Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:4c “. . .who is rich in mercy,. . .”
“Mercy” is the compassion of God directed toward those who need relief from misery. Paul saw no contradiction in this stark contrast he has suddenly thrust upon us. God is wroth with misery-producing sin, but merciful with misery-laden sinners who repent.
Our symptoms are severe, our disease fatal, but we do not despair. There is a Physician who can cure the worst cases, if we take His medicine. However severe the misery, there is mercy sufficient, because God’s supply is “rich.” The word is well chosen. Denoting wealth and abounding assets, “rich” points to infinite resources of mercy available for the most miserable sinners. Where much mercy is needed, much mercy is provided.
“Rich” also bespeaks the infinite cost at which mercy was granted. God gave His only Son to relieve our misery. The mercy which relieves man’s misery sprouts from God’s misery.
Eph. 2:4d “. . .for his great love wherewith he loved us,. . .”
“For” means because of, on account of. God shows mercy due to “his great love wherewith he loved us.” Notice language laboring for expression: “rich” in mercy, “great” love. “Rich” points to the inexhaustible, “great” to the inexpressible. God’s mercy and love elude exact description and defy detailed definition. Whatever word or metaphor we use, however eloquent, “is but to stammer” (Hendriksen). Only those who experience mercy based on love can know what it is, and even they never comprehend it fully.
Like all the divine perfections, God’s love is as great as God Himself. It extends to all sins; despair not due to their number. It extends to each sin; despair not due to their hideousness. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Even the worst of crimes can be forgiven. Moses was a lawless, vigilante-style murderer; Saul of Tarsus was of the same ilk. Yet God used both for His honor and glory.
God’s love is “great,” for it deals effectively with a sin which cannot repel it, and shapes itself into arms which embrace the sinner. It is the “great love” of a great God to great sinners. “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creations in order that he may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing. . .the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves. . . .Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves” (C. S. Lewis).
In Eden our race had one golden opportunity, but failed. God could have responded to our rebellion by making millions of new creatures. He had but to speak, and could have surrounded Himself with creatures who would never disappoint Him. Had he left mankind to anarchy and Hell, none could have accused Him of injustice. Nevertheless, His “great love wherewith He loved us” would not let God leave His elect to perish. He had to make a way whereby He could bring His children back unto Himself.
There is an intense longing in the heart of God for man. He enfolds believers in His own bosom, engraves our names upon His heart, and never for a moment forget we are His children.
God’s love for His children is pictured in David, the man after God’s own heart. David never quit loving Absalom. Bible students analyze the life of Absalom with words like vain, selfish, spoiled brat, lawless murderer, rebellious son, fornicator, traitor. But upon learning of the betrayer’s death, David mourned with a wail which centuries later continues to groan from the pages of Scripture (2 SM 18:33), “O my son”–note the word “son”; David used none of the words we cold analysts use–“Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee”–do not miss the cry of substitution, the essence of love–“O Absalom, my son, my son!”
“The name and the relationship will well up out of the Father’s heart, whatever the child’s crime. We are all His Absaloms, and though we are dead in trespasses and in sins, God, who is rich in mercy, bends over us and loves us with His great love” (Maclaren).
Isaac Watts penned our only adequate response to God’s “great love”:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Eph. 2:5a “Even when we were dead in sins,. . .”
We need rich mercy and great love, for when God looks upon this world, He sees it as a huge cemetery, and reads on every tombstone, “Dead in sins.” All men by nature are dead of the same disease, and nothing in lifeless, corrupting corpses can merit affection.
Paul inserts this clause as his knock-out punch to remove any lingering, albeit staggering, vestige of doubt regarding the seriousness of man’s plight. The Apostle meant to knock our pride down dead, as dead as our natural condition. Salvation is not merely the forgiveness of a handful of sins. In regeneration God is dealing with death, not merely sickness. We must go all the way back to our birth and acknowledge we have been all wrong from the first. The process is painful, but worthwhile. . . .
Eph. 2:5b “. . .hath quickened us. . .”
“Quickened” is “zoopoieo,” from which we derive “zoo” and “zoology.” It means to cause to live, to make alive. At the moment of conversion, one is instantaneously regenerated, becoming for the first time sensitive to the true, holy, living God. Instead of asking, “Is there a God?” one begins to feel there is not a place where God is not, and sees God in everything.
A new convert said, “I do not understand. Either I am a new creature or the whole world is altered, for everything is different.” Another said, “For fifty years I have lived and have not felt the presence of God. But for these last fifty seconds the greatest fact in the world to me is God” (quoted from Criswell). God appeared in a dream to Jacob, who was fleeing from Esau. “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. . . .This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (GN 28:16-17).
Everyone needs to be “quickened,” to be made alive unto God. It is a deed only God can do. “No one can crawl from the casket” (Hughes).
Many of us grew up being blessed by the radio ministry of Charles E. Fuller. In my household, we listened to many programs through the week on TV and radio, but every Sunday morning, without exception, my mother turned our pink kitchen radio to “The Old Fashion Revival Hour.” I knew for sure it was Sunday morning when I heard the piano roll through the introduction to “We Have Heard the Joyful Sound.”
Charles Fuller originally did not intend to be a preacher. In fact he was still unconverted when a young adult. The archives of the Billy Graham Center contain a letter which Fuller wrote to his wife the night of his conversion, July 16, 1916: “There has been a complete change in my life. Sunday I went up to Los Angeles and heard Paul Rader preach. I never heard such a sermon in all my life. Ephesians 1:18. Now my whole life and aims and ambitions are changed. I feel now that I want to serve God if he can use me instead of making the goal of life the making of money” (quoted in Hughes). Charles Fuller was “quickened” that warm night in Los Angeles. His life was forever altered, for which I thank God!
We describe the moment of quickening as regeneration, conversion, being born again, the new birth, the second birth, our spiritual resurrection. Whatever name we use to describe it, being “quickened” is by far the most wonderful and most important event of our human experience.
To picture quickening and its results, Spurgeon used an allegory all believers can adapt to their own lives. If you are lost, unable to relate to this allegory, May God lead your steps into its orb this very moment.
My dad often visited my spiritual catacomb. He would sit by my casket and talk of Jesus’ death and God’s love. I was content in my tomb, but things changed the day a Stranger accompanied Dad to my mausoleum. The Stranger had always come with Dad before, but I had not noticed. On this day Dad again spoke of Jesus’ death and God’s love, but this time the Stranger interrupted and called, “John, live!” I opened my eyes, tried to inhale, and attempted to move. For the first time I felt pent up, stifled in my coffin. My sepulchre was suffocating me. The coffin lid had not bothered me before, but was now giving me claustrophobia. As I began to panic, the Stranger raised the lid, and hurled it aside. Dad helped me from my casket and, quietly fading into the background, he placed my hand in the nailscarred hand of the Stranger.
I have walked with the Stranger of Galilee a third of a century. Our path is always in or near a cemetery. The Lord often pauses to stare lovingly at a particular coffin. At such times, I know what I am to do. Leaning over the casket, I talk of Jesus’ death and God’s love. My words are of no avail, but then the Stranger calls, “Krista, Michael, Ashley, Elizabeth, live!” and lifts the lid. I reach down, help a newborn from the casket, and fading into the background, I put a hand into the nailscarred hand. Away they go, and off Jesus and I go, all of us walking to other cemeteries, where the adventure is repeated time after time. “Quickened”–it is beautiful, it is God, “who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us.”