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In the Memorials of Dr. McLeod Campbell (vol. I. p. 127), he observes, apropos of Edward living's dying conversations, 'I was finding no trace of the subject of the Church in anything she ( i.e. Mrs. Irving) was mentioning, until she said that in the course of that same last day he had asked her to read to him "the testament of the Lord to his Church the neglected testament"; when she read to him the fourth of Ephesians'.
The Heavenly Calling
When St. Paul bids us 'walk worthy of our calling,' he bids us do a great thing, and perhaps his words make little impression on many of us. For, in truth, our Christian calling seems a long way off from many of us, and almost out of sight. For the most part we left it behind at our baptism, and have made no further inquiry about it; other callings occupy our time and thoughts. And these lower motives do us injury; they are apt to shut out and overpower the higher. Indeed, this is the rule which the world itself sets up for us. If we keep up to its standard it is enough. And if we were to live here always this might be enough. We might go on buying and selling, and not trouble ourselves about anything further. But, you know, we are not to live here always, and this makes all the difference.
There is another and a higher world to be taken into account, and the calling which will suffice for this present world will not suffice for that other world, which is our true home, and whither we are bound. And, what is more than this, God has given us a calling which alone, if we follow it faithfully, will enable us to attain it.
I. God has given us His only begotten Son to be our Pattern and Guide. He has come down for this end first of all, to put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and then to guide us in the way which He has trodden before us to Heaven. To this, then, we are called to the imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ to nothing less than this. The world's rule and calling will not carry us far; we must not trust to it, it will break off and fail us when we need it most in the hour of death and in the day of judgment.
II. The Ephesians, to whom these words were written, doubtless understood them better than we, for they had been called from being heathens, and all around them were heathens still. Now, we can only understand clearly by way of judgment or comparison, and so, when all around us are professing Christians, it is difficult to understand what our Christian calling is. We do not see, as the Ephesians, the light of Christianity and the darkness of heathenism side by side. And, moreover, what we do see tends to confuse us, for we see men who have been baptised and plainly called to be Christians living in many ways like heathens, though not openly or in the same degree. Thus our views of our Christian calling become indistinct and confused; the Church and the world become one; we cannot tell what our calling is, or how we may walk worthy of it. Yet
III. There are certain marks of our calling which cannot be mistaken.
(1) There are the sure outward marks which distinguish us Christians from heathens and make up our calling.
God has called us through His Church, and by a Sacrament, and has bidden us serve Him in it. By the Sacrament of Baptism we were admitted into His Church, otherwise we could not be Christians at all. This is what really separates us from the heathen: we are made by our baptism members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. These are privileges which Christian men have, and the heathen have not. They are not joined to Christ by His ordinances, they have not the remission of sins, or the gift of the Holy Ghost, which come by Christian baptism, and in no other way. They are not made partakers of the Divine Nature, they have no share in the blessings which are given through the Church in Confirmation of holy matrimony, in sickness, or in death above all, they cannot be partakers of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.
(2) Again. There are certain other marks, of which St. Paul here tells us. There is the mark of Unity. After having exhorted us to walk worthy of our vocation, the Apostle thus explains what he means: 'With all lowliness and meekness, and longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'; for, he adds, 'there is one Body and One Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling, One God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all'. Here, then, is a plain mark we must be lovers of unity; this is the end of our calling, that we may all be one in Christ Jesus. He came to make us one, to take away the ancient curse, to join men together once more in Himself, to be Himself the centre of their unity, to join them to Himself, and make them one in His Body, which is the Church.
(3) There is the mark of Christian love. 'Love,' says the Apostle, 'is the fulfilling of the law.' 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, for love worketh no ill to his neighbour.' So that Christian love or charity is the very bond and foundation of this unity. It does no ill to its neighbour it does the very contrary, its seeks out all means of doing him good; and so, as injuries divide men, and cause them to hate each other and separate from each other, so does love, by doing good, unite and bind together in one.
(4) There are those graces which are the grounds of Christian love, the only condition of its existence. So when the Apostle bids us to 'walk worthy of our vocation,' it is 'with all lowliness, and meekness, and longsuffering, forbearing one another in love'. And for the same cause he bids us put away 'lying, and wrath, and theft, and filthy speaking, and bitterness, and clamour, and evil speaking,' because these things tend to separate men and destroy the unity which Christ has appointed for them.
These, surely, are plain marks of our calling. Unless we have these marks in some good measure we cannot be His. We must be joined to Him by the Sacraments which He hath ordained for that purpose first by Baptism and then by Holy Communion and by being partakers of the Church's offices and prayers; that, thus being made one with Him, we may be one also, by this outward union in His Body, and by the grace of charity which is its life, with all our brethren.
References. IV. 1. W. J. Hills, Sermons and Addresses, p. 137. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 170. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 15. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 194.
God's Mild Curfew
We are all familiar with Mrs. Browning's beautiful words:
Nor seek to leave thy tending of the vines
For all the heat of the day, till it declines
And death's mild curfew shall from work assoil.
Should we not rather say God's mild curfew? If life is long, that curfew comes before death. Between the hour of curfew and the hour of the last rest there is a blessed and solemn pause. We are assoiled from labour before we die, if only we keep our ears open. If we really pray for guidance to the Most High, we shall hear the curfew and hail it when it comes. It is because we do not hear and obey the signal of release that with so many of us the last act is tragedy.
I. In how many cases this is so! Laborious, honoured, and powerful lives have again and again ended in frustration and stress. Men would not hear the mild curfew of God, and they have tried to ignore or to battle with the unkindly summons of man. They have purposed that more than the full lustre that beamed in the days of their meridian triumph should glorify their last years. And the result has been that gloom has come upon them at the last and lain upon them like a pall. The statesman has lived to the extreme limit of human life to sit among the ruins of the tower which he built, and which he has thrown down with his own hand. Even when this destiny has been devoutly endured, it has been full of sadness and of warning. Another has been expelled from his kingdom and has spent his closing days in bitter and chafing thoughts, in cruel, scornful, impotent protests and complaints. The great preacher who stayed beyond his hour has died shattered in soul and body upon the field. The ambition to sit too long at life's imperial banquet has brought the proudest to sup off the broken meats in the end, and to eat their bread in tears. It may be said, and it is sometimes true, that these humiliations have subdued the spirit, and that it had to be subdued thus before there could be worked upon it the last miracle of spiritual change. It may be said that sometimes unchequered success has blinded and hardened, and that a new nobility of soul has sprung from the new discipline of sorrow and failure. It may be so, but this must mean that the moral nature was partly stunted and partly diseased.
II. They are right, we believe, who think that the last stage of a long life ought to be its glory and its crown. John Bunyan was inspired to speak of the land of Beulah as bordering the Jordan on this side. Yet how few of our greatest and noblest visibly tarry there at last and pass away in the splendour of its peace. A famous Swedenborgian was wont to speak of the progress towards perfection as made by the removal of present happiness. If happiness were continuous there would be no advance. So happiness is taken from us, and we pass on to a new stage, day succeeding day through the six stages of regeneration till the evening and the morning of the sixth day, and then the finished work and the day of rest. The dream of the mystics was not all a dream. They imagined that there was a land to be reached before death, secluded from the tumult and the pain of time, and before which the tempests might blow their challenging horns in vain. The Middle Age imagined the famous temple, Sangreal, with its dome of sapphire, its six-and-thirty towers, its crystal crosses, and its hangings of green samite, guarded by its knights, girded by impenetrable forests, glittering on the onyx summit of Mount Salvage, invisible to the impure, inaccessible to the faithless, but giving to the simple the immediate presence of the Infinite. There before dying it is granted to gaze, to love, and to know. There is a spiritual reality which corresponds to this. For years and years on to old age men dream that there is only one kind of happiness, the happiness of their wills gratified and their ambitions realised and the little idols they have set up smiling down upon them. When they are made wise in the communion of the Holy Ghost, they understand that the true blessedness is quite other than that, that it comes to those who have died to the anarchy of inordinate desire and live the life that is hidden with Christ in God. The mood of intense and simple blessedness, which is so much higher than the happiness that comes from prosperous and prominent and well-rewarded work, rises from our faster attachment to Christ, from our completer detachment from the things of earth and time, from our clearer realisation of the Mystical Union. The Christian realises the height of his peace, not in the company of admiring and applauding crowds, not in seeing the spirits subject to him, but in the company of that Love which has chosen him, and found him, and carried him away. It is to that profounder blessedness God's mild curfew calls us.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 45.
