Sermon Bible Commentary
The Unity of the Spirit.
I. What is to be kept: "the unity of the Spirit." That unity may be regarded as twofold. It may be viewed in two lights: as outwardly manifested and as inwardly wrought. In either view it is the unity of the Spirit.
II. This unity is to be kept. (1) There must be an endeavour to keep it. (2) There is a bond provided for keeping it: it is the bond of peace; it is the peace of reconciliation to God.
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 70.
The Basis of Communion.
I. It seems to me that there are two streams of influence which are pressing some, and those by no means the feeblest and least thoughtful, of our ministers, towards the conclusion that the Church of the future will take comparatively slight heed of doctrinal agreements and differences, and will base its fellowship on vital sympathy in the work of teaching, helping, and saving society. First, there is the weariness of the narrow doctrinal basis which has been accepted as orthodox, which has made exclusion rather than inclusion the watchword of the kingdom of heaven. There is the certainty that many others within the Church who are distinguished by no loftiness of spiritual nature, but who are proud of their soundness in the faith, would be found practically, if they were examined, to be in much confusion as to the true nature and bearings of even such truths as the Incarnation and the Atonement; while outside the orthodox pale there are equally a large number who seem to be laden with all the fruits of the Spirit, to live in love, and to spend themselves in ministry to mankind. This is one stream of influence, and it is pressing men strongly in this direction, to this issue: a communion independent of doctrine and based purely on fellowship of spirit, sympathetic views of Christian activities, Christian endeavour and aspiration, Christian methods, aims, and ends.
II. There is another stream of influence tending towards the same result. There are those who are not impatient of the doctrinal barriers which are raised between those who, it is affirmed, ought to be in communion, but who are in doubt of the doctrines themselves. They hold reverently, tenaciously, to the spiritual element in Christianity. The Cross represents to them the highest and most sacred power which can be brought to bear on the development and elevation of mankind, but they have no hold on the realities outside the sphere of the human which revelation makes known to us. They see the historic basis of the Church, as they think, vanishing; they find no longer credible the facts and judgments on which for eighteen centuries Christendom has nourished its life. They dread lest those whose faith in the great Christian verities is shaken or shattered should drift away into blank atheism and sensualism, and they would gladly create for them a haven of Christian fellowship in a non-sectarian, undoctrinal, and free-thinking Church.
III. Sound doctrine is in the long run as needful to healthy, vigorous, productive Christian life as bone is to flesh in the order of the human frame; but I do not hesitate to say that I see considerable force in what is urged by this latter party, and I entertain not a shadow of doubt that in this direction—the larger and more loving recognition of the unity which may underlie wide doctrinal divergences—lies the next great expansion of the visible kingdom of heaven.
J. B. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 401.
I. The more the heavenly and spiritual union of all Christians in one body is out of sight and above understanding, the more necessary it is that we should be continually put in mind of it. Having once learned it, we should never allow ourselves to forget it, else we shall be often doing many things, in carelessness or in ignorance, most contrary to this Divine unity. Therefore the Apostle lays such stress on the word "endeavouring "in our text: "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," that is, making a serious object of it, looking to Church union and communion distinctly as one great purpose of our lives. Do Christians in general, do we ourselves, attend as we ought to this precept of the Holy Ghost? The bond of peace we understand and perceive the benefits of, but the unity of the Spirit is a matter of faith, not of sight; we either never think of it at all, or dismiss it at once out of our minds, saying it is above us, and all we can do is to live quietly among our neighbours of all sorts.
II. What can private Christians do towards so great an object as this of keeping the Church at unity in itself? In answer to this, I would remind you of those many Scriptures in which the Church of Christ is represented as a holy building or temple, whereof the materials are not earthly stones, but the sanctified and regenerated souls and bodies of Christians, living stones, as St. Peter entitled us all, forming one spiritual household. The layman or the child has so far the same duty as the Apostle, that is, to maintain his post in the building, and not to loosen it, as the withdrawing of any stone must do. We may never see what the early Christians saw on earth, the Church universal of one accord, of one mind, but we may hope to see in heaven that of which even the first and best Church was but a faint shadow and emblem: the unity of the Spirit kept perfectly in the bond of everlasting peace.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i, p. 206.
Life and Peace.
I. "The Spirit bloweth where it listeth.'' The influences which we recognise as coming to us from above, and which mould our individual being, are often presented to us partially in fitful succession, and their first effect seems rather to disturb us than to control. And yet it is out of such struggling and discordant elements that the growth towards the ideal life is to be won. For in all human life and movement that is not merely a sinking downwards there is something which without irreverence may be called a breathing of the Spirit. And the Spirit must be there, striving with human infirmity, before the first upward step can be taken. It is not from the complacent, satisfied, unaspiring temper that the unity of the Spirit is to be wrought. There may be unity in such a life, but it is not the unity of the Spirit; there may be a sort of peace, but it is the peace of apathy. That is not the peace which reflects the image of the early Christian ideal.
II. But when we look back on the struggle after it is over, and the peace is won, we may see the evidence of the working of something higher still, and a unifying, harmonising power that was less apparent to us at the time; and we cannot claim that power to have been our own. "When I said, My foot hath slipped, Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up." This is a strength which knows its dependence upon a higher strength, and which rejoices in the belief that it may be privileged to strengthen others with the might wherewith it has itself been strengthened from above.
III. For the Divinity that shapes our ends is no blind destiny descending on us from without and compelling us we know not whither, nor yet can we admit that character is fate in the sense that weakness predetermines men to ruin. There is a Spirit witnessing to our spirit that we are the children of God.
IV. And in this belief and consciousness the life is at last girded with the bond of peace. Life without peace is weakness and chaos; peace without life is nothingness. It is when the two are united, when self-control is not mere self-repression, but the enlightened guidance of an ardent will, that the individual has realised for himself, and will assist his brethren in realising individually, the ideal which the Apostle sets collectively before the early Church: the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
L. Campbell, Some Aspects of the Christian Ideal, p. 123.
References: Ephesians 4:3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 607; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 56; A. Mackennal, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 328; J. Baldwin Brown, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 9; F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 155; J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 383. Ephesians 4:3-6.—Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ix., p. 186; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 205; vol. iv., p. 31.
I. Consider the unity or oneness of the Church as set forth by the unity or oneness of the body. "The body is one," says the Apostle. Notwithstanding the several limbs of which it is composed, one life animates the whole. The parts mutually subserve one another. They instinctively feel that they belong to one another; that they owe to one another mutual help and support. And so, too, the Church is one—one mystical body, as we call it—having one Author, which is God, and one Head, which is Christ, and one informing Spirit, which is the Holy Ghost; having one country toward which all its members are travelling, which is heaven, one code of instructions to guide them thither, which is the word of God, one and the same band of enemies seeking to bar their passage, which are the world, the flesh, and the devil; having the same effectual assistances in the shape of sacraments and other means of grace to enable them to overcome these enemies, and of God's good favour to attain the land of their rest.
II. But, secondly, as in the human body there is unity, so there is also variety, diversity, multiplicity, or whatever else we may please to call it. The Church is most truly a body in this sense also: that its different members have different functions to perform, all these being assigned to them by God; and then, and then only, it makes equable and harmonious growth.
III. Consider the lessons which we may derive from these truths. (1) We are members of a body. Let us never forget this. It is only too easy to do so. Do not let us yield to the temptation which would lead us to separate ourselves, if not wholly, yet in part, from the body of Christ, and to set up a selfish independent life of our own. (2) If we are thus members one of another, many are the debts which as such we owe the one to the other. We owe each other truth, love, honour. Let us ask of God a tenderer, livelier, more earnest sense of the sorrows, needs, perplexities, distresses, fears, trials, of our brethren.
