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Wednesday, June 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 5

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-6


Chapter 22


Ephesians 4:25-32; Ephesians 5:1-6

The homily that we have briefly reviewed in the last chapter demands further consideration. It affords a striking and instructive example of St. Paul’s method as a teacher of morals, and makes an important contribution to evangelical ethics. The common vices are here prohibited on specifically Christian grounds. The new nature formed in Christ casts them off as alien and dead things; they are the sloughed skin of the old life, the discarded dress of the old man who was slain by the cross of Christ and lies buried in His grave.

The apostle does not condemn these sins as being contrary to God’s law: that is taken for granted. But the legal condemnation was ineffectual. {Romans 8:3} The wrath revealed from heaven against man’s unrighteousness had left that unrighteousness unchastened and defiant. The revelation of law, approved and echoed by conscience, taught man his guilt; it could do no more. All this St. Paul assumes; he builds on the ground of law and its acknowledged findings.

Nor does the apostle make use of the principles of philosophical ethics, which in their general form were familiar to him as to all educated men of the day. He says nothing of the rule of nature and right reason, of the intrinsic fitness, the harmony and beauty of virtue; nothing of expediency as the guide of life, of the inward contentment that comes from well-doing, of the wise calculation by which happiness is determined and the lower is subordinated to the higher good. St. Paul nowhere discountenances motives and sanctions of this sort; he contravenes none of the lines of argument by which reason is brought to the aid of duty, and conscience vindicates itself against passion and false self-interest. Indeed, there are maxims in his teaching which remind us of each of the two great schools of ethics, and that make room in the Christian theory of life both for the philosophy of experience and that of intuition. The true theory recognises, indeed, the experimental and evolutional as well as the fixed and intrinsic in morality, and supplies their synthesis.

But it is not the apostle’s business to adjust his position to that of Stoics and Epicureans, or to unfold a new philosophy; but to teach the way of the new life. His Gentile disciples had been untruthful, passionate in temper, covetous, licentious: the gospel which he preached had turned them from these sins to God; from the same gospel he draws the motives and convictions which are to shape their future life and to give to the new spirit within them its fit expression. St. Paul has no quarrel with ethical science, much less with the inspired law of his fathers; but both had proved ineffectual to keep men from iniquity, or to redeem them fallen into it. Above them both, above all theories and all external rules he sets the law of the Spirit of life in Christ.

The originality of Christian ethics, we repeat, does not lie in its detailed precepts. There is not one, it may be, even of the noblest maxims of Jesus that had not been uttered by some previous moralist. With the New Testament in our hands, it may be possible to collect from non-Christian sources-from Greek philosophers, from the Jewish Talmud, from Egyptian sages and Hindoo poets, from Buddha and Confucius-a moral anthology which thus sifted out of the refuse of antiquity, like particles of iron drawn by the magnet, may bear comparison with the ethics of Christianity. If Christ is indeed the Son of man, we should expect Him to gather into one all that is highest in the thoughts and aspirations of mankind. Addressing the Athenians on Mars’ Hill, the apostle could appeal to "certain of your own poets" in support of his doctrine of the Fatherhood of God. The noblest minds in all ages witness to Jesus Christ and prove themselves to be, in some sort, of His kindred.

"They are but broken lights of Thee; And Thou, O Lord, art more than they!"

It is Christ in us, it is the personal fellowship of the soul with Him and with the living God through Him, that forms the vital and constitutive factor of Christianity. Here is the secret of its moral efficacy. The Christ is the centre root of the race; He is the image of God in which we were made. The lifeblood of mankind flowed in Him as in His heart, and poured forth from Him as from its fountain in sacrifice for the common sin. Jesus gathered into Himself and restored the virtue of humanity broken into a thousand fragments; but He did much more than this. While He re-created in His personal character our lost manhood, by His death and resurrection He has gained for that ideal a transcendent power that seizes upon men and regenerates and transforms them. "With unveiled face beholding in the mirror the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image" (receiving the glory that we see), "as from the Lord of the Spirit". {2 Corinthians 3:18}

There is, therefore, an evangelical ethics, a Christian science of life. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" has a system and method of its own. It has a rational solution and explanation to render for our moral problems. But its solution is given, as St. Paul and as his Master loved to give it, in practice, not in theory. It teaches the art of living to multitudes to whom the names of ethics and moral science are unknown. Those who understand the method of Christ best are commonly too busy in its practice to theorise about it. They are physicians tending the sick and the dying, not professors in some school of medicine. Yet professors have their use, as well as practitioners. The task of developing a Christian science of life, of exhibiting the truth of revelation in its theoretical bearings and its relations to the thought of the age, forms a part of the practical duties of the Church and touches deeply the welfare of souls. For other times this work has been nobly accomplished by Christian thinkers. Shall we not pray the Lord of the harvest that He will thrust forth into this field fit labourers; that He will false up men mighty through God to overthrow every high thing that exalts itself against His knowledge, arid wise to build up to the level of the times the great fabric of Christian ethics and discipline?

There emerge in this exhortation four distinct principles, which lay at the basis of St. Paul’s views of life and conduct.

I. In the first place, the fundamental truth of the Fatherhood of God. "Be imitators of God," he writes, "as beloved children." And in Ephesians 4:24 : "Put on the new man, which was created after 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, are the presence and the active will of Almighty God our heavenly Father. His image we see in the Son of man.

Here is the fountainhead of truth, from which the two great streams of philosophical thought upon morals have diverged. If man is the child of a Being absolutely good, then moral goodness belongs to the essence of his nature; it is discoverable in the instincts of his reason and will. Were not our nature warped by sin, such reasoning must have commanded immediate assent and led to consistent and self-evident results. Again, if man is the child of God, the finite of the Infinite, his moral character must, presumably, have been in the beginning germinal rather than complete, needing-even apart from sin and its malformations-development and education, the discipline of a fatherly providence, inculcating the lessons and forming the habits which belong to his ripe manhood and full-grown stature. 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. Is the universe governed by personal will, or by impersonal force? Is reason, or is gravitation the index to the nature of the Absolute? This is the vital question of modern thought. The latter is the answer given by a large, if not a preponderant body of philosophical opinion in our own day, -as it was given, virtually, by the natural philosophers of Greece in the dawn of science. Man’s triumphs over nature and the splendour of his discoveries in the physical realm bewilder his reason. The scientists, like other conquerors, have been intoxicated with victory. The universe, it seems, was about to yield to them its last secrets; they were prepared to analyse the human soul and resolve the conception of God into its material elements. Religion and conscience, however, prove to be intractable subjects in the physical laboratory; they are coming out of the crucible unchanged and refined. We are able by this time to take a more sober measure of the possibilities of the scientific method, and to see what inductive logic and natural selection can do for us, and what they cannot do. We can walk in the light of the new revelation, without being dazzled by it. Things are less altered than we thought. The old boundaries reappear. The spirit resumes its place, and rules a wider realm than before. Reason refuses to be the victim of its own success, and to immolate itself for the deification of material law. "Forasmuch as we are God’s offspring," we ought not to think, and we will not think, that the Godhead is like to blind forces and reasonless properties of matter. 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.

The great tide of joy, the victorious energy which the sense of God’s love brings into the life of a Christian, is evidence of its reality. The believer is a child walking in the light of his Father’s smile-dependent, ignorant, but the object of an Almighty love. A thousand tokens speak to him of the Divine care; his tasks and trials are sweetened by the confidence that they are appointed for wise ends beyond his present knowledge. To another in that same house there is no heavenly Father, no unseen hand that guides, no gleam of a brighter and purer day lighting up its dull chambers. There are human companions, weak, erring, and wearying like oneself. There is work to do, with the night coming swiftly; and the brave heart girds itself to duty, finding in the service of man its motive and employment-but, alas, with how poor success and how faint a hope! It is not the loss of strength for human service, nor the dying out of joy which unbelief entails, that is its chief calamity; but the unbelief itself. 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 is desolate. The mainspring of life is broken.

"Make haste to answer me, O Jehovah; my spirit faileth! Hide not Thy face from me, Lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit!"

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. That he may "have whereof to give to the needy" is the purpose that provokes the thief to industry. The desire to "give grace" to the hearers and to "build them up" in truth and goodness imparts seriousness and elevation to social intercourse. The irritations and injuries we inflict on each other, with or without purpose, furnish occasion for us to "be kind one to another, goodhearted, forgiving yourselves"- for this is the expression the apostle uses Ephesians 4:32, and in Colossians 3:13. 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. Showing grace is what the apostle literally says here, speaking both of human and Divine forgiveness. In this lie the charm and power of true forgiveness. The forgiver after the order of grace does not pardon like a judge moved by magnanimity or pity for transgressors, but in love to his own kind and desire for their amendment. He identifies himself with the wrong-doer, weighs his temptation and all that drew him into error. Such forgiveness, while it never ignores the wrong, admits every qualifying circumstance and just extenuation. This is the kind of pardon that touches the sinner’s heart; for it goes to the heart of the sin, isolating it from all other feelings and conditions that are not sin; it takes the wrong upon itself in understanding and perception; it puts its finger upon the aching, festering spot where the criminality lies and applies to that its healing balm.

"Even as God in Christ forgave you." And how did God forgive? Not by a grand imperial decree, as of some monarch too exalted to resent the injuries of men or to inquire into their futile proceedings. Had such forgiveness been possible to Divine justice, it could have wrought in us no real salvation. Our forgiveness is that of God in Christ. The Forgiver has sat down by the prisoner’s side, has felt his misery and the force of his temptations, and in everything but the actual sin has made Himself one with the sinner, even to bearing the extreme penalty of his guilt. In the act of making sacrifice, Jesus prayed for those that slew Him: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do!" This intercession breathed the spirit of the new forgiveness. There is a real remission of sins, a release granted justly and upon due satisfaction; but it is the act of justice charged with love, of a justice as tender and considerate as it is strong, and which eagerly takes account of all that bespeaks in the. offender a possibility of better things. It is a forgiveness that does justice to the humanity as well as the criminality in the sinner.

To proclaim by word and deed this forgiveness of God to the sinful world is the vocation of the Church. And where she does thus declare it, by whatever means or ministry, Christ’s promise to her is verified: "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them." We may so reconcile men to ourselves as to bring them back to God. Has some one done you a wrong? There is your opportunity of saving a soul from death and hiding a multitude of sins. Thus Christ used the great wrong we all did Him. It is your privilege to show the wrong-doer that you and he are made one by the blood of Christ. "Walk in love," St. Paul says, "as the Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us a sacrifice." When the apostle writes the Christ, he points us along the whole line ‘of the revelation of the cross. We think of the Christhood of Jesus, of the Christliness of such love as this. Christ’s was a representative and exemplary love, with its forerunners and its followers all walking in one path. "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. And He "gave up Himself"-the only gift that could suffice. The rich who bestow many gifts in furtherance of humanitarian and religious work and still do not bestow themselves, their sympathetic thought, their presence and personal aid, are withholding the best thing, the one thing required to make their bounties efficacious. In what we give and forgive, it is the accent of sympathy, the giving of the heart with it that adds grace to the act. "Though I dole out all my goods, though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." We do a thousand things to serve and benefit our fellow-men, and yet evade the real sacrifice, -which is simply to love them.

