Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
CHRIST’S LOVE A PATTERN FOR OURS
Ephesians 5:2. Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.
TO restore us to the Divine image is one great end of all that the Lord Jesus Christ has done and suffered for us. There are indeed perfections in the Deity which are incommunicable to any creature; but his moral perfections admit of imitation and resemblance: and therefore we are exhorted to “be followers, or imitators, of God, as dear children [Note: ver. 1.].” But in the person of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jehovah is brought nearer to us, so that we may trace his very steps, and learn to follow him in every disposition of the mind, and every action of the life. Hence in the passage before us, whilst we are particularly informed of the manner in which he has displayed his love to man, we are exhorted to “walk in love, as he has loved us.”
In our further elucidation of these words, we shall be led to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ in a twofold view;
I. As a sacrifice to God—
It was not merely as a martyr that Jesus died, but as a sacrifice for sin. This appears,
1. From all the sacrifices of the Mosaic law—
[For what end were these instituted, but to prefigure him? These beyond a doubt were offerings for sin, the victims dying in the place of the offerer, and making an atonement for him by their blood: and if the Lord Jesus Christ did not correspond with them in this particular, and actually fulfil what those prefigured, they were all instituted in vain, and were shadows without any substance at all.]
2. From the declarations of the prophets—
[The prophet thus plainly speaks of Christ as dying for the sins of men; “He made his soul an offering for sin:” “He bare the sins of many:” “On him were laid the iniquity of us all [Note: Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12.].” What is the import of these testimonies, if Christ did not offer himself a sacrifice for sin?]
3. From the testimony of John the Baptist—
[It was in reference to the lambs that were offered every morning and evening for the sins of all Israel, that the Baptist spake, when he pointed out the Lord Jesus as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” If Christ were not a sacrifice for sin, this testimony was not founded in truth.]
4. From the declarations of Christ himself—
[He constantly affirmed, that “he came to give his life a ransom for many:” that his blood should be shed for the remission of sins; and that by being “lifted up upon the cross, he would draw all men. unto him.”]
5. From the united testimony of all the Apostles—
[All with one voice represent him as redeeming us to God by his blood, and offering himself as “a propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” In a word, the whole tenour of the sacred writings proves, that “he bare our sins in his own body on the tree,” and “died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.”]
But in all this he was further designed,
II. As an example to us—
In the circumstance before noticed, we cannot resemble him; for “no man can redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him.” Nevertheless in the love which instigated him to this we may resemble him. Our love, like his, should be,
[It is not possible for us to add any thing to him: we cannot make him more happy or more glorious by any thing that we can do: “our goodness extendeth not to him;” “nor can we by any means profit him:” yet did he in this astonishing manner display his love to us. Thus in the exercise of our love we should not consider whether the objects of it will ever be able to make us any suitable return: we should shew love in every possible way, without so much as desiring any return from man, or even desiring that our exercise of it should be known; yea, even though we knew that it would only be requited with evil. We should love our very enemies; and, “instead of being overcome of evil, should strive incessantly to overcome their evil with good.”]
[What unsearchable riches has he purchased even for his bitterest enemies? He would not that any one of them should fall short of the glory of heaven. True it is, that we cannot thus enrich the objects of our love: yet we should do all we can towards it, by providing for them not only the things needful for the body, but, above all, the things that may promote the welfare of the soul. Here the poor may be on a par with those who are able to give out of their abundance: for if they are constrained to say, “Silver and gold have I none,” they may add, “but such as I have, give I unto thee;” and then may proceed to speak to them of the Saviour, through whom they may obtain all the blessings of salvation. Thus, “though poor, we may make many rich.”]
[Our blessed Lord “emptied himself of all the glory of heaven,” and endured all the wrath of an offended God; and became a curse himself, in order to deliver us from the curse which our iniquities had deserved. And shall we decline exercising our love, because it may be attended with some pain or difficulty on our part? No: we should not hesitate even to lay down life itself, if by so doing we may promote the eternal welfare of our brethren [Note: 1 John 3:16.].]
[“Whom our Lord loved, he loved to the end.” There were many occasions whereon his immediate disciples displeased him: but he did not therefore “withdraw his mercy from them, or shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure.” There are occasions also whereon we shall be called to exercise forbearance and forgiveness one towards another; and we ought to meet those occasions with love proportioned to them. We should strive with all our might to “follow peace with all men,” and to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”]
1. Be thankful to Christ for all the wonders of his love—
[Think how unworthy you were of all his love: for, it was “when you were yet enemies, that he died for you,” Think too what must have been your state to all eternity, if He had not so “undertaken for you:” his sufferings under the hidings of his Father’s fare, and under the strokes of Divine justice, shew what miseries awaited you in hell for ever, if He had not become your substitute and surety to discharge your debt. O! never for a moment lose sight of the obligations you owe to him for that “love of his, which passeth knowledge.”]
2. Present yourselves as living sacrifices to him—
[This may be done; and it is the very end for which such astonishing mercies have been vouchsafed to you [Note: Romans 12:1.]. Consider all that you arc, and all that you have, as his: and let it all be devoted henceforth to the glory of his name.]
3. Endeavour to resemble him more and more—
[Whatever attainments you may have made, you must still be aspiring after higher degrees of love [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.]. Look at him then, not only as the ground of your hopes, but as the pattern for your imitation. Trace him in all the labours of his love: trace him from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven: trace him in all that he either did or suffered: and study to resemble him in the whole of his spirit and deportment. In all his labours “God smelled a sweet savour;” even as he had done in those offerings and sacrifices by which Christ had been shadowed forth [Note: Genesis 8:21. Leviticus 1:9.]: and though your labours of love can never resemble his, as making an atonement for sin, they shall, like his, come up for a memorial before God, and be accepted as well-pleasing in his sight [Note: Hebrews 6:10; Hebrews 13:16.].]
FATAL CONSEQUENCES OF INDULGED SIN
Ephesians 5:5-7. This ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon lite children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
NEVER can we be wrong in bearing our testimony against sin. As for those who, from a zeal for the Gospel, pass over subjects of this kind as legal, we cannot but think them grievously mistaken: for St. Paul, whose love to the Gospel was so ardent, that “he counted all things but dung and dross for the knowledge of it,” was inferior to no man in inculcating the necessity of holiness, or in denouncing the judgments of God against indulged sin. The words before us amply illustrate this: for, specifying particular sins, which would surely prove fatal to all who lived in them, he made them the subject of a faithful appeal, and of a most solemn warning to the Church of God in all ages.
Were we to speak of this subject under distinct heads, those which we have just mentioned would afford an easy arrangement: but on such a subject as this, I think that the mention of distinct heads would he an interruption to us, and weaken the impression which the text itself is calculated to convey.
We declare then to you, brethren, that sin indulged will destroy your souls—
[The Scriptures speak of sin under the twofold character, of the “filthiness of the flesh, and the filthiness of the spirit [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].” Both these kinds of sin are mentioned in my text: “fornication and uncleanness” belonging to “the flesh,” and “covetousness” having its seat rather in “the spirit.” Now these, whether more open and flagrant, or more secret and refined, are alike fatal to the soul, if they be harboured and indulged. They alike exclude us from heaven: for it is impossible that a person who lives in the commission of them should “have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” — — —]
And “this,” if you know any thing of Christianity, “you know”—
[The whole voice of Scripture declares it. Even reason itself may be considered as bearing testimony to it: for what delight can a holy God take in an unholy being? or how can the Lord Jesus Christ, “who died to destroy the works of the devil, exalt lo a participation of his kingdom one who is fulfulling the works of the devil? We may as well conceive that “Christ and Belial should have communion with each other,” as that a man who regards and retains iniquity in his heart should enter into the kingdom of heaven — — —]
Let nothing, therefore, weaken the impression of this upon your minds—
[There are those who will dispute against this. They will speak of “uncleanness,” especially if the marriage-bed be not invaded, as, at most, a venial fault, necessarily arising from the ardour of youth, and undeserving of any serious regard. And as to “covetousness,” there is no such thing existing in the world, if every person’s estimate of himself may be relied on. Men will, indeed, impute it to others; but no one acknowledges it in himself. Every one covers it with some specious name: ‘It is prudence, economy, diligence, a proper regard for one’s family; and surely there can be no blame attached to habits like these.’ But let it be remembered what “covetousness” is: it is a desiring of any thing for its own sake, that we may find our happiness in it, rather than in God; and place our dependence on it, rather than on God: and that whether it be in a man of opulence, or in a person of low degree, is equally “idolatry,” and will infallibly exclude a man from the kingdom of God. As for all the pretexts that may be urged either for this or for uncleanness, they are but “vain words,” that will “deceive you,” to your eternal ruin. Look and see what fornication brought upon the whole nation of Israel [Note: Numbers 25:1. with 1 Corinthians 10:8.]: or what coveting did in the case of Achan; who, amongst two millions of people was singled out by lot [Note: Joshua 7:10-26.]: and be assured, that however secret your sin be, or however sanctioned by the habits of those around you, “the wrath of God will, sooner or later, come on all the children of disobedience” — — — Full well I know, how pleasing it is to be told that we have nothing to fear, and how ready we are to credit such unfounded assertions: but to what purpose will it be to “speak peace to ourselves, when God has said that there is no peace?” I warn you then, beloved, not to listen to any such delusive suggestions, by whomsoever they may be offered: but “let God be true, and every man a liar.”]
And let nothing under heaven induce you to comply with the solicitations of others, or to imitate their sins—
[Though you are united in a Christian society, and profess all the doctrines of Christianity, you still are liable to be seduced by the arguments and examples of those around you. But remember, that, if you are partakers with others in their sins, you shall be “partakers also with them in their plagues [Note: Revelation 18:4.].” And it will be little consolation to you, in the eternal world, that you have partners in misery: nor will it be any excuse for you, that you have been deceived. God cautions you against deceit, whether it originate in yourselves or others. His word is plain: his warnings are solemn: and if you will not obey his voice, you must reap the fruits of your folly. Unite not, then, with any in a course of sin. Partake not with any, either in following their evil ways, or in giving your sanction to them. Your duty is, to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove them [Note: ver. 11.].” If you profess to be children of light, then must you walk worthy of your holy profession, “shining, before all, as lights in the world.”]