R. C. Trench, Westminster and Other Sermons, p. 152.
References: Ephesians 4:4.—J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 380; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 211.
In these words, which unite the passionate enthusiasm of thanksgiving with the clear-cut precision of a creed, St. Paul draws out to us explicitly that which is the great subject of the whole Ephesian Epistle: the existence and the nature of the Holy Catholic Church of Christ. The whole area of humanity, and therefore the whole area of the salvation of Christ, is seen by him as a whole. Over the whole battlefield of the world he watches the sweep of the tides of the spiritual battle. The unity of all men in Christ with God and with each other is the magnificent truth which fills his whole mind and heart, and breaks forth ever and anon in bursts of praise; and the text draws out at last, as it were in a triumphant creed, the great lines of the pervading subject.
I. The picture before St. Paul's eyes was the picture of the Catholic Church of Christ. And that picture differs very much from the appearance which it presents to our eyes now. Far less was it then in extent, numbering its thousands instead of its millions, only spread over the civilisation that fringed the basin of the Mediterranean, instead of pervading the length and breadth of the world. Far less pervading was it in its power. It had not yet penetrated into the very nature of humanity; it had not yet moulded the language, the thought, the imagination, and the life of all the leading nations of mankind. But yet, if it was far less grand in its outline, how much more perfect was it in its unity.
II. St. Paul places the source and living power of our unity not in anything that belongs to us, but in the eternal unity of God. There is one Spirit, the Holy Ghost Himself, making His temple in the hearts of Christians. They who partake of His life are one body still. The bonds which bind all Christian hearts with gold chains about the feet of God have passed upward from the earth. They cannot be trampled and broken under the heel of man; they cannot be severed. Whatever else we have done, the source of our unity we can no more close up than we can stop the outburst of some mighty river when it comes rushing down from its ice cave in the everlasting hills.
III. In all unity between rational beings there must be action on both sides, and God brings in the law in His dealing with us. All His blessings are freely given by His grace; but only by the consent of the human will can they penetrate the soul. Faith, hope, love, that triad of Christian graces—these are the conditions which make us one body indeed. What is the duty which this passage forces upon Christians? (1) Realise what you have. Feel, and act as if you felt, the large amount of unity which exists among Christians still. Let us act with, let us think with, let us pray with, all who bear the name of Christ. (2) Strive for what as yet you have not. There is an incalculable waste of spiritual power, not only by division, but by friction and antagonism. There is a bewilderment of truth when it is proclaimed, however loudly, by discordant voices. If only Christendom were united, it would hardly need a generation to convert the world; if only England were united, our isle might be "an isle of saints," a kingdom of God.
Bishop Barry, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 679.
I. Ver. 4: The Apostle uses a favourite image here. The Church is represented by the individual man, and the unity of the Church is represented as like the unity of a man. There is an outward oneness of character and walk, as there is an outward oneness in the corporeal structure of a man; and there is an inward oneness, as of the soul in man.
II. The one individual man, having a body and a soul, but still one, is one also as having and owning one Head. Made one body and one spirit, through the one hopeful calling common to all, we are further one as recognising one Lord. And there is but one method of union with Him and with one another in Him: faith, one faith; and one seal of that oneness of faith: one baptism.
III. Thus called, in one hopeful calling, to be one body animated by one Spirit, thus united to one and the same Lord by one and the same faith, confirmed by the seal of one and the same baptism, they who constitute the one Church come to stand in one and the same relation to the Supreme, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 70.
Reference: Ephesians 4:4-6.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 428.
I. How is the lordship of Jesus constituted? Not by the suffrages of men, but by the will of God. It consists in the exaltation, the reward of servantship, and is constituted by God directly and acquiesced in, and acknowledged, and accepted with gladness by the Church.
II. What does this lordship comprise? It is a sign of His pre-eminence. He rises far above all principalities, and powers, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named in this world and in that which is to come. In and over the Church, He, and He only, has the right to reign; and it is a high offence against Christ for any to set up thrones to men within the Church or to assume lordship over God's heritage.
III. See how this is essential to the Church. Of the Church's household Christ is Master. As a school of faith and holiness Christ is Teacher. Of the Church as a host Christ is Captain. Of the Church as bride Christ is Husband and Lord. Honour the Son, and you are in that very act honouring the Father also. Confess that Jesus is Lord. Every tongue that confesseth that Jesus is Lord does so to the glory of God the Father.
IV. Consider the Church in manifestation—that is to say, the Christian community upon the earth. Jesus Christ is Lord, Head, Ruler, Lawgiver, of the whole Christian assembly and of all the assemblies in detail—Jesus Christ, and He alone. As Lord He gives teachers; as chief Captain He employs officers and orderlies in the war. But He has carefully directed that they should remember that they are servants and not assume lordship over the heritage of God.
V. Note the uses of this doctrine. (1) The doctrine of the lordship of Jesus Christ stirs gratitude; (2) it requires obedience; (3) it promotes equity and fair play among Christians; (4) it binds together Christians in unity.
D. Fraser, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 145.
Reference: Ephesians 4:5.—C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons chiefly Practical, pp. 435, 450.
I. The Apostle speaks first of one Lord. Those words would have at once recalled to a Jew the sentence which had been repeated to him since he could speak: "The Lord thy God is one Lord." And surely much of the emphasis of this Divine sentence lay in the word "thy." Multitudes of things surround thee and crave thy worship; there is One near thee, ruling thee, caring for thee, jealous of thee, who claims thy heart for Himself: He is the Lord.
II. "One faith." The Jew had been taught to put his whole trust in the Lord God of Israel. Faith or trust was the principle of his being; losing that, he lost everything. The different objects of sense were appealing to him every moment. He could care for them or dread them, but he could not trust them. He must have one faith, or they become his masters; he must have one faith, or there was nothing to bind him to his brother-Israelites; he must have one faith, or his manliness forsook him.
III. "One baptism." The baptism of John had been a witness that the one God of their fathers was calling them to turn round to Him from all the visible objects and the secret lusts to which they had yielded; that He was pardoning away their sins and confirming His covenant with them.
IV. "One God and Father of all." One Lord the law and the prophets had spoken of. But this name of Father, who had uttered that? It came forth when Jesus went up into the mount to proclaim the fulfilment, not the destruction, of that which had been said in the old time. Then did the belief of "one God and Father of all" begin to break through the Jewish exclusiveness, to prove that the Jewish election had this for its final result. One God and Father of all, because one Man who can say, "I came from the Father, and am come into the world; again I leave the world, and go to the Father."
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 111.
References: Ephesians 4:7.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 98. Ephesians 4:7-12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 982.
The Church Edified and Edifying Itself.
I. There are various outward appliances all meant for the edifying of the body of Christ. These may be regarded as comprehending generally all the spiritual instrumentalities and gifts brought to bear upon the Church and its members from without and from above. For the Apostle is not here laying down the platform of Church government, or determining formally and authoritatively what offices had been or were to be owned and sanctioned in the Church. He is not thinking of that, but of something else. He merely names the ministries then in exercise. He names them simply to bring out their variety of function in connection with their unity of aim. They are all of them, as then subsisting, among the gifts which when He ascended up on high, leading captivity captive, Christ received from the Father, that He might give them unto men. They are widely different from one another in respect of their inherent nature and their official use; but all their differences tend to one result: the drawing of the whole together, the edifying of the body of Christ.