In studying this epistle, we have felt increasingly that 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. We are brothers and sisters of humanity: He our elder brother, and God our common Father in heaven, -His Father and ours. Auguste Comte writes in his "System of Positive Polity": "The promises of supernatural religion appealed exclusively to man’s selfish instincts The sympathetic instincts found no place in the theological synthesis." It would be impossible to affirm anything more completely at variance with the truth, anything more absolutely opposed to the doctrine of Christ and the theological synthesis of the apostles. And yet it was upon this ground that the great French thinker renounced Christianity, proposing his new religion of humanity as a substitute for a selfish and effete supernaturalism! Why did he not go to the New Testament itself to find out what Christianity means? "To combine permanently concert with independence," Comte excellently says, "is the capital problem of society, a problem which religion alone can solve, by love primarily, then by faith on a basis of love." Precisely so; and this is the solution offered by Jesus Christ. His self-sacrificing love is the basis on which our faith rests; and that faith works by love in all those who truly possess it. This is the evangelical theory. The morale of the Church, it is true, has fallen shamefully below its doctrine; but this doctrine is, after all, the one fruitful and progressive moral force in the world; and it is certain to be carried into effect.

In the darkest hour of Israel’s oppression and of international hate, one of her great prophets thus described the triumph of supernatural religion: "In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth; for that the Lord of hosts hath blessed them, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance". {Isaiah 19:24-25} This is our programme still.

III. Another of St. Paul’s ruling ideas lying at the basis of Christian ethics is his conception of man’s future destiny. The apostle warns his readers that they "grieve not the Holy Spirit, in whom they were sealed till the day of redemption." He tells them that "the impure and the covetous have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."

There is thus 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 firstfruits. This kingdom is the joint inheritance of the sons of God, brethren with Christ and in Christ, who are conformed to His image and found worthy to "stand before the Son of man." Those are excluded from the inheritance, who by their moral nature are alien to it: "Without are dogs, sorcerers, whoremongers, idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie." This revelation has had a most powerful influence on the progress of ethics. It has given a momentous importance to individual conduct, a new grandeur to the moral issues of the present life. "Man’s life," viewed in the light of the Christian gospel, "has duties that are alone great, that go up to Heaven, and down to Hell." The tangled skein is at last to be unravelled, the mysterious problem of mortal life will have its solution at the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ.

It is true that the wicked flourish and spread themselves like green trees in the sunshine; and the covetous boast of their hearts’ desire. To see this was the trial of ancient faith; and the good man had to charge himself constantly that he should not fret because of evil-doers. It required a heroic faith to believe in God’s kingdom and righteousness, when the visible course of things made all against them, and there was no clear light beyond. God’s saints had to learn first that God is Himself the sufficient good, and must be trusted to do right. But this was the faith of defence rather than of victory, -of endurance, not enthusiasm. In the knowledge of Christ’s victory over death and entrance on our behalf into the heavenly world, "in hope of life eternal which God who cannot lie hath promised," men have fought against their own sins, have struggled for the right and spent themselves to save their fellows with a vigour and success never witnessed before, and in numbers far exceeding those that all other creeds and systems have enlisted in the holy cause of humanity.

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. Chastity takes its due place amongst the virtues, and becomes the mark of a Christian as distinguished from a pagan life. "The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. God who raised up the Lord Jesus, will raise us also through His power. Your bodies are limbs of Christ a temple of the Holy Spirit which you have from God Glorify God in your body." So St. Paul exhorts the Christians of Corinth, {1 Corinthians 6:1-20} living in the centre and shrine of heathen vice. This doctrine of the sanctity of the body has been the salvation of the family. It has saved civilisation from perishing through sexual corruption, and is still our chief defence against this fearful evil. Our bodily dress, we now learn, is one with the spirit that it infolds. We shall lay it aside only to resume it, - transfigured, but with a form and impress continuous with its present being. This identical self, the same both in its outward and inward personality, will appear before the tribunal of Christ, that it may "receive the things done in the body." This announcement gives reasonableness and distinctness to the expectation of future judgment. The judgment assumes, with its solemn grandeur, a matter-of-fact reality, an immediate bearing on the daily conduct of life, which lends a powerful reinforcement to the conscience, while it supplies a fitting and glorious conclusion to our course as moral beings.

IV. Finally, 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 up for us an offering and sacrifice to God"-gave Himself, as it is put elsewhere, "for our sins"-throws an awful light upon the nature of human transgression. The blood spilt in the strife with our, sin and shed to wash out its stain, reveals its foulness and malignity. 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. It was felt that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins, that the sacrifices man Could offer for himself, or the creatures on his behalf, were ineffectual; the guilt was too real to be expiated in this fashion, the wound too deep to be healed by those poor appliances. But who had suspected that such a remedy as this was needed, and forthcoming? How deep the resentment of eternal Justice against the transgressions of men, if the blood of God’s own Son alone could make propitiation! How rank the offence against the Divine holiness, if to purge its abomination the vessel containing the most sweet fragrance of His sinless nature must be broken! 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!

This negative side of the ethical bearing of Christ’s sacrifice is implied in the words of the apostle in the second verse, and in the contrast indicated between its sweet savour and those unclean things whose very names it should banish from our midst (Ephesians 5:3). On its positive effects -the love and self-devotion it inspires, the conformity of our lives to its example-we have dwelt already. Let us add, however, that the sacrifice of Christ demands from us, above all, devotion to Christ Himself. Our first duty as Christians is to love Christ, to serve and follow Christ. "He died for all," says the apostle, "that the living should live no longer to themselves, but to Him that died for them and rose again." When Mary of Bethany poured on the Saviour’s head her box of precious ointment, the Master accepted the tribute and approved the act; and the poor have been gainers by it a thousand times the pence which Judas deemed wasted on the head he was watching to betray. 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.

Let the gospel of Christ’s kingdom be preached in word and deed to all nations, let the love of Christ be brought to bear upon the great masses of mankind, and the time of the world’s salvation will be come. Its sin will be hated, forsaken, forgiven. Its social evils will be banished; its weapons of war turned to ploughshares and pruning hooks. Its scattered races and nations will be re-united in the obedience of faith, and formed into one Christian confederacy and commonwealth of the peoples, a peaceful kingdom of the Son of God’s love.

Verses 7-14

Chapter 23


Ephesians 5:7-14

The contrast between the Christian and heathen way of life is now, finally, to be set forth under St. Paul’s familiar figure of the light and the darkness. He bids his Gentile readers not to be "jointpartakers with them"-with the sons of disobedience upon whom God’s wrath is coming (Ephesians 5:6) -for he has hailed them already, in Ephesians 3:6, as "joint-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." "Once" indeed they shared in the lot of the disobedient; but for them the darkness has past, and the true light now shineth.

In wrath or promise, in hope of life eternal or in the fearful looking for of judgment they, and we, must partake. This future participation depends upon present character. "Do not," the apostle entreats, "cast in your lot again with the unclean and covetous. Their ways you have renounced, and their doom you have exchanged for the heritage of the saints. Let no vain words deceive you into supposing that you may keep your new inheritance, and yet return to your old sins. Show yourselves worthy of your calling. Walk as children of the light, and you will possess the eternal kingdom." Each man carries with him into the next state of being the entail of his past life. That heritage depends on his own choice; yet not upon his individual will working by itself, but on the grace and will of God working with him, as that grace is accepted or rejected. He has light: he must walk in it; and he will reach the realm of light. Thus the apostle, in Ephesians 5:7-8, concludes his warning against relapse into heathen sin.

Ephesians 5:9-10 delineate the character of the children of the light: Ephesians 5:11-14 set forth their influence upon the surrounding darkness. Into these two divisions the exposition of this paragraph naturally falls.

I. "The fruit of the light" (not of the Spirit) is the true text of Ephesians 5:9, as it stands in the older Greek copies, Versions, and Fathers. Calvin showed his judgment and independence in preferring this reading to that of the received Greek text. Similarly Bengel, and most of the later critics. The sentence is parenthetical, and contains a singular and instructive figure. It is one of those sparks from the anvil, in which great writers not unfrequently give us their finest utterances, -sentences that get a peculiar point from the eagerness with which they are struck off in the heat and clash of thought, as the mind reaches forward to some thought lying beyond. The clause is an epitome, in five words, of Christian virtue, whose qualities, origin, and method are all defined. It sums up exquisitely the moral teaching of the epistle. Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruit of the Spirit) and Philippians 4:8 (Whatsoever things are true, etc.) are parallel to this passage, as Pauline definitions, equally perfect, of the virtues of a Christian man. This has the advantage of the others in brevity and epigrammatic point.

"You are light in the Lord," the apostle said; "walk as children of the light." But his readers might ask: "What does this mean? It is poetry: let us have it translated into plain prose. How shall we walk as children of the light? Show us the path."-"I will tell you," the apostle answers: "the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Walk in these ways; let your life bear this fruit; and you will be true children of the light of God. So living, you will find out what it is that pleases God, and how joyful a thing it is to please Him (Ephesians 5:10). Your life wilt then be free from all complicity with the works of darkness. It will shine with a brightness clear and penetrating, that will put to shame the works of darkness and transform the darkness itself. It will speak with a voice that all must hear, bidding them awake from the sleep of sin to see in Christ their light of life." Such is the setting in which this delightful definition stands.

But it is more than a definition. While this sentence declares what Christian virtue is, it signifies also whence it comes, how it is generated and maintained. It asserts the connection that exists between Christian character and Christian faith. The fruit cannot be grown without the tree, any more than the tree can grow soundly without yielding its proper fruit.

Right is the fruit of light.

The principle that religion is the basis of moral virtue is one that many moralists disputed in St. Paul’s time; and it has fallen into some discredit in our own. In philosophical theory, and to a large extent in popular maxim and belief, it is assumed that faith and morals, character and creed, are not only distinct, but independent things, and that there is no necessary connection between the two. Christians are themselves to blame for this fallacy, through the discrepancy not seldom visible between their creed and life. Our narrowness of view and the harshness of our ethical judgments have helped to foster this grave error.

