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A CONSISTENT WALK ENJOINED
Ephesians 4:1-49.4.3. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in lore; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
THE end of all true religion is practice: and the perfection of practice is a habit of mind suited to the relations which we bear to God and man, and to the circumstances in which from time to time we are placed. It is not by external acts only that we are to serve God: the passive virtues of meekness, and patience, and long-suffering, and forbearance, are quite as pleasing in his sight, as the most active virtues in which we can be engaged. Hence St. Paul, in entering on the practical part of this epistle, entreats the Ephesian converts to pay particular attention to these graces, and to consider them as the clearest evidences of their sincerity, and the brightest ornaments of their profession. He was at this time a prisoner at Rome: but no personal considerations occupied his mind. He had no request to make for himself; no wish for any exertions on their part to liberate him from his confinement: he was willing to suffer for his Lord’s sake; and sought only to make his sufferings a plea, whereby to enforce the more powerfully on their minds the great subject which he had at heart, their progressive advancement in real piety.
With a similar view we would now draw your attention to,
His general exhortation—
First, let us get a distinct idea of what the Christian’s “vocation” is—
[It is a vocation from death to life, from sin to holiness, from hell to heaven.
Every Christian was once dead in trespasses and sins [Note: 1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Timothy 3:31 Timothy 3:3.] — — — But he has heard the voice of the Son of God speaking to him in the Gospel [Note: John 5:24-43.5.25. 1 Thessalonians 1:5.] — — — and, through the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, he “has passed from death unto life [Note: 1 John 3:14.];” so that, though once he was dead, lie is now alive again; and though once lost, he is found [Note: Luke 15:24.] — — —
From the time-that he is so quickened, he rises to newness of life [Note: Romans 6:4-45.6.5.]. Just as his Lord and Saviour “died unto sin once, but, in that he liveth, liveth unto God,” so the Christian is conformed to Christ in this respect, “reckoning himself dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ [Note: Romans 6:9-45.6.11.].” By his very calling he is “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.];” and engages to be “holy, even as God himself is holy [Note: 1 Peter 1:15-60.1.16.]” — — —
Once the believer was a “child of wrath, even as others [Note: Ephesians 2:2.];” and, had he died in his unconverted state, must have perished for ever. But through the blood of Jesus he is delivered from the guilt of all his sins, and obtains a title to the heavenly inheritance — — — Hence he is said to be “called to the kingdom and glory of his God,” and “to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 1Th 2:12 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13-53.2.14.].”
Thus is the Christian’s “a high,” “a holy,” and “a heavenly calling.”]
Such, believer, being thy vocation, thou mayest easily see what kind of a walk that is which is suited to it—
[Dost thou profess to have experienced such a call? “Walk worthy of the” profession which thou makest, the expectations thou hast formed, and the obligations which are laid upon thee.
It is not any common measure of holiness that befits a person professing such things as these. How unsuitable would it be for one who pretends to have been “born from above,” to be setting his affections on any thing here below; or for one who is “a partaker of the Divine nature,” to “walk in any other way than as Christ himself walked!” — — —
And, seeing that you “look for a better country, that is, an heavenly,” should you not aspire after it, and “press forward towards it, forgetting all the ground you have passed over, and mindful only of the way that lies before you? — — — Should not “your conversation be in heaven,” where your treasure now is, and where you hope in a little time to be, in the immediate presence of your God?
If you have indeed been so highly distinguished, should you not “live no longer to yourselves, but altogether unto Him who died for you and rose again?” Should any thing short of absolute perfection satisfy you? Should you not labour to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Colossians 4:12.]?”
This then is what I would earnestly entreat you all to seek after, even to walk worthy of your high calling, or rather, “worthy of the Lord himself,” who hath “called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”]
But that we may come more closely to the point, we will call your attention to,
The particular duties he inculcates—
In order to adorn our Christian profession, we must especially keep in view,
1. The cultivation of holy tempers in ourselves—
[Without this, nothing can ever prosper in our souls. “Lowliness and meekness” are unostentatious virtues; but they are of pre-eminent value in the sight of God [Note: 1 Peter 3:4.]. They constitute the brightest ornament of “the hidden man of the heart,” which alone engages the regards of the heart-searching God. In the very first place, therefore, get your souls deeply impressed with a sense of your own unworthiness, and of your total destitution of wisdom, or righteousness, or strength, or any thing that is good. No man is so truly rich as he who is “poor in spirit;” no man so estimable in God’s eyes, as he who is most abased in his own. With humility must be associated meekness. These two qualities particularly characterized our blessed Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:1.]: of whom we are on that account encouraged to learn [Note: Matthew 11:29.]; and whom in these respects we are bound to imitate, “having the same mind as was in him [Note: Philippians 2:5.].” Let these dispositions then be cultivated with peculiar care, according as St. James has exhorted us; “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge amongst you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom [Note: James 3:13.].”
And whilst we maintain in exercise these graces, let us also be long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. However meek and lowly we are in ourselves, it cannot fail but that we must occasionally meet with things painful from others. The very graces which we manifest will often call forth the enmity of others, and cause them to act an injurious part towards us. But, if this should be the case, we must be long-suffering towards them, not retaliating the injury, nor harbouring resentment in our hearts, but patiently submitting to it, as to a dispensation ordered by Infinite Wisdom for our good. But, where this is not the case, there will still be occasions of vexation, arising from the conduct of those around us: the ignorance of some, the misapprehensions and mistakes of others, the perverseness of others, the want of judgment in others, sometimes also pure accident, will place us in circumstances of difficulty and embarrassment. But from whatever cause these trials arise, we should shew forbearance towards the offender, from a principle of love; not being offended with him, not imputing evil intention to him, not suffering our regards towards him to be diminished; but bearing with his infirmities, as we desire that God should bear with ours.
Now it is in preserving such a state of mind in ourselves, and manifesting it towards others, that we shall particularly adorn the Gospel of Christ: and therefore, in our endeavours to walk worthy of our high calling, we must particularly be on our guard, that no temper contrary to these break forth into act, or be harboured in the mind.]
The promotion of peace and unity in all around us—
[As belonging to the Church of Christ, we have duties towards all the members of his mystical body. There ought to be perfect union amongst them all: they should, if possible, be “all joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:10.].” But, constituted as men are, it is scarcely to be expected that all who believe in Christ should have precisely the same views of every doctrine, or even of every duty. But whatever points of difference there may be between them, there should be a perfect unity of spirit: and to preserve this should be the constant endeavour of them all. All should consider themselves as members of one family, living under the same roof: if the house be on fire, they all exert themselves in concert with each other, to extinguish the flames: they feel one common interest in the welfare of the whole, and gladly unite for the promotion of it. Thus it should be in the Church of Christ. Every thing tending to disunion should be avoided by all; or if the bonds of peace be in any degree loosened, every possible effort should be made to counteract the evil, and re-establish the harmony that has been interrupted. A constant readiness to this good office is no low attainment; and, when joined with the graces before spoken of, it constitutes a most useful and ornamental part of the Christian character. Attend then to this with great care. Shew that you “do not mind your own things only, but also, if not chiefly, the things of others.” Shew, that the welfare of the Church, and the honour of your Lord, lie near your heart: and let no effort be wanting on your part to promote so glorious an object. Be willing to sacrifice any interest or wish of your own for the attainment of it; even as Paul “became all things to all men,” and “sought not his own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved.”]
And now, let me, like the Apostle, make this the subject of my most earnest and affectionate entreaty. Consider, “I beseech you,”
Its aspect on your own happiness—
[It is the consistent Christian only that can be happy. If there be pride, anger, or any hateful passion indulged, “it will eat as doth a canker,” and destroy all the comfort of the soul; it will cause God to hide his face from us, and weaken the evidences of our acceptance with him. If then you consult nothing but your own happiness, I would say to you, “Walk worthy the vocation wherewith ye are called; and especially in the constant exercise of humility and love.”]