If, however, you have been drawn aside to sin, then humble yourselves for it without delay, and turn unto your God in newness of life—
[Blessed be God! your state is not hopeless, though you may have fallen into sin. For at Corinth there were some who had been guilty of the very transgressions here referred to, and yet had obtained mercy through Christ: “Such were some of you,” says St. Paul; “but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.].” So, then, may ye be washed, and justified, and sanctified, if you turn unto God through Christ. The blood of Christ shall be sufficient for you, as it was for them; and the Spirit of Christ shall operate as effectually in you as in them. “Only acknowledge your transgressions,” and “flee for refuge to the hope that is set before you;” so shall you find mercy of the Lord, and “your iniquity shall not be your ruin [Note: Ezekiel 18:30.].”]
A CONSISTENT WALK ENJOINED
Ephesians 5:8. Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.
MANY imagine, that when they have believed in Christ, the work in them is complete: and, if they were then to die, it is true that they would be complete; because it is said of all believers, “Ye are complete in Christ, who is the Head of all principality and power.” But no man in this world is so complete, but that he still needs to be urged forward, by warnings and exhortations, and promises and examples. This is clearly manifest from all the apostolic writings, in which the saints are cautioned against every species of sin, and stimulated to every species of duty. The latter half of this epistle is altogether addressed to believers, in this precise point of view, exhorting them to “walk worthy the vocation wherewith they are called [Note: Ephesians 4:1.].” The truth is, that saints are yet only as “brands plucked out of the burning:” they still bear the marks of the tire strong upon them, and are still in danger of being consumed by the influence of fiery temptations, if God in his mercy do not preserve them. Their safety is in watchfulness and prayer: in watchfulness, that they give not occasion to Satan to inflame their souls with evil: and in prayer, that, as soon as any spark shall light upon them, it may be extinguished. To all, without exception, of whom it may be said, “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord,” the exhortation that is added must be addressed; “Walk as children of light.”
In discoursing on these words, we shall be led to shew,
1. The change which all true Christians have experienced—
“They once were darkness”—
[The term, “darkness,” in Scripture language, imports ignorance, sin, and misery: and therefore most fitly expresses the state of unconverted men. The mind of the natural man is blind to the things of God: they are spiritual, and he cannot comprehend them for want of a spiritual discernment [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]. He knows not the spirituality of God’s law, or the total alienation of his heart from God. He has no just views of the Divine perfections, no adequate sense of his need of a Redeemer; no true perception of the beauty of holiness, or of the excellency of a life entirely devoted unto God. To himself he lives, and not to God: he is a law unto himself, and does nothing but with a view to the gratification of his own feelings. Pleasure, interest, and honour, are the gods whom he serves: and beyond the things of time and sense he has no object of ambition or pursuit. In this state he may find what the world calls happiness; but to real happiness he is a stranger. Whatever satisfaction he feels, it is in a forgetfulness of eternal things that he feels it, and not in the contemplation of them. The thought of death and judgment is appalling to him; and is sufficient to make him, like Belshazzar, tremble in the midst of all his mirth; so that “his countenance shall change, and his knees smite one against the other [Note: Daniel 5:6.].” It is the heart-searching God who says, that there is “no real peace to such persons [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.],” but that “destruction and misery are in their ways [Note: Romans 3:16-17.].”
Nor let it be thought that this is the character of some only whose wickedness has been of a more flagrant nature: for St. Paul assures us, that it was once his own state, no less than that of others [Note: Ephesians 2:3. Titus 3:3.] — — — and therefore we may be sure that it is common to all. Indeed a very little knowledge of mankind will convince us, that “the whole world lieth in wickedness [Note: 1 John 5:19.],” and unconverted men are not only dark, but “darkness” itself, even darkness visible.]
But “they are now light in the Lord”—
[In their conversion they are “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Their views of self, of sin, of God, of Christ, of every thing around them, are changed — — — In consequence of “the eyes of their understanding being enlightened,” they come forth from the broad road in which they have been walking, and begin to tread the narrow, and less frequented paths, of holiness and life. Their whole labour now is to “put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” — — — Now they are no longer under bondage to the fear of death, or bowed down with the apprehensions of God’s eternal wrath: they see that he is reconciled towards them in the Son of his love; and with “a spirit of adoption they come before him, crying, Abba, Father.” In a word, they now enjoy peace in their souls, even that “peace of God which passeth all understanding” — — —
All this they have “in the Lord,” that is, by virtue of union with him, and by grace derived from him. Being now members of Christ’s mystical body, they possess all that is in him their living Head, according to the measure of the grace they have received from him. “With Christ is the fountain of life; and in his light they see light.”]
Whilst we contemplate this blessed change, we must not overlook,
II. The obligations it entails upon them—
Consistency is required of all: of course, if we have been made “light in the Lord,” it becomes us to “walk as children of light.” By this expression we are taught.
1. What line we are to pursue—
[The commandment of the Lord is a lamp, and his “law is light [Note: Proverbs 6:23.]:” and by his law are we to direct our steps. That Holy Spirit who has opened our eyes, and renewed our hearts, marks out for us our path, in direct opposition to that which the unconverted world pursue; as the Apostle tells us in the words following our text: “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” Whilst the ungodly indulge in all the fore-mentioned iniquities, our conduct is to be the very reverse of theirs. In opposition to all unholy tempers [Note: Ephesians 4:31.], we are to abound in every thing that is “lovely and of good report” — — — In opposition to all that may interfere with the welfare of others [Note: ver. 3.], we are to do in all things precisely as, in a change of circumstances, we should think it right for our neighbour to do unto us — — — And in the whole of our deportment towards both God and man, there should be the most inviolable “truth,” even a perfect integrity of mind, a spirit that is without guile — — — Perhaps we may get somewhat of an idea of our duty from what we behold amongst the heavenly bodies. The stars are all irradiated by the sun; and in respect of that great luminary, may be called children of light. These, according to their capacity, reflect the brightness of the sun, and impart to others the light they have received. So it should be with us: we should make our light to shine before men, that so those who behold us may know how to walk, at the same time that they are constrained to glorify that Sun of Righteousness whose beams we reflect. This is the idea inculcated by the Apostle himself, who tells us, that we must “shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.],” and “proving” in our own persons “what is acceptable unto the Lord [Note: ver. 10.].”]
But there is yet another idea, and a very important one, suggested in this expression, “children of light.” It is the property of light to make things manifest; and consequently, we are to bear our testimony against all the deeds of darkness, not only “having no fellowship with them, (for “what fellowship can light have with darkness [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14.]?”) but reproving them [Note: ver. 11, 13.],” and bearing our testimony for God against all who commit them.
Such then must our conduct be, holy and exemplary, decided and firm.]
2. In what spirit we should walk in it—
[“Children of disobedience” are such as, from the propensity of their nature, live in wilful and habitual disobedience to God’s commands. So “children of light,” from the impulse of the Holy Spirit, walk cheerfully and habitually in the ways of God. They are not compelled, like slaves, to serve him against their will; but, like dear children, they love their Father’s will, and find his ways to be ways of pleasantness and peace. Nor is it merely on some particular occasions that they obey his voice: they do it constantly, and without reserve: “they delight to do his will;” and “run the way of his commandments with enlarged hearts.” This characterizes the angels around the throne: and it distinguishes also the children of the living God: they “do his will, hearkening to the voice of his word [Note: Psalms 103:20.],” and making every succeeding act a prelude to yet further services.]
1. Those who have never yet experienced this change—
[Be assured, it must be experienced before you can ever enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whether your lives have been more or less polluted with outward sin, you have all equally lived to yourselves, instead of unto God: and your consciences bear testimony against you, that to secure an interest in Christ, and to grow up into his image, and to live for his glory, have not been the great objects of your ambition, nor has your departure from this path been any source of humiliation to your souls. What is darkness, if tins be not? It is, in fact, a living “without God in the world:” and this path, if persisted in, will bring you to “the blackness of darkness for ever.” But I thank God, there is no room for despondency. The Lord Jesus Christ has “come a light into the world, that whoso followeth him should not walk in darkness, but have the light of life [Note: John 8:12.].” For this very end was he given, that “he should be a light to the Gentiles, and say to the prisoners, Go forth; and to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves [Note: Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 49:9.].” Despair not therefore; but entreat, that, as the Sun of Righteousness, he would “arise upon you with healing in his wings.” And hear, for your encouragement, his gracious promise: “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight: these things will I do unto them, and not forsake them [Note: Isaiah 42:16.].” But delay not to seek these blessings at his hands. Seek them “before he cause your darkness to increase, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and, while ye are looking for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness [Note: Jeremiah 13:16.].” To this effect our Saviour himself charges you: “Yet a little while is the light with you: walk whilst ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light [Note: John 12:35-36.].”]
2. Those who have an evidence in themselves that it has been wrought in them—
[However the world may despise it as enthusiasm, there are many who have “passed from death unto life,” and “been brought out of darkness into marvellous light.” O rejoice in the Lord, who hath done such great things for you! And now set yourselves to walk worthy of this high calling. Think what manner of persons ye ought to be, and what a holy heavenly conversation becomes you. Guard against every degree of return to your former state. Guard against those who would draw you back, or impede your progress in the heavenly life. It is your privilege “to walk in the light, as God is in the light [Note: 1 John 1:6-7.];” and to have your path like “the shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day [Note: Proverbs 4:18.].” And, whilst this is really the desire and labour of your souls, fear not: your God will be with you, “causing your light to rise in obscurity, and your darkness to be as the noon-day.” Then may you look forward with confidence to that day, when your present light, like that of a taper, shall be eclipsed by the infinitely brighter splendour of the sun; even to that day, when “the sun shall be no more your light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto you; but the Lord shall be unto you an everlasting light, and your God your glory [Note: Isaiah 60:19-20.].”]
Ephesians 5:9. The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.
THERE is in the minds of many a prejudice against the writings of St. Paul, as though they contained nothing but dissertations about predestination and election, and were calculated rather to drive people to despondence than to improve their morals. But there are no writings in the whole sacred volume more practical than his. True it is, that he unfolds the whole mystery of godliness more fully and more deeply than others: and he seems to have been raised up of God for that very end, that the theory of religion might be more distinctly known: but, in all his epistles, he has an especial respect to the interests of morality; the standard of which he elevates to an extent unknown before, and for the practice of which he adduces motives which never till that time were duly appreciated. In no one of his epistles does he maintain more strongly those doctrines which are thought so objectionable, than in this: yet is one half of the epistle occupied with exhortations to holiness, in all its different bearings and relations.
In the words before us we have, what I may call, a compendium, or summary, of Christian morals.