II. In this process of edification the body of Christ is not passive. It has inward vitality, internal vital impulses and movements. And these also are various, yet tend in one direction and to one issue: the edifying of the body of Christ. Oneness and faith and knowledge as regards the Son of God is the great terminus ad quem, the meeting point for all the members of the body. There is ripeness or maturity of manhood among Christians in proportion as there is oneness of faith and knowledge about the Son of God. To that we are all to come at last; to that we are all coming now. But our coming implies the fulfilling of two conditions. (1) There must be an end of all childishness or infantile imbecility; (2) there must be wrought in us an active energetic principle, bent on doing the true thing and doing it lovingly.
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 94.
References: Ephesians 4:8.—Archbishop Benson, Sundays in Wellington College, p. 243; S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Norwood, p. 5; J. Kennedy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 9.
Ephesians 4:8, Ephesians 4:11
A Glorious Ascension.
To ascend on high must have meant for Christ a large increase of His quickening influence, more power to act beneficially on human minds and hearts, to purify and energise, to inspire and elevate, as hitherto He had not been able. That was His supreme ambition, the height for which He sighed; and was it not even thus that He went up gloriously at last from the cross and the grave, mounting from thence to be a greater saving and subliming force than He had ever been before, to beget repentance and remission of sins beyond what He had ever done?
I. He led captivity captive; in plain language, He captured the prisoners, making happy captives of those who were the victims of a miserable captivity, emancipating them from the bondage in which they were held by bringing them into subjection to something better and worthier. They were captured by the vision of a spiritual redemption—a spiritual redemption, not for Jews only, but for peoples of all nations, for men everywhere. In leaving them alone to mourn and wonder, Christ drew forth from them the ripe fruit of what they had blindly and little by little imbibed from Him. Then at length He rescued them from prison to be the bondsmen of a grander Lord; then at length He raised their ideal.
II. "He gave gifts unto men." The men who had been redeemed from their former sensuous dreams to discern and follow the glory of the spiritual began to blossom all over, became thereby more Divinely endowed. Christ enriched them with a heritage of gifts simply by detaching them from the meaner object on which their eyes were fixed and binding them fast to a higher ideal. Gifts that are not ours do often lie hid and slumbering in us, waiting only for the application of the needed stimulus—healing or cleansing—to display themselves; and blessed is he who with some disturbing, quickening touch helps to elicit them.
III. Christ left behind Him men qualified and ready to labour in different capacities. Here was the issue and fruit of Him, a number of living souls, whom He had been slowly training, on whom at last He had succeeded in impressing Himself, a number of living souls, at last in fellowship with His mind, understanding and sympathising with His aims, touched by His Spirit. Let us not doubt that that is always the Divinest work: to get at a man and be the means of ministering in some way to his healthier growth or finer inspiration, of helping him in some way to juster thought or loftier feeling.
S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Upper Norwood, p. 1.
The Origin of the Christian Clergy.
No doubt from the first the Christian society which we now call a Church existed in Christ's faithful followers, even from the beginning, and wheresoever, in any time or country, two or three were gathered together by the communion of love or faith, they also would be a Christian Church, and even for years after our Lord's departure such a society existed without the separate order of clergy.
I. Yet there was a sense in which the Christian ministry was the gift of our Divine Master. Not in His earthly life, not as a part of the original manifestation of Christianity, but as a result of the complex influences which were showered down to the earth after its Founder had left, as part of the vast machinery of Christian civilisation, created by the Spirit of Christ for filling up the void of His absence, came the various gifts of Christianity, and among these was the great vocation, the sacred profession, of the Christian ministry. And various grades of the Christian clergy had sprung up in Christian society in the same way, by the same Divine cause, the same natural necessity as the various grades of government and law and science—a necessity only more urgent and more universal, and therefore more Divine, so far as the religious wants of mankind were of a more general, a more simple, and therefore a more Divine kind than their social and intellectual wants.
II. The two great functions of the Christian ministry are those of pastor and teacher. The object of their existence was, as the Apostle told them, that they might take their part in the complex but glorious work in which all Christians were called to share: the edifying or building up of the whole body of Christ. The Church, as thus put before them, was not to be an unreasoning infant, or a stunted dwarf, or an old crone, tossed to and fro with every blast, but it was to be a solid, well-built, manly, full-grown man. It was not to be a dead, dry system, but a well-compacted living organisation, in which every part should be knit together, every muscle should move in accordance with its natural bent, where there should be the active hand, and the feeling heart, and the ready foot, and the resolute backbone.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 17.
References: Ephesians 4:9.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 365; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 4th series, p. 221.
I. The ascension of Christ in the light of its previous and preparatory history. That the Son of man ascended from the deepest depth of human history and experience, from the lower parts of the earth, up above all heavens, presupposes His descent. In His descent He became the hidden presence and controlling power of the world's history until the old world passed away in His death and the new world rose in His resurrection.
II. The Ascension in the light of its declared purpose: "That He might fill all things." (1) When we see the only-begotten Son, clothed in a body like our own, exalted above all the heavens, in that sight we have before us the all-glorious and controlling centre of all the spheres, the key which interprets the testimony of prophecy, the gathered firstfruits of a new and redeemed world. The Gospel contains a gospel for nature as well as for man, the prediction of the day when the strife of elements shall cease, and when the powers of darkness shall be swallowed up of light. (2) By Christ's ascension our nature is endowed with an exalted fulness and clothed with a glory becoming the Son of God. "A parcel of clay," to use the words of Archbishop Leighton, "is made so bright and set so high as to outshine all the flaming spirits of eternity and the stars of the morning." And with such a miracle of grace who can regret his connection with a sinful history which conditions so great a salvation?
W. Pulsford, Trinity Church Sermons, p. 271.
Reference: Ephesians 4:9, Ephesians 4:10.—C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 388.
Christ Filling all Things.
I. Let us understand, first, how Christ fills all things, not with His body, for, as it has been well said, "Christ's body may be anywhere at any time; but Christ's Spirit is everywhere at all times." Of that body of Christ, of spiritual body at all, still more of spiritual body glorified, we know, and we can know, nothing; but as far as our faculties can reach, body must occupy definite space. How then does Christ fill all things? (1) By His influence. We know that even here a person may occupy a much larger sphere than he actually fills with his presence, and the range in which a man may thus go on filling circle after circle is almost without limit. Carry on that idea of the power of extending influence infinitely, and you will arrive at some conception of the way in which Christ can fill all things. (2) By His sovereignty and care. The Queen fills her realms, and we are always conscious of the power of our Queen. How much more does the royal, superintending power and love of Christ fill the universe? There is nothing so small that it is below it, and there is nothing so great that it is above it, nothing independent of it, nothing despised by it. (3) Higher still than this all-diffusive power of Christ's majesty, there is that actual living Spirit that we call the Holy Ghost. By the presence of the Holy Ghost Christ is present everywhere, and not only present, but He is the very life of all that lives; He is the soul of every being in creation. "He fills all things."
II. Why does Christ fill all things? And what is the design of this grand arrangement in God's great empire? (1) It is that all honours should be to Jesus Christ in every degree; (2) that no man upon this earth should ever find any real satisfaction out of Christ; (3) that there may be always in Christ a fulness suited to every man's want.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 174.
References: Ephesians 4:10.—Homilist, 3rd scries, vol. i., p. 272; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 305. Ephesians 4:11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 215; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 204; Fletcher, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 32. Ephesians 4:11, Ephesians 4:12.—S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 35; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 224.
The Christian Ministry.
I. The Christian ministry is simply this: a teaching, a helping, of men's personal feeling and life. The man who seeks to change his ministry from a teaching and helping into a priesthood, an official prerogative, whether as a sacrificer or an absolver, is false to the fundamental idea of Christianity and its ministry. Every necessity of sacrifice is provided in the one sacrifice of Christ, "offered once for all"; every necessity of revelation is provided in the inspired and authoritative Scriptures. All that is now necessary is that men should be taught about Jesus Christ and induced to accept Him as their Redeemer from sin. And this is the sole function of the Christian ministry; we simply preach Christ crucified.