Its aspect on the Church of which you are members—
[It is impossible to benefit the Church, if these graces be not cultivated with the greatest care. In every Church there will be some, who, by unsubdued tempers, or erroneous notions, or a party-spirit, will be introducing divisions, and disturbing the harmony which ought to prevail. Against all such persons the humble Christian should be on his guard, and oppose a barrier. And it is scarcely to be conceived how much good one person of a humble and loving spirit may do. If “one sinner destroyeth much good,” so verily one active and pious Christian effects much. Let each of you then consider the good of the whole: consider yourselves as soldiers fighting under one Head. Your regimental dress may differ from that of others; but the end, and aim, and labour of all, must be the same; and all must have but one object, the glory of their common Lord.]
Its aspect on the world around you—
[What will the world say, if they see Christians dishonouring their profession by unholy tempers and mutual animosities? What opinion will they have of principles which produce in their votaries no better effects? Will they not harden themselves and one another in their sins, and justify themselves in their rejection of the Gospel, which your inconsistencies have taught them to blaspheme? But if your deportment be such that they can find no evil thing to say of you, they will be constrained to acknowledge that God is with you of a truth, and to glorify him in your behalf. Especially, if they see you to be one with each other, as God and Christ are one, they will know that your principles are just, and will wish to have their portion with you in a better world [Note: John 17:21-43.17.23.].]
Its aspect on your eternal welfare—
[In all the most essential things, all the members of Christ’s mystical body are of necessity united: there is “one body,” of which you are members: “one Spirit,” by which you are animated; one inheritance, which is the “one hope of your calling;” “one Lord,” Jesus Christ, who died for you; “one faith,” which you have all received; “one baptism,” in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, of which you have all partaken; one God and Father of all, who “is above all,” by his essential majesty, and “through all,” by his universal providence, “and in you all” by his indwelling Spirit [Note: ver. 4–6.]: and shall you, who are one in so many things, be separated from each other so as not to be one in Christian love? It cannot be: your love to each other is the most indispensable evidence of your union with him: and, if you are not united together in the bonds of love in the Church below, you never can be united in glory in the Church above. If ever then you would join with that choir of saints and angels which are around the throne of God, be consistent, be uniform, be humble; and let love have a complete and undisputed sway over your hearts and lives.]
Ephesians 4:4-49.4.6. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
IT is often urged, as an objection against Christianity, that those who profess it are not agreed respecting the doctrines which it inculcates: and we are triumphantly urged to come to an agreement amongst ourselves, before we attempt to proselyte others to our religion. That persons calling themselves Christians differ widely from each other, is readily acknowledged. But it must be remembered, that Christianity is not a mere theory, which leaves men at liberty in relation to their practice: it is a religion which requires its votaries to have their whole souls brought into subjection to it, and cast, as it were, into its very mould: and those who affect not a conformity to its doctrines, will deny the doctrines themselves; having no alternative, but to set aside the requirements, or to condemn themselves for their disobedience to them. But between real Christians there is, on all the fundamental points of religion, a surprising agreement, even such an unity as does not exist on any other subject under heaven. Every true believer, whether learned or unlearned, feels himself to be a sinner before God; dependent altogether on the blood of Christ to purge him from his guilt, and on the Spirit of Christ to renew and sanctify his soul. The necessity of universal holiness, too, is equally acknowledged by all; so that, whatever difference there may appear to be between the different members of Christ’s mystical body, it is only such as exists in the countenances of different men; the main features being the same in all; and the diversity being discoverable only on a closer inspection.
That this truth may the more fully appear, I will take occasion, from the words before us, to shew,
The foundation which the Gospel lays for unity—
The unity of the Gospel is carried to a great extent—
[The whole Christian Church is brought by the Gospel into “one body,” of which Christ is the head, and all true believers are the members [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:12.]. This body is inhabited by “one Spirit,” even the Holy Ghost, who pervades the whole, and animates it in every part. It is his presence only that gives life; and were he withdrawn for a moment, the soul would be as incapable of all spiritual motion, as a dead corpse is of all the functions of the animal life. To “one hope are we all called, even to an inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us.” The “one Lord” of all is the Lord Jesus Christ, who “purchased the Church with his own blood,” and presides over it as “Lord of all,” and will judge every member of it in the last day. To all of them there is but “one faith;” to which all, without exception, must adhere, and by which alone they can be saved. Into this new-covenant state they are all admitted by “one baptism,” “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” And of all there is one God and Father, “who is above all,” by his almighty power; “and through all,” by his superintending providence; “and in all,” by the constant operation of his Spirit and grace.]
All this may well serve as a foundation for unity, amongst those who profess the Gospel—
[The force of this observation is universally acknowledged, in reference to the corporeal frame. The whole human frame proceeds from one source, is subject to the same wants, nourished by the same supplies, and affected with the same lot. In reference to that, it is judged reasonable that every part should have the same care one for the other; and that every member should sympathize with the rest, whether in a way of joy or sorrow, according as circumstances may require [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:25-46.12.26.]. All idea of a separate interest is quite excluded; and the happiness of every individual part is bound up in the welfare of the whole. Much more, therefore, may all disunion be proscribed in so sacred a body as the Church, where not merely the prosperity of the different members is at stake, but the honour of Almighty God also, and the interests of the whole world.]
Accordingly, we find universal harmony provided for, in,
The unity it enjoins—
It requires an unity,
[This is not to be expected in every thing: for, where the mind is so constituted as ours is, and possesses such different measures of information, and beholds subjects from such different points of view, it is not possible that there should be a perfect agreement of sentiment upon every thing. But it may well be expected to prevail, so far at least as to prevent dissension and division in the Church of God. This the Apostle inculcated with all possible earnestness: “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:10.].” A departure from this rule is declared to be a proof of grievous carnality [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:3.]: and, if fostered in the soul, and promoted in the Church, it is judged a sufficient ground for the most marked disapprobation from every child of God: “Mark them who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them: for they that are such serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly” and corrupt appetites [Note: Romans 16:17-45.16.18.].]
[Love is the grace which most adorns the true Christian: it is properly his distinctive mark [Note: Romans 12:10.]. It is not to be interrupted by party distinctions; which, instead of justifying an alienation from each other, should themselves, as far as possible, be buried in oblivion. In the body, no one member can say to another, “I have no need of you:” the least and lowest has its appropriate office, as well as those whose powers are of a superior order: nor does its difference of form or office cause it to be overlooked, or its welfare to be despised. But herein the Christian world is doubtless very defective. Minor differences and distinctions are magnified among them into occasions of mutual aversion; insomuch, that a circumstantial difference, in relation to the mere externals of religion, often sets persons as far asunder as they are even from professed heathens. But let not Christianity be blamed for this. The evil arises solely from that corruption of the human heart which Christianity is intended to subdue and mortify. And I cannot but regard the change which has taken place in this respect, through the influence of the Bible Society, as a blessing of peculiar magnitude to the whole Church of God. The duty of all, to whatever denomination of Christians they may happen to belong, is, to “love as brethren;” yea, to “be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, in honour preferring one to another.” The true pattern is that which was set us on the day of Pentecost [Note: Acts 4:32.] — — — To all, therefore, I would say, with the Apostle, “If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded; having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind [Note: Philippians 2:1-50.2.2.].”]
[As immortal beings, we all have one great pursuit, which we ought to follow with our whole hearts, and in comparison of which all other things should be as dung and dross. We should all resemble the twelve tribes of Israel, in their journey through the wilderness. All kept their appointed places; those who led, not despising those who followed; nor those who moved in the rear envying those who led the van. All surrounded the tabernacle, as the first object of their unvaried solicitude; and all looked forward to Canaan, as the crown and recompence of all their labours. So should it be with us. To advance the cause of God in this world, and to reach the promised land, should be the objects nearest to all our hearts. In this, then, let us all unite: “forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, let us press forward for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Let us, I say, as many as be perfect, “be thus minded [Note: Philippians 3:14-50.3.15.].”]
THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST
Ephesians 4:7-49.4.8. Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
FROM the divisions which exist in the Christian Church, it has been said, by the enemies of Christianity, “First agree amongst yourselves, before you attempt to proselyte others to your religion.” That divisions do exist, is undeniable: and that they are a disgrace to our holy religion, must be confessed. But still, whilst we mourn over these differences, we believe that there is no society under heaven that is more agreed in all essential points than the Church of Christ. In the great essential points of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the necessity of obedience to all the commands of God, there is no difference amongst any true Christians, whether they be found amongst the most enlightened philosophers or the most uncivilized barbarians. In our bodily frame there are many members, which, though widely different from each other in their use and structure, are in perfect harmony with each other, as being all actuated by the same spirit, harmoniously employed for the good of the whole. And this is precisely what exists in the Church of Christ: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit: and there are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord: and there are diversities of operations; but it is the same God who worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal: for to one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge, by the same Spirit; to another, faith, by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing, by the same Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:4-46.12.11.].” This is exactly what the Apostle affirms in the passage before us: whatever differences there be amongst us, we should “forbear one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace:” for, amidst all those differences, “there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all [Note: ver. 2–6.].” Whatever differences are made, either in respect of gifts or graces, they are all made by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, agreeably to what had been foretold concerning him; as the Apostle says in our text: “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ: wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
In discoursing on these words, we shall be led to consider,
The obligations we owe to Christ—
On the primitive Church there were many special and miraculous gifts bestowed: in reference to which, the Apostle says of Christ, “He gave some, Apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers [Note: ver. 11.].” But, whilst a distinction was made amongst the members of the Church in reference to gifts, there were graces bestowed indiscriminately on all, though in different degrees, according to the will and pleasure of the Giver of them all, the Lord Jesus Christ. And thus it is at this time:
There is amongst men a great diversity both of gifts and graces—
[Some are endowed with richer talents than others originally, at their first coming into the world. In early infancy, a distinction is visible, both in respect to corporeal and mental endowments; weakness and imbecility being the lot of some, whilst strength and energy are the happy portion of others. Wealth and poverty also place men far asunder, in reference to their station in society; insomuch that, to one who considers only the outward appearance, the most elevated and the most depressed of men seem almost to belong to different orders of creation, rather than to different ranks of the same order. Something of the same may be noticed in reference to the graces of men. I say, something of the same: for, where any portion of real grace is, there is such an elevation of character, that there is a far less distance between the extremes of those who are born of God, than there is of those who are yet in their natural and unregenerate state. But St. John speaks of “little children, young men, and fathers,” in the Church; and consequently there must of necessity be so much of disparity in real saints as will justify the use of these appropriate and characteristic terms.]
But, whatever be the measure of any man’s gifts, he is altogether indebted to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the true source and giver of them—
[We see the truth of this observation in reference to intellectual powers; which, even before any means have been used for the improvement of them, are found much stronger in some than in others. And, though I readily acknowledge that talent depends, in some measure, on the cultivation of the human mind, yet I must say, it is God alone who inclines or enables us to cultivate it with effect. In like manner it must be confessed, that much also may depend on our use of the means of grace; but still I must say, that it is “God alone who gives us either to will or to do;” and, consequently, whatever flows from our willing and doing must be his gift also. Remember then, I pray you, to whom you are indebted for every grace you possess. Have you any measure of repentance? it is conferred on you by the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you any measure of faith? “it has been given you by him to believe.” Have you any measure of holiness? this also has come from Him, “who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” Yet we must not suppose that no guilt attaches to us for the want of these graces: we are bound to repent, and believe the Gospel, and to obey the commands of God; and shall be justly doomed to punishment, if we abide in impenitence or unbelief. Yet, for all these graces, so far as we possess them, we must confess our obligation to the Lord Jesus Christ, who, in the distribution of them, acts according to his own sovereign will: so that we have no ground for glorying, if we possess a larger measure; nor for repining, if we possess a less. We may “covet earnestly, indeed, the best gifts;” but, whatever be the measure of them which has been conferred upon us, we must be thankful for them, and improve them diligently, for the benefit of man, and the honour of our God.]
Whilst we acknowledge our obligations to Christ, it will be proper to inquire,
Whence it is that he is empowered to confer them—
Respecting this we are informed by David, who prophesied concerning our blessed Lord, and foretold that he should be invested with the power which is here ascribed to him.
Let us first understand the prophecy itself—
[The psalm, from whence it is taken, was written by David, on occasion of his carrying up the ark to Mount Zion. David, having subdued all his enemies, desired to honour God by bringing up the ark from Kirjath-jearim to Mount Zion, and placing it in the tabernacle there, as its permanent abode. In celebrating this event, he goes back to the days of Moses, when all the hosts of Egypt were destroyed in the Red Sea; and the Hebrews, enriched with the spoils of Egypt, formed with them a tabernacle for the service of their God. In both events, the triumphs of Israel’s God were seen, and the work of their Messiah was prefigured: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them [Note: Psalms 68:18.].”]
Now let us see the application of it to the Lord Jesus—
[Our blessed Saviour had now vanquished all his enemies upon the cross: “by death he had overcome death, and him that had the power of it, that is, the devil;” and “having spoiled principalities and powers, he triumphed over them openly upon the cross [Note: Colossians 2:15.].” In his ascension, like a mighty conqueror, he “led them captive,” as it were, at his chariot-wheels: and as conquerors, in their triumphs, were wont to scatter gifts and largesses among the people, so he received from his heavenly Father the Holy Spirit, and poured him forth upon the Church, in all his gifts and graces, in order that “the most rebellious” of men might be converted to the Lord, and “the Lord God might dwell among them.” The right to confer these gifts was founded on his previous conflicts and victories: and, when they were completed, the right was exercised, to the unspeakable benefit of the Church at that day; and not at that day only, but in all subsequent ages, even to the present hour.]
Now, then, see,
What reason we have to bless God for the events which are this day [Note: Ascension Day.] commemorated amongst us—
[The Apostle tells us, in the words following my text, that “Jesus ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” This was the very end of his ascension. He had come down from heaven, that he might procure for us these blessings: and now he ascended up to heaven, that he might confer on us the fruits of his victories. The sun arises on the earth, that he may diffuse his benefits through the whole material creation: and in like manner the Sun of Righteousness is risen, to scatter forth his blessings upon fallen man. Does any one feel his need of grace, or mercy, or peace? let him remember, that the Lord Jesus Christ is ascended to heaven on purpose to bestow them. Had he not ascended, the Holy Ghost would never have been sent down to us: but now that Jesus “has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost,” no one needs to remain destitute of any spiritual blessing whatever. If it be said, we have been rebellious; I answer, our past rebellions will be no bar to the communication of his blessings to us, if only we be willing to lay down the weapons of our warfare, and to implore mercy at his hands. It is “for the rebellious” that he himself has received the gift; and on the rebellious he is willing to confer it. Let all then, without exception, rejoice in the evidence they have, that Christ has vanquished all their enemies; and in the certainty, that all who look to him shall be enriched “out of his fulness, receiving grace” upon grace, and grace corresponding with the grace which there was in him.]
What rich measures of grace we are authorized to aspire after—
[Though we all ought to be thankful for the smallest measure of grace, we should never be satisfied till we have attained the largest. We are told by the Apostle, that we should “grow up into Christ as our living Head,” even “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ himself [Note: ver. 13, 15.].” What a glorious object for our ambition is here! O brethren, be not straitened in your own bowels; for ye are not straitened in your God! The lord Jesus, who first descended from heaven, and became incarnate for you, is now ascended to heaven in the very nature that he assumed for you: and well does he know all your wants and necessities, which he is as ready, as he is able, to supply. Open wide, therefore, your mouth, in supplication to him; and be assured, that he will give you a more abundant supply of his Spirit; nor will ever withhold his hand, till you are filled with all the fulness of God.]
THE USE OF A STATED MINISTRY
Ephesians 4:11-49.4.16. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
IT is a truth never to be forgotten, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the fountain of life, and that “all our fresh springs are in him,” Unless this be borne in mind, we shall never be able to do the will of God aright; nor will Christ ever be glorified by us as he ought to be. Hence the Apostle, after exhorting the Ephesian converts to walk worthy the vocation wherewith they had been called, reminds them, that, so far as they had been enabled to do this, they had done it through grace received from the Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to the predictions concerning him, had ascended up to heaven, and bestowed it upon them. One particular prediction to this effect he specifies; and then, commenting upon it, declares, that Jesus, having triumphed over all his enemies, had, after the manner of conquerors, who scattered gifts and largesses amongst their followers, conferred these and other blessings upon them. Of the other blessings he had bestowed upon his Church, the Apostle mentions some which were extraordinary and temporary, as apostles, prophets, and evangelists; and some which were ordinary and permanent, as pastors and teachers, whose office was to be continued for the benefit of the Church in all succeeding generations.