And, that we may know what practical Christianity really is, I will,
I. Mark it in its offices—
Sanctification, both in heart and life, is the great end of the Gospel, and a most essential part of that redemption which is there revealed to us. It is here set forth as including,
[Goodness is the one all-comprehensive character of the Deity, it shines forth in all his works: it meets us whereever we turn our eyes: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord [Note: Psalms 33:5.].” The effect of the Gospel is, to transform us into his image: and this it does; creating it in our hearts, and calling it forth in our lives. Under the influence of this divine principle, we shall seek to promote the happiness of all around us. Whatever is amiable, and lovely, and of good report, in the spirit and temper of the mind, we shall cultivate it to the uttermost, and exercise it on all occasions. There will be no trouble which we shall not labour to alleviate; no want which we shall not endeavour to supply. To “be good, and do good,” even like God himself [Note: Psalms 119:68.], will be the summit of our ambition, and the very end of our lives.]
[Whilst goodness is spontaneous, and acts irrespective of any particular claim which men may have upon us, “righteousness” has respect to the obligations which we lie under to “render unto all their dues.” This, also, the Gospel forms within us; stirring us up, both in word and deed, to act towards others as we, In a change of circumstances, should think it right for them to do unto us. There is in the heart of man a selfishness, which disposes him to see every thing with partial eyes; magnifying his own rights, and overlooking the rights of others. This disposition the Gospel will subdue and mortify; and, in its place, it will establish a principle of universal equity, that will weigh the claims of others with exactness, and prompt us, under all circumstances, rather to “suffer wrong than to do wrong [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:7-8.].”]
[This is the perfection of Christian morals, or the bond which keeps all the other graces in their place [Note: Ephesians 6:14.]. Where the Gospel has had its perfect work, there will be “a spirit that is without guile [Note: John 1:47.].” The Christian is a pellucid character: he appears as he is, and is what he appears.
You will perceive, that, in immediate connexion with our text, the Apostle says, “Walk as children of the light: for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” Now, here the three graces mentioned in the text are represented as constituting light, or, at least, as comprehending all that is contained in that image. Now, of all things in the whole creation, light is the most pure (for it is incapable of defilement); the most innocent (for it injures nothing, which has not, through its own weakness, an aversion to its rays); and the most beneficial (for there is not a thing in the universe, possessed of animal or vegetable life, which is not nourished and refreshed by it). Invert the order of these words, and you behold how light beams forth in our text; embodying all the purity of truth, the innocence of righteousness, and the beneficence of active goodness.]
But, to understand practical Christianity aright, we must,
II. Trace it to its source—
It springs not from nature’s stock: the natural man cannot attain unto it. It is “the fruit of the Spirit,” even of that very Spirit who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ himself from the dead [Note: Ephesians 1:19-20.].
1. It is the Spirit who alone infuses life into us—
[We are by nature “dead in trespasses and sins:” and it is the Spirit who quickens us, that we may live unto our God [Note: Ephesians 2:1.]. True indeed, having been “baptized into Christ,” we are become, by profession, branches of the living vine. But then we are only as dead and withered branches, that can produce no fruit; and will shortly be broken off, and cast into the fire [Note: John 15:2; John 15:6.]. It is the Spirit alone who engrafts us into Christ, as living branches; and causes us to receive from Christ that divine energy, whereby we are enabled to bring forth fruit to his glory. “Christ came that we might have life, and might have it more abundantly [Note: John 10:10.]:” but it is by the operation of his Spirit that we receive it; and by the mighty working of that Spirit in our souls that we display its energies [Note: Colossians 1:29.].]
2. It is the Spirit who suggests to our minds those motives which alone can stimulate us to exertion—
[He “reveals the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts [Note: Galatians 1:15-16.].” “He glorifies Christ within us; taking of the things that are his, and shewing them unto us [Note: John 16:14.]” “He sheds abroad in our hearts that love of Christ [Note: Romans 5:5.],” which alone can constrain us to devote ourselves unreservedly to him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14.]. Till we receive this impulse, we are satisfied with formal services, and a partial obedience: but, when we are enabled thus “to comprehend somewhat of the unbounded love of Christ, we can rest in nothing, till we are filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].”]
3. It is the Spirit who assists us in all our endeavours—
[Whatever we may have attained, we still have no sufficiency in ourselves. We shall indeed put our hands to the work: but we shall accomplish nothing, till the Holy Spirit “strengthens us with might in our inward man [Note: Colossians 1:11.];” and, taking hold, as it were, of one end of our burthen, to bear it with us, “helpeth our infirmities,” and lends us his own effectual aid [Note: Romans 8:26.]. Hence these graces are properly called “the fruit of the Spirit;” since they cannot be produced without him, and are invariably the result of his agency in our souls. It is he who, as our Church well expresses it, “worketh in us, that we may have a good will; and worketh with us when we have that good will [Note: Tenth Article.].”]
Yet, as it must be confessed that there is a semblance of this holiness found in those who have not the Holy Spirit, it will be proper to,
III. Distinguish it from all counterfeits—
It must be confessed, that in many natural men there are found virtues very nearly resembling the graces before spoken of. There is in many a very diffusive benevolence, a strict regard to equity, and a high sense of integrity: and you will reasonably ask, How are these to be distinguished from those things which we have described as “the fruit of the Spirit?” I answer: To us, who can only see the outward act, it may frequently be difficult to discern the difference between them; but to God, who sees the heart, they are as different from each other as light from darkness. For of these counterfeits I must say,
1. They proceed from man, and from man alone—
[Man needs no particular communication of the Spirit to enable him to perform them. The light of reason points out those virtues as commendable; and the strength of a man’s own resolution is sufficient for the performance of them. Hence the persons of whom we speak never pray to God for his Spirit, nor feel any desire after supernatural aid. But the graces mentioned in our text are “the fruits of the Spirit;” and never were, nor ever can be, produced, but by his Almighty agency.]
2. They have respect to man, and to man alone—
[The worldling, however virtuous, acts not to God, nor has any distinct desire to fulfil the will of God. He considers, that, as a member of society, he has duties to perform; and therefore he performs them, as far as he sees occasion for them, in the relation in which he stands. He has no other view of them than what an intelligent heathen might have. But the Christian aims at “all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” He views these duties in reference to the eternal, as well as the temporal, interests of men. He views them as the Lord Jesus Christ did; and makes the outward discharge of them subservient to higher and nobler ends. As a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, he has to advance his interests in the salvation of men: and he will account it a small matter to exercise kindness to men in a temporal view, if he may not also, according to his ability, promote their spiritual and eternal welfare.]
3. They are done for man, and for man alone—
[A worldling seeks only to please man and to establish a good character amongst his fellow-creatures. If he attain this object, he is satisfied. To stand high in his own esteem, and in the esteem of others, is the height of his ambition. But the Christian desires that God, and God only, may be glorified. He seeks not applause from man: he cherishes no fond conceits of his own superior excellence: much less does he go about to establish a righteousness of his own, wherein to stand before God. Instead of admiring himself for his own attainments, he will trace them all to their proper source, and give God the glory of them: yea, the more he is enabled to do for God, the more he feels himself indebted to God. He dares not “to sacrifice to his own net, or to burn incense to his own drag;” but accounts himself, after all, an unprofitable servant; and says, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise.”
Now, whether we can discern the difference, or not, in others, we may easily detect it in ourselves; and, consequently, may easily discern “whose we are, and whom we serve.” And I cannot but recommend it to all, to be jealous over themselves, lest they mistake the virtues of the flesh for the graces of the Spirit; and lest, “having a name to live, they prove really dead [Note: Revelation 3:1.].”]
For an improvement of this subject, observe,
1. How excellent a religion is ours!
[They form a very erroneous idea of Christianity, who view it as a system of doctrines merely, irrespective of the effects to be produced by them. I will readily grant, that mysteries, however grand, are of little value, if they operate no sanctifying change within us. But let any person contemplate the change wrought by the Spirit on the heart and life of a believer; let him see poor selfish creatures transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus, and walking in the world as he walked; let him go into the world, the family, the closet, and see the dispositions and habits of the true Christian; will any one obtain even a glance of this, and not admire the religion from whence it flows? I charge you, brethren, rest not in partial views of Christianity: satisfy not yourselves with looking at it as a system of mysterious doctrines, propounded for speculation only. No; view it in all its practical efficiency; and then you will acknowledge that it is worthy of all possible honour, respect, and love.]
2. How easily may we ascertain our state before God!
[We may surely, without any great difficulty, find what our tempers and dispositions are; and whether we are in the daily habit of imploring help from God for the improvement of them. There is a great difference in the natural constitutions of men; so that we cannot absolutely say, that a person, comparatively moral, is therefore a spiritual man. This must be learned rather from the conflicts he maintains, and the victories he achieves, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And, at all events, we may be sure, that where there is no delight in doing good to the souls of men; where, in our conduct towards others, there is any wilful deviation from the line which we should think right to be observed towards us; and where there is any want of simplicity and godly sincerity in our motives and principles; whatever we may imagine, we are not Christians indeed. I pray you to take this touchstone, whereby to try yourselves [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.]; and beg of God also to search and try you, that there may be nothing found at last to disappoint your hopes [Note: Psalms 139:23-24.].]
3. How delightful is the path assigned us!
[I say not that there are no seasons for humiliation: for no doubt there are, even for the best of men. But, for the daily course of your lives, yon need only look to my text. See the Christian in his daily walk: “goodness, righteousness, and truth,” are embodied in him; and, like the combined action of the solar rays, he diffuses light and happiness around him. This is to “walk in the light, as God is in the light:” this is to honour God; this is to adorn the Gospel: this is to fulfil the ends for which Christ himself came into the world: this is to possess a meetness for the heavenly inheritance. Let those who know not what religion is, condemn it, if they will: but sure I am, that, if viewed aright, “its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”]
AN EXHORTATION TO CARELESS SINNERS
Ephesians 5:14. Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
THERE is a harmony in the Scriptures which many overlook and destroy: detached passages are often wrested to establish a favourite system [Note: Calls to duty are supposed to imply the sufficiency of man to do the will of God; while the confessions or petitions of the saints, and the promises of Divine aid given to them, are brought to justify a negligence in the use of means.]. But the various truths of God should be viewed as they stand connected with each other; there would then be diversity indeed, but no contrariety between them [Note: God gives a command, Ezekiel 18:31. David, knowing his duty, and feeling his inability to perform it, had long before presented this to God in the form of a petition, Psalms 51:10. And God, to encourage such applications to him, promises to work in us that which he requires of us, Ezekiel 36:26.]. This observation will throw light, as on many other parts of Scripture, so on that before us in particular; in which we have,
I. A command—
The Scripture abounds with useful and instructive metaphors. Our state is here represented under the images of sleep and death.
