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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 5:1. Followers of God.—R.V. imitators. St. Paul gathers up all duties into one expression, “imitation of God,” and urges them on his readers by a reminder of their high birth laying them under obligation, and rendering their copying easier.
Ephesians 5:2. Walk in love.—“Love must fulfil all righteousness; it must suffer law to mark out its path of obedience, or it remains an effusive, ineffectual sentiment, helpless to bless and save.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 5:1-2
The Life of Love—
I. Is an imitating of the divine life.—“Be followers of God: … walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Though God is infinitely beyond us, and lifted above all heights, we are to aspire towards Him. When we contemplate His glorious perfections we are more deeply conscious of our limitations and sins, bend before Him in lowly awe, and seem to despair of ever being able to approach to anything within ourselves that can be like Him. Nevertheless God is the pattern of all excellence, and we can attain excellence ourselves only by imitating Him. The ideal character is ever above and beyond the seeker, growing more beautiful, but seeming as distant as ever. The life of God is the life of love—love is the essence of His nature and the crowning glory of all His perfections. The chief way in which He is imitable by us is in that direction: to love God is to be like Him. Our life, in all its impulses, outgoings, and accomplishments, must be suffused and penetrated with love. As the soul opens to the inflow of God’s love and is filled with it, it becomes like God. Loving God is allowing God to love us. The love of God is the most transcendent revelation of the gospel. In Paris a little girl seven years old was observed to read the New Testament continually. Being asked what pleasure she found in doing so, she said, “It makes me wise, and teaches how to love God.” She had been reading the history of Martha and Mary. “What is the one thing needful?” asked her friend. “It is the love of God,” she earnestly replied.
II. Is befitting the relation in which the believer is divinely regarded.—“Followers of God, as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). God is our Father, and He loves us. That is enough; but how much is implied in that, who can tell? To realise the divine Fatherhood is to become acquainted with the love of God. When we discover we are dear to Him our hearts melt, our rebellion is conquered, we seek His forgiveness, we revel in His favour, we exult in His service. When we discover He has always loved us we are overwhelmed. A mother, whose daughter had behaved badly and at length ran away from home, thought of a singular plan to find the wanderer and bring her back. She had her own portrait fixed on a large handbill and posted on the walls of the town where she supposed her daughter was concealed. The portrait, without name, had these words printed underneath: “I love thee always.” Crowds stopped before the strange handbill, trying to guess its meaning. Days elapsed, when a young girl at last passed by, and lifted her eyes to the singular placard. She understood: this was a message for her. Her mother loved her—pardoned her. Those words transformed her. Never had she felt her sin and ingratitude so deeply. She was unworthy of such love. She set out for home, and crossing the threshold was soon in her mother’s arms. “My child!” cried the mother, as she pressed her repentant daughter to her heart, “I have never ceased to love thee!”
III. Is a love of Christ-like sacrifice.—“As Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2). The offering of Christ as a sacrifice for the sins of men was acceptable to God, and came up before Him as a sweet-smelling savour, because it was the offering and sacrifice of love. The life of love is the life of obedience; it is eager to serve, and it shrinks not from suffering. Nothing can be love to God which does not shape itself into obedience. We remember the anecdote of the Roman commander who forbade an engagement with the enemy, and the first transgressor against whose prohibition was his own son. He accepted the challenge of the leader of the other host, met, slew, spoiled him, and then with triumphant feeling carried the spoils to his father’s tent. But the Roman father refused to recognise the instinct which prompted this as deserving of the name of love. Disobedience contradicted it and deserved death. Weak sentiment—what was it worth? It was the dictate of ambition and self-will overriding obedience and discipline; it was not love. A self-sacrificing life is prompted, sustained, and ennobled by love. The trials which love cheerfully undergoes in its ministry of love to others and in obedience to the will of God are often transformed into blessings. There is a legend that Nimrod took Abraham and cast him into a furnace of fire because he would not worship idols; but God changed the coals into a bed of roses. So it will ever be. The obedience that leads to the furnace of fire will find in the end that it is a bed of roses. The life of loving sacrifice will issue in eternal blessedness.
Lessons.—The life of love is—
1. The highest life.
2. The happiest life.
3. The life most fruitful in usefulness to others.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 5:1-2. St. Paul’s Doctrine of Christian Ethics.
I. The fundamental truth of the Fatherhood of God.—Man’s life has its law, for it has its source in the nature of the Eternal. Behind our race instincts and the laws imposed on us in the long struggle for existence, behind those imperatives of practical reason involved in the structure of our intelligence, is the presence and active will of Almighty God our heavenly Father. Intuitional morals bear witness to the God of creation, experimental morals to the God of providence and history. The divine Fatherhood is the keystone of the arch in which they meet. The command to be imitators of God makes personality the sovereign element in life. If consciousness is a finite and passing phenomenon, if God be but a name for the sum of the impersonal laws that regulate the universe, for the “stream of tendency” in the worlds, Father and love are meaningless terms applied to the Supreme, and religion dissolves into an impalpable mist. Love, thought, will in us raise our being above the realm of the impersonal; and these faculties point us upward to Him from whom they came, the Father of the spirits of all flesh. It is not the loss of strength for human service nor the dying out of joy which unbelief entails that is its chief calamity. The sun in the soul’s heaven is put out. The personal relationship to the Supreme which gave dignity and worth to our individual being, which imparted sacredness and enduring power to all other ties, is destroyed. The heart is orphaned, the temple of the Spirit desolate. The mainspring of life is broken.
II. The solidarity of mankind in Christ furnishes the apostle with a powerful lever for raising the ethical standard of his readers. The thought that we are “members one of another” forbids deceit. Self is so merged in the community that in dealing censure or forgiveness to an offending brother the Christian man feels as though he were dealing with himself—as though it were the hand that forgave the foot for tripping, or the ear that pardoned some blunder of the eye. The Christ loved and gave; for love that does not give, that prompts to no effort and puts itself to no sacrifice, is but a luxury of the heart—useless and even selfish. The Church is the centre of humanity. The love born and nourished in the household of faith goes out into the world with a universal mission. The solidarity of moral interests that is realised there embraces all the kindreds of the earth. The incarnation of Christ knits all flesh into one redeemed family. The continents and races of mankind are members one of another, with Jesus Christ for Head.
III. Another ruling idea lying at the basis of Christian ethics is St. Paul’s conception of man’s future destiny.—There is disclosed a world beyond the world, a life growing out of life, an eternal and invisible kingdom of whose possession the Spirit that lives in Christian men is the earnest and first-fruits. Human reason had guessed and hope had dreamed of the soul’s immortality. Christianity gives this hope certainty, and adds to it the assurance of the resurrection of the body. Man’s entire nature is thus redeemed. Our bodily dress is one with the spirit that it unfolds. We shall lay it aside only to resume it—transfigured, but with a form and impress continuous with its present being.
IV. The atonement of the cross stamps its own character and spirit on the entire ethics of Christianity.—The Fatherhood of God, the unity and solidarity of mankind, the issues of eternal life or death awaiting us in the unseen world—all the great factors and fundamentals of revealed religion gather about the cross of Christ; they lend to it their august significance, and gain from it new import and impressiveness. The fact that Christ “gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” throws an awful light upon the nature of human transgression. All that inspired men had taught, that good men had believed and felt, and penitent men confessed in regard to the evil of human sin, is more than verified by the sacrifice which the Holy One of God has undergone in order to put it away. What tears of contrition, what cleansing fires of hate against our own sins, what scorn of their baseness, what stern resolves against them, are awakened by the sight of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! The sacrifice of Christ demands from us devotion to Christ Himself. Our first duty as Christians is to love Christ, to serve and follow Christ. There is no conflict between the claims of Christ and those of philanthropy, between the needs of His worship and the needs of the destitute and suffering in our streets. Every new subject won to the kingdom of Christ is another helper won for His poor. Every act of love rendered to Him deepens the channel of sympathy by which relief and blessing come to sorrowful humanity.—Findlay.
Christ’s Sacrifice of Himself explained, and Man’s Duty to offer Spiritual Sacrifice inferred and recommended.
I. Our Lord’s unexampled sacrifice.—
1. The priest. As a prophet or an apostle properly is an ambassador from God to treat with men, so a priest is an agent or solicitor in behalf of men to treat with God.
2. The sacrifice.—Our Lord was both offering and sacrifice. Every sacrifice is an offering to God, but every offering to God is not a sacrifice. Perfect innocence and consummate virtue, both in doing and suffering, were not only the flower and perfection but the very form and essence of our Lord’s sacrifice. These were the sacrifice of sweet odour, acceptable to Him who alone could judge perfectly of the infinite worth and merit of it.
3. The altar.—From the third century to this time the cross whereon our Lord suffered has been called the altar. There is another altar, a spiritual altar—the eternal Spirit, the divine nature of our Lord. The sacrifice of our Lord is an undoubted Scripture truth; but as to a proper altar for that sacrifice, it is a more disputable point, about which wise and good men may be allowed to judge as they see cause.
4. The divine Lawgiver.—To whom the sacrifice was made, and by whom it was graciously accepted. God the Father is Lawgiver-in-chief, and to Him our Lord paid the price of our redemption. Thus the glory of God and the felicity of man are both served in this dispensation.
II. Our own sacrifice of ourselves.—As Christ gave Himself for us, so we ought to give up ourselves to God in all holy obedience, and particularly in the offices of love towards our brethren, as these are the most acceptable sacrifices we can offer to God. We cannot do greater honour to our Lord’s sacrifice than by thus copying it in the best manner we are able—a sacrifice of love to God and love to our neighbours.—Waterland.
The Imitation of God.—No argument is so frequently urged as the example of Christ to persuade us to mutual love, because none is so well adapted to influence the mind of a Christian. God’s approbation of Christian charity is expressed in the same terms as His acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ; for charity to our fellow-Christians, flowing from a sense of Christ’s dying love, is a virtue of distinguished excellence. As the death of Christ is called “a sacrifice for a sweet-smelling savour,” so Christian charity is called “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” Let it be our care to follow Christ in His goodness and love, and to learn of Him humility, condescension, mercy, and forgiveness. Religion is an imitation of the moral character of God, brought down to human view and familiarised to human apprehension in the life of Christ. The sacrifice of Christ is of great use, not only as an atonement for guilt, but also as an example of love.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:1. The Duty and Object of a Christian’s Imitation.
I. The duty enjoined.—
1. Remove the hindrances to imitation.
(1) Spiritual pride and self-conceit.
(2) This self-conceit works in us a prejudiced opinion, and makes us undervalue and detract from the worth of our brother.
(3) Spiritual drowsiness.