II. Another great idea is unity in diversity, the harmony of diversified functions in the ministry of the Church. Elsewhere St. Paul insists upon the harmony of diversified gifts in the same function. All Apostles, all evangelists, all pastors, all teachers, are not alike. They are as diversified as the members of the body, and with relentless and resistless logic the Apostle presses his argument: the well-being of the body demands diversity in its members, diversity in its gifts. Thus God's truth, like the phenomena of nature, is seen in many lights and on many sides. The great fundamental facts are unchangeable, but a thousand minds and hearts tell us their impressions of them; the very varieties of apprehension confirm them. It is a magnificent harmony of truth in which a thousand impressions and voices blend. Instead of being dissatisfied, let us rejoice in the diversified gifts and ministry of the Church.
H. Allon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 177.
References: Ephesians 4:11-13.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 292; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 216. Ephesians 4:11-16.—W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 316.
I. The work of the ministry is a work for all believers, and a work for none but believers. The command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature is a command given to all the disciples of Jesus Christ, and the exhortation to teach and admonish one another is intended for all Christian people everywhere. If a Church choose, with a view to order and edification, to select one of its brethren to be its president and, in some especial manner, its pastor and its teacher, that does not by any means debar other brethren from engaging, and engaging largely, in this work of the ministry.
II. Our life as Christian workers is a life of work. There has been such a development of Christian agency and work, and of the various operations of a moral and religious sort in which Christian ministers are expected to take part, and almost must take part; and a pastor, if faithful and up to his work, must be full of work. It is a life of work, "the work of the ministry."
III. "The work of the ministry." That is to say, it is a work of service. We are servants in a twofold sense. We are the servants of Christ, and we are the servants of Christ's people. The former position, of course, is readily recognised; but let us not be so proud and so wilful as to refuse to recognise the latter. The Church does not exist for the ministry, but the ministry for the Church. The work of the ministry is suggestive of much toil and of much patient waiting. It is also a work of very solemn and awful responsibility. There is no other work which is weighted with such responsibility. But while we are deeply and solemnly impressed with the responsibility, do not let us be dismayed or run away from the work, but rather let us ask God to give us more diligence and faithfulness and courage, that, like Paul, we may be able to witness that we are free from the blood of all men. It is very pleasing to see the results of this spiritual labour and to see those to whom the word has been preached living, by God's grace, in the enjoyment of the light and peace of the truth of the Gospel. Disappointments there are, certainly, and bitter and terrible they are. There is, nevertheless, not a work in all this world which can compare with this in the greatness and permanence and glory of the reward.
H. Stowell Brown, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 761.
References: Ephesians 4:12.—H. S. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 266; Fraser, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 25. Ephesians 4:13.—G. Butler, Sermons in Cheltenham College, p. 243; A. Stanton, Church of England Pulpit, vol. v., p. 65; C. Short, Ibid., vol. xi., p. 305; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 308; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 289.
Modern Thought: its Influence on Character.
The words "modern thought" are used by not a few in our day as a badge of reproach. For the emancipated children of the Reformation to disparage thought simply for its modernness is, indeed, passing strange. Unless our thinking be modern, we have no thinking at all. All the thinking that has ever been done in the world has been "modern" in its day. Let us clear our minds of any timid prejudice against thought as modern, and, in the name of Him who has given us mental powers and has placed us in the present age, let us all try to be modern thinkers, pondering all that can affect our life and duty with reverent boldness, as did those spiritual ancestors whom we most admire. On the other hand, let us beware of idolising what is modern. Many who have scarcely begun to think, and certainly have never thought, seriously, broadly, or profoundly, pick up the phrases of the hour, and talk about being "abreast of the age," as if newness were a test of truth rather than a call for investigation.
I. There is an intellectual stream of tremendous force connected with the physical researches of this century by which character is affected in many powerful, but in some respects subtle, ways. Modern science has helped theology by giving us new measures of time and new standards of greatness and wisdom. The enthralling interest and beauty of various modern sciences and the fascinating effect of dazzling theories based upon so many sure and certain discoveries of fact tend to absorb attention and to exclude things spiritual from many studious minds.
II. Another way in which modern scientific thought influences character lies in its tendency to regard all our thoughts and activities as the necessary results of our physical antecedents and environment. Be not driven about by every wind of hasty teaching offered in its name. There is no knowledge so sure and clear as self-consciousness. Be true, then, to the voice of conscience within. Cultivate the powers of moral judgment, that your senses may, by reason of use, be keener to discern good and evil.
T. V. Tymms, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 401.
Reference: Ephesians 4:14.—T. Hooke, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 173; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, vol. ii., pp. 327, 343. Ephesians 4:14, Ephesians 4:15.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 449.
The real test of all religion is, and must be, its power to raise and to regenerate the life of man. There are three chief needs which the life of man must fill up. He has in him the lower nature of the flesh, with its appetites and its passions, by which he is fast bound in the chains of this material world; and that flesh must be subdued to the spirit, to the indestructible will, to that superior power of reason, to that clear voice of conscience, to that glowing spirit of love, by which alone he is able to rise above the material world. He is, again, on the one side, bound up in this life, on which are written at every turn the characters of transitoriness and of death; and yet he is so to move in this life as to satisfy his inner consciousness of immortality, his capacity and longing for a higher life. He has also the reality of his sin in its loathsomeness. The test of the truth of religion must be its power to aid men in filling up their great needs.
I. The first part of this great principle is simply the speaking truth, or rather the being true in action, in word, and in thought. This, again, has more than one form. It bids us to seek for truth; it bids us to speak truth in ourselves. In the first lies all the power of progress, and on the second is laid the basis of human society. What is it to seek truth? Truth is the law established in many forms by God Himself. The Gospel has all the characteristics of truth.
II. To speak truth is only one small part of this great principle. The principle is to be true, to be that which we claim to be. In this alone is there safety against falsehood. St. Paul finds in love that spirit which gives new life to truth, and in which, as in a Diviner region, the truth moves free from all those taints which would sully its brightness. We must be true in love, and so grow up into the Head, because we are members one of another.
III. We see how this love strengthens and intensifies the spirit of truth. There is, doubtless, a delight in truth. From him who feels a positive glow of love, especially for those who love and trust him, the very thought of falsehood is far away. To be true is to fill the place which is set us in this world, to rise above all secondary motives to that which is the highest guide of man.
Bishop Barry, Penny Pulpit, New Scries, No. 276.
The doctrine of our text is that true spiritual growth is to be sought in sincere, truthful dealing in our Christian relation to Christ and to them that are His, our fellow-labourers in Christ. Manifestly one might here divide the subject into two heads: truthfulness towards Christ and truthfulness towards them that are His. Into the first of the two points I shall not enter.
Paul looks at truthful dealing with the brethren as the form in which a sincere heart towards our common Head must mainly manifest itself.
I. First, then, the text assumes that if we are Christians our daily conversation will be mainly with our fellow-Christians. If our relations with our fellow-Christians were only occasional and accidental, it would be vain to think that our truthful discharge of those relations could ensure growth in the whole spiritual life; but the true Christian cannot be merely in occasional and accidental contact with those who are radically united to him in Christ.
II. Secondly, the blessed fruits of the fellowship into which we enter inwardly and spiritually in our union with Christ, and visibly and outwardly in our public profession of faith as members of the Christian Church, can only be manifested by truthfulness and loyalty.
III. Where there is this honesty of purpose towards the brethren, we shall be sure to find candour, simplicity, and plain truthfulness in every act of life.
