Here’s a summary of J.C. Ryle’s teaching on this great subject, based on Eph 3:8 – ‘Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.’
1. What Paul says about himself
Here is a man of great gifts and achievements, yet he calls himself, ‘less than the least of all God’s people.’ See Phil 3:12; 1 Cor 15:9; 1 Tim 1:15; Rom 7:24. Anyone who has deep insight into the things of God also has deep insight into his own natural corruption, 1 Pet 5:5. Examples: Abraham, Jacob, Job, David, John the Baptist.
We have nothing to be proud of – we have every reason to be humble. Cf. Phil 2:6-8.
2. What Paul says about his office
He has been granted the privilege of preaching the gospel. See 1 Cor 1:17; 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11; 4:2,17; Tit 1:3.
No mention here of a sacerdotal office: yet he values his ministerial calling: it is a Scriptural institution; it is a wise and useful provision; it is an honourable privilege to be an ambassador for the King.
Pray for ministers, that they watch their lives and their doctrine closely, 1 Tim 4:16.
3. What Paul says about the subject of his preaching.
It is ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’.
He preached Christ – not an amorphous morality. From his own vivid experience he preached ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ He saw in Christ a boundless provision for all the needs of the human soul.
There are unsearchable riches:-
(a) in Christ’s person. The union of Christ’s two natures is an unfathomable depth; yet it is a source of great comfort to know that (as God, he is mighty to save; and as Man, he is exactly suited to be our Head, Representative, and Friend’, Heb 2:18; 4:15.
(b) in Christ’s work. His work of atonement, reconciliation, redemption, satisfaction, and substitution is finished, Jn 17:4.
(c) in Christ’s offices. He is our Mediator, Advocate, Priest, Intercessor, Shepherd, Bishop, Physician, Captain, King, Master, Head, Forerunner, Elder Brother, Bridegroom.
(d) in Christ’s names and titles. He is Lamb of God, Bread of Life, Fountain of Living Water, Light of the World, Door, Way, Vine, Rock, Corner-stone, Robe, Altar.
(e) in Christ’s attitude towards man. ‘In him there are riches of mercy, love and compassion for sinners – riches of power to cleanse, pardon, forgive, and to save to the uttermost – riches of willingness to receive all who come to him repenting and believing – riches of ability to change by his Spirit the hardest of hearts and worst characters – riches of tender patience to bear with the weakest believer – riches of strength to help his people to the end, notwithstanding every foe without and within – riches of sympathy for all who are cast down and bring their troubles to him – and last, but not least, riches of glory to reward, when he comes again to raise the dead and gather his people to be with him in his kingdom.’
These riches are ‘unsearchable’: they come from an unfathomable and inexhaustible mine.
What do you think of yourself?
What do you think of Christ’s ministers?
What do you think of Christ himself?
(J.C. Ryle, Holiness, ch. 18, adapted)