2. Observe the rules of imitation.
(1) We must not take our pattern upon trust; no, not St. Paul himself. He brings it in indeed as a duty—“Be ye followers of me”; but he adds this direction, “as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). “For in imitation, besides the persons, there is also to be considered,” saith Quintilian, “what it is we must imitate in the persons. We must no further follow them than they follow the rules of art.” “Some there were,” said Seneca, “who imitated nothing but that which was bad in the best.” It is so in our Christian profession: we must view, and try, and understand what we are to imitate. We must not make use of all eyes, but of those only which look upon the Lord.
(2) That we strive to imitate the best. Saith Pliny: “It is great folly not to propose always the best pattern”; and saith Seneca, “Choose a Cato,” a prime, eminent man, by whose authority thy secret thoughts may be more holy, the very memory of whom may compose thy manners; whom not only to see, but to think of, will be a help to the reformation of thy life. Dost thou live with any in whom the good gifts and graces of God are shining and resplendent, who are strict and exact, and so retain the precepts of God in memory that they forget them not in their works? Give me the instructive examples of these good men; let them always be before my eyes; let them be a second rule by which I may correct my life and manners; let me not lose this help, which God hath granted me, of imitation.
II. The object of imitation.—We must make God the rule of goodness in all our actions: we must be just, to observe the law; valiant, to keep down our passions; temperate, to conform our wills to the rule of reason; and wise, to our salvation. But there is no virtue which makes us more resemble God than this which the apostle here exhorts the Ephesians to; and that is mercy. For although all virtues are in the highest degree, nay, above all degrees, most perfect in Him; yet, in respect of His creatures, none is so resplendent as mercy. Mercy is the queen and empress of God’s virtues; it is the bond and knot which unites heaven and earth, that by which we hold all our titles—our title to be men, our title to the name of Christian, our title to the profession of Christianity, our title to earth, our title to heaven.
1. As God forgiveth us, so we must forgive our enemies.
2. As we must forgive, so God’s mercy must be the motive: we must do it “out of a desire to imitate God.”
3. We must conform our imitation to the Pattern. He with one act of mercy wipes out all scores; so must we. When He forgives our sins, He is said to cast them behind Him, never to think of them, so to forget them as if they never had been; so must we. He doth it too without respect of persons; and so we ought to do. We must forgive all, for ever; and so far must we be from respect of persons that we must acknowledge no title but that of Christian.—Farindon.
Likeness to God.
I. Likeness to God belongs to man’s higher or spiritual nature.—It has its foundation in the original and essential capacities of the mind. In proportion as these are unfolded by right and vigorous exertion, it is extended and brightened. In proportion as these lie dormant it is obscured. Likeness to God is the supreme gift. He can communicate nothing so precious, glorious, blessed as Himself. To hold intellectual and moral affinity with the supreme Being, to partake His Spirit, to be His children by derivations of kindred excellence, to bear a growing conformity to the perfection which we adore—this is a felicity which obscures and annihilates all other good. It is only in proportion to this likeness that we can enjoy either God or the universe. To understand a great and good being we must have the seeds of the same excellence.
II. That man has a kindred nature with God, and may bear most important and ennobling relations to Him, seems to me to be established by a striking proof. Whence do we derive our knowledge of the attributes and perfections which constitute the supreme Being? I answer, We derive them from our own souls. The divine attributes are first developed in ourselves, and thence transferred to our Creator. The idea of God, sublime and awful as it is, is the idea of our own spiritual nature, purified and enlarged to infinity. It is the resemblance of a parent to a child, the likeness of a kindred nature.
III. God is made known to us as a Father.—And what is it to be a father? It is to communicate one’s own nature, to give life to kindred beings; and the highest function of a father is to educate the mind of the child, and to impart to it what is noblest and happiest in his own mind. God is our Father, not merely because He created us, or because He gives us enjoyment; for He created the flower and the insect, yet we call Him not their Father. This bond is a spiritual one. This name belongs to God, because He frames spirits like Himself, and delights to give them what is most glorious and blessed in His own nature. Accordingly Christianity is said with special propriety to reveal God as the Father, because it reveals Him as sending His Son to cleanse the mind from every stain, and to replenish it for ever with the spirit and moral attributes of its Author.
IV. The promise of the Holy Spirit is among the most precious aids of influences which God imparts. It is a divine assistance adapted to our moral freedom, an aid which silently mingles and conspires with all other helps and means of goodness, and by which we are strengthened to understand and apply the resources derived from our munificent Creator. This aid we cannot prize too much, or pray for too earnestly.—Channing.
Ephesians 5:2. “And walk in love.” The Nature, Properties, and Acts of Charity.
I. The nature of charity.—
1. Loving our neighbour implies we value and esteem him.
2. Implies a sincere and earnest desire for his welfare and good of all kinds in due proportion.
3. A complacence or delightful satisfaction in the good of our neighbour.
4. Condolence and commiseration in the evils befalling him.
II. Properties of charity.—
1. Love appropriates its object in apprehension and affection, embracing it, possessing and enjoying it as its own.
2. It desires reciprocal affection.
3. Disposes to please our neighbour, not only by inoffensive but by an obliging demeanour.
4. Makes a man deny himself—despising all selfish regards—for the benefit of his neighbour.
5. To be condescending and willing to perform the meanest offices needful or useful to his friend.
III. Acts of charity.—
1. To forbear anger on provocation.
2. To remit offences, suppressing revenge.
3. To maintain concord and peace.
4. To be candid in opinion and mild in censure.
5. Abstain from doing anything which may occasion our neighbour to commit sin, or disaffect him towards religion, or discourage him in the practice of duty.—Barrow.
The Sacrifice of Christ.
I. A divine person was absolutely necessary.—
1. He who atones must be in possession of infinite worth. Nothing less than the glory of infinity and eternity can atone for transgression. The individual must also be possessed of humanity for this obvious reason: that man hath transgressed, and man must atone. In the person of the Messiah we behold everything God could possibly desire. A divine person, comprising Deity and humanity in himself, atones for sin.
2. It was absolutely necessary that the individual who atoned should be wholly at his own disposal.—Now, no finite being is at his own disposal; no finite being can say, I will do as I please; but Messiah speaks of Himself in language that finite being could not adopt without insulting God. The doctrine of the Trinity is opposed; but when we peruse Scripture we shall find the absolute necessity of a plurality of persons. A divine person to present a sacrifice; and if so, a divine person to receive that sacrifice.
II. Christ’s love in giving Himself.—And here we behold the love of God in all its glory. Christ hath saved us, and given Himself for us. Here we behold the love of Christ; the love of a divine person embracing God, embracing the law of God, and embracing the sinner in all his shame. Two of the attributes of this love never unfolded their glories before. The intenseness and the holiness of it were never before manifested. Behold God as well as man, a divine person suffering for us. Here for once, and once only, behold the sovereignty of God in all its glory, in all its lowliness, connected with the justice of God in all its terrors. Messiah is punished, that the transgressor may live for ever.
III. God’s pleasure in the sacrifice of His Son.—
1. God is infinitely delighted with His Son, as He is one in essence with Him. The pious Baptist gives his disciples a volume of divinity in a few words. He traces everything to its source. “The Father loveth the Son.” Surely, then, we must anticipate God’s pleasure in everything the Saviour does.
2. The resurrection and ascension of Christ prove God’s acceptance of the sacrifice.
3. The success of the gospel another proof.
1. See the evil and danger of unbelief.
2. All spiritual good comes from God; all spiritual evil flows from the creature.
3. Learn the work of faith—to accept Christ.—Howels.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 5:3. Let it not be once named.—After the things themselves are dead let their names never be heard.
Ephesians 5:4. Nor jesting.—“Chastened insolence,” as Aristotle’s description of it has been happily rendered. “Graceless grace” [of style], as Chrysostom called it. It is the oozing out of the essential badness of a man for whom polish and a versatile nature have done all they can.
Ephesians 5:5-6. Because of these things cometh the wrath of God, etc.—Look down beneath the pleasing manners to the nature. If such terms as are used in Ephesians 5:5 describe the man, he is simply one of Disobedience’s children, and all his versatility will not avert the descending wrath of God.
Ephesians 5:7. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.—Do not wish to share the frivolity and impiety of their life, as you would shun the wrath that inevitably awaits it. How could they so partake and continue to be what Ephesians 3:6 calls them?
Ephesians 5:8. Ye were … ye are … be.—The lesson must be learnt, and therefore reiteration is necessary.
Ephesians 5:9. For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.—Neither here nor at Galatians 5:22 does St. Paul intend a complete list of the fruits of the Spirit. St. John’s tree of life bore “twelve manner of fruits.” All Christian morality lies in the good, the right, and the true.
Ephesians 5:10. Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.—Each is to be an assayer—rejecting all base alloys. Nothing must be accepted because it looks like an angel of light—“the spirits” must be put to the proof (1 John 4:1).
Ephesians 5:11. Rather reprove them.—It may be with a voice as firm as the Baptist’s; it may be by gentle and yet unflinching “showing up” of certain proceedings (cf. St. John 3:20). “This chastening reproof is an oral one,” says Meyer.
Ephesians 5:12. It is a shame even to speak of.—Though the only sign of their shame having touched them is that they seek the cover of secrecy, and our own cheeks burn as we speak of what they do, we must convict.
Ephesians 5:13. Made manifest by the light.—Whatever the light falls upon is no longer of the darkness, but belongs to the light. Shame is one of the influences by which the light conquers a soul from darkness.
Ephesians 5:14. Wherefore He saith.—What follows is “a free paraphrase from the Old Testament formed by weaving together Messianic passages—belonging to such a hymn as might be sung at baptisms in the Pauline Churches” (Findlay). The thought is that of the change from darkness to light—a change produced by the opening of the eyes to the light shining in the face of Jesus Christ.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 5:3-14
The Children of Darkness and of Light.
I. The children of darkness are known by their deeds (Ephesians 5:3-5).—A loathsome and unsightly list! Sin marks its victims. Deeds done in darkness do not escape detection and exposure. The revolting sins of the heathen reveal the depth of wickedness to which man may sink when he abandons God and is abandoned of God. Every single sin, voluntarily indulged, weakens the power of self-control, and there is no deed of darkness a reckless sinner may not commit. Sensuality is a devil-fish—a vampire of the sea—preying upon and devouring the best powers of mind and body.
1. Their deeds exclude them from the inheritance of the good.—They have no “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5). The children of darkness can have no company and no place with the children of light; the two cannot co-exist or blend together. The sinner excludes himself, and unfits himself for fellowship with the good. Their purity is a constant reproof of his vileness; he shrinks from their society, and hates them because they are so good. We may well be on our guard against sins that shut us out of the kingdom of grace on earth, and out of heaven hereafter.
