Spiritual Blessings

by A.E. Knoch

"GRACE to you and peace, from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." Divine favor, and the weal it works, is the height of human blessedness. The usual Eastern salutation was Peace! It was a wish for well fare in all things. Paul always prefaces it with grace. This is the key note of our relationship to God and Christ in all of Paul's epistles. And he does not only wish us to have it, but he proceeds to present it to us. This is especially true of the epistle before us. In it the grace of God is not only the first to greet us as we enter, but enriches us with its lavish redundance to the very end.

Nowhere is this invocation more fitting than here, for it introduces us immediately to the grandest and most glorious exhibition of divine favor which ever illumines God's love, either in the past, the present, or those wondrous future eons which are the special display of His power and perfections.

"Blessed be the God and Father of out Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials..." (Eph.1:3, CV). With inimitable wisdom the whole message of this epistle is compressed into these two introductory phrases, every spiritual blessing and among the celestials. All the rest may be referred to these two themes. The secret itself begins with a repetition of the first, for all of the jointlies are in spirit (Eph.3:5). And its three items are entirely dependent on the fact that our blessings are not on earth, but among the celestials.

The strongest possible stress, however, is laid on the statement that our blessings are spiritual. It is difficult to see how greater emphasis could be given this foundation fact. This, the fullest exposition of God's present dealings with the nations, opens with this striking declaration, and it is confirmed at every step. The nations have become joint enjoyers because they were sealed with the spirit of promise (1:13). In flesh, they were apart from Christ (2:12). Access to the Father's presence is by spirit (2:18). We repeat, the mystery itself is limited to the realm of spirit. It is only in spirit that we are joint allottees, and a joint body and joint partakers.

The full force of this phrase will not dawn on us until we have fully considered its implications. When we say that our blessings are among the celestials, nothing is actually said of our place on earth, but the mere mention of the higher sphere is the most conclusive evidence that our blessings are not on earth. So with the character of our bliss. The word spiritual is contrastive. It insists that the physical and the soulish have no place in our blessedness.

In the kingdom Israel will have spiritual blessings, but they will be mingled with all the delights which we can only sip, because of the frailty of our mortal frames. Disease and death, which crush our efforts to quaff the cup of pleasure to the full, will be defeated. Theirs will be the paradise, the elysian fields, Arcadia. The "heaven" of which men dream, will be on earth.

Our blessings are above all this. It is not really right to say that we will have no physical or soulish blessings, because this would indicate a lack, a loss, a deficiency. The positive statement that we have every spiritual blessing, in Christ, gives us the gold that makes silver and copper of no account. So superior is the spiritual bliss that all need, all desire, for the inferior felicity will vanish. At present we do not apprehend this. We long for the lower delights. But they are not ours in Christ. Just as we will be satisfied with being "confined" in a universe and leave the earth for Israel, so we will be supremely content with our transcendent spiritual felicity and leave the physical pleasures to the earthly people.

We must also read this phrase in the light of the previous position of those to whom it was written. They had already enjoyed some spiritual and physical blessings, in anticipation of the future kingdom, in which they were supposed to have a part. There is a change in two directions. Their place in flesh vanishes and leaves them no title to physical felicity. Their place in spirit develops until it includes the very limits of spiritual bliss.

It is evident that these phrases, "spiritual blessings" and "among the celestials," are new revelations, and denote a change in God's dealings with the nations. The celestial destiny was not made known before, though much had been revealed in preparation for it, as we shall see when we consider the phrase more closely. So also, the exclusively spiritual character of our blessings had not been previously expressed, yet there had been a constant trend in their direction, from the very first indication that God was doing a distinct work among the nations. They were weaned from the physical gradually. Here we have the climax, for all physical precedence must be set aside in the administration of the secret

The general teaching of the Scriptures as to spirit is well worthy of our attention, and may be considered later when we inquire into the subject of spiritual endowments. At present let us consider the theme in connection with the blessing of the nations through the ministry of Paul, first as it appears on the surface in the history of his acts and then as seen in the doctrine of the spirit in his preparatory epistles.

Parabolically, we are given a graphic representation of the retirement of the flesh and the ascendency of the spirit in the apostle Paul. From his call to his severance at Pisidian Antioch his ministry was based entirely on his physical presence. He spoke by word of mouth. He wrote no epistle. Later, when he went among the nations, he supplemented his personal presence by writing to the Thessalonians, and to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, and to Romans. But before he writes to the Ephesians he is put in prison. Physically he is retired from service. Only by his epistles he held spiritual communion with the saints. It is a parable of the spirit's ascendency over the flesh in his ministry.