Sleep implies a state of inactivity and security—
[Men are busily employed about their worldly concerns; but a lamentable supineness prevails with respect to spiritual things. The generality do not apprehend their souls to be in any danger: death, judgment, heaven, and hell, do not seem worthy their notice: God’s threatenings against them are denounced without effect: they are like Jonah, sleeping in the midst of a storm: hence they are described as “at ease from their youth [Note: Jeremiah 48:11.].” To the same effect is the testimony of Him who searcheth the heart [Note: Psalms 10:4-5.]—]
Death includes the ideas of impotence and corruption—
[An inanimate body cannot perform any of the functions of life: it has within itself the seeds and principles of corruption. The soul also, till quickened from the dead, is in a state of impotence: it is incapable of spiritual action or discernment [Note: John 15:5. 1 Corinthians 2:14.]; its powers and faculties are altogether vitiated [Note: Romans 7:18.]; whatever is loathesome and offensive to God proceeds from it [Note: Mark 7:21-22.]. So true is that humiliating declaration [Note: Job 15:14-16.]—!]
Yet, notwithstanding this state appears so desperate, we must address, to every one that is under it, the command, “Awake,” &c.
[Your inactivity and security involve you in the deepest guilt: your corruption of heart and life provokes the majesty of God: nor is your impotence any excuse for your disobedience. It is your love of sin that disables you for duty: nor is God deprived of his right to command, because you have lost your power to obey. Let every one then strive to comply with his heavenly call. They who exert their feeble powers may expect divine assistance [Note: See Matthew 12:10; Matthew 12:13. The man with the withered hand was unable to stretch it forth; but in attempting to obey, he was endued with strength.].]
To convince us that none shall fail who use the appointed means, God enforces his command with,
II. A promise—
Sleep and death are states of intellectual darkness. Hence light is promised to those who obey the Divine mandate. Light in Scripture imports knowledge [Note: Isaiah 8:20.], holiness [Note: 1 John 1:7.], comfort [Note: Psalms 97:11.], and glory [Note: Colossians 1:12.]; and all these blessings shall they receive from Christ, the fountain of light [Note: Malachi 4:2. John 1:9.].
[Spiritual knowledge every natural man stands in need of: nor is it attainable by the teaching of men, or the efforts of genius [Note: Matthew 11:25.]: we can receive it from none but Christ [Note: Matthew 11:27.]. Hence Christ invites us to come to him for it [Note: Matthew 11:29.]: nor shall an application to him ever fail of success [Note: Psalms 25:9. Proverbs 2:3-6.].]
[A despair of attaining this deters many from seeking it. They think their inveterate habits cannot be rooted out [Note: Jeremiah 2:25.]; but Christ is our “sanctification” as well as our wisdom [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]. His very name encourages us to expect deliverance from him [Note: Matthew 1:21.], and he will fulfil the promises which he has made to this effect [Note: Micah 7:19. Isaiah 1:25.].]
[A sense of guilt shall yield to holy joy [Note: Isaiah 29:19; Isaiah 61:3.]: deplored weakness shall be succeeded by divine energy [Note: Isaiah 35:5-6.]. Our delight in him shall be spiritual and exalted [Note: Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 58:11.]: it shall far transcend all earthly pleasures [Note: Psalms 84:10; Psalms 4:6-7.].]
[Our Lord will not confine his blessings to this world [Note: Psalms 84:11.]. He will raise his people to thrones of glory [Note: Revelation 3:21.]: he will cause them to participate his own inheritance [Note: Romans 8:17.]: he will be the ground and object of their joy for ever [Note: Isaiah 60:19-20.].]
[What greater encouragement can any one desire? What richer promises can any one conceive? How suited are they to our necessities! Let every one consider the command as addressed to himself; “Awake, thou;” let all our powers and faculties be called forth to action. In exerting ourselves let us expect the promised aid. Thus shall we be eternal monuments of Christ’s power and grace.]
REDEEMING THE TIME
Ephesians 5:15-16. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
WHILE the Christian has so many corruptions within, and temptations without, he needs to be continually urged to vigilance and activity in the concerns of his soul. It was to the saints at Ephesus, even to the most eminent amongst them, that St. Paul addressed the exhortation before us: in which we may notice,
I. The duty of maintaining a circumspect walk—
We are evidently referred in the text to what had been spoken in the preceding context: from whence we are to gather the precise ideas which the Apostle comprehended in the terms, “Walk circumspectly.”
We should walk,
1. As persons who enjoy the light—
[Those who walk in the dark, know not how to order their steps [Note: John 12:35.]: but they who walk in the noon-day, can see how and where to place their feet with accuracy and exactness [Note: This is the more proper meaning of ἀκριβῶς.]. Now we have the light of God’s word [Note: ver. 8, 13, 14.]; and should therefore carefully avoid setting our foot in a place where we are liable to slip, or contact defilement.]
2. As persons that are afraid of erring—
[We are ever ia danger of being led astray by the example of those around us. But we should “call no man master;” we should not follow St. Paul himself, any further than he followed Christ. If any should presume to vindicate what is contrary to the word of God, we should “take care not to be deceived” by their specious reasonings; and instead of being “partakers with them,” we should “avoid all fellowship with their unfruitful works;” yea, instead of conforming to them, we should “reprove them [Note: ver. 6, 7, 11.].”]
3. As persons that are anxious to please their God—
[Neither the opinions of others, nor selfish interests, are to regulate our conduct. We have but one inquiry to make, “What will please my God?” That view, that desire, that purpose, must be the spring of our actions, whether in public or in private [Note: ver. 10, 17.]. With a view to approve ourselves to him, we should as carefully inspect our motives and principles, our dispositions and frames, as if we saw him immediately present, and observed his eye fixed upon our hearts.]
From this general view of the subject, we descend to notice,
II. An important instance, wherein, more especially, circumspection should be mentioned—
There is nothing wherein circumspection is more needful, than in the improvement of our time—
[It is lamentable to think how much time is lost for want of a due solicitude to “redeem” it. Even in relation to temporal concerns, there are very few who are good economists of their time. But, in reference to their eternal interests, men let ten thousand opportunities pass them unheeded, and unimproved. Many have passed through half their lives, and not vet begun to seek the salvation of their souls. And of those who have not been altogether so careless, how many are there whose spiritual interests are at a very low ebb! They have not sufficiently watched the lapse of time, or been duly impressed with a sense of its value: and hence, “when for the time they ought to be qualified for teachers, they still need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God [Note: Hebrews 5:12.].”]
We should therefore set ourselves instantly to “redeem the time”—
[We should consider what it is that has robbed us of our precious hours, and guard particularly against it. Has pleasure allured us by its charms? We should renounce its gratifications, as far as they interfere with our spiritual welfare. Has business too much occupied our time? We should apportion to it what is necessary in our respective situations; but not suffer it to supersede our religious exercises. And, if the duties of our calling are such as to leave but a contracted space for reading and prayer, we should be the more earnest in consecrating the whole of the Sabbath to the service of our God. Visiting and company are found in general to be among the chief destroyers of our time: against these we should resolutely set ourselves; that, if we cannot recover what is passed, we may at least prevent the depredations which we are but too likely to experience in future. From sleep too we should redeem all that has been allotted to mere indulgence, and all that nature docs not require for the renovation of her strength. Our whole time is little enough for the concerns of our souls; and therefore we should suffer as little of it as possible to run to waste, or to pass off in unproductive channels.]
To enforce the observance of this circumspection, the Apostle suggests,
III. Motives and inducements to maintain it—
He recommends it,
1. As a proof of wisdom—
[No greater folly can be conceived than for persons to be regardless of their eternal interests, and to trifle away that time which they ought to be employing in the concerns of their souls. It is true, that a circumspect walk, and a due improvement of time, are often called preciseness or enthusiasm: but let those who know not the value of the soul, deride these things: still, in the judgment of every discerning person, to walk with the greatest possible care and exactness, is to “walk, not as fools, but as wise:” for “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding [Note: Job 28:28.].”]
2. As a mean of safety—
[“The days” of the Apostles were “evil,” on account of the persecutions that raged: for every person felt that all his comforts might be speedily withdrawn, and that he might soon fall a sacrifice to his profession. This therefore was urged as a reason for vigilance and circumspection: for if they might so quickly be called to give up their account to God, it became them to be ever on their guard, and ever ready. Our lot, through the tender mercy of our God, is cast on happier days: we are not exposed to the fury of persecutors: the utmost that we suffer, is, for the most part, a little contempt, and the loss of some temporal interests. Still however our “days” may justly be called “evil,” because of the general prevalence of infidelity and profaneness [Note: If there be war, famine, pestilence, or any other public calamity, it might be mentioned here.]. We are as liable to be ensnared by evil examples, as those at Ephesus were to be turned aside by the fear of man. “Iniquity abounds; and therefore there is danger lest the love of many should wax cold.” If then we would not be drawn into the vortex of corruption, we should keep at a distance from it; and if we would stand in the day of trial, we should improve each passing hour in preparation for it.]
THE BELIEVER FILLED WITH THE HOLY GHOST
Ephesians 5:18-20. Be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: If this were the subject of a Sermon at a Feast (many Country Feasts begin on the Sabbath), it would be proper to include in the text the whole of the eighteenth verse; and to prosecute, at some length, the contrast between the employment of true Christians, and that of nominal Christians, on such occasions.].
THAT Christianity has raised the tone of morals in the world, will appear from the admonitions which the Apostles judged it necessary to give to the Churches in their day. It would appear almost superfluous, at this time, to expatiate upon the evil of fornication, in a letter addressed to true believers; or to guard them against yielding to intoxication; there being, in the minds of all, a consciousness of the inconsistency of such evils with the Christian profession. But the Corinthians had, in their unconverted state, been proverbially dissolute; and the Ephesians, even in their religious rites on some occasions, had addicted themselves to intemperance: and both the one and the other brought with them into the Church their former sentiments and habits, against which they needed the most explicit warnings [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:13-18. with the words before the text.].