References. IV. 1-3. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 132. IV. 1-6. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 148. IV. 1-16. E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 97.
A Plea for Unity
Much is heard about Christian unity and the paralysing effect that our divisions inevitably produce on various Christian bodies. We may well consider this question on the Sunday after Ascension Day, and our text is certainly appropriate.
I. Why has there been Failure? 'Endeavouring' suggests failure, does it not? 'Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,' that is the lesson which comes home to us in this season. Surely Ascension time should strongly develop our appreciation of the living Christ Who is at our very hand. When we think of the growth of wealth and the influence that is exerted by it, it is easy to see that material things attain a great hold over the thoughts and the imaginations of men, and the result is a weakening of our spiritual capacity. The announcement was made to the Apostles that Jesus Christ would come again. It was graven deep in their memory. Jesus was gone, but they felt that He was very near, and they felt that that unseen Presence might at any moment come to them again. But to us Christ is hidden. He is, as it were, far off behind the veil which hides Him from us. Is it not so? We have not the sublime faith of the Apostles, who thought that at any moment He might be with them again; and it is this which separates us from those who do not agree with us; it is this want of spiritual force which prevents unity. We must pray that the Holy Spirit may operate with all Christians, and it is this operation which leads to unity.
II. The Qualities of the Holy Ghost. What are the qualities of the world-restraining, world-uniting Holy Spirit? Do not these qualities make for peace and the bond of love? We cannot wonder that the Lord Jesus Christ made it His last prayer that His Church might be one when we know what has occurred, what is always occurring by the lack of unity. Yet this unity which has always been desired has never yet been realised. How do we account for our Lord's Prayer that His Church may be one? He knew that dissension was bound to come into the Church, and that there was bound to be disagreement between it and the world bound to be disputes between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of man. Did unity exist in the days of St. Paul? No, it never did exist within the Church; and when we read of the differences in the early Church, and of those differences of opinion, of course there must be a feeling of bewilderment on all those who have prayed for unity when they think that there has never yet been that blessed peace which we have all hoped for, and which we will try to pray for more earnestly than ever. We should do our best to heal our divisions, and we should seek after that unity of the spirit of which St. Paul speaks in our text.
III. Unity is Strength. Let us be united. Above all, let us be united in prayer. We may surely hope that if our hearts be opened to let in the influence of the Holy Spirit, the day will come when we are united in peace because we have endeavoured to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
References. IV. 2. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays After Trinity, p. 129. IV. 2, 3. Bishop Creighton, The Heritage of the Spirit, p. 201.
Unity, Not Uniformity
These words of St. Paul find their place in the letter which has justly been called a treatise on the ideal Church. Its constitution, its ministry, and its aims show themselves in indwelling, vital force. Much needed as they were, no doubt, to those to whom they were at the time addressed, they have had their application in all the ages of the world-wide Church, and they come home to us with a special force in these later days. Let us try to arrive at their real meaning. I. The Oneness of the Spirit. Let us get away from the time-honoured and beautiful language of our Authorised Version, and let us make for ourselves & clearer and more literally plain version of the words as St. Paul wrote them. 'Eagerly striving to guard the oneness of the Spirit in all,' that is in the bond of peace. The oneness of the Spirit! The Apostle is inspired by that glorious conception of the one holy apostolic Church which has ever been the cherished dream of all the noblest and best Christian teachers and leaders of all shades of opinion in every age, yet which has never been realised since the first few years of the infant Church's life in Jerusalem. It seems that, if we look at the whole body of professing and baptised Christians throughout the world, or if we narrow our horizon and confine our scrutiny to our own branch of the Church, this ideal is farther from us than even in the most controversial and troublous times of the past.
II. The Dawn of a Brighter Era. In spite of all this, however, there are many signs around us which herald the dawn of a new era and a better time. The day has gone by and thank God for it when men treated unity as if it were uniformity, and endeavoured to procure it by physical torture or the penal clauses of Acts of Parliament. We have learnt by experience that men cannot be coerced by human and material means to think alike, and that carnal weapons will never promote the spiritual kingdom of our dear Lord and Master; and if we have learnt so much, we have surely advanced towards a right comprehension of what St. Paul in his text begs us seriously to strive for. Even in his days grievous party faction had arisen in many of the newly formed Christian communities, and yet he could write, in spite of these divisions and factions, 'guard the oneness of the Spirit,' as if it were a treasure which had not been lost.
III. The Treasure not Lost. Let us who now read his words lay them to heart, and take heart and thank God. Let us remember, while we naturally lament the bitterness of party jealousy and sectarian strife, that, paradoxical as it may seem, it was the Prince of Peace Himself Who said of His own mission, 'I am not come to bring peace, but a sword'. For you and for me, then, it seems that the message of God is this: let us hold fast that form of sound words which we have received as our most precious heritage. 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one hope of our calling,' let these be our watchwords in the battle; but let us remember that we are called upon to be in charity with all men; let us fight the unfair and sneering judgment of our fellows who cannot see our aspect of the truth; let us remember the words of Him Who said, 'Forbid him not, for he that is not against us is for us'. But let us also rejoice in the success of any endeavour to win souls for our dear Master's kingdom; so we, by zealously trying to guard the oneness of the Spirit by means of the bond of peace, and having continued faithful to our trust here, may be counted worthy of entering into the home of perfect peace hereafter, where all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity shall be finally united in Him, and shall be made partakers in the glory of the Trinity in unity.
The Unity of the Spirit
The world upon which St. Paul looked out was divided by most serious divisions, although outwardly it appeared more united than ever it had been before, in the unity of the great Roman Empire. To the Jew the Gentile was a dog, and no words could express the contempt of the Gentile for the Jew. Here was one of the great divisions of the world. Another was the division between slaves and freemen. A slave was hardly accounted a man. Besides this, there were the divisions which we ourselves look out upon to-day rich and poor, noble and baseborn, educated and ignorant, cultured and rude. Yet St. Paul could speak of a unity, a oneness which could bind men together.
I. Let us try then to understand what this unity was. The Jews had always been looking forward to a great Prince Who should come from God to draw them together as a nation, and make them victorious over the heathen world. And the Messiah had come, but in so different a guise that they disowned and rejected Him. St. Paul had learned to see in Christ the Son of God, Who had become Man, as the One who had shown to men what is the true human life, and had lifted our humanity to the very throne of the universe. Here was a hope for all mankind. Those who accepted Christ as their Lord received a new life. They were made and kept one in Him. In Christ's name they were placed on a level of perfect equality. It did not matter whether they were slaves or freemen, they were lifted up by their baptism into a position of equal spiritual privilege. The slave, St. Paul says, was Christ's freeman, and the master was Christ's slave. It did not matter whether they were rich or poor, high or low, wise or unlearned, they were lifted by their baptism to an equal wealth and nobility of spiritual riches and Divine sonship. This was the unity which St. Paul so prized. Here was, to his view, the hope of the world.
II. As St. Paul looked into the future he saw the vision of a splendid hope. The Body of Christ was growing as new members were being perpetually baptised into it. If only the unity could be preserved, that was the essential point. The conception of the body must be grasped and lived up to. The Christian life must be above all things a life of membership in the body.
What has been the result to the world of that little seed of unity which was planted in apostolic days? First, the fierce controversy between Jew and Gentile as to their rights and privileges within the Christian society has disappeared. Next, after many centuries the great curse of slavery has been removed from all Christian countries, and men are no longer bought and sold like cows and horses. Further, the provision of education for the very poorest has begun to do something to bridge the gulf which for so long divided those who could read from those who could not, and a way is opened for the workman's clever boy to reach the university. Something has been done, and we do well to take account of it. It is slow work, indeed, but yet the world moves, and this in spite of the fact that the Christian society has fallen so short of the Apostle's ideal, and has failed so conspicuously to keep the unity. If the unity had been kept, how great would the progress have been! As we look round today we are tempted to despair in view of the division among the Christians themselves. Where, we ask, is the humility that delights in lowly service, where is the mutual forbearance that makes quarrels impossible? What has become of the unity of the one body and the one Spirit? Must we sadly despair of the one hope of mankind? Has Christianity failed? If it has failed, or so far as it has failed, it has been because it has lost sight of its early ideal. It has forgotten to keep the unity. If it is to recover its ancient power, and to continue its sacred work, we must recover the lost ideal, we must realise the truth of the body and its members, we must cultivate the life of fellowship.