What the particular benefits were which the Church was to derive from these pastors and teachers, he then proceeds to notice, and sets them forth under a variety of most beautiful and instructive images. That we may enter more fully into the subject, we shall endeavour to shew,
The ends for which a stated ministry was ordained—
The perpetuating of a succession of duly qualified instructors in the Church—
[This seems to be the import of those words which first occur in our text, and which might perhaps have been more properly translated, “For the fitting of holy men for the work of the ministry for the edification of the body of Christ.” Amongst the Jews, especial care was taken that the knowledge of the true God should be transmitted to the latest generations: as David says; “God established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children [Note: Psalms 78:5-19.78.6.].” So under the Christian dispensation, care is taken, that there never shall be wanting a, succession of persons duly qualified and authorized to transmit to every succeeding generation the knowledge of Christ, and of his Gospel. St. Paul says to Timothy, “The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also [Note: 2 Timothy 2:2.].” Were the ministerial office to cease, the Church itself would soon fall into decay: for though it is certain that the Scriptures are of themselves, when applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul, able to make men wise unto salvation, it is also certain, that the ministry of the word is, and ever has been, the chief instrument which God makes use of for the conversion of the world. A vision was given to Cornelius, and an angel sent to inform him where he might find an authorized instructor; and repeated visions were given to Peter, and not only given, but explained to him by the Holy Ghost, in order to remove his scruples, and prevail upon him to go to Cornelius, for the express purpose of honouring God’s instituted means of communicating the knowledge of his Gospel. For the very same end was Philip directed, by the Holy Ghost, to go to the Ethiopian eunuch, and to open to him the portion of Scripture which he was reading. The Spirit might as easily have opened the eyes of the eunuch, without the intervention of Philip: but he chose to put the honour on the means which he had instituted; and to effect that by his minister, which he would not effect by the word alone.
In all ages shall such ministers be raised up, through the operation of the preached word; nor shall the Church cease to be supplied with them, till there shall remain no more members to be added to her, nor any further work to be wrought in those of which she is composed.]
The edification of the Church itself—
[The Church of Christ is his body: those who believe in him are his members: and every member has a measure of growth which it is destined to attain: and it is the completeness of the members in number and proficiency, that constitutes the perfection of the whole body. Towards this perfection the Church is gradually advancing. To help forward this good work is the office of God’s servants, who are continually labouring for the good of the Church, and striving to edify her in faith and love. The ignorant they are to instruct; the weak they are to strengthen and establish; the wandering they are to bring back; and over every member are they so to watch, that all may be progressively fitted for the discharge of their respective offices, and that God may be glorified in all.]
But as the ministry can be effectual only through the medium of our own exertions, it will be proper to shew,
The use we should make of it—
It finds us sinners: it brings us to the state of saints: and when formed by it into one great community, it leads us to a performance of the duties we owe to all the members of that body. In each of these states we have duties to perform—
As sinners, we should seek that faith which alone will save us—
[There is but “one faith;” and one “knowledge of the Son of God,” in which we must be all agreed. In matters of minor importance we may differ from each other: but “the Head we must all hold:” we must simply look to the Lord Jesus Christ, as dying for us, and as making reconciliation for us by the blood of his cross; our hope must be in him, and in him alone: and, if we place the smallest dependence on any thing of our own, we can have no part in his salvation. In relation to this matter, there must be no diversity: perfect “unity” is required: and to bring you to this unity, is the great scope of our labours. Brethren, consider this; and inquire whether our ministry has had a proper influence upon you in this respect? Have you been made to feel yourselves guilty and undone; and have you fled to Christ for refuge, as to the one hope that is set before you? — — — Have you renounced all dependence whatever on yourselves; and are you daily looking to him as “made of God unto you wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?” — — — We say again, that if our ministry be not effectual to bring you to this, it is not a savour of life unto you, but a savour of death to your more aggravated condemnation.]
As believers, we should seek to “grow up into Christ in all things”—
[Whilst we are yet weak in the faith, we are in constant danger of being turned aside from the truth of God. Both men and devils will labour incessantly to draw us from the one foundation of a sinner’s hope. But we are to be “growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” We are not to continue “as children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine:” we are to be aware of the devices of our enemies: we are to get a deeper insight into the great mystery of godliness: we are to become daily more and more established in the truth as it is in Jesus, so as to be proof against all “the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” On whatever side we are assaulted, our enemies should find us armed. Are we attacked by the specious reasonings of false philosophy, or the proud conceits of self-righteous moralists, we should reject the dogmas both of the one and the other, and “determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “To him we should cleave with full purpose of heart,” making daily more and more use of him in all his offices. As our Priest, we should confide more simply in the atonement he has offered for us, and in his continual intercession for us at the right hand of God. As our Prophet, we should rely on him more entirely to instruct us in the knowledge of God’s will, and to guide us into all truth. As our King, we should look to him to put down all our enemies, and to bring every thought of our hearts into captivity to his holy will. In a word, we should live more simply and entirely by faith in him, receiving daily out of his fulness all that we stand in need of, and improving it all for the glory of his name.
Thus to establish you in Christ, is a further intent of our ministry; even to bring you to live in the same communion with him, as the members have with the head. You must feel that you have nothing in yourselves, but all in him: and whatsoever communications you receive from him, must be employed in executing his will, and in promoting his glory.]
As members of Christ’s mystical body, we should seek to promote the welfare of the whole—
[In the natural body, all the members consult and act for the good of the whole: no one possesses any thing for itself only; but all being compacted together by joints and ligaments, and every joint, from the largest to the smallest, supplying a measure of unctuous and nutritious matter, each according to its ability, for the benefit of the member that is in contact with it, and for the good of the whole body, all grow together; and that from infancy to youth, from youth to manhood, till the whole has attained that measure of perfection which God has designed for it. Thus it must be in the mystical body of Christ’s Church. Believers are no more independent of each other, than they are of Christ: as they are united unto him by faith, so are they to be united to each other by love. None are to consider any thing which they possess as private property, but as a trust to be improved for the good of the whole. Nor are they to consider only that part of the body with which they are in more immediate contact, but the whole without exception; assured, that the happiness of the whole is bound up in the welfare of every part; and that all being connected by one common interest, all must labour together for one common end.
When this is attained, the intent of our ministry is fully answered. A life of faith, and a life of love, is that for which God has begotten us by his Gospel — — — But let me ask, Is this end answered upon us? Do we regard the whole Church of God, as well that part which is more remote, as that which is nearer to us, as members of our own body, entitled to all possible care and love? O that it were thus in every place under heaven! O that there were no schisms in this sacred body! But let there be no want of effort, on our part, to advance the temporal and spiritual welfare of all around us: let there be “an effectual working in the measure of every part, that so the body may be increased, and the whole be edified in love [Note: This may be easily improved for any subject connected with the ministry.].”]
EDUCATION AND WALK OF CHRISTIANS
Ephesians 4:20-49.4.21. But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.
WE shall do well ever to remember, that Christianity is not a mere speculative theory, that is to inform the mind; but a great practical lesson, to renew the heart, and to bring us back to the state from whence we are fallen. The means which it prescribes for the attainment of its end, are doubtless most mysterious: but still the end is that for which the means are ordained; and the restoration of our souls to the Divine image must be our one constant and uniform pursuit. St. Paul ever bears this in mind. He sets forth, in the clearest view, and the most glowing colours, the wonders of redeeming love: but he ever comes to this at last, that we are to “be sanctified by the truth,” and that “the truth must set us free” from all our spiritual enemies. He was, at the time he wrote this epistle, imprisoned at Rome: yet what did he desire of the Ephesian Church? Did he request them to interest themselves in his behalf, that he might be restored to liberty? No; the thought did not so much as enter into his mind: the welfare of their souls was all his concern: “I, therefore,” says he, “the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that ye walk worthy the vocation wherewith ye are called [Note: ver. 1.]:” and again, “This I say and testify in the Lord, that ye walk not as other Gentiles walk [Note: ver. 17.]:” ye are instructed better: ye can never conform to their practices: no; “ye have not so learned Christ, if so be ye have heard him, and been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
In these remarkable words, we see,
The Christian’s education—
“He has been instructed by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.”