On the other hand, the standard of Christian privilege and attainment is sadly lowered in the present day; so that an exhortation to be filled with the Spirit, and to be living under the continual influence of the Spirit, seems to breathe nothing but enthusiasm. But, being well assured that Christian duties and privileges are precisely the same now as they were in the Apostle’s days, I proceed to set before you,
I. The exalted privilege of believers—
The Spirit of God will dwell in the heart of every true Christian—
[As the Church at largo, so every individual in it, is “the temple of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19.],” and “the habitation of God through the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 2:22.].” Our blessed Lord promised to send down the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, to abide within his people [Note: John 14:16-17.], to guide them into all truth [Note: John 16:13.], to support them under their respective trials [Note: Ephesians 3:16.], and to “sanctify them throughout, in body, soul, and spirit [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.].” We are not. indeed, to expect at this time his miraculous operations: but his spiritual influences are continued to his Church; and shall be, even to the end of the world [Note: Matthew 28:20.]: and to experience them, is the undoubted privilege of all true believers [Note: Acts 2:38-39.]. Indeed, without them, we can never mortify sin [Note: Romans 8:13.], nor ever fulfil the will of God [Note: John 15:5.]: and, if we experience them not, we are not true Christians: for it is expressly said, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Note: Romans 8:9.].”]
Nor need there be any limit to our expectations of his gracious influences—
[It is our privilege to “be filled with the Spirit,” every one of us according to our respective capacities; and to have all our faculties and powers subjected to his controul. By him our understandings may be enlightened; so that we shall view every thing, in a measure, as God himself views it. By him, too, our will may be regulated; so that it shall be conformed to the mind and will of God. By him, also, our affections may be so inflamed, that the whole soul, as it were, shall be melted, and cast into the very mould of the Gospel.
In relation to this matter we need fear no excess. In the use of strong drink we may easily exceed; and excess will lead to the most pernicious consequences. By intoxication, we may be unfitted for the common offices of life; yea, and be precipitated into the commission of the foulest sins. But the more we have of the Holy Spirit, the more will sobriety and self-government characterize our whole conduct. We need, indeed, to guard against delusions respecting this matter: for there are many in the world who speak of dreams, and visions, and internal suggestions, and numberless other conceits, whereby they deceive both themselves and others. But on these no confidence whatever can be placed: they are, for the most part, the fruits of a heated imagination, and are as likely to come from Satan as from God. I do not mean to say that God may not reveal himself to persons in these ways; for what he has done in times past, he may do again: but I say, that whatever is not founded upon the word of God, and leads not to a holy and consistent life, is a mere delusion. Whatever betrays men into extravagances of any kind, is not of God: for “the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets [Note: 1 Corinthians 14:32.],” and it becomes you to be on your guard against every thing which, in the mode of its access to your mind, is suspicious, or in its operation upon your mind is disorderly. I say again, therefore, that against delusion you must guard: but from excess in what is really from God, you are in no danger: for the more you are filled with the Spirit of Christ, the more you will resemble Christ in the whole of his character and deportment.]
Suited to this exalted privilege of believers, will be,
II. Their delightful employment—
Here you see how they are to act,
1. In their intercourse with each other—
[In the parallel passage in the Epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle’s meaning is somewhat more clearly expressed: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord [Note: Colossians 3:16.].” We should have a happy and peaceful frame of mind, whether alone or in company; and should be expressing our joy in songs of praise. Not that we should resemble those, whose spirits, being raised with wine, entertain themselves, and each other, with vocal and carnal songs: no; we should “make melody in our hearts to the Lord,” and have all our joys an emblem, an antepast, of heaven. Such expressions of earthly happiness we observe without any mixture of disapprobation or surprise: they are the natural effusions of a happy and buoyant spirit. How much more, then, should they be put forth in spiritual exercises, to the honour of our God, whose service is perfect freedom!]
2. In their more immediate intercourse with God—
[Every thing should be viewed by them as proceeding from a God of love: not even chastisement itself should be regarded as a token of his wrath, but rather as a mark of paternal tenderness, whereby he both intimates our relation to him, and seeks to establish and confirm it. Nothing, however penal in its aspect, should be viewed in any other light. We should taste his love in every thing, and “give him thanks always for all things.” And this we should do “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ:” for, as all God’s blessings come to us through him, so all our thanksgivings for them should return to God through him also. It is this which makes them acceptable to God the Father. If these were offered in our own name, they would never enter into the ears of the Lord of Hosts: but, being presented in the name of Jesus, they come up with acceptance before him, and are sure to return in blessings on our own souls [Note: Hebrews 13:15. 1 Peter 2:5.].”]
1. Those who have never yet experienced these blessings in their souls—
[By the greater part of those who call themselves Christians, the whole of this subject is accounted visionary and absurd. They have no idea of one person being filled with the Spirit any more than others: and all the joyous frames arising from his presence in the soul, they deem the very essence of enthusiasm. But what, then, can be meant by all those directions which are given us, to “live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit,” and “pray in the Spirit,” and to “bring forth the fruits of the Spirit?” And why has our blessed Lord so encouraged us to pray for the gift of his Spirit [Note: Luke 11:11-13.], if no such communication is to be expected by us? Do not, I beseech you, brethren, take your own experience as the standard of truth, or imagine that no one else can possess what you have never received: but look to God for the accomplishment of his gracious promises to your souls [Note: Proverbs 1:22-23.]; and never rest, till you have obtained those supplies of his Spirit, whereby alone you can attain the Christian character, or be ever fitted for the realms of bliss [Note: John 16:7-11.].”]
2. Those who profess to live in the enjoyment of them—
[Regard not the contempt with which ungodly men may treat you: but let the Apostle’s direction be followed by you daily, with increasing earnestness. Be careful, however, not to give any just occasion for reproach. Let there be nothing extravagant, either in your profession or your practice. Religion, if it have its just influence upon your soul, will render you patterns of sobriety, of prudence, and of true wisdom: it will cause you to “walk wisely before God, in a perfect way.” At the same time, it will bring into your soul a peace that passeth all understanding and a joy that is unspeakable and glorified. There will be, indeed, occasional changes in your frame, even as there are in the natural world: there will be times for the tears of penitential sorrow to flow down, as well as for the radiance of the noon-day sun. But the more you live on Tabor, the more will you behold the Saviour’s glory: and the more you survey the promised land from Pisgah’s top, the more will you be fitted for the everlasting enjoyment of it.]
THE MARRIAGE UNION
Ephesians 5:21-33. Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall he joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
AMONGST those who are attached to the peculiarities of the Gospel, it is often a subject of regret, that the great mass of nominal Christians are not acquainted with its principles. But I am inclined to think, that there is nearly the same occasion for regret, that many who profess, and actually have attained, somewhat of vital godliness, are but very imperfectly instructed in its duties. The sublimer parts of morality are really almost as little known as the deeper mysteries of our holy religion. Take, for instance, the conduct enjoined in the fourteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: I doubt whether there be many who would have written such a piece of casuistry: and few, I fear, would have approved of it when written, if it had not come forth with the authority of a divine revelation. What a paradox would it appear to the generality, if I were to tell them, that the very same act, under different circumstances, might be an acceptable service and a damning sin; and the whole difference consisting in its being done in the presence of one who approved of it, or of one who doubted its lawfulness! Yet such is the Apostle’s determination respecting the practice of things indifferent in themselves; and which become bounden duties, or fatal sins, according to the views which they have who do them. I could, if there were time, illustrate the sublimity of the Christian code, in reference to all our most acknowledged duties: but I shall confine myself to the subject more appropriate to the present occasion [Note: An extemporaneous Address at the Marriage of a Friend.]. St. Paul, in this passage, places the duties of man and wife in a light peculiarly simple and beautiful. He comprehends both under one single term: “Wives, submit: Husbands, love.” Thus far we are prepared to approve of his requisitions; the duties respectively belonging to the two parties being generally acknowledged. But, if I should proceed to place these requisitions in their true light, and insist upon them in their full extent, I am not sure that I should not excite, amongst the less-instructed part of us at least, a measure of surprise. Yet I am not afraid, but that, if in the former part of my observations I should appear to bear somewhat hard upon the female sex, I shall, before I close the subject, find a perfect acquiescence on their part, when they shall see what provision God has made for their happiness in wedded life. But I shall be careful to speak nothing myself: I shall only bring before you what the Apostle has spoken: and if his demands appear to be too severe, I shall shelter myself under his wing; being well assured that you will all yield to his authority, without gainsaying.
You must have observed, that in all the passages of Scripture where the relative duties are insisted on, those of the inferior are always stated first. Nor is this without reason: for they are all enjoined by God: and, however difficult they may appear, especially where the superior neglects to perform the duties assigned to him, they must all be observed from a regard to the authority of that God who has imposed them; nor must any one imagine, that his duties are a whit the less incumbent on him because the superior neglects his. Power, in whomsoever it is vested, is God’s: and the person bearing it, so far as it is truly committed to him, is God’s representative and vicegerent. And I conceive, that this is the reason of that order, which, from being uniformly observed in the Scriptures, we may well suppose to have been wittingly and wisely fixed.
The submission of the wife to her husband must be entire, cheerful, uniform, “as unto the Lord,” because the husband is as truly the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church. And I hope I shall not appear to speak too strongly, if I say, that there is no other limit to her submission to her earthly lord, than to her heavenly; unless he require any thing that is contrary to the will of God: for then she must yield to that authority which is paramount, and obey God rather than man. I certainly feel, that, in speaking thus, I may appear to require too much of the wife, and to place her almost on the footing of a slave. But you yourselves shall judge. Tell me what is the meaning of those words, “As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands, in every thing?” I confess to you that this appears somewhat harsh; and I should not have dared to utter it myself. But I am not at liberty to soften it, or to introduce into God’s word any qualifying expressions, to lower the standard he has given us. You yourselves see the comparison which is instituted by God himself, and the extent of the requisition that is made. Had the comparison been omitted, we might possibly have thought that the expression, “every thing,” was, what is confessedly common in the Scriptures, an universal term put for a general; and that, consequently, it did admit of some modifications and exceptions. But who will so construe the obedience which the Church owes to Christ? If, then, we cannot so limit the requisition in the one case, neither can we in the other: and, consequently, in our statement of the duties of a wife, we must take the ground which is laid in Scripture, and set forth the will of God as it is plainly declared in the inspired volume.