IV. If our actions were always pure in the sight of God and man, if our Christian life were perfect, if we were not still under the power of sin, so often intent on selfish ends, it would be easy for us to be candid and sincere to one another. The test of Christian truthfulness is to be found in its power to assert itself as the rule of our life in spite of the sins that disturb even Christian fellowship.
V. Truthful dealing is possible only if, as the Apostle says, it is truth speaking "in love."
W. Robertson Smith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 20.
References: Ephesians 4:15.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 60; Homilist, vol. i., p. 137; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 97; J. W. Lance, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 360; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 409; Ibid., vol. xxx., p. 298; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 294; F. W. Robertson, The Human Race, p. 94; S. Martin, Sermons, p. 211. Ephesians 4:16.—Archbishop Benson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 1. Ephesians 4:17.—F. W. Macdonald, Ibid., vol. xxx., p. 156.
The Life of God.
I. Let us see what St. Paul means when he talks about the Gentiles in his day. For that also has to do with us. I said that every man, Christian or heathen, has the same duty, and is bound to do the same right; every man, Christian or heathen, if he sins, breaks his duty in the same way, and does the same wrong. There is but one righteousness: the life of God; there is but one sin, and that is being alienated from the life of God. The one disease to which every man is liable is that we are every one of us worse than we ought to be, worse than we know how to be, and, strangest of all, worse than we wish and like to be. Just as far as we are like the heathen of old, we shall be worse than we know how to be. For we are all ready enough to turn heathens again at any moment, my friends; and the best Christian in this church knows best that what I say is true: that he is beset by the very same temptations which ruined the old heathens, and that if he gave way to them a moment they would ruin him likewise. For what does St. Paul say was the matter with the old heathens?
II. "Their understanding was darkened." But what part of it? What was it that they had got dark about and could not understand? For in some matters they were as clever as we and cleverer. What part of their understanding was it which was darkened? St. Paul tells us in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. It was their hearts—their reason, as we should say. It was about God and the life of God that they were dark. They had not been always dark about God, but they were darkened; they grew more and more dark about Him generation after generation; they gave themselves up more and more to their corrupt and fallen nature, and so the children grew worse than their fathers, and their children, again, worse than them, till they had lost all notion of what God was like.
III. The heathens of old might have known that, if they had chosen to open their eyes and see. But they would not see. They were dark, cruel, and unloving, and therefore they fancied that God was dark, cruel, and unloving also. They did not love love, and therefore they did not love God, for God is love. And therefore they did not love loving; they did not enjoy loving; and so they lost the Spirit of God, which is the Spirit of love. And therefore they did not love each other, but lived in hatred, and suspicion, and selfishness, and darkness. They were but heathen. But if even they ought to have known that God was love, how much more we! For we know of a deed of God's love, such as those poor heathen never dreamed of. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for it. Then God showed what our eternal life is: to know Him who is love and Jesus Christ, whom He sent to show forth His love; then God showed that it is the duty of, and in the power of, every man to live the life of God, the life of love.
C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 198.
The Walk of the Gentiles.
I. As to the nature of this walk, one leading feature or characteristic of it is vanity of mind. The life of men walking in the vanity of their minds is either all but wholly aimless, or else its aims are mean and frivolous, or at the best disappointing, tantalising, and unsatisfying. The character of vanity is stamped on all its pursuits and pleasures, on its worship, such as it is, and on all its works and ways.
II. Now the cause of this dismal and disastrous state of things is indicated in ver. 19. On the one hand, men are darkened in respect of their understanding; they are spiritually blind: on the other hand, they are alienated from the life of God. By the life of God we are to understand the life which consists in glorifying and enjoying God; the life for which man was made; life in God, with God, to God; God's own life in the soul of man; life of which He is the source, the centre, and the end. Thus the root of the disease is double. It is in the mind and in the heart. The mind is wilfully ignorant; the heart is wilfully hardened. Therefore there is neither light in the mind, nor love in the heart, and therefore there is vain walking.
III. The natural result or issue in the case of other Gentiles or worldly men is explained in ver. 19. A terrible course of possible declension is pointed out. There are several stages in it. First, there is your walking like others in the vanity of your minds; secondly, there is your being darkened in your understandings; thirdly, there is your alienation from the life of God; and fourthly, there is a giving of yourselves over to a life of mere and thorough self-seeking and self-indulgence, in some form or other. Surely, then, the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles.
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 107.
The Immorality of the Heathen.
There is a startling contrast between the earlier and the later chapters of this Epistle. In the earlier chapters Paul describes the Christians at Ephesus as saints, as the faithful in Christ Jesus, etc.; and now to the persons whom he has described by these sacred titles, and to whom he has spoken of these Divine mysteries, he gives a succession of precepts relating to the most elementary moral duties. He thinks it necessary to warn them against the basest and the coarsest vices: against lying and thieving; against foul speech; against drunkenness; against gross sensual sins.
I. The access of the Divine life does not at once and in a moment change the man's moral temper and habits. Moral distinctions which were faint will not at once become vivid; moral distinctions which were not recognised at all will not at once become apparent. The Christians at Ephesus had been breathing from their childhood the foul atmosphere of a most corrupt form of heathenism; they were breathing it still. In the community which surrounded them the grossest vices were unrebuked by public sentiment. Christian righteousness is achieved slowly. A Divine life is given to us, but the life has to grow. There will, however, be real ethical progress wherever there is genuine loyalty to Christ.
II. The description of the heathen both here and in the Epistle to the Romans is to be taken as representing their general condition. Speaking broadly and generally, heathen men had lost the knowledge of God, and had lost the knowledge of the steadfast and eternal laws of righteousness, and this is what Paul means when he says that they were walking in the vanity of their minds. We are environed by an invisible, Divine, and eternal world. When once that world has been revealed to us, our whole conception of human duty and human destiny is changed; we discover that it is only the larger world that has been revealed to us by Christ which is real and enduring; we see that the true life of man is the eternal and Divine life by which he is related to what is eternal and Divine, that the true honour, the true wealth, the true wisdom, the true happiness, of man are found in that eternal and Divine kingdom.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 294.
References: Ephesians 4:17-20.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 380. Ephesians 4:18.—Homilist, vol. i., p. 313; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 20; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 218.
I. There is a certain pitch of wickedness at which moral insensibility comes on; and when that comes on, the case becomes almost hopeless. There is little prospect of repentance or reformation then. No matter how bad any poor sinner has been, there is still some hope so long as you can get him to feel. It is one of the last and worst symptoms of the soul's condition when feeling is gone. That is arrived at by most men only after a long continuance in iniquity; and that is an indication which gives sad ground for fearing that the Holy Ghost, without whom we can never feel anything as we ought, has ceased to strive with that hardened soul, has left that obdurate heart alone. We all run a great risk of becoming so familiar with spiritual truths that we shall understand them and believe them without feeling them, without really feeling what their meaning is, and without that degree of emotion being excited by them that ought to be excited. And if it be true that even the converted man, in whom what we may call the organs of spiritual perception have been quickened from their native paralysis, and the capacity of spiritual emotion in some good measure developed, by the working of Divine grace, has to wonder and lament that he believes so much, but feels it so little, we need hardly be surprised to find that in the case of most unconverted men living in a Christian country, and probably frequenting a Christian church, there is a perfect numbness of soul; as regards spiritual things they are, in the full sense of the words, "past feeling."