Great Christian teachers have spoken of the virtues of the heathen as "splendid sins." But Christ and His Apostles never said so. He said: "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold." And they said: "In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted of Him." The Christian creed has no jealousy in regard to human excellence. "Whatsoever things are true and honourable and just and pure," wherever and in whomsoever they arc found, our faith honours and delights in them, and accepts them to the utmost of their worth. But then it claims them all for its own, -as the fruit of the one "true light which lighteth every man," Wherever this fruit appears, we know that that light has been, though its ways are past finding out. Through secret crevices, by subtle refractions and multiplied reflections, the true light reaches many a life lying far outside its visible course.

All goodness has one source; for, said Jesus, "there is none good but one, that is God." The channels may be tortuous, obstructed and obscure: the stream is always one. There is nothing more touching, and nothing more encouraging to our faith in God’s universal love and His will that all men should be saved, than to see, as we do sometimes under conditions most adverse and in spots the most unlikely, features of moral beauty and Christlike goodness appearing like springs in the desert or flowers blooming in Alpine snows, -signs of the universal light,

"Which yet in the absolutest drench of dark Ne’er wants its witness, some stray beauty-beam To the despair of hell!"

The action of God’s grace in Christ is by no means limited to the sphere of its recognised working. All the more earnestly on this account do we vindicate this grace against those who deny its necessity or the permanence of its moral influence. The fruit, in the main, they approve. But they would cut down the plant from which it came; they seek to quench the light under which it grew. They are like men who should take you to some lofty tree that has flourished for ages rooted in the rock, and who should say: "See how wide its branches and how stout its stem, how firmly it stands upon its native soil! Let us cut it loose from those dark and ugly roots-that mysterious theology, those superstitions of the past. The human mind has outgrown them. Virtue can support itself on its own proper basis. It is time to assert the dignity of man, and to proclaim the independence of morality." If these men have their way, and if European society renounces the authority of God, how quickly will that tree of the Lord’s planting, the vast growth of Christian virtue and beneficence, wither to its topmost bough; and the next storm will bring it to the ground, with all its stately strength and summer beauty. Unbelief in God lays the axe at the root of human society. Our life-the life of individuals, of families and nations-is rooted in the unseen and hid with Christ in God. Thence it draws its vitality and virtue, through those spiritual fibres by which we are linked to God and lay hold on eternal life. Since Christ Jesus our forerunner entered the heavenly places the anchor of human hope has been cast within the veil; if that anchor drags, there is no other that will hold. The rocks are plain to see on which our richly freighted ship of life will founder. Without the religion of Jesus Christ our civilisation is not worth a hundred years’ purchase.

Moral effects do not follow upon their causes as rapidly as physical effects: they follow as certainly. We live largely upon the accumulated ethical capital of our forefathers. When that is spent, we are left to our intrinsic poverty of soul, to our faithlessness and feebleness. The scepticism of one generation bears fruit in the immorality of the next, or the next after that; the unbelief and cynicism of the teacher in the vice of his disciple. Such fruit of blasting and mildew the decay of faith has never failed to bear.

The corresponding truth will be at once acknowledged. There is no real religion without: virtue. If the godly man is not a good man, if he is not a sincere and pure-hearted man, "that man’s religion is vain": no matter what his professions or his emotions, no matter what his services to the Church. He is one of those to whom-Jesus Christ will say: "I know you not; depart from me, all ye that work iniquity." There is a flaw in him somewhere, a rift within the lute that spoils all its music. "A good tree cannot. bring forth corrupt fruit."

In Christ’s garden there forms in clustered beauty and perfectness the ripe growth of virtue, which in the sunshine of His love and under the freshening breath of His Spirit sends forth its spices and "yieldeth its fruit every month.’" In it there abide goodness, righteousness, truth- these three; and who shall say which of them is greatest?

I. Goodness stands first, as the most visible, and obvious form of Christian excellence, -that which every one looks for in a religious man, and which every one admires when it is to be seen. Righteousness, regarded by itself, is not so readily appreciated. There is something austere and forbidding in it. "For a righteous man scarcely would one die"-you respect, even revere him; but you do not love him: "but for the good man peradventure, one would even dare to die." Christian goodness is the sanctification of the heart and its affections, renewed and governed by the love of God in Christ. It is, notwithstanding, but seldom inculcated in the New Testament; because it is referred to its spring and principle in love. Goodness is love embodied. "Now love us He loved us, and bent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." This is the faith that makes good men, -the best the world has ever known, the best that it holds now. Vanity, selfishness, evil temper and desire are shamed-and burnt out of the soul by the holy fire of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the warm, tender light of the cross the heart is softened and cleansed, and expanded to the widest charity, it becomes the home of all generous instincts and pure affections. So "the fruit of the light is in all goodness."

II. And righteousness.

This second and central definition applies a searching test to all spurious forms of goodness, superficial or sentimental, -to the goodness of mere good manners, or good nature. The principle of righteousness, fully understood, includes everything in moral worth, and is often used to denote in one word the entire fruit of God’s grace in man. For righteousness is the sanctification of the conscience. It is loyalty to God’s holy and perfect law. It is no mere outward keeping of formal rules, such as the legal righteousness of Judaism, no submission to necessity or calculation of advantages: it is a love of the law in a man’s inmost spirit; it is the quality of a heart one with that law, reconciled to it as it is reconciled to God Himself in Jesus Christ.

At the bottom, therefore, righteousness and goodness are one. Each is the counterface and complement of the other. Righteousness is to goodness as the strong backbone of principle, the firm hand and the vigorous grasp of duty, the steadfast foot that plants itself on the eternal ground of the right and true and stands against a world’s assault. Goodness without righteousness is a weak and fitful sentiment: righteousness without goodness is a dead formality. He cannot love God or his neighbour truly, who does not love God’s law; and he knows nothing aright of that law, who does not know that it is the law of love.

This also, this above all is "the fruit of the light." Two watchwords we have from the lips of Jesus, two mottoes of His own life and mission, -the one given at the end, the other at the beginning of His course: "Greater love hath none than this, that one lay down his life for his friends"; and, "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." By a double flame was He consumed a sacrifice upon the cross, -by the passion of His zeal for God’s righteousness, and by the passion of His pity for mankind. In that twofold light we see light, and become "light in the Lord." Therefore the fruit of the light, the moral product of a true faith in the gospel, is in all goodness and righteousness.

There is a danger of merging the latter in the former of these attributes. Evangelical piety is credited with an excess of the sentimental and emotional disposition, cultivated at the expense of the more sterling elements of character. High principle, scrupulous honour, stern fidelity to duty are no less essential to the image of Christ in the soul than are warm feeling and zealous devotion to his service, Jesus Christ the righteous, as His apostles’ loved to call Him, is the pattern of a manly faith, up to which we must grow in all things. "He is the propitiation for our sins." Never was there an act of such unswerving integrity and absolute loyalty to the law of right as the sacrifice of Calvary. God forbid that we should magnify love at the expense of law, or make good feeling a substitute for duty.

III. Truth comes last in this enumeration, for it signifies the inward reality and depth of the other two.

Truth does not mean veracity alone, the mere truth of the lips. Heathen honesty goes as far as this. Men of the world expect as much from each other, and brand the liar with their contempt. Truth of words requires a reality behind itself. The acted falsehood is excluded, the hinted and intended lie no less than that expressly uttered. Beyond all this is the truth of the man that God requires-speech, action, thought, all consistent, harmonious, and transparent, with the. light of God’s truth shining through them. Truth is the harmony of the inward and the outward, the correspondence of what the man is in himself with that which he appears and wishes to appear to be.

Now, it is only Children of the light, only men thoroughly good and upright, who can, in this strict sense, be men of truth. So long as any malice or iniquity is left in our nature, we have something to conceal. We cannot afford to he sincere. We are compelled to pay, by very shame, the degrading tribute which vice renders to virtue, the homage of hypocrisy. But find a man whose intellect, whose heart and will, tried at whatever point, ring sound and true, in whom there is no affectation, no make-believe, no pretence or exaggeration, no discrepancy, no discord in the music of his life and thought, "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile"-there is a saint for you, and a man of God; there is one whom you may "grapple to your soul with hooks of steel." Truth is the hall-mark of entire sanctification; it is the highest and rarest attainment of the Christian life. It is equally the charm of an innocent, unspoilt childhood, and of a ripe and purified old age. The apostle John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," is the most perfect embodiment, after his Master, of this consummating grace. In him righteousness and love were blended in the translucence of an utter simplicity and truth.

We must beware of giving a subjective and merely personal aspect to this divine quality. While truth is the unity of the outward and inward, of heart and act and word in the man, it is at the same time the agreement of the man with the reality of things as they exist in God. The former kind of truth rests upon the latter; the subjective upon the objective order. The truth of God makes us true. We magnify our own sincerity until it becomes vitiated and pretentious. In our eagerness to realise and express our own convictions, we give too little pains to form them upon a sound basis; we make a great virtue of speaking out what is in our hearts, but take small heed of what comes in to the heart, and speak out of a loose self-confidence and idolatry of our own opinions. So the Pharisees were true, who called Christ an impostor. So every careless slanderer, and scandalmonger credulous of evil, who believes the lies he propagates. "Imagination has pictured to itself a domain in which every one who enters should be compelled to speak only what he thought, and pleased itself by calling such domain the Palace of Truth. A palace of veracity, if you will; but no temple of the truth. A place where each one would be at liberty to utter his own crude unrealities, to bring forth his delusions, mistakes, half-formed, hasty judgments; where the depraved ear would reckon discord harmony, and the depraved eye mistake colour; the depraved moral taste take Herod or Tiberius for a king, and shout beneath the Redeemer’s cross, ‘Himself He cannot save!’ A temple of the truth? Nay, only a palace echoing with veracious falsehoods, a Babel of confused sounds, in which egotism would rival egotism, and truth would be each man’s own lie." In the pride of our veracity, we miss the verity of things; we are true only to our blind self, false to the light of God. "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice": so said He who was truth incarnate, making His word a law for all true men. "In all goodness and righteousness and truth," says the apostle. Let us seek them all. We are apt to become specialists in virtue, as in other departments of life. Men will endeavour even to compensate by extreme efforts in one direction for deficiencies in some other direction, which they scarcely desire to make good. So they grow out of shape, into oddities and moral malformations. There is a want of balance and of finish about a multitude of Christian lives, even of those who have long and steadily pursued the way of faith. We have sweetness without strength, and strength without gentleness, and truth spoken without love, and words of passionate zeal without accuracy and heedfulness.

All this is infinitely sad, and infinitely damaging to the cause of our religion.

"It is the little rift within the lute That by-and-by will make the music mute And ever widening slowly silence all; The little rift within the lover’s lute, Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit, That rotting inward slowly moulders all."