But, though so much is required of the wife, that I could not have ventured to state it in any terms but those of Scripture itself, I must candidly acknowledge that I account it a rich mercy to the wife that her duty is thus highly stated and plainly declared. For it must of necessity happen, in a married state, that some differences of opinion should occasionally arise, and a contrariety of inclination also occur, in reference to some points: and if God had not determined beforehand whose judgment should preponderate, and whose will should stand, there might be collisions, which might painfully interrupt domestic harmony. But God, having required unqualified submission on the part of the wife, has cut off all occasion for discord; I may almost say, all possibility of it, where the wife understands her duty, and is ready to perform it. Of course, a modest statement, both of her sentiments and wishes, may be given: but where her husband cannot by these means be persuaded, she has no alternative left: obedience is the course which God has ordained for her; and she should pay it cheerfully, “as unto the Lord.”
If this appear, as I fear it will, “an hard saying,” I am happy to say, that that impression will soon be removed, by stating, in the next place, the duties of the husband. “Husbands, love your wives.” And what difficulty is there in obeying the commands of love, or in submitting to its dictates?
But here we observe, in relation to him, the counterpart of the comparison which has been before made in relation to the wife. Is the wife to submit to her husband as unreservedly as the Church submits to Christ? Know ye, that the husband is to love his wife as truly and tenderly, yea, and, as far as it is possible, to the very same extent too, “as Christ has loved the Church.” Let us contemplate this a little; and we shall subscribe heartily to all that has been before spoken. Consider how the Lord Jesus Christ has loved the Church. She was altogether alienated from him, and incapable of adding to his happiness; yet did he disrobe himself of all the glory and blessedness of heaven, yea, and assume our nature, and “bear our sins in his own body on the tree,” on purpose to bring his Church into a full and everlasting participation of his kingdom and glory. And now that he has done this, he imposes no one command on her but what conduces to her happiness: and if in any thing he thwart her inclinations, he does it for her good; consulting, in every thing, not his own sovereign will, but her present and eternal welfare. Now, let us suppose a husband to act on this principle: let us suppose him ready to exercise self-denial, to the utmost possible extent, for the good of his wife: let us suppose him so to pant after her happiness, as to be willing to do any thing, or suffer any thing, in order to promote it: let us suppose him never to propose any thing to her, but for her good; and never, in any instance, to thwart her, but with a view to her truest happiness: methinks she would never complain of the extent of her duty to him; it would be all easy, all delightful. Let it be remembered, then, that this is the husband’s duty to his wife. But as, in the former case, I confined myself to the very words of Scripture, so will I do in this; lest I appear to over-state the duty on the husband’s part. “Husbands, love your wives; even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such tiling, but that it should be holy, and without blemish.” Let there be such tender, affectionate, self-denying exertions on the husband’s part, to promote the welfare and happiness of his wife; and what returns will not she readily make to him? Verily, submission to his will, will be not so much her duty as her delight.
As for the other comparison contained in this passage, namely, of the man loving his wife as his own flesh, I forbear to make any observations upon it, wishing to detain you as short a time as possible.
There is one thing only that I will add, which will be applicable to us all. Hitherto I have dwelt chiefly on those points which the occasion has suggested: but let us not forget, that the whole Church of Christ is his bride; and that the duty of a wife towards her husband, as set forth in this passage, may serve to shew us, in some measure, our duty towards our heavenly Lord. Does a wife leave her father and mother, and cleave to her husband? so must we forsake all that is dear to us in this world, to cleave unto Christ: for he has expressly warned us, that “if, in coming to him, we forsake not all that we have, we cannot be his disciples.” We must also fulfil his will in every thing, without hesitation and without reserve. Obedience to him must be our delight: and if, for a moment, a wish arise in our minds that is contrary to his will, we must sacrifice it instantly; and say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Thus, whilst “the mystery concerning Christ and his Church” is mystically fulfilled in our dear friends who are about to be joined together in the bonds of matrimony, it will be literally and spiritually fulfilled in us.
THE PERFECTING OF THE CHURCH IS THE END OF ALL THAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR IT
Ephesians 5:25-27. Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
THE morality of the Gospel, though not more extensive than that of the law, is yet more clearly revealed, and exhibited in a more endearing light. Its obligations are not set forth amidst denunciations of wrath, as those of the law were upon Mount Sinai; but models of perfection are set before us, and we are invited by considerations of love and gratitude to make them the objects of our imitation. Not only our duty to God, but even our relative duties are set before us in this manner. St. Paul, instructing wives in their duty to their husbands, tells them, that the Church’s obedience to Christ is the fittest pattern of their obedience to them. Then instructing husbands how to conduct themselves toward their wives, he proposes to them Christ’s love to his Church as the model for their love to their wives. It is in this connexion that the words of our text are introduced. But the Apostle can never touch upon so glorious a topic as the love of Christ, without expatiating upon it, and being transported, as it were, to a forgetfulness of his proper argument. The view which he here gives us of it, is deserving of peculiar attention. It will lead us to consider,
I. The demonstrations which Christ has given us of his love—
He loved his Church from before the foundation of the world: and he has displayed his love to it in a manner that must fill both men and angels with everlasting astonishment. Every member of it was dearer to him than his own happiness; more desirable to him, if we may so speak, than his own glory. He loved us to such a degree, that for our sakes he gave up the happiness which he enjoyed in his Father’s bosom, and the glory which he possessed upon his Father’s throne: he gave himself for us, that he might be,
1. A surety for our persons—
[The debt which we owed to divine justice could never be discharged by mortal man: nor was there any superior being able or willing to take upon himself our awful responsibility. Our case was desperate, as much so as that of the fallen angels. But the Son of God, of his own infinitely rich grace and mercy, was pleased to undertake for us [Note: 1 Timothy 2:6.]. What Paul said to Philemon respecting Onesimus, he said to his Father respecting us; “What do they owe thee? put it all to my account: I will repay thee. Whatever shall be necessary to ransom them from the hands of incensed justice, let it be exacted of me: I will be answerable for it; I will pay it, to the uttermost farthing [Note: Philemon, ver. 18, 19.].”]
2. A sacrifice for our sins—
[It was not by corruptible things, as silver and gold, that we could be redeemed. Satisfaction must be made for all our violations of God’s holy law. Death was the desert of man; and death must be endured by the Son of God himself, if he should put himself in the place of sinful man. This was fully known to our adorable Saviour; and yet he would not shrink from the conditions. He had set his heart upon his chosen people, and he was prepared to pay the price, even though it were his own life. Accordingly he took our nature for the express purpose of offering it up a sacrifice for sin. In that nature he made a full atonement for all our transgressions, and satisfied the utmost demands of law and justice. In short, he so gave himself to be an offering and sacrifice to God, that God smelled a sweet savour, and became instantly reconciled to his offending creatures [Note: Romans 5:8.].
What manner of love was this! Who can ever explore “its heights and depths, its length and breadth?” Well may “God commend his love to us” by this particular instance [Note: ver. 2.]; for it is, and ever must be, without a parallel: it as far exceeds our conceptions as it does our deserts.]
To assign any adequate reasons for such love is impossible: but the riches of it will appear in a striking point of view, if we consider,
II. The ends for which it has been so demonstrated—
The design of Jesus in the whole of his mediatory work has been, to bring back our fallen race to the enjoyment of all that they had lost by sin. He gave himself for us, that we might enjoy,
1. A restoration to his image—
[It was not merely a salvation from misery that Christ came to impart, but a salvation from sin, which is the cause of misery. He came to set us apart for God as a holy and peculiar people; and to cleanse us not only in “the laver of regeneration in baptism, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The washing of water in baptism was only the external sign of that spiritual grace which it is the delight of his soul to bestow. “He will sprinkle clean water upon us, and cleanse us from all our filthiness, and from all our idols [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-26.].” Without this spiritual renovation, all his other mercies would be in vain. Man could not be happy, if he were not first made holy.
The instrument by which this grace is conveyed to the soul, is the word of God. The word, both written and preached, is that whereby we are begotten of him [Note: James 1:18.]; by which also, as newborn babes, we are nourished [Note: 1 Peter 2:2.]; and by which the whole work of sanctification is carried on [Note: John 15:3.]. The Holy Spirit indeed is the agent, who renders the word effectual: but the Gospel is “the rod of his strength,” and it is by that he renovates and saves the world.]
2. A participation of his glory—
[When sinners are in a measure cleansed with the washing of water by the word, the ministers who have been instrumental to that change, “espouse them to one husband, and present them as a chaste virgin to Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2. Psalms 45:13-14.].” And while the work of sanctification is advancing in them, they are like those virgins who were destined for the embrace of eastern monarchs, who were purified during several months for that end, till they were judged meet for the dignity to which they were to be exalted [Note: Esther 2:12.]. The time for their complete honour and felicity is the day of judgment; when the Bridegroom himself shall come to take them home to himself, and to fix them in the mansions prepared for them. Then they will be “without spot or wrinkle; they will be perfectly holy and without blemish.” They will be “presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy [Note: Jude. ver. 24.].” What “a glorious Church” will they then be! Here their glory is obscured by spots and blemishes: but there they will not have “any such thing:” they will be “pure as God is pure,” and “perfect as God is perfect.”
If any thing can account for the stupendous efforts of Christ’s love, it must be this. This is an end worthy of the Supreme Being. This will be such a display of his power and grace as will for ever fill all heaven with wonder and admiration.]
Suffer ye now “a word of exhortation,” grounded on the foregoing subject—
1. Desire holiness—
[This is what the Lord Jesus Christ has desired for you. To obtain this for you, he divested himself of all his glory, and endured the accursed death of the cross. He desired this for you, because it was the only medium through which you could arrive at happiness, and because it could not fail of rendering you completely happy. Ah! do not despise it. Do not turn away from it, as inimical to your welfare. Do not consider it as a mere system of restraints, a burthen that is intolerable. It is in truth the perfection of your nature, and the completest liberty: it is a liberty from the thraldom of corruption, and from the tyranny of Satan. Desire it therefore, even as Christ has desired it for you; and never think any sacrifice too great for the attainment of it.]
2. Use the means of attaining it—
[The word is the means which God in every age has made use of for the recovery of fallen man. By that he converted thousands in the primitive ages of the Church: and by that he is still carrying on his work in the souls of men. Let the Scriptures then be searched by you, not to gratify curiosity merely, or to exercise a critical acumen, but to obtain the knowledge of God’s will, and an increasing conformity to his image. Read the sacred volume as a book that is to make you holy. When you hear the word preached to you, hear it with a desire to get a deeper discovery of your sins, and a more perfect victory over them. Whether you read, or hear, or meditate, or pray, let it be with an immediate view to grow in holiness and a meetness for glory.]