References. IV. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 607. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 248. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays After Trinity, p. 140. Archbishop Maclagan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 241. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 56. R. Kemp, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 340. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 155. Bishop Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 116. Basil Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, p. 85. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 112.
The call for unity is always attractive to the social instincts of mankind, and in times of danger it becomes a stirring cry. No one, I suppose, but a misanthrope, would desire, if it could be avoided, to remain at variance with his neighbour. And there are times when religion is threatened, or when evil seems to loom large, when we turn instinctively toothers for sympathy and help. Unity, whether of outward organisation or inward spirit, always stands for some kind of strength.
I. Our Unhappy Divisions. At the bottom, I suppose, of all our Christianity lies the one object that the whole world should be converted to Jesus Christ; and nothing, surely, can be more contrary to the mind of Him we call our Master, and by Whose name we are called, than the unhappy divisions of Christendom. St Paul comprises in the unity of the Spirit nine sources of oneness. When we have so much in common, how is it that we cannot forget the points on which we are not alike? We are bound to ask ourselves sometimes, What is the reason for this discordant element? Why is it that there has been hostility even to some of the historic survivals of primitive Christianity? St. Paul would not force unity into uniformity. He recognises that under the operation of the same Spirit there are diversity of gifts. But all are to be parts of the same body, joined together in Jesus Christ. We think, perhaps, of the sins of the official Church in the past; but I think it was not merely the unwisdom of the Church in those times towards those bodies or men who had new ideas which seemed to be contrary to the spirit of Christianity, but which have often proved to be merely a reinterpretation of its creeds. It was not merely the grasp of temporal power. It was not merely the un-Christian and careless lives of those who have at different times represented the Church. There must be some stronger reason than this why men who claim to be animated by the Spirit of Christ are yet very widely separated from each other. I suppose the dividing line is often found in the very primary conception of what the Church is.
II. The Basis of Unity. Unity, if it is something more than a mere philosophic dream, if it is to have something more than an abstract value, is bound to have some outward expression. It would seem from the first that the Church which was to be Christ's representative in the world must have some rules, some outward organisation, some officers who should be held responsible, and some form of belief which it could hand on as descriptive of the religion it maintained. History has brought to us certain wide divergencies of opinion as to the character of the essence of Church organisation. On the one side a great deal has been sacrificed to this ideal; while, on the other, liberty of conscience and opinion has become a sort of fetish. The Church of England holds a middle way between these two ideas. But surely the great thing for us when we aim at the unity of the Spirit, is to recognise that there is a great deal for the Church, and, while we hold fast our own interpretation of the best way to reach it, to recognise that others sincerely believe that there is a different interpretation of the facts.
III. A False Unity. At the same time, in religion, which demands the very highest exercise of all man's faculties, the truth is of the utmost importance, and for a man to acquiesce in anything which appears to him not to be the highest form of truth is for him to be a traitor to his nature which was made in the image of God. There can be, perhaps, no unity of the Spirit between a man who holds firmly the Divinity of Christ, and another who is entirely doubtful about Christ being God at all. Surely it is not compromise of this kind that is asked for. We believe that God has appointed the Church to convert the world through certain means of salvation; this is His way, and we have no right to choose another. Again and again we are implored in the New Testament to hold fast the form of sound words. We are warned against thinking that it does not matter what belief we have or how we express it in worship. These things, we are bound to remember, have really the closest relationship to practical life. But when we have put before ourselves this ideal of Christ's Church, when we have sincerely looked into our hearts and examined what our belief is, then we may go on to be charitable towards other people whom we may also sincerely believe have a different conception of the ideal.
'One Spirit' means that, just as in the fulness of time, the Eternal Son, Who had from all eternity been in the secrets of the Father's counsels, Who had been the agent in creation, Who had made all things, and without Whom was nothing made that was made, came forth to carry out their joint plan of Redemption with the cry, 'Lo! I am come to do Thy will, O God'; so also in the fulness of time from the heart of the same Godhead came forth God the Holy Spirit; and with the sound of a rushing mighty wind and with tongues of fire He came forth and tabernacled on earth as God the Son had done. This and nothing less is the awful truth, that He is as really on earth now as Jesus was in the home of Bethany, that He has never gone back, that there is an Ascension Day for God the Son, but that there is no Ascension Day for God the Holy Ghost.
I. What then is it that the Christian Church believes? (1) First, that He is a Person that He comforts, strengthens, guides, loves as only a Person can. (2) That He is a distinct Person; at the baptism of Jesus Christ, God the Father says: 'This is My beloved Son'. God the Son is in the water; but God the Holy Ghost descends in bodily form as a dove, distinct from the other two Persons of the Godhead. (3) That we live under His dispensation now; that these are the times of the Holy Spirit; and that we might as well describe a home and leave out the mother's love, as describe religion and leave out the 'One Spirit'.
II. How is 'One Spirit' the secret of a peaceful, loving, and progressive religious life? We see in a moment by looking at the functions the Spirit came into the world to fulfil. (1) He came first, we are told, 'to take of Christ and show Him to us'; He was to make Christianity real to us; He was to take of the cross and bring its meaning home to us, and so convict the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment; He was so to work upon our hearts as to make us cry each to ourselves as we look at the cross: 'He loved me and gave Himself for me'. (2) He was to give us the sense of the Fatherhood of God and help our infirmities in prayer. (3) The express object and aim of the One Spirit was to draw us together, to make the world good and to make it one.
III. What, then, are we to do in order to put ourselves in connection with the moving Power of the Spiritual world? (1) We are told to ask for Him to come. To pray for the Holy Spirit means to put yourself in a frame of mind to which the Holy Spirit can come. It means (a) Self-examination. (b) Surrender. (c) Obedience.
IV. But suppose you do all this, and pray for guidance to the 'One Spirit,' and then apparently are guided wrong? What are we to say? (1) There is no promise at all that the immediate results of the guidance will appear. We must hear what the years and centuries may say against the hours.
Winnington-Ingram, Banners of the Christian Faith, p. 133.
References. IV. 4. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 207. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 498. IV. 4-6. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 212. IV. 5. J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 19. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 39. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 203. IV. 5, 6. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 111. IV. 6. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 173. W. M. Sinclair, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 240. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 334.
Henri Perreyve writes: 'We must indeed admire that flexibility of the Christian faith, which makes it accessible, even in the practice of perfection, to souls of very different kinds. Thus the same faith, the same worship, the same morality lead to heaven the soul of a profound philosopher like Thomas of Aquinas and the soul of a poor village child.' Lettres de Henri Perreyve a un Ami d'Enfance, p. 252.
References. IV. 7. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 199. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 207. IV. 7-12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 982. IV. 8. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 103. W. Knight Chaplin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 70. H. J. C. Knight, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 2. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 195. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 271. IV. 8-10. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iii. pp. 242, 361. IV. 8-12. J. Clifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 88. IV. 8-13. T. H. Ball, Persuasions, p. 195. IV. 9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 85; ibid. vol. vi. pp. 145, 334; ibid. vol. vii. p. 222. IV. 9-10. G. Bellett, Parochial Sermons, p. 197. IV. 10. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 108. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 114. IV. 11. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 16. IV. 11, 12. J. B. Brown, Aids to the Development of the Divine Life, No. vi. W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 110. J. Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 201. IV. 11-13. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 195. Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 35. IV. 12. Bishop Creighton, University and other Sermons, p. 138.