Let us judge ourselves, that we be not judged by the Lord. Let us count no wrong a trifle. Let us never imagine that our defects in one kin will be atoned for by excellences in another. Our friends may say this, in charity, for us; it is a fatal thing when a man begins to say so to himself. "May the God of peace sanctify you fully. May your whole spirit, soul, and body in blameless integrity be preserved to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." {1 Thessalonians 5:23}

I. The effect upon surrounding darkness of the light of God in Christian lives is described in Ephesians 5:11-14, in words which it remains for us briefly to examine.

Ephesians 5:12 distinguishes "the things secretly done" by the Gentiles, "of which it is a shame even to speak," from the open and manifest forms of evil in which they invite their Christian neighbours to join (Ephesians 5:11). Instead of doing this and having fellowship with the "unfruitful works of darkness," they must "rather reprove them." 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.

"But all things," the apostle says-whether it be those open works of darkness, profitless of good, which expose themselves to direct conviction, or the depths of Satan that hide their infamy from the light of day-"all things being reproved by the light, are made manifest" (Ephesians 5:13). The fruit of the light convicts the unfruitful works of darkness. The daily life of a Christian man amongst men of the world is a perpetual reproof, that tells against secret sins of which no word is spoken, of which the reprover never guesses, as well as against open and unblushing vices.

"This is the condemnation," said Jesus, "that light is come into the world." And this condemnation every one who walks in Christ’s steps, and breathes His Spirit amid the corruptions of the world, is carrying on, more frequently in silence than by spoken argument. Our unconscious and spontaneous influence is the most real and effective part of it. Life is the light of men-words only are the index of the life from which they spring. Just so far as our lives touch the conscience of others and reveal the difference between darkness and light, so far do we hold forth the word of life and carry on the Holy Spirit’s work of convincing the world of sin. "Let your light so shine."

This manifestation leads to a transformation: "For every thing that is made manifest is light" (Ephesians 5:13). "You are light in the Lord," St. Paul says to his converted Gentile readers, -"you who were "once darkness," once wandering in the lusts and pleasures of the heathen around you, without hope and without God. The light of the gospel disclosed, and then dispelled the darkness of Sat former time; and so it may be with your still heathen kindred, through the light you bring to them. So it will 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, O sleeper; and arise from out of the dead! And the Christ shall dawn upon thee!"

The speaker of this verse can be no other than God, or the Spirit of God in Scripture. The sentence is no mere quotation. It re-utters, in the style of Mary’s or Zechariah’s song, the promise of the Old Covenant from the lips of the New. It gathers up the import of the prophecies concerning the salvation of Christ, as they sounded in the apostle’s ears and as he conveyed them to the world. Isaiah 60:1-3 supplies the basis of our passage, where the prophet awakens Zion from the sleep of the Exile and bids her shine once more in the glory of her God and show forth His light to the nations: "Arise, " he cries, "shine, for thy light is. come!" There are echoes in the verse, besides, of Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 26:19; perhaps even of Jonah 1:6 : "What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise and call upon thy God!" We seem to have here, as in Ephesians 4:4-6, a snatch of the earliest Christian hymns. The lines are 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. Certainly those Churches did not wait until the second century to compose their hymns and spiritual songs (comp. Ephesians 5:19). Our Lord’s sublime announcement, {John 5:25} already verified, that "the hour had come when the dead should hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that heard should live," gave the key to the prophetic sayings which promised through Israel the light of life to all nations.

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.

Verses 15-21

Chapter 24


Ephesians 5:15-21

Very solemnly did the moral homily to the Asian Christians begin in Ephesians 4:17 : "This therefore I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles walk." So much has now been said and testified in the intervening paragraphs, by way both of dehortation and exhortation. Here the apostle pauses; and casting his eye over the whole pathway of life he has marked out in this discourse, he bids his readers: "Look then carefully how you walk. Show that you are not fools, but wise to observe your steps and to seize your opportunities in these evil times, -days so perilous that you need your best wisdom and knowledge, of God’s will to save you from fatal stumbling."

So far St. Paul’s renewed exhortation, in Ephesians 5:15-17, inculcates care and wary discretion, -the skill that in the strategy of life finds its vantage in unequal ground, that makes opposing winds help forward the seafarer. In this sober wisdom it is likely the Asian Christians were deficient. In many ways, both directly and indirectly, the need of increased thoughtfulness on the readers’ part has been indicated. But there is another side to the Christian nature: it has its moods of exhilaration, as well as of caution and reflection; ardent emotion, eager speech, and exultant song are things proper to a high religious life. For these the apostle makes room in Ephesians 5:18-20, while the three foregoing verses (Ephesians 5:15-17) enjoin the circumspection and vigilance that become the good soldier of Christ Jesus.

A striking contrast thus arises between the sobriety and the excitement that mark the life of grace. We see with what strictness we must watch ourselves, and guard the character and interests of the Church; and with what joyousness and holy freedom we may take our part in its communion. Temperament and constitution modify these injunctions in their personal application. The Holy Spirit does not enable us all to speak with equal fervour and freedom, nor to sing with the same tunefulness. His power operates in the limbs of Christ’s body "according to the measure of each single part." But the self-same Spirit works in both these contrasted ways, - in the sanguine and the melancholic disposition, in the demonstrative and in the reserved, in the quick play of fancy and the brightness and impulsiveness of youth no less than in the sober gait and solid sense of riper age. Let us see how the two opposite aspects of Christian experience are set out in the apostle’s words.

I. First of all, upon the one side, heedfulness is enjoined. The children of light must use the light to see their way. To "stumble at noonday" is a proof of folly or blindness. So misusing our light, we shall quickly lose it and return to the paths of darkness.

According to the preferable (Revised) order of the words, the qualifying adverb "carefully" belongs to the "look," not to the "walk." The circumspect look precedes the wise step. The spot is marked on which the foot is to be planted; the eye ranges right and left and takes in the bearings of the new position, forecasting its possibilities. "Look before you leap," our sage proverb says. According to the carefulness of the look, the success of the leap is likely to be.

There is no word in the epistle more apposite than this to

"our day Of haste, half-work, and disarray."

We are too restless to think, too impatient to learn. Everything is sacrificed to speed. The telegraph and the daily newspaper symbolise the age. The public ear loves to be caught quickly and with new sensations: a premium is set on carelessness and hurry. Earnest men, eager for the triumph of a good cause, push forward with unsifted statements and unweighed denunciations, that discredit Christian advocacy and wound the cause of truth and charity. Time, thus wronged and driven beyond her pace, has her revenge; she deals hardly with these light judgments of the hour. They are as the chaff which the wind carrieth away. After all, it is still truth that lives; thorough work that lasts; accuracy that hits the mark. And the time-servers are "unwise," both intellectually and morally. They are most unwise who think to succeed in life’s high calling without self-distrust, and without scrupulous care and pains in all work they do for the kingdom of God.

In the evil of his own times St. Paul sees a special reason for heedfulness: "Walk not as unwise, but as wise, buying up the opportunity, because the days are evil." In Colossians 4:5 the parallel sentence shows that in giving this caution he is thinking of the relation of Christians to the outside world: "Walk in wisdom toward those without, buying up the opportunity." Evil days they were, when Paul lay in Nero’s prison; when that wild beast was raging against everything that resisted his mad will or reproved his monstrous vices. With supreme power in the hands of such a creature of Satan, who could tell what fires of persecution were kindling for the people of Christ, or what terrible revelation of God’s anger against the present evil world might be impending. At Ephesus the spirit of heathenism had shown itself peculiarly menacing. Here, too, in the rich and cultivated province of Asia where the currents of Eastern and Western thoughts met, heresy and its corruptions made their first decided appear-ante in the Churches of the Gentiles. Conflicts are approaching which will try to the uttermost the strength of the Christian faith and the temper of its weapons. {Ephesians 6:10-16}

As wise men, reading thoughtfully the signs of the times, the Asian Christians will "redeem the [present] season." They will use to the utmost the light given them. They will employ every means to increase their knowledge of Christ, to confirm their faith and the habits of their spiritual life. They are like men expecting a siege, who strengthen their fortifications and furbish their weapons and practise their drill and lay up store of supplies, that they may "stand in the evil day." Such wisdom Ecclesiastes preaches to the young man: "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, or ever the evil days come."

Within a year after this epistle was penned, Rome was burnt and the crime of its burning washed out, at Nero’s caprice, in Christian blood. In four years more St. Paul and St. Peter had died a martyr’s death at Rome; and Nero had fallen by the assassin’s hand. At once the empire was convulsed with civil war; and the year 68-69 was known as that of the Four Emperors. Amid the storms threatening the ruin of the Roman State, the Jewish war against Rome was carried on, ending in the year 70 with the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish temple and nationality. These were the days of tribulation of which our Lord spoke, "such as had not been since the beginning of the world". {Matthew 24:21-22} The entire fabric of life was shaken; and in the midst of earthquake and tempest, blood and fire, Israel met its day of judgment and the former age passed away. In the year 63, when the apostle wrote, the sky was everywhere red and lowering with signs of coming storm. None knew where or how the tempest might break, or what would be its issue.

When men amid evil days and portents of danger must be told not to be "foolish" nor "drunken with wine," one is disposed to tax them with levity. It was difficult for these Asian Greeks to take life seriously, and to realise the gravity of their situation. St. Paul appeals to them by their duty, still more than by their danger: "Be not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." As he bade the Thessalonians consider that chastity was not matter of choice and of their own advantage only, it was "God’s will," {1 Thessalonians 4:3} so the Ephesians must understand that Christ is no mere adviser, nor the Christian life an optional system that men may adopt when and so far as it suits them. He is our Lord; and it is our business to understand, in order that we may execute, His designs. For this Christ’s servants require a watchful eye and an alert intelligence. They must be no dullards nor simpletons, who would enter into the Divine Master’s plans; no triflers, no creatures of sentiment and impulse, who are to be the agents of His will. He can and does employ every sincere heart that gives itself in love to Him. But His nobler tasks are for the wise taught by His Spirit, for those who can "understand," with penetrating sympathy and breadth of comprehension, "what the will of the Lord is." Hence the distinction of St. Paul himself, and of John the beloved disciple, amongst His ministers and witnesses, -men great in mind as they were in heart, whose thoughts about Christ were as grand as their love to Him was fervent. Nowhere does the apostle say so much of "the will of God" in regard to the dispensation of grace as he does in this epistle. For he sees life and salvation here in their largest bearings and proportions. He prayed at the outset that the Gentile readers might realise the value that God puts upon them, and the mighty forces lie has set at work for their salvation; {Ephesians 1:18-20} and again, that they might comprehend the vast dimensions of His plan for the building of the Church. {Ephesians 3:18} Now that he has shown the relation of this eternal purpose to the character and everyday life of the converted Gentiles, "the will of God" becomes matter of immediate import; it is revealed in its bearing upon conduct, upon the affairs of business and society. It is not the purpose, the promises, the doctrine of the Lord alone, but "the will of the Lord" that they have to understand, as it touches their spirit and behaviour day by day. They must realise the practical demands of their religion, -how it is to make them fruitful, gracious, pure, and wise. They must translate creed into life and act. Such is the wisdom which their apostle strives to instil into the Asian Christians. Their first need was spiritual enlightenment; their second need was moral intelligence. Might they only have sense to understand and loyalty to obey the will of Christ.- And oh may we!