As we shall see, this is often enforced in his writings, and it is even emphasized in the account of his ministry in Acts. His very severance was by the direct decree of the holy spirit, and he is sent forth in the same way (Acts 13:2,3). This is in undoubted contrast to our Lord's method with the twelve apostles. These He separated and sent forth during His physical presence on the earth.

Those who can see beneath the surface will discover continual intimations of the tendency toward spirit throughout Paul's acts. Consider the marked contrast between his long personal sojourn in Ephesus and his last visit. He did not even go to the site of the city, but called the elders to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:17). He told them that they would see his face no more. Physically, he faded from their view, never to return. Spiritually, he came to them again in this epistle (for it undoubtedly was sent to Ephesus). They were pained to part with him, but who can tell what joy he brought to them in his spiritual return?

The prophecy of Agabus points in the same direction. Its very wording is significant. "This the holy spirit is saying, `The man whose girdle this is shall the Jews in Jerusalem be binding thus, and they shall be giving him over into the hands of the nations.'" The holy spirit is the speaker. The girdle speaks of service. It was the action of the Jews in Jerusalem which was forcing the flesh to retire. They were compelling Paul to enter a ministry to the nations in which his flesh would have no place. All this is graphically represented, not only by the action of Agabus, but by the actual occurrence.

Have we ever fully realized the meaning of Paul's imprisonment at the close of Acts? Have we comprehended the significance of the fact that the perfection epistles come to us from a prisoner--a man who cannot claim or dispense physical benefits, or serve by means of his personal presence? There is a close accord between the circumstance and the substance of all revelation. While Paul's flesh is being confined, his spirit is set free.


The great change in the operation of the spirit can be understood only when we carefully consider the force of the terms used. We read of the spirit coming on for power, of filling for utterance, of baptism for cleansing, of sealing for safety, of the earnest as a pledge, and of homing for communion. The first of these, coming on for power, Paul never applies to the nations. The last, homing for communion, which takes its place, is used only by Paul, in view of the impending climax of Ephesians. Instead of receiving an occasional visitation, the saints among the nations become the permanent home of the holy spirit. This is not for the operation of miraculous displays, but for the maintenance of constant fellowship. Almost all of these are continually confused with the baptism of the spirit, which we will consider first.


What is the baptism in holy spirit? Aside from the promise given by John the baptist (Matt.3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3: 16; John 1:33) that they would be baptized in holy spirit at the coming of Christ, and our Lord's declaration that they should be baptized with holy spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:5), we have only one other mention of spirit baptism in the Scriptures. This is Paul's declaration that, "in one spirit we all are baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free" (1 Cor. 12:13).

If we allow an interpretation of this phrase which is popular at present, that the baptism of the spirit is known only when evidenced by miraculous manifestations, we are confronted with a serious difficulty at the outset. We know that many are members of the body of Christ who have never experienced some of these supernatural signs, yet we are assured by the apostle that all who are members of Christ's body have become such by the baptism of the spirit. We must either deny that all who are members of Christ have this baptism or modify our conception of its meaning to accord with the experience of all who are His.

Baptism in water was the type or symbol of the spiritual reality. It spoke of cleansing and union. It was ceremonial washing, and associated its subjects by a common bond. Saul of Tarsus washed away his sins (Acts 22:16). The sons of Israel were baptized unto Moses (1 Cor.10:2). These two thoughts--cleansing and unity--are only typified by water, but realized in spirit. The disciples were cleansed on the day of Pentecost and the saints in Corinth were united into one body by the baptism of spirit.

There is not the least suggestion of power in the term baptism--either in water or in spirit. John the baptist wrought no miracles, neither did his baptized disciples. Those who were baptized by our Lord's followers received no enduement. His apostle's and disciples needed a special commission to enable them to cast out demons, cure the sick, or strengthen the infirm. Their baptism conferred no power. The same is true of the antitype. The baptism of the spirit does not undue the saints with might. It only cleanses and unifies.

At first sight, this seems to be contradicted by the record in Acts. Did not the Lord say that they would be baptized in holy spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:5)? And did not the holy spirit come with power, accompanied with tongues of fire and the gift of languages? This is true. At Pentecost they were not only baptized in holy spirit, but the holy spirit came on them (Acts 1:8) and they were filled with holy spirit (Acts 2:4). The power was not due to baptism but to the other manifestations of the spirit's presence.