Till and Until
The immediate point is not what we are coming to, but the fact that we are coming, and that something is coming to us, and that this double action is the secret of the inspiration, the culture, the strengthening of our innermost life. The text therefore is 'till... until,' the something that says, You have not finished yet; there is another hill to climb, and then you will see it; there is another stream to ford, and on the other bank of that stream you will see what flowers can grow, and how mean are all the plants on this side the river. Till the sunshine comes, till the heavenly band appears and sends its thundering anthem through the quivering sky; till then, hope on! You have not yet arrived, but you are proceeding, you are on the right road, and you have this little singing word to cheer you in all your climbing and in all your descending and in all your fighting and in all your sorrow, 'until !'
The keyword is till or until; the same word, the same idea, and that idea an idea of encouragement and assurance, a word to hide in the heart and to listen to in the darkness when there seems to be no 'until,' when there seems to be but one settled frown on the brow of time. Yet the custodians of God's decrees, the Divinely appointed priests of the eternal ark, are enabled to hear the sweet word 'until,' and such men, unknown, mayhap despised, have kept the world alive.
I. Where does this word 'till' or 'until' occur? Where all the great words occur, as I have told you a thousand times. Where do all the great words occur? In the Book of Genesis; and you have never read it! I speak not to the few who are familiar with the Divine Word, but to the many who never read it. You do not read the Divine Word when you only read it in the letter. The Divine Word is not a letter, but a spirit; it is not written music, but music sung and music brayed out from brass and throbbed as it were on living drums. We must go to Genesis for our first grand 'until' (chapter 49:10). Jacob is dying, he knows that his life is slowly but certainly trickling away; he calls all his sons around him, and makes such speeches as mortal man never made either before or since; and most of you have never read them! Never was such eloquence heard before; there are no forged climaxes, no mechanically built periods, no half-forgotten and hesitant recitations; but great, grand, flowing eloquence. When the patriarch came to his son Judah he waxed almost as eloquent as when he came to his son Joseph, but not altogether as eloquent. The old man was at his best when his hands as it were groped for the head of Joseph, but he was beautiful when he spake to Judah Judah who bore an awful scar of unfaithfulness and badness, but which was much covered up, if not wholly healed, by processes of grace which only experienced souls understand. Said Jacob, 'The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come'. There is the 'till' or the 'until,' the word of promise, the gleam of hope, the pledged morning. No man can tell us what 'Shiloh' means; we have had the word in Hebrew and in Greek, and we have called around it a whole marketplace of expositors, a whole gallery and sanhedrin of learned men, but they can make nothing really final out concerning all the wells and fountains and springs that are hidden in this word Shiloh. But there is a Christian acceptation of the term, which is sufficient for us. The ancient Jews, indeed, associated the name Messiah with the word Shiloh, and regarded them as practically interchangeable terms; but the ancient Jews did not know Messiah as we know Him; therefore we must attach a Christian interpretation to Shiloh, and find him in Bethlehem, and on Calvary, and on Olivet, and away yonder in the midst of the temple of intercession.
II. Another 'until' we find in Psalms 73:17 , 'Until I went into the sanctuary'. Then I saw all about it. The sanctuary is the only place where you can see everything, Church or State, just as it is. You see nothing really until you see it from the point of the altar. The religious soul, the soul that bathes itself in the stream of the Divine wisdom and the Divine light, is the greatest soul under heaven.
III. We might call on our way in the house of Canticles, the house of the love-dreams, and there in chapter 2:17 we shall read, 'Until the day break and the shadows flee away'. That is a grand 'until'. Is it possible that the sun can find his way through all the grey cold clouds of December? Is there a day promised? Will the day break? Who ever heard the gates of the morning creak as they swung back on their golden hinges? Who ever heard a cramping army bringing up the sun as if by strength of muscle? Who ever heard the stars make a noise? Yet through all this wondrous process of the suns there is a silent march, a silent incoming of the Messianic period, and when the day breaks upon the grave, the grave shall be as a cradle; and when the day breaks on sorrow and sickness, failure, disappointment, and manifold misery, we shall see the whole sphere of life in its proper colours, relations, and proportions, and find that God has been busy in the darkness. God does wonderful things in the night time; what He has done in the sanctuary of densest darkness we shall never know till the shadows flee away; then we shall find that all the while He has been building a palace for us, a right glorious and royal house, and making things ready for our souls away beyond the humble paths of the stars which now we think a long way off, but we shall think them a longer way off still when we get above them and look down on them with a kind of gracious contempt of their twinkling and quivering lamps. Hope on! There is a word in the wintry air, a song in the wintry night 'Until!'
IV. Paul's idea of 'until' was a coming to the measure of the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus. Perfect does not mean what it is often supposed to mean and what people get up more or less futile and senseless meetings for the purpose of promoting. There are no perfect men in that narrow sense. There is probably no sin greater in its possible implications than sinlessness as it is narrowly and imperfectly understood. Not until resurrection has done for the body what regeneration has done for the soul shall we know the meaning of 'perfect' in its moral and spiritual sense. Meanwhile, it may signify the culmination of a new period, the advancement, chapter after chapter, of a new book, promotion after promotion to school after school in the higher academies of creation; it may mean as much as can be done here and now, but not perfection except as the end is the beginning of another period. The Bible ends, Revelation can only begin.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 252.
The Perfect Man
Christ gave His gifts to men that they might grow up to be men, and reach that perfect manhood in which there is no error or infirmity.
I. The body has to be seen to if we would be perfect men; an unhealthy body is a great hindrance.
II. The full and free use of all our intellectual powers, whatever they may be, is necessary to the attainment of the perfect manhood.
III. Above all, we must see to the complete development of our moral nature.
W. C. Smith, The Scottish Review, vol. VII. p. 443.
References. IV. 13. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 313. H. J. C. Knight, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 2. T. G. Bonney, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 940. Bishop King, The Love and Wisdom of God (A Sermon for Railway Men), p. 186. R. J. Drummoud, Faith's Certainties, p. 275. W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, p. 177. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 148. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 216. IV. 13, 14. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 31. IV. 13-15. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 198.
I. The Apostle suggests to us a grave impediment to religious growth. 'That we henceforth be no more children.' (1) The words before us imply that doctrinal fickleness is inconsistent with advanced religious life. It is the symptom of childishness, a state that must be outgrown before the standard of Christ can be in any sense reached. We smile at the tastes of those eccentric orientals who have brought themselves to admire a cramped foot and tottering gait in their women, and yet there is a sphere in which some of us show a taste as perverted as that. We praise faith in proportion to the crippled daintiness of its foothold and the diameter of the oscillations it describes in its clumsy effort at progress. With some people, doctrinal fickleness is the fashionable trick that stamps a man a member of the higher coteries of culture. (2) The Apostle traces back the diverse teaching that issues in doctrinal inconstancy to the loose moral conditions of the society in which his readers lived.
II. The conditions of religious growth are suggested in the words before us. 'But speaking the truth in love.' Alford translates, 'Being followers of the truth'; and Ellicott, 'Holding the truth in love'. It is only in the sphere of the renewed affections that the perception of truth in its ultimate certainties is possible. Do not hanker too anxiously after scientific verification for the highest religious truth. The highest spiritual truth can only be known through spiritualised affections. The touchstone of truth is its power of promoting moral growth, and little moral growth seems possible to us away from the atmosphere of Divine love diffused through the ministries of the Church.
III. The standard of Christian growth. 'May grow up into Him in all things which is the Head, even Christ.' His life was spotless, and the sacrifice unwavering and absolute a continuous daily carrying of the cross on which He died, because the faith was unclouded and steadfast. And this unclouded vision of God and of the world for which He gave Himself was received and sustained through the Spirit that descended upon Him in visible witness at His baptism, when the heavens were opened to His humanity, and the glory of the far-off wonders streamed into the nature He had received of the Virgin. The standard is put up for us in Jesus Christ. And it is this same Spirit which prepared this humanity and then inhabited it with constant light, which proceeds from Him to us, which works through the true Christian ministry in all its forms, and will, if we are followers of the truth in love, take us up even into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
In some of the typhoons that sweep the coasts of Eastern Asia, trees that are torn up by the roots not infrequently suffer less permanent injury than trees to which no visible damage has been done. I have seen a tree, blown down after it had attained a height of ten or fifteen feet, strike a new root at the summit of the old growth, and thrive again for years. Trees, on the other hand, from which scarcely a bough has been snapped, die from the mere shock their sensitive fibres receive in the storm. I have seen men who were my contemporaries in theological study turn their backs upon the Christian ministry and become leading sceptics. The hurtling storm broke, and they were plucked up by the roots. I am not so sure that their destiny is so sad as that of other men I know, who have retained every separate article of their creed intact, but the sensitive fibres of whose faith have been so agitated by the passing controversies, that their beliefs, whilst retaining the old logical completeness, have almost ceased to be vital and operative.