There is a teaching which proceeds from Christ himself—
[I readily grant, that, in learning from the inspired writings, we may properly be said to learn of Christ: for he himself said to his Apostles, “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me [Note: Luke 10:16.].” But it is evident that much more than this is contained in the words before us: in fact, here is a contrast drawn between those who learn by the word, or human teaching only, and those who learn of the Lord Jesus Christ himself: the former may find their instruction insufficient to regulate their life: the latter never can; because Christ instructs the heart, to which nothing but Omnipotence can gain access. This teaching is sometimes ascribed, in Scripture, to the Father: “Every man that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me [Note: John 6:45.].” Sometimes it is ascribed to the Son: “No man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him [Note: Matthew 11:27.].” Sometimes it is ascribed to the Holy Ghost: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things [Note: John 14:26.].” But the truth is the same; since, whether it be the Father or the Son who instructs us, it is always by the agency of the Holy Spirit, To say exactly how Christ instructs us, is beyond our power: it is not by visions, or by voices, or by dreams, as in the days of old; but by opening to us the Scriptures, and giving us a spiritual perception of the truths contained in them. We know not how our own spirit operates on our body: yet we have no doubt but that it does; because the body obeys in all things the motions of the mind: so, though we cannot define the precise mode in which the Spirit of God operates on our spirit, we know, by the effects, that an influence is exerted by Him upon our minds, and that by that influence we are enabled to see and comprehend many things which to the natural man are utter foolishness [Note: 1Co 2:9-12; 1 Corinthians 2:14.].]
This teaching every true Christian receives—
[In matters of science, the Christian has no advantage above others: his progress will be regulated by laws that are common to every student. But in the concerns of the soul he has a decided superiority, above all his equals in age and learning. He has the Lord Jesus Christ for his instructor: his “heart has been opened by the Lord, as Lydia’s was, to attend to the things of God [Note: Acts 16:14.];” and his understanding has been opened to understand them [Note: Luke 24:45.].” It was by this teaching that Peter, a poor fisherman, was enabled to declare the true character of Christ, which the Scribes and Pharisees, with all their advantages, were not able to discern: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven [Note: Matthew 16:17.]” If it be thought that this privilege was confined to the Apostles, or to the apostolic age, I answer, that it is the portion of all God’s people to the end of time; according as it is written, “All thy children shall be taught of God, and great shall the peace be of thy children.”]
Suited to this education is,
The Christian’s walk—
The Apostle tells us what this is: he tells us,
Negatively, what it is not—
[The state of the Gentile world is awful in the extreme. Whatever may be the conduct of a few amongst them, the great mass are alienated from all good, and addicted to all evil. As for God, they know him not, nor have any desire to know him. Their minds are altogether alienated from every thing which God would approve: they have no disposition but towards the vanities of this polluted world; nor, when they transgress what even their own consciences would dictate, do they feel that compunction of heart that would become them. The unenlightened amongst ourselves do not indeed resemble the Gentiles in some respects: they are free from open idolatry, and more limited perhaps in their sensual indulgences: but in an alienation from the life of God, and an addictedness to earthly vanities, they differ very little from the heathen world. But true Christians are of a very different mind: as the Apostle says, “Ye have not so learned Christ.” No, indeed: the true Christian has not so learned Christ: he cannot “run to the same excess of riot” that ungodly men do; nor will he be conformed, in any of these vanities, to the world around him. He “comes out from the world, and is separate; and would not willingly touch the unclean thing;” much less revel in all manner of uncleanness: and this very separation from the world is that which chiefly incenses the world against him. He comes out from “the broad road which leadeth to destruction, and walks rather in that narrow path which leadeth unto life.”]
Positively, what it is—
[The Christian, who has really heard Christ, and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus, will adhere to the truth as it is in Jesus: he will labour that the full end of Jesus’s incarnation and life and death should be realized in him. He will see how the truth was exemplified in Jesus; and will endeavour “so to walk, even as he walked.” Not that he will be satisfied with any change in his outward conduct: he will seek to become a new creature; to put off the whole body of sin, with which he is encompassed; and to put on the whole body of righteousness, whereby he may approve himself to God. The life of God, from which the unenlightened is alienated, is that which he will cultivate to the utmost of his power; and in maintaining it, he will labour with all earnestness, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before, if by any means he may attain so rich a prize.]
Those who desire to understand the Gospel—
[Remember what it is you have to learn: the Apostle calls it “learning Christ.” This gives us the complete idea of all that a Christian needs to know. The Gospel is an exhibition of Jesus Christ: all that he is in himself, and all that he is to us, is there revealed: all the mysterious purposes of his grace; all the offices that he sustains in the work of redemption; all that he has done and suffered; all that he is now doing; all that he has engaged to do; all that can be known of him, is there set forth; and there may we behold all the glory of the Godhead shining in his face. This, then, is what we have to learn: the knowledge of Christ is all and in all. Come, then, and sit at the feet of Jesus: come, and learn of him with all docility of mind, as little children; entreat him to take away the veil from your hearts, and to “manifest himself unto you as he does not unto the world.” Then shall you “behold his glory, even the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father;” and know Him, whom to know is life eternal. And let no one be discouraged because of his want of intellectual powers: for “what he has hid from the wise and prudent, he will reveal to babes and sucklings;” and “his strength shall be perfected in their weakness.”]
Those who desire to adorn the Gospel—
[Take not the world’s standard of duty as that which you should aim at: for I declare and “testify,” that that will not suffice; nor can you ever please God by such a measure of sanctification as the best of unenlightened men affect. No; “you must not walk as other Gentiles walk;” nor as the merely nominal Christian walks. You must soar far above him: you must see how Christ himself walked, and follow him in all his ways; being “pure as he was pure,” and “perfect as he was perfect.” And never imagine that you have yet attained. To your latest hour there will be remnants of “the old man to be put off,” and larger measures of “the new man to be put on.” It is not in your life and conversation merely that you are to be “renewed,” but in the entire “spirit of your mind:” from being earthly, sensual, devilish, you must become heavenly, spiritual, divine; and never cease, till you have attained to the full measure of the stature of Christ himself. This is to walk worthy of your vocation; and in this shall your “learning of Christ” most surely issue. If you truly hear him, and are taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, you cannot so walk as the world around you walk; nor can you but “walk, as Christ himself walked.”]
THE OLD MAN, AND THE NEW
Ephesians 4:22-49.4.24. That ye put off concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and trice holiness.
CHRISTIANITY is universally professed amongst us: but many know little more of it than the name. They, who are in some measure acquainted with its principles, have, for the most part, learned it only from books and human instruction. But there are some who have learned it, as it were, from Christ himself. Their understandings have been opened, and their hearts instructed by his good Spirit. These are said to “have heard Christ, and to have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus [Note: ver. 21.].” These may be distinguished from the others by the effects of their knowledge. While the speculative Christian remains willingly ignorant of true holiness, the truly enlightened man labours to attain the highest measure of it that he can. This St. Paul represents as the infallible consequence of divine teaching: and his declarations respecting it set forth the sum and substance of a Christian’s duty.
Put off the old man—
There are many terms peculiar to the Holy Scriptures which need to be explained. Those in the text are of the greatest importance—
“The old man” is that principle of sin which actuates the unregenerate man—
[It is a natural principle. As a man consists of a soul with many faculties, and a body with many members, so does this principle, though but one, consist of many parts: pride, unbelief, &c. &c. constitute that body of sin, which is here denominated “the old man;” and it is called “old,” because it is coeval with our existence, and is derived from our first parents, after whose fallen image we were made. It is a corrupt, principle. It is expressly called so in my text. All its inward “lustings” and desires are vitiated, and invariably discover themselves by the external fruits of a vain “conversation.” It is also a “deceitful” principle, continually representing good as evil, and evil as good: it constantly disappoints our expectations, making that to appear a source of happiness which never yet terminated in any thing but misery.]