II. There were converted thieves in the Ephesian Church, who still needed to be warned against their old propensities; {Ephesians 4:28} there were men who had been sorcerers and fortune-tellers. {Acts 19:18-19}

It appears that there were in this circle converted drunkards also, men to whom the apostle is obliged say: "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is riot."

In view of the following context (Ephesians 5:19-21), and remembering how the Lord’s table was defiled by excess at Corinth, {1 Corinthians 11:17-34} it seems to us probable that the warning of Ephesians 5:18 had special reference to the Christian assemblies. The institution of the common meal, the Agape or Lovefeast accompanying the Lord’s Supper, suited the manners of the early Christians, and was long continued. The cities of Asia Minor were full of trade guilds and clubs for various social and religious purposes, in which the common supper, or club-feast, furnished usually by each member bringing his contribution to the table, was a familiar bond of fellowship. This afforded to the Church a natural and pleasant means of intercourse; but it must be purified from sensual indulgence. Wine was its chief danger.

The eastern coast of the Aegean is an ancient home of the vine. And the Greeks of the Asian towns, on those bright shores and under their genial sky, were a lighthearted, sociable race. They sought the wine-cup, not for animal indulgence, but as a zest to good-fellowship and to give a freer flow to social joys. This was the influence that ruled their feasts, that loosened their tongues and inspired their gaiety. Hence their wit was prone to become ribaldry (Ephesians 5:4); and their songs were the opposite of the "spiritual songs" that gladden the feasts of the Church (Ephesians 5:19). The quick imagination and the social instincts of the Ionian Greeks, the aptness for speech and song native to the land of Homer and Sappho, were gifts not to be repressed, but sanctified. The lyre is to be tuned to other strains; and poetry must draw its inspiration from a higher source. Dionysus and his reeling Fauns give place to the pure Spirit of Jesus and the Father. "The Aonian mount" must now pay tribute to "Sion hill"; and the fountain of Castalia yields its honours to

"Siloa’s brook that flowed Fast by the oracle of God."

Our nature craves excitement, -some stimulus that shall set the pulse dancing and thrill the jaded frame, and lift the spirit above the task-work of life and the dreary and hard conditions which make up the daily lot of multitudes. It is this craving that gives to strong drink its cruel fascination. Alcohol is a mighty magician. The tired labouring man, the household drudge shut up in city courts refreshed by no pleasant sight or cheering voice, by its aid can leave fretted nerves and aching limbs and dull care behind, and taste, if it be only for a feverish moment, of the joy of bounding life. Can such cravings be hindered from seeking their relief? The removal of temptation will accomplish little, unless higher tastes are formed and springs of purer pleasure opened to the masses for whom our civilisation makes life so drab and colourless. "One finds traces 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" (Monod).

For the drunkards of Ephesus the apostle finds a cure in the joys of the Holy Ghost. The mightiest and most moving spring of feeling is in the spirit of man kindred to God. There is a deep excitement and refreshment, a "joy that human thought transcends," in the love of God shed abroad in the heart and the communion of true saints, which makes sensuous delights cheap and poor. Toil and care are forgotten, sickness and trouble seem as nothing; we can glory in tribulation and laugh in the face of death, when the strong wine of God’s consolation is poured into the soul.

"Be filled with the Spirit," says the apostle-or more strictly, "filled in the Spirit"; since the Holy Spirit of God is the element of the believer’s life, surrounding while it penetrates "his nature: it is the atmosphere that he breathes," the ocean in which he is immersed. As a flood fills up the riverbanks, as the drunkard is filled with the wine that he drains without limit, so the apostle would have his readers yield themselves to the tide of the Spirit’s coming and steep their nature in His influence. The Greek imperative, moreover, is present, and "describes this influence as ever going forth from the Spirit" (Beet). This is to be a continual replenishment. Paul has prayed that we may "be filled unto all the fulness of God," {Ephesians 3:19} and has bidden us grow "to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" {Ephesians 4:13} in whom we "are made full": {Colossians 2:9} in the replenishment of the Spirit the fulness of God in Christ is sensibly imparted. God’s fulness is the hidden and eternal spring of all that can fill our nature; Christ’s fulness is its revelation and renewed communication to the race; the Holy Spirit’s fulness is its abiding energy within the soul and within the Church. Thus possessed, the Church is truly the body of Christ, {Ephesians 4:4} and the habitation of God. {Ephesians 2:21-22}

The words of Ephesians 5:19-20 show that St. Paul is thinking of that presence of the Spirit in the Christian community, which is the spring of its affections and activities. The Spirit of Jesus, the Son of man, is a kindly gracious Spirit, the guardian of brotherhood and friendship, the inspirer of pure social joys and genial converse. The joy in the Holy Ghost that in its warmth and freshness filled the hearts of the first Christians, soared upward on the wings of song. Their very talk was music: they "spoke to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with their heart to the Lord." Love loves to sing. Its joys

"from out our hearts arise, And speak and sparkle in our eyes, And vibrate on our tongue."

All exalted sentiment tends to rhythmical expression. There is a mystical alliance, which is amongst the most significant facts in our constitution, between emotion and art. The rudest natures, touched by high feeling, will shape themselves to some sort of beauty, to some grace and refinement of expression. Each new stirring of the pulse of man’s common life has been marked by a re-birth of poetry and art. The songs of Mary and Zechariah were the parents and patterns of a multitude of holy canticles. In the Psalms of Scripture the New Testament Church found already an instrument of wide compass strung and tuned for her use. We can imagine the delight with which the Gentile Christians would take up the Psalter and draw out one and another of its pearls, and would in turn recite them at their meetings, and adapt them to their native measures and modes of song. After a while, they began to mix with the praise-songs of Israel newer strains -"hymns" to the glory of Christ and the Father, such as that with which this epistle opens, needing but little change in form to make it a true poem, and such as those which break in upon the dread visions of the Apocalypse: and added to these, "spiritual songs" of a more personal and incidental character, like Simeon’s Nunc dimittis or Paul’s swan-song in his last letter to Timothy. In Ephesians 5:14 above we detected, as we thought, an early Church paraphrase of the Old Testament. In later epistles addressed to Ephesus, there are fragments of just such artless chants as the Asian Christians, exhorted and taught by their apostle, were wont to sing in their assemblies: see 1 Timothy 3:16, and 2 Timothy 2:11-13.

Upon this congenial soil, we trace the beginnings of Christian psalmody. The parallel text of Colossians 3:16 discloses in the songs of the Pauline Churches a didactic as well as a lyric character. The apostle bids his readers "teach and admonish one another by psalms, hymns, spiritual songs." The form of the sentence of Ephesians 4:4-6 in this letter, and 1 Timothy 3:16, suggests that these passages were destined for use as a chanted rehearsal of Christian belief. Thus "the word of Christ dwelling richly" in the heart, poured itself freely from the lips, and added to its grave discourse the charms of gladdening and spirit-stirring song.

As in their heathen days they were used to "speak to each other," in festive or solemn hours, with hymns to Artemis of the Ephesians, or Dionysus giver of the vine, or to Persephone sad queen of the dead-in songs merry and gay, too often loose and wanton; in songs of the dark underworld and the grim Furies and inexorable Fate, that told how life fleets fast and we must pluck its pleasures while we may; -so now the Christians of Ephesus and Colossae, of Pergamum and of Smyrna would sing of the universal. Father whose presence fills earth and sky, of the Son of His love, His image amongst men, who died in sacrifice for their sins and asked grace for His murderers, of the joys of forgiveness and the cleansed heart, of life eternal and the treasure laid up for the just in the heavenly places, of Christ’s return in glory and the judgment of the nations and the world quickly to dissolve and perish, of a brotherhood dearer than earthly kindred, of the saints who sleep in Jesus and in peace await His coming, of the Good Shepherd who feeds His sheep and leads them to fountains of living water calling each by his name, of creation redeemed and glorified by His love, of pain and sorrow sanctified and the trials that make perfect in Christ’s discipline, of the joy that fills the heart in suffering for Him, and the vision of His face awaiting us beyond the grave. So reciting and chanting-now in single voice, now in full chorus -singing the Psalms of David to their Greek music, or hymns composed by their leaders, or sometimes improvised in the rapture of the moment, the Churches of Ephesus and of the Asian cities lauded and glorified "the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" and the counsels of redeeming love. So their worship and fellowship were filled with gladness. Thus in their great Church meetings, and in smaller companies, many a joyous hour passed; and all hearts were cheered and strengthened in the Lord.

"Singing and playing," says the apostle. For music aided song; voice and instrument blended in His praise whose glory claims the tribute of all creatures. But it was "with the heart," even more than with voice or tuneful strings, that melody was made. For this inward music the Lord listens. Where other skill is wanting and neither voice nor hand can take its part in the concert of praise, He hears the silent gratitude, the humble joy that wells upward when the lips are still or the full heart cannot find expression.

But the Spirit who dwelt in the praises of the new Israel was not confined to its public assemblings. The people of Christ should be "always giving thanks, for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is one of St. Paul’s commonest injunctions. "In everything give thanks," he wrote to the Thessalonians in his earliest extant letter. {1 Thessalonians 5:18} "For all things," he says to the Ephesians, -"though fallen on evil days." Do we not "know that to them that love God all things work together for good"-evil days as well as good days? Nothing comes altogether amiss to the child of God. In the heaviest loss, the severest pain, the sharpest sting of injury-"in everything" the ingenuity of love and the sweetness of patience will find some token of mercy. If the evil is to our eyes all evil and we can see in it no reason for thanksgiving, then faith will give thanks for that which we "know not now, but shall know hereafter."

Always, the apostle says, -for all things! No room for a moment’s discontent. In this perfecting of praise he had himself undergone a long schooling in his four years’ imprisonment. Now, he tells us, he "has learnt the secret of contentment, in whatsoever state". {Philippians 4:12} Let us try to learn it from him. These words, which we treat, almost unconsciously, as the exaggeration of homiletical appeal, state no more than the sober possibility, the experience attained by many a Christian in circumstances of the greatest suffering and deprivation. The love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord suffices for the life and joy of man’s spirit.