T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, p. 119.
References. IV. 14. W. B. Selbie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 294. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 207.
We are reading in Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. It is more like walking through a forest than dallying in a garden. We must in many a case give up his grammar and acquaint ourselves with the music of his soul. Paul did not write much; when he did write he wrote as a blind man might be supposed to write, in large capital letters, saying, 'Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand'. Poor weak-eyed man, he could hardly see the boldest capitals which he inscribed upon his paper; and as a tired man he thought he had done more than he really had done; he thought it was a large letter because it took so much out of him. There are many standards of measurement.
I. We have come to the fourteenth verse of the fourth chapter: 'That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.'
Yet we must always be children. Children are so good that we baptise them; we receive them into our arms with this certificate, written in light and perfumed in the incense of the morning, 'Of such is the kingdom of God,' and we baptise them with the dew of the morning. Yet we must in another sense no longer be children, we must not tarry in the cradle; he would be a monster, not a man, who at thirty years of age still needed to be rocked to sleep in his cradle. It is in these things that we are not to be children; not in the child-sense, the childlike sense, the little clinging, trustful child-sense; always that; in that sense the heavens are full of cradles. To God we must always be beginning; to the Infinite we must always be little sparklets, mere specks and blossoms of things, holding within us great and solemn possibilities. In another sense we are not to be childish, foolish, receiving instruction and letting it fall out of the mind as soon as it gets into it; in that sense let us be no more children, tossed to and fro, carried about by every wind; that is the children's little game, and for children it is natural and it is pleasant.
II. Look what an image of human nature is given in these words 'alienated from the life of God.' The whole of the eighteenth verse is a great nocturne, it is a picture struck out of a cloud, it is a statue hewn out of sevenfold midnight. 'Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them.' 'Alienated from the life of God' O how shall we represent that isolation, that desolated orphanage? Shall we imagine a tree taking its roots out of the earth and placing itself upon the face of a rock that it may have no more connection with the soil? for the soil is full of light, the soil is full of dew; though there be no rain on the surface, there is dew at the core. We dig down to dew, and in all the strata through which we dig we are cutting sunshine to pieces; the earth is a store of morning, a gallery piled with sunshine. Shall we imagine the poor tree saying, I will have none of it, I will tear myself out of this place, and instead of seeking to plant myself in another part of the soil I will lay myself down on the rock and turn my roots to the morning sun? It cannot be; for a day or two it may seem as though it were a possibility and even a fact, but only for a day or two; the tree must be rooted in the earth as the earth is rooted in God, where all things grow harmonically, proportionately, sympathetically, and tree waves to tree as hymn might sing to hymn. There is a dread possibility of a man taking himself out of the current of things. The soul that takes itself out of the appointed currents shall die Many persons are trying to live without God; they are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them. They do not know that other people are praying for them, they do not understand the philosophy of intercession. We know not who may be praying for us in the general assembly and Church of the firstborn; but we know that Jesus Christ Himself ever liveth to make intercession for us.
In the nineteenth verse there is an expression more terrible, if possible, than we have yet come upon. 'Past feeling.' Read the whole verse: 'Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness'. 'Past feeling.' Is not he past feeling who for thirty years has heard the Gospel preached with simplicity and pathos and power, and is today a worm of the earth, a groveller in the mud? 'Past feeling': the spring comes without being hailed and saluted, and the summer is allowed to pass by without a smile of recognition, and the golden autumn is only regarded as a contribution to the marketplace, and all the jewellery of frost and all the spotless linen of the mountain snow go for nothing, because he who was made in the image and likeness of God has lost sensibility and power of response to all poetic and ideal and spiritual appeals.
III. In all this magnificent portrayal of human nature there are top-lights, half-lights, bright lights, gleamings above the brightness of the sun. For example, Paul talks about coming 'into a perfect man'. He will not despair at all the rubbish which he has been portraying and pathetically describing; he sees the possibility of growth. A perfect man means a mature man, a full-grown man who has reached the highest inch of his possible stature, not a perfect man in any merely sentimental and pietistic sense, but full grown. The orchard is perfect when the apples are ready for plucking; the acres are perfect when the golden grain swings in the gentle breeze, and says without words, I am ready to be cut down and to be turned into bread.
And what a beautiful expression we find in the fifteenth verse 'speaking the truth in love': truth-ing it in love, doing everything in love; growing up into Him in all things in love; finding our duty in love. If we lose this power of love we cannot do any duty, we cannot be our best selves. It is motive that gives a man the true self-possession.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 210.
After Macaulay had published his article in the Edinburgh Review on Gladstone's ecclesiastical views, the latter wrote a letter to him, containing the following words: 'In those lacerating times one clings to everything of personal kindness in the past, to husband it for the future; and, if you will allow me, I shall earnestly desire to carry with me such a recollection of your mode of dealing with a subject upon which the attainment of truth, we shall agree, so materially depends upon the temper in which the search for it is instituted and conducted'.
In his Apologia (ch. I.), speaking of Thomas Scott's writings, Newman says that for years he used 'almost as proverbs what I considered to be the scope and issue of his doctrine, "Holiness rather than peace," and "growth the only evidence of life"'.
References. IV. 15. A. S. Ray, Penny Pulpit, No. 1679, p. 471. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 143. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 27. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 215. W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 365. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 40. IV. 15, 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2653. J. Denney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 312. J. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 1. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 172.
The Church, the Body of Christ
I. The Church itself is spoken of in terms that suggest both the inter-adaptation and cohesion of its parts. As in the natural body there is no friction between the several members, but all work smoothly together, so it is in the body of Christ. Different gifts are not to be ranged in rivalry, as though each existed irrespectively of the rest, and with a view to independent ends. Each contributes in its own way to the efficiency of the whole, so that none can be suppressed or unduly discouraged without the general good being a sufferer thereby. Moreover, each in itself is incomplete, and depends upon others for producing its full and appropriate effect, as musical notes only attain their maximum of expression in harmonious combinations.
II. The sole source of the Church's life is Christ. All Christians admit that from Christ originally every gift and quickening influence proceeds. The points of difference appear when you begin to ask about the means through which these are conveyed. The great thing is to keep in mind that it is to Christ Himself in the last resort we must be indebted, and that anything connected with the Church is serviceable to us just in so far as it brings us into connection with Him. For what is true of the whole Church is also true of its individual members; and, indeed, only becomes true of her by being true of them. It is by that which every joint supplies, by the contact of souls each with its living Lord, that she is fitly joined together and compacted.
III. St. Paul here describes the manner of the Church's growth. It is harmonious, according to the working in due measure of each several part. As the excessive growth of any one limb disfigures the body and impairs its general usefulness, so the undue cultivation of any special gift, or the over-accentuation of any particular doctrines, will lead to a one-sided development of the Church's activity and life. In order to advance there must be some sort of equilibrium and unity of movement. Growth is not growth when, in a complex organism, it only involves a part of the whole. It is simply a process of malformation. In like manner extreme developments of ritualism or extreme protests against it: exclusive devotion to one favourite truth, without paying attention to others that counterbalance and correct it; an absorbing pursuit of one kind of excellence or usefulness contribute not to the strength but to the weakness of the Church. Lastly, St. Paul sets before us the god or aim of the Church's growth: that it may edify itself in love. But remember that the love to which St. Paul refers is not merely a sentiment or feeling of fervour. He speaks of that grace which is the fulfilling of the law, and synonymous with the bearing of one another's burdens.
C. Moinet, The Great Alternative and Other Sermons, p. 247.
References. IV. 16. W. M. Sinclair, Words from St. Paul's, p. 113. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 41.
