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The apostle is speaking in the context of the glorious doctrine of the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ; and how it was in a great measure kept hid in the past ages of the world. It was a mystery that before they did not understand, but now it was in a glorious manner brought to light. (Ver. 3-5.)—“By revelation he made known unto me the mystery, (as I wrote afore in few words; whereby when ye read ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets, by the Spirit” And (ver. 8, 9.) “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which, from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.”
And the apostle in the text informs us, that what Christ had accomplished towards his church, in the work of redemption, had not only in a great measure unveiled the mystery to the church in this world; but God had more clearly and fully opened it to the understanding even of the angels themselves; and that this was one end of God in it, to discover the glory of his wisdom to the angels. “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God. 139139 Eph. iii. 10. ”
One end of revealing God’s counsels concerning the work of redemption, is making known Gods wisdom. It is called manifold wisdom; because of the manifold glorious ends that are attained by it. The excellent designs, hereby accomplished, are very manifold. The wisdom of God in this is of vast extent. The contrivance is so manifold, that one may spend an eternity in discovering more of the excellent ends and designs accomplished by it; and the multitude and vast variety of things that are, by divine contrivance, brought to conspire to the bringing about those ends.
We may observe, to whom it is that God would manifest this his wisdom, by revealing the mystery of our redemption;—and they are not only men, but the angels. 140140 Ibid “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known—the manifold wisdom of God.” The angels are often called principalities and powers, because of the exalted dignity of their nature. The angels excel in strength and wisdom. Those who are the wise men of the earth are called princes in the style of the apostle, 1 Cor. ii. 6. “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world”—ver. 8. “Which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” So the angels are called principalities for their great wisdom. They may also be so called for the honour God his put upon them, in employing them as his ministers and instruments, wherewith be governs the world: and therefore are called thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, Col. i. 16.
They are called principalities and powers in heavenly places, as distinguishing them from those that are in places of earthly power and dignity. The offices or places of dignity and power that the angels sustain, are not earthly, but heavenly. They are in places of honour and power in the heavenly city and the heavenly kingdom.
One end of God in revealing his design or contrivance for redemption, as he hath so fully and gloriously done by Jesus Christ, is that the angels in heaven may behold the glory of his wisdom by it. Though they are such bright intelligencies, and do always behold the face of God the Father, and know so much; yet here is matter of instruction for them. Here they may see more of the divine wisdom than ever they had seen before. It was a new discovery of the wisdom of God to them.
The time when this display of the wisdom of God was especially made to the angels is, when Christ introduced the gospel-dispensation, implied in those words, “To the intent that now unto the principalities,” &c. When Christ came into the world and died, and actually performed the work of redemption—when he had fully and plainly revealed the counsels of God concerning it; and accordingly introduced the evangelical dispensation, and erected the gospel-church—then the angels understood more of the mystery of man’s redemption, and the manifold designs and counsels of divine wisdom, than ever they had done before.
In the foregoing verse the apostle, after speaking of revealing this wisdom of God to man, “And to make all men see, what is the fellowship of this mystery, 141141 Eph. iii. 9. ” &c. speaks of this mystery as a thing from the beginning kept hid till now, “The mystery, which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God—that now, 142142 Eph. iii. 9. ” &c. In this verse he mentions another end, viz. that he may, at the same time, make the angels also see God’s wisdom in his glorious scheme of redemption.—“Now at this time,” implies that it was before a mystery kept hid from them in comparison of what it is now. And here is room enough for the angels to discover more and more to all eternity of the wisdom of God in this work.
Observe the medium by which the angels come by this knowledge, viz. the church.—“That now unto principalities—might be known by the church“—i. e. by the things they see done in the church, or towards the church: and by what they see concerning the church. So hath it pleased the sovereign God, that the angels should have the most glorious discoveries of divine wisdom by his doings towards his church, a sort of beings much inferior to themselves. It hath pleased God to put this honour upon us.
The wisdom appearing in the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, is far above the wisdom of the angels. For here it is mentioned as one end of God in revealing the contrivance of our salvation, that the angels thereby might see and know how great and manifold the wisdom of God is; to hold forth the divine wisdom to the angels’ view and admiration. But why is it so, if this wisdom be not higher than their own wisdom? It never would have been mentioned as one end of revealing the contrivance of redemption, that the angels might see how manifold God’s wisdom is; if all the wisdom to be seen in it was no greater than their own. It is mentioned as a wisdom such as they had never seen before, not in God, much less in themselves. That now might be known how manifold the wisdom of God is; now, four thousand years since the creation.—In all that time the angels had always beheld the face of God; and had been studying God’s works of creation; yet they never, till that day, had seen any thing like that; never knew how manifold God’s wisdom is, as now they knew it by the church.
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