This it is our duty to be “putting off”—
[It is indeed no easy matter to effect this work; yet in dependence on God’s aid we may, and must, accomplish it. We must suppress its actings. It will break forth, if not resisted, into all manner of evil [Note: Sec the following context.]: but we must fight against it, and “bring it into subjection [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.].” Our eternal life and salvation depend on our “mortifying the deeds of the body [Note: Romans 8:13.].” Not contented with a partial victory, we must check its desires. A weight that may be easily stopped when beginning to roll, will prove irresistible when it is running down a steep declivity. We must check evil in its first rising, if we would not be overpowered by it: none can tell how far he shall go when once he begins to fall. We must therefore “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts [Note: Gal 5:24].” To do this effectually, we must guard against its deceits. We should examine our motives and principles of action. Sin is deceitful; the heart also is deceitful; and Satan helps forward our deceptions. That which is very specious in its outward appearance is often most odious to the heart-searching God. We must therefore bring every thing to the touchstone of God’s word: we must “prove all tilings, and hold fast that which is good [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.].”]
But we must not be satisfied with resisting sin. We must,
Put on the new man—
“The new man” is that principle which actuates the godly—
[It consists of many parts, as well as the evil principle. Humility, faith, love, &c. are among its most characteristic features. It is divine in its origin. It belongs to no man naturally; but is “new.” It is the gift of God, the work of his good Spirit. It is “created” within us, and is as truly the workmanship of God, as the universe itself is. All who possess it are said to be “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works [Note: Ephesians 2:10.].” it is moreover holy in its operations: all its motions and tendencies are holy. It works to transform us “after God’s image.” It leads to an unreserved obedience to both tables of the law. It directs to “righteousness” towards man, and “holiness” towards God. Nor will it be satisfied with any semblance of religion, however specious. It labours uniformly to bring us to the experience of “true” holiness both in heart and life.]
This it is our duty to be putting on—
[As the prodigal was not merely pardoned, but clothed in robes suitable to his new condition, so are the children of God to be adorned with virtues suited to the relation which they bear to their heavenly Father. We must be “renewed,” not in our outward actions only, but, “in the spirit of our minds:” the great spring of action within us must be changed, and “the new man” must reign in us now, as “the old man” did in our unregenerate state. Do we ask, How shall this great work be effected? We answer, Encourage its motions, and exert its powers. The new principle of life in us is as water, which seeks continually to extinguish the corrupt principle within us: and if, upon any temptation occurring, we watched carefully the motions of that principle, we should frequently, perhaps invariably, find it directing us to what is right. But it is “a still small voice” that cannot be heard without much attention, and it may be very soon silenced by the clamours of passion or interest: it is the voice of God within us; and, if duly regarded, would never suffer us to err in any great degree. It has also powers, which, like the members of the body, may be strengthened by exertion. Put forth its powers in the exercise of faith and love, and it will be found to grow as well as any other habit. Having indeed the tide of corrupt nature against it, its progress will not be so rapid, nor will it admit of any intermission of our labours: but the more we do for God, the more shall we be disposed, and enabled, to do for him. We must however remember not to address ourselves to this duty in our own strength: of ourselves we can do nothing; but if we rely on the promised grace of Christ, we shall be strengthened by his Spirit, and be “changed into his image from glory to glory.”]
We may improve this subject,
[If this progressive change be the necessary evidence of our being true Christians, alas! how few true Christians are there to be found! Yet nothing less than this will suffice. If we be really “in Christ, we are new creatures; old things are passed away, and, behold, all things are become new [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].” It is not an external reformation merely that we must experience, but a new creation. Let all reflect on this. Let all inquire what evidence they have of such a change having passed upon their souls. The voice of Christ to all of us is this; “Ye must be born again; except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven [Note: John 3:3; John 3:7.].”]
[Many are ready to despond because of the severe conflicts which they experience between the spiritual and the carnal principle in their souls. They say, If I were a child of God, how could it be thus? We answer, This is rather an evidence that such persons are partakers of a divine nature: if they were not, they would be strangers to these conflicts. Though they might feel some struggles between corruption and conscience, yea, and between reason and conscience, the one attempting to vindicate what the other condemns, they would know nothing of those deeper conflicts between the flesh and spirit, especially in reference to the secret exercises of the soul in its daily converse with God. These evince the existence of a new principle, though they shew that the old man still lives within them [Note: Galatians 5:17.]. Let not any then despond because they feel the remains of indwelling corruption, but rather be thankful if they hate it, and if they have grace in some good measure to subdue it. Let them trust in God to “perfect that which concerns them;” and look to him to “fulfil in them all the good pleasure of his goodness:” then shall they in due time “put off their filthy garments [Note: Zechariah 3:4.]” altogether, and “stand before their God without spot or blemish” to all eternity.]
GRIEVING THE SPIRIT
Ephesians 4:30. Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
THE Holy Scriptures are not written after the manner of human systems, but often blend warnings with promises, and duties with privileges, in a way that by some would be thought to involve them in inconsistency. The Apostle, cautioning the Ephesians against various evils which he had observed amongst them, adds, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God;” in which expression he seems eventually to refer to those who had “grieved the Lord in the wilderness,” and had therefore been excluded from the promised land [Note: Hebrews 3:10; Hebrews 3:17.], and to those who “by rebelling against God had provoked his Holy Spirit, so that he was turned to be their enemy [Note: Isaiah 63:10.]” Yet at the same time he informs them, that the Holy Spirit had sealed them, as the Lord’s property, unto the day of redemption, when he would claim them as his own. The advocates of human systems love not such apparent contrarieties: they would rather say, if they be sealed unto the day of redemption, how can they be in any danger of so grieving the Lord, as to be finally excluded from the heavenly Canaan? or, if they be in danger of such a calamity, how can it be that they should ever have been sealed unto the day of redemption? But we may safely leave these matters to God, who will clear up all such difficulties in the last day. That we may grieve the Holy Spirit, and that believers are sealed by him unto the day of redemption, is equally certain: nor is there any great difficulty in reconciling the two, to a mind that is truly humble and contrite; because the liberty of man is not at all affected by the decrees of God: man never loses his proneness to fall, notwithstanding God’s counsel shall ultimately stand: and therefore he needs at all times the caution in our text, whilst the encouragement afforded in it is at all times proper to animate his exertions.
But,—not to enter into nice disquisitions about difficulties, which, after all that can be said upon them, can never be entirely removed,—we shall proceed, with a view to practical improvement, to notice,
The inestimable benefit conferred upon believers—
Many are the offices which the Holy Spirit executes in the great work of redemption. He is the one Agent, by whom redemption is applied in all its parts. By him is life imparted to those who were dead in trespasses and sins: “he convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment;” and “glorifies Christ” in the sight of all who are so instructed. But there is one office in particular of which we are now called to speak, namely, his sealing of believers unto the day of redemption. This is more especially dwelt upon by the Apostle, in the first chapter of this epistle, where he says that the Ephesian converts, “after they had believed in Christ, had been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, as the earnest of their inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession [Note: Ephesians 1:13-49.1.14.].” This office he executes upon all true believers;
By an eternal designation of them to God’s service—
[Such a seal most assuredly exists, and was made use of by Almighty God from all eternity. It was made use of in the consecration of his only dear Son to his mediatorial office; “for him hath God the Father sealed [Note: John 6:27.]:” it was made use of also in the setting apart his chosen people to be his own peculiar treasure above all the people upon the face of the earth [Note: Deuteronomy 7:6.]:” “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his [Note: 2 Timothy 2:19.].” In the appointment of Abraham and his posterity to be a holy nation and a peculiar people, we all see and acknowledge the exercise of sovereign grace; though we find it difficult to acquiesce in this idea in reference to the eternal states of men. But where shall we draw the line? or how shall we justify the dispensations of God towards the Jewish people, if we deny his right to exercise the same sovereignty towards all the sinners of mankind? The truth is, that fallen man has no claim upon his God: in that respect he is exactly on a footing with the fallen angels: and, it God be pleased to shew mercy to any, he may do so in any way, and to any extent that he shall see fit: and if he select any as objects of his mercy in preference to others, he does no more injury to the rest, than he would to the great mass of the fallen angels, if he were at this moment, for the display of his own glorious perfections, to liberate any number of them from the chains of darkness in which they are bound. He “has a right to do what he will with his own: nor ought our eye to be evil because he is good [Note: Matthew 20:15.].” It is certain that the Lord hath from eternity “set apart him that is godly for himself [Note: Psalms 4:3.];” and not because he was godly, or would be so, but because God of his own sovereign will and pleasure ordained him unto life: as St. Paul expressly tells us; “Whom God did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified: their call in this world, and their glorification in the next, originating altogether in the predestination of God from all eternity [Note: Romans 8:29-45.8.30.].]