The Christian Life
Ephesians 4:17 ; Ephesians 4:1
I. Who is it that makes this appeal? It is St. Paul, one of the most majestic figures in the history of God's work in the world, who has heard the call and made himself a faithful answer to it. We must remember that St. Paul was now in prison, and so far from his condition of imprisonment, so far from that withholding him or checking him in the mighty work to which he had been called, and in his faithfulness to that call, indeed, we may say that, as a matter of history, it only emboldened him, made him more brave, made him persevere, made him cling the more, made him full of living, earnest zeal and charity towards his fellowmen. Yes, we see that, if we look below the surface, God's power does not work in the tossing of the storm, or in the devouring power of fire, or in the violence of earthquakes; it is rather in the still small Voice. And so it was in that small Voice, so to speak, within his state of imprisonment, that St. Paul's power was increased, and it was from that state of imprisonment in Rome that he, as it were, captured the whole world for Christ at all times.
II. 'I beseech you.' There is his earnest appeal. He has done it himself; he has listened to the call and obeyed it to the utmost, to the abandoning of everything in the world which his lower ambitions pointed to. Everything he sacrificed to this great call of Heaven, and he lived the life afterwards in entire obedience to the Lord. Well, there is the one who appeals to us, and to this appeal we all ought to listen. What is it he points to? It is the calling of the Christians to God's service. He remembered that call from Heaven 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?' First of all, that call from above comes home to every soul who listens to Heaven's inspiration; and then the life which follows that call, the obedience for which that call asks. 'Follow Me,' not merely 'Listen to Me,' but 'Follow Me'. There is the calling of the Christian first, and then his life, the life of service, the life of unselfishness, the life of the love of heavenly things, the life of faith, of true purity and self-abandonment, following Jesus Christ, following on in the way of your own salvation, following on in the noble work of uplifting man from his state of sin and death, helping God in the great cause of the regeneration of the world this is the calling of the Christian, this is what God wants. Every one of us, old and young, rich and poor, has to go to Him, and live His life, and join in His splendid work for the salvation of mankind.
III. Then St. Paul follows on to give some marks of the Christian life. 'With all lowliness and meekness.' Are not these two of the Beatitudes? 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' What is that but lowliness and humbleness of mind, the conquest and the putting out of our hearts of all boastful intentions, all envy and jealousy of others? And then, again, meekness. Is not that another of the Beatitudes? 'Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.' The quiet ones, who do not use the sword, who turn from fleshly weapons to the weapons of the Spirit these are the ones who win the world and inherit the world. St. Paul has another mark of the Christian soul, 'longsuffering,' the longsuffering which is the virtue contrary to impatience, putting up with things which are contrary, crosses which have to be borne, difficulties which have to be met, temptations which have to be fought, going on perseveringly, unyieldingly, putting faith in God and going on with the battle for God's sake, because God can never fail, and if you belong to God He will not let you finally be vanquished. 'Forbearing one another in love.' Instead of these impatient and quick condemnations of others, these quick and hard judgments bestowed upon others. these unkind thoughts which spring so readily into our minds, this forbearance, forbearing one another, holding yourself in, checking yourself when some angry or unkind and uncharitable thought arises here is another mark of the Christian soldier, of him or her who is true to the vocation and calling. 'Forbearing one another in love,' because we are all one body. Then he passes to that fifth mark of the Christian faithfulness to the Christian calling, charity, the Spirit of unity. Then he ends by reminding us what is the real underlying bond to which we are called, and to which we in duty ought to try to be true our Lord, because we are all one. So he ends this part of the appeal by speaking of the great unities of God.
IV. Look over the world, look above the world into the millions of the stars of the Heavens, look back over the centuries which have passed, and there seems sometimes to be an enormous, endless variety of change. But it all goes back to the One great Author, and Creator, and Lord of all. Or, look again at the different human beings, their different talents, tastes, and places of living, and ages of living. How different they all are, what an individuality! And yet God calls all men into the mystical body. You ought to be one in spirit, full of love, charity, and forbearance, and humble towards all men because you belong to one body, comprising different conditions, gifts, works, states of life, but one body.
References. IV. 17. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 196. IV. 17-19. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 201. IV. 17-32. E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 111. IV. 19. O. Bronson, Sermons, p. 149. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 203; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 218. IV. 20. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 145. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 118.
Christ Our Lesson and Our Teacher
The words which I have selected as my text are but a fragment of a closely concatenated whole, but I may deal with them separately. They lay, as it seems to me, the basis for all Christian conduct
I. Christ our Lesson and Christ our Teacher. The relation of the person of Jesus Christ to all that He has to teach and reveal to the world is altogether different from that of all other teachers of all sorts of truths, to the truth which they proclaim. You can accept the truths and dismiss into oblivion the men from whom you got them. But you cannot reject Christ and take Christianity. (1) Christ our Lesson The sum of all duty, the height of all moral perfectness, the realised ideal of humanity is in Christ, and the true way to know what a man or a nation is to do is to study Him. (2) Christ our Teacher The conception of Christ as a teacher which is held by many who deny His redeeming work and dismiss as incredible His Divinity seems to me altogether inadequate, unless it be supplemented by the belief that He now has and exercises the power of communicating wisdom and knowledge and warning and stimulus to waiting hearts. Reverence the inward monitor.
II. The Condition of Learning the Lesson and Hearing the Teacher. Unless we keep ourselves in union with Jesus Christ His voice will not be heard in our hearts, and the lesson will pass unlearned. If we would keep ourselves, by faith, by love, by meditation, by aspiration, by the submission of the will, and by practical obedience, in Jesus Christ, enclosed in Him, as it were then, and then only, shall we hear Him speak. What does a student in a school of design do? He puts his feeble copy of some great picture beside the original, and compares it touch for touch, line for line, shade for shade, and so corrects its errors. Take your lines to the Exemplar in that fashion, and go over them bit by bit.
III. The Test and Result of having Learned the Lesson and Listened to the Teacher is Unlikeness to Surrounding Corruption. It is just as needful as ever it was, though in different ways, for Christians to exhibit unlikeness to the world. I do not want you to make yourselves singular. A Christian man's unlikeness to the world consists a great deal more in doing or being what it does not do and is not, than in not doing or being what it does and is.
A. Maclaren, Christ's Musts, p. 137.
References. IV. 20, 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2719. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 224. IV. 20-24. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 64. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 1. IV. 21. W. F. Adeney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 84. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 45. Penny Pulpit, No. 1573, p. 215. IV. 22. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 202; ibid. vol. iii. p. 138. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 233.
Unclothed and Clothed Upon
Ephesians 4:22 ; Ephesians 4:24
The great lesson for Christian people, which tests the reality of their discipleship, is this double exhortation, 'put off the old... put on the new'.
I. The actual self, which must be got rid of. This old self has for its characteristic that it is governed by, shaped by lust. Paul's notion of 'the lusts of the flesh' includes not only gluttony and drunkenness and uncleanness of other sorts, but also the most purely mental desires; such as ambition and love of fame. (1) The Apostle's next thought is: these desires are liars. And is not that true? What does it mean that men have got two names for almost all sorts of vices; one of which they apply to their own sins, one which they keep for other people's? Why is licentiousness called 'sowing wild oats'? why is miserliness called 'prudence'? (2) And then, says the Apostle, these desires which lie make the man that obeys them steadily progressive in corruption. So many a life very fair in external appearance is really in its depths rotting away by self-indulgence, corrupting with 'lusts of deceit'.
II. The new self which may be put on. As deceit is the characteristic of the one, so truth is the origin and source of the other. The Apostle suggests by these characteristics the motives for, and the possibility of realising this magnificent ideal, and being renewed in ourselves by a new self. So then here are the thoughts which he thus packs together. (1) A Divine creative act in Jesus Christ is ready to give to every one of us a real new self and a new life straight from God. (2) This possible new life will be fashioned after the Divine likeness. It is created after God, instead of being moulded by the pressure of these earth-born and earth-desiring lusts. The true likeness of man to God, which is lost in man's sin, lies in his moral nature, his love of good, his hatred of evil.
III. Our double task put off, put on. We must daily not only be thwarting our inclinations, for that is a poor affair, but be getting rid of the inclinations themselves. You cannot destroy the desires, but you can divert them. Make a new bed for the river, and the old bed will soon be left dry.
A. Maclaren, Christ's Musts, p. 148.
References. IV. 22-24. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 89. IV. 23, 24. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 200. IV. 24. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 212. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 122. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 247.
The Great Human Brotherhood
The words mean that each individual of the human race is related to every other, just as the several organs and limbs of our body are related. The assertion is usually made of those who are united to Christ by faith, as if they were one, the connected parts of one body. Here, however, the truth is given a wider range. It is applied to every man's neighbour, and if we ask 'Who is my neighbour'? the answer is given in a certain parable which we are not likely to forget. The Apostle is repeating here one of his favourite thoughts, a thought insisted upon in one Epistle after another, and expressed in a variety of ways: 'None of us liveth to himself; 'There is one family in heaven and earth'. Each life is part and parcel of the larger universal life. Humanity is one bundle strung together by its Creator.
Now this was one of the greatest strides which human thought ever made. When St. Paul saw and announced this truth he lifted himself two thousand years and more ahead of his own generation. Let me remind you of some of its applications how it is true both in the particular and the universal, affecting us in things near and in things remote. 'We are members one of another.'
I. It is exemplified in the home circle. There we get our elementary lessons in it, and learn to understand its wider applications in the world outside. God teaches us all the rudiments of religion in that primary school. A well-ordered Christian home gives us the truest picture that we can find on earth of the heaven above. In the tender love of parents we get our first and best conceptions of the Divine Fatherhood, and in the pains and burdens which a mother suffers for her child is the everlasting type of that vicarious principle which is seated and enthroned in the very heart and government of God. Around the fireside, on the domestic hearth, we are for ever unconsciously weaving the 'pattern of things in the mount'.
II. This principle is enforced in every aspect of Church life.
The Church is the household of God, subject to the same common impulses, movements, and conditions as an ordinary home. In moral and spiritual things, especially, we are bound intimately together. We share out our gifts, and he who climbs to the mountain-tops of faith draws others after him. Everywhere in the religious life there are these mighty currents of sympathetic feeling and action. We are carried forward and backward together on the same flowing and ebbing waves.
III. And now I ask you to take the words in their widest range. They are true of the greater world outside the Church, true of the nation and of the whole human family. We are constantly having the fact brought home to us that all souls are God's, and therefore ours; that humanity is one, that all sections, classes, communities, and races are governed, swayed, or affected in varying degrees by the same forces, influences, agencies, and movements. The world is joined by sympathetic cords. Railways, ships, and electric cables are all helping to reveal to us God's thought of His one family. He maketh the winds His angels, His messengers flaming fire, and all events, when rightly understood, enforce the Gospel truth that 'He hath made of one blood all nations of men'. 'We are members one of another.'
J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 107.
References. IV. 25. E. McClure, A Lent in London, p. 10. J. G. Greenhough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 154. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (3rd Series), p. 146. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 366; ibid. vol. xi. p. 282.
Anger kept till the next morning, with manna, doth putrefy and corrupt.... St. Paul saith Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, to carry news to the antipodes in another world of thy revengeful nature. Yet let us take the Apostle's meaning rather than his words, with all possible speed to depose our passion; not understanding him literally, so that we may take leave to be angry till sunset; then might our wrath lengthen with the days, and even in Greenland, where day lasts above a quarter of a year, have plentiful scope for revenge. And as the English; by command from William the Conqueror, always raked up their fires and put out their candles, when the curfew-bell was rung, let us then also quench all sparks of anger and heat of passion.
The falling of a tea-cup puts us out of temper for a day; and a quarrel that commenced about the pattern of a gown may end only with our lives.
Hazlitt, Winterslow (ch. VII.).
'Call for the grandest of all earthly spectacles,' says de Quincey ( Confessions of an Opium-Eater ),' what is that? It is the sun going to his rest. Call for the grandest of all human sentiments, what is that? It is, that man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep.'
References. IV. 26. Christianity in Daily Conduct, p. 89. A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 166. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 100; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 442; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 197; ibid. vol. xi. p. 142. IV. 28. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 277. IV. 29. A. Bradley, Sermons Chiefly on Character, p. 20. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 63.
Grieve Not the Spirit
How sad it is to grieve a friend! But to grieve the best of friends, Who never, never has misrepresented to us the love of God and the possibility of our own lives, but Whom we so often grieve in ways that must not be forgotten, this indeed seems more than sad, more than culpable. I speak then of three simple ways that we are to avoid by which we might be grieving the Holy Spirit of God.
I. By Lack of Christian Charity. We do so often forget that through want of love to the brethren we are grieving that Spirit of God Who is the Spirit of love Selfishness no doubt is at the root of our want of love to the brethren. And not only selfishness but that narrowness of spirit which prevents one seeing the good in others and from realising that Christ is leading them on perhaps quite as much as He is leading us on, and therefore that love to the brethren ought to be extended far wider than we are accustomed to allow it to extend; we are to take care that we love others no less than we believe God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost must love them. Beware, then, of want of love to the brethren.
II. By Wilfully Indulged Sin. 'If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.' And can we forget that any wilfully indulged sin, any allowance of ourselves in ways that we know instinctively, intuitively, must grieve the Spirit of God, ought never to be followed for a single instant. Loyalty to the laws of God, loyalty and obedience to those plain laws written upon our hearts, which God has implanted within us, must necessarily be obeyed. Beware, then, that no word of yours ever is allowed to raise evil thoughts in the minds of others or to do them harm. Beware that no thoughts are allowed to be cherished for a moment in your breast which might lead you in any way to defile the temple of God and to grieve that gracious Spirit; but rather determine that in sincerity and openness of heart and mind, in singleness of aim, with a clear purpose to do that which is right in the sight of God, you are indeed pure-hearted and striving to do that which Christ has taught you to do in all things.
III. By Distrust of the Love of God. He calls us His children; He has done all things on purpose to bring us into union and harmony with Himself; He bids us by the Spirit that He gives us look up to Him and call Him, 'Abba, Father'; and how it must grieve Him when after all we distrust that love of God, when we think that somehow things must be wrong with God, and that He is not watching over and caring for us, instead of feeling that our own hearts are out of gear, that the machinery will not work because we have allowed it to become clogged with evil or have not in any way used it aright. And the same gracious Spirit brings us back to God, and therefore must there be the constant prayer from us that He would return to us if we have driven Him away, so that we by His power may return again to our God.
The Church at Ephesus was regarded by St. Paul as a model of the Church universal. But he does not lose sight of its failures. The world, and Satan, and the flesh are opposed to it, and therefore abuses and disorders arose in it St. Paul warns its members against these evils, and then reminds them of their duties and privileges.
I. A Strict Prohibition. 'Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.' The Holy Spirit is the crown of Divine gifts; and His high office is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto His redeemed. For these reasons He must not be grieved by them; but, alas! they do grieve Him. How?
(a) By neglecting the monitions of conscience. The conscience is God's vicegerent and our monitor the light within us, just as the sun is the light without us. If the conscience then is unheeded or silenced, the Holy Spirit, Who works immediately and necessarily with it, is disappointed and grieved, because it is no longer available to His blessed influence and power.
(b) By substituting material for spiritual religion. Many were guilty of this in apostolic days, and St. Paul had often to guard the spiritually minded against this evil. Witness his Epistles to Timothy. Does the same necessity exist now? Professing Christians are found everywhere departing from the simplicity of the Christian faith. What follows? Doubts, declensions, falls. Such turning away from the faith, with all its accompanying mischiefs, must grieve the Holy Spirit.
(c) By trifling with the sacred things of God. The Bible is sacred, so is the Sabbath, so is the temple, and so are Divinely-appointed ordinances. If the Book of books is left unread, or read with indifference, as if it were only a human composition or a fable; if the Sabbath 'the pearl of days' is devoted to carnal pleasure instead of the glory of 'the Lord of the Sabbath'; if the sanctuary is entered with irreverence instead of awe; and if religious ordinances are performed without 'the unction of the Holy One' all this is trifling with the sacred things of God, and the Holy Spirit is grieved.
II. A Gracious Privilege. 'Whereby' or in Whom 'ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.' All Christians are sealed with an immovable royal seal, which bears on it the image and superscription of Christ, and this seal is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself.
(a) His sealing declares Christians to be the property of God. Christ redeemed them for Himself, and God has accepted them from Him.
(b) His sealing consecrates them for the service of God . 'For ye are bought with a price,' says St. Paul; 'therefore glorify God in your body and spirit, which are God's.' We may always be serving God, and this service of God is the sole thing which makes life desirable and momentous. Business is weariness; pleasure is vanity; ambition is disappointment; but the service of God is blessedness.
(c) His sealing makes them sure for the day of God. It is not for this life only, but for that which is to come. It expands to the day when God Himself will display His glory in noontide splendour: the day of days, which will never be darkened by night.
Grieving the Spirit
There seems to be something touching in the exhortation, because, you know, you can only grieve a friend; you cannot grieve an enemy. You may anger an enemy, but it is only our friend that we grieve. Therefore, remember that this exhortation reminds you of the love of the spirit. 'Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.'
I. Why is He Grieved? (1) Because of His own character, because He is holy. Can you imagine what it is for the Holy Spirit to live in a sin-stained world? We can understand how, when our Lord Jesus Christ was upon earth enduring that contradiction of sinners against Himself, He must often have sighed as he saw the sin and suffering round about Him. So the Holy Spirit is grieved because He is holy. (2) And then the Holy Spirit is grieved for our sins. (3) The Holy Spirit is grieved because every sin on the part of the Christian is a stumbling-block to others.
II. How do You Grieve Him? Well, here in this chapter he suggests four ways. (1) In the first place, in the nineteenth verse, by acts of sins. O Christian, remember, your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost What a sanctifying influence that should have! (2) Then, in the twenty-fifth verse, by untruthfulness. Put away all lying, and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. (3) Lastly, by sins of the tongue. All evil speaking is hateful to the spirit of God. If there is one prayer which you ought to pray with all your soul, it should be this: 'O God, take not Thy Holy Spirit from me!'
E. A. Stuart, The Divine Presence and other Sermons, vol. VI. p. 89.
References. IV. 30. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 278, and vol. xiii. No. 738. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 86. F. V. Dodgson, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 1228. J. Martineau, Christian World Pulpit, vol. Hi. p. 129. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 193. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 307. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. pp. 274, 279. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 262.
It is difficult to understand how some people can have the courage to be unforgiving, day after day, week after week. They go to sleep, they wake up again; they hear the birds sing; they see the sun shine upon the just and the unjust; a thousand blessings are theirs; but still they hold out and refuse their own blessing to the offenders. They hear of sorrows that can never be healed; they hear of joys befalling their fellowmen; they realise life and death, and it does not occur to them that there is no death like that of coldness and estrangement.
Reference. IV. 31. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 287.
Bad temper is a serious factor in the misery of this sombre, suffering world; and yet it is a subject to which scanty allusion is made. There is no region of human life in which bad temper does not leave its trail of unhappiness. It works quite as much pain and disaster as the graver delinquencies for which we reserve a stern reprobation.
I. Bad temper sometimes manifests itself as chronic querulousness, inbred disability for being pleased, an inclination to blame others for the mischances and mortifications of life, big and little alike. Every thorn in the wilderness becomes a grievance against the pilgrim companion, a mememto of Paradise Lost, which at once suggests the idea of making others do penance for the inferior environment which frets us. Again, it shows itself in rasping, dictatorial aggressiveness of speech and manner.
II. This unhappy frailty is often the product of a temperament highly refined and sensitised, and men and women who are the very elect of their generation are most subject to it. Slow, practical, unimaginative people escape these temptations to nervous distress and impatient outbreak. The Latin writer was dealing with a fact of common knowledge when he spoke of 'the irritable race of poets'. And the description applies to every type of the aesthetic temperament, and to every man or woman who is in any sense an idealist.
III. Hasty and ungracious temper is sometimes caused by inordinate fatigue and physical weariness. Men and women often wear themselves out, and bring their tempers to danger-point by toil, drudgery, over-pressure out of all proportion to the reserve of strength. The laws of nature should be sacred in our eyes, and bad temper is often a penalty of their infraction.
IV. Another cause of this disquieting infirmity is the impatience into which men are goaded in times of rush and urgency.
V. The deepest root of this evil is the exaggerated estimate we have of ourselves and of what is due to us. The besetment is no passing agitation of the mere surface of the life, but takes its rise in a fixed idea that we are entitled to special consideration from the world around us.
VI. The most discouraging aspect of this question is that conversion does not always effect the change in the tempers of those who are the subjects of it which we are taught to look for. The main current and thought of life is turned into right channels, but in too many cases back-eddies occur in which danger lurks, momentary retrogressions of feeling, a spasmodic upsurging of the old Adam.
VII. If this blemish is to be removed from the character, there must be the frank admission that it is sinful, and that it will yield to the methods of grace.
VIII. The Apostle teaches the remedy for every temper into which haste, bitterness, or unholy anger enters. 'And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.'
The Evangelical Grace of Tenderheartedness
I. There are several causes working in the world which make it a hard thing to keep the tender heart (1) One of the commonest of all is custom. What open hearts we had when heaven lay about us in our infancy! But now, we are dulled down a little; we are less sensitive, less eager, less receptive; and one inevitable peril of all that is the peril of ceasing to be tenderhearted.
(2) Another enemy of this same grace is the fierce struggle which many have to Jive. Men say it is difficult to be true today; it is equally difficult to be tender. You could hardly expect a soldier on the field to be a perfect pattern of gentleness. At home he might be that with his own children scarcely amid the rigours of the war. And in that city-battle of today which we disguise with the name of competition, a man must be in deadly peril of losing the genius of the tender heart. In simpler communities it was not so. Life was easier in simpler communities. And time was longer, and men had larger leisure, and the sense of brotherhood was not quite lost. But in the city with its stress and strain, with its pressure at every point, and with its crowd, life may have the joy of growing keen, but it has also the risk of growing cruel. It is not often that the successful man is what you would call the tenderhearted man. The battle has been too terrible for that: there has been too much crushing underfoot; and always when a man tramples upon others, he tramples in that hour on his own heart. Now I want you to remember that when Paul wrote to Ephesus, he wrote to a city like Glasgow or like Liverpool. He was not addressing a handful of quiet villagers. He was writing to a commercial metropolis. And that, I take it, just means this, that Paul was alive to the dangers of the city, and knew how supremely difficult it was there to keep the secret of the tender heart.
(3) But the greatest enemy of tenderheartedness is the old sad fact of sin. Sin hardens a man's heart towards his wife. It hardens a man's heart towards his children. It hardens him to the touch of human need and to the call which the world makes upon his sympathy. And that is why the grace of tenderheartedness is so conspicuously a Christian virtue because it betrays that conquest over sin which has been won for us in Jesus Christ.
II. I know no virtue that is oftener disguised than the virtue of which I am speaking. It is not one of the qualities of which men are proud as they are proud of courage or endurance. On the contrary, they are a little ashamed, should one suspect them of being tenderhearted. And so very often they hide it out of sight, and wrap it up in the most strange disguises, and assume a manner that is so far from gentle that it takes a little while to guess the truth. It is not always those of gentle manners who really possess the gentlest hearts. Some of the tenderest men I ever knew have had a rough, even a boisterous, exterior. They were like Mr. Boythorn in Bleak House, who was always for hanging somebody or other, and all the time was feeding the canary that nestled without a tremor in his hand.
III. The great secret of the tender heart lies in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. It is the continual wonder about Jesus, that He was so strong and yet so tenderhearted. No authority could make Him quail: no array of power could ever daunt Him; and yet a bruised reed He would not break, and smoking flax He would not quench. When that mind of Christ is given by the Spirit to you and me, then whatever happens, however we are treated, we shall be kind one to another, tenderhearted.
G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 190.
References. IV. 32. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 614, and vol. xxiv. No. 1448. J. Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 193. F. B. Cowl, Precher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 238. G. B. F. Hallock, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 366. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 333. J. Learmount, British Congregationalist, 11th July, 1907, p. 42.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20