II. While we never forget that in the case of even a true Christian it is a sad thing when as years go his religion appears to be always growing more a thing of the head and less a thing of the heart, and while we are well assured that no one will lament that more than the true Christian himself, let us remember that such a train of thought must not be pushed too far. It would be very wrong if the aged believer were to fancy that because his religious feelings are growing less keen, less easily excited than in former years, he must, therefore, conclude that he is backsliding from his God and leaving his first love. He is causing for himself needless sorrow when he so acts and thinks. It is just that he has grown older, and so less capable of all emotion; but his choice of Christ may be just as firm and his religious convictions as deep as ever.
III. It is only to such as have really some good ground for hoping that they have believed in Christ that all this should be any ground of comfort. But if a man be not a believer, and if when he listens to the declaration of the doctrines of the Cross he understands them, but does not feel them; if he knows thoroughly well that whosoever does not betake himself to the great atonement of Christ must perish eternally, and if he knows too that he himself has never gone to Christ and never prepared to die; and if, with all this, he does not care—ah, then there is a sad and a fearful explanation of how he comes to be so. Let it be your earnest prayer and endeavour at once to go to Him who came to seek and save the lost, lest the Holy Spirit, without whom you can do nothing, may be finally grieved away.
A. K. H. Boyd, The Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson, p. 106.
References: Ephesians 4:19.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 305; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 166. Ephesians 4:20.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 164.
I. We have here distinctly affirmed that the living voice of Christ Himself is our teacher. "Ye have heard Him" says Paul. Remember that the New Testament everywhere represents Christ as still working and teaching in the world; remember that He Himself promised the prolongation of His great work of declaring the Father beyond the limits of His earthly life, and that no more in proverbs, but plainly; remember that He has pledged Himself to send the teaching Spirit of truth, in whose coming Christ Himself comes, and all whose illuminations and communications are showing and imparting to us the things of Christ. Every living soul may have, and every Christian soul does have, direct access for himself to the living Lord, the eternal Word.
II. Those who are in Christ receive continuous instruction from Him: "and have been taught by Him." These words seem to imply the conditions of the gradual process of Christ's schooling. His teaching is not one act, but a long, loving; patient discipline. The first feeble motion of faith enrols us as disciples, and then there follows through all the years the "teaching to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded."
III. This gradualness and slowness of instruction is brought out still more distinctly if we look at the third idea which is contained in these words: as to the substance of the instruction. The theme of the teaching is the Teacher: "Ye have not so learned Christ." Then our lesson is not thoughts about the Lord, but the living Lord Himself, not the doctrine of Christianity only, but Christ, the theme as well as the Teacher.
A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, 2nd series, p. 61.
I. Let us glance at the truth in Jesus. (1) The life of Jesus opposed and contradicted that which was false and wrong, and in this respect the truth was in Jesus. (2) Jesus embodied the truth of truth's symbols. (3) Jesus spake truth, that which, on account of its importance to man, is the truth. His truth is eternal, universal, new.
II. Let us show what cannot be learned by those who have only heard and been taught by Christ. (1) Nothing childish can be learned of Christ. (2) A shifting and accommodating creed is not learned of Christ. (3) Pious frauds are not learned of Christ. (4) A literal and carnal interpretation of Christ's laws is not learned of Christ. (5) Truth framed according to system is not learned of Christ. (6) Nothing contrary to the Godlike can be learned of Christ.
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 3rd series, p. 81.
References: Ephesians 4:20, Ephesians 4:21.—D. Rhys Jenkins, The Eternal Life, p. 365; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 14th series, p. 61.
I. When the phrase, "the truth as it is in Jesus," is used, it is probably almost always intended to imply, if nothing more, at least this: the great doctrine of human sin and of the redemption of mankind by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we should separate these two things which God has graciously joined together and take by itself that truth which the Old Testament contains, viz., the truth that man has fallen under the wrath of God, we should have a truth, but a truth emphatically as it is not in Jesus Christ; we should have the truth as it appears in its coldness and blackness and wretchedness, apart from that which has lightened it up and made it tolerable, even the smiles of Him who was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.
II. It would be giving a somewhat different view of the matter, though it would after all be substantially the same, if we were to say that the truth as it is in Jesus ought to be taken as our expression of that belief concerning the Lord Jesus Christ which is contained in the Apostles' Creed. To this general view of the truth as it is in Jesus many persons would be disposed to make several additions. They would be disposed to include within the limits of this truth, not only the knowledge of what God has done for us, but the knowledge of what we must, on our part, do in order to apprehend Christ and make our calling and election sure. Right views of faith and the saving, justifying power of faith would enter largely into this conception of the truth as it is in Jesus, or of what may be called Gospel truth. The manner in which we are to avail ourselves of the love of God is of course infinitely important; yet, after all, it is nothing as compared with the love itself. Christ is the foundation; Christ is the Truth; and the manner in which we build upon the foundation is, in the very nature of things, second to the fact of our having a foundation whereon to build.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 5th series, p. 290.
The Christian Method of Moral Regeneration.
I. A complete moral revolution is not accomplished either by one supreme effort of our will, or by any momentary shock of Divine power. It must be carried through in detail by a long, laborious, and sometimes painful process of self-discipline. The process lasts as long as life lasts. For with the changing years there are changing forms of moral evil which have to be resisted and put away from us. The earlier triumphs make the later triumphs easier, but do not release us from the hard necessities of battle. (1) Self-examination is necessary. Our moral habits must be compared, one by one, with the commandments of Christ, and their conformity to the genius and spirit of Christian ethics must be patiently and honestly tested. (2) There must be self-discipline as well as self-examination. We must put away our old self. The whole structure of our former moral character and habits must be demolished, and the ruins cleared away, that the building may be recommenced from its very foundation.
II. The truth which the Apostle assumes had been taught to the Ephesian Christians required them to be renewed in the spirit of their mind. The "spirit," which is that element of our life which comes to us direct from God, and by which we are akin to God, restores to the mind its soundness and health, the clearness of its vision, and its practical force and authority. In this high region of our nature Paul finds the springs of moral regeneration. It is by the discovery of the invisible kingdom of God that we learn the laws by which we are to be governed in the external and accidental relations of this transitory world. Regeneration must be followed by renewal. The Divine life given in the new birth must be fed from its eternal springs, or the stream will soon run shallow, will cease to flow, will at last disappear altogether. We must be renewed in the spirit of our mind.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 308.
References: Ephesians 4:20-24— Homilist, 1st series, vol. v., p. 326; 3rd series, vol. v., p. 241; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 331.
I. Note the very significant, though brief, outline sketch of the facts of universal sinful human nature which the Apostle gives here. (1) The first of the characteristics of the sinful self is that every Christian life, whatsoever the superficial differences in it, is really a life shaped according to, and under the influence of, passionate desires. The desires are meant to be impelling powers. It is absurdity and the destruction of true manhood to make them, as we so often do, directing powers, and to put the reins into their hand. They are the wind, not the helm; the steam, not the driver. (2) The words of the text not only represent the various passionate desires as being the real guides of the "old man," but they give this other characteristic: that these desires are in their very nature the instrument of deceit and lies. The way never to get what you need and desire is always to do what you like, because (a) the object only satisfies for a time; (b) the desire grows, and the object of it does not. Whoever takes it for his law to do as he likes will not for long like what he does. (3) These deceiving desires corrupt. In whatever direction we move, the rate of progress tends to accelerate itself.
II. Note how we have here the hopeless command to put off the old man. That command "put off" is the plain dictate of conscience and of common sense, but it seems as hopeless as it is imperative. But what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son, did: He condemned sin in the flesh. So we come to—
III. The possibility of fulfilling the command. The context tells us how this is possible. The law, the pattern, and the power for complete victory over the old sinful self are to be found "as the truth is in Jesus." Union with Christ gives us a real possession of a new principle of life, derived from Him and like His own. We shall die with Him to sin when, resting by faith on Him who has died for sin, we are made conformable to His death, that we may walk in newness of life.