2. Their deeds expose them to the divine wrath.—“Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6). The wrath of God is already upon them (Romans 1:18), and shall remain so long as they are disobedient. Deeds such as theirs carry their own punishment; but there is also the righteous vengeance of God to reckon with. For sin God can have nothing but wrath; but yet that is mercifully restrained to afford every opportunity for repentance. The Roman magistrates, when they gave sentence upon any one to be scourged, had a bundle of rods tied hard with many knots laid before them. The reason was this: whilst the beadle was untying the knots, which he was to do by order and not in any other or sudden way, the magistrates might see the deportment and carriage of the delinquent, whether he was sorry for his fault and showed any hope of amendment, that then they might recall his sentence or mitigate his punishment; otherwise he was corrected so much the more severely. Thus God in the punishment of sinners. How patient is He! How loth to strike! How slow to anger!
II. The children of light are divinely illumined.—
1. They were once in darkness. “Ye were sometimes darkness” (Ephesians 5:8). Their present condition as children of the light should remind them by contrast of their former state, and should excite their gratitude to God for the change He had wrought in them. They were not to be deceived by specious arguments (Ephesians 5:6) that they could return to their old sins and yet retain their new inheritance. To go back to the old life is to go back to darkness.
2. Their possession of divine light is evident.—“But now are ye light in the Lord.… For the fruit of the Spirit [the fruit of light] is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:8-9). True virtue is of the light and cannot be hid. Genuine religion manifests itself in goodness of heart, in righteousness of life, and in truthfulness of character and speech—in a holy reality that is both experienced and expressed. On Herder’s grave at Weimar there was placed by royal authority a cast-iron tablet with the words, “Light, Love, Life.” The life illumined by the Spirit is its own bright witness.
3. Their conduct aims at discovering what is acceptable to God.—“Walk as children of the light, … proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 5:10). Their outward life must be in harmony with the new nature they have received. They were adopted as children of the light, and they must think, speak, and act in the light and with the light they had received. The light will show what it is that God approves; and striving in all things to please Him our light will increase. We may sometimes be mistaken, but we shall get light from our mistakes, as well as from our success, as to the will of God. Life is a trial, and our conduct will be the test as to how we are using the light God has given us. The light we shed will be a help and guide to others. There is a kind of diamond which, if exposed for some minutes to the light of the sun and then taken into a dark room, will emit light for some time. The marvellous property of retaining light and thereby becoming the source of light on a small scale shows how analogous to light its very nature must be. Those who touched the Saviour became sources of virtue to others. As Moses’ face shone when he came from the mount, so converse with spiritual things makes Christians the light which shines in the dark places of the earth. “Let your light so shine before men.”
III. The children of light cannot participate in deeds of darkness.—
1. They are to shun them. “Be not ye partakers with them … Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:7; Ephesians 5:11). We may not actually commit certain sins; but if we tolerate or encourage them, we are partakers with the transgressors. The safest place is that which is farthest from evil. It is a perilous experiment to try how near we can approach and how far dally with sin without committing ourselves. The easiest way to resist temptation is to run away. It is beneath the dignity of the children of light to patronise or trifle with sin.
2. They are not even to speak of them.—“It is a shame even to speak of those things” (Ephesians 5:12). There are some subjects about which silence is not only the highest prudence but a sacred duty. The foolish talking and jesting of Ephesians 5:4 belonged to the period when they were the children of darkness. Sparkling humour refreshes; the ribald jest pollutes. The best way to forget sayings that suggest evil is never to speak of them.
3. They are to expose them by bringing the light of truth to bear upon them.—“But rather reprove them.… All things that are reproved are made manifest by the light,” etc. (Ephesians 5:11; Ephesians 5:13-14). Silent absence or abstinence is not enough. Where sin is open to rebuke it should at all hazards be rebuked. On the other hand, St. Paul does not warrant Christians in prying into the hidden sins of the world around them and playing the moral detective. Publicity is not a remedy for all evils, but a great aggravation of some, and the surest means of disseminating them. It is a shame—a disgrace to our common nature, and a grievous peril to the young and innocent—to fill the public prints with the nauseous details of crime, and to taint the air with its putridities. The fruit of the light convicts the unfruitful works of darkness. The light of the gospel disclosed and then dispelled the darkness of the former time. So will it be with the night of sin that is spread over the world. The light which shines upon sin-laden and sorrowful hearts shines on them to change them into its own nature. The manifested is light; in other words, if men can be made to see the true nature of their sin, they will forsake it. If the light can but penetrate their conscience, it will save them. “Wherefore He saith, Awake thou that sleepest.” With this song on her lips the Church went forth, clad in the armour of light, strong in the joy of salvation; and darkness and the works of darkness fled before her (Findlay).
Lessons.—The children of darkness and of light differ—
1. In their conduct.
2. In their spirit and aims.
3. In the way in which they are divinely regarded.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 5:3-6. Christian Sobriety inculcated.
I. The vices condemned.—
1. Impurity. Fornication is sometimes used in Scripture to comprehend the grosser forms of uncleanness, as incest, adultery, and prostitution; but in common speech it is appropriated to intimacy between unmarried persons. If acts of uncleanness are criminal, so are impure thoughts and desires. The gospel forbids filthy communication, which indicates a vicious disposition and corrupts others. Christians must abstain from everything that tends to suggest wanton ideas, to excite impure desire, and to strengthen the power of temptation.
2. Covetousness.—An immoderate desire of riches.
3. Foolish talking and jesting.—The gospel is not so rigid and austere as to debar us from innocent pleasures and harmless amusements. Jesting is not foolish when used to expose the absurdity of error and the folly of vice. The apostle condemns lewd and obscene jesting, profane jesting, and reviling and defamatory jesting. Evil-speaking never wounds so deeply nor infuses in the wound such fatal poison as when it is sharpened by wit and urged home by ridicule.
II. The arguments subjoined.—
1. Impurity, covetousness, and foolish talking are unbecoming in saints.
2. Foolish talking and jesting are not convenient, as the heathen imagined them to be, but are criminal in their nature and fatal in their tendency.
3. The indulgence of these sins is inconsistent with a title to heaven.
4. These sins not only exclude from heaven, but bring upon the sinners the wrath of God.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:4. Against Foolish Talking and jesting.
I. In what foolish talking and jesting may be allowed.—
1. Facetiousness is not unreasonable which ministers harmless delight to conversation.
2. When it exposes things base and evil.
3. When it is a defence against unjust reproach. 4. When it may be used so as not to defile the mind of the speaker or do wrong to the hearer.
II. In what it should be condemned.—
1. All profane jesting or speaking loosely about holy things.
2. Abusive and scurrilous jesting which tends to damage our neighbour.
3. It is very culpable to be facetious in obscene and smutty matters.
4. To affect to value this way of speaking in comparison to the serious and plain way of speaking.
5. All vainglorious ostentation.
6. When it impairs the habitual seriousness that becomes the Christian.—Barrow.
Ephesians 5:6. The Dissipation of Large Cities.
I. The origin of a life of dissipation.—Young men on their entrance into the business of the world have not been enough fortified against its seducing influences by their previous education at home. Ye parents who, in placing your children on some road to gainful employment, have placed them without a sigh in the midst of depravity, so near and so surrounding that without a miracle they must perish, you have done an act of idolatry to the god of this world, you have commanded your household after you to worship him as the great divinity of their lives, and you have caused your children to make their approaches to his presence, and in so doing to pass through the fire of such temptations as have destroyed them.
II. The progress of a life of dissipation.—The vast majority of our young, on their way to manhood, are initiated into all the practices and describe the full career of dissipation. Those who have imbibed from their fathers the spirit of this world’s morality are not sensibly arrested in this career, either by the opposition of their friends or by the voice of their own conscience. Those who have imbibed an opposite spirit, and have brought it into competition with an evil world, and have at length yielded with many a sigh and many a struggle, are troubled with the upbraidings of conscience. The youthful votary of pleasure determines to be more guarded; but the entanglements of companionship have got hold of him, the inveteracy of habit tyrannises over all his purposes, the stated opportunity again comes round, and the loud laugh of his partners chases all his despondency away. The infatuation gathers upon him every month, a hardening process goes on, the deceitfulness of sin grows apace, and he at length becomes one of the sturdiest and most unrelenting of her votaries. He in his turn strengthens the conspiracy that is formed against the morals of a new generation, and all the ingenuous delicacies of other days are obliterated. He contracts a temperament of knowing, hackneyed, unfeeling depravity, and thus the mischief is transmitted from one year to another, and keeps up the guilty history of every place of crowded population.
III. The effects of a life of dissipation.—We speak not at present of the coming death and of the coming judgment, but of the change which takes place on many a votary of licentiousness when he becomes what the world calls a reformed man. He bids adieu to the pursuits and profligacies of youth, not because he has repented of them, but because he has outlived them. It is a common and easy transition to pass from one kind of disobedience to another; but it is not so easy to give up that rebelliousness of heart which lies at the root of all disobedience. The man has withdrawn from the scenes of dissipation, and has betaken himself to another way; but it is his own way. He may bid adieu to profligacy in his own person, but he lifts up the light of his countenance on the profligacy of others. He gives it the whole weight and authority of his connivance. Oh for an arm of strength to demolish this firm and far-spread compact of iniquity, and for the power of some such piercing and prophetic voice as might convince our reformed men of the baleful influence they cast behind them on the morals of the succeeding generation! What is the likeliest way of setting up a barrier against this desolating torrent of corruption? The mischief will never be combatted effectually by any expedient separate from the growth and the transmission of personal Christianity throughout the land.—T. Chalmers.
Ephesians 5:7-12. Fellowship in Wickedness and its Condemnation.
I. Illustrate this fellowship in wickedness.—
1. Not to oppose, in many cases, is to embolden transgressors, and to be partakers with them.
2. We have more direct fellowship with the wicked when we encourage them by our example.
3. They who incite and provoke others to evil works have fellowship with them.
4. They who explicitly consent to and actually join with sinners in their evil works have fellowship with them.
5. To comfort and uphold sinners in their wickedness is to have fellowship with them.
6. There are some who rejoice in iniquity when they have lent no hand to accomplish it.
II. Apply the arguments the apostle urges against it.—
1. One argument is taken from the superior light which Christians enjoy.
2. Another is taken from the grace of the Holy Spirit, of which believers are the subjects.
3. The works of darkness are unfruitful.
4. This is a shameful fellowship.
5. If we have fellowship with sinners in their works, we must share with them in their punishment.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:8. Light in Darkness.—I was in a darkened room that I might observe the effect produced by the use of what is called luminous paint. A neat card on which the words “Trust in the Lord” were printed rested upon the bookcase and shone out clearly in the darkness. The effect startled me. How remarkable that if from any cause the light of sun or day failed to rest upon the card its luminousness gradually declined, but returned when the sun’s action infused fresh light! Truly we also, if hidden from the face of our Lord, cease to shine. “Are ye light in the Lord? walk as children of light.”—H. Varley.