The twenty-first verse, which seems to belong to a different line of thought, in reality completes the foregoing paragraph. In the Corinthian Church, as we remember, with its affluence of spiritual gifts, there were so many ready to prophesy, so many to sing and recite, that confusion arose and the Church meetings fell into disedifying uproar. {1 Corinthians 14:26-34} The apostle would not have such scenes occur again. Hence when he urges the Asian Christians to seek the full inspiration of the Spirit and to give free utterance in song to the impulses of their new life, he adds this word of caution: "being subject to one another in fear of Christ." He reminds them that "God is not the author of confusion." His Spirit is a Spirit of seemliness and reverence. "In fear of Christ," the unseen witness and president of its assemblies, the Church will comport herself with the decorum that befits His bride. The spirits of the prophets will be subject to the prophets. The voices of the singers and the hands of them that play upon the strings of the harp or the keys of the organ, will keep tune with the worship of Christ’s congregation. Each must consider that it is his part to serve and not rule in the service of God’s house. In our common work and worship, in all the offices of life this is the Christian law. No man within Christ’s Church, however commanding his powers, may set himself above the duty of submitting his judgment and will to that of his fellows. In mutual subjection lies our freedom, with our strength and peace.

Verses 22-33

Chapter 25


Ephesians 5:22-33; Ephesians 6:1-9.


Ephesians 5:22-33

In mutual subjection the Christian spirit has its sharpest trials and attains its finest temper. "Be subject one to another," was the last word of the apostle’s instructions respecting the "walk" of the Asian Churches. By its order and subjection the gifts of all the members of Christ’s body are made available for the up-building of God’s temple. The inward fellowship of the Spirit becomes a constructive and organising force, reconstituting human life and framing the world into the kingdom of Christ and God. "In fear of Christ" the loyal Christian man submits himself to the community; not from the dread of human displeasure, but knowing that he must give account to the Head of the Church and the Judge of the last day, if his self-will should weaken the Church’s strength and interrupt her holy work. "For the Lord’s sake" His freemen submit to every ordinance of men. This is such a fear as the servant has of a good master, {Ephesians 6:5} or the true wife for a loving husband (Ephesians 5:33), -not that which "perfect love casts out," but which it deepens and sanctifies.

Of this subjection to Christ the relationship of marriage furnishes an example and a mirror. St. Paul passes on to the new topic without any grammatical pause, Ephesians 5:22 being simply an extension of the participial clause that forms Ephesians 5:21 : "Being in subjection to one another in fear of Christ-ye wives to your own husbands, as to the Lord." The relation of the two verses is not that of the particular to the general, so much as that of image and object, of type and antitype. Submission to Christ in the Church suggests by analogy that of the wife to her husband in the house. Both have their origin in Christ, in whom all things were created, the Lord of life in its natural as well as in its spiritual and regenerate sphere. {Colossians 1:15-17} The bond that links husband and wife, lying at the basis of collective human existence, has in turn its ground in the relation of Christ to humanity.

The race springs not from a unit, but from a united pair. The history of mankind began in wedlock. The family is the first institution of society, and the mother of all the rest. It is the life basis, the primitive cell of the aggregate of cities and bodies politic. In the health and purity of household life lies the moral wealth, the vigour and durability of all civil institutions. The mighty upgrowth of nations and the great achievements of history germinated in the nursery of home and at the mother’s breast. Christian marriage is not an expedient-the last of many that have been tried-for the satisfaction of desire and the continuance of the human species. The Institutor of human life laid down its principle in the first frame of things. Its establishment was a great prophetic mystery (Ephesians 5:32). Its law stands registered in the eternal statutes. And the Almighty Father watches over its observance with an awful jealousy. Is it not written: "Fornicators and adulterers God will judge"; and again, "The Lord is an avenger concerning all these things"? St. Paul rightly gives to this subject a conspicuous place in this epistle of Christ and the Church. The corner-stone of the new social order which the gospel was to establish in the world lies here. The entire influence of the Church upon society depends upon right views on the relationship of man and woman and on the ethics of marriage.

In wedlock there are blended most completely the two principles of association amongst moral beings, -viz., authority and love, submission and self-surrender.

I On the one side, submission to authority.

"Wives, be in subjection, as to the Lord,"-as is fitting in the Lord. {Colossians 3:18} Again, in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the apostle writes: "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion," or (as the word may rather signify) "to act independently of the man." Were these directions temporary and occasional? Were they due, as one hears it suggested, to the uneducated and undeveloped condition of women in the apostle’s time? Or do they not affirm a law that is deeply seated in nature and in the feminine constitution? The words of 1 Corinthians 11:2-15 show that, in the apostle’s view of life, this subordination is fundamental. "The head of woman is the man," as "the head of every man is the Christ" and "the head of Christ is God." "The woman," he says, "is of the man," and "was created because of the man." Whether these sentences square with our modern conceptions or not, there they stand, and their import is unmistakable. They teach that in the Divine order of things it is the man’s part to lead and rule, and the woman’s part to be ruled. But the Christian woman will not feel that there is any loss or hardship in this. For in the Christian order, ambition is sin. To obey is better than to rule. She remembers who has said: "I am amongst you as he that serveth." The children of the world strive for place and power; but "it shall not be so amongst you."

Such subordination implies no inferiority, rather the opposite. A free and sympathetic obedience -which is the true submission-can only subsist between equals. The apostle writes: "Children, obey; Servants, obey"; {Ephesians 6:1, Ephesians 6:5} but "Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord." The same word denotes submission within the Church, and within the house. It is here that Christianity, in contrast with Paganism, and notably with Mohammedanism, 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. "In Christ Jesus there is no male and female," any more than there is "Jew and Greek" or "bond and free." The same sentence which broke down the barriers of Jewish caste, and in course of time abolished slavery, condemned the odious assumptions of masculine pride. 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. Both sexes are children of God by the same birthright; both receive the same Holy Spirit, according to the prediction quoted by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost: "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy Yea, on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour out my Spirit, saith the Lord". {Acts 2:17-18} This one point of headship, of public authority and guidance, is reserved. It is the point on which Christ forbids emulation amongst His people.

Christian courtesy treats the woman as "the glory of the man"; it surrounds her from girlhood to old age with protection and deference. This homage, duly rendered, is a full equivalent for the honour of visible command. When, as it happens not seldom in the partnership of life, the superior wisdom dwells with the weaker vessel, the golden gift of persuasion is not wanting, by which the official ruler is guided, to his own advantage, and his adviser accomplishes more than she could do by any overt leadership. The chivalry of the Middle Ages, from which the refinement of European society takes its rise, was a product of Christianity grafted on the Teutonic nature. Notwithstanding the folly and excess that were mixed with it, there was a beautiful reverence in the old knightly service and championship of women. It humanised the ferocity of barbarous times. It tamed the brute strength of warlike races and taught them honour and gentleness. Its prevalence marked a permanent advance in civilisation.

Shall we say that this law of St. Paul is that laid down specifically for Christian women? is it not rather a law of nature-the intrinsic propriety of sex, whose dictates are reinforced by the Christian revelation? The apostle takes us back to the creation of mankind for the basis of his principles in dealing with this subject (Ephesians 5:31). The new commandments are the old which were in the world from the beginning, though concealed and overgrown with corruption. Notwithstanding the debasement of marriage under the non-Christian systems, the instincts of natural religion taught the wife her place in the house and gave rise to many a graceful and appropriate custom expressive of the honour due from one sex to the other. So the apostle regarded the man’s bared and cropped head and the woman’s flowing tresses as symbols of their relative place in the Divine. {1 Corinthians 11:13-15} These and such distinctions-between the dignities of strength and of beauty-no artificial sentiment and no capricious revolt can set aside. while the world stands. St. Paul appeals to the common sense of mankind, to that which "nature itself teaches," in censuring the forwardness of some Corinthian women who appeared to think that the liberty of the gospel released them from the limitations of their nature.

Some earnest promoters of women’s rights, have fallen into the error that Christianity, to which they owe all that is best in their present status, is the obstacle in the way of their further progress. It is an obstacle to claims that are against nature and against the law of God, -claims only tolerable so long as they are exceptional. But the barriers imposed by Christianity, against which these people fret, are their main protection. "The moment Christianity disappears, the law of strength revives; and under that law women can have no hope except that their slavery may be mild and pleasant." To escape from the "bondage of Christian law" means to go back to the bondage of paganism. "As unto the Lord" gives the pattern and the principle of the Christian wife’s submission. Not that, as Meyer seems to put it, the husband in virtue of marriage "represents Christ to the wife." Her relation to the Lord is as full, direct, and personal as his. Indeed, the clause inserted at the end of Ephesians 5:23 seems expressly designed to guard against this exaggeration. The qualification that Christ is "Himself Saviour of the body," thrown in between the two sentences comparing the marital headship to that which Christ holds towards the Church, has the effect of limiting the former. The subjection of the Christian wife to her husband reserves for Christ the first place in the heart and the undiminished rights of Saviourship. St. Paul indicates a real, and not unfrequent danger. The husband may eclipse Christ in the wife’s soul, and be counted as her all in all. Her absorption in him may be too complete. Hence the brief guarding clause: "He Himself [and no other] Saviour of the body [to which all believers alike belong]." As the Saviour of the Church, Christ holds an unrivalled and unqualified lordship over every member of the same. Nevertheless, as the Church is subject to the Christ, so also wives [should be] to their husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:24). Again in Ephesians 5:33 : "Let the wife see that she fear her husband-with the reverent and confiding fear which love makes sweet. As the Christian wife obeys the Lord Christ in the spiritual sphere, in the sphere of marriage she is subject to her husband. The ties that bind her to Christ, bind her more closely to the duties of home. These duties illustrate for her the submissive love that Christ’s people, and herself as one of them, owe to their Divine Head. Her service in the Church, in turn, will send her home with a quickened sense of the sacredness of her domestic calling. It will lighten the yoke of obedience; it will check the discontent that masculine exactions provoke; and will teach her to win by patience and gentleness the power within the house that is her queenly crown.

II. The apostle alludes to submission as the wife’s duty; for she might, possibly, be tempted to think this superseded by the liberty, of the children of God. Love he need not enjoin upon her, but he writes: "Husbands, love your wives, even as the Christ also loved the Church and gave up Himself for her". {comp. Colossians 3:18-19} The danger of selfishness lies on the masculine side. The man’s nature is more exacting; and the self-forgetfulness and solicitous affection of the woman may blind him to his own want of the truest love. Full of business and with a hundred cares and attractions lying outside the domestic circle, he too readily forms habits of self-absorption and learns to make his wife and home a convenience, from which he takes as his right the comfort they have to give, imparting little of devotion and confidence in return. This lack of love denies the higher rights of marriage; it makes the wife’s submission a joyless constraint. Along with this selfishness and the uneasy conscience attending it, there supervenes sometimes an irritability of temper that chafes over domestic troubles and makes a grievance of the most trifling mishap or inadvertence, ignoring the wife’s patient affection and anxiety to please Too often in this way husbands grow insensibly into family tyrants, forgetting the days of youth and the kindness of their espousals. "There are many," says Bengel (on this point unusually caustic), "who out of doors are civil and kind to all; when at home, toward their wives and children, whom they have no need to fear, they freely practise secret bitterness."