A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 105.
References: Ephesians 4:22-24.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 207. Ephesians 4:22-30.—H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 1st series, p. 351. Ephesians 4:25.—Homilist, vol. vii., p. 104.
I. The great purpose of the Gospel is our moral renewal: "the new man," created in righteousness and holiness. Notice (1) the profound sense of human sinfulness which underlies the text. (2) The Apostle specifies as the elements or characteristics of this new nature righteousness and holiness.
II. A second principle contained in these words is that this moral renewal is a creation in the image of God.
III. This new creation has to be put on and appropriated by us. That process of assumption has two parts. We are clothed upon with Christ in a double way, or rather in a double sense: we are found in Him, not having our own righteousness, but invested with His for our pardon and acceptance; we are clothed with His righteousness for our purifying and sanctifying. There is the assumption of Christ's righteousness which makes a man a Christian and has for its condition simple faith; there is the assumption of His righteousness, sanctifying and transforming us, which follows in a Christian course as its indispensable accompaniment and characteristic, and that is realised by daily and continuous effort.
IV. Finally, the text contains the principle that the means of appropriating this new nature is contact with the truth. (1) Let us learn how impossible are righteousness and holiness, morality and religion, in men unless they flow from this source; (2) let us learn the incompleteness and monstrosity of a professed belief in the truth which does not produce this righteousness and holiness.
A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 119.
I. "The inward man is renewed day by day." This renewing is to be sought after and to be cherished. A Christian is not to wait for its coming; he is to secure its advent.
II. Further, these changes are to be made manifest. When a Christian is renewed within, the renewing is to appear. It is not to be kept secret, but is to be shown, just as the newness of life in the vegetable kingdom is shown in the buds, and in the expanding leaves, and in the formative blossoms.
III. The new man consists, not of words merely, or of one class of actions, but of the entire human development. The characteristic of the new man is godliness, and its distinctive features are righteousness and true holiness.
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 2nd series, p. 93.
References: Ephesians 4:24.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 159; J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 398. Ephesians 4:25.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 115; W. Braden, Ibid., vol. vii., p. 225; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 158.
Anger, Noble and Ignoble.
In this injunction, delivered by St. Paul to a body of Christians, the privilege and duty of anger, as well as the danger attending its display, are fully recognised. They might be angry; they must be angry. Circumstances would continually arise to call out this emotion. They were not to crush it, only to watch it, lest it changed from a feeling worthy of God into one worthy only of the devil.
I. What then is the emotion which is here by implication commended? Anger is not the same as temper, or irritability, or ill-humour, or hatred; anger is displeasure strongly excited: that is its definition. An enthusiasm of love for righteousness includes an enthusiasm of hatred for evil; and this last emotion is called in one word "anger."
II. To be capable of anger is a strength, and not a weakness. Think of St. John, the very Apostle of charity, but also the son of thunder, who lay upon his Master's breast, and who in his last hour bade his children love one another as the completest gospel he would leave to them—think of him and the fire of indignation that burned in him at the thought of wrong. He could denounce not the less, but the more, because he loved much. Only he who loves much knows what it is to feel that anger which is ennobling and Godlike.
III. "Be ye angry, and sin not." The warning follows the injunction to remind us how easily the holy feeling may merge in the unholy. Self is always ready to creep in and usurp the place of the holier object. Let anger do its work, and then dismiss it; let it fire you to protest, to denounce, to witness against evil. Put the fire that is kindled in you to its one righteous use, but do not make a plaything of it, or it may consume you. Aim to rise into that higher region where God is and where self is annulled; aim to be so filled with the Spirit of God that obedience is freedom, and not slavery. And this you will attain by the study of the character and the words of Christ, for they are spirit, and they are life.
A. Ainger, Sermons in the Temple Church, p. 166.
References: Ephesians 4:26.—W. Braden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 388; Bishop Stubbs, Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 209; R. W. Dale, Ibid., vol. xxxv., p. 81; J. J. S. Perowne, Sermons, p. 1; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 11. Ephesians 4:26, Ephesians 4:27.—A. Blomfield, Sermons in Town and Country, p. 147.
"Who is the most diligent bishop in all England?" asks old Hugh Latimer in one of his quaint sermons. "I will tell you: it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all others; he is never out of his diocese; he is ever applying to his business; his office is to murder religion, to set up idolatry."
I. We may be sure of this: that the devil never means good, but always evil. Sometimes he approaches Christian people in the garb of an angel of light, and deceives them by vain words. The more we yield to him, the further he will press his authority, and the more complete will be his dominion over us. It is much easier to keep him out than to get him out when once he has gained possession. A reason why we should be of good courage and resolute in resisting the assaults of the devil is that no one is obliged to yield to him.
II. Note some of the ways in which people do give place to the devil. (1) The soul that is not filled with good thoughts and desires is left empty for the enemy to enter. (2) Another way in which people put themselves in the power of the great adversary is by yielding to spiritual indolence. Industry and watchfulness distinguish all real Christians. As soon as they become indolent, they cease to be on their guard against the enemy of souls. (3) Another favourable opportunity which Christians too often give to Satan to do them serious mischief is the absorbing attention which they pay to their worldly business. If their business only proves safe and profitable, they care very little about how far it extends itself. There is danger in this all-engrossing attention to worldly pursuits. Many Christians have found, to their sorrow, that it is one of the fatal ways of giving place to the devil.
J. N. Norton, Every Sunday, p. 343.
Reference: Ephesians 4:27-29.—G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 275.
St. Paul's Exaltation of Labour.
I. When we look on one side of St. Paul's character, it is so full of spiritual fervour and rapture, there is such aspiration in it, such ardent pursuit of large ends, he is so wrapped in his great mission to convert the world to the revelation of Jesus Christ, that, arguing from what we know of men, we should be inclined to expect that his high spiritual mission would have drawn his mind away from the humbler duties of man and from thinking much of ordinary life; we should know that he must recognise such duties, but we should not expect him to dwell upon them, to have them much on his mind, and to be always recurring to them. But it is remarkable that with St. Paul this is the case. He often recurs to the plain and quiet work of humble life. It has no low place in the scale in his estimate, as if it were necessary to be done, but did not rank as religious work. No; he regards it as spiritual work and elevating work.
II. The eye which St. Paul has to the goodness of humble labour is only a sample of a general predilection in him which extends to other qualities. He chooses the sober and plain class of duties as his test. A man doing well duties not of a showy sort, for which he gets no particular credit—this is his rule of fitness for a conspicuous post and a post of authority. Men form their religious standards by two tests: one the law of conscience and obedience to God; the other what is striking to man. Of these two St. Paul's test is very easily seen to be the former. Throughout his Epistles he recurs constantly to it. "Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? or Who shall descend into the deep? for the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thine heart."
J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 222.
References: Ephesians 4:28.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 393; F. Williams, Ibid., vol. iii., p. 314.
I. One special talent by which we may glorify God and our Saviour and edify one another is the gift of speech. The tongue is called in Scripture more than once man's glory. As the first duty of the heart is to God, so is the service of the tongue due to Him. Prayer and praise are the first duties of the tongue, its highest and holiest uses. How it is used it is awful to think: how much more in profaning God's holy name than in praising it, how much more in cursing and swearing than in blessing Him. To talk about religion may be easy to an irreligious person, but never at all to say an unholy thing, nor to speak in an irreligious tone, argues a holy and a truly religious mind.