Ephesians 5:9. Fruit of the Spirit.—As oftentimes when walking in a wood near sunset, though the sun himself be hid by the height and bushiness of the trees around, yet we know that he is still above the horizon from seeing his beams in the open glades before us illuminating a thousand leaves, the several brightnesses of which are so many evidences of his presence. Thus it is with the Holy Spirit: He works in secret, but His work is manifest in the lives of all true Christians. Lamps so heavenly must have been lit from on high.—J. C. Hare.
Ephesians 5:10. The Rule of Christian Conduct.—
1. We cannot conform ourselves to what is acceptable to the Lord and walk as children of light except we make serious search into the rule of duty revealed in the word and do our utmost to come up to that rule. We walk not acceptably when we do things rashly without deliberation, or doubtingly after deliberation, nor when the thing done is in itself right, but we do it not from that ground, but to gratify ourselves.
2. It is not sufficient to make this inquiry in order to some few and weighty actions, but in order to all, whether greater or less, whether advantage or loss may follow our conforming to the rule.
3. The finding out of what is acceptable to the Lord, especially in some intricate cases, is not easily attained. There must be an accurate search, together with an exercising ourselves in those things we already know to be acceptable, that so we may experimentally know them to be such, and get our knowledge bettered in those things of which we are ignorant.—Fergusson.
Ephesians 5:11-12. Works of Darkness.—
1. Though we are not in all cases to abstain from the fellowship of wicked men, but may converse with them as we are bound by necessity, or by any civil, religious, or natural bond, yet no tie of that kind can warrant us to partake with them in their sins.
2. Though the command to reprove the sins of others is an affirmative precept, and not binding at all times and in all cases, yet not reproving when occasion offers is a partaking with them in their sins.
3. There should be such a holy bashfulness in Christians as to think shame to utter in speech, at least without detestation, those things godless sinners are not ashamed to practise. Ministers in their public preachings should be modest and sparing in deciphering filthy sins, lest they teach others how to commit the sin they reprove.
4. When men do not seek the veil of secrecy to cover their sins, but glory in their shame, they are more corrupt than the grossest of pagans.—Fergusson.
Ephesians 5:13-14. Slumbering Souls and their Awakening.
I. The character of the persons addressed.—They are in a state of sleep.
1. If you allow yourselves in the practice of known wickedness, your conscience is asleep.
2. If you live in the customary neglect of self-examination, you are in a state of slumber.
3. If you have never been in any degree affected with a sense of your guilt and your dependence on the mercy of God in Christ, you are among those who are asleep.
4. If you have no conflicts with sin and temptation, you are in a state of slumber.
5. The prevalence of a sensual and carnal disposition is a sign of spiritual death.
6. Stupidity under the warnings of God’s word and providence indicates such a state of soul as the Scripture compares to sleep.
7. The soul in which the temper of the gospel is formed hungers and thirsts after righteousness, desires spiritual growth, and reaches after perfection.
II. The awakening call.—
1. This awakening must suppose and imply a conviction of your sin and a sense of your danger.
2. This awaking from sleep and arising from the dead imply a real repentance of sin and turning to God.
3. They who have awoke from their sleep and risen from the dead will experience the properties and maintain the exercises of a holy and spiritual life.
III. The encouragement to attend to the awakening call.—“Christ shall give thee light.”
1. This may be understood as a promise of pardon and eternal life on your repentance.
2. The words import God’s gracious attention to awakened souls when they frame their doings to turn to Him.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:13. The Light of God.
I. Light comes from God.—God is light, and He wishes to give light to His children. “Whatsoever doth make manifest is light”—that which is made manifest is light. There has been a steady progress in the mind of the Christian race, and this progress has been in the direction of light. Has it not been so in our notions of God?—a gradual discovery that when God is manifested, behold, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all—a gradual vindication of His character from those dark and horrid notions of the Deity which were borrowed from the pagans and the Jewish rabbis—a gradual return to the perfect good news of a good God which was preached by St. John and by St. Paul. The day shall come when all shall be light in the Lord—when all mankind shall know God from the least unto the greatest, and, lifting up free foreheads to Him who made them and redeemed them by His Son, shall in spirit and in truth worship the Father.
II. In the case of our fellow-men whatsoever is made manifest is light.—How easy it was to have dark thoughts about our fellow-men simply because we did not know them,—easy to condemn the negro to perpetual slavery, when we knew nothing of him but his black face; or to hang by hundreds the ragged street boys, while we disdained to inquire into the circumstances which had degraded them; or to treat madmen as wild beasts, instead of taming them by wise and gentle sympathy. But with a closer knowledge of our fellow-creatures has come toleration, pity, sympathy. Man, in proportion as he becomes manifest to man, is seen, in spite of all defects and sins, to be hallowed with a light from God who made him.
III. It has been equally so in the case of the physical world.—Nature, being made manifest, is light. Science has taught men to admire where they used to dread, to rule where they used to obey, to employ for harmless uses what they were once afraid to touch, and where they once saw only fiends to see the orderly and beneficent laws of the All-good and Almighty God. Everywhere, as the work of nature is unfolded to our eyes, we see beauty, order, mutual use, the offspring of perfect love as well as perfect wisdom. Let us teach these things to our children. Tell them to go to the light and see their heavenly Father’s works manifested, and know that they are, as He is, Light.—C. Kingsley.
Ephesians 5:14. Moral Stupidity.—How many scarcely think of God from day to day! It cannot therefore be uncharitable to consider the mass of the people, compared with the wakefulness their infinite interests require, as sunk in a profound slumber. Unless this slumber is soon broken they must sleep the sleep of eternal death.
I. Search for the cause of this stupidity.—The proximate cause may be comprehended in these two words—ignorance and unbelief. The remote cause is opposition to God and truth. Were not the heart opposed, no man with the Bible in his hand could remain ignorant of truths which claim to have so important a bearing on his eternal destiny. Fortified by sevenfold ignorance, men can no more be awakened to contemplate their condition with alarm than the pagans of the wilderness. It is perfectly in character for them to slumber. But there are men who are respectable for their knowledge of Christian truth who yet are asleep. The cause with them is unbelief—the want of a realising sense. Their understanding assents to the awful verities of religion, but they do not realisingly believe them.
II. Apply some arguments to remove the evil.—Consider that these awful truths are as much realities as though you were now overwhelmed with a sense of their importance. Neither the ignorance nor the unbelief of man can change eternal truth. God is as holy, as awful in majesty, He is as much your Creator, Preserver, and Master, He as much holds your destinies in His hands, as though you were now lying at His feet beseeching Him not to cast you down to hell. What would it avail if all the people should disbelieve that the sun will ever rise again, or that spring-time and harvest will ever return? Can the soldier annihilate the enemy by marching up to the battery with his eyes and ears closed? You have the same means with others: why should you remain ignorant while they are informed? If your knowledge is competent and it is unbelief that excludes conviction, then call into action the powers of a rational soul and cast yourselves for help on God. If you ever mean to awake, awake now. The longer you sleep the sounder you sleep. The longer you live without religion the less likely that you will ever possess it. You are sleeping in the presence of an offended God. In His hands you lie, and if He but turn them you slide to rise no more.—E. D. Griffin.
The Call of the Gospel to Sinners.
I. The state in which the gospel finds mankind.—A state of sleep and of death.
1. It is a state of insensibility and unconcern with respect to the concerns of another world.—Busied about trifles, men overlook the great concerns of eternity. Having their minds darkened, they see no world but the present, they live as if they were to live here for ever. And if at any time this false peace is shaken, they try all means to prevent it from being destroyed, and to lull themselves again to rest.
2. How indisposed and unwilling men are to set about the work of true religion.—Nothing but this religion of which men are so ignorant, about which they care so little, against which they have conceived such a dislike, can in the end deliver them from everlasting shame, sorrow, and punishment. Here is their extreme misery and danger. They are unconcerned about an object which of all others ought to concern them most, and are set against the only remedy which can be of any real service to them. They are every moment liable to fall into utter perdition; but they are not aware of their danger, and reject the only hand which is stretched out to save them.
II. The duty the gospel calls on them to discharge.—To awake out of sleep and arise from the dead.
1. Their duty is to consider their state and danger.
2. To break off their sins by repentance.
3. To seek the knowledge and favour of God.
III. The encouragement the gospel affords.—
1. Christ will give thee knowledge. He will enlighten thy darkened mind, He will teach thee by His good Spirit, and will effectually lead thee into all saving truth.
2. Christ will give thee peace.—Whatever peace thou mayest have arising from not knowing and not feeling that thou art a sinner and daily exposed to the wrath of God, the peace which Christ offers thee is a peace which will arise from a consciousness that thy sins are forgiven, and that, although thou art a sinner, thou art yet reconciled to God.
3. Christ will give thee holiness.—Holiness is our meetness for heaven. It is that state and disposition of heart which alone can fit us for seeing and serving God.—E. Cooper.
A Summons to Spiritual Light.
I. A lamentable moral condition.—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. 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 the 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. Yet, notwithstanding this state appears so desperate, we must address to every one that is under it the command, “Awake.” 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. They who exert their feeble powers may expect divine assistance. 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 imparts knowledge (Isaiah 8:20), holiness (1 John 1:7), comfort (Psalms 97:11), and glory (Colossians 1:12). And all these blessings shall they receive from Christ, the fountain of light (Malachi 4:2; John 1:9).
1. Let each one consider the command addressed to himself—“Awake thou.”
2. Let all our powers be called into action.
3. In exerting ourselves let us expect the promised aid.—Theological Sketch Book.
The Gospel Call and Promise.
I. Many of mankind are in a state of deadly sleep.—In sleep the animal spirits retire to their source, the nerves are collapsed or embraced; and as the nerves are the medium of sensation and motion, the whole system is in a state of insensibility and inactivity. How exactly resembling this is your spiritual state.
1. You are insensible.—Your eyes and ears are closed; and you have no proper sense of pleasure or of pain.
2. You are in a state of security.—You have no fear of evil, no apprehension of danger, and consequently no concern for your safety.
3. You are in a state of inactivity.—You are not inquiring, labouring, wrestling. When the body is locked in slumber, thought roves at random and produces gay dreams of fancied happiness. Thus many are dreaming their lives away.
(1) In this sleep many are as void of sense and motion as if they were actually dead.
(2) In common sleep a person after due repose spontaneously awakes, renewed in vigour. But from this sleep, unless God should awake you, you will never awake till the heavens be no more.
(3) It is a sleep unto death. Like one who has taken a large quantity of opium, unless you are awakened by some external cause, you will insensibly sink into the second death, the death which never dies.