"Love your wives, even as the Christ loved the Church." What a glory this confers upon the husband’s part in marriage! His devotion pictures as no other love can, the devotion of Christ to His Redeemed people. His love must therefore be a spiritual passion, the love of soul to soul, that partakes of God and of eternity. Of the three Greek words for love, eros, familiar in Greek poetry and mythology, denoting the flame of sexual passion, is not named in the New Testament; philia, the love of friendship, is tolerably frequent, in its verb at least; but agape absorbs the former and transcends both. This exquisite word denotes love in its spiritual purity and depth, the love of God and of Christ, and of souls to each other in God. This is the specific Christian affection. It is the attribute of God who "loved the world and gave His Son the Only-begotten" of "the Christ" who "loved the Church and gave up Himself for her." Self-devotion, not self-satisfaction, is its note. Its strength and authority it uses as material for sacrifice and instruments of service, not as prerogatives of pride or titles to enjoyment. Let this mind be in you, O husband, toward your wife, which was also in Christ Jesus, who was meek and lowly in heart, counting it His honour to serve and His reward to save and bless.

From Ephesians 5:26 we gather that Christ is the husband’s model, not only in the rule of self-devotion, but in the end toward which that devotion is directed: "that He might sanctify the Church, -that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle, -that she might be holy and without blemish." The perfection of the wife’s character will be to the religious husband one of the dearest objects in life. He will desire for her that which is highest and best, as for himself. He is put in charge of a soul more precious to him than any other, over which he has an influence incomparably, great. This care he cannot delegate to any priest or father-confessor. The peril of such delegation and the grievous mischiefs that arise when there is no spiritual confidence between husband and wife, when through unbelief or superstition the head of the house hands over his priesthood to another man, are painfully shown by the experience of Roman Catholic countries. The irreligion of laymen, the carelessness and unworthiness of fathers and husbands, are responsible for the baneful influences of the confessional. The apostle bade the Corinthian wives, who were eager for religious knowledge, to "ask their husbands at home". {1 Corinthians 14:35} Christian husbands should take more account of their office than they do; they should not be strangers to the spiritual trials and experiences of the heart so near to them. It might lead them to walk more worthily and to seek higher religious attainments, if they considered that the shepherding of at least one soul devolves upon themselves, that they are unworthy of the name of husband without such care for the welfare of the soul linked to their own as Christ bears toward "His bride the Church." Those who have no father or husband to look to, or who look in vain to this quarter for spiritual help, St. Paul refers, beside the light and comfort of Scripture and the public ministry and fellowship of the Church, to the "aged women" who are the natural guides and exemplars of the younger in their own sex. {Titus 2:3-5}

The selfishness of the stronger sex, supported by the force of habit and social usage, was hard to subdue in the Greek Christian Churches. Through some eight verses St. Paul labours this one point. In verse 28 he adduces another reason, added to the example of Christ, for the love enjoined. "So ought men indeed to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself." The "So" gathers its force from the previous example. In loving us Christ does not love something foreign and, as it were, outside of Himself. "We are members of His body" (Ephesians 5:30). It is the love of the Head to the members, of the Son of man to the sons of men, whose race-life is founded in Him. Jesus Christ laid it down as the highest law, under that of love to God: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." His love to us followed this rule. His life was wrapped up in ours. By such community of life self-love is transfigured, and exalted into the purest self-forgetting.

Thus it is with true marriage. The wedding of a human pair makes each the other’s property. They are "one flesh" (Ephesians 5:31); and, so long as the flesh endures there remains this consciousness of union, whose violation is deadly sin. As the Church is not her own, nor Christ His own since He became man with men, so the husband and wife are no longer independent and self-complete personalities, but incorporated into a new existence common to both. Their love must correspond to this fact. "If the man loves himself, if he values his own limbs and tends and guards from injury his bodily frame" (Ephesians 5:29), he must do the same equally by his wife; for her life and limbs are as a part of his own. This the apostle lays down as an obvious duty. Nature teaches the obligation, by every manly instinct.

The saying the apostle quotes in Ephesians 5:31 dates from the origin of the human family; it is taken from the lips of the first husband and father of the race, while as yet unstained by sin. {Genesis 2:23-24} Christ infers from it the singleness and indelibility of the marriage covenant. But this doctrine, natural as it is, was not inferred by natural religion. The cultivated Greek took a wife for the production of children. Her rights put no restriction upon his appetite. Love was not in the marriage contract. If she received the maintenance due to her rank and the mistress-ship of the house, and was the mother of his lawful children, she had all that a freeborn woman could demand. The slave-woman had no rights. Her body was at her owner’s disposal. Nothing in Christianity appeared more novel and more severe, in comparison with the dissolute morals of the time, than the Christian view of marriage. Even Christ’s Jewish disciples seemed to think the state of wedlock intolerable under the condition He imposed. This want of reverence and constancy between the sexes was the main cause of the degeneracy of the age. All virtues disappear with this one. Roman manliness and uprightness, Greek courtesy and courage, filial piety, civic worth, loyalty in friendship-the qualities that once in a high degree adorned the classic nations, were now rare amongst men. In the most exalted ranks infamous vices flourished; and purity of life was a cause for odium and suspicion.

Amidst this seething mass of corruption the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus created new hearts and new homes. It kindled a pure fire on the desecrated hearth. It taught man and woman a chaste love; and their alliances were formed "in sanctification and honour, not in the passion of lust as it is with the Gentiles who know not God". {1 Thessalonians 4:3-6} Every Christian house, thus based on an honourable and religious union, became the centre of a leaven that wrought upon the corrupt society around. It held forth an example of wedded loyalty and domestic joy beautiful and strange in that loveless Pagan world. Children grew up trained in pure and gentle manners. From that hour the hope of a better day began. The influence of the new ideal, filtrating everywhere into the surrounding heathenism and assimilating even before it converted the hostile world, raised society, though gradually and with many relapses, from the extreme debasement of the age of the Caesars. Never subsequently have the morals of civilised mankind sunk to a level quite so low. The Christian conception of love and marriage opened a new era for mankind.

Verses 23-32

Chapter 26


Ephesians 5:23-32

WE have extracted from the apostle’s homily upon marriage the sentences referring to Christ and His Church, in order to gather up their collective import. The main topic of the epistle here again asserts itself; and under the figure of marriage St. Paul brings to its conclusion his doctrine on the subject of the Church. This passage answers, theologically, a purpose similar to that of the allegory of Hagar and Sarah in the epistle to the Galatians: it lights up for the imagination the teaching and argument of the former part of the epistle; it shows how the doctrine of Christ and the Church has its counterpart in nature, as the struggle between the legal and evangelical spirit had its counterpart in the patriarchal history.

The three detached paragraphs present us three considerations, of which we shall treat the second first in order of exposition: Christ’s love to the Church; His authority over the Church; and the mystery of the Church’s origin in Him.

I. "Husbands, love your wives, even as the Christ also loved the Church, and gave up Himself for her." This is parallel to the declaration of Galatians 2:20 : "He loved me; He gave up Himself for me." The sacrifice of the cross has at once its personal and its collective purpose. Both are to be kept in mind.

On the one hand, we must value infinitely 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. Our souls bow down before the glory of the love with which He has from eternity sought her for His own. There is in some Christians 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.

It is "the Christ" who stands, throughout this context (Ephesians 5:23-29), over against "the Church" as her Lover and Husband; whereas in the context of Galatians 2:20 we read "Christ"-the bare personal name-repeated again and again without the distinguishing article. Christ is the Person whom the soul knows and loves, with whom it holds communion in the Spirit. The Christ is the same regarded in the wide scope of His nature and office, -the Christ of humanity and of the ages. "The Christ" of this epistle expands the Saviour’s title to its boundless significance, and gives breadth and length to that which in "Christ" is gathered up into a single point.

This Christ "gave Himself up for the Church,"-yielded Himself to the death which the sins of His people merited and brought upon Him. Under the same verb, the apostle says in Romans 4:25 : He "was delivered because of our trespasses, and raised up because of our justification"-the sacrifice being there regarded on its passive side. Here, as in Galatians 2:20, the act is made His own, -a voluntary Surrender. "No man taketh, my life from me," He said. {John 10:18} In His case alone amongst the sons of men, death was neither natural nor inevitable. His surrender of life was an absolute sacrifice. He "laid down His life for His friends," as no other friend of man could do- the One who died for all. The love measured by this sacrifice is proportionately great. The sayings of Ephesians 5:25-27 set the glory of the vicarious death in a vivid light. Of such worth was the person of the Christ, of such significance and moral value His sacrificial death, that it weighed against the trespass, not of a man-Paul or any other-but of a world of men. He "purchased through His own blood," said Paul to the Ephesian elders, "the Church of" Acts 20:28 - the whole flock that feeds in the pastures of the Great Shepherd, that has passed or will pass through the gates of His fold. Great were the honour and glory with which He was crowned, when led as a victim to the altar of the world’s atonement. {Hebrews 2:9} Who will not say, as the meek Son of man treads so willingly His mournful path to Calvary, "Worthy is the Lamb!" Is not the heavenly Bridegroom worthy of the bride, that He consents to win by the sacrifice of Himself! He is worthy; and she must be made worthy. "He gave up Himself that-He might sanctify her, - that He might Himself present to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind, -that she may be holy and without blemish." The sanctification of the Church is the grand purpose of redeeming grace. This was the design of God for His sons in Christ before the world’s foundation, "that we should be holy and unblemished before Him". {Ephesians 1:4} This, therefore, was the end of Christ’s mission upon earth; this was the intention of His sacrificial death. "For their sakes," said Jesus, concerning His disciples, "I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth". {John 17:19} His purchase of the Church is no selfish act. To God His Father Christ devotes every spirit of man that is yielded to Him. As the Priest of mankind it was His. office thus to consecrate humanity, which is already in purpose and in essence "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all". {Hebrews 10:10} Only in this passage, where the apostle is. thinking of the preparation of the Church for its‘ perfect union with its Head, does he name Christ as our Sanctifier; in 1 Corinthians 1:2 he comes near this expression, addressing his readers as. men "sanctified in Christ Jesus." In the epistle to the Hebrews this character is largely ascribed to Him, being the function of His priesthood. One in nature with the sanctified, Jesus our Great Priest "sanctifies us through His own blood," so that with cleansed consciences we may draw near to the living God. As Christ the Priest stands towards His people, so Christ the Husband towards His Church. He devotes her with Himself to God. He cleanses her that she may dwell with Him forever, a spotless bride, dead unto sin and living unto God through Him.