By the sanctification of their hearts and lives—
[This, if I may so speak, is the broad seal of heaven: “By their fruits ye shall know them:” “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” By this seal the Thessalonian converts were so distinguished, that St. Paul did not hesitate to infer, from what he saw in them, that they were God’s chosen people: when he called to mind “their works of faith, and labours of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, he knew from it their election of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-52.1.4.].” And on all true believers this seal is found: God’s “peculiar people are invariably found to be holy and zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].”
Now this consideration may well reconcile us to the exercise of God’s sovereign grace: for, if the idea of God’s choice being altogether uninfluenced by holiness, either seen or foreseen in the objects of his choice, appear to militate against the interests of morality, the circumstance of God’s having inseparably united this seal with the foregoing, sufficiently removes all fear on that head. In God’s mind, our sanctification is as much ordained as our final salvation: “We are chosen, that we may be holy [Note: Ephesians 1:4.]” and “elect unto obedience [Note: 1 Peter 1:2.]” and predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Romans 8:29.]: and in this way alone will any one finally attain the salvation of his soul; since it is only in, and by, and through the means, that God has ordained the end: “He has from the beginning chosen us to salvation; but it is through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.].”]
By the manifestation of God’s love to their souls—
[The Holy Spirit is a “Spirit of adoption” in the hearts of God’s people [Note: Romans 8:15.]: he is also a “Witness testifying of their adoption [Note: Romans 8:16.]:” yea, he is to them, and within them, an earnest of their everlasting inheritance [Note: Ephesians 1:13. 2 Corinthians 5:5.]; “shedding abroad in their hearts that love of God,” which will constitute their happiness through eternal ages [Note: Romans 5:5.]. In this also he operates as a seal, as St. Paul has said in reference to all true Christians: “Now he who established us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:21-47.1.22.].”
By the first of these seals we are known to God alone: by the second, we are discoverable to those around us: by the last, an assurance of our happiness is imparted to our own souls. And though the impression of the two last is not at all times equally clear and strong, yet is it the privilege of all to possess them; and in proportion only as these last exist, will the first be ascertained.]
In connexion with the privileges of believers, we may well consider,
Their duty towards their gracious Benefactor—
The Holy Spirit is here represented as a parent, who, from his tender solicitude for the welfare of his children, is deeply “grieved” when they defeat in any respect the purposes of his love towards them. Now we may grieve the Holy Spirit,
By departing from the truth in our principles—
[The particular office assigned to the Holy Spirit in the economy of redemption, is, to “glorify Christ,” by receiving of the things that are his, and “shewing them unto us [Note: John 16:14.]” Now in this office he delights: and when we duly appreciate the excellencies of Christ, and “behold his glory as the glory of the only—begotten of the Father,” then is the Holy Spirit delighted to dwell with us, and to carry on the whole work of grace in our souls. But when we suffer the wily “serpent to beguile us, and to turn us from the simplicity that is in Christ,” then is the Spirit grieved: for he is a jealous God, and especially jealous for the honour of that Saviour, whose cause he has espoused. Against two things then in particular we have to guard, namely, against philosophical subtilties on the one hand, and Jewish superstitious on the other. By both the one and the other of these was the Church of God rent, in the very first ages of Christianity; and thousands of souls were subverted by them. By the same are we also endangered. Our natural pride and self-conceit are ever at work, to add something to what God has revealed or to detract somewhat from it. Perhaps the simplicity of the Gospel is that which most offends the carnal mind. A simple life of faith upon the Son of God, as having loved us and given himself for us, is most difficult to be maintained. We want to be something; or to do something, that so we may share the glory of Christ, and ascribe some part of his honour to ourselves: but he is all, and must be all; and “all who glory, must glory in him alone [Note: Here reference may be made to any “questions and strifes of words” which may be agitated in the Church; for they all, when unduly insisted on, grieve the Holy Spirit.]” — — — By retaining in constant exercise this humble and childlike spirit, we shall obtain frequent tokens of God’s favourable acceptance: but by departing from it, we shall provoke him to hide his face from us.]
By dishonouring it in our practice—
[To this more especially does the Apostle refer, both in the preceding and following context. Unhallowed tempers and dispositions are most offensive to the Spirit of God. O that all the professors of religion throughout the world were made duly sensible of this truth! But, whether they consider it or not, God will not dwell where there is bitterness and wrath, and anger and clamour, and evil-speaking and malice, or an habitual want of a forbearing and forgiving spirit. Falsehood too in our words, and dishonesty in our dealings, and impurity in our hearts, will assuredly drive him from us, and bring down upon us the tokens of his displeasure: “If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:17.].” It is no uncommon thing to find those who profess religion low and miserable in their minds. But we should not wonder at it, if we knew what abominations are harboured in their hearts: we should rather wonder that God bears so long with them, and that his wrath does not break forth to consume them in an instant. Let us never forget this, that as well may light have fellowship with darkness, and Christ with Belial, as the Spirit of God abide with those who yield not to his sanctifying operations. If, instead of conforming ourselves to the mind that was in Christ, we rebel against him, we shall “vex his Holy Spirit, and provoke him to become our enemy [Note: Isaiah 63:10.].”]
Those who comply not with the written word—
[The word which is recorded in the Scriptures of truth is God’s word: it is altogether given by inspiration from the Holy Ghost. If therefore we comply not with that, we resist the Holy Ghost, and “do despite to him.” Consider this, ye who receive not the word with all humility of mind, or labour not to conform to it in your life and conversation: think, whom it is that ye resist and rebel against; even Him, who, if he depart from you, will leave you in a bondage from which you can never be delivered, and in misery from which you can never be redeemed [Note: Hosea 4:17; Hosea 9:12.]. O learn to tremble at the word of God, and beg that your whole souls may be so melted and poured into its mould, as to assume its every feature, and be formed into the perfect image of your God.]
Those who rest in a mere formal compliance with it—
[You cannot deceive that blessed Spirit whose province it is to search the heart and try the reins. He requires “truth in our inward parts:” he requires that your heart be right with him; that you “walk in the Spirit,” and “pray in the Spirit,” and “live in the Spirit,” and give yourselves up altogether to his godly motions. Do not therefore dissemble with him, lest he give you up to your own delusions, and seal you up in utter impenitence to the day of final retribution. Of those who held the truth in unrighteousness, we are told that he gave them up to a reprobate mind. I pray you, bring not upon yourselves this heaviest of all judgments: but to-day, while it is called to-day, surrender up yourselves entirely to his guidance, that he may “make you perfect in every good work, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight through Christ Jesus [Note: Hebrews 13:20-58.13.21.].”]
Those who are endeavouring to please him in all things—
[The day of redemption is near at hand. O blessed day, when all the remains of sin and sorrow shall be for ever banished from the soul! Look forward to it; and order your every action, word, and thought, in reference to it. Pray to the Holy Spirit to work yet more and more powerfully upon you, in order to prepare you for your appearance before the judgment-seat of Christ. Guard against any sloth in the ways of God, lest, like the Church of old, you cause him to suspend the communications of his love [Note: Song of Solomon 5:2-22.5.6.]. Pray to him to give you that white stone, which none but he who has it can appreciate, and which has on it the name written, which none but he who possesses it can read [Note: Revelation 2:17.]. Then shall you already even now enjoy a foretaste of your heavenly inheritance, and in due season “have an abundant entrance ministered unto you into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”]
FORGIVENESS OF SINS
Ephesians 4:32. God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.