Consider carefully the two distinct promises given by our Lord concerning Pentecost. First He said, "You shall be baptized in holy spirit not many days hence." Then, when the testimony to the kingdom is before Him, He says, "But you shall be obtaining power at the coming of the holy spirit on you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, as well as in entire, Judea and Samaria, and to the limits of the land" (Acts 1:8). Power is not associated with baptism but with the oncoming of the spirit. The figures are opposites. Baptism is a dipping in. Power springs from a coming on.

The same important distinction is manifest in the twelfth chapter of first Corinthians. The baptism of the spirit is the ground of unity, not of power. The spirit is the channel of the graces, which it gives and operates. What a vast difference between this thought and the dipping of all in the spirit! O that we could clear away the cloudy conceptions which are confusing so many of His dear saints today! The baptism of the spirit has become connected with so much which is unwarranted by the Word that it has become the cause of division, rather than unity. We beg of all to search and see that baptism never brings power. It never is the source of spirit manifestations. It is used only of cleansing and consequent unity.

The perversion of the doctrine of spirit baptism should be a helpful warning to those whose hearts yearn to know and obey the will of God, for it points out how easily we may deflect from the truth unless we use the utmost care and accuracy in considering the inspired records. It shows how easily we may reason from false and insufficient premises, and found a great movement on a figment of human imagination. Power came down at Pentecost. The disciples were baptized in holy spirit at that time. But this does not prove that one was the consequence of the other. The fact that power was promised in connection with the coming on of the spirit, and is never associated with baptism disproves it. Yet what a marvelous movement is based upon this blunder! An untold amount of teaching concerning the operation of God's holy spirit is centered around this serious error. Good men and godly find it a challenge to their faith, and they seek to make it their own. The lesson we should learn is the stupendous importance of trifling departures from the Word. The enemy may use them to deceive and to seduce the very elect.

The great lesson for service in this economy of God's grace is almost the reverse of that which obtains at Pentecost. That power did not continue. Let anyone trace the exhibition of power through the book of Acts and he will be convinced that, as the kingdom hope vanishes, power also departs. At the beginning the twelve are mightily endued and are able to brave the opposition of their rulers. At the end they have been forced from the holy city and their cause is lost. Only a lone apostle, a prisoner in Rome, remains as God's ambassador. All the power he has lies in his weakness.

That is the great lesson which is needed today. God's strength is now being perfected in infirmity. God is working with weak instruments so that the glory may be His. Great power would disqualify us. It is one of the special excellencies of grace that it operates more freely in infirmity than in strength. God can, and has, wrought great things through those whom He has empowered. He is doing far greater marvels through the feeble, the faint, those who cannot claim a share in the glory of His achievements. Let us, like Paul at the close of his career, boast in our lack of physical power, for then we are more acceptable servitors of His grace.


In ancient times the spirit of the Lord came upon those who were His instruments. Balaam prophesied under its power (Num.24: 2). Othniel delivered Israel (Judges 3:10), and Gideon acted in its strength (Judges 6:34). When Samuel anointed David the spirit of Jehovah came upon him from that day forward (1 Sam.16:13). His captain, Amasai, had the spirit come upon him (1 Chron.12:18). The spirit of God came upon Azariah the prophet, and he encouraged Asa to put away the idols out of the land (2 Chron.15:1,8), as well as on Zechariah the priest, who was stoned in the court of the temple (2 Chron.24:20,21). The spirit of Jehovah fell on Ezekiel (Ezek.11:5). He worked, not by an army, nor by power, but by His spirit (Zech.4:6).

This same coming on is continued as the power of God's operations when Christ and His apostles were proclaiming the kingdom. He Himself was generated in this way (Luke 1:35). Such was the power of Pentecost (Acts 1:8). But never, in all of Paul's career, does the spirit operate in this way. It is not now an occasional outpouring. The spirit is not outside of us. It dwells in us. It is there, not to work miracles, but to vivify every act of these mortal bodies (Rom.8:11).

At Pentecost the spirit came on them for power, filled them for utterance, and they were baptized in it for cleansing. The baptism and the filling continue, but the coming on is replaced by another nearer and closer relationship which was not known at Pentecost. Only in Paul's epistles do we read that the spirit is making its home in the saints (Rom.8:9,11; 1 Cor.3:16; 2 Tim.1: 14). Instead of an occasional visitation it has a settled habitation.

As this operation of the Spirit is most important in its contrast with the present method, we give a list of the passages in which it is referred to, so that the student may study them for himself. There is some variety in the imposition of the Spirit. It falls on the proselytes (Acts 10:44; 11:15). It will be poured on Israel and all flesh in the coming kingdom (Acts 2: 17,18) as it was in the past on the believing proselytes (Acts 10:5). It is placed on Christ (Matt.12:18). It remains on Him (Mark 1:10; John 1:32,32).


Up to the end of Acts the spirit is found ON the saints: In Acts 13 through Paul's epistles, the holy spirit makes its home IN the members of His body. This change is fraught with far-reaching significance. There is all the difference which we find in Israel's early history, where Jehovah manifested Himself in two distinct methods. He occasionally came upon men, such as Othniel and Gideon, David and Amasai, Zechariah and Ezekiel, energizing them for some superhuman effort. But He also made His home in the holy of holies. One was intermittent and temporary. The other was His permanent abode.

Since sin has invaded the universe God makes His home in inaccessible light (1 Tim.6:16), and in houses specially prepared and sanctified for His presence, such as the tabernacle of the wilderness, the temple of Solomon, the more glorious sanctuary of Ezekiel (Ezek.43), in the person of His Son (John 2:19-21) and, in this economy of transcendent grace, which anticipates the glories of the ultimate consummation, in the bodies of His believing people. In the time to come He will dwell in a temple made of living stones. They will be a part of His abode. We are His body in this secret administration.

We need not doubt the reality of His homing in Israel's sanctuaries. Our version is inaccurate in saying that the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands. He is not now dwelling, or making His home in them. It is very true that He does not make His home in Ezra's building (Ezek.6:3), or Herod's house, or the temple of the end time (2 Thess.2:4). But we may be sure that the tabernacle and the temples of Solomon and Ezekiel are hallowed by the Shekinah. In the past He dwelt in houses made by men's hands and He will deign to do so once again. But now He is not making His home in such structures, but in bodies made by Himself as the Creator and hallowed by the sacrifice of Christ.

The figure of the temple is transferred to our bodies by the apostle. "Are you not aware that you are the temple of God and the spirit of God is making its home in you" (1 Cor.3:16)? As the presence of Jehovah sanctified the temple, so we also are holy because we are His home. This is the true basis and power of holiness. It is not in ourselves, but in Him Who homes in us.

The homing of the spirit is set forth most fully in the eighth of Romans (verses 9-11). There we read, "Yet you are not in flesh, but in spirit, if so be that God's spirit is making its home in you...Now if the spirit of Him Who rouses Jesus from among the dead is making its home in you, He Who rouses Christ Jesus from among the dead will also vivify your mortal bodies because of His spirit making its home in you." This is the marvelous and continual miracle of the spirit in this economy. It gives life to the dead. We should be in constant enjoyment of resurrection power, which makes the body of sin, though dead, the instrument of righteousness.

The spirit homing within us, not only hallows our mortal frame and gives it life, but also guards that which He has committed to us. Paul charged Timothy, "Guard that ideal thing committed to you, through the holy spirit making its home in us" (2 Tim.1:14). These three passages fully set forth the present place of the holy spirit in contrast with its place in the past. Then its presence was occasional and extraordinary. Now it is the normal experience of all saints. Then God dwelt in temples, now He homes in those whom He has hallowed.


The sealing and earnest of the spirit are also exclusively ours. In fact, as both are permanent and the earnest is a foretaste of the very blessings we are considering, these tokens could not be given to other saints. As these phases of the spirit's operation will come before us at length a little later on (Eph.1:13), we will not unfold them at this point.

The full import of the phrase "spiritual blessings" cannot be obtained by reasoning. We are not able to formulate premises from which any safe deductions can be made. This may be illustrated by what may be termed the kingdom argument, which is as follows: There are spiritual blessings in the kingdom. We are in the kingdom (Col.1:13). Hence all of the spiritual blessings of the kingdom are ours. This is beautifully simple and convincingly logical, if only the premises were true.

The kingdom in which we find ourselves today is, in some ways, a contrast to the kingdom of the heavens. That will destroy and displace the kingdom now on earth. That will rescue mankind from human rule and deliver them into the kingdom of Christ, as the Son of Mankind. The kingdom of the Son of His love delivers us out of the jurisdiction of darkness into a realm which in no way interferes with our subjection to the powers that be. It is a strictly spiritual kingdom, in opposition to Satan's present sovereignty.