3. Look forward to the perfection of holiness as the consummation and completion of all your wishes—
[Higher than this you cannot look; and lower you ought not. This was the ultimate design of all that Christ undertook for you, and of all that he did and suffered for you. Do but consider how happy you will be when not a spot or blemish can be found in you, even by God himself; when you shall be perfectly like your God; and when you shall enjoy the most intimate and endearing fellowship with your Lord, without any alloy, or intermission, or end. Do not rest in any thing short of this. Suffer not any of the pleasures of time and sense to rob you of it. Surely the very prospect of such glory is enough to kindle in your souls the devoutest rapture, and to stimulate you to incessant activity in your Christian course. Yield yourselves now unfeignedly to the Lord [Note: Romans 12:1.], and he will, in the last day, present you to himself, and acknowledge you as his for evermore.]
UNION WITH CHRIST
Ephesians 5:30. We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
THAT the eternal Son of God assumed our nature, and lived and died for the salvation of men, is doubtless the fundamental truth on which we are to build our hopes. But we shall have a very partial view of that truth, if we consider it merely in reference to our acceptance with God. The Apostles state it as the strongest of all motives to obedience, and as the pattern which, as far as circumstances will admit of it, we are bound to imitate. To go no further than the context; St. Paul is stating the duties of husbands and wives: and, having observed that wives are to be as obedient to their husbands, in all lawful things, as the Church is to Christ, he shews, that husbands are not, however, at liberty to act the tyrant; but that they should at all times be influenced by love, and consult the good and happiness of their wives, as much as Christ himself does of the Church, to whom he stands in a similar relation [Note: ver. 22–30.].
The words before us are, in this view, deserving of the deepest attention; since they not only unfold a most mysterious and important truth, but tend in the highest degree to meliorate our tempers, and to diffuse universal happiness. Let us consider then,
I. The union which subsists between Christ and his Church—
There is a personal union which Christ has with our nature, by means of his incarnation [Note: John 1:14.], and which was necessary for the executing of the great work which he had undertaken [Note: Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 2:16.]. But in this the whole human race participate, without any distinction. The union which Christ has with the Church is distinct from that, and is,
[There is, among men, an union between a debtor and his surety; insomuch that, if a debt be not discharged, the surety is as much answerable for it as if he had contracted it himself: and if, on the contrary, it be discharged by the surety, the creditor has no further claim on him that contracted it. Thus it is with respect to Christ and his Church. He is the surety of the new covenant [Note: Hebrews 7:22.]: having undertaken for us, he was charged with our debt; “it was exacted of him, and he was made answerable [Note: Isaiah 53:7. Bishop Lowth’s version.].” Having paid the debt, his payment is put to our account; “By his obedience we are made righteous [Note: Romans 5:19.].” In a word, “He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we (who had no righteousness) might be made the righteousness of God in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.].”]
[Very much is spoken in Scripture respecting the spiritual union which subsists between Christ and his people. To mark that they stand by him alone, it is compared to a foundation and the superstructure [Note: Ephesians 2:20-22.]. To shew that he is the one source of vital influence to them all, it is illustrated by a root and the branches [Note: John 15:5.]. To intimate that one Spirit pervades both him and them [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.], it is set forth under the image of a body; he being the Head, and they the members [Note: Ephesians 4:15-16.]. To convey some idea of the tender endearments with which it is accompanied, it is shadowed forth by a marriage union. This is the representation given in the text. He is our husband [Note: Isaiah 54:5.]; and we are his bride [Note: Revelation 21:9.]: and, as Adam said of Eve when she was brought to him, “She is flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bones [Note: Genesis 2:23.],” so may we say respecting the Lord Jesus Christ, “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”
Whatever beauty there is in all the other figures, methinks there is a peculiar propriety in that which is now under our consideration, because it marks that volition, yea, and those means also, whereby the union is effected. The Lord Jesus Christ displays before our eyes his excellency and glory, his suitableness and sufficiency; and, by the constraining influence of his love, inclines us to leave all that has hitherto been esteemed by us, in order to connect ourselves with him, and enjoy his presence [Note: Psalms 45:10-11. Mark 10:29-30.]. We accept that gracious proposal, “Thou shalt not be for another man; so will I also be for thee [Note: Hosea 3:3.].” and being thus engaged by a solemn covenant, we surrender up ourselves to him, whether it be for better or for worse in this world, determining through grace to “be faithful unto him, even until death.”]
We prosecute the idea of a marriage union no further at present, because it will be more fully opened, while we shew,
II. The blessings resulting from it—
It is needless to expatiate upon the comforts and benefits of that relation among men: but we cannot be too minute in specifying the blessings that result from an union with Christ. The chief of them will come under our review, while we observe, that,
1. He has communion with us in all our trials—
[One who understands the duties of a husband, and labours faithfully to discharge them, is ever ready to sympathize with his partner in her afflictions of whatever kind, and solicitous to the utmost to relieve them. What is done to her, whether it be good or evil, he considers it as done to himself. Thus it is with our blessed Lord. Are we tempted? — — — a consciousness of his relation to us calls forth his sympathy, and engages his utmost exertions on our behalf [Note: Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:15.] — — — Are we persecuted? He feels in his inmost soul the dagger that pierces us [Note: Zechariah 2:8. Acts 9:4.] — — — Do we labour under distresses of any kind? “In all our afflictions he is afflicted [Note: Isaiah 63:9.];” and every attempt made to mitigate our trouble, he accepts, as if he himself were personally relieved [Note: Matthew 25:35-40.] — — —]
2. We have communion with him in all his benefits—
[A woman, from whatever rank she be taken, is no sooner united in the marriage-bond, than she is exalted to a participation of all the honours and possessions of her husband. Thus it is with the Church when united unto Christ. Is he possessed of a perfect righteousness, commensurate with the highest demands of law and justice? They who are joined to him by faith, are partakers of it all, and may boldly call him, “The Lord our Righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].” However sinful they may have been in former times, “in him shall they be justified, and in him may they glory [Note: Isaiah 45:24-25.]” — — — Has he within himself an inexhaustible fountain of grace [Note: Colossians 1:19.]? They may receive it out of his fulness [Note: John 1:16.]: and having had a measure of it communicated to them, they may go to him for more [Note: James 4:6.]: yea, whatever supplies they may need, they shall have sufficient for them [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]; sufficient to mortify every sin [Note: Romans 6:14.], to fulfil every duty [Note: Philippians 4:13.], to triumph over every enemy [Note: Romans 8:37.] — — — Is he enthroned on high, the heir and Lord of all things [Note: Hebrews 1:2.]? Let not his people think that even these things are too great for them: for they shall have a throne like unto his throne [Note: Revelation 3:21.], a kingdom like unto his kingdom [Note: Luke 22:29.], a glory like unto his glory [Note: John 17:22.] — — —]
1. Those who have reason to believe that they are “married to Christ [Note: Jeremiah 3:14. Isaiah 62:5.]”—
[If we congratulate our friends when they are settled in life with a fair prospect of happiness, shall we not much more congratulate you; you, who by your connexion with Christ are become children of the living God [Note: John 1:12.]? What earthly advancement can be compared with this? Who among the children of men is so wise to discern, so tender to regard, so able to relieve, your every want? We hope that you know your union with him. It is certainly your privilege to know it, and to rejoice in it [Note: John 14:20.]. “Rejoice then in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice [Note: Philippians 4:4.]” — — — But together with your privileges, remember also the duties which this high relation bringeth with it. Would you be unfaithful to him, or grieve him in any thing? God forbid. Remember the fervent attachment [Note: Titus 2:4.], the humble reverence [Note: Ephesians 5:33.], the unreserved submission [Note: Ephesians 5:22; Ephesians 5:24. 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Peter 3:5-6.], which a dutiful wife feels towards her husband: and let these feelings be transferred in the highest possible degree to your august “Head [Note: Ephesians 5:23. 1 Corinthians 11:3.]” and be exercised towards him without any intermission or alloy [Note: If this were preached on the occasion of a Marriage, it would be proper to shew to the parties present, that their cheerful performance of their relative duties is indispensable, as an evidence of their union to Christ.]. — — —]
2. Those who have no evidence that such an union has been formed—
[They who have felt no need of an union with Christ, will be ready to say, like Ezekiel’s hearers, “Ah! Lord God, doth he not speak parables [Note: Ezekiel 20:49.]?” But indeed “we speak forth the words of truth and soberness [Note: Acts 26:25.].” You hope to bring forth fruit to God in some other way than by an union with Christ: but you may as well expect a branch to be fruitful, when separated from the vine [Note: John 15:4-5.]. The image in the text is applied by St. Paul in reference to this very thing: he tells us, that “we must be married unto Christ, that we may bring forth fruit unto God [Note: Romans 7:4.].” Moreover, if you be not united to Christ in this world, you will in vain hope for an union with him in the world to come. This is the time wherein you are to be betrothed to him. Seek then to know him: seek to become an object of his regard: seek to be united to him as intimately as he is to his Heavenly Father [Note: John 17:21; John 6:56-57.]. Be not contented with seeking, but strive; strive to obtain an interest in his favour; nor cease from your labour till you can say, “My beloved is mine, and I am his [Note: Song of Solomon 2:16.].” Then shall you have the most delightful fellowship with him [Note: 1 John 1:3.]: you shall have such manifestations of his regard, as the world can neither know nor receive [Note: John 14:21-22. ib. ver. 17.]: and, when all earthly connexions shall cease, your happiness shall be consummated in the everlasting fruition of his love [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:17.].]
UNION BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE
Ephesians 5:32. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.
CHRISTIANITY is a mystery altogether—a great mystery: as it is written, “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.].” Every part of it is mysterious: its plan, as concerted between the Father and the Son [Note: Colossians 2:2.]; its propagation, so as to incorporate in one body the whole world both of Jews and Gentiles [Note: Romans 11:25. Ephesians 1:9-10.]; the representations given of it in emblematic types from the foundation of the world. Amongst these, the marriage of our first parents is worthy of particular attention. It is that to which the Apostle especially refers in the passage before us. The very words spoken by Adam on that occasion are quoted by him [Note: Genesis 2:23-24. with ver. 30, 31.]. They appear, indeed, at first sight, to be spoken only in reference to marriage generally: but he declares, and pronounces it “a great mystery,” that “he spake concerning Christ and the Church.”