II. God is using means to awaken them.—While you are asleep, light, however bright and clear, shines upon you in vain. Till warning has waked attention, instruction and illumination will be lost upon you.
1. God calls you to awake from your dreams of fancied happiness, and reflect upon the vanity of the objects by which you are deluded.
2. Struggle to shake off the dull slumber which weighs you down.
3. Consider your misery and danger.
4. Rouse all that is within you to activity. God calls you—
(1) By the language of His law.
(2) By the severe dispensations of His providence.
(3) By the strivings of His Spirit.
(4) By the voice of the gospel.
III. God will give light to all who awake at His call.—It is the peculiar property of light to make manifest (Ephesians 5:13). Christ will give you light.
1. He shall make manifest to yourself your character and your situation.
2. You shall behold the light of life.
3. He shall reveal to you the God of pardoning love.
4. He shall chase the darkness of sin from your soul, and you shall walk in the light of holiness.
5. He shall put an end to your mourning.
1. The deceitfulness and destructive character of sin.
2. How fully God provides for your salvation.
3. Hear the voice of God.—E. Hare.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 5:15. See then that ye walk circumspectly.—R.V. “Look then carefully how ye walk.” The way of life must be one of exactitude; and that it may be so the steps must not be haphazard, but carefully taken.
Ephesians 5:16. Redeeming the time.—R.V. margin, “buying up the opportunity.” Seizing the crucial moment as eagerly as men bid for a desirable article at an auction sale. Because the days are evil.—A man in Paul’s circumstances and with his consuming earnestness of spirit may be forgiven if he does not see everything rose-coloured.
Ephesians 5:18. Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.—The word for “excess” is found again in Titus 1:6 as “riot,” and in 1 Peter 4:4. In all three texts the warning against intoxication is near the word. In Luke 15:13 we have the adverbial form—“riotously.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 5:15-18
I. Cautiously regulates the outward life.—“See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). The Christian needs not only spiritual fervour and enthusiasm, but also prudence—sanctified common sense. It is possible to do a right thing in a wrong way, or in such a way as to cause more mischief than benefit. There is a severity of virtue that repels, and rouses resentment; and there is a parade of Christian liberty that shocks the sensitive. The truth lies between two extremes, and Christian wisdom is seen in maintaining the truth and avoiding extremes. “I wisdom dwell with prudence.” Mr. Edward Everett Hale is generally credited as the author of the following motto for Christian workers:
“Look up, and not down;
Look out, and not in;
Look forward, and not back;
Lend a hand.”
Success in soul-winning is only given to skill, earnestness, sympathy, perseverance, tact. Men are saved, not in masses, but by careful study and well-directed effort. It is said that such is the eccentric flight of the snipe when they rise from the earth that it completely puzzles the sportsman, and some who are capital shots at other birds are utterly baffled here. Eccentricity seems to be their special quality, and this can only be mastered by incessant practice with the gun. But the eccentricity of souls is beyond this, and he had need be a very spiritual Nimrod—a mighty hunter before the Lord—who would capture them for Christ. “He that winneth souls is wise.”
II. Teaches how to make the best use of present opportunity.—
1. Observing the value of time amid the prevalence of evil. “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Time is a section cut out of the great circle of eternity, and defines for us the limits in which the work of life must be done. It is a precious gift bestowed by the beneficent hand of God—a gift involving grave responsibility; and we must render a strict account of the use we make of every swing of the pendulum. It is doled out to us in minute fragments. One single year is made up of 31,536,000 seconds. Every tick of the clock records the ever-lessening opportunities of life. Time is in perpetual motion. Like a strong, ever-flowing river, it is bearing away everything into the boundless ocean of eternity. We never know the value of time till we know the value of the fragments into which it is broken up. To make the most of a single hour we must make the most of every minute of which it is composed. The most dangerous moments of a man’s life are those when time hangs heavily on his hands. He who has nothing to do but kill time is in danger of being killed himself. It is a miracle of divine goodness if he is preserved from serious folly, or something worse; and such miracles rarely occur. The man who has learnt the value of time can learn any lesson this world may have to teach him. Time is the opportunity for the exercise of Christian wisdom, and should be the more sedulously used “when the days are evil”—when evil is in power. Oh for wisdom to number our days, to grasp the meaning of present opportunity! Here come the moments that can never be had again; some few may yet be filled with imperishable good. Let us apply our hearts—all our powers—unto wisdom.
2. Having the good sense to recognise the divine will.—“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). We must read and interpret the signs of the times in the light of God’s purpose. A close and deep study of the divine mind will reveal to us the significance of the passing opportunity, and aid us in making the wisest use of it. Our biggest schemes are doomed to failure if they are not in accordance with the will of God. The noblest tasks are reserved for those who have the keenest spiritual insight and are most in harmony with the divine purpose.
III. Avoids the folly and waste of intemperance.—“Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess” (Ephesians 5:18). The Asian Christians were a social, lighthearted people, fond of convivial feasts. Wine was their danger; and even in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper they ran into excess, and degraded the holy ordinance. There were doubtless converted drunkards among them; and the warning of the text was specially needed. Intemperance is not only a folly and a waste; it is a degradation and a sin. It is the excessive indulgence of a craving that at bottom may be in itself good, if wisely regulated—a craving for an intenser life. “One finds traces,” says Monod, “of the primitive greatness of our nature even in its most deplorable errors. Just as impurity proceeds at the bottom from an abuse of the craving for love, so drunkenness betrays a certain demand for ardour and enthusiasm which in itself is natural and even noble. Man loves to feel himself alive; he would fain live twice his life at once; and he would rather draw excitement from horrible things than have no excitement at all.” When the physicians told Theotimus that except he abstained from drunkenness and licentiousness he would lose his eyes, his heart was so wedded to his sins that he answered, “Then farewell, sweet light.”
IV. Seeks to be under the complete control of the divine Spirit.—“But be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The excitement of drunkenness must be supplanted by a holier and more elevating stimulus: the cup that intoxicates exchanged for the new wine of the Spirit. The general adoption of this principle will be the grandest triumph of temperance. The cure of drunkenness will not be accomplished simply by the removal of temptation, unless a relish for higher things is created and springs of holier pleasure are opened in the hearts of men. A lower impulse is conquered and expelled by the introduction of a higher. Anachonis, the philosopher, being asked by what means a man might best guard against the vice of drunkenness, answered, “By bearing constantly in his view the loathsome, indecent behaviour of such as are intoxicated.” Upon this principle was founded the custom of the Lacedæmonians of exposing their drunken slaves to their children, who by that means conceived an early aversion to a vice which makes men appear so monstrous and irrational. There is no excess in drinking copious draughts of the Spirit. Christian wisdom opens the soul to the ever-flowing tide of His influence, and strives to be animated and filled with His all-controlling power.
1. Wisdom is the best use of knowledge.
2. Christianity opens the purest sources of knowledge.
3. “Get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding.”
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 5:15-17. Walking circumspectly.
I. The duty recommended.—
1. Walk circumspectly that you may keep within the line of your duty. Your course often lies in a medium between two extremes. If from this course you deviate, you step into the territory of vice. Be circumspect that you may not mistake your duty. Be watchful that you may retain a sense of virtue and rectitude. Be attentive that you may conform to the Spirit of God’s commands.
2. Walk circumspectly that you may escape the snares in your way.—Often look forward to descry your dangers. Attend to your particular situation and condition in life. Often review your past life, and reflect on former temptations. Be circumspect that you may detect your enemies when they approach you in disguise. Never neglect your duty under pretence of shunning a temptation.
3. Walk circumspectly that you may wisely comport with the aspects of Providence.
4. Be circumspect that you may do every duty in its time and place.—Attend on the daily worship of God in your families and closets. Be kind and beneficent to the poor. Neglect not the care of your body. Attend on the instituted ordinances of the gospel.
5. Walk circumspectly that your good may not be evil spoken of.
II. The argument by which the apostle urges the duty.—“The days are evil.” The argument was not peculiar to those early times, but is pertinent to all times.
1. The days are evil because the Christian finds in himself much disorder and corruption.
2. The days are evil as he is exposed to various afflictions.
3. There are many adversaries.
4. Iniquity abounds.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:15. The Wise Conduct of Life.—
1. The more light and knowledge a man receives from God he ought to take the more diligent heed that in all things he practises according to his light.
2. Those only are most fit to reprove sin in others who walk most circumspectly and live so as they cannot be justly blamed themselves. Even the righteous walking of such is a forcible reproof of sin in others, though they speak nothing.
3. As those are only truly wise in God’s account who labour to walk most exactly by the rule of God’s word, so where this sanctified wisdom is it will render itself evident by making the person endowed with it walk circumspectly.
4. The less circumspect and exact men be in walking by the rule of God’s word the greater fools they are in God’s esteem.—Fergusson.
Ephesians 5:16. Redeeming the Time.—To redeem time is to regain what is lost and to save what is left.
I. Enter on your work speedily.—Do you ask what is your work? It is time you knew. Consult God’s word; that will tell you.
II. Attend to your work with diligence.—A sense of past slothfulness must excite you to severer industry. Be not only fervent but steady in your work.
III. Guard against the things which rob you of your time.—An indolent habit is inconsistent with laudable actions. A versatile humour is active, but wants patience. An excessive fondness for company and amusement is the cause of much waste of time.
IV. Do every work in its season.—Youth is the most promising season. The time of health is more favourable than a time of sickness. There are seasons friendly to particular duties. In doing works of charity observe opportunities.
V. Wisely divide your time among your various duties.—Lathrop.
The Redemption of Time.
I. The subject of the exhortation.—
1. Time sometimes signifies the whole duration assigned to the present world.
2. The period of human life.—The time we occupy in the present state is that which God allots for our personal probation and trial. All God’s dispensations in respect to us refer to this period and have their limits fixed by it.
3. Time means season or opportunity.—In this sense the apostle uses it here. We are to redeem all the opportunity God bestows on us for getting and doing good, for acquainting ourselves with Him and being at peace.
II. The duty enjoined on us.—“Redeeming the time”—the opportunity.
1. We redeem time by consideration.
2. When we turn everything we have to do, in the common concerns of life, into a religious channel.
3. By living in a devotional spirit.—
(1) This will cast out everything trifling, much more everything sinful, from our leisure hours.
(2) Its preservation and exercise are perfectly compatible with the affairs of life.
4. The principal way by which time is to be redeemed is not merely by making efforts to promote our final blessedness, but by actually securing our present salvation.
