation which subsists between the habitual state of our hearts, and our confidence and liberty in prayer. For "this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him" (1 John 5:14-15). There is no guile in the spirit of one who leans on grace alone; while all true desires are known thoroughly to Him who in love inquires into the mind of the Spirit that is in us (Rom. 8:27). It is the will of God that we should know Him in the riches of His love. We can make no progress in this knowledge while we trust in ourselves; but it flows in upon us as a full river of all comfort, when we abandon ourselves in faith to Him whose power is beyond our utmost wish, and who teaches us to fear Him, through the knowledge of His saving grace (see 2 Cor. 1:3-4,9-10; Tit. 2:11-12; Ps. 130:4).

Glory will be to Him by our Lord Jesus Christ forever, in the Church which He has grounded on His love. We have already seen that praise is the natural language of God's saints. They praise Him whom they know. The Spirit of revelation is the power of their worship. That the destination of the Church is to be a holy temple in the Lord has been shown by the Apostle in the previous chapter (2:21-22). We seem to have here a further intimation of the abiding continuance of that specific title which now belongs to the confessors of the Cross. Not only is the Church the only place wherein God's honor dwelleth upon earth in the present dispensation (broken and dishonored as the visible building is), but we find that same description still attaching to God's everlasting worshippers. It is in the Church that glory is to be rendered always to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


*If, on the other hand, it be thought that the idea is correctly represented; viz., that we might be filled with a perfect knowledge of God, it may be admitted that such is no doubt the destiny of the believer. We are born, that is, to know God, and if so, to know Him to satiety--to be filled with Him. Still it remains true, that no created capacity can hold His fullness. He is Himself the Container of all things, and can be measured only by Himself. Hence, when, in his Epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle is developing the glory of Christ's Person, we find him declaring (in order to help us to a right conception of the mystery of godliness) that all fullness dwells in Him. We, on our parts, are complete in Him (Col.1:19; 2:9-10). Out of His fullness all we have received, and grace for grace. It is plain that the indwelling of God diffusively by the Holy Spirit in each believer, conveys a different idea from our being filled with His fullness.