II. This leads us to that second use of the tongue, which regards our communication with each other. God forbids all bad use of the tongue before He enforces its true use. He says, "I say unto you"—as if to call our special attention to it—"Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment, for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Can it be that Christians, talking as they do, ever think of that sentence, those who would fain persuade themselves that they speak without thinking and swear without meaning anything? Surely the tongue, which is the means by which we hold intercourse with each other, should be a means by which we edify one another.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii., p. 184.
References: Ephesians 4:29.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 355; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 259.
The Sealing of the Soul.
The presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul is many things. It is the life of the soul; it is the teaching of the soul; it is the comforting of the soul; it is the consecration of the soul; it is the purification of the soul; or rather all these things have in Him their central point. But it is one thing more: it is the sealing of the soul.
I. You have some valuable property, it may be gold or jewels, and you are going abroad for a season. Anxious for your precious things, you gather them carefully up, and you put on them your seal, your name to the seal. The seal marks them yours while you are away, and secures them from being lost or stolen. So long as they are under the seal, they cannot be removed or hurt; and you look to find them in this sure keeping when you come back. You are Christ's precious jewels. Your great Proprietor, who has spent so much on you, is gone away for a time; He has gone to a far country: but He is to return, and when He returns His longing desire is to find you unharmed and beautiful, and still His own. Therefore He has put His seal upon you. It is a fast seal, and a royal one; His own name and His own likeness are on it. No thief, no injury, no loss, no accident, can come near to touch you.
II. The day of redemption is plainly the day of the resurrection, that day of Christ's appearing, when the whole work of your redemption will be complete. The sealing is not for this life only, neither is it only for the soul. It is for the body; it is for the grave. But it goes on even to the resurrection, to the day of redemption. The dust of the saints is sealed; it is quite safe, loved and cared for: and the grave's casket will be opened when He comes, and you will find the gem bright and untouched. Do not grieve the Spirit of God by doubting it.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 151.
I. In Divine, as in natural, truth, it remains with the soul to accept or to reject the truth proposed to it by God; to embrace it purely or to corrupt it; to deny its existence or its own power to discern it; to abandon contemptuously all search for truth, resolving all into one maze of doubt. But it can do so only on the same principles whereby men may deny the certainty of all natural knowledge, abdicating the implanted powers of the soul and denying the light, natural or supernatural, infused by God within them, and their own consciousness. These are awful words: "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." All, then, on God's part, has been complete. We received the Holy Spirit as a living seal upon our living souls; to mark and to guard us, as His purchased possession and peculiar treasure; to impress, one may boldly say, His image, His likeness, His features, upon our souls.
II. But meanwhile He has left it in our power to accept or reject Himself, our only and infinite good. He appeals to us with Divine tenderness that we do it not. I fear that one of the things which will most amaze us, when we open our eyes upon eternity, will be the multitude of our own rudenesses to Divine grace, that is, to God the Holy Ghost, whose motions grace is. Grace came to us so tenderly: it never did violence to us, or it did such gentle violence; it ever came to us in a way adapted to win our individual being. Ardent natures the Spirit sets on fire for good; before active natures He sets activity in His service; easiness of disposition He hallows by the glow of His love; the cold iron of severity He tempers by His fire into the bending steel of strong devoted purpose. Let not, then, His seal upon you mark you as a deserter. "Thy Teacher is within thee"; pray to Him, listen to Him, with a hushed heart, and He in His own time will teach thee.
E. B. Pusey, University Sermons, p. 338.
Consider one or two of the consequences of a grieved Spirit.
I. Whenever you grieve the Spirit, you cause sorrow—it is God's own word—to Him to whom you are bound by every generous feeling to give only happiness. Few persons are sufficiently aware of the debt which they owe to the Spirit. Think you it is no sacrifice for a Being of perfect holiness and immaculate purity to come and dwell in such an abode as a sinner's heart, amidst the scenes of daily life, there, in the closest of all possible contact, to bear with all He hears and sees and feels, there to be constantly planting seeds which we root up, shedding light which we darken, drawing bands which we break, whispering voices which we drown? Surely, therefore, it should be the first spring of our hearts—a sufficient motive to a holy life, even if there were no other—to give, not grief, but joy, to Him who, with such pains and at such cost, invites our love and claims our gratitude.
II. Every time we grieve the Spirit we weaken the seals of our own security. As soon as a man has peace, the Holy Spirit gives him, in the strength of that peace, holiness. The peace is the consequence of the pardon, and the holiness is the consequence of the peace, and both are seals, the peace seals the pardon and the sanctification seals the peace. Break any one of these seals, and your safety is in the same proportion diminished, and every grieving of the Spirit is a defacing of an impression and a loosening of one of the seals.
III. There are four deep, downward steps in the path to death. To grieve the Spirit is the first; to resist the Spirit is the second; to quench the Spirit is the third; to blaspheme the Spirit is the fourth. No one of these is ever reached but by going through that which is previous to it; but he who grieves the Spirit by a thought or an omission may soon resist the Spirit by some more overt act of direct opposition, and he who thus resists the Spirit wilfully may soon wish to put the Spirit out altogether from his heart. Let the consummation of the tremendous series teach the true character of the first imagination which lies upon its slope, and give emphasis to the solemn word, "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God."
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 45.
References: Ephesians 4:30.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 278; vol. xiii., No. 738; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 326; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 220; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 17; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. ii., p. 239; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iii., p. 276; E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 40; S. Slater, Ibid., vol. v., p. 100; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. vii., p. 355; G. John, Ibid., vol. xii., p. 74; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 234; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 193. Ephesians 4:31.—Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 289.
Love the Foe and Conqueror of Selfishness.
Christianity denies the assumption, and challenges it all along the line, that pursuit of the higher life need be, in any sense or degree, necessarily selfish. It may be selfish, but it is just as possible that it is wholly otherwise. And more, in all its most energetic and effectual types it is sure to be unselfish, for selfishness is never, as a practical fact, able to kindle into life the more fervent and daring forms of self-assertion. The selfish man seeks his own good, after all, but very sluggishly; it is the unselfish Apostle who pursues it with the zeal of a martyr and the passion of a saint.
I. What exactly does it mean to say that one's own good is selfishly sought? It is selfishly sought only when it is desired for the sake of the gratification it brings, for the sake of the honour and pleasure and gain it may reflect upon its possessor, that is, when it is not sought for its own sake, but only for the sake of what it brings after it. No man has ever produced the highest artistic work for the sake of the pleasure it brought him; such an aim inevitably drains the life-blood out of his heart, and in business and in all employments the same impulse tells. That is the best workman in all employs who works for the sake of the work. Wherever throughout a country the artistic motive in work languishes, there the productions deteriorate and the trade must fail. That is the verdict of a world-wide experience, and Christianity seizes on it in its primary truth.
II. Nor is it only the joy of the artist that is the seed of vigorous action; there is another motive, even more powerful, more universal, and more fruitful: the motive of love. A man will do far more for the love of others than he will ever do for himself; he will display a finer vigour, a nobler patience, a steadier courage, a fuller energy, on behalf of mother, and home, and wife, and children, by the side of which the efforts he will make on behalf of his own interests will look but poor and thin. Unselfishness is the only salt that preserves our soundness; unselfishness is the only fire that purifies, and refines, and betters, and makes perfect. We shall be enabled to do so much only if we love. We live by loving, and the more we love the more we live; and therefore, when life feels dull and the spirits are low, turn and love God, love your neighbour, and you will be healed of your wound.
H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 193.
References: Ephesians 4:31, Ephesians 4:32.—R. L. Browne, Sussex Sermons, p. 285; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 181. Ephesians 4:32.—Spurgeon Sermons, vol. xi., No. 614; vol. xxiv., No. 1448; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 59; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 344; J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, 2nd series, p. 321.
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
the Third Week of Lent
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