“as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
— EPHESIANS 1:10 ESV
That he might gather together in one. In the old translation it is rendered (instaurare) restore; to which Erasmus has added (summatim) comprehensively. I have chosen to abide closely by the meaning of the Greek word, ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι, because it is more agreeable to the context. The meaning appears to me to be, that out of Christ all things were disordered, and that through him they have been restored to order. And truly, out of Christ, what can we perceive in the world but mere ruins? We are alienated from God by sin, and how can we but present a broken and shattered aspect? The proper condition of creatures is to keep close to God. Such a gathering together (ἀνακεφαλαίωσις) as might bring us back to regular order, the apostle tells us, has been made in Christ. Formed into one body, we are united to God, and closely connected with each other. Without Christ, on the other hand, the whole world is a shapeless chaos and frightful confusion. We are brought into actual unity by Christ alone.
But why are heavenly beings included in the number? The angels were never separated from God, and cannot be said to have been scattered. Some explain it in this manner. Angels are said to be gathered together, because men have become members of the same society, are admitted equally with them to fellowship with God, and enjoy happiness in common with them by means of this blessed unity. The mode of expression is supposed to resemble one frequently used, when we speak of a whole building as repaired, many parts of which were ruinous or decayed, though some parts remained entire.
— John Calvin
Translate, "Unto the dispensation of the fulness of the times," that is, "which He purposed in Himself" (Eph 1:9) with a view to the economy of (the gracious administration belonging to) the fulness of the times (Greek,"fit times," "seasons"). More comprehensive than "the fulness of the time" (Ga 4:4). The whole of the Gospel times(plural) is meant, with the benefits to the Church dispensedin them severally and successively. Compare "the ages to come" (Eph 2:7). "The ends of the ages" (Greek, 1Co 10:11); "the times (same Greek as here, 'the seasons,' or 'fitly appointed times') of the Gentiles" (Lu 21:24); "the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power" (Ac 1:7); "the times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the prophets since the world began" (Ac 3:20, 21). The coming of Jesus at the first advent, "in the fulness of time," was one of these "times." The descent of the Holy Ghost, "when Pentecost was fully come" (Ac 2:1), was another. The testimony given by the apostles to Him "in due time" ("in its own seasons," Greek) (1Ti 2:6) was another. The conversion of the Jews "when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled," the second coming of Christ, the "restitution of all things," the millennial kingdom, the new heaven and earth, shall be severally instances of "the dispensation of the fulness of the times," that is, "the dispensation of" the Gospel events and benefits belonging to their respective "times," when severally filled up or completed. God the Father, according to His own good pleasure and purpose, is the Dispenser both of the Gospel benefits and of their several fitting times (Ac 1:7).
— Jameson, Fausset, and Brown
This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way a upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.
— Irenaeus, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching
II. In the way of exhortation. If it be so that praising God is very much the employment of heaven, hence let all be exhorted to the work and duty of praising God. The following considerations will show why we should be stirred up by this doctrine to this work.
1. Let it be considered that the church on earth is the same society with those saints who are praising God in heaven. There is not one church of Christ in heaven, and another here upon earth. Though the one be sometimes called the church triumphant, and the other the church militant, yet they are not indeed two churches. By the church triumphant, is meant the triumphant part of the church; and by the church militant, the militant part of it: for there is but one universal or catholic church. Cant. vi. 9. “My dove, my undefiled, is but one.” Christ has not two mystical bodies. 1 Cor. xii. 12. “The body is one, and hath many members.” The glorious assembly and the saints on earth make but one family. Eph. lii. 15. “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Though some are in heaven, and some on earth, in very different circumstances, yet they are all united: for there is but one body, and one spirit, and one Lord Jesus Christ. One. God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, find in all. God hath in Christ united the inhabitants of heaven, and the holy inhabitants of this earth, and hath made them one. Eph. i. 10. “That in the dispensation of the fulness of time, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him.” Heaven is at a great distance from the earth: it is called a far country. Matt. xxv. 14. Yet the distance of place does not separate them so as to make two societies. For though the saints on earth, at present, are at a distance from heaven, yet they belong there; that is their proper home. The saints that are in this world are strangers here; and therefore the apostle reproved the Christians in his day, for acting as though they belonged to this world. Col. ii. 20. “Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?”
Some of a people may be in their own land, and some in a strange land; and yet be but one people. Some of a family may be at home, and some sojourning abroad; and yet be but one family. The saints on earth, though they be not actually in heaven, yet have their inheritance in heaven, and are travelling towards heaven, and will arrive there in a little time. They are nearly related to the saints in heaven; they are their brethren, being children of the same Father, and fellow-heirs with Jesus Christ. In. Ephes. ii. 10. the saints on earth are said to be fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the. household of God. And the apostle tells the Christian Hebrews, Heb. xii. 22-24. that they were ” come to mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” But how were they come to this heavenly city, and this glorious assembly, when they were yet here on earth? They were come to them, ere they were brought and united to them in the same family. But this is what I would inculcate by all this, that the church of God on earth ought to be employed in the same work with the saints in heaven, because they are the same society: as they are but one family, have but one Father, one inheritance; so they should have but one work. The church on earth ought to join with the saints in heaven in their employment, as God hath joined them in one society by his grace.
We profess to be of the visible people of Christ, to be Christians and not heathens, and so to belong to the universal church. We profess therefore to be of the same society, and shall not walk answerably to our profession, unless we employ ourselves in the same work.
2. Let it be considered, that we all of us hope to spend an eternity with the saints in heaven, and in the same work of praising God. There is, it may be, not one of us but who hopes to be a saint in heaven, and there continually to sing praises to God and the Lamb; but how disagreeable will it be with such a hope, to live in the neglect of praising God now! [...]
— Jonathan Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume II, "Sermon X"
By gathering together in one, is meant making happy together in our head, or uniting all in one fountain of life and happiness; as appears by John xvii. 20, 21, 22, 23.
The same thing is taught again in Colos. ii. 9, 10. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power. ” What is rendered complete in him, in the original properly signifies filled up, or filled full, in him. He is he in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells, and in whom the creature receives that fullness; and he is the head of communication whence ye receive fulness, or in whom we are filled full, who is the same person, who is also the head, in whom the angels receive their fulness, as it is added, “who is the head of all principality and power.”
This is very agreeable to what the apostle says, Colos. i. 18, 19. “And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence, for it pleased the Father that in him all fulness should dwell.” By this it appears that it was the design of God so to exalt and glorify his Son, that all his intelligent creatures should in every thing be after him, inferior to him, subject to him, and dependent on him, and should have all their fulness, all their supplies from him, and in him; especially if we compare this verse with the context, and with many other places in the New Testament.
— Jonathan Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume II, "Confirmation of Angels"