IF a minister of Christ is bound to preach the Gospel with all plainness and fidelity, he is no less bound to guard it against abuse, and to inculcate on the professors of it the strictest conformity to the commands of God. St. Paul was careful to insist upon even the minutest parts of practical piety; and to shew, that the Gospel not only required, but had a direct tendency to produce, holiness, both in heart and life. In truth, if our religion do not prevail to regulate our tempers, and to correct every evil disposition of the soul, it is not sincere; nor will it ever be approved of God in the day of judgment. Yet, in enforcing practical duties, we should take care to urge them upon right principles; not as a forced obedience to the law, in order to obtain acceptance with God, but as a willing effort to adorn the Gospel, through which we have already been accepted of him. A sense of God’s pardoning love should animate us, rather than a servile fear of his displeasure: and, whilst God’s mercy to us should operate as a motive to obey him, it should also serve us as a pattern for our own conduct towards our offending brethren, whom we should “forgive, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven us.”
Now, it is a fact, that forgiveness is bestowed on men whilst they are yet in this world. And this truth I shall consider,
As revealed in Scripture—
The truth itself is fully declared—
[God, in proclaiming his name to Moses, represented himself chiefly under the character of a sin-pardoning God: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin [Note: Exodus 34:6-2.34.7.].” And the whole of his dealings with his people, in every age, have borne testimony to him in this view, as “a God delighting in mercy,” and as accounting “judgment a strange act,” to which he was utterly averse. The whole of the Scripture declarations may be comprised in that saying of the prophet, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon [Note: Isaiah 55:7.].” To cite the New Testament in confirmation of this truth is needless; seeing that, from one end of it to the other, it proclaims God as “rich in mercy unto all that call upon him.”]
The ground of all his mercies is also declared—
[All the favour that God bears to man is “for Christ’s sake.” This was shewn from the first moment that his designs of mercy were revealed to fallen man. There can be no doubt but that sacrifices were ordained of God, for the purpose of shadowing forth that great sacrifice which should, in due time, be offered for the sins of the whole world. For Abel offered his sacrifice in faith [Note: Hebrews 11:4.]: but faith must have respect to the word of God; and, consequently, God must have previously made known to man the way in which alone a sinner should find acceptance with him. Indeed, though we are not expressly told that the animals, with the skins of which God clothed our first parents, were offered in sacrifice, I can scarcely doubt but that the whole mystery of the Gospel was revealed to them in that act; and they were taught, that through the sacrifice of Christ their iniquities should be forgiven, and that through the righteousness of Christ they should stand with acceptance before God. The whole of the Mosaic economy exhibited this truth in the most striking colours, in that no person could come to God but by sacrifice; and “without shedding of blood there was no remission of sins [Note: Hebrews 9:22.].” On this subject the New Testament expatiates in every part; referring our reconciliation with God to the atoning blood of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:19.], and declaring that “no man cometh unto the Father but by Christ [Note: John 14:6.].” The whole labour of the Apostles was to make this known: “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses [Note: Acts 13:38-44.13.39.].”]
In my text, the Apostle not only asserts this truth, but speaks of it,
As experienced in the soul—
Many will not admit that any one can know his sins forgiven. And I readily acknowledge, that it is a point on which a man may easily deceive his own soul, especially if he judge of it by any other criterion than that which God himself has proposed. If the life and conversation bear witness to us that we are the Lord’s, then may we safely indulge the hope that we are accepted of him.
God has, in former ages, given to men an assurance of his favour—
[To Abel this was given by some visible sign, which excited the envy and wrath of his brother Cain [Note: Genesis 4:4-1.4.5.]. David, on the very first acknowledgment of his transgression, was informed by Nathan that his sin was pardoned [Note: 2 Samuel 12:13.]; and he himself takes notice of it in a psalm of grateful acknowledgment: “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord: and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin [Note: Psalms 32:5.].” To Hezekiah and Isaiah were similar assurances given [Note: Isaiah 6:7; Isaiah 38:17.]. And our blessed Lord not only repeatedly vouchsafed this blessing to those who waited on him, but maintained his right to do so against those who questioned his power and authority to pardon sin [Note: Matthew 9:2-40.9.6. Luke 7:48-42.7.50.].]
At present, also, is the same blessing still vouchsafed to his faithful servants—
[What can be meant by the Spirit of adoption that is given to the believing soul [Note: Rom 8:15]? “What can be meant by the witness of the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:16.], the sealing of the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 1:13.], the earnest of the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 1:14.]? What can be meant by “the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost [Note: Romans 5:5.],” if God never imparts to his people a sense of his pardoning love? I grant that if these divine sensations be not accompanied with a holy life, they are a mere illusion; but if the whole of our character and deportment be such as becomes the Gospel, then may we assure ourselves that these testimonies are from God, and that “our names are indeed written in the book of life [Note: Luke 10:20.].” We may “know that we have passed from death unto life [Note: 1 John 3:14.].” Nor is this the privilege of the adult Christian only: for even the least in the family of Christ may possess it: as St. John says, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for the sake of Christ [Note: 1 John 2:12.].” And to the whole Ephesian Church it was proclaimed, “God, for Christ”s sake, hath forgiven you.”]
But it is not merely as comforting the soul that I insist on this, but chiefly and principally,
As operating in the life—
A sense of God’s pardoning love should operate on us generally—
[Nothing but this will ever call forth our energies fully in the service of our God. It is “the love of Christ that must constrain us:” and that, duly apprehended, will cause us to live altogether unto Him who died for us, and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:15.] — — —]
More particularly should it produce in us a forgiving temper against our offending brethren—
[A spirit of forbearance and forgiveness is insisted on by the inspired writers, as indispensable to the Christian character; insomuch, that a person who is not under its influence has no hope of obtaining mercy at the hands of God. The mercy which we ourselves have received for Christ’s sake, is proposed in my text as a powerful motive for the exercise of a forgiving disposition on our part, and as a pattern which, in the exercise of it, we should resemble. The same important truth is taught us in the parable of the unforgiving servant; who, when forgiven by his master ten thousand talents, seized a fellow-servant by the throat, and cast him into prison for the trifling debt of one hundred pence. For such merciless conduct his lord was justly incensed against him; as he will be against all who know not how to imitate the goodness of their God [Note: Matthew 18:23-40.18.35. There was no proportion between the debts, the one being about three pounds, and the other nearly seven millions.]. It is on this principle that our Lord requires us to “forgive an offending brother, not seven times in a day, but seventy times seven [Note: Matthew 18:21-40.18.22.].” For, if we call to remembrance our own offences, and consider for a moment how great and multiplied they have been, we shall see, that no injury which a fellow-creature can do to us can bear any proportion to the offences which we have committed against God: and, consequently, that there should be no disposition in us but to render to our fellow-creatures according to what we ourselves have received at the hands of God.]
Be sensible of your obligations to the Lord Jesus Christ—
[It is not for your own sake that God has forgiven you, but for his dear Son’s sake. And if Christ had not interposed for you, to reconcile you unto God by his own death upon the cross, you would to all eternity have been in the condition of the fallen angels, who are receiving in hell the due recompence for their sins. Reflect, then, on your desert before God, and on the mercy you are receiving at his hands; and then direct your eyes to the Saviour, and give him the glory due unto his name. Of course, it is here supposed that you have deeply repented of your sins, and “fled for refuge to Christ, as to the hope set before you:” for, if you have not thus come to Christ, you are yet “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, and without any scriptural hope of salvation” — — — But if, indeed, you have believed in Christ, then should every faculty of your soul be called forth in grateful and continual praises for all that you now enjoy, and all that you hope for in a better world — — —]
Endeavour to requite them in the way that he himself has enjoined—
[Look, not to your conduct merely, but to the inmost dispositions of your souls. His love to you should be the model of your love to others. Let his image, then, be seen upon you. And, as men are known by the very form of the characters they write, so “be ye epistles of Christ, known and read of all men [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:2-47.3.3.].” “Let the same mind be in you as was in him [Note: Philippians 2:5.];” and, “as he has loved you, see that ye also love one another [Note: John 13:34.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany