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PRACTICAL PORTION OF THE EPISTLE.
CHURCH PRINCIPLE OF GROWTH AND PROGRESS; THE CHURCH A BODY.
I therefore. Inference not only from last chapter, but the whole Epistle. Paul's interest in the Ephesians led him to a double application of the great subject which he had expounded:
(1) to ask God on their behalf that he would bestow on them the full measure of the blessing to which of his grace they were entitled (Ephesians 3:14-21); and
(2) to entreat them on God's behalf to live in a way befitting their high calling (Ephesians 4:6.). To this second application he proceeds now. The prisoner in the Lord. Not merely "of the Lord," but ἐν, Κυρίῳ, the usual formula for vital communion with Christ, indicating that his captivity was the captivity of a part or member of the Lord. An exhortation from such a prisoner ought to fall with double weight. Beseech you to walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye were called. Their call was to be God's people (comp. Romans 9:25); this not a mere speculative distinction, but one that must have practical form and that must lead to suitable fruit. True grace in the heart must show itself by true goodness in the life. They were not to conceal their religion, not to be ashamed of it, but to avow it and glory in it, and their lives were not to be disgraced by unworthy conduct, but to be brightened and elevated by their relation to Christ.
SOME POINTS OF A WORTHY WALK. With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. He begins his enumeration with passive graces—eminently those of Christ. Lowliness or humility may well be gendered by our remembering what we were when God's grace took hold of us (Ephesians 2:1-3). Meekness is the natural expression of a lowly state of mind, opposed to boisterous self-assertion and rude striving with others; it genders a subdued manner and a peace-loving spirit that studies to give the soft answer that turneth away wrath. Long-suffering and loving forbearance are phases of the same state of mind—denoting the absence of that irascibility and proneness to take offence which flares up at every provocation or fancied neglect, and strives to maintain self-control on every occasion. It is from such qualities in God that our redemption has come; it is miserable to accept the redemption and not try to attain and exhibit its true spirit. Neglect of this verse has produced untold evil in the Christian Church
Striving to keep the unity of the Spirit. Σπουδάζοντες is stronger than the A.V. "endeavoring," and denotes an object to be carefully and earnestly watched for and promoted. "The unity of the Spirit" is equivalent to the unity of which the Spirit is the Author. In all in whom he works savingly, the Spirit produces a certain oneness in faith, in repentance, in knowledge, in their views of sin, grace, Christ, the world, etc. This oneness exists, and cannot but exist, even when Christians are not careful of it, but the manifestation of it is lost; it seems to the world as if there were no such oneness. "Many men, many minds," says the world, when believers differ much and contend much, and are at no pains to preserve and manifest the unity wrought by the Spirit. It is due to the Spirit, as well as to the interests of the kingdom of God, that the unity of the Spirit be maintained in the bond of peace. The genitive, εἰρήυης, is commonly held to be that of apposition, the bond which consists of peace—a peace-loving spirit, a spirit laying more stress on the points in which Christians agree than those in which they differ. Those who are combative, censorious, careless of peace, do not walk worthy of their vocation.
WHEREIN UNITY CONSISTS—SEVEN PARTICULARS. There is one body (see Ephesians 2:16). The Church is an organic whole, of which believers are the members, and Christ the Head, supplying the vitalizing power: The real body, being constituted by vital union with Christ, is not synonymous with any single outward society. One Spirit; viz. the Holy Spirit, who alone applies the redemption of Christ, and works in the members of the Church the graces of the new creation. As ye also were called in one hope of your calling. This is one of the re-suits of the Spirit's work; when the Spirit called you he inspired you all with one hope, and this one hope was involved in the very essence of your calling (comp. Titus 2:13, "Looking for the blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ"). To all believers the Spirit imparted this one blessed hope. One Lord; Jesus Christ, unique and beyond comparison: as Teacher, all hang on his words; as Master, all own his supreme authority; to his example all refer as the standard; his likeness all covet as the highest excellence. One faith; not objective in the sense of creed, but as denoting the one instrument of receiving salvation (Ephesians 2:8), the one belief in the one Savior by which we are justified, adopted, and in other ways blessed. One baptism. One initiatory rite admitting into the visible Church—baptism in name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, symbolic of the washing of regeneration, the one way of entering the Church invisible. One God and Father of all. We rise now to the fountain of Godhead, the one supreme Being with whom all have to do, the only Being who is or can be the Father of us all; who can be to us what is implied in the name "Father," who, so love and grace can satisfy our hearts. Who is over all; the supreme and only Potentate, exercising undivided jurisdiction, "doing according to his will in the armies of heaven." etc. And through all; pervading the whole universe, sustaining and ruling it, not dwelling apart from his works, but pervading them; not, however, in any pantheistical sense, but as a personal God, whose essence is separate from his works. And in all. A closer and more abiding influence; he dwells in them, and walks in them, molding their inner being, and filling them with his own light and love. Some commentators of mark have tried to find a reference to each of the persons of the Godhead in the three prepositions over, through, and by, but this seems a strained view. The three persons, however, appear clearly in the seven elements of unity, but, as before (Ephesians 3:16-19), in the reverse of the common order—first, the Spirit; second, the Son; and third, the Father. These seven elements constitute the true rarity of the Church. It is out of the question to identify the Church which is thus one, with any external organization like the Roman Catholic Church. How many millions have been connected with it who have notoriously been destitute of the one hope, the one Spirit, the one Father! It is of the invisible Church the apostle speaks, and his exhortation is, seeing that this blessed sevenfold unity is the unity wrought by the Holy Spirit, maintain that unity; maintain the manifestation of it; give no occasion to any one to say that there is no such unity—that the Holy Ghost is a Spirit of confusion and not a Spirit of order and unity.
VARIETY OF GIFTS IN CONNECTION WITH UNITY; USE TO BE MADE OF THEM.
But to each one of us was grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. In the Church all do not get alike; grace is not given in equal measures as the manna in the wilderness; Christ, as the great Bestower, measures out his gifts, and each receives according to his measure. Compare parable of talents. "Grace" does not refer merely to supernatural gifts, but also to the ordinary spiritual gifts of men. These are varied, because what each gets he gets for the good of the rest; the Church is a fellowship or brotherhood, where each has an interest in all and all in each, and is bound to act accordingly.
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high he led captivity captive, and received gifts for men. The speaker is God, the author of Scripture, and the place is the sixty-eighth psalm. That psalm is a psalm of triumph, where the placing of the ark on Zion is celebrated as if it had been a great victory. As this quotation shows, the psalm in its deepest sense is Messianic, celebrating the victory of Christ. The substance rather than the words of the passage are given, for the second person ("thou hast ascended," etc.) is changed into the third; and whereas in the psalm it is said, "gave gifts to men," as modified by the apostle it is said, "received gifts for men." As in a literal triumph, the chiefs of the enemy's army are led captive, so the powers of darkness were led captive by Christ (captivity, αἰχμαλωσία, denotes prisoners); and as on occasion of a triumph the spoils of the enemy are made over to the conqueror, who again gives them away among the soldiers and people, so gifts were given to Christ after his triumph to be given by him to his Church. We must not force the analogy too far: the point is simply this—as a conqueror at a triumph gets gifts to distribute, so Christ, on his resurrection and ascension, got the Holy Spirit to bestow on his Church (comp. Ephesians 1:22).
Now (the fact) that he ascended, what does it imply but that he descended first? The ascent implied a previous descent; that is, the ascent of the Son of God—of one who was himself in heaven, who was in the bosom of the Father (comp. John 3:13), implied that he had come down from heaven, a striking proof of his interest in and love for the children of men. And the descent was net merely to the ordinary condition of humanity, but to a more than ordinarily degraded condition, not merely to the surface of the earth, but to the lower parts of the earth. This has sometimes been interpreted of Hades, but surely without reason. If the expression denotes more than Christ's humble condition, it probably means the grave. This was the climax of Christ's humiliation; to be removed out of men's sight, as too offensive for them to look on—to be hidden away in the depths of the earth, in the grave, was indeed supremely humbling. The object is to show that, in bestowing gifts on men, Christ did not merely bring into play his inherent bountifulness as the Son of God, but acted as Mediator, by right of special purchase, through his work of humiliation on earth; and thus to lead us to think the more highly both of the Giver and of his gifts.
He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens. There was a proportion between the descent and the ascent. His descent was deep—into the lower parts of earth; but his ascent was more glorious than his descent had been humbling. The Hebrew idea of various heavens is brought in; the ascent was not merely to the third heaven, but far above all heavens. That he might fill all things. A very sublime view of the purpose for which Christ reigns on high. The specific idea with which the apostle started—to give gifts to men—is swallowed up for the moment by a view far grander and more comprehensive, "to fill all things." Jesus has gone on high to pour his glory and excellence over every creature in the universe who is the subject of grace, to be the Light of the world, the one Source of all good. As in the solar system it is from one sun that all the supplies of light and heat come, all the colors that beautify earth, sea, and sky, all the influences that ripen the grain and mature the fruit, all the chemical power that transforms and new-creates; so the ascended Jesus is the Sun of the universe; all healing, all life, all blessing are from him. It is quite in the manner of the apostle, when he introduces the mention of Christ, to be carried, in the contemplation of his person, far above the immediate occasion, and extol the infinite perfection and glory that distinguish him.
And he gave some (to be) apostles. Coming back to the diversity of gifts (Ephesians 4:7), He enumerates some of these, as Christ (αὐτὸς, he, emphatic) bestowed them. The organization of the Church is not a mere human arrangement; its officers are of Divine appointment. The first gift is, his apostles. It is not meant that he gave to some the gifts needed to constitute them apostles, though that is true; but that, having qualified some to be apostles, he gave them to the Church. An apostle had his commission direct from Christ (Matthew 10:5); he possessed supernatural gifts (Matthew 10:8); it was necessary for him to have seen the Lord (Acts 1:22); his diocese was the whole world. The apostles were the constituent body of the Church—they had all necessary gifts for setting it up, and as all Christian history has testified, they were a marvelous gift of Christ to his Church. And some, prophets. Next to the apostles in point of value, as gifts to the Church, having supernatural knowledge of God's will present and future (Acts 21:11). Prophets were indispensable before the New Testament was given as the Church's infallible guide to the will of God, but not apparently necessary after the will of God was fully recorded. And some, evangelists. The nature of this office is known only from the meaning of the term and the work of those who bore the designation (Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5)—persons not attached to a particular congregation, but who went about preaching the glad tidings, and otherwise building up the Church, but without the full powers of apostles. And some, pastors and teachers. The more ordinary settled ministers of congregations, called pastors, because they watched over the flock, trying to lead all in right ways; and teachers, because they communicated Divine knowledge. Some have thought that each expression denotes a separate office, but, coupled as they are together, it is better to regard them as indicating two functions of one office (see 1 Timothy 5:17; Acts 13:1).
In order to the perfecting of the saints. The ultimate end for which the gifts bestowed (comp. Hebrews 12:1). A work of completion is in hand, which must be fulfilled (see Ephesians 4:13): the saints, now compassed about with infirmity, have to be freed from all stain (Ephesians 5:26, Ephesians 5:27), and as instruments towards this end, the ministers of the Church are given by Christ; they are not mere promoters of civilization, men of culture planted among the rude, but instruments for advancing men to complete holiness. For the work of the ministry. The preposition is changed from πρὸς to εἰς πρὸς denoting the ultimate end, εἰς the immediate object (comp. Romans 15:2); the office of the Church officers is not lords, but διακονοί, servants, as Christ himself was (Matt, 20:28). For the building up of the body of Christ. Bringing bone to its bone and sinew to its sinew, increasing the number of believers, and promoting the spiritual life of each; carrying on all their work as Christ's servants and with a definite eye to the promotion of the great work which he undertook when he came to seek and to save the lost.
Until we all come. This marks the duration of the office of the ministry. Some maintain that it implies that all these offices are to continue in the Church until the result specified is obtained (Catholic Apostolic or Irvingite Church): this is contradicted by Scripture and by experience, so far as apostles and prophets are concerned, for the gifts for these offices were not continued, and without the gifts the offices are impossible. The meaning is that, till the event specified, there is to be a provision in the Church of the offices that are needed, and the apostle, in using "until," probably had in view the last office in his list—pastors and teachers. To the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Both genitives are governed by unity; already there is one faith (Ephesians 4:5), but we all, i.e. all who compose or are yet to compose the body of Christ, the totality of this body, have to be brought to this faith. As in Ephesians 4:5 "faith" is not equivalent to "creed," or truth believed, but the act of believing; so here the consummation which the ministers of the Church are given to bring about is a state in which faith in the Son of God shall characterize all, and that, not a blind faith, but a faith associated with knowledge. Usually faith and knowledge are opposed to each other; but here faith has more the meaning of trust than of mere belief—trust based on knowledge, trust in the Son of God based on knowledge of his Person, his work, and his relation to them that receive him. To bring all the elect to this faith is the object of the ministry; when they are all brought to it, the body of Christ will be complete, and the functions of the Christian ministry will cease. Unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The idea of organic completeness is more fully expressed by these two clauses; the consummation is the completeness of the whole body of Christ as such; but that involves the maturity of each individual who is a constituent part of that body; and the measure or sign of maturity, both for the individual and for the whole, is the stature of the fullness of Christ (comp. Romans 8:29, "Whom he did foreknow, them he also foredained to be conformed to the image of his Son"). The question has been put—Will this consummation be in this life or the next? The one seems to melt into the other; the idea of a complete Church and that of a new economy seem inseparable; as the coming of Christ will terminate the observance of the Lord's Supper, so it will terminate the ministries ordained by Christ for the completion of his Church.
That we he no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching. The apostle goes back to illustrate in another way the purpose of the ministry; it is designed to remedy childish fickleness and the causes that lead to it. The ignorant and inexperienced lie at the mercy of abler persons, and, when there is no regular ministry provided by Christ, are liable to be swept along by any plausible person that professes to be a Christian teacher, and such persons are often very dangerous, working by the sleight of men, i.e. the cunning legerdemain by which the teachings of men—teachings devised by the hearts of men—are made to appear to the uninitiated the same as Christ's teaching. In craftiness, tending to the scheme of error. Such teachers employ crafty methods, apparently harmless, but tending to further the method or scheme of error. The strong language here used corresponds with that in which, at Miletus, the apostle warned the elders of Ephesus of the "grievous wolves" that were to come in among them, and of the men "speaking perverse things" that were to arise among themselves, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30).
But speaking the truth in love. Ἀληθεύοντες is hardly translatable in English it implies being true as well as speaking the truth and following the truth. Truth is the element in which we are to live, move, and have our being; fidelity to truth is the backbone of the Christian ministry. But truth must be inseparably married to love; good tidings spoken harshly are no good tidings; the charm of the message is destroyed by the discordant spirit of the messenger. The more painful the first impression which a truth is fitted to produce (e.g. Ephesians 2:1-3), the more need is there for dealing with it in love—a much-needed and much-neglected exhortation. May grow up into him in all things who is the Head, namely, Christ. Growing up into Christ is like baptizing into the Name of the Father, etc.; it implies that the growth tends to a closer union to Christ, as, on the other hand, union to Christ causes the growth: the two act and react on each other. This growth is to be "in all things"—in the whole man—in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, in all the communicable properties of Christ. How great the work of growth is that should be sought in the case of every living believer is evident from the enormous gulf there is between his spiritual and moral state and that of Christ. Yet such growth is reasonable, considering the relation of the body to him, its Head. The fact of this relation should encourage us to seek and expect the growth, and encourage ministers to labor hopefully towards promoting it.
From whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth. The relation of ἐκ in this verse to εἰς in Ephesians 4:15 is to be noted—growing up vitally into him, the body derives vital substance from him. Not, however, in a mere individual sense, but as an organization, the parts being adapted and articulated to one another (this process being continuous; see present participles, (συναρμολογούμενον and συνβιβαζόμενον). In the Church there are babes in Christ, also young men and old men; some are clear in intellect, some strong in faith, some warm in love, some excel in passive virtues, some in active; but in a well-ordered Church these should be getting jointed together, and learning to work with and for one another, no one despising gifts which he has not but another has; in tiffs sense, there ought to be a spiritual communism, for all are one spiritual body. But spiritual communism does not involve social communism or even social equality, nor will social distinctions be obliterated in a pure Church, except so far as they hinder spiritual communion. According to the energy in the measure (or, proportion) of each individual part. This clause seems to be most naturally connected with what follows. In the fit framing of the body, channels as it were are laid for the propagation and working of the vital force throughout the body; this force is not alike, but of various amount in the different parts; some members have much of it, some little, but the measure of this vital three regulates the growth. Carries on the growth of the body. The middle voice, ποιεῖται, indicates that it is a growth from within, while depending on the energy furnished by Christ. For building up of itself in love. This is the end, so far as the body itself is concerned, though, of course, the completed spiritual body, like the completed natural body, has work to do outside itself. In a healthy Church there is a continual work of building up: construction, not destruction, is its proper business—promoting peace, purity, prayerfulness, trust, activity in the work of the Lord, but all in love, the absence of which makes winter instead of summer, declension instead of progress, death instead of life. In illustration of the various measure of grace, and yet its real efficiency in all the members of the Church, Eadie says, "No member or ordinance is superfluous. The widow's mite was commended by him who sat over against the treasury. Solomon built a temple. Joseph provided a tomb. Mary the mother gave birth to the child, and the other Marys wrapped the corpse in spices. Lydia entertained the apostle, and Phoebe carried an Epistle of old, the princes and heroes went to the field, and wise-hearted women did spin. While Joshua fought, Moses prayed. The snuffers and trays were as necessary as the magnificent lampstand.... The result is that the Church is built up, for love is the element of spiritual progress. That love fills the renewed nature." The Church has been defined as an institution that has truth for its nourishment, love for its atmosphere, and Christ for its Head.
CONSTRASTED PRINCIPLES OF GENTILE AND CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord. There is no sign of the apostle, when he comes to the practical part of Iris Epistle, deeming it of less importance than the doctrinal. The formula is very expressive; the apostle sinks his personality, and brings forward Christ as the Exhorter. That ye no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk. First, he indicates what they are not to be. "Be not conformed to this world." In four particulars they are to be different from Gentiles. The first of these is in the vanity of their mind. The allusion is to their frivolous, empty aims in life, and their unfixed, unsettled impulses. The Gentiles were chasing shadows, blowing bubbles, doing anything to make time pass agreeably; not considering or knowing either what they were, or whence they came, or whither they were going.
Being darkened in their understanding (second point of difference), and thus blind to all that is most vital—ignorant of God, of the way of salvation, of the love of Christ. Even at best the natural understanding cannot discover these things, and when it is not only imperfect but darkened—made more obscure than ever by sin (see after)—its guidance is altogether defective. It has been said truly that the youngest scholar in a Sunday school that has been taught the elements of the gospel has more light than the wisest of the heathen. Alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (third point of difference). Two causes are given for their alienation, viz. ignorance, and hardness of heart, this last being the ultimate cause. Through worldly living, their hearts have become hard, callous, insensible to spiritual influences, perceiving no beauty in Divine things, no preciousness in Divine promises, no excellence in the Divine image; this makes them ignorant, careless, foolish; and such being their state of heart, they are alienated from the life of God, can't bear vital religion, hate the very idea of spiritual and holy service.
Who being past feeling. Without sense of shame, without conscience, without fear of God or regard for man, without any perception of the dignity of human nature, the glory of the Divine image, or the degradation of sin. Have given themselves over to lasciviousness to work all uncleanness (fourth point of difference). This is the climax—heathenism in its worst and fullest development, yet by no means rare. The sensuality of the heathen was and is something dreadful. Many of them gave themselves to it as a business, worked at it as at a trade or employment (see Uhlmann's 'Conflict of Christianity with Heathenism,' etc.). Details, such as even the walls of Pompeii furnish, are unfit for the public eye. With greediness, Πλεονεξία means the desire of having more, and has reference to the insatiable character of sensual sins. Sometimes it is translated (A.V.) "covetousness," as Ephesians 5:3.
But ye did not thus learn Christ. "But" emphatic—a great contrast, that must come home to the conscience of every Christian, and to his whole heart and soul. The expression, "learn Christ," is a pregnant one, corresponding to "preaching Christ" (Acts 8:5)—all about Christ, Christ in all his offices, and in all his influence. He that learns Christ appropriates him in the efficacy of his atonement, in the power of his Spirit, in the force of his lessons, and in the spirit of his influence, and finds the whole to be diametrically opposite to the godless world.
If so be that ye heard him. A word of caution. We are not to assume too readily that we are in a right relation to Christ. We must look within and make sure of that. To hear him, here, is to hear him as his sheep hear his voice and follow him, recognizing the voice of the Shepherd, a voice to be implicitly obeyed. And were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. The peculiar force of this clause is the double ἐν, not given in the first clause in A.V., thereby obscuring the sense, which is, that all teaching and all truth acquires a different hue and a different character when there is a personal relation to Jesus. Truth apart from the person of Christ has little power; abstract doctrines have little influence; the very atonement may be a barren dogma. But the atonement taught "in Jesus," in connection with the living, loving, dying, risen Savior tells; the blood of redemption in connection with the Son of God incarnate thus loving us, and meekly, patiently suffering the agonies of the cross in our room, is not only a power, but the greatest moral power that can move the heart.
That ye put off, as concerning the former conversation, the old man. The sum of Christ's practical lessons is given in two particulars—putting off and putting on. The change is very decided and very complete. It is emphatically personal; not a mere change of opinions or of religious observances, but of life, habit, character; not altering a few things, but first putting off the man as we put off a garment. "It is a change which brings the mind under the government of truth, and gives to the life a new aspect of integrity and devoutness." Which is rotting according to the lusts of deceit. The present participle, φθειρόμενον, indicates continuance or progress in corruption. Sin is a disintegrating dissolving thing, causing putridity, and in all cases, when unchecked, tending towards it. Deceit is personified; it is an agent of evil, sending out lusts which seem harmless but are really ruinous—their real character is concealed; they come as ministers of pleasure, they end as destructive tyrants. Lust of power, lust of money, lust of pleasure, have all this character; they are the offspring of deceit, and always to be shunned.
And that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind. Between the first and second practical change, derived from being taught by Christ, the apostle inserts this counsel applicable to both. This renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit; how, then, can it be the subject of an exhortation to us? In this sense, that we are to prize, long for, encourage, watch, this work of the Holy Spirit, feeling it to be most vital and essential, not to be neglected without awful sin and danger. Usually the Holy Spirit works in us by stirring up our spirit to desire and endeavor after holiness; to resist these strivings of the Spirit, or even to be indifferent to them, is a deadly and most dangerous sin.
And put on the new man. As the fruit of inward renewal, let there be outward renovation. A new object is clean, fresh, tidy; let your life have something of the same aspect—let your principles, aims, habits, be new, in the sense of being conformed to Christ, who is your life. Which after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. "After God," equivalent to "after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:10). Some think" the new man" equivalent to "Christ" (Romans 13:14), constituted the Head of renewed humanity, as Adam of depraved. But this would not correspond with the exhortation to put off the old man, nor should we be exhorted to put on Christ after being exhorted to be renewed in the spirit of our minds. In what sense, then, has the "new man" been created? The idea presented itself to the apostle in the abstract—there has been a creation of a new man; but concretely, we have to conform to the Divine creation, in respect of righteousness and holiness; righteousness denoting personal uprightness and fidelity to all social duties; holiness, the state of the spirit toward God. The last words, "of truth," denote the relation of righteousness and holiness to the truth. The words are opposed to "of deceit" in Ephesians 4:22. Lust is bred of deceit, but righteousness and holiness of truth. They never deceive, never disappoint, are solid to the end.
Ephesians 5:2.—RAGS OF THE OLD MAN AND ROBES OF THE NEW.
Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak every man truth with his neighbor. Lying or falsehood is pre-eminently a heathen vice, as missionaries in India and other countries abundantly testify. It is an attribute of fallen humanity: "They go astray from the womb, speaking lies;" and one of the earliest vices that appear in children is deceit. Not only is it God's will and command that we speak the truth, but it is peculiarly incumbent on Christians as children of the light, as followers of him who is the Truth, as having renounced the devil, who is the father of lies. Another reason is added. For ye are members one of another. Falsehood is always designed to mislead; but to deceive our own members is emphatically wicked. Says Chrysostom (quoted by Eddie), "Let not the eye lie to the foot, nor the foot to the eye. If there be a deep pit, and its mouth, covered with reeds, shall present to the eye the appearance of solid ground, will not the eye use the foot to ascertain whether it is hollow underneath or whether it is firm and resists? Will the foot tell a lie, and not the truth as it is? And what, again, if the eye were to spy a serpent or a wild beast, will it lie to the foot?"
Be ye angry, and sin not. Quotation from the Septuagint version of Psalms 4:5. Anger, the feeling and expression of displeasure, is not wholly forbidden, but is guarded by two checks. Our Lord did not make anger a breach of the sixth commandment, but being angry with a brother without cause. The first check is to beware of sinning; to keep your anger clear of bitterness, spite, malevolence, and all such evil feelings. The second is, Let not the sun go down on your irritation; examine yourself in the evening, and see that you are tranquil. Eadie quotes Thomas Fuller: "St. Paul saith, 'Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,' to carry news to the antipodes in another world of thy revengeful nature. Yet let us take the apostle's meaning rather than his words—with all possible speed to depose our passion; not understanding him so literally that we may take leave to be angry till sunset; then might our wrath lengthen with the days, and men in Greenland, where day lasts above a quarter of a year, have plentiful scope of revenge. And as the English, by command of William the Conqueror, always raked up their fire, and put out their candles when the curfew bell was rung, let us then also quench all sparks of anger and heat of passion." It is especially becoming in men, when about to sleep the sleep of death, to see that they are in peace and charity with all men; it were seemly always to fall asleep in the same temper.
Neither give place to the devil. Place or room, opportunity and scope for acting in and through you. There seems no special reference to the last exhortation, but as that demands a special act of vigilance and self-control, so the activity of the devil demands vigilance and self-control on all occasions, and especially on those on which the devil is most apt to try to get a foothold. The reference to the devil is not a figure, but an obvious recognition of his personality, and of the liability of all Christians to fall under his influence.
Let the stealer stem no more. Ὁ κλέπτων may be translated either as a noun or as the present participle. In either case it implies that even Christians might continue to steal, and that they had to be warned against the habit. This may seem strange to us, but not to those who consider how little theft was thought of among the pagans, and how liable such habits are to remain among converts from heathenism. Where there is a low moral tone and an uneducated conscience, very great irregularities may be found. Dishonesty in trade, deceit in business, are just the same. Among the Ephesians, thieving was probably the result of idle habits and of dislike to hard work. Hence the apostle says, But rather let him labor, working with his hands the things that are good, that he may have to impart to him that hath need. Idleness is mean, labor is honorable; Christ calls us to work, not for this reason only, but in order that we may have something to give away. Paganism would rob others of what is rightfully their own; Christianity leads me to give to others what is rightfully my own. This different genius of the two systems appears here very clearly. Observe the true use of superfluities—look out for the needy, and give for their relief.
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth. Not pagans only, but some of whom better things might be expected, need this charge. How revolting is the tendency in some circles to foul and blasphemous conversation; to profane and obscene jests, songs, and allusions: to feed as it were on moral garbage! From Christian mouths no such word should ever issue—it is simply abominable. But that which is good for improvement of the occasion, that it may give grace to them that hear. Speaking should ever bear on improvement or edification, especially on turning passing things to good account. This should be the aim; it does not require speaking to be uniformly grave, but to hare an object. It may be quite right to have an enlivening object, but among Christians it should always be such as befits their profession, and tends to help on the exalted objects at which they aim.
And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. Very solemn and emphatic counsel. The name is given with unusual fullness, in order to show the magnitude of the sin—τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον τοῦ Θεοῦ, "The Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God." By an anthropopathy the Spirit is represented as grieved by such treatment as would grieve us—e.g. when his work is obstructed, when sin is trifled with, when Deity is treated carelessly, when place is given to the devil, when the spirit of the world is cherished. Those who act thus resemble the Sanballats and Tobiahs of the time of the restoration, who hindred the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of order and prosperity. When the Holy Spirit would urge consecration, separation from the world, holy exercises, active service, our indolent and worldly hearts are liable to rebel and vex him. To grieve a parent heedlessly is a great sin; how much more to grieve the Spirit of God? In whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. The Spirit being rather the Seal than the Sealer, who is the Father (see Ephesians 1:13), it is better to translate in whom than by whom; besides, this preserves the force of the ἐν, which, whether used of Christ or of the other persons of the Godhead, is so characteristic of the Epistle. To grieve the Spirit is to help to obliterate the seal, and thus weaken the evidence of our redemption.
Let all bitterness; not only in speech, but in mind, disposition, habit. And wrath and anger; nearly synonymous, but perhaps" wrath" is equivalent to the tumultuous excited state of mind, out of which comes anger, the settled feeling of dislike and enmity. And clamor and evil-speaking be put away from you; "clamor," equivalent to the loud noise of strife, the excited shouting down of opponents; "evil-speaking," the more deliberate habit of running down their character, exciting an evil feeling against them in the minds of others. With all malice; equivalent to wishing evil, whether in a more pronounced or in a latent and half-conscious form, whether expressing itself in the way of coarse malediction or lurking in a corner of the heart, as an evil spirit of which we should be ashamed; all are rags of the old man, as disgraceful to Christians as literal rags to a man of position; utterly unworthy of the regenerated child of God. Chrysostom, rather fancifully, treats them as a genealogy: "Bitterness bred wrath, wrath anger, anger clamor, clamor evil-speaking, which is railing."
But be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another (opposed to bitterness, wrath, anger; Bengel). Kind (χρηστοί), sweet, amiable in disposition, subduing all that is harsh and hasty, encouraging all that is gentle and good; tender-hearted (εὔσπλαγχνοι), denoting a specially compassionate feeling, such as may arise from the thought of the infirmities, griefs, and miseries to which more or less all are subject; these emotional conditions to bear the practical fruit of forgiveness, and the forgiveness to be mutual (χαριζόμενοι ἑαυτοῖς), as if under the feeling that what you give today you require to ask tomorrow, net being too hard on the faults of others, remembering that you have your own. Even as God in Christ also forgave you. The A.V. rendering, "for Christ's sake," is objectionable every way: it is not literal; it omits the characteristic feature of the Epistle, "in Christ," losing the force of the consideration that the forgiveness was dispensed by the Father, acting with or wholly one with the Son; and it gives a shade of countenance to the great error that the Father personally was not disposed to forgive till he was prevailed on to do so by the interposition of the Son. The aorist, "forgave," is more literal and better than the perfect, "hath forgiven;" it points to a definite time when forgiveness was bestowed, viz. the moment of real belief in Christ, and hearty acceptance of his grace. The vague atmosphere in which many envelop the question of their forgiveness is very hurtful; it checks their thanksgivings, dulls their joy, quenches hope, and dilutes the great dynamic power of the gospel—the power that impels us to forgive our brother, as well as to abound in the work of the Lord with a tender conscience, the sense of forgiveness urges to the most full and hearty doing of God's will; but when hypocrites, with seared consciences claim to be forgiven, they steal what is not their own, and become more abandoned to wickedness.
The Christian walk.
"Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." We now come to the practical part of the Epistle, and the first exhortation is a striking one. Paul attached great importance to the element of walk or character. He skillfully puts two things in connection with each other—vocation on the one hand, and walk on the other. The preceding chapters had shown the wonderful glory of the Christian vocation. The succeeding chapters are directed to secure a correspondingly elevated Christian walk. Two main topics present themselves.
1. Generally, the value of the Christian walk or character.
2. The kind of walk required—"worthy of the vocation," etc.
I. VALUE OF CHRISTIAN WALK OR CHARACTER. This may be shown in three aspects. As a plea for Christianity, or evidence of the reality of Christian faith; as a persuasive towards it, and as a pattern for imitation.
1. A plea. Skeptical tendencies of the present age; logic not sufficient to meet them. Strongest popular evidence of Christianity is its inherent truthfulness, its self-commending power. But next in power is the consistent lives of earnest Christians. Men and women consistently following Christ, breathing his spirit, and moving heavenwards, show that his religion is not a sham or a deception, but a great reality.
2. A persuasive. Such lives appeal to the heart as well as the head. They show religion to be, not only a reality, but a great obligation and a great blessing; appeal to the conscience and force it to say, "That is what we ought to be." Men feel they ought to live like such, and certainly they would fain die like them.
3. A pattern. Do we need it? Have we not other and more perfect patterns? Sermon on mount; life of Christ? Yes, but human nature desiderates something on its own level—something visible and tangible, a stepping-stone between heaven and earth. Hence Paul gave thanks that the Thessalonians became followers of him and of the Lord, and he told the Philippians that he and others were given them "for an ensample." Every Christian congregation should have a number of model Christians fitted to be examples to the rest—the elders and elderly people especially. Men may sneer at model Christians, but they do not sneer at model soldiers or model servants, and certainly every Christian worthy of the name should aim at being as near Christ as possible.
II. THE KIND OF WALK. "Worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." We have all an idea of consistency; inconsistency should be the object of our abhorrence. The world has a keen eye for inconsistencies of Christians, and exposes them mercilessly. It takes comfort from them to continue in sin. Sins detestable in the godly are thought nothing of in the worldly. If what David did in re Uriah had been done by Nebuchadnezzar, no one would have said anything. A consistent walk is, by God's help, within the reach of all. It is an impressive sermon to the world, a continual sermon, an unanswerable sermon. Let all preach this sermon, though it be their only one. The "walk worthy" is a walk of holiness, humility, forbearance, forgiveness, patience, charity. It is also a walk of brightness and beneficence. It seeks to make the world brighter and better. Let us be urged to it by the sins of the world, by the miseries of the world, by the dangers of the world, as regards the soul. In order to promote it, let us be much with Christ, and as far as we can, with those who are like Christ. Let us study the biographies of Christ-like men and aim at conformity to their example. Let us often pray the prayer of the third chapter of this book, and other prayers of the like tenor. Let us use earnestly our means of grace, praying that each sabbath, each sermon, each sacrament, may serve to make us more worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.
Details of a walk worthy of the vocation. This walk demands—
I. THE PRESERVATION OF SOCIAL CONCORD, THROUGH THE QUIET OR PASSIVE VIRTUES, which, having been very characteristic of Christ, are eminently incumbent on all who bear his Name.
1. Lowliness, arising from a chastened sense of our sin and unworthiness.
2. Meekness, which is in speech what lowliness is in spirit.
3. Long-suffering and forbearance in love; in opposition to hastiness, irascibility, impatience, ill temper, which, though often little thought of, are eminently unworthy of the Christian calling. Christian victories are often gained by meekness and endurance—what Milton called "the invincible might of meekness." These graces have reference mainly to the ordinary intercourse of social life; what follows has to do more with the public life of` the Church
II. THE PRESERVATION OF ECCLESIASTICAL CONCORD THROUGH THE BOND OF PEACE. The concord to be preserved is the "unity of the Spirit"—the unity of which the Holy Spirit is the Author; not mere external uniformity, but inward agreement. It is a fact that there is much inward agreement wherever the Spirit of God works. It is our duty to preserve this—to keep it from being broken or even appearing as if broken. This unity is to be maintained by the bond which consists of "peace;" by a peace-loving and peace-seeking spirit, that spirit of which Christ said, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." The danger of breaking the unity of the Spirit is great; readiness to take offence, pride, regardlessness of the welfare of others, forgetfulness of the vast Christian work and warfare committed to us, are temptations to this. On the other hand, the habitual striving after the graces enumerated above, and trying to exercise them habitually, tend to preserve the unity of the Spirit, and to a large extent, too, to preserve external agreement in the government and worship and work of the Church.
III. In connection with this subject, the apostle shows WHEREIN THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT CONSISTS, AND WHEREIN IT IS TO BE PRESERVED. There is a sevenfold unity (see Exposition). That true believers are one in Christ is one of those truths which happily even controversy and sectarianism do not quite obliterate. But a more full, rich, and constant manifestation of this unity would make a great impression on the world; it would remove one of the most common excuses of skepticism; it would tend powerfully both to edify and to extend the cause of Christ; and it would make the fellowship of the Church much more delightful, spreading more of the atmosphere of heaven upon earth.
Christ's gifts to his Church.
The grand object of the apostle in this section of his Epistle is to show the ample provision made by Christ for the welfare of his Church. The Church may sing as well as the individual, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." The particular object is to indicate that the gifts conferred by him on the members individually (Ephesians 4:7-10), and especially the appointment of the several classes of office-bearers (Ephesians 4:10), show the Lord's earnest desire to raise his Church to the highest possible condition of grace and honor; to make her complete and glorious, as the one body of which he is the Head, the one vessel into which he is to pour all his fullness, the bride on whom he is to exhaust every ornament. The marks of Christ's care for his Church are innumerable; they recede back through all eternity and forward for evermore (Ephesians 3:18, Ephesians 3:19). His death marked the climax of his self-sacrifice; but even that did not end Christ's service for his Church. For her he not only descended from heaven to earth, but for her too he reascended from earth to heaven; like the high priest, he went into the holiest of all with his Name on his breastplate, and he only changed the sphere in which his mediatorial office was exercised. But more; the good Shepherd is ever renewing the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes; ever saying with reference to his people, "Give ye them to eat ;" and ever appointing and qualifying suitable officers to take care of his Church and break among them the bread of life. He is ever qualifying his ministers for ruling and feeding his flock, for filling the empty soul, speaking a word in season to the weary, guiding the perplexed, reclaiming the erring, strengthening the weak, supporting the feeble-minded, and sending on the ransomed of the Lord to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. The subject divides into two—the gift-giving (Ephesians 4:7-11), and the end or purpose for which the gifts are given (Ephesians 4:12-16). In the first part we find:
1. The source of the gifts and the principle of distribution (Ephesians 4:7).
2. Confirmation of this from the sixty-eighth psalm (Ephesians 4:8).
3. Commentary and inferences therefrom (Ephesians 4:9, Ephesians 4:10).
4. The special gift of suitable officers.
1. Christ is the great Source of grace, including ordinary and extraordinary gifts ("the gift of Christ").
2. Christ leaves no one out; to every one of us is given grace.
3. The grace was not given in equal measures to all.
4. But according to the measure of the gift of Christ,
II. From the sixty-eighth psalm it appears that this proceeding was symbolized when the ark was placed on Mount Zion, when David's victories were celebrated, and a distribution of gifts took place.
III. The word "ascended," applied to the Son of God, implied a previous descent; for when he ascended, he went to his own home and seat; previous to this he came down, and the apostle dwells especially on his having come down to the lower parts of the earth, such as Gethsemane, Calvary, and the grave. His was no holiday visit to earth, to green fields, or golden palaces; "He was taken from prison and from judgment." Yet even there he triumphed over all his enemies, and now he is exalted "far above all heavens." This last expression is very remarkable, especially in the view of what modem astronomy teaches on the extent of the heavens. It is a marvelous testimony to the glory of the risen Lord. Still higher is the testimony to his glory in the purpose for which he has gone on high—"that he might fill all things." The sun, in the center of the solar system, fills that system, spreading light and heat and manifold influences to its extremest limits. All the colors that beautify earth, sea, and sky; all the heat that fosters life and gladdens living creatures of every kind; all the chemical influences that are so manifold in their effects on the economy of nature, radiate from the sun. So Christ is Sun and Center of the infinite universe, and the universe is filled by him with heavenly influences. There are many suns, but only one Savior; there are many systems of worlds, according to our modern astronomy, and even firmaments of worlds, beyond the ken of our strongest instruments; but all are joined by one glorious bond; for not only have they been all formed by one Creator, but all have been "filled" by the one all-glorious Mediator-Lord. What resources does that expression, "that he might fill all things," ascribe to Christ! If he can fill all thins, he can fill us; our hearts are not easily filled; but what can be wanting to us out of such fullness?
IV. But from the stars we come back to the Church, and consider Christ as exalted to fill his Church. With this view he has qualified and commissioned certain officers to minister to his Church. Of these it is generally allowed that apostles and prophets were special and temporary; while evangelists, pastors, and teachers are ordinary and permanent (see Exposition). Observe that such men are to be received (and when needed to be asked too) as gifts of Christ to his Church. It is the Lord of the harvest who equips and furnishes laborers for his harvest. We should not seek ministers of the gospel, as some do, for our own pleasure or credit, rejecting them if they do not quite answer our idea; but as gifts of Christ, in which their great object will be to build up his Church and promote the beauty of his bride.
Christ's gifts to his Church: their end or purpose.
I. Generally, Christ has a work of perfection on hand. This denoted by—"for the perfecting of the saints" (Ephesians 4:12), and "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). What a high aim with reference to creatures so poor and needy as the members of his Church!
II. In order to this, the work of the ministry exists; and that work seeks
(1) "the edifying the body of Christ;"
(2) the promotion of unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:13);
(3) protection of the Church from childish fickleness and the arts of men who seek to unsettle her (Ephesians 4:14). In order to accomplish these ends, the ministry is called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and especially truth "as it is in Jesus" (Ephesians 4:21). Truth, thus spoken, is the great means of spiritual edification and of progress towards perfection. External rites or ceremonies can profit nothing except in so far as they are Divine channels for conveying this truth.
III. While ministers are instruments, Jesus is himself the great Source of growth.
1. The growth to be promoted is growth "unto him who is the Head" (Ephesians 4:15). All vital, spiritual influence is in Christ. As the woman reasoned, "If I may but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole;" so if we, by faith, shall come into contact with our living Head, his gracious influence will spread through our souls.
2. The whole Church is articulated with Christ; its parts are articulated with each other, but all are designed to communicate with the Head, and to assist in conveying vital influence front the Head to the members. So it is in the human body; it is all jointed and connected together; but the object of this is to facilitate the transmission of the vital force throughout the whole. All the members of the Church should realize their position as parts of a body connected with the head, and should regard the measure of energy received by them as designed for the general good (Ephesians 4:16).
3. While Christ is the sole Source of vital influence, and ministers are the main instruments of its transmission, the whole body is to be self-edifying, intelligently and consciously moving on towards the grand consummation (Ephesians 4:16). Ministers do not differ in kind from the members. They have got special gifts for the edifying of the body, but every part of the body has got some gift for the same end. All ought to conspire harmoniously together, keeping in view the grand consummation. Churches and members of Churches must not be content with any inferior aim, but habitually and earnestly move on toward perfection. And for this the Spirit of love is indispensable (Ephesians 4:16). The Church cannot edify itself except in love. Strife and division are sure to arise, and these are not edifying, but disintegrating. One great lesson here is that, as Christ is the Truth, so he also is the Life. The gospel as a system of truth has Christ in the center; so the Church as a living agency has Christ in the center. Take Christ from either, and "Ichabod" may be inscribed on the wall.
Contrasted principles of Gentile and Christian character.
We now come more explicitly to the details of Christian duty. The apostle had presented a very high standard of Christian privilege in the preceding chapters, and now he presents an equally high standard of Christian duty. What God gives in the one form is to be given back in the other, and in corresponding proportion. The importance of the subject is indicated by the formula, "This I say, and testify in the Lord." The apostle contrasts the Christian with the Gentile walk, and indicates wherein the latter is to differ from the former,
(1) in what the Christian is not to be, and
(2) in what he is to be.
1. In the vanity of their mind.
2. In the darkness of their understanding.
3. In their alienation from the life of God.
4. In their abandonment to lasciviousness.
Thus even Christian converts need to remember the duty to keep themselves unspotted by the world. There is a world of guilt and godlessness from which it is necessary for them to keep themselves unstained.
II. POSITIVE RULES OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. Their Source. "Ye have not so learned Christ, if so be ye heard him," etc. (Ephesians 4:20). The whole tenor of Christ's teaching and influence is against these things. Only make sure that you have come under it.
2. What they are.
(1) "Put off the old man," etc. Comprehensiveness of the word "man;" his tendency is to rottenness or corruption; the lusts of deceit which are connected with him are pernicious and ruinous.
(2) "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind." Renewal begins within by the Holy Spirit rousing in you a desire for it, and urging you to use the means towards it. Accept and improve these movements of the Spirit within you.
(3) In this way, "put on the new man," and especially encourage and seek to have developed these two features of the new creation—righteousness and holiness. Righteousness, including integrity, honest, true, fair, open dealing; doing justly out and out, in every place and in every relation—in the house, the market, the counting-house, the shop, among neighbors, among strangers, everywhere and at all times. Holiness of truth, including high reverence for God and all that is Divine, sympathy and congeniality of heart with God, cleanness of nature, purity of soul, conformity to the image of Christ, who is the Image of the invisible God. No professing Christian can be exempted from this rule of life. Nor should any assume too readily that he is thoroughly conforming to it. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Christianity in its practical relations is very searching and thorough. It demands a high standard of life and practice. But no wonder, if Christ be the Head, the Source of all vital power, and if there be a complete provision by which the needed power may be communicated to all the members. Never let it be said to Christians, "What do ye more than others?"
Verse 25-Ephesians 5:2
Rags of the old man and robes of the new.
The Christian Ephesians somewhat resembled Joshua the high priest, when standing before the angel of the Lord, and when Satan was standing at his right hand to resist him. Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and the angel spake to those that stood before him, "Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment." Rags of the old man still hang about these Ephesians, disfiguring their persons and giving them a very different appearance from that which befits the regenerated sons of God. The apostle is giving directions to take away each filthy rag and substitute for it the fair raiment of the new man. And he is doing this under a solemn sense of danger and responsibility, and with the feeling that two great spirits are also interested in the work and actively concerned in it—the one, the spirit of evil, who is trying cunningly but earnestly to spoil the process, and induce the Ephesians to cling to their own garments; the other, the blessed Spirit of God, who in his infinite love is seeking to clothe the Corinthians in the garments of purity, to seal them unto the day of redemption, so that by the brightness of their appearance they shall be known to be God's in the day when he makes up his jewels. And what makes the whole matter so solemn and momentous is that, unless they are ever on their guard, the subjects of this process are ever liable to give place to the one spirit and to grieve the other; the awful danger lying in this, that the spirit to whom they are prone to yield is the spirit of evil, and the Spirit they are apt to grieve is the Holy Spirit of God.
1. The rags of the old man to be put off are lying, anger, stealing, coarse language, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil-speaking, and malice (see Exposition). Three reasons are given, more or less explicitly, why such things should be put away.
(1) We are members one of another (verse 25), and ought to assist instead of injuring one another (verse 28).
(2) We ought not to give place to the devil (verse 27).
(3) We ought not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
2. The robes of the new man to be put on are truthfulness, honest industry, edifying speech, kindness, tenderness of heart, forgiveness, imitation of God, and the loving walk which becomes his followers. Three reasons are given likewise why these robes should be put on.
(1) God in Christ forgave us (verse 32).
(2) Christ lured us.
(3) Christ gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savor.
This is one of the most comprehensive and beautiful summaries of the Christian life. It is the quintessence of practical Christianity. It furnishes an admirable rule for self-examination, and an admirable incentive to progress in the life of God. It is a passage, not only to be got by heart, but written on the heart. We may well say, as we read these verses, "This is Christianity; this is the walk worthy of our vocation." If the writer of the hundred and nineteenth psalm had such boundless delight in the Law of God, though it had not to him the delightful evangelical aroma it has to us, what ought our feelings to be? Under all dispensations of the covenant, the Law is still the rule of our life, though salvation is of grace; and the prayer that continually becomes us is, "Incline my heart unto thy testimonies; quicken thou me, that I may keep thy Law." Rags or robes: why should any hesitate between them?
To most men rags are most repulsive. To wear literal rags—to appear shabby, dirty, untidy, is very unpleasant. How much more, in the eyes of God and the saints and angels, to wear moral rags! Many a one clothed in purple and fine linen wears the filthiest rags of the old man; and some, on the other hand, in the plainest and coarsest attire, have put on the beautiful robes of righteousness, and shall be crowns of glory in the hands of the Lord and royal diadems in the hands of their God.
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY
Ethics after Theology.
The doctrinal part of the Epistle is now finished and the practical part begins. This is the true and natural order.
I. IT IS IN THE SPHERE OF THE DOCTRINAL THAT WE FIND THE POWER THAT CARRIES US THROUGH ALL PRACTICAL DUTIES. In all the Epistles the duties enforced are grounded in the doctrines declared or explained. The doctrines are the reservoir which sends its stream of power down over the human life. The engineer scoops out a hollow space to be filled with water, constructs his machinery, and then lifts the sluice that sets all the machinery in motion. When the doctrines of grace have been fully expounded, the apostle lifts the sluice and lets on the stream that sends life spinning round and round in a course of holy activity. "I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1).
II. IT IS NECESSARY TO INCULCATE CHRISTIAN DUTIES EVEN IN THE CASE OF CHRISTIANS. If the apostles did it, we must do it. It is only Antinomianism—resting on the doctrines of grace without watchfulness of the walk before God—that contests this principle. An Antinomian Bible would have no place for duties. Christianity includes duties as well as doctrines. It does not merely hold out a refuge to the guilty, but takes all who accept Christ under its supreme and exclusive direction. It evangelizes human life by impregnating its minutest transactions with the spirit of the gospel. But we must be always careful, in preaching the necessity of good works and in enforcing Christian duties, to ground them, as the Scriptures ground them, in the doctrines of grace.—T.C.
The obligations of the Christian calling.
"Walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye are called."
I. THE NATURE OF THIS CALLING. It is the Christian vocation. We are called out of darkness into God's marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), into the grace of Christ (Galatians 1:6), into the fellowship of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9); unto holiness (1 Thessalonians 2:7); unto glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3); unto peace (1 Corinthians 7:15), not only with God, but with our consciences and with one another (Acts 24:16; Ephesians 4:2). This calling is a high calling, a holy calling, a heavenly calling. We may well, therefore, walk worthy of it.
II. THE WALK IN HARMONY WITH OUR CALLING. It is emphatically "to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" (Colossians 1:10); "to walk worthy of God who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory" (1 Thessalonians 2:12); to have a conversation becoming the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). In human society, men are often kept from unworthy courses by a feeling of honor, as gentlemen; how much more ought Christians to cherish a sense of honor as disciples of the Savior and joint-heirs with him of the kingdom of heaven! The feeling of family honor is often a powerful guard against mean or ungenerous actions. It is a profound disgrace to find the descendant of an ancient and noble family forswear all its best traditions. As members of the household of God, as brethren of Jesus Christ himself, shall we disgrace this sublime relationship? We cannot afford to bring shame upon our profession (Hebrews 6:6), to lose the comfort of our calling (Psalms 19:11), or to lose its end (Hebrews 12:14). Let us not, therefore, affront our calling by inconsistencies, but walk in a way that will fully harmonize with its nature, glory, and end. It is all the more necessary to do so as the true walk of a saint tends so powerfully to promote the unity of the Church.—T.C.
Graces that promote the harmony of the Church.
"All lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love." These graces are specially needful in the Church; for their opposites, pride, irascibility, and impatience do much to create heart-burning and division.
I. LOWLINESS OF MIND.
1. Its nature. It is that deep humility, as opposed to pride, arrogance, and conceit, which is produced by a right sense of our weakness, ignorance, and dependence, and by a due appreciation of the undeserved glory to which we are called in Christ Jesus. Men are made humble and self-distrustful less by the knowledge that they are weak, ignorant, and mortal, than by the fact that, while striving for a higher end, they are always coming short of it by their mistakes and their follies, and are in constant need of a strength greater than their own. It is thus possible to unite a high aim with a profound humility.
2. Its importance. It is necessary because God requires it (Micah 6:8); because Christ exemplified it (Matthew 11:29); because God dwells with the humble (Isa 58:1-14 :15); because it is the way to learn wisdom (Proverbs 11:2), to attain grace and holiness (Proverbs 3:5, Proverbs 3:6; James 4:6), and to preserve unity in the Church (James 4:1). It has many promises made to it. God will respect the humble (Isaiah 66:2), he will give them grace (1 Peter 5:6), he will exalt them (1 Peter 5:6), and reward them with all good things. Its importance is specially manifest in Church relations. Believers are not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think (Romans 12:3), nor exalt themselves above their degree (2 Corinthians 10:13-15), but to esteem others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3). Let believers, therefore, have a humble apprehension of their knowledge, for "knowledge puffeth up" (1 Corinthians 8:1); and humble thoughts of their goodness, for we cannot understand all our errors, and need to be cleansed from our secret faults (Psalms 19:12). Let them "put on humbleness of mind," as the brightest ornament of Christian character (Colossians 3:12).
II. MEEKNESS. There is a natural connection between meekness and humility, and therefore they are often joined together.
1. Its nature. It is that disposition which does not arraign God and does not avenge itself on man. As regards God, it implies a ready submission to the authority of his Word (James 1:21), and a cheerful resignation to his providence, as opposed to murmuring and fretfulness (Psalms 39:9). As regards man, the meek will have a calm temper under provocations; he will be "slow to wrath" (James 1:19); he will give "the soft answer that turneth away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1); he will show that ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which adorns more than rubies (1 Peter 3:4). When joined with strength it. makes one of the most effective characters. It is especially to be esteemed in a religious life. Therefore the apostle says, "Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13). It is with meekness and fear that we are to give a reason of our hope (1 Peter 3:15), and it is in a spirit of meekness we are to recover the erring (Galatians 6:1). It is one of the nine graces of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
2. Its importance. See how largely it contributes to the usefulness of Christian life. The meek man has great power with men. See how it contributes to the comfort of life; for it keeps him from the friction of temper that so often detracts from true repose; it brings us nearer and nearer to him who was pre-eminently "meek and lowly of spirit" (Matthew 11:29); and it has the promise of the earth for art inheritance (Matthew 5:5). Let us, therefore, seek meekness (Zephaniah 2:3).
1. Its nature. It is the disposition that leads us to suppress our anger (2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22); and is opposed to that irritability often expressively called shortness of temper, which is quick to show resentment. This spirit is of great moment in the Church, where there may be frequent collisions of opinion, or interest, or feeling, and it waits with patience till the passionate or obstinate see their way to more reasonable courses.
2. Its importance. God commands it (Romans 12:17). He exemplifies it (Matthew 5:44; Romans 5:6-8), and his Son has left us a most impressive exhibition of it (1 Peter 2:21-23). We all fail in our duty and need to have due consideration made to our failings. We are above all to bear and. forbear in matters of religious fellowship (Romans 15:1).
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THIS LONG-SUFFERING IS TO BE EXERCISED. "Forbearing one another in love." Christians are not to resent injuries or retaliate for wrongs done to them, but are to bear with each other's infirmities, to cover each other's weaknesses, to pity each other's frailties, and to forgive the provocations they inflict upon each other. This is to be done, not from a principle of merely worldly courtesy or from contemptuous indifference, but from that love which "suffereth long, and is kind." It is "charity which covereth a multitude of sins," just as surely as "hatred stirreth up strife" (Proverbs 10:12). It would be impossible to secure the equanimity of life if the principle of forbearance, prompted and guided by love, were not generally exercised the counsel of the apostle in this whole passage pointedly condemns the proud, arrogant, censorious disposition, which tramples, not only on the rules of courtesy, but of Christian affection. We owe to others what they require at our hands. There is much in us they have to allow for, and therefore it becomes us to allow for much in them. Therefore our very manners ought to show true Christian consideration, for the poet has rightly said—
" And manners are not idle, but the fruit
Of loyal nature and of noble mind."
The unity of the Spirit and the mode of its keeping.
"Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond- of peace."
I. CONSIDER THE NATURE OF THIS UNITY.
1. It is not the unity of the body, the Church. That is an immutable unity which man cannot keep. God alone keeps it. Neither are we commanded to make the unity of the Spirit, but simply to keep it—for it exists, in a sense, independently of man's fidelity; but in the degree in which it is kept in the bond of peace, it will eventually lead to visible oneness.
2. Much less is it a unity of external organization. That unity existed already at Ephesus. It is rather a unity in view of internal differences, which must have existed at Ephesus, as in other Churches which had a mixed membership of Jews and Gentiles. Christ did undoubtedly make both one on the cross, but the apostles allowed a considerable diversity of order and usage to exist in the Churches, according to the dominance of the Jewish or the Gentile element in them. There were Churches that followed the rule of Moses—the apostles themselves holding by the ceremonial law till the end of their lives (Acts 21:20-26). And there were Churches that did not observe days nor follow Jewish usage, but took a course authorized by apostolic command itself. If the differences that existed in the days of the apostles did not destroy the unity of the body, it is difficult to see how similar differences in order and worship can destroy it now.
3. The unity of the Spirit is that unity of which the Spirit is the Author. Its indwelling is the principle of unity in the body of Christ. Man, therefore, cannot make it, nor can he destroy it, though he can thwart or disturb its manifestations. The use of the word "endeavoring" implies that it may be kept with a greater or lesser degree of fidelity.
II. CONSIDER HOW THIS UNITY IS TO BE PRESERVED, "In the bond of peace." That is, the bond which is peace, springing out of humility, meekness, and forbearance. Just as pride, arrogance, and contention are separating elements, the opposite dispositions are conducive to unity. The peace which is the element of Christian society is that to which we are called in one body; for we are called by the God of peace, redeemed by Christ who is our Peace, sanctified by the Spirit whose fruit is peace, and edified by the gospel of peace, that we may walk as sons of peace. Thus the unity is preserved and manifested by peace, as it is marred or lost sight of amidst conflicts and jars. The apostolic injunction is very inconsistent with the Darbyite principle that the unity of the Spirit is to be preserved by separation from evil, theological, ecclesiastical, or moral. It is strange that the apostle never hints at such a thing as separation, but speaks only of such graces as "lowliness, meekness, with long-suffering," which are but little exemplified in many of the separations brought about by such a principle. The Darbyite principle is not a bond of peace. It multiplies separations and divides the saints of God. There is uniting power in a common belief or in a common affection, but there is none in mere separation from evil. The common rejection of Arianism can never become a center of union for Protestants and Roman Catholics, because they are still so fundamentally apart in the whole spirit of their theology. The unity of the Spirit which we are enjoined to keep is, therefore, a unity compatible with minor differences, and ought to be the grand means of throwing the unity of the body into more glorious distinctness before the world.—T.C.
The sevenfold unity.
The apostle proceeds to state the nature and grounds of the unity which is to be so carefully guarded. It has its basis in the fact that the Church is one, and does not consist of two rival societies.
I. "THERE IS ONE BODY." The body with its many members and its many functions is yet one. Similarly, "we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Romans 12:5); so that believers, no matter how separated by race, color, language, station, opinion, interest, circumstance, experience, are members of this one body. The body cannot, therefore, be an external visible society, but a spiritual body of which Christ is the Head. It may not be so easy to realize this unity in the midst of the multiplication of sects and denominations, each with its well-defined lines, of doctrine and order, and each more or less sharply distinguished from its neighbor. Yet there is still but "one body"—there is amidst accidental diversities a substantial unity, a unity that covers all truly essential elements. The diversity arising from temperament, culture, habit, has had its due effect in the development of truth; for some parts of the Church have thus given prominence to some truth which other parts have allowed to fall into the background. The beauty of the Church is manifest in this very diversity, just as it requires all the hues of the rainbow to make the clear, white ray of colorless sunshine. The duty, therefore, of believers is to regard the differences that keep them apart, not as hindrances to loving intercourse, but as helps to the fuller development of Divine truth and the fuller manifestation of the mind of God to the Church.
II. "ONE SPIRIT." As in the human body there is but one spirit, with a single vivifying power, so in the Church there is but one Spirit, animating all its members, as the common principle of life. "By one Spirit were we all baptized into one body," and "were made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). "We have access by one Spirit unto the Father." There is, therefore, no room for a conflicting administration. "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:4); and therefore all sins against unity are sins against the indwelling Spirit. Sectarian or divisive courses have a tendency to grieve the Spirit. Indeed, it is a mark of a separating apostasy that it has not the Spirit (Jud Ephesians 1:19). Let us remember that the one Spirit who animates the body of Christ produces as his own choicest fruits—"love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22). These are graces with a distinctly unifying tendency.
III. "ONE HOPE OF YOUR CALLING."
1. Its nature. Here it is not the thing "hoped for," as it is in Colossians 1:5 and Titus 2:13, but the emotion of hope, the expectation of future good. All believers have the same aspirations, the same anticipations of coming glory, as the effect of the Spirit's indwelling. The hope is subjective.
2. Its origin. The hope is "of your calling." It springs out of the effectual call of the Spirit, who begets us to "a lively hope" (1 Peter 1:3), being himself the Earnest and Seal of the future inheritance. We naturally hope for what we are invited to receive.
3. Its effect. Just as two strangers meeting for the first time on the deck of an emigrant ship, both bound for the same new land, and purposing to pursue the same occupation, are united by a common interest of expectation, so believers are drawn together into unity by a consideration of their common hopes.
IV. "ONE LORD." As the Head of the Church, the supreme Object of faith, and into whose Name all saints are baptized. There are two ideas involved in this blessed lordship—ownership and authority.
1. Ownership. Jesus Christ is not only Lord of all, but especially Lord of his own people. We are not our own, for we have been redeemed and bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), even with his precious blood. For this end he both died and rose and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living (Romans 19:4).
2. Authority. Therefore we are subject to him, ore' reason to his guidance, our conscience to his precepts, our hearts to his constraining love. There is no part of our being, there is no event of our lives, that is not subject to this authority which brooks no rival. It is this subjection of all believers to one Lord that marks the inner unity of the Church; for loyalty to a common Lord makes them stand together in a common hope, a common life, a common love.
V. "ONE FAITH." Not one creed, though all believers do really hold all that is essential to salvation, but one faith in its subjective aspect, through which the one Lord is apprehended. It is one in all believers, for they are all justified in exactly the same manner, and it is in all a faith that "purifieth the heart," "worketh by love," and "overcometh the world." It is not, therefore, an external unity that this faith builds up, but a union of a spiritual character, wrought by the grace of God. This principle or grace of faith has a thoroughly uniting tendency, because it brings us near to the Savior, and the nearer we stand to him we stand the nearer to one another.
VI. "ONE BAPTISM." There is but one baptism, once administered, as the expression of our faith in Christ; one initiation into the one body by one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13); one dedication to the one Lord. All believers are baptized unto the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:27, Galatians 3:28). Christendom owns but one baptism. It has been remarked as strange that the Lord's Supper—"the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17)—should not have a place among the unities, as it is essentially the symbol of union among believers. But it differs from baptism in two important respects:
(1) baptism is individual, the Lord's Supper is social;
(2) it is by baptism, spiritually regarded, we are carried into the unity of the one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); it is by the Lord's Supper we recognize continuously a unity already accomplished. Thus baptism is included among the seven unities, because it embodies the initial elements that enter into the unity.
VII. "ONE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL, who is above all, and through all, and in all." The unity of the Church finds its consummation at last in him, who originated the scheme of grace and from whom all the other unities are derived. If God be our Father, then are we members of one family, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and are therefore bound to live together in unity. The counsel may well come to us, "See that ye fall not out by the way" (Genesis, Genesis 45:24). All the unities are secured by the relation of God the Father to the Church. He is "over all" its members, and therefore there can be no rival sovereignty. The Church "is the habitation of God through the Spirit." He is "through all," in respect of pervading and supporting energy; he is "in all," as the Source and Spring of constant light and grace and goodness. There is here no pantheism. Thus there are seven unities, like so many distinct obligations, to incline believers to the unity of the Spirit, which can only be preserved in the bond of peace. Believers ought, indeed, to be of one heart and one soul.—T.C.
Diversity of gift in unity of body.
There are three points suggested by this verse.
I. THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH IS CONSISTENT WITH GREAT DIVERSITY OF GIFTS. As in the human body there are many members with different functions, so the Church is "not one member, but many." Diversity of gift, so far from being inconsistent with unity, is really essential to it. "If all were one member, where were the body?" All the great purposes of life would be frustrated if every part of the organism did not find its due place.
II. EACH MEMBER OF THE CHURCH HAS HIS SEPARATE GIFT. This does not say that any one member has all gifts. Each has received his measure. There are those who would make the Church all "tongue," as if all were called to the gospel ministry. The gifts differ both in nature and in measure. One has the gift of speech, another the gift of sagacity, another the gift of enterprise, another the gift of sympathy, another the gift of wealth and influence. All ought to be contributory to the unity of the Church.
III. THE ORIGIN AS WELL AS MEASURE OF THE GIFTS IS TO BE TRACED TO CHRIST. The position of each member in the body is not determined by itself, but by God. The eye does not make itself the eye, nor the hand the hand. So the position of believers in the Church is determined, not by themselves, but by Christ. The grace "is given according to the measure of the gift of Christ." Christ is the Source of all spiritual gifts, and he determines their adjustment as well as their amount. He does not give according to our merit, or our capacity, or our desires, but according to his sovereign pleasure. There is, therefore,
(1) no room for self-inflation if we have received the largest gifts;
(2) there is no room for envy or jealousy because others have received more gifts than ourselves;
(3) but rather an argument in the fact that one has a grace which another wants, for our helping each other in the Lord. Thus the true unity of the Church is promoted.—T.C.
The Source of all the gifts.
It is Christ himself in virtue of his exaltation.
I. THE ASCENSION THE GROUND ALIKE OF THE FOUNDING, THE PRESERVATION, AND THE PERFECTION OF THE CHURCH, This historic circumstance is the sequel of our Lord's resurrection from the dead, and can only be rightly appreciated by marking its connection with the humiliation by which it was preceded. It was the Son of God who descended, and therefore it was the Son of God who ascended up far above all heavens, and who, like a conqueror, is here represented as dividing the spoils of conquest. He is exalted to give the Holy Ghost with all his gifts and graces. It is a very touching as well as inspiring thought that the humanity of our ascended Lord has not been so transmuted as to change his relation to us. We cannot doubt the identity of his person. The same Lord who went about every day doing good upon earth, is now doing good every day in the fullness of spiritual blessings which he is dispensing from the throne of his ascension-glory.
II. THE GIFTS OF THE ASCENSION. These stand in abiding connection with the peace, the sanctification, the hope, of believers. But the special reference is to the blessing of the Christian ministry. Ministers may be nothing in themselves, but as the gifts of Christ they ought to be highly esteemed. If we love Christ, we ought to set store by his servants, who shepherd the flock in the absence of the great Shepherd.
III. THE UNWORTHY RECIPIENTS OF THESE GIFTS. "Yea, for the rebellious also" (Psalms 68:18). They were for men, as the apostle asserts; for rebels, as the psalmist asserts. It is not usual for conquerors to divide their spoils among rebels, yet our conquering Lord gives gifts even to those who put him to death. The ministry is still the Lord's gift to a wicked world, for he is still the Source of the inward life of the Church and of its authority.—T.C.
The variety of the gifts.
The Lord himself gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Provision is thus made for three great objects.
I. THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH. It needed a special order of inspired men to lay the foundations. Hence believers are said "to be built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:20). The foundation, however, had only to be laid once for all, and these apostles and prophets passed away in the first age of Christianity. There is no place, therefore, now in the Church for either class; for the "apostles" of the Irvingite sect possess no single qualification of the original apostles of Christ. As the apostles wrote nearly the whole of the New Testament Scriptures, which supply the literary foundation of Christianity, they may thus be regarded as still identified with the progress of the gospel in all lands and all ages.
II. THE EXTENSION OF THE CHURCH. Evangelists were specially designed to preach the gospel in districts where it had not been previously known. They are on this ground distinguished from pastors and teachers. They itinerated from place to place, carrying with them the wonderful story of the cross, and were quite exempt, as such, from the labors of organization or discipline. Our missionaries in modern times do the work of evangelists.
III. THE CONTINUANCE OF THE CHURCH. Pastors and teachers were stationary ministers appointed for the continuous edification of the flock. They represent, not two classes of office-bearers, but two aspects of one and the same office. They are distinguished alike from prophets and from evangelists, and had to do with the permanent instruction and guidance of the flock. The existence of such an order of teachers proves that the Christian Church was not to be propagated or maintained by mere gifted persons. Why, in that case, should the Lord have appointed such ordinary officers at all? The pastors of Ephesus and Corinth were distinct from the prophetically gifted persons in both Churches (1 Corinthians 14:1-40.; Ephesians 4:11). Private persons, no matter how gifted, were not allowed to take the place of apostles and prophets at Corinth, and therefore net of pastors and teachers. If they could not take the place of the one, they could not take the place of the other. If all believers were to exercise the gift of ministry in the Christian dispensation, why should not the apostles have started with this arrangement from the first? Why should the Lord give pastors and teachers to one generation—and that a generation provided with at least two inspired orders of teachers—and make no similar provision for all future generations?—T.C.
The design of the ministry.
It is to perfect the saints for Christian service and for sharing in the edification of the Church. The ministry is intended to "equip or prepare for future enterprise by means of perfecting the power and adaptation of the man for his task." It prepares the saints for two services.
I. THE WORK OF MINISTRY. It is maintained by some that this passage warrants all saints to preach the gospel, because the four classes of officers spoken of are said to prepare saints for the work of ministry. If so, then these officers, or some of them, are still needed for the purpose; yet this is expressly denied. The passage, however, implies that the preparation in question is to be continuous, for it is to last till the end of time. The word "ministry," however, must be taken in a large sense to signify general spiritual service, that may assume a thousand different forms (Hebrews 6:10; Acts 6:4; Acts 11:29; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2Co 9:12, 2 Corinthians 9:13; 2 Corinthians 11:8; 2 Timothy 4:11). Every believer is not only to be "fruitful in every good work," but to "hold forth the Word of life," though he should be neither trained nor called to the Christian pastorate.
II. THE EDIFICATION OF THE CHURCH. This is the second end included in the Christian pastorate. The action of the ministry upon the saints is blessed to the enlargement of the Church, both in numbers and in spirituality. A revival of religion is always accompanied or followed by "a building up of the body of Christ." T.C.
The ministry not a temporary institution.
It is to continue till the Church shall have arrived at its completed unity. This does not imply that there are still apostles and prophets in the Church. It is the ministry, not these particular offices, that is to continue in the Church. The ministry is to continue till the Church reaches its destined goal, which is here described in three forms.
I. UNITY OF FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE SON OF GOD. This implies:
1. That faith and knowledge are distinct from each other in nature, though they are inseparable in the experience of Christian men. Faith is fed by knowledge, and knowledge, especially in the sphere of Divine realities, is based on faith.
2. That religion is not a mere matter of feeling, but intellectual as well, resting upon correct apprehensions of Divine truth.
3. That the central Object of religion is the Son of God, not only apprehended, but appropriated by faith. It is eternal life to know him.
4. That saints have yet to attain to a truer faith and a larger knowledge of the Son of God. All believers, it is true, have "one faith;" yet they are to attain to the unity of faith. Unity is a matter of degrees. The apostle does not, however, say that we are to begin with it, but to end with it. It is to be realized, net in the course of the dispensation, but as one of its blessed results. The unity of the faith includes more than the unity of the Spirit—that unity of mutual kindness and forbearance that will promote the other unity—for it points to the result of the Spirit's continuous working in the Church. There is an absolute truth independent of all our opinions, and the same to every man, whether he believes it or not. We shall not here attain to it; but we shall reach it when we are at length set free from our imperfections and our infirmities. We shall then be of one mind, because we shall be conformed to one image.
II. A PERFECT MAN. This points to the full development of our manhood. We are fragmentary, one-sided, without a true adjustment of powers. The believer is imperfect both in faith and in knowledge, but he is growing into that unity of life which involves perfect knowledge and perfect holiness.
III. THE MEASURE OF THE STATURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST. The true standard is conformity to Christ. The stature of the Church is ever expanding, as it receives of Christ's fullness, into that very fullness. The end of this growth cannot be seen in this life. The Bible nowhere represents the perfection of the Church as occurring on earth. It is to be without spot or wrinkle when the day of its glorious presentation comes. Thus the design of the Christian ministry is to labor for the perfection of the Church.—T.C.
Warnings against instability and deception.
The ministry has been appointed to bring the Church forward to maturity, and therefore it is concerned to carry it safely through the intermediate stages. We are consequently warned not to continue children, but to advance steadfastly towards manhood. There are two faults hinted at by the apostle.
I. CHILDREN ARE APT TO BE UNSTABLE. "Tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine." They have not become so firmly rooted in the truth as to be proof against unsettling influences either within or without them. Consequently, they are like "a wave of the sea driven of the wind and tossed."
1. The warning implies that truth is a matter of supreme moment. Holiness of character is impossible without it. Believers ought to be well founded in the truth; not mere babes, but such as "are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).
2. They are warned against the tendency to be blown about by the winds of doctrine that blow from-every quarter. The counsel is much needed in this age of startling suggestion, radical denial, and deep unsettlement. There are men who go the rounds of all the sects, swinging from side to side with a movement which indicates that they are true to nothing but the love of change. It is hard for unstable natures to hold the poise of their judgment in the midst of such terrible cross-fires of theological and philosophical speculation.
II. CHILDREN ARE APT TO BE DECEIVED. Their want of knowledge leaves them open to imposition and deception. The apparatus of theological seduction is always at hand. The language of the apostle implies:
1. That there were errorists either at Ephesus or elsewhere, identified with the Christian communion, marked by "the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive." It is a mere dream to suppose that the primitive Church was perfectly pure either in doctrine or practice. The apostle's farewell address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus anticipated the rise of serious error (Acts 20:29).
2. That such "false teachers" were marked by selfishness, deceit, and malignity. This is the character which the apostle usually ascribes to such men (Romans 16:17, Romans 16:18; Colossians 2:18; Galatians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 2:17). Error is, therefore, not harmless, though it may appear to be the mere sword-play of a speculative temperament. False teachers are not innocent. Yet our judgment in all cases of this sort must be exercised with charity and meekness, because men may be better than their creed, and may be influenced by the sounder parts of it.
3. That Satan often succeeds in seducing the unwary by the dexterous tricks of such teachers, who cunningly mingle the truth with such error as robs it of its healing virtues.—T.C.
Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:16
The true method and conditions of Christian growth.
The apostle sees the conditions of Christian stability in a faith that worketh by love—the love being at once the sphere and the means of our spiritual growth. The expressive figure used by the apostle sets forth several important truths concerning the Church and its development.
I. THE SOURCE OF ITS GROWTH—CHRIST THE HEAD. As the Church is a spiritual body, so the characteristics of the natural body are found in it. It is a body divinely framed as truly as the natural body, and designed to bring greater glory to God than the body which types it. Its Head is the Lord himself. It has its being and form in him, as well as all its nurture, such as its life and light, grace and joy, strength and fruitfulness; it depends upon the Head for subsistence and for safety; it is united to the Head by a bond that is both close and indissoluble.
II. THE AGENT OF ITS GROWTH—THE HOLY SPIRIT. For "by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:12). As the one spirit of man wields at will all the functions of the body, and concentrates the various members upon its purposes as they arise, so the Holy Spirit gives each member of the mystic body its peculiar action and power in the divinely appointed diversity which contributes to its eventual unity.
III. THE RELATION OF THE MEMBERS TO EACH OTHER. "The whole body is fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth." Each member is in relation with all other members as well as with the Head. Each is dependent upon the other. No member can dismiss another as useless; none is so great as not to be indebted to the least. "God has tempered the body together." Now, just as the parts of the human frame are necessarily of different functions, and set, some in superior, some in inferior, places, yet all act together in the fullest sympathy; so all the members of Christ's body must keep rank and order, acting within their own sphere with due wisdom, harmony, and love, the eye not doing the work of the hand, nor the hand the work of the foot, but abiding each in his own calling.
IV. THERE IS AN INDIVIDUAL ACTION OF EACH MEMBER, "According to the effectual working in the measure of every part." Each must do its own proper work, according to its position. Just as a man is strong in the faculty which he most exercises, so the member who is strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus becomes individually efficient according to the operation of that grace. One member is thus apt to teach, another to convince, another to counsel, another to stimulate.
V. THE CHANNELS OF SUPPLY—"THE JOINTS AND BANDS"—ARE THE WORD AND ORDINANCES. They convey grace from the Head to the members. The Word of God is the grand means, in connection with baptism and the Lord's Supper. These two ordinances are, indeed, the two appointed symbols of the Church's unity—baptism representing the first action of the Holy Spirit in fitting the members for the body; the Lord's Supper, the drinking into one Spirit, who makes the table a visible center of union to these brought out of the world.
VI. THE ELEMENT OR SPHERE IN WHICH THE GROWTH OF THE BODY IS EFFECTED. "Love." It is not asserted that we are to grow in love, but that in love, as the sphere of growth, we are to grow in all the elements of perfection. That love which follows the things which make for peace and edification, and bears the infirmities of others, has peculiar faculties for edifying the body of Christ.
VII. THE RESULT OF GROWTH. "It maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself." The increase is twofold—in the addition of members to the Church, and in the growth of the members in all the elements of spiritual perfection.—T.C.
The moral characteristics of heathenism.
The apostle warns the saints of Ephesus not to walk in the ways of paganism. These ways are vividly described.
I. THE HEATHEN WALK IN THE VANITY OF THEIR MIND. This vanity has its intellectual and its moral side.
1. Intellectually, it represents the waste of speculative power upon questions of the profoundest importance, ending usually in pantheism, atheism, or polytheism. The pagan intellect groped in vain amidst the darkness for light upon duty, upon providence, upon the future life of man. The heathen became vain in their imaginations.
2. Morally, the heathen walked in a vain show, looked for happiness in riches, honors, and power, and pursued foolish or wicked courses in the effort to attain these objects of desire. The end of such a walk must always be disappointing.
II. EXPLANATION OF THIS VAIN LIFE. It is twofold.
1. It arises out of intellectual obscuration. "Having the understanding darkened." Not that the natural genius of the heathen was obscured, for the world must always admire the classics of Greece and Rome; but there was all but utter extinction of spiritual light in the heathen mind. There was no saving knowledge. The god of this world had blinded their minds, and their growing apostasy entailed a judicial blindness which issued in utter darkness.
2. It arises out of moral estrangement from God, "being alienated from the life of God." There could be no light in the mind, because there was no life in the heart. The life of God is not his own life, but the life he lives in his people, which is manifest in their faith and holiness; but the heathen were estranged from that life, so as to have no liking for it and no inclination to it, but rather a love for the life of sin.
(1) This moral estrangement is caused by "the ignorance that is in them;" for where men are ignorant of God, they have no desire after him, no faith in him, no communion with him, no living according to his will.
(2) And this ignorance, in turn, springs out of "the hardness of their hearts." The callous heart was proof against all impression from without, and thus kept the mind uninformed or apathetic, till heart and mind were both buried in the gloom of hopeless paganism.
III. ULTIMATE RESULTS OF THIS VAIN LIFE. "Who being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness to work all uncleanness with greediness." When the hardness of the heart has followed close upon the steps of the darkened mind, conscience loses its power; it becomes seared as with a hot iron; the sense of sin is lost; the fear of guilt dies out; and now the way is open to measureless moral disorder. The sinner plunges into all forms of impurity, with the spirit of covetousness, as if he could never be satisfied with sinning, but sought ever new enormities of lawless desire. This is, in brief, the tremendous picture of heathenism given by an inspired apostle.—T.C.
In Christ the transition effected from the old man to the new man.
The apostle represents "believers" as having "learned Christ," not as having learned about him, but as having reached the true knowledge of him, having heard his voice and having been taught by him, as to "the truth as it is in Jesus"—a truth that carried them far apart from the frightful license of the heathen. We now understand the exact import of this truth. It is to put off the old man and put on the new man. It is, in a word, sanctification.
I. THE NECESSITY OF THIS TRANSFORMATION. The question might naturally arise—Had not the saints at Ephesus already put off the old man and put on the new man? Were they not already true believers? Why should they be asked to do it again? We must keep in view the distinction that the apostle clearly maintains in this familiar figure between "the old man" and "the new man." Sometimes he refers to our legal condition, sometimes to our moral condition. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:14). In this Epistle the apostle exhorts the Christians to put off the old man; but in the Epistle to the Colossians he says the old man has been already put off (Colossians 3:9). In this Epistle the exhortation is given, "Put on the new man" (verse 24); but elsewhere that which is new has been already accomplished (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are exhorted again to be "transformed" (Romans 12:2) and "renewed" (verse 23); but we are elsewhere said to be already "transformed" and "renewed" (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is necessary to mark this distinction, that we may not be led aside or into that mysticism which seems to confound justification with sanctification. It is the moral, not the legal, condition that is here in question. It is worse than a mistake to say that we ought not to trouble ourselves about sin, because the new man cannot sin, and that sin comes from the old man, who has been already crucified and put off. This theory makes the work of the Holy Spirit altogether unnecessary.
II. THE NATURE OF THIS TRANSFORMATION. This is evident from the contrast between the old man and the new man.
1. The old man represents corrupt nature, and is called "old" because it is original as opposed to what is new. It precedes what is new. Its character is vividly pictured by the apostle: "waxing corrupt according to the lusts of deceit." There is a progressive moral disintegration, which is inconsistent with the life of God or the happiness of man. The moral nature goes to pieces under the action of this corruption. Then it finds its natural development in" lusts of deceit." These lusts are deceitful, for they promise pleasure and bring pain; they promise liberty and bring bondage; they promise secrecy and bring shame; they promise impunity and bring retribution. Christians are well taught to put off this old man.
2. The new man represents the new nature, with its renewed intellect, its renewed affections, its renewed will. It has been "created after God in the righteousness and holiness of truth;" that is, in the righteousness and holiness which belong to the truth, or which are its essential products. Observe:
(1) That the new man is a creation, as man was a creation at the beginning. "We are God's workmanship" (Ephesians 2:10).
(2) The new man is in God's image, as the first man was in God's image. The apostle says, "According to the image of him who created him" (Colossians 3:10).
(3) The lineaments of the image of the new man are "righteousness"—that principle which guides him in all his relationships to God, man, and himself; and "holiness"—that principle of the spiritual life which has primary relation to God himself. Righteousness and piety, governed and guided by the truth, are the two great principles of spiritual perfection. The image of God is thus manifest in its intellectual and its moral side. All things, indeed, have become new to the believer—a new name, new relations, new honors, new possessions, new thoughts, new affections, new words, new actions—because he now acts from a new principle (Galatians 2:20), and is governed by a new end in life (1 Corinthians 10:31).—T.C.
Warning against falsehood.
As the saints had put off lying at their conversion, it was their duty henceforth to speak truth with their neighbor's. Consider the social duty prescribed and the motive to its faithful performance.
I. THE SOCIAL DUTY. "Speak every man truth with his neighbor." What is truth? There is truth as opposed to falsehood, which is an express intention to deceive. There is truth of character, which is opposed to insincerity. Both kinds of truth are manifest in three circumstances—in common conversation, in bearing testimony, in making and in keeping promises.
(1) Christians ought to be truthful in ordinary conversation, on the most trivial as well as on the most solemn occasions, because if a strict veracity is not maintained in the unguarded moments of life, it seldom remains long unshaken under a stress of temptation. The slightest deviation from it, either in the way of exaggeration or distortion, is inconsistent with the candor and simplicity which ought to adorn a Christian. The prohibition of falsehood is absolute in Scripture. "Ye shall not lie to one another" (Leviticus 19:11); "Lie not one to another" (Colossians 3:9); "Speak every man truth with his neighbor" (Zechariah 8:16).
(2) Truth must be maintained in bearing testimony. "A false witness speaketh lies" (Proverbs 6:19), and thus "soweth discord among brethren." It is the characteristic mark of a citizen of Zion that he will not take up a report against his neighbor (Psalms 15:3). No affection, no prejudice, no fear of man, ought to lead to a false, or partial, or misleading representation of facts. Perjury undermines society more than murder.
(3) Truth must be kept in the matter of promises. There must be a real intention to fulfill them when they are made. The citizen of Zion "speaketh the truth in his heart" (Psalms 15:2). Promises to men stand on the same footing with vows to God. "Better it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay "(Ecclesiastes 5:5). We must be as conscientious in performance as we are in promise. There may be cases, no doubt, in which the obligation is superseded by higher considerations. Herod was not bound by his oath to the daughter of Herodias. There may be cases likewise in which there is a providential disability to carry out a promise. But if we possess a full capacity of action, our duty is to fulfill our engagement. The citizen in Zion "sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not" (Psalms 15:4).
II. THE MOTIVE TO THIS SOCIAL DUTY. "Because we are members one of another." This is a religious consideration that is not designed to exclude other grounds of obligation to truthfulness.
1. But the principle here laid down applies equally to mankind in general.
(1) A lie is a breach of the social contract. It tends to make society impossible, for society only exists through the trust that man exercises in man. It turns that instrument of speech, which God has given us for our mutual comfort, into a means of estrangement. Therefore "the righteous man hateth lying" (Proverbs 13:5).
(2) It is a breach of the golden rule that we should do to others as we would have them do to us. Liars expect others to speak the truth to them, and complain when it is not done. Therefore truth is what every man has a right to expect and desire from another. We have no more right to deceive our neighbor than we have a right to defraud him.
(3) It destroys the comfort and peace of society. What a picture of its effects is in Jeremiah 9:4, Jeremiah 9:5!—"Take ye heed every one of his neighbor, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will walk with slanders. And they will deceive every one his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity."
(4) It prepares the way for further demoralization of character.
2. The principle here laid down specially applies to Christians. They are not only members of Christ, but of one another. Chrysostom supposes the impossibility of the eye lying to the foot or the foot to the eye, in the presence of danger. Thus it would be equally unnatural, by the very law of their union, as members one of another, that believers should deceive one another by falsehood. The consideration of this membership suggests a relation
(1) to that God the Father who is "a God of truth" (Deuteronomy 32:4), who "is not a man that he should lie" (Numbers 23:19), who gave oath and promise as "the two immutable things, in which it is impossible that God should lie" (Hebrews 6:18);
(2) to that Savior who is the Truth as well as the Life—"the faithful and true Witness"—having "no guile found in his mouth;"
(3) and to that Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17), and has given us the Scriptures of truth.
1. Let believers be careful as to truth. "If any man seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue"—particularly from lying—"that man's religion is vain." Let them pray with the psalmist, "Remove far from me the way of lying." Let them not tolerate liars in their society.
2. Mark how religion tends to promote the well-being and comfort of society. Truth is the cement of society.
3. Remember that the devil is the father of liars (John 8:44), and that "whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" shall not enter the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 22:15).—T.C.
Ephesians 4:26, Ephesians 4:27
Restraints upon anger
The apostle teaches that we are not to allow the irritations or exasperations of life to become the occasion of sin, that we are not to cherish anger, and that we are not to give scope to Satan by temper which may open the heart to those passions of hatred and revenge that are identified with his operations. The passage teaches—
I. TEXT THERE IS AN ANGER THAT IS NOT SINFUL. This affection is, indeed, implanted in our nature for righteous ends. It arms the passions quickly against evil, and operates with the force and effectiveness of an instinct. If it is mingled with malice, it becomes sinful; but if it is associated with a holy disposition, it is safe and good. Jesus regarded the conduct of the Jews "with anger" (Mark 3:5). Anger is often attributed to God himself (Psalms 7:11), but it can have no sinful elements in the Divine mind. It is, in fact, with anger as it is with hatred. It is a shallow prejudice to shrink from the name and the thing which it signifies, as if it were all and only evil. Jesus hated as well as loved. The two emotions hang for their life upon each other. Love cannot be unless a hearty hate of evil lie beneath. They are but the two sides of one sublime emotion which turns life, so often insipid and dull, into a vivid, balanced, and joyful activity. So it is with anger. Under the inspiration of a holy nature, it may flash forth with a marvelous power against wickedness, untruth, and dishonor.
II. THAT THERE IS AN EASY PASSAGE FROM WHAT IS RIGHT TO WHAT IS WRONG IN THE INDULGENCE OF ANGER. "Be ye angry and sin not." This command implies that it is an easy matter to sin in our anger, and a hard thing to be angry and not to sin. The path of duty affords firm footing to those who keep it; but it is very narrow, and there are dangerous pitfalls on either side. Anger is, therefore, not an operation to be rashly or lightly performed, even when it is a very evil thing against which our displeasure is directed. If it comes often and comes easily, you may suspect the danger that lurks in it. Take care, above all things, that the zeal for righteousness may not plunge you into hatred of your neighbors. "If a glass bottle be full of clean water, though it be stirred there ariseth no mud; but if mud arise when it is stirred, the water was foul in the bottom: so is the spirit of a man foul within that, being stirred, showeth distemper." "Be angry and sin not." You cannot be angry and suffer not. Just as a cannon when discharged recoils heated and begrimed within by the fiery blast that issued from its mouth, the spirit of man is similarly affected even by those discharges of anger that are directed against the most wicked deeds.
III. THAT IT IS HARD TO AVOID SIN IN OUR ANGER IF WE INDULGE IT FOR AN UNDUE LENGTH OF TIME. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Anger may flash suddenly out from the lips of a good man, but "it resteth in the bosom of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). There is a limit even to righteous anger; not that we are not to have a continual anger against sin; but we are not to carry our anger against a brother into the next day. We are not to harbor resentment or keep it rankling in our bosom, lest it should change into downright hatred or revenge.
IV. THAT SATAN TAKES ADVANTAGE OF OUR ANGER TO DO US GREAT HURT. There is an old Latin proverb, "He who goes angry to bed has the devil for a bedfellow." Anger, if cherished, supplies a motive to yield to his evil suggestions. The devil is in full sympathy with a resentful spirit. Yet, though he wields the resources of this world as its god; though he is incarnate in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; he has no power to enter any heart except with the will of its owner. Let not Christians, then, allow that heart, which is the temple of the Holy Ghost, to be opened, in a moment of holy anger, to the intrusive suggestions of the evil one. The counsel of the apostle is well calculated to promote the comfort and the usefulness of life. Let Christians take care that their anger is not without cause, or without measure, or without justice, and that it should not be so inconsistent with love that we cannot pray for those against whom it is directed.—T.C.
Warning against theft: a plea for honest work.
It may seem strange that such an admonition should be addressed to believers. It is no more strange than admonitions against fornication. "Flee fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:18). It is a warning against dishonesty, which often assumes insidious disguises that conceal the true character of the injury done to our neighbors.
I. THEFT IS ONE OF THOSE SINS WHICH OUGHT NOT EVEN TO BE NAMED AMONG CHRISTIANS. It springs out of the deep selfishness of the heart. It is a breach of the great commandment of love—that love "which worketh no ill to his neighbor"—and proves that the world has a great hold upon the heart that can plan the deed of dishonesty.
II. THE REMEDY PRESCRIBED TO PREVENT THEFT IS HONEST WORK. "Let him labor, working with his hands."
1. God is our Employer. He has appointed our work and he requires it at our hands (Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 4:11). It ought to be part of our worship. The gospel does not forbid our making an honest gain, nor does it countenance any indifference to our mere earthly advantage. It gives no encouragement to asceticism.
2. Idleness is inconsistent with Christian life and leads to many dangers. "Idleness occasions poverty, brings men to want, increases their necessities; and then they betake themselves to indirect and unlawful means to supply them." There were persons at Thessalonica who were "working not at all, but were busybodies" (2 Thessalonians 3:11). Christianity gives no encouragement to monkish idleness. It was designed for a busy world.
3. It must be honest work. "Working with his hands the thing which is good." We may not steal, either to enrich others or ourselves. We may not seek our own advantage by oppression or injury to others, or by the gain of callings dishonoring to our Christian profession. "The matter of our alms must be goods righteously gotten; otherwise it is robbery, not righteousness."
4. It is work for the benefit of others as well as ourselves. "That he may have to give to him that needeth." We are not to amass wealth for our own enjoyment, but that we may supply the necessities of others. There are some who cannot work. Their wants we are bound to supply, for no man liveth to himself. "The righteous man giveth and spareth not" (Proverbs 21:26). "Who would not rather be a laborer than a loiterer, seeing the sluggard is so miserable a wretch, but the just man so-happy and able to do good works?"—T.C.
Two kinds of speech.
The apostle gives us a lesson on the use of the tongue.
I. NEGATIVELY: WE ARE TO UTTER NO CORRUPT SPEECH.
1. It argues a corrupt heart; for "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:19). It is thus the tongue "defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature" (James 3:6). It is "out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34).
2. Corrupt speech is a fearful perversion of the noble faculty of speech with which God has endowed us. It is a melancholy fact that "out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing" (James 3:10).
3. Corrupt speech has the power of destruction. It takes root outside of us, perhaps in some young heart, which it "sets on fire of hell." How true it is that "death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21)!
4. Corrupt speech is irrevocable. No words of ours may be able to undo the mischief caused by it.
5. Corrupt speech is reserved for the fire of judgment. (Matthew 12:1-50.)
II. POSITIVELY: WE ARE TO USE EDIFYING SPEECH. "That which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
1. Eddying speech. It must be speech that will tend to build up the hearers in faith, holiness, and wisdom. It must be salutary speech, calculated to improve both heart and mind, tending to make men wiser and better.
2. It must, as the original words signify, be speech guided according to the needs of men. We must consider the different dispositions, views, and wants of those we converse with, so as to speak with effect. We should not "cast our pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6), nor "speak in the ears of a fool who will despise the wisdom of our words" (Proverbs 23:1-35. Proverbs 23:9), but rather use a happy dexterity in accommodating religious discourse to different persons and occasions. A word in season may be blessed to the conversion of a soul. Milton says, "A word has changed a character, and a character has changed a kingdom."
3. The design and effect of such discourse is "that it may minister grace unto the hearers." It discovers the grace that is in our own hearts, and is the means of working it in the hearts of others. Therefore "our speech ought to be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that we may know how to answer every man' (Colossians 4:6).—T.C.
Sin and ingratitude of grieving the Spirit of God.
The apostle, as if to show the serious consequence of corrupt speech in a Christian, says, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." That would be a most deplorable result.
I. CONSIDER WHAT IS IMPLIED IS THIS ACT.
1. It implies the holy personality of the Third Person of the Trinity. He is a Person as much as the Father and the Son?
2. It implies that the Holy Spirit is already a Dweller in the hearts of those who are capable of this act. We grieve those we love or those who love us. A very different term than "grief" would be applied in the case of unbelievers who are said to resist him.
3. The Holy Spirit represents himself as susceptible of grief or affront. Not that there is any break in the calm of the Godhead, but to signify that "he carrieth himself toward us after the manner of a person grieved," as if he were a human being capable of grief. When we consider that it is he who applies to us the redemption procured by Christ; that it is he who, as the Spirit of holiness, works in us every pure thought, every chaste desire, every noble sentiment; that he dwells in our very bodies as his holy temple;—our unworthy conduct is manifest in its true light as a grieving of the Spirit. His love is wounded as well as his holiness offended.
4. The effect of our "grieving" him is to lead to the suspension of his influences, to the withdrawal of his comforts, to the temporary loss of our assurance. In a word, he will withhold the manifestations of his presence.
II. CONSIDER THE ARGUMENT BY WHICH THE APOSTLE ENFORCES THE EXHORTATION. "In whom ye have been sealed till the day of redemption." It is ingratitude on our part to grieve him upon whom our salvation depends. The apostle does not make an appeal to our fears as if the Spirit would leave us, but to our gratitude, as any corrupt speech or action on our part would wound the heart of our best friend. The passage implies our perfect security till the day of judgment.
1. There is no hint of apostasy in the passage, or of the Spirit's departure.
2. The term "sealing" implies security. "A security that may be broken at any time, or the value of which depends on man's own responsive fidelity, is no security at all."
3. The sealing is spoken of as a past act: "Ye have been sealed." Thus their perseverance in grace was secured.
4. The security lasted beyond death: "till the day of redemption." The apostle never regards the day of death as marking the day of final security, but rather fixes it for that day which completes the redemption in the rejoining of body and soul in their changeless incorruptibility.—T.C.
Malicious and revengeful feeling.
The apostle commands us to put away five forms of it along with the temper out of which they spring.
I. BITTERNESS. This points, not to mordant speech merely, but to a sour, irritable, splenetic temperament, which places a man in an attitude of constant antagonism with his fellow-men. It argues want of love and consideration for others. Its effects are
(1) to spoil our own comfort;
(2) to excite the hatred of others;
(3) to destroy our influence for good.
II. WRATH. This suggests the fierce mental excitement that springs out of bitterness. It is "a fever in the heart, and a calenture in the head, and a fire in the face, and a sword in the hand, and a fury all over." Wrath is sinful because it springs from want of love, from misunderstanding, and from pride (Proverbs 21:24).
III. ANGER. This is a more settled habit of the spirit. There is an anger that is lawful (Ephesians 4:26), so far as it proceeds from a lawful cause, is directed to a lawful object, and is guided to a lawful issue. But the anger here is altogether sinful. It is an anger
(1) that is accompanied with hatred;
(2) that breaks out into curses (Psalms 106:33);
(3) that is excited by the wrong done to ourselves rather than by the dishonor done to God;
(4) that is long cherished;
(5) that unfits us for holy duties.
We ought to put it away from us, because
(1) God forbids it (Colossians 3:8);
(2) because it disturbs both mind and body;
(3) because it is folly as well as sin (Proverbs 14:17, Proverbs 14:29);
(4) because it may lead to eternal ruin.
IV. CLAMOR. This is the cry of strife; the noisy, impetuous brawling, which gives outlet to the dark hostility within.
V. EVIL-SPEAKING. This points to the license of speech which wounds the reputation of others. It is an outrage alike upon truth and charity.
VI. MALICE. This marks the rooted enmity out of which all the five forms of evil naturally spring. It has been remarked that their genealogical relationship is manifest in the very order of their mention: "Acerbity of temper exciting passion, that passion matured into strong indignation, that indignation throwing itself off in indecent brawling, and that brawling darkening into libel and abuse, a malicious element lying all the while at the basis of these flagrant enormities." We are commanded to put them all away.
1. They find their true place among the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).
2. They are not only inconsistent with but opposite to the nine graces of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; and their indulgence in any degree by Christians has the effect of grieving the Spirit.
3. They are inconsistent with that worthy walk which belongs to the vocation with which we are called (Ephesians 4:1).—T.C.
The benevolent and forgiving temper.
Instead of bitterness, there ought to be kindness; instead of wrath, anger, clamor, and evil-speaking, there ought to be tender-heartedness; instead of malice, a loving and hearty forgiveness.
I. KINDNESS. It is a suggestive idea that our English word "kind" is derived from kinned, as marking the affection of kindred.
1. Consider how it is to be manifested.
(1) By desiring one another's good (1 Timothy 2:1);
(2) by rejoicing in one another's prosperity (Romans 12:15);
(3) by pitying one another's miseries (Romans 12:15);
(4) by helping one another's necessities (1 John 3:17, 1 John 3:18).
2. The motives to kindness.
(1) The example of God himself, who is said to be "kind to the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35);
(2) it is a commanded duty;
(3) we are brethren both in the flesh and in the spirit. A kindly spirit without a touch of censoriousness or harshness greatly recommends true religion.
II. TENDER-HEARTEDNESS. This expression is in the original closely allied to "bowels of mercy" (Colossians 3:12). It implies a compassionate sense of the miseries and infirmities of others. It is to interpret in the best sense the injunction of the apostle: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Philippians 2:4). The ties of nature are not cancelled by Christianity, but strengthened by it. We ought to be ready at all times to soothe the sorrows, to remove the miseries, to solve the doubts, of our neighbors. It is a temper highly recommended in Scripture (Luke 6:36; 1 Peter 3:8). An unmerciful spirit is declared to be inconsistent with the love of God in the soul: "Whoso … shutteth his bowels of compassion .. how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 John 3:17). We ought to follow the example of our heavenly Father, who is rich in mercy, and whose tender mercies are over all his works; and of his dear Son Jesus Christ, who was often moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36), and, as the High Priest of our profession, cannot but be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 6:15).
III. THE FORGIVING SPIRIT. "Forgiving one another, even as God also in Christ forgave you." These words imply:
1. That Christians will often do to one another much that needs forgiveness. They are "of like passions with other men," beset by infirmities of temper, or apt to come into collision with others either in a way of opinion or of interest. Faults will be committed, offence will be given.
2. That it is a Christian. duty to forgive others. Our Lord gave repeated injunctions respecting it (Matthew 6:14; Luke 17:4).
3. Our forgiving our brethren must be a certain factor in our own prayer for Divine forgiveness.
4. The motive or measure of our forgiveness is to be the very forgiveness of God himself. Note:
(1) It is God who forgives; it is an act of his grace (Ephesians 1:7).
(2) He does it in Christ, not merely for his sake, but in him as our Mediator.
(3) It is a past act. Believers are forgiven in Christ in the very moment of their conversion.
(4) How miserable we should be without it!—God angry with us; hell under our feet; the very blessings of life a curse to us.
(5) How happy we are with this forgiveness! God will never condemn you nor remember your sins; all things will be blessed to you; the love of God the guarantee of your final glorification.—T.C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The unity of the Church.
The doxology has just died away with its ascription of glory to God in the Church throughout all ages, and now the apostle turns from his intercession to admonish the Ephesian Christians about the necessity of cultivating lowliness of mind and mutual consideration, that in the Church there may be preserved "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." It is plain from the verses that follow that Paul's conviction was that the Divine glory could only be manifested in a Church thoroughly united. To the all-important subject of the unity of the Church we are consequently led.
I. CONSIDER THE UNIFYING FACTS, (Ephesians 4:4-6.) Paul here lays before the Ephesians certain great facts which are meant to contribute to this unity of the Church. These facts we had better enumerate in barest outline.
1. There is one body. This refers to the solidarity of believers, who, so far from being independent units, are dependent parts of one great organism of which Christ is the Head. The unity of the Church is thus shown to be organic, and lying deep down in the nature of things.
2. There is one Spirit. For to the existence of a body there must be a spirit. The body, the Church, is pervaded by the Spirit, the Holy Ghost. It would be a corpse but for this indwelling.
3. There is one hope in all the called ones. The unity of hope is surely a remarkable fact. All the called ones have their faces set towards the future as the golden age, when their ideals shall be realized. Christianity is the religion of hope, the one religion which denies that the former times were better than these, or that the golden age is behind us.
4. One Lord. Jesus reigns as the Church's living Head. He as Mediator is the Source of all authority in the Church. His lordship or headship is a fact which calls for unity.
5. One faith. This asserts that the truth is one. Error is manifold, but the truth as it is in Jesus is one. It seems to our latitudinarian age almost heresy to affirm the unity of the Christian faith. But seeing that its substance consists in facts, it would be madness to relegate these to the region of uncertainty.
6. One baptism. This is baptism into the one Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19), so that the Divine Name unifies the baptized believers. "The doctrine of baptism" is reduced to a significant unity thereby.
7. "One God and lather of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all" (Revised Version). This is the seventh and last of the unifying facts. The fatherhood of God, all-embracing, all-pervading, speaks of family unity and rebukes all discord. In presence of such facts the wonder is that division could be entertained.
II. CONSIDER THE UNIFYING GIFTS. (Verses 7-12.) More has been done towards the unity of the Church than confront believers with unifying facts, even in their sevenfold perfection. The ascended Savior has bestowed unifying gifts upon his believing people. We need not tarry over the humiliation by which Christ secured them—a humiliation down to the lower parts of the earth, and involving the tenanting of the tomb and the region of the dead. We hasten to the glorious gifts themselves, which come out of the hands of the ascended and glorified Christ. And here we have:
1. Apostles. We may well restrict the term to the selected witnesses of our Lord's resurrection, the noble band who wrought most earnestly for the unity of the Church.
2. Prophets. The inspired ones, whose inspiration was always on the lines of Christian unity; for the will of God which they conveyed to men is that believers should be one.
3. Evangelists. Men like Timothy or Apollos, who go forth with the one message, thereby promoting unity in the Church of God. The gospel is not a manifold, as we have seen, but a unity, and he who proclaims it with simplicity and earnestness contributes thereby to the unity of the Church.
4. Pastors and teachers. These gifts are less special, and consequently more important. True pastors, true teachers for God, will aim at "the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ." The note of a Divine gift is the desire to promote the all-important unity. Is it not a glorious thought that orders of men have been established by Christ for this special purpose of promoting the unity of the Church?
III. CONSIDER THE UNIFYING DEVELOPMENT. (Verses 13-16.) The unifying process is to be educational and so progressive The unity will not spring full-grown and panoplied like Minerva from the head of Jove, but it will grow, as knowledge grows and kindly feeling, "from more to more." And in this patient development Jesus is to be our Ideal, and his fullness and perfection the goal for which we strive. Taking him as our Standard of excellence, we are to grow up into him in all things; and if we do, unity must result. And here we should observe:
1. Our development will carry us beyond childish vacillation. (Verse 14.) For there is nothing so detrimental to unity as inability to make up our minds about the essential doctrines of the faith. If we are tossed about like vessels unmoored, if we are a prey to designing and cunning men, we cannot contribute anything to the unity of the Church.
2. Our development will enable us to be communicative and so far edifying. (Verses 15, 16.) For as we grow in knowledge of Christ we learn to speak the truth in love. A speechless member of the community cannot contribute much to unity and edification. We are bound to be witnesses. And loving language about the Lord promotes the glorious unity. It grows as the organism grows in mutual adaptation, strength, and power. The Church, thus growing in the knowledge of the living Head and pervaded by the one Spirit of life and of love, advances towards the perfection which Christ has shown us. Hatless and Monod, in writing on these verses, refer to the indeterminate character of the passage as to the realization of the perfect state being in this world or beyond it. But the emphasis is laid by Paul upon the fact of development, and how each individual may contribute to the consummation in the unity of the Church. If each of us considers his duty in the matter of edifying that body of which, as a believer, he forms a part, the glorious development will make its steady progress towards the perfection to be realized at last. It is surely worth an effort to contribute something to such a purpose.—R.M.E.
Raw material for Christian unity.
It comes upon us with something like a surprise, the exhortations of the present passage after the glories which have gone before. But they are instructive in that they bring out the raw material out of which Paul hoped to manufacture Christian unity. It is evident that he despaired of none, even supposing they had been guilty of the gravest crimes and characterized by the deepest pollution. Does not his grand hope rebuke our faint-heartedness?
I. CONSIDER THE MORAL BEACONS HERE BROUGHT BEFORE THE EPHESIANS. (Ephesians 4:17-20) Paul presents in the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans a frightful picture of the immorality of the heathen. He had studied the question carefully, as a missionary to the heathen must. He here gives a briefer analysis, but one exceedingly vivid and instructive. The terrible fact was that many of the Gentiles had "given themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness," and Paul gives us here the reason of it. They had got utterly "hardened" and "past feeling." This was through their ignorance of the holy God, from whose life, with all its purifying power, they were consequently alienated. They had nothing for it in these circumstances but to follow the glimmer of their own darkened understandings, and to walk in the vanity of their minds. It was a case of alienation and isolation from the only Source of purity and of life. Paul consequently holds up the licentious Gentiles as beacons to warn the Ephesians away from the paths of sin, that they may walk worthily as the children of God.
II. CONSIDER THE SPIRITUAL RENEWAL TO WHICH HE SUMMONS THEM'. (Verses 21-24.) The unconverted and lascivious heathen only showed to what excess of sin the old nature within each of us will proceed, if it be not put away. The beacons show the possibility of every sinful soul if it be not converted unto God. Hence Paul counsels the Ephesians to "put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Revised Version). The "old man" is the sinful nature which we all possess as children of Adam; the "new man" is the better nature which God creates within us. But this new nature does not assert itself as new faculties and new powers, but utilizes the understanding and affections and will, which it finds already within us, so that according to proper mental laws we experience our renewal. The means by which this renewal is brought about are Christ and his offices and benefits; in other words, it is effected by "the truth as it is in Jesus." The moral manifestation is in "righteousness and holiness of truth."
III. CONSIDER THE SERIOUS SINS AGAINST WHICH HE WARNS THE EPHESIANS. (Verses 25-29.) It is evident, from the way in which he mentions them, that they prevailed in heathenism, and that the Ephesians had been previously guilty of them. They bring out vividly the raw material with which he had to work, and they should sustain the hope of missionaries still.
1. Falsehood. It is evident that the veracity of the heathen could not be calculated on; and what was true in Paul's time is true still. The testimony of missionaries is to this effect, that you cannot rely on the word of the heathen. An interesting fact may here be quoted in illustration. "A Christian Santal was once going through several villages to make an extensive purchase of rice. In the first of the villages he got part of what he required, in the second also he got some baskets, and so forth, all for cash payments. But when he had brought out his money at the last village, he saw that he had not enough. He was twelve shillings short of the sum necessary to pay what he had bought. It is a thing unheard of among the Santals to give any goods on credit, so that the man saw that he had no alternative but to ask the seller to take back twelve shillings' worth of the rice. Meantime the seller had perceived that he had to do with a Christian, and as this impression was confirmed on his directly putting the question, he declared, without more ado, that he would be content in the mean time with the partial payment, and would trust to the buyer that he would soon bring him the balance. Unfortunately, the tax-collector came next day to the village to collect the dues. The man who had given his rice on credit was not able to pay his dues fully at once, and told, by way of excuse, what had befallen him. But the official deemed it incredible that a Santal should part with his goods without getting the money for them. His suspicion was confirmed by the fact that the man could give neither the name nor the residence of his debtor, and only took his stand upon this, that he was a Christian, and would certainly pay the twelve shillings ere long. Even the other villagers did not believe the story, and the collector sentenced the supposed liar to a suitable measure of stripes. A few days after, that Christian returned and paid his debt. His creditor had scarcely recovered from his undeserved ill treatment; but he forgot his pains through the joy of being able to vindicate himself and his honorable debtor before his neighbors and acquaintances. He called them all together and said triumphantly, 'You laughed at me lately because I trusted the word of a Christian. There he is. Look well at him. I have not dunned him for his debt. I knew neither his name nor where he lives, and yet he has come to pay me the twelve shillings.' "This interesting circumstance brings out at once the falsehood that exists in heathenism and the veracity fostered by the gospel. Before leaving this first sin, however, it is well to notice on what Paul grounds his appeal for veracity. It is on our being "members one of another." "Truth-speaking," says Mozley, "is not a universal isolated obligation which we are under—a law to say truth under all circumstances, and in whatever relations we stand to the other party; but it supposes certain relations, viz. the ordinary relations of man with man, the natural terms of fellowship with man—that we are bound to perform all the offices of humanity to him, and to behave to him as a brother. When we speak of the certain and obvious obligation to sincerity, these are the relations which we suppose; and St. Paul places the duty of veracity upon its proper basis, and gives the law of truth its proper position in the frame and system of morals, when he assigns the duty of truth-speaking this large and deep source, this intelligible connection, and this inclusive rationale." We do not proceed further in the quotation, but he infers that the relations of man to man may so vary, as when a man turns out assassin, that we are under no obligation to tell truth to him, if it would further his diabolical designs.
2. Sinful anger. This is another sin which is prevalent among unregenerate men. Paul's appeal implies that there is such a thing as sinless anger. God is angry with the wicked, for example, every day. David, again, at the very time when he was calling on God to search him and to try him, could say calmly in the Divine presence, "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" (Psalms 139:21, Psalms 139:22). But a great deal of the anger indulged in, both in heathen and in Christian lands, is selfish passion, and so sinful anger. It is against this selfish phase Paul warns them, and as we are peculiarly open to assaults from Satan when thus angry, the Ephesians are warned in this connection not to give place to the devil.
3. Laziness. The heathen will not work if they can help it. They would rather steal than work. Hence the gospel has always had an important mission in the "exaltation of labor." The monks in the Middle Ages did immense service in this direction, and really prepared Europe for the vast development of modern industry. This is one great feature also of modern missions. They give an impulse to industry wherever they are established. But it is to be observed that "the apostle does not honor all industry: far from it. He always reprobates the covetous, money-getting spirit. Fie even says, 'The love of money is the root of all evil,' and he calls covetousness idolatry.... He admires industry, but it must be industry which is consecrated by the nature which he requires; for it is that of duty—when a man fulfils in the fear of God the task which is allotted to him." In the present instance he exhorts them to give up the laziness which would prompt a man to steal, and to work earnestly that they may be able to help others. Labor is exalted when disinterestedness enters in and consecrates it.
4. Filthy conversation. We need not tarry upon this. It is known to be one of the great trials of missionary life in heathen lands. What they hear is something awful. Some time since an enterprising and able young man disguised himself and spent some nights in the model lodging-houses of Glasgow, to report on the way in which they are conducted. His testimony was that it was not so much what he saw or smelt which gave him such pain, as what he heard. This exactly illustrates the point before us. Paul's ear, we may be sure, had been the avenue of exquisite torture as he heard "the filthy conversation of the wicked." He calls upon his converts, consequently, to cultivate a gracious and edifying discourse. It is by speaking that human usefulness is chiefly realized. Men are to be talked into better things (Romans 10:17).
IV. CONSIDER HIS WARNING AGAINST GRIEVING THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD. (Verse 30.) Now, if Paul's ears were grieved with the immoralities of heathenism, how much more must we believe will the Holy Spirit be offended! How needful that those in whose hearts he dwells should abstain from all appearance of evil, and so give no offence to the holy Guest! More especially should this be the case when he condescends to seal souls "unto the day of redemption." If he has come to abide with us forever, surely we ought not to trifle in his presence or to offend his pure and blessed Being!
V. LASTLY, CONSIDER HIS APPEAL FOE MUTUAL FORBEARANCE AND KINDLINESS. (Verses 31, 32.) He brings in the forgiveness of God to us as a reason why we should be forbearing and forgiving to one another. In this way he expects to bring the Ephesians, who bad been so unholy, into the glorious unity of Christian love. The material on which he worked was raw and rough indeed, but not worse than human nature still. But out of the roughest stone hewed from the quarry of nature Divine grace can make polished stones fitted for God's palace.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
I. TRANSITION FROM THE DOCTRINAL TO THE PRACTICAL. "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you." There is a similar transition at Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore." In both cases the "therefore" is the link of connection between doctrine and duty. In both cases the apostle follows up his exposition of doctrine by an affectionate enforcement of duty. In the other case his affectionate tone is caught from a consideration of the mercies of God. In the present case it is caught from a consideration of his own sufferings. He has already prayed for them as the prisoner of Christ Jesus. Now, he beseeches them as the prisoner in the Lord. If in the former expression the idea is more that the imprisonment was "caused" by Christ, in the latter it is more that it came to him, not as a wrong-doer, but as moving in the Christian sphere. Either way, he refers it to Christ. He might have commanded them as their apostle, who had received the mystery relating to them by revelation, but he rather besought them as the Lord's prisoner. It is well when the "official" can be lost sight in the "personal." Paul thought that he might urge those from whom he had had an affectionate parting to the performance of duty by the consideration of his chains (in their relation to Christ).
II. GENERAL EXHORTATION. "Walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." They were called, according to the foregoing part of the Epistle, to be sons, or members of the Christian family. Another aspect of it was that they were called to be citizens, or members of the Christian commonwealth. They were thus called when they accepted of Christ. But whether they were called to be sons or citizens, it was a "high" calling wherewith they were called. They had a great "Head" placed over them. It was in the working out of a great scheme that they were called. And the apostle's thought is that they were to bring their "walk" into some worthy correspondence with their "calling." "It is," said a Roman writer, "useful for cities that valiant men should (although it be false) believe themselves born of the gods, that their minds, thence bearing a confidence of their divine extraction, may more boldly undertake great enterprises, pursue them more earnestly, and hence accomplish them more happily, from the security the conceit produceth." It is by no conceit, but in sober truth, that as Christian believers we belong to a family, to a commonwealth of which God is the Head. And should not such a connection draw us away from what is mean and base, inspire us with noble thoughts, and incite us to noble actions?
III. SPECIAL EXHORTATION TO CHRISTIAN UNITY.
1. Disposition leading up to Christian unity. It is viewed as what should "attend" us in our Christian walk. That is to say, if we walk worthily of our calling, this is the disposition which we shall manifest "With all lowliness." This is of prime Importance with the apostle, for m the twelfth of the Romans, having set forth our duty toward God under the aspects of consecration to his service and separation from the world, he immediately says, "For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith." We have reason to be lowly before God. Even Christ, we know, cherished the spirit of lowliness, and commended it to us by his own example. He was lowly in respect of his creaturely nature. He was also content, as the Representative of mankind, to take whatever place the Father assigned him. He did not need to humble himself for sin, unless representatively (if it is proper to think of him as humbling himself for the sin with which he identified himself). We have reason to be lowly, because of having been personally involved in sin, and because of much remaining evil in our nature. And it is only in the way of faith, or in fellowship with Christ, that we have any Christian worth. And if we have thus reason to be lowly before God, shall we be arrogant toward others? Shall we not rather keep self in the background, in accordance with the precept, also in the twelfth of the Romans, "In honor preferring one another"? Let us, then, have all lowliness, such as becomes us as sinners before God, and such as becomes us in the various positions in life in which we are placed. "And meekness." With lowliness the apostle couples meekness; and we need not wonder at his doing it when the Master had done it before, with this difference, that meekness came first to his thought—"Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." Sleekness points to sufferings which have to be endured; we need not wonder, therefore, at it having a prominence in the Savior's thought. There are sufferings sent upon us with which others have not had to do. We are to bear ourselves meekly under them before God. We are not to be as though we challenged God's sovereignty, or wisdom, or goodness in sending them. And even when others have had to do with our sufferings, we can look past them to God, as David did when he said, "Let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him." "With long-suffering." This has reference to provocation received. There is provocation in the ordinary course of life. We suffer from the infirmities and faults of others. We may have to do, as Paul had, with "unreasonable and evil men." But we are to think specially here of there being provocation within the Church circle. There is provocation if we are ardent in a good cause and are associated with the apathetic, or if we see clearly the proper course to be pursued and are overborne by the ignorance of others, or if we are bearing our fair share of the common burdens while others are shirking them. There is provocation in a more positive form if we have to do with those who advance views or engage in movements which we must strongly condemn, or who are given to misrepresentation and abuse, or who in malice do not scruple to stir up strife. "Forbearing one another in love." The inward feeling with which we are to meet provocation is long-suffering; its outward manifestation is described as forbearing one another. The latter form of expression indicates that we have all our faults, and all need to be borne with. Forbearance is good for ourselves. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." Forbearance is good for those who give provocation. It gives them time for reflection. It is also a likely means by which they may be won to reason. It is heaping coals of fire on their heads. It is overcoming evil with good. Forbearance is good for the ends of a Christian society, in preventing unnecessary division, in promoting unity.
2. The nature of Christian unity. "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." In accordance with what has been said, this unity of the Spirit is, on the one side, a disinclination to obtrude self, and, on the other side, the power of bearing with others. In accordance with what is said of it here, as produced by the Spirit, this unity is the disposition to be guided by the Spirit, and to advance the end which the Spirit has in view in relation to the cause of Christ. This unity of the Spirit is to find expression in the bond of peace. The Roman Catholic Church claims to present this bond of peace in its entirety. For, first, it claims to be the unbroken organization of Christians all over the world, and shuts out from the Church of Christ all who do not enter its communion. We Protestants are not Christians; and therefore there is no break so far as we are concerned. And, secondly, it claims to have also the bond of peace, in freedom from internal division. We as Protestants refuse to acknowledge this claim. For, first, we differ from the Roman Catholic Church, in spite of its historic position, as to the essentials of salvation. And, secondly, its uniformity is not freely wrought of the Spirit, but results from unreasoning conformity to the law of the priest. It is suggested here that it may only be possible to attain to an imperfect realization of the bond of peace. We are to give diligence in this matter; but it does not entirely depend on ourselves. When we have done our best, the bond may be broken independently of us. Who are the breakers of the bond of peace?
(1) Those who are chargeable with defection. The bond of union in the Church is not what is supposed to be truth, but what can actually be made out to be truth from the Word of God. Those who are aside from this, whether they are in the majority or not, whether they conform to the language of the confession or not, are really the dividers. They necessitate those who have the leading of the Spirit giving their testimony 'to the truth and, it may be, dissenting from their brethren.
(2) Those who manifest an unchristian spirit toward brethren who differ from them. It is right that we should try to convince those whom we believe to be in error. But there is a way in which we are to do it, if we have the interests of truth and of unity at heart. "In meekness correcting them that oppose themselves, if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth." If we exhibit a temper that is not consistent with the truth, that may be as dividing as holding an erroneous position.
(3) Those who unnecessarily separate from a Christian society. The mere fact of separation from a particular ecclesiastical organization is not decisive of the sin of schism. Nor is the fact of error in a society necessarily a warrant for separating from it. We should be content to remain in the same society with brethren, even though we differ from them in many points, if we think that the great interests of the kingdom are being properly advanced. By those who value the continuance of the bond of peace it must be acknowledged that separation is an extreme step; and is only to be justified, in the case of those who separate, where it can be made out that the interests of religion are better served by the existence of a separate society.
(4) Those who claim to be the Church of God to the exclusion of other Christian societies. If there are Christian bodies that are really doing the work of Christ, though they do not join with us, or work according to our methods, we are bound to regard them as belonging to the Church of Christ, and to live in brotherhood with them. And to be arrogant and uncharitable towards them is breaking the bond of peace as really as though we were separating on insufficient grounds.
3. Grounds of Christian unity.
(1) Unities to which we are to be properly related. It is manifest that the apostle has studied to put these in a striking and memorable form. There is a threefold division, and there are three unities in each of the divisions.
(a) The Church itself is constituted a unity. "There is one body." Believers are not detached units, but, whatever they are by human denomination, by Divine constitution they are made a unity. They are not two or more organizations, between which there might be rivalry; they are only one organization. And how fitting that there should be sympathy between the various members of the body—that the eye should not say to the hand, "I have no need of thee," or, again, the head to the feet, "I have no need of you"? "And one Spirit." We are not merely constituted one body, but are animated by one Spirit. It is not as though we had a double or treble consciousness, hut being dwelt in by the one Spirit, we should be kept from divergence and led in the same direction. There is here ground, if we could get to it, for that unity described in John 17:20, "That they all may be one." "Even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling." The consummation is the same in essence to all. It is glory, or full and blessed fellowship with Christ. And how fitting that those who are to live with Christ throughout eternity should meantime as brethren "dwell together in unity"!
(b) How this unity is brought out. "One Lord." "In whatsoever notion we take the word 'Lord,' either as a prince over subjects, or as a master over servants, or as an owner of goods, or as a preceptor and president over disciples, or as a leader and captain to followers, or as a person singularly eminent above inferiors, he is according to all such notions truly our Lord." A body implies a head, and as our dependence on Christ is that of responsibility, he is truly our Lord. As united to the same Head, it becomes us to be in good brotherhood. This is his law (common it is), "Hereby shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." "One faith." We have all the same uniting bond to Christ, the same subjective disposition toward him. We all rely upon the atoning merits of his sacrifice. We all confide in him for what is needed to complete our salvation. We can all use the same language of trust; we can sing the same hymns; we can offer the same prayers. Being thus alike in the essential element of character, it is fitting that we should exhibit catholicity, that we should be free from all sectarian feeling. "One baptism." It is this which symbolizes our union by faith to Christ. Our unity has received visible manifestation. We have all been baptized into Christ. It is fitting, then, that we should live in good fellowship one with another.
(c) How this unity is sustained. "One God and Father of all." As the apostle has been speaking of Christians, we must not extend the range of this language beyond them. We can all say, "Our God," and "Our Father." "Who is over all." In his sovereignty he has an absolute right to dispose of all. This a father has to a limited extent over his children. "And through all." In his fatherly love he goes out to all, and pervades all with his gracious influences. So a father wishes to pervade his children with those sentiments of which he approves. "And in all." With the revelation of his fatherhood he blesses all. So a father would have his children to live in the sunshine of his love. In love of the brethren, then, we should be tenderly affectioned (or have natural affection) one to another. We must think of God as rejoicing in the peace of his Church, as a father rejoices to see good feeling maintained between those whom he has begotten.
(2) What diversity there is Christ has appointed. "But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ." It is a motive for unity.
(a) That we have all grace for which to be thankful. No one has been overlooked in the distribution. The humblest Christian has his grace as well as the greatest apostle.
(b) That the diversities of grace have not been arbitrarily appointed. They have been measured out (to a nicety, it is suggested by the language) by the great Distributer.
(c) That all the diversities are necessary to the grand unity which Christ has in his mind. It was on his ascension that he became Donor, or Distributer to men. "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." The conception is that he ascended as a conqueror. Satan, sin, and. death were in his triumphant train. On his victory over these, he gave "gifts" to men. These were the spoils of the battle-field, as it were, which he distributed among his followers. We are to think of them, in their special association with the Ascension, as the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of a finished redemption, the gift of a completed Bible, the gift of the Christian style of character, and, as we shall see presently, the gift of the gospel ministry. It was because he descended that he could do so much when he ascended. "Now this, he ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might flit all things." His descending into the lower parts of the earth points emphatically to the reality of his death. His body was not merely on the earth, but was received within the earth. His soul was not merely a dweller in an earthly body, but was received into Hades. He thus had the extremes in his experience, and therefore can fill all things, from the lowest depth to the highest height. He can especially, out of his own experience, be with his people in the grave and in Hades, and. thence carry them with him to the heights.
(3) The various ministering orders were especially his gifts.
(a) What these were. "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." Apostles. These were the highest functionaries in the Church. Functions were combined in them which were separated in others. They also possessed extraordinary qualifications.
(α) They had extraordinary administrative power. They had the care of the Churches generally (or widely), and. were a gift to the early Church in being a supreme authority in all matters of administration. Many questions would come up at the first about the right working of the Church, and they were there on the spot as though Christ had been there to settle them decisively.
(β) They had extraordinary teaching power. There were developments of doctrine without which the Church could not be established, and for a time the Church had in the apostles the gift of infallible exposition. It was thus exceptionally helped through the most critical period. It was especially in connection with the founding of Churches that the apostolate was exercised. And] in connection with this, ors its teaching side, the apostolate was separated into two offices.
(1) Prophets. These were inspired like the apostles, and seem to have come in after them, in the way especially of expounding apostolical teachings. While the apostles planted, the prophets watered. They would be useful to Churches, in the way of continuing the benefit when the apostles had to pass on to found others.
(2) Evangelists. These had the same itinerant character that the apostles and prophets had; but their distinctive feature was that they brought the gospel, especially as a message of pardon, to bear upon the ignorant, or careless, or inquiring. Philip did the work of an evangelist in directing the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ. They would be able to render valuable assistance to apostles in the founding of Churches. Christ still gives these to the Church, in the more or less distinctly recognized order of evangelists, i.e. men who have a special power in awakening the careless, as distinct from feeding believers with knowledge. He also gives them, in the order of missionaries, in so far as they have to do converting work.
There are added, in conjunction, pastors and teachers.
(1) These are in connection with Churches as settled, and as distinguished from the other orders are stationary.
(2) They are the ordinary office-bearers, after the extraordinary have ceased from the Church.
(3) They represent the two sides of the apostolate, without its infallibility and supremacy. The pastors represent the administrative side, the care which is to be exercised over members of a Church, similar to the care which the shepherd exercises over his flock. The teachers, again, represent the teaching side, the exposition which needs to be given of truth founded on the teachings of the Bible, and specially of Christ and his apostles. And, as it is not said as before, some, pastors, and some, teachers, but some, pastors and teachers, it is rightly held that there is contemplated a combination of the two functions in one order.
(b) For what end given. "For the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ."
(α) The ultimate end of the gifts is the perfecting of the saints. This is placed first, though we might have expected it last. For it is well to remember that all that is done in the Church or gifted for the Church is to be judged by this—how far it serves the perfecting of the saints. There is a perfect form after which nature strives; so there is a perfect form to which the saints are designed to come, and it is most emphatically the province of the Church to help saints toward their perfection. What that perfection is we shall see more particularly in the following verses.
(β) The gifts specified agree in being connected with a work of ministering. The apostolate, we know, was not a sinecure; it meant work, and to Paul it meant hard work and suffering. What Christ still continues to the Church implies the work of ministering to the souls of others, a work than which none should be more arduous.
(γ) The way in which the work of ministering is to reach the perfecting of the saints is by the building up of the body of Christ. To do the work of an evangelist is not enough. Men, after they have been converted, must be looked after. They must be brought into connection with the Church. And the Church must be thoroughly organized, must have all suitable institutions, must be strong and vigorous in its working, in order that the perfecting of the saints may go on. It follow
(1) as against the Plymouthists and others, that there is a special pastoral and teaching order in the Church; and
(2) there is this m the interests of unity, which is not broken by the diversity there is, seeing all are gifted to the Church by Christ.
(c) Goal up to which the gospel ministry has been given.
(α) Goal characterized as the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. "Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God" There is a difficulty with which we are confronted here. It has already been said in this paragraph (John 17:4) that Christians have "one faith." We must have some "beginning" of faith in us, else we cannot be numbered among the "all" here. How, then, can it be said that we are to have "the unity of the faith" as our goal? It is not that we are to attain unto the same "degree" of faith. For in our ultimate state there will be differences in the degree of faith, which is only to say that there will be differences in character (no factor therein being more important than faith). But, at the same time, it is true that all will come to a full-orbed faith, that all will have clearly brought out the grand characteristics of faith which are only dimly seen now. Again, it is true that all Christians have, to begin with, "one knowledge," the one practical knowledge of the Son of God. In our ultimate state, too, we shall vary in our capacity of knowing the love of Christ and appreciating the bearings of his work. But there is a full, rounded, satisfying knowledge to which we shall all come. In our present advancement our faith is not sufficient to exclude unbelief. We can only say, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." But our ultimate will be the expulsion of all unbelief. Our knowledge, too, is not so much one as to exclude all differences of opinion. But the unity with which we shall end will be one in which we shall see eye to eye, from which all difference of opinion will be excluded.
(β) Goal characterized as the full-grown man. "Till we all attain .. unto a full-grown man." In apposition with the foregoing, it is said (changing from the abstract to the concrete), "till we all attain .. unto a full-grown man." We have just seen that there is a unity with which we begin and another unity with which we end. Here it is implied that there is a state of infancy with which we begin and a state of manhood with which we end. And the goal here, too, is purposely viewed as a unity; for it is not said, "full-grown men," but "a full-grown man." We must, however, in order to this unity being attained, become individually full-grown men. And that suggests how much there is before Christians rise from the babe state up to the state of manhood. What a disparity in bulk, stature, strength, and generally in development, between the babe and a man in his prime! We can mark the increase that takes place from year to year. And so there is a goal of spiritual manhood, far away from the point where a man first believes in Christ. There are possibilities of attainment before us which we are slow to realize. God shows us in the lily how rapidly we may grow, and in the cedars of Lebanon how deep-rooted we may grow; in the plane tree he shows us how widespreading we may become, and in the olive tree how productive; in the lily and olive, too, how beautiful we may become, and in the pine forests what a healthfulness and pleasantness there may be about us. Here he teaches us the lesson of growth from the human body. When we see how a child is growing up, let us think how there should be a parallel to that in our spiritual life.'
(γ) Goal set before us in Christ. "Till we all attain … unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." If it was the abstract first, and then the concrete, it is now particularly the historical, it is a matter of infinite consequence that the goal for humanity has been reached by the representative Man. He has carried us, representatively, forward from our infantile state to our state of manhood. We can see before the throne, or on it, a representation of what by the inworking of Divine grace we are to become. Let us think of the character which he wrought out for us on earth, and as love is so much introduced by the apostle, let us think of that character as formed into its beauty under the formative principle of love. There is in Christ the representation of contemplative love. He contemplated whatever the Father showed him in nature, in human life, in the Holy Scriptures. In the stillness of his soul he communed with God through these, and these melted into him, they swallowed up his being. And as a consequence, what the world showed him was exposed to his mind, and could not pollute him. And if we are to attain to full stature in Christ, we must keep sabbath in our souls, we must keep out the distraction of the world, we must look upon and appreciate those glorious truths which, through the ages, God by his servants and his own Son has been setting before us. There is in Christ the representation of active love. He was more than the perfect man of the mystics; he presented also the side of activity. He felt that he had a blessing to impart to men; and all his energies must be strained that the blessing should not be withheld. "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." And if we are to be of full stature in Christ, our inertness must be rebuked, our holy energies must be called forth. We must know what it is to "work," and, while working, let us take care that our works are "wrought in God." There is in Christ the representation of suffering love. If Christ could be said to excel in one class of virtues more than in another, it was in the passive virtues. He suffered what was appointed him. He drank the cup which his heavenly Father put into his hand. He suffered sublimely for those whom he came to save. And if we are to attain unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, we must be ready to suffer, to bear the contradiction of sinners, to shed tears over sinners. For if there is anything which betokens the Christian style of character, it is sympathizing with men as lying under sin, so that we can suffer for them and from them, if so be that we may compass their good.
(d) Gospel ministry needed up to goat. The teaching here is that the gospel ministry is the means by which the final unity is to be brought about, by which spiritual manhood is to be reached. It is true of the teacher that he makes his work superfluous. The child grows up to be able to do without his help. And so with the "gift" of the teacher in the Church; his work is to make himself unnecessary. The time is coming when no man shall need to teach his brother, saying, "Know the Lord;" for all shall know him, from the least to the greatest. But, until the goal is reached, the gospel ministry will be needed. And nothing could set forth its position more strongly than that. It is not to be supposed that it does everything. It rather comes in as a supplement to what Christians can do by themselves. Even when the person sitting in the pew has a better understanding than the person occupying the pulpit, he may reap benefit, if only truth (however imperfectly) is presented to his mind. Let no one say that he has got beyond the help of the Christian ministry. If it is earnest, it may be expected to have Divine power with it. We know that Christ, who did not come to his manhood till the last (albeit that even while he was coming to manhood he left every other immeasurably behind), did not dispense with the teaching of the sanctuary. For he went, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day. And shall we say of even the greatest literary man of the day who has a soul to care for, that he is better at home than sitting in church?