Here it is evident that there was one thing spoken, and another intended; and, consequently, if we would fully enter into the Apostle’s mind, we must consider,
I. The subject ostensibly proposed—
He is speaking of the duties which men owe to each other, in the relation of husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants. That of husband and wife, as existing before all others, is introduced first.
He specifies their duties—
[He specifies hers to him, and his to her. Her duty to him is comprised in reverence and subjection; in reverence to him as her head; in subjection to him as her lord. His duty to her comprehends unrivalled affection, and unbounded care. These were their respective duties, whilst yet they remained in innocence: for they arose out of the manner in which their union was formed. The man was first formed, the lord and governor of the whole earth. The woman was made afterwards, and taken out of the side of man as a part of his substance; and therefore was properly subject to him. She, too, was made for man, and not man for her: and, consequently, this put her still further under his controul. These duties, however, were still further extended after man had fallen: for the woman, having been first in the transgression, was doomed to weaknesses and pains which she would never otherwise have experienced, and was still more entirely subjected to her husband’s rule [Note: Genesis 3:16. with 1 Timothy 2:11-14.]. But, in proportion as she needed his protection, his obligation to extend it to her was increased, together with all its attendant sympathy and assiduities.]
He at the same time illustrates them by a comparison—
[The Apostle institutes a comparison between the marriage union and that which subsists between Christ and his Church; and again and again reverts to it, in order to mark the correspondence between them in every particular. In speaking of the wife’s duties to her husband, he says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord: for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church; and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing [Note: ver. 22–24.].” Now, here the Apostle states, in the clearest and fullest manner, both the extent of her duties and the ground of them. All the subjection which the Church owes to Christ, she owes to her husband; subordinate only to the paramount obligations which she owes to Christ himself: and she owes them to him for the very same reason; namely, because her husband is her head and protector, just as the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head and Saviour of his whole mystical body, the Church.
Next, in speaking of the husband’s duty to his wife, he draws a similar comparison between Christ’s love and tenderness to his Church, and that which a man should exercise towards his wife. The object he should have in view also, in all the controul which he exercises over her, should be precisely such as Christ has manifested towards his Church; namely, the advancement of her real welfare. To a similar extent, also, should he carry this into effect; willingly denying himself, and submitting gladly to the greatest privations, if only he may attain his end, and promote her best interests. Hear the Apostle’s own words; and mark especially how minutely the Apostle enters into the objects which Christ has accomplished in behalf of his Church, in order the more clearly to shew what the husband should aim at in reference to his wife: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish [Note: ver. 25–27.].” Then, going on with a special reference to Eve, who was a part of Adams own body, he adds, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh [Note: ver. 28–31.].” All this shews us with what intensity of affection a man should regard his wife; and with what tender care he should labour for her temporal, spiritual, and eternal good.]
Now, here we should have stopped, as having brought into view all that the Apostle designed. But, what the Apostle has spoken in our text necessarily leads us to the contemplation of another subject, even,
II. The subject covertly intended—
We are perfectly surprised when we hear the Apostle unexpectedly declaring, “I speak all this concerning Christ and his Church.” Truly, “this is a mystery.” Let us consider,
1. The mystery itself—
[Under the image of a marriage union, the Apostle has been speaking of Christ and his Church, between whom there exists the same relation as between a man and his wife. The Lord Jesus Christ is “a Bridegroom, and the Church is his bride,” This is the language both of the Old Testament [Note: Isaiah 54:5.] and the New [Note: John 3:29.]: and between them exists a closer union than ever existed between a man and his wife: for they are, by their union, made “one flesh [Note: ver. 31.];” but Christ and his Church are “one spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.].” They too, inasmuch as Christ has taken upon him our nature, may be called one body; so that, in reference to Christ, it may be said of us, “We are members of his body, even of his flesh and of his bones.” But I say again, that, inasmuch as we have a spiritual union with Christ, our connexion with him is closer than any that can exist between persons joined in the marriage bond; who, though one flesh, may be, and too often are, far from being united in spirit.
By virtue of the union of Christ with his Church, she partakes of all the privileges which a marriage union can convey. He is entitled to the entire possession of our whole hearts: and we become partakers of all his honours, and all his wealth, and all his influence, and all his love. Nothing can be conceived as enjoyed by a woman in virtue of the marriage relation which she has entered into, that is not imparted to us in the richest possible abundance, as soon as we believe in Christ. On the other hand, there are the same obligations entailed upon us. The Lord Jesus Christ, if I may so speak, as bound in covenant to us, will order every thing for our good: and we, as given up to him in covenant, are bound to “forsake all for him [Note: Luke 14:33.],” and “to live for him, and not for another [Note: Hosea 3:3.].” To serve him, and honour him, and glorify him, must from henceforth be our supreme happiness, our only care. This its plainly set forth by the Psalmist, who says, “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the King greatly desire thy beauty: for He is thy Lord; and worship thou him [Note: Psalms 45:10-11.].”]
2. The greatness of this mystery—
[It is indeed “great,” whether we consider it as a speculative truth, or whether we regard it in its practical importance. As a speculative truth, how wonderful is it that the God of heaven and earth should become a man, and take into union with himself such worthless and corrupt creatures as we; submitting to the lowest depths of misery, in order to raise us to the highest throne of his glory! That he should acknowledge such a relation between himself and us, and make that relation the means of communicating to us all that felicity, is a mystery too big for utterance, too deep for any finite intelligence to explore.
In its practical importance, too, it far surpasses all human comprehension. For to effect this union, is the very end for which the Gospel itself is ministered to man. St. Paul preached through immense regions, from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum. And what did he labour to accomplish? What was the effect of his ministrations? He says to his Corinthian converts, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2.].” Now this is our object also, even to solicit, in the behalf of Christ, that you will consent to an union with him, and surrender up yourselves altogether unto him. This union, also, is the one only means by which you can ever bring forth fruit unto God. “Separate from Christ,” you can no more bear the fruits of holiness, than a branch can bear grapes when separate from the vine [Note: John 15:5. χωρὶς ἐμοῦ.]. St. Paul speaks of this, under the very image contained in our text. He represents us as married, in our unconverted state, to the law: but, on our conversion, the law, as far as respects its power over us, becomes dead; so that we are at liberty to be married unto Christ, and to bear fruit to him: “My brethren,” says he, “ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God [Note: Romans 7:4.].” In no way whatever can the fruits of righteousness be produced by us, except by virtue of union with him: for they are the fruits of his Spirit, communicated to us, and abiding in us [Note: Galatians 5:22-23. Romans 6:22.]. I may further add, that this union, begun on earth, will be perpetuated in heaven for evermore. Earthly connexions are dissolved by death: this is cemented and confirmed. In this world we are rather betrothed, than actually united [Note: Hosea 2:19.]; rather presented for approbation [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2.], than brought to a full enjoyment of the nuptial bonds. The consummation of the marriage, with the feast attendant on it, is reserved for a better world; and shall take place as soon as the bride is fully prepared for the honours to be conferred upon her. So says St. John, respecting a period yet future, when this glorious ceremony is to be completed: “I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God [Note: Revelation 19:6-9.].”
Say now, whether any thing can exceed the importance of this mystery? You perceive, that to accomplish it is the end of all our ministrations; the actual completion of it is the only means of sanctification to your souls; and the full enjoyment of it in all its inconceivable benefits, is heaven. Verily, “this is a great mystery;” nor will eternity suffice for its full developement.]
Let me now, in conclusion, entreat of you these two things:
1. Seek by faith to realize this mystery—
[It must be realized by all: and the only way in which it can be realized, is, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is faith which unites us to him: it is faith which interests us in him, and which brings down from him all that our souls can stand in need of. Though the mystery which we have been contemplating is great, yet the means by which we are to have it realized are simple. Only believe in Christ, as becoming man for you, as dying on the cross for you, as giving himself to you in an everlasting covenant; believe in him, I say, as willing to confer on you all the blessings of salvation; and you shall find that you have not believed in vain: for “out of his fulness shall you assuredly receive” all that you can require, and all that he has undertaken to bestow upon you.
And let not the thought of your own unworthiness discourage you: for there are none, however unworthy, whom he will not receive into that relation, if only they will believe in him. See the description given of the Jewish Church previous to her union with him: “When I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. When I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine [Note: Ezekiel 16:6; Ezekiel 16:8.].” What more humiliating condition can you well conceive, than that of a new-born infant, which is here thrice repeated, “polluted in its own blood?” Yet out of that state did he select them, and from that condition did he take them for his Church and people. Know then, that no unworthiness whatever is, or can be, a bar to your union with Christ, if only you will accept his overtures of love and mercy. Nay, if, after having been by profession united to him, you have dishonoured him by the basest unfaithfulness, still he says to you, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you [Note: Jeremiah 3:13-14.].” Thus you see, that neither unworthiness before your union to him, nor unfaithfulness after it, need cause you to despair: for “where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound [Note: Romans 5:20.];” and “those who come unto him, he will in no wise cast out [Note: John 6:37.].”]
2. Endeavour, by works, to recommend and adorn it—
[Persons who hear of your high pretensions, will naturally ask, “What do ye more than others [Note: Matthew 5:47.]?” They have a right to ask this question: and we ought to be able to answer it. If we are brought into so near a relation to the Lord Jesus Christ, we ought to shew the effect which it produces on us. We ought to walk worthy of the new condition into which we are brought, and worthy of Him who has raised us to it [Note: Ephesians 4:1. 1 Thessalonians 2:12.]. The King’s daughter ought to be “all glorious within; and her clothing should be of wrought gold [Note: Psalms 45:13.].” There should be in us universal holiness, both in heart and life. The whole “spirit of our minds should be renewed [Note: Ephesians 4:23.];” and we should be altogether “new creatures in Christ Jesus; old things haying passed away, and all things having become new [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].” Beloved brethren, see that ye answer to this character: see that ye “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work [Note: Colossians 1:10.],” and “filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God [Note: Philippians 1:11.].” This will honour your divine Husband: this will answer the end for which he has chosen you to himself, and will best prove the truth and excellence of the communications you have received from him. Then will another mystery be seen. Men will wonder how it is that you have been enabled so to “put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and so to put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:24.].” But they will have the true solution of the phenomenon, when they know into what close connexion ye have been brought to the Lord Jesus Christ, and how “mightily his Spirit has wrought within you:” and they will readily receive the mystery which they cannot see, when they are constrained to acknowledge the mystery which they do see. They will be forced to confess that ye are a people whom the Lord has blessed, and that he is with you of a truth.]
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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