That it is not even the spiritual counterpart of the millennial kingdom is evident from the title used. The kingdom of the Son (Heb.1:8) is not to be referred to the thousand years, but to the "eon of the eon"--the succeeding eon, in the new creation. The reason doubtless lies in the fact that, in that future kingdom, unlike the millennium, there will be conciliation. God will be on terms of amity with all mankind. It is not the rule of the iron club, but of the scepter of the Son--a title of relationship and affection. Such is the future type of the present kingdom.

Without repeating all that we have written on the subject of the heavenly kingdoms, we wish to press the two great phases of the future sovereignty of the earth and their spiritual counterparts, so that we may not be misled by mistaken analogies.

As to time, let us note that the priest-kingdom of Christ and His saints is for the thousand years. This is commonly called the millennium. Let it be clearly noted that this has two distinct aspects toward the nations. It is a Melchisedec reign. Christ and Israel are intermediaries between God and the nations. They are Priests as well as Kings.

The spiritual counterpart of this period is found in Paul's earlier ministries, when he as a priest ministered the evangel of God to the nations and as an ambassador, conveyed the decrees of the elders to his converts. Duing this interval we find the powers of the coming kingdom exercised by Paul himself and by those who received his message. There was blessing in body and soul as well as in spirit, but all in subordination to Israel.

But the reign of the earthly saints is not limited to the millennium. That is only one phase of the coming kingdom. They are to reign for the eon of the eons, but not as priests. Priesthood vanishes in the new creation. The power of God's Christ is replaced by the loving sway of His Son. The present "kingdom" is the spiritual anticipation of this sovereignty. Hence it is called "the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col.1:13). The figure is continued in Colossians, for we are said to have deliverance and justification to reign in the celestial kingdom.

Christendom has confused the spiritual counterparts with the future fulfillments, so that the coming kingdom has been spiritualized away. Others have reversed this process, and have tried to make the kingdom a present reality. Let it be ours to separate the coming phases, the kingdom of Christ for a thousand years, the sovereignty of the Son, for the final eon, and the kingdom of the Father, after the eons are past. And let us also distinguish the anticipatory spiritual fulfillments. The kingdom of Christ, and the powers of the millennial era do not illustrate our blessing. The succeeding kingdom of the Son speaks of the present grace. We are in a new creation.

Beyond this, let us note that the present kingdom is a figure of speech. There are certain points of likeness between that which we enjoy and that which will be the position of the nations in the new creation. We are not at liberty to define these similarities. This is done for us by the spirit. The nations at that time will not be rescued from their human governors. Neither are we. They will be liberated from the thralldom of Satan and his hosts. So are we. We are rescued out of the authority of darkness.

Godward, they will have deliverance and the pardon of sins. Considering ourselves under the figure of this kingdom, we also have these blessings, for they are the only means of conciliation known to government.

These two aspects are the only ones which we have any right to press without doing violence, to the laws of language and the Word of God. There are aspects of that kingdom which have no counterpart in the present. Indeed, they are contrary to this administration. For instance, Israel will still rule over the nations. That must not be imported into the present grace. Likewise, there will be physical felicities at that time to which we are strangers. These are not elaborated in the figure, hence we may lawfully deduce that they are not a part of the picture.

Even now, therefore, we have spiritual blessings among the celestials, though we have no physical blessings among terrestrials. Unknown, despised on earth, yet we are the first of its inhabitants to be freed from the fearful influence of the powers of darkness, who are hurrying humanity to its doom. They already recognize us as the supreme sovereigns of the universe, to whom, as members of the body of Christ, is pledged the pinnacle of creature bliss.

The negative implications of this great declaration are of tremendous practical importance. The mere statement that our blessings are among the celestials rules out the terrestrial felicities of the favored nation. And the fact that they are spiritual sets aside the soulish, sentient, sensual, as well as the fleshly and material, which have so large a place in Israel's promised kingdom. And the great exemplars given us in Philippians fully confirm this truth. None of them were noted for either health or wealth. On the contrary, Paul dilates on his distresses, Timothy has frequent infirmities, and Epaphroditus lingered near the doors of death. These men gave a living expression to the great motto which appears above the portal to present truth: SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS AMONG THE CELESTIALS.

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