"That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her in the laver of water by the word." The Church s purification is antecedent in thought to her sanctification through the sacrifice of Christ; and it is a means thereto. "Ye were washed, ye were sanctified," writes the apostle in 1 Corinthians 6:19, putting the two things in the same order. It is the order of doctrine which he has laid down in the epistle to the Romans, where sanctification is built on the foundation laid in justification through the blood of Christ. Through the virtue of the sacrificial death the Church in all her members was washed from the defilements of sin, that she might enter upon God’s service. Of the same initial purification of the heart St. John writes in his first epistle: {1 John 1:7-9} "The blood of Jesus’, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin He is faithful and just, that He should forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." This is "the redemption through Christ’s blood," for which St. Paul in his first words of praise called upon us to bless God. {Ephesians 1:7} It is the special distinction of the New Covenant, which renders possible its other gifts of grace, that "the worshippers once cleansed" need have "no further consciousness of sins." {Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 10:14-18} In the theological use here made of the idea of cleansing, St. Paul comes into line with St. John: and the epistle to the Hebrews. The purification is nothing else than that which he has elsewhere styled justification. He employs the terms synonymously in the later epistle to Titus. {Titus 2:14-15; Titus 3:1-7}

"Having cleansed" is a phrase congruous with the figure of the laver, or bath, {comp. again Titus 3:5-7} -an image suggested, as one would think, by the bride-bath of the wedding-day in the ancient marriage customs. To this St. Paul sees a counterpart in baptism, "the laver of water in the word." The cleansing and withal refreshing virtues of water made it an obvious symbol of regeneration. The emblem is twofold; it pictures at once the removal of guilt, and the imparting of new strength. One goes into the bath exhausted, and covered with dust; one comes out clean and fresh. Hence the baptism of the new believer in Christ had, in St. Paul’s view, a double aspect. It looked backward to the old life of sin abandoned, and forward to the new life of holiness commenced. Thus it corresponded to the burial of Jesus, {Romans 6:4} the point of juncture between death and resurrection. Baptism served as the visible and formal expression of the soul’s passage through the gate of forgiveness into the sanctified life.

Along with this older teaching, a further and kindred significance is now given to the baptismal rite. It denotes the soul’s affiance to its Lord. As the maiden’s bath on the morning of her marriage betokened the purity in which she united herself to her betrothed, so the baptismal laver summons the Church to present herself "a chaste virgin unto Christ". {2 Corinthians 11:2} It signifies and seals her forgiveness, and pledges her in all her members to await the Bridegroom in garments unspotted from the world, with the pure and faithful love which will not be ashamed before Him at His coming. For this end Christ set up the baptismal laver. Upon our construction of the text, the words "that He might sanctify her" express a purpose complete in itself-viz., that of the Church’s consecration to God. Then follow the means to this sanctification.: "Having cleansed her in the water-bath through the word,"-which washing, at the same time, has its purpose on the part of the Lord who appointed it-viz., "that He might present her to Himself" a glorious and spotless Church.

At the end of Ephesians 5:27 the sentence doubles back upon itself, in Paul’s characteristic fashion. The twofold aim of Christ’s sacrifice of love on the Church’s behalf-viz., her consecration to God, and her spotless purity fitting her for perfect union with her Lord-is restated in the final clause, by way of contrast with the "spots and wrinkles and such like things" that are washed out: "but that she may be holy and without blemish."

We passed by, for the moment, the concluding phrase of Ephesians 5:26, with which the apostle qualifies his reference to the baptismal cleansing; we are by no means forgetting it. "Having cleansed her," he writes, "by the laver of water in [the] word." This adjunct is deeply significant. It impresses on baptism a spiritual character, and excludes every theurgic conception of the rite, every doctrine that gives to it in the least degree a mechanical efficacy. "Without the word the sacrament could only influence man by magic, outward or inward" (Dorner). The "word" of which the apostle speaks, is that of Ephesians 6:17, "God’s word-the Spirit’s sword"; of Romans 10:8, "the word of faith which we proclaim"; of Luke 1:37, "the word from God which shall not be powerless"; of John 17:8, etc., "the words" that the Father had given to the Son, and the Son in turn to men. It is the Divine utterance, spoken and believed. In this accompaniment lies the power of the laver. The baptismal affusion is the outward seal of an inward transaction, that takes place in the spirit of believing utterers and hearers of the gospel word. This saving word receives in baptism its concrete expression; it becomes the verbum visibile.

The "word" in question is defined in Romans 10:8-9 : "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved!" Let the hearer respond, "I do so confess and believe," on the strength of this confession he is baptised, and in the conjoint act of faith and baptism - in the obedience of faith signified by his baptism-he is saved from his past sins and made an heir of life eternal. The rite is the simplest and most universal in application one can conceive. In heathen countries baptism recovers its primitive significance, as the decisive act of rupture with idolatry and acceptance of Christ as Lord, which in our usage is often overlaid and forgotten.

This interpretation gives a key to the obscure text of St. Peter upon the same subject: {1 Peter 3:21} Baptism saves you-"not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the questioning with regard to God of a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." The vital constituent of the rite is not the application of water to the body, but the challenge which the word makes therein to the conscience respecting the things of God, -the inquiry thus conveyed, to which a sincere believer in the resurrection of Christ makes joyful and ready answer. It is, in fine, the appeal to faith contained in baptism that gives to the latter its saving worth. The "word" that makes Christian ordinances valid is not the past utterance of God alone, which may remain a dead letter, preserved in the oracles of Scripture or the official forms of the Church, but that word alive and active, re-spoken and transmitted from soul to soul by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Without this animating word of faith, baptism is but the pouring or sprinkling of so much water on the body; the Lord s supper is only the consumption of so much bread and wine. All the nations will at last, in obedience to Christ’s command, be baptised into the thrice-holy Name; and the work of baptism will be complete. Then the Church will issue from her bath, cleansed more effectually than the old world that emerged with Noah from the deluge. Every "spot and wrinkle" will pass from her face; the worldly passions that stained her features, the fears and anxieties that knit her brow or furrowed her cheek, will vanish away. In her radiant beauty, in her chaste and spotless love, Christ will lead forth His Church before His Father and the holy angels, "as a bride adorned before her husband." From eternity He set His love upon her; upon 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 might be fit for her heavenly calling. Now the end of this long task of redemption has arrived. The message goes forth to Christ’s friends in all the worlds: "Come, gather yourselves to the great supper of God! The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready! He hath given her fine linen bright and pure, that she may array herself. Let us rejoice and exult, and give to Him the glory!" 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. Concerning Christ’s lordly authority over His Church we have had occasion to speak already in other places. A word or two may be added here.

We acknowledge the Church to be "subject to Christ in everything." We proclaim ourselves, like the apostle, "slaves of Christ Jesus." But this subjection is too often a form rather than a fact. In protesting our independence of Popish and priestly lords of God’s heritage, we are sometimes in danger of ignoring our dependence upon Him, and of dethroning, in effect, the one Lord Jesus Christ. Christian communities act and speak too much in the style of political republics. They assume the attitude of self-directing and self-responsible bodies.

The Church is no democracy, any more than it is an aristocracy or a sacerdotal absolutism: it is a Christocracy. The people are not rulers in the house of God; they are the ruled, laity and ministers alike. "One is your Master, even the Christ; and all ye are brethren." We acknowledge this in theory; but our language and spirit would oftentimes be other than they are, if we were penetrated by the sense of the continual presence and majesty of the Lord Christ in our assemblies. Royalties and nobilities, and the holders of popular power-all whose "names are named in this world," along with the principalities in heavenly places, when they come into the precincts of the Church must lay aside their robes and forget their titles, and speak humbly as in the Master’s presence. What is it to the glorious Church of Jesus Christ that Lord So-and-so wears a coronet and owns half a county? or that Midas can fill her coffers, if he is pleased and humoured? or that this or that orator guides at his will the fierce democracy? "He is no more than a man who will die and appear before the judgment seat of Christ?" 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. We come now to the profound mystery disclosed, or half-disclosed at the end of this section, that of the origination of the Church from Christ, which accounts for His love to the Church and His authority over her. He nourishes and cherishes the Church, we are told in Ephesians 5:29-30, "because we are members of His body."

Now this membership is, in its origin, as old as creation. God "chose us in Christ before the world’s foundation". {Ephesians 1:4} We were created in the Son of God’s love, antecedently to our redemption by Him. Such is the teaching of this and the companion epistle. {Colossians 1:14-18} Christ recovers through the cross that which pertains inherently to Him, which belonged to Him by nature and is as a part of Himself. From this standpoint the connection of Ephesians 5:30-31 becomes intelligible. It is not, strictly speaking, "on account of this"; but "in correspondence with this" says the apostle, suiting the original phrase to his purpose. 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 woman in man which forms the basis of marriage in Scripture, looked further back to the origin of humanity in Christ Himself.

The train of thought that the apostle resumes here he followed in 1 Corinthians 11:3-12 : "I would have you know that the head of every man is the Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God Man is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man." So it is with Christ and His bride the Church.

"The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man, made He a woman, and brought her to the man. And the man said,"

"This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: She shall be called Woman [Isshah], because she was taken out of Man [Ish]. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: And they shall be one flesh". {Genesis 2:21-24}

Thus the first father of our race prophesied, and sang his wedding song. 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 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 (as he puts it in the epistle to the Romans), but were derived from Him and formed in the very mould of His nature.

What is affirmed in Colossians 1:16-17, concerning the universe in general, is true in its perfect degree of redeemed humanity: "In Him were created all things," as well as "through Him and for Him." Eve was created in Adam; and Adam in Christ. We are "partakers of a Divine nature," by our spiritual origin in Him who is the image of God and the root of humanity. The union of the first human pair and every true marriage since, being in effect, as Adam puts it, a restoration and redintegration, symbolises the fellowship of Christ with mankind. This intention Was in the mind of God at the institution of human life; it took expression in the prophetic words of the Book of Genesis, whose deeper sense St. Paul is now able for the first time to unfold.

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. In regard to this "mystery of our coherence in Christ," Richard Hooker says, in words that suggest many aspects of this doctrine: "The Church is in Christ, as Eve was in Adam. Yea, by grace we are every one of us in Christ and in His Church, as by nature we are in our first parents. God made Eve of the rib of Adam. And His Church He frameth out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of man. His body crucified and His blood shed for the life of the world are the true elements of that heavenly being which maketh us such as Himself is of whom we come. For which cause the words of Adam may be fitly the words of Christ concerning His Church, ‘flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones-a true native extract out of mine own body.’ So that in Him, even according to His manhood, we according to our heavenly being are as branches in that root out of which they grow."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ephesians 5". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/ephesians-5.html.
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