III. The motives by which the exhortation is enforced.—“Because the days are evil.”
1. The days are evil in a general sense.—This age, as well as the age of the apostles, is a wicked one.
2. Because they are days of distress.
3. The days are evil individually.—In the sense of affliction to a number of individuals.
4. It is an evil day that we are ever exposed to enemies and temptations.
5. Every day opportunities of improvement are wasted is an evil day.
6. The time will come when, as to many unhappy spirits, the opportunity of salvation will be lost for ever.—R. Watson.
The Redemption of Time.—The more the days are beset by things that grievously invade them, disturb them, waste them, the more careful and zealous should we be to save and improve all that we can. To this end—
I. It is of the highest importance that time should be a reality in our perception and estimate; that we should verify it as an actual something, like a substance to which we can attach a positive value, and see it as wasting or as improved as palpably as the contents of a granary or as the precious metals. The unfortunate case with us is, that time is apprehended but like air, or rather like empty space, so that in wasting it we do not see that we are destroying or misusing a reality. Time is equivalent to what could be done or gained in it.
II. Keep established in the mind, and often present to view, certain important purposes or objects that absolutely must be attained.—For example: that there is some considerable discipline and improvement of the mind, some attainment of divine knowledge, some measure of the practice of religious exercises, and there is the one thing needful in its whole comprehensive magnitude.
III. That time be regarded in an inseparable connection with eternity is the grand principle for redeeming it; to feel solemnly that it is really for eternity, and has all the importance of this sublime and awful relation. It might be a striking and alarming reflection suggested to a man who has wasted his time—now the time has gone backward into the irrevocable past, but the effect of it, from the quality you have given it, is gone forward into eternity, and since you are going thither, how will you meet and feel the effect there?
IV. Nothing short of the redemption of the soul is the true and effectual redemption of time.—And this object gives the supreme rule for the redeeming of time. How melancholy to have made so admirable a use of time for all purposes but the supreme one!—John Foster.
Ephesians 5:17-18. Sensual and Spiritual Excitement.—There is the antithesis between drunkenness and spiritual fulness. The propriety of this opposition lies in the intensity of feeling produced in both cases. There is one intensity of feeling produced by stimulating the senses, another by vivifying the spiritual life within. The one commences with impulses from without, the other is guarded by forces from within. Here, then, is the similarity and here the dissimilarity which constitutes the propriety of the contrast. One is ruin, the other salvation. One degrades, the other exalts.
I. The effects are similar.—On the day of Pentecost, when he first influences of the Spirit descended on the early Church, the effects resembled intoxication. It is this very resemblance which deceives the drunkard; he is led on by his feelings as well as by his imagination. Another point of resemblance is the necessity of intense feeling. We have fulness—it may be produced by outward stimulus or by an inpouring of the Spirit. The proper and natural outlet for this feeling is the life of the Spirit. What is religion but fuller life?
II. The dissimilarity or contrast in St. Paul’s idea.—The one fulness begins from without, the other from within. The one proceeds from the flesh, and then influences the emotions; the other reverses this order. Stimulants like wine inflame the senses, and through them set the imaginations and feelings on fire; and the law of our spiritual being is, that that which begins with the flesh sensualises the spirit; whereas that which commences in the region of the spirit spiritualises the senses, in which it subsequently stirs emotion. That which begins in the heart ennobles the whole animal being; but that which begins in the inferior departments of our being is the most entire degradation and sensualising of the soul. The other point of difference is one of effect. Fulness of the Spirit calms; fulness produced by excitement satiates and exhausts. The crime of sense is avenged by sense which wears with time—the terrific punishment attached to the habitual indulgence of the senses is that the incitements to enjoyment increase in proportion as the power of enjoyment fades. We want the Spirit of the life of Christ, simple, natural, with power to calm and soothe the feelings which it rouses; the fulness of the Spirit which can never intoxicate!—F. W. Robertson.
Christian Mirth versus Drunken Mirth.—Carnal men seek the joys of life in revelry, but Christians must seek them in a higher inspiration—that of the Holy Ghost, whose fulness is the source of the blithest and most joyous life.
I. The mirth begotten of wine is the mother of all kinds of profligacy.
II. The mirth begotten of wine destroys men body and soul.
III. The fulness of the Holy Spirit produces a truly blithe and merry life.—In this life, with its many causes of depression, men need exhilaration, and the text points us to the only place where it is to be found without any alloy.—G. A. Bennetts, B.A.
What is your Heart filled with?
I. The heart of man must be full of something.
II. Those who are full of wine cannot be filled with the Spirit.
III. Those who are filled with the Spirit will not be full of wine.
IV. The joy that is kindled by fulness of wine is degrading while it lasts, and will soon expire.
V. The joy that is kindled by the fulness of the Spirit makes us like the angels, and it will never end.—Lay Preacher.
The Vice of Drunkenness.
I. The nature and extent of the sin.—The use of meat and drink is to support and comfort the body. Whatever is more than these is excess. The highest degree of intemperance is such an indulgence as suspends the exercise of the mental and bodily powers. If by the indulgence of your appetite you unfit your body for the service of your mind, or your mind for the service of God, so waste your substance as to defraud your family of a maintenance or your creditors of their dues, become enslaved to a sensual habit and fascinated to dissolute company, stupefy your conscience, extinguish the sentiments of honour and banish the thoughts of futurity, you are chargeable with criminal excess.
II. The guilt and danger which attend the vice.—
1. It is an ungrateful abuse of God’s bounty. 2 It divests the man of his native dignity and sinks him below the brutal herds.
3. Is injurious to the body as well as mind.
4. Consumes men’s substance.
5. Wastes a man’s conscience as well as his substance.
6. Intemperance generates other vices—impure lustings, angry passions, profane language, insolent manners, obstinacy of heart, and contempt of reproof.
7. Has most lamentable effects on families.
8. The Scripture abounds in solemn warnings against this sin.
9. This sin must be renounced, or the end of it will be death.—Lathrop.
Being filled with the Spirit.—
1. It supposes a sufficiency and fulness in the Spirit and His influences every way to fill our souls, to supply all our spiritual wants, and to help our infirmities.
2. It imports an actual participation of His influences and fruits in a large and plentiful measure.
(1) As men come to have every power and faculty of their souls more subject to the Spirit’s authority and under the influence proper to it.
(2) As they grow to experience His operations in all the several kinds of them.
(3) As His agency comes to be more stated and constant in them.
(4) As His grace becomes more mighty and operative in them, so as actually to produce its proper and genuine effects.
(5) As they taste such a sweetness and delight in the measure of participation attained that they reach forward with greater ardour toward perfection.
3. That every one should esteem the fulness of the Spirit a desirable thing.
(1) It puts us into a fit posture of mind for daily communion with God.
(2) Would settle our minds in the truest pleasure and peace.
4. That we should look upon it as an attainable good.
(1) From the Spirit’s own gracious benignity and His declared inclination to fill our souls.
(2) From the purchase and intercession of Christ.
(3) From the nature of the Spirit’s work in consequence of redemption.
(4) From the gospel being described as the ministration of the Spirit.
(5) From the declarations of God concerning the Spirit.
(6) From the instances of His grace already made in others.
(7) From the beginnings of His saving grace in themselves, good men may conclude the greatest heights attain able by them, if they be not wanting to themselves.—John Evans.
On being filled with the Spirit—
I. Implies that the Spirit has been largely given to the Church.
II. That as God has given the Spirit largely so He has been abundantly received.
III. Is to be possessed by His graces in all their variety.
IV. Is to be wholly guided by His influence and subject to His control.
V. Is to be the instrument of fulfilling His mission on earth.
VI. Is to have God as the only portion of the soul.—
1. The Spirit is God on the earth.
2. To be filled with the Spirit is to be fully occupied with God.—Stewart.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 5:19. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.—When the spirit is elevated so that ordinary prose conversation is inadequate to express the feelings let it find vent in sacred music. St. James’s advice to the “merry” heart is, “Sing psalms.” The “psalm” is properly a song with accompaniment of a stringed instrument; “a ‘hymn” must always be more or less of a Magnificat, a direct address of praise and glory to God.” “Spiritual songs” were “such as were composed by spiritual men and moved in the sphere of spiritual things” (Trench). No spiritual excitement, however highly wrought, can be injurious that flows between the banks of thanksgiving and mutual submission in the fear of God.
Ephesians 5:20. Giving thanks always for all things.—If one who speaks as a philosopher merely can praise the “sweet uses of adversity” and discern the “soul of goodness in things evil,” how much more should one believing Romans 8:28!
Ephesians 5:21. Submitting yourselves one to another.—In another Church the endeavour to take precedence of each other had produced what a stranger might have taken for a madhouse (1 Corinthians 14:23). St. Paul’s word for “submitting” means “ranging yourselves beneath,” and finds its illustration in our Lord’s words, “Go and sit down in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 5:19-21
I. Expressed in heartfelt praise to God.—“Speaking … in spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Men filled with wine seek their enjoyment in singing bacchanalian odes and songs; but the men of the Spirit find a higher and more satisfying joy in chanting psalms and hymns of praise to God. The holiest excitement seeks expression in music and song. In the praise meetings of the Ephesians we have the beginnings of Christian psalmody. The psalms of the Old Testament were sung, accompanied by musical instruments. “Singing and making melody” means singing and playing, voice and instrument blending in joyous strains of praise. Then would follow hymns expressing the great ideas of the gospel. Regarding the early Christians, Pliny wrote: “They are wont on a fixed day to meet before daylight—to avoid persecution—and to recite a hymn among themselves by turns to Christ, as being God.” There might not be much artistic taste in the music, either of voice or instrument; but the sincerity of the heart was the true harmony. The contrast of the verse is between the heathen and the Christian practice. Let your songs be not the drinking songs of heathen feasts, but psalms and hymns; and their accompaniment, not the music of the lyre, but the melody of the heart. Is any merry, let him sing, not light and frivolous songs, breathing questionable morality, but psalms. The glad heart is eager first to acknowledge God.
II. Largely consists in thanksgiving.—“Giving thanks always for all things unto God” (Ephesians 5:20). God is the active Source of all blessings in creation, providence, and grace, and should be constantly acknowledged in grateful adoration. The thankful heart is the happiest; and it is the happy who sing. Thanksgiving is the predominating element in praise; and praise is the essence of true worship. Prayer is not the essence of worship, though it is an important help. Prayer becomes worship when it merges into praise. The reading and exposition of God’s word are not worship. Preaching accomplishes one of its loftiest functions when it incites to praise. Music is not worship; but it may become a valuable accessory. Christianity has taken hold of music and consecrated and elevated it to the highest uses of worship. It has produced the greatest musicians and the grandest music. All true music is the outward and melodious expression of our dearest and most sacred thoughts and feelings. The musical artist touches what is deepest and best in us. Nature has no false notes. When we praise God aright, worship becomes an act of the highest intelligence, calling forth and exercising our noblest powers. We are to sing with the Spirit, and we are to sing with the understanding also. Worship is acceptable to God as it is the joyous expression of the soul, brimming over with thankfulness and reverence. We are then brought under the spiritually transforming power of the Being we worship; the worshipper becomes like the object worshipped.
III. Soberly recognises the relation in which we stand to each other and to Christ.—“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). In the fear of Christ—so read all the old MSS. and authorities. The believer passes from under the bondage of the law to be the servant of Christ, which through the instinct of love to Him is really to be the Lord’s freeman, for he is under the law to Christ. Thus reverential fear of displeasing Him is the motive for discharging our relative duties as Christians. The Church should be a pattern and an example of harmony and peace, and this can only be by the members submitting themselves one to another “in the fear of Christ.” The man with the most distinguished gifts must not be above submitting himself to the judgment and will of his fellow-members. Preacher, organist, choir, and congregation must vie with each other in harmonious rivalry in the service and worship of God.
1. Spiritual enjoyment is not dependent on fictitious excitement.
2. Expresses itself in holiest Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. Is unselfish.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 5:19. Singing in the Worship of God.
I. The singing of psalms is here enjoined as a sacred branch of social worship.—We are to glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits. To Him we are to consecrate the use of all our powers. And there is the same reason why the musical as any other faculty should be employed in His service. Praise is the most excellent part of divine worship.
II. The matter or subject of our singing—In psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. By psalms is intended that collection of sacred poems which passes under this name and is one of the canonical books of Scripture. By hymns may be designed other poetical compositions of Scripture as the songs of Moses, Hannah, Zechariah, Simeon, and others. By spiritual songs may be meant those pious and devout songs which in that age were composed by prophets and holy men in the Church under the immediate influence of the Spirit. The matter we sing should be accommodated to the occasion of the worship. If in the days of David it was thought necessary that on extraordinary occasions a new song should be sung, surely now we may sing some new songs on the glorious occasion of the gospel.
III. We are to sing, making melody.—The use of music in social worship is to assist and enliven the devotion of the heart. When music is performed with melody of sound, exactness of time, and harmony of voices, it greatly contributes to this end. Singing cannot be performed to edification and comfort without skill. The singers in the Jewish Temple were carefully instructed, and this branch of worship conducted with great order and solemnity.
IV. In singing we must make melody in our hearts to the Lord.—Singing as a part of religious worship must be directed to God. We sing in obedience to His command, with a sense of His presence, with hearts disposed for His service, with affections corresponding to the matter of the psalm. The man who can hear holy anthems sung to the universal Parent, with voices sweetly mingling and harmonising together, and not feel himself softened into benevolence and love and moulded into condescension and peace, must have a soul rugged as the rocks and stubborn as an oak.
1. If singing is an instituted part of divine worship, all should take a share in it.
2. Every one according to his ability is bound to promote the psalmody of the Church. 3. Psalmody as a branch of divine worship should be regarded, not as a theatrical exhibition, but as a religious solemnity.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:20. The Duty of Thanksgiving.
I. The duty to which we are exhorted.—
1. Implies a right apprehension and considerate attention to benefits conferred.
2. Requires a faithful retention of benefits in memory and frequent reflections on them.
3. A due esteem and valuation of benefits.
4. That benefits be received with a willing mind, a hearty sense, a vehement affection.
5. Always attended with the esteem, veneration, and love of the benefactor.
II. The time allotted to the performance of the duty.—“Always.”
1. Hereby is required a frequent performance thereof.
2. Appointing and punctually observing convenient times for the purpose.
3. A vigilant attendance on the duty such as men bestow on their employments.
4. Implies a ready disposition to give thanks ever permanent in us.
5. That we embrace every opportunity of actually expressing our thankfulness.
III. The matter of this duty.—“For all things.”
1. We are to give thanks not only for great but the least favours of God.
2. Not only for new and present benefits, but for all we have formerly or may hereafter receive.
3. Not only for pleasant occurrences of providence, but also those which are adverse.
4. Not only for temporal but for spiritual and eternal blessings.—Barrow.
I. The duty here enjoined is to give thanks.
II. Consider the character of that Being to whom our thanks must be supremely directed.—“To God, even the Father.”
III. We are required to give thanks always to God.
IV. The matters for which we are to give thanks.—“For all things.”
V. Consider the medium of our access to God in this duty.—“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:21. Mutual Submission.
I. A degree of submission is due to superiors.—Superiors in age, in knowledge and wisdom, in authority. Honour a virtuous character wherever you see it.
II. Mutual submission as it respects equals.—All men have the same immutable right to an equitable treatment from all with whom they have intercourse. Mutual subjection ought to be seen in families.
III. There is a submission due to those who on some accounts may be deemed inferiors.—Superiors owe respect to those below them. They should be easy of access, gentle in language, and condescending in deportment.
IV. This mutual submission ought to appear in Christian Churches.—Ibid.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 5:22. Submit yourselves.—Same word as in previous verse; neither here nor there does it involve any loss of self-respect. The wife’s tribute to her husband’s worth is submission—the grace of childhood to both parents equally is obedience.
Ephesians 5:23. Christ is the head of the Church.—Defending her at His own peril (“If ye seek Me, let these go their way”); serving her in utmost forgetfulness of self (“I am amongst you as he that serveth”); “Giving Himself up for her.”
Ephesians 5:25. Husbands, love your wives.—This will prevent the submission of the wife from ever becoming degrading—as submission to a tyrant must be.
Ephesians 5:26. That He might sanctify and cleanse.—There is no “and” between “sanctify” and “cleanse” in what St. Paul wrote. “Sanctify it, having cleansed it” (R.V.). “I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified” (John 17:19).
Ephesians 5:27. Spot or wrinkle.—“Spot,” a visible blemish, used in the plural, figuratively, in 2 Peter 2:13, of men who disfigure Christian assemblies. “Wrinkle”—“a wrinkled bride” is an incongruity, just as the mourning which produces wrinkles is out of place in the bride-chamber (Matthew 9:15).
Ephesians 5:28. As their own bodies.—Not “as they love their own bodies” merely, but “as being their own.” See Ephesians 5:31, “one flesh.”
Ephesians 5:31. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife.—We must regard these words, not as a continuation of Adam’s in Genesis 2:23, but as the words of the narrator, who regards what our first father said as a mystical hint of the origin of marriage.
Ephesians 5:32. This is a great mystery.—The meaning of which is known only to the initiated. Something having a significance beyond what appears on the surface. But I speak.—The “I” is emphatic: “I give my interpretation.” My chief interest in this mystery is as it relates to Christ and to the Church.
Ephesians 5:33. Nevertheless.—“I pursue the matter no further”; and though this mystical turn is given to the words, still in actual life let the husband love (Ephesians 5:25) and the wife show reverence (Ephesians 5:22). Let all the married among you apply the mystery to their own case, so that the husband may love the wife and the wife fear the husband.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 5:22-33
Duties of Wives and Husbands.
I. The duty of the wife is submission to her husband.—“Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands.”
1. A submission defined by religious obligation.—“As unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). This submission implies no inferiority. Husband and wife are equal before God, and each is separately responsible to Him. The husband cannot love and serve God for the wife, nor the wife for the husband; each stands related to Him as a distinct personality, with distinct duties and responsibilities for each. God has the first claim upon them both, and their relation and duties to each other must be in harmony with that supreme claim. The submission demanded is not the subjection of an inferior to a superior, but the voluntary, sympathetic obedience that can be gracefully and appropriately rendered only by an equal to an equal. “It is here that Christianity, in contrast with paganism and notably with Mahometanism, raises the weaker sex to honour. In soul and destiny it declares the woman to be man, endowed with all rights and powers inherent in humanity. It is one of the glories of our faith that it has enfranchised our sisters, and raises them in spiritual calling to the full level of their brothers and husbands.”
2. A submission recognising the headship of the husband.—
(1) Analogous to the headship of Christ to His Church. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23).
(2) Unlike that headship inasmuch as Christ is not only the head but also the Saviour of the Church. “And He is the Saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). As the Saviour His headship is unrivalled and must be acknowledged by every member alike. The wife must not think too much of her husband: there is One who is superior to him, and who must be all in all to them both.
3. A submission after the pattern of that of the Church to Christ.—“As the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24; cf. Ephesians 5:33). Religion sanctifies all relationships and makes duty a joy. As the wife obeys Christ in spiritual things, so she will obey her husband in all things righteous. Mary, wife of Prince William of Orange and the heir-apparent to the English throne, was asked what her husband the prince should be if she became queen. She called in her husband and promised him he should always bear rule; and asked only that he would obey the command, “Husbands, love your wives,” as she should do that, “Wives, be obedient to your husbands in all things.”
II. The duty of the husband is to love his wife.—
1. A love that seeks to promote the highest spiritual interests of the wife (Ephesians 5:25-29). It must be a Christ-like, self-sacrificing, all-devoted love. It is greatly within the power of the husband to help or hinder the spiritual life of the wife. The man is apt to become so self-absorbed and forgetful that he needs reminding of his duty to love and cherish the one who should be dearer to him than any other. Assured of the reality and unselfishness of her husband’s love, there is no sacrifice she will hesitate to make, nor will she spare any effort to attain the Christ-likeness of character to which he may wish to lead her. “One with Christ. This is the ideal Christian state. We have a faint reflection of this in that which should be the ideal condition of husband and wife. They are no longer twain but one flesh. They are to be as nearly as possible one person. Their thoughts, their interests, their hopes, their aims are one. Marriage was given that it might be a representation of the spiritual union between Christ and His Church. The union of each separate soul with Christ is a fragment of His union with the whole Church, and must partake of the same character. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
2. A love arising from the intimacy and sacredness of the marriage bond (Ephesians 5:30-32).—Marriage is a union for life between one man and one woman; consequently bigamy, polygamy, and voluntary divorce are all inconsistent with its nature. It must be entered into freely and cordially by the parties, with the conviction that one is suited to the other, and to take the positions involved in the natural and scriptural view of the relation. “Marriage,” said Jeremy Taylor, “is a school and exercise of virtue. Here is the proper sense of piety and patience, of the duty of parents, and the charity of relatives; here kindness is spread abroad and love is united and made firm as a centre. Marriage is the nursery of heaven, hath in it the labours of love and the delicacies of friendship, the blessing of society and the union of hands and hearts. Like the useful bee, marriage builds a house, unites into societies and republics, exercises many virtues, promotes the interest of mankind, and is that state of good things to which God has designed the present constitution of the world.”
3. A love strengthened by the observance of mutual duties (Ephesians 5:33).—Love manifested begets love, and strengthens with exercise. The loving reverence of the wife follows on the frank and genuine love of the husband. This was an epitaph in a churchyard inscribed by a husband after sixty years of married life “She always made home happy.” The Christian conception of love and marriage began a new era in the world, and has exalted woman to her true place.
1. Marriage is not to be lightly entered into.
2. Is dignified as a symbol of the union between Christ and His Church. 3. Binds the contracting parties to fidelity in observing the most sacred vows.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 5:22-33. Wives and Husbands.
I. There are duties which are common to both the correlates.—The husband and wife are in some respects equals. As they are one and have one common interest they ought to act with an undivided concern for the happiness of the family. They are alike bound to mutual fidelity and a chaste conversation. They are under equal obligations to study each other’s peace and comfort.
II. There are some duties particularly incumbent on the wife.—These the apostle expresses by the terms submission, reverence, obedience, and subjection. Since the Church is subject to Christ, the woman ought to be subject to her husband, who, by Christ’s authority, is constituted her head. A family should resemble a Church in union, peace, and subordination. The honour and interest of religion require that wives, by a cheerful subordination, co-operate with their husbands in all the important concerns of the household, and in the nurture, education, and government of the dependent members.
III. There are duties particularly incumbent on the husband towards his wife.—These the apostle expresses by the word “love,” which here stands opposed to sharpness and severity. One argument for this love is the example of Christ in His love and devotion to the Church. Another reason is, the intimacy of the relationship—“Whoso loveth his wife loveth himself.” Where the spirit of religion reigns in both, the union will be easy and their joint government in the family have efficacy. The maintenance of family religion depends on nothing more than the union of the heads. For how can they unite in prayers and praises who unite in nothing else.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 5:23-32. Christ and His Bride.
I. Christ’s love to the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27). We must value and joyfully assert our individual part in the redeeming love of the Son of God; but we must equally admit the sovereign rights of the Church in the Redeemer’s passion. There is in some an absorption in the work of grace within their own hearts, an individualistic salvation-seeking that like all selfishness defeats its end, for it narrows and impoverishes the inner life thus sedulously cherished. The Church does not exist simply for the benefit of individual souls; it is an eternal institution, with an affiance to Christ, a calling and destiny of its own; within that universal sphere our personal destiny holds its particular place. The Christ is worthy and she must be made worthy. From eternity He set His love upon her; on the cross He won her back from her infidelity at the price of His blood. Through the ages He has been wooing her to Himself, and schooling her in wise and manifold ways that she may be fit for her heavenly calling. Through what cleansing fires, through what baptisms, even of blood, she has still to pass ere the consummation is reached, He only knows who loved her and gave Himself for her. He will spare to His Church nothing, either of bounty or of trial, that her perfection needs.
II. Christ’s authority over the Church (Ephesians 5:23-24).—The Church is no democracy, any more than she is an aristocracy or a sacerdotal absolutism: she is a Christocracy. The people are not rulers in the house of God; they are the ruled, laity and ministers alike. We acknowledge this in theory; but our language and spirit would oftentimes be other than they are, if we were penetrated with the sense of the continual presence and majesty of the Lord Jesus in our assemblies. The Church’s protection from human tyranny, from schemes of ambition, from the intrusion of political methods and designs, lies in her sense of the splendour and reality of Christ’s dominion and of her own eternal life in Him.
III. The mystery of the Church’s origin in Christ (Ephesians 5:30-32).—God chose us in Christ before the world’s foundation. We were created in the Son of God’s love antecedently to our redemption by Him. Christ recovers through the cross that which pertains inherently to Him, which belonged to Him by nature, and is as a part of Himself. The derivation of Eve from the body of Adam, as that is affirmed in the mysterious words of Genesis, is analogous to the derivation of the Church from Christ. The latter relationship existed in its ideal, and as conceived in the purpose of God, prior to the appearance of the human race. In St. Paul’s theory, the origin of the woman in man, which forms the basis of marriage in Scripture, looked farther back to the origin of humanity in Christ Himself. In some mystical but real sense marriage is a reunion, the reincorporation of what had been sundered. Seeking his other self, the complement of his nature, the man breaks the ties of birth and founds a new home. So the inspired author of the passage in Genesis (Ephesians 2:21-22) explains the origin of marriage, and the instinct which draws the bridegroom to his bride. But our apostle sees within this declaration a deeper truth, kept secret from the foundation of the world. When he speaks of this great mystery, he means thereby not marriage itself, but the saying of Adam about it. This text was a standing problem to the Jewish interpreters. “But for my part,” says the apostle, “I refer it to Christ and to the Church.” St. Paul, who has so often before drawn the parallel between Adam and Christ, by the light of this analogy perceives a new and rich meaning in the old dark sentence. It helps him to see how believers in Christ, forming collectively His body, are not only grafted into Him, but were derived from Him and formed in the very mould of His nature. In our union through grace and faith with Christ crucified we realise again the original design of our being. Christ has purchased by His blood no new or foreign bride, but her who was His from eternity—the child who had wandered from the Father’s house, the betrothed who had left her Lord and spouse.—Findlay.
Ephesians 5:25-33. The Christian Law of Marriage—
I. Demands self-sacrificing love.
II. Recognises the sacredness of the union between the contracting parties.
III. Is ennobled in being a type of the union between Christ and the Church.
IV. Involves mutual fidelity on the part of both husband and wife.
Ephesians 5:25-27. Christ’s Love for the Church.
I. Christ’s love of His Church.—It was—
II. Christ’s sacrifice of Himself as an exhibition of His love.—
1. Himself. His life. What a life!
2. As a sacrifice. The essence of it is vicarious suffering.
3. To all the suffering which justice demanded.
III. Christ’s more immediate object in what He has done.—
1. Sanctification. As essential as pardon.
2. By the agency of the Holy Spirit. Signified by the washing of water.
3. Through the instrumentality of the word.
IV. Christ’s ultimate aim.—
1. To present His Church to Himself. A nuptial figure.
2. Free from all imperfections.
3. Adorned with all excellencies.
(1) Our obligations to Christ.
(2) The real value of holiness.
(3) The high destiny of believers.—G. Brooks.
The Future Glory of the Church.
I. The future state of the Church.—In describing the future condition of the Church, the apostle has evidently in his mind two previous states: her original state when lying dead in trespasses and sins, and her subsequent earthly state when separated from the mass of the ungodly and partially redeemed. We have the people of Christ before us in three distinct points of view:—
1. As wholly defiled.—Speaking of “sanctifying and cleansing” the Church intimates her complete defilement.
2. As in some measure cleansed.—Though sanctified and cleansed, we read of spots still left on the Church.
3. As altogether pure.—Faultless in God’s presence and estimation.
II. The causes to which this state is to be ascribed.—
1. The love of Christ.
2. Love revealed in sacrifice as another step towards final purity.
3. The work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:26).
4. The word of God (Ephesians 5:26). A right understanding of its testimony and a heartfelt belief in its truth.
III. The great end for which all these means of holiness are brought into operation.—“That He might present it to Himself a glorious Church” (Ephesians 5:27). The likeness of God will be put on her, the image of God shine in her; that attribute of divinity—holiness—which is the perfection of divinity will be her crown.—C. Bradley.
The Divine Ideal of the Church.
I. We have an array of stupendous facts concerning the Church.—
1. The divine prevision. Before the eternal Son of God could give Himself for the Church, He must have had it in His mind.
2. The Redeemer’s actual love for the Church. 3. The Redeemer’s amazing self-sacrifice on behalf of the Church. 4. That the Redeemer has a very definite purpose concerning His Church.
II. The distinguishing marks or signs of the members of the Church.—They are personal and experimental.
1. The casting out of natural impurities. Improvement is not enough. Nothing but a thorough re-creation can effect what is required.
2. The instrument of this change is the truth.
3. This change, this introduction into the Church, is a thing complete in itself, becomes historical, and ought never to need repeating.
4. The way is open for the appearance of the other personal and experimental sign—sanctification (Ephesians 5:26).
5. Christ’s idea of the Church given in these verses is not abstract, impracticable, and untrue to the possibilities of ordinary human nature.
III. Here we catch a glimpse of the future and eternal glory of the Church.—How stupendous an event it will be when, at the consummation of all things, the whole Church will be presented to the Lord Jesus! What can secure Church membership? Neither early training, nor baptism, nor the holding of, an orthodox creed, nor association with a religious and devout assembly, nor the filling of ecclesiastical office, nor even intelligent approach to the table of the Lord. Such things are means to an end. That end is true membership in the Church of Christ. And that membership is attained and secured by divine renewal of the heart, and by that conformity to the mind of Christ which is expressive of the new life. The true unity of the Church of Christ is that spiritual oneness which has its expression in identity of Christian life.—W. Hudson.
Ephesians 5:25. A Noble Self-sacrifice.—Caius Gracchus, who was the idol of the Roman people, having carried his regard for the lower orders so far as to draw upon himself the resentment of the nobility, an open rupture ensued; and the two extremities of Rome resembled two camps—Opimius the consul on one side, and Gracchus and his friend Fulvius on the other. A battle ensued in which the consul, meeting with more vigorous resistance than he expected, proclaimed an amnesty for all those who should lay down their arms, and at the same time promised to pay for the heads of Gracchus and Fulvius their weight in gold. This proclamation had the desired effect. The populace deserted their leaders, Fulvius was taken and beheaded, and Gracchus, at the advice of his two friends, Licinius Crassus and Pomponius, determined to flee the city, and reached the bridge Sublicius, where his enemies, who pursued him close, would have overtaken and seized him if his two friends had not opposed their fury; but they saw the danger he was in and determined to save his life at the expense of their own. They defended the bridge against all the consular troops till Gracchus was out of their reach; but at length, being overpowered by numbers, and covered with wounds, they both expired on the bridge they had so valiantly defended.—Biblical Treasury.
Ephesians 5:30. Members of the Body of Christ.
I. The doctrine.—The apostle is speaking of believers only; of believers as believing; of all believers. His language implies:—
1. Union.—Real, intimate, indissoluble.
2. Dependence.—Of the members on the heart. Of the members on the head.
3. Sympathy.—Sincere, entire, uninterrupted. Value of human sympathy. Its rarity. Its necessary imperfection. The superiority of Christ’s.
II. The duty.—
1. Love. A special affection arising out of a special relation.
2. Reverence.—There should be no unholy familiarity.
3. Obedience.—Responsive to His will as a part of Himself.—G. Brooks.
Ephesians 5:33. The Sanctity of Home Life.—The Christian home is the corner-stone of modern civilisation—the best fruit Christianity has yielded the earth. The Anglo-Saxon home is the crowning glory of the race. Contrast it with French home life, or the miserable home life in Utah! National self-preservation demands a vigorous uprooting of Mormon polygamy and Western divorce lawlessness. That which is punished as a crime in the best and purest Christian lands must be punished as a crime wherever it is found. Garfield kissing his mother and his wife at his Inauguration was a sweet revelation of holy family life.—Homiletic Monthly.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ephesians 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34