(e) Gospel ministry needed to deliver from the dangers incident to childhood. "That we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error." There are some who are necessarily in spiritual childhood from their recent spiritual birth. There are others upon whom it is a reflection that they are in their childhood, seeing that they might have got beyond it with the opportunities that they have had. It is the latter rather that are described here. They are at the mercy of false teachers, or the opinionative. They are like waves tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind. In their simplicity and inexperience they are made a handle of by those who are practiced in the wiles of error. A certain sleight of hand is practiced on them. The word "sleight" is literally" dice-playing." The dice-player can by trickery (loading the dice is part of the trickery) throw them so that the numbers turn up which suit his purpose. So there are religious tricksters who can turn texts of Scripture to suit their purpose. For instance, it is said by those who advocate the indiscriminate ministry of all that a stated ministry was only a temporary arrangement. And they get the simple—those whom the apostle here calls children—to believe that. This indiscriminate ministry is very much a playing upon men so that they are tossed to and fro and carried about, now believing this and now believing that, as the crafty influence them. A stated ministry is meant to deliver from the evils of such a condition, to carry the inexperienced past instability into a certain established state.
(f) Process of development toward the goal described.
(α) What we have to do in the determination of the development. "But speaking truth in love." It is not certain that "speaking truth" is the right translation. If it had been the intention of the apostle to convey this idea, we should have expected the same form of expression which is used in the twenty-fifth verse, where two words are used, and not the one word here, which primarily is truthing it. What is certain is that the apostle means to convey the idea that, instead of having to do with the wiles of error, we are to have to do with truth. We must be guided by truth if we would come to the goal set before us. We are to have to do with the truth in love. It is implied that there is an intimate connection between truth and love. If truth directs, love impels. Love is the highest law of being, and therefore we must have our being bathed in it if we would understand the truth of things, and speak and act the truth.
(β) Christ has a principal part in the development. "May grow up in all things into him which is the Head, even Christ." It is from the head that the regulation of the body, in all its movements, proceeds. So it is from Christ as the Head that the whole regulation of the Church proceeds. What we do is not to regulate ourselves, but rather to put ourselves into accord with Christ in his regulating of us. The head communicates with all the parts of the body; it can send commands to them. And thus it is in the Church. In all things we are commanded from Christ as from the brain or center of the whole system. And so we grow up into him in all things. The whole development takes a distinctively Christian form.
(γ) Particularly, the development proceeds round Christ. "From whom all the body fitly framed and knit together." In the body round one center the different parts are harmoniously related to each other, and so related as mutually to support each other. So the idea is that in the Church Christ, as from the center, is putting each into his proper posit ion—a position in which he will harmonize with other parts and add strength to them.
(δ) The development proceeds by a supply from Christ according to the need of every part. "Through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several are, maketh the increase of the body." A tree grows by the vital juices which are supplied to every part. In a tree there is a connecting, as by joints, where the supplies pass off to the various points. The joints in the body are where the supplies of nourishment pass off to the various members. So the Church is so jointed that it can all be supplied from Christ. There is a due apportionment to every part. There is no part forgotten, so that there is nothing like atrophy. And no part is supplied contrary to its nature, so that there is no abnormal development, as though the hand were enlarged to the size of the foot, or the foot dwarfed to the size of the hand.
(ε) The result which is being produced is described (the figure being dropped) as the building up of itself in love. "Unto the building up of itself in love." While the Church may be endlessly growing, it will come to a state of fixedness, of establishment. It will be built up like a strong compacted building which cannot be broken down. It is in love that this result is produced; and in love it will remain an eternal reality. This then, finally, is the way which the apostle takes to show the foundation that there has been laid for Christian unity. Thus at length has he supported his particular exhortation that we are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—R.F.
"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord." It is characteristic of the apostle to sink his own personality, and to put forward Christ. He wishes it to be understood that it is not in his own thought, but in the thought of him whom he calls Lord, that he makes his statement and gives his solemn asseveration regarding their duty.
I. EXHORTATION DIRECTED AGAINST GENTILISM. "That ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk." They had formerly been Gentiles in walk or character, as Gentiles in name. Now they were religiously the people of God. It became them, therefore, to have done with Gentile ways.
1. General character of Gentilism. "In the vanity of their mind." That was the moral atmosphere with which they were surrounded. In Romans 1:21 it is said that they "became vain in their reasonings." The word translated "mind" clearly refers to the governing part of the nature. And the meaning is that they wasted their "rational powers on worthless objects." They were made to have to do with great realities; but they were taken up instead with vanities. They were made to worship God, "who is, and is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him ;" but they were idolaters, making gods of things that were not. They were made for immortality; but amid the trifles of time they had little or no thought of a hereafter. Of the most privileged populace in ancient heathenism it is said that "they spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing."
(1) Gentilism on its intellectual side. "Being darkened in their understanding." We are not to understand that they were unable to use their intellectual powers. For though heathenism has been largely associated with degradation of intellect, yet there have been some marked intellectual developments in the heathen world. A pagan, such as Euclid, was able most successfully to prosecute mathematical science. But it is true that, as they came near the center of human interest, they were dimmed in their vision, they were enveloped in darkness. For want of the Divine light they had no right conception of God, or of the meaning of human life. They called evil good, and good evil; they put darkness for light, and light for darkness.
(2) Gentilism on its practical side. "Alienated from the life of God," There was much inertness with which heathenism was chargeable. But at the same time, it is true that there were busy mercantile cities in the old heathen world. And a very great amount of energy was spent by heathen peoples on war. It can only he said that their higher energies were not called forth, and that none of their energies (not even those directed to ordinarily useful pursuits) were penetrated with the life of God. They were alienated from that life, self-pleasing having taken the place of the glory of God; and therefore in all their energies there was the coldness of death, the rottenness of the grave. These two clauses on which we have been commenting are closely related. For what is light but the life of God within the intellectual sphere? And what again is it that utilizes our energies but light? There are subjoined now other two clauses of a causal nature. "Because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart." It does not seem natural to connect these two clauses with only the second of the preceding clauses. But rather retaining both in our mind, are we to connect the ignorance that is in them with the darkening of their understanding, and the hardening of their heart with their alienation from the life of God. It is true that ignorance is a form of spiritual darkness, but not otherwise than hardening is a form of spiritual death. Ignorance is both a result and a cause. And, in so far as it has resulted from a refusal to have light, it is a cause from which there is not dissociated blame. As an abiding state (the result of a previous course), it is a source whence there is a perpetual irruption of darkness within the circle of the thoughts. Hardening of the heart also is both a result and a cause. It has been defined as such a suppression of moral and religions feeling as to imply a total disregard of Divine calls and warnings, and an insensibility to their importance? In so far as obduracy is formed, it has resulted from disregard of calls and warnings, and therefore it may be assigned as a cause (with which blame is associated) for alienation from the life of God. By cultivating sensitiveness to good we prevent hardening in evil, and therefore hardening is blameworthy.
2. Gentilism in its most offensive form. "Who being past feeling." This was one form of the hardening. The result of a course of dissoluteness was that they were past all feeling, i.e. of shame. That feeling of shame is given as guardian of the purity of the body. But habitually disregarded, it is lost. "Gave themselves up to lasciviousness." Such was their fearful self-abandonment. Instead of abandoning themselves to God (which would have been deliverance from all possible thraldom), they abandoned themselves to what (with specialty) is called lust. That is, they made a god of lust. They degraded self, their glorious personality, by. making it a means to lust. Thus abandoned to lust, it became their conscious aim or business " to work all uncleanness." And that does not complete the description of their guilt and degradation. For it is added, as indicating the frame of mind in which they wrought uncleanness, that they did it "with greediness." And there is no reason to think that this description, or the description in Romans 1:1-32., is exaggerated, Not that there were not some virtuous heathen; but impurity was so rife as to be characteristic of heathenism. And when it is considered how it was not an object of public reprobation, and how it was associated with religion and also with art, it can be understood what foul shapes (amid a certain refinement and luxury) it would take.
II. EPHESIANS REMINDED HOW GENTILISM IS CONTRADICTED BY CHRISTIANITY. "But ye did not so learn Christ." It will be observed that Christ is not put forward here as our Teacher, but as our Lesson. It is stronger language than is employed by Christ when he says, "Learn of me," where he puts himself forward as our Example. It corresponds to what the apostle says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "We preach [not 'concerning,' but] Christ crucified." A lesson is what we have to get into our minds; so we have, as it were, to acquire or get into ourselves, by learning, the person of Christ himself. There is the commencement of the lesson. "If so be that ye heard him? In this clause Christ is put forward as the Teacher of the lesson. They heard him when they were converted. At such a critical time it becomes us to know what we are really doing, under whose instructions we are putting ourselves. A parent sees to his son being put to a school or university where he thinks he will get for him satisfactory instruction. So we should be sure, as taught here, that at the great turning-point it was not the voice of a hireling or the mere echo of our own voice that we heard, but the voice of him who has authority to speak to us. There is the lesson in its continuance. "And were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus." This refers to the further instruction which they had received as those who had heard Christ. Here again Christ is the Lesson—"taught in him," as we might say taught in languages or in philosophy. And not merely so, but the historical Jesus is pointed to as the embodied Lesson—"even as truth is in Jesus." He contains all the truth of God, and especially as he is brought before us in the Gospels, all that we need to know for salvation. He is a Lesson we cannot learn in a lay or in a lifetime. Even eternity will not suffice to exhaust its contents. But let us learn Christ as we can now, in the excellence of his character, in the greatness of his work, and in the purport of his doctrine.
1. Christianity in its negative aspect. "That ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit." He has in view, it will be seen, their former, i.e. their Gentile or pre-Christian manner of life. In this he sees what he calls the old man, viz. the sinful type of humanity. Originating in opposition to God, there is a type (such as there is in the development of a tree) according to which the corrupt development goes forward. There is a necessity of nature or of Divine government by which, as sinners, we grow worse and worse, and in the way in which we grow worse and worse. There is a law (appointed order) of sin and death under which we are placed. With the same essential type in all sinners, the corrupt development takes a special form from the lust (or desire in a sinful state) that is dominant, whether it is what is called lust, or the lust of money, or the lust of power. These lusts all agree in being intimately connected with or in the service of deceit. That is to say, under different disguises, we are promising ourselves independence and satisfaction, or making ourselves believe that we are pleasing God or benefiting men while really all our relations are wrong. The old man, then, as truth as it is in Jesus requires, is to be put away. That is better than the old translation. We are not merely to put it off, as we put off our clothes at night; but we are to put it away, as an old garment never to be put on again.
2. Christianity in its positive aspect. "And that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." The new man is the type of redeemed humanity, or, as it is put, "the holy form of human life which results from redemption." A condition of this is renewing in the spirit of the mind. We are not to interpret this as though it were renewed by the Spirit in the mind. The spirit is the center where we appropriate the blessing of redemption, where we choose Christ instead of self, where we put ourselves in a right relation to the holy type of humanity. We are taught that renewal must be from within outwards. If there is only life lingering at the outside, it will never penetrate from thence to the center. But if there is still life at the center, though the old forms may have to be cast away, it will clothe itself in new forms. The new man is described as that which hath been created. In one view of it, this is what Christ did in his work. He created a holy type, which may be assumed by us sinners. And that was surely creation by pre-eminence. It was creation after God, even as man was created at first in the image of God. And we are here helped to the understanding of what that image was. It did not consist in anything accidental, but it consisted in what is most essential (what presupposes free-will), viz. rightness of moral disposition. It is here referred to as righteousness and holiness of truth. "Righteousness betokens a just relation among the powers of the soul within and towards men and duties without. But holiness betokens the integrity of the spiritual life, and the piety towards God of which that is the condition." There is a truth in such relations upon which righteousness and holiness are founded. We are made with a subordination of our lower powers to our higher. We are made to be mutually helpful. And we are made to be dependent on God and to trust in him. In all these respects man was rightly dispositioned at first. And what we lost in Adam we have more than regained in Christ in the creation of the new man. This new man, then, let us put on as that which we are never to put off. Let us pray for a constant renewing in the spirit of our mind, that, after God, we may have righteousness and holiness of truth—that every relation which God has made for us may be honored by us.—R.F.
The apostle here enumerates five vices pertaining to the old man, or Gentile state, and shows how they are contradicted by Christianity.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Wherefore, putting away falsehood." Lying sufficiently indicates what is meant, if we take it as including falsehood in act as well as falsehood in speech. It is the intention to deceive that makes the lie, whatever its manifestations. The goodness of the motive does not alter its character. We may be saying what we do not think, to convey a compliment. Or we may be advancing an argument in which we do not believe, to serve our party. Or we may make a strong denial, to cover the fault of a friend. We may, by some half-truth, be getting rid of a slight inconvenience to ourselves. But all the same, there is an offence committed against truth. And we must understand from the teaching here that Christ emphatically says no to it in every form. We are to put away lying, and the context plainly suggests that we are to put it away as belonging to the old man. We need not wonder at it characterizing the old man, when we remember that Scripture dates the original of evil in us from the result of a lie told by the father of lies. Many of the heathen were like the Cretans, of whom Paul testified, in a quotation from one of their own poets, that they were always liars. It is a vice which is known to be very prevalent among non-Christianized peoples. There is not so much of shameless lying among Christian nations; but in less open forms, where there is not saving grace, there is the same disposition to be false, to state false reasons for our conduct, to keep up false appearances, to cover our faults by a denial of fact. "Do not," says Ruskin, "let us lie at all. Do not think of one falsity as harmless, and another as slight, and another as unintended. Cast them all aside; they are an ugly soot from the smoke of the pit, and it is better that our hearth should be swept clean of them, without overcare as to which of them are largest or blackest."
2. The positive of Christianity. "Speak ye truth each one with his neighbor." In Zechariah 8:16 it is said, "Speak ye every man truth to his neighbor." The change from "to his neighbor" to "with his neighbor" has the effect of defining the circle contemplated here as the Christian circle. Why are we to hold the truth sacred? The ethical reason given by Kant is that we are to do so out of reverence to the humanity subsisting in our person. The Christian reason as given by the apostle here is virtually this, that we are to do so out of regard to the Christ that is in us. His words are, "For we are members one of another." That is, my Christian neighbor is a part of myself; and why should I wrong him? Not inaptly Chrysostom says, "If the eye were to spy a serpent or a wild beast, will it lie to the foot?" We must do by our Christian neighbor as we would do by a part of ourselves which we would not see hurt. But what is it that makes our Christian neigh-bout so closely related to us? It is the Christ that is in him and in us. And in lying we are not only dishonoring our common humanity, but, in the Christian circle, we are dishonoring Christ who has made us one. The habit of speaking the truth each one with his neighbor is of difficult acquisition. There is so much that is false in the conventionalism of society, and such a desire in men to appear better than they really are, that there is often the spectacle of truth "fallen in the street." The way to acquire it is to put Christ before us in our neighbor as him whom, by the slightest divergence from the truth, we must not demean.
II. SINFUL ANGER.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." The word is rather exasperation (already an evil form of feeling), which, if nursed, fast settles down into wrath. It was a custom of the Pythagoreans that, if betrayed into railing by passion, before the sun went down they shook hands, kissed one another, and were reconciled. It is one of the uses of night that it is a call to be placable. "We are not bad gods or demons in our impetuosity, but men, men that go to sleep as children do and. must. Being spaced off in this manner by stoppages, we consent to limits. We are softened and gentled in feeling more, perhaps, than we would like to be. A man must be next to a devil who wakes angry." The Christian reason against nursing wrath is that it is a giving place to the devil. For it is in connection with wrath that it is said, "Neither give place to the devil." He who rises from his bed unsoftened, who seeks about for new reasons for his wrath, is giving the devil peculiar opportunity. And when the devil gets in through the door of passion that is nursed, a man will do deeds then that, in his cool moments, he would have shrunk from with the utmost abhorrence. Vindictiveness was a characteristic of the heroes of the ancient heathen world, and does not call forth from such a delineator of them as Homer an expression of disapprobation. It is still found in not dissimilar form in the savage, who ruthlessly pursues his enemy until he has scalped him. Within the Christian sphere indulgence of anger is peculiarly unbecoming, and must result in the ejection of Christ and, with him, of peace and right guidance.
2. The positive of Christianity. "Be ye angry." And we need not wonder at the injunction when we take into account that anger is a hundred times in Scripture attributed to God, and also that it is said of Christ that he looked round about on the hypocrites among his hearers with anger. "We are so made that pity is not more naturally awakened by the sight of suffering, fear by the approach of danger, delight by the vision of beauty, gratitude by deeds of generous kindness, than anger by many kinds of wrong-doing. The men whose hearts never glow with enthusiasm at witnessing lofty self-sacrifice, never burn with indignation against cowardice, falsehood, and profligacy; the men whose eyes never flash, whose pulse never quickens, whose words move on m an unbroken flow, and never rush along tumultuously like a cataract, either in praise or blame,—never yet did any work worth doing either for God or man" (Dale). But, as if special danger attended anger, the injunction to it is followed up, and thrown into a certain subordination, by the caution—"And sin not."
(1) Anger is to be proportioned to the offense. There must be justice in our anger. The passionate man is often causelessly angry. His passion is roused by a mere inconvenience to himself for which no one is to blame, or by a hasty view of the action at which he takes offence. A mere personal slight is not a sufficient cause for anger, especially when we remember him who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. Rather are we to reserve our anger for what hurts the truth in us or in others. Let our indignation be poured out on the attempt to corrupt our principles, to steal our fair fame, on the cowardice that keeps a man from standing by his convictions, on the selfishness that can keep a wife and family miserable, on the dishonor that is done to God by our want of faith and niggardliness in supporting his cause. "It does not appear," says Butler, "that the feeling of indignation, generally speaking, is at all too high amongst mankind." "Yea, what indignation!" says the apostle, in enumerating the fruits of godly sorrow.
(2) Anger is not to interfere with love. While Christ looked round on the hypocrites with anger he was at the same time grieved because of the hardening of their hearts. And we must ever draw this distinction between the sinner and his sin. Grievedness of heart for the sinner and strong condemnation of his sin can and should go hand-in-hand. Even as we love him we must show him how we regard his conduct so far as that is calculated to do him good. Such going forth of anger (having justice in it) is fitted to sustain love.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let him that stole steal no more." Whether we translate the first part of the injunction "him that stole," or, as is often done, "him that steals," the latter part, "steal no more," implies that there was danger of some in the Ephesian Church falling into this sin. And we need not wonder at this, when we consider their pre-Christian state. They were accustomed, in heathen society, to theft being punished (which would keep up a certain moral sentiment against it), but at the same time, they were brought up in a certain laxity with regard to what was theirs and what was their neighbor's. And is not the Ephesian Church in this respect representative? While there are very few connected with our Churches who will steal, so as to expose themselves to the punishment of the law, there are those who are chargeable with what, if strictly looked into, is dishonesty. They do not give value in labor for money received. Or they contract debts, or come under obligations which they have no reasonable expectation of meeting; or they are not doing their utmost, in the way of exertion and economy, to get out of debt. Or, under the pressure of competition, they fall in with the evil custom of the trade, and adulterate. There are many ways of unjustly hindering the wealth or outward estate of our neighbor. There may be dishonesty even in the desire to have what does not belong to us. But nothing could be more emphatic than the declaration here that, whatever our temptations, whatever losses it may entail, we are not to steal at all.
2. The positive of Christianity. "But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need." There is presented here the Christian aspect of labor. It is according to the rule of Christ that we should work and not be idle. And if it is in literally working with our hands that we spend our energies, yet is that not demeaning, for Christ sanctified such work by working as a carpenter. It is further according to the rule of Christ that we should work the thing that is good, that is to say, have an honest business and do our best (time and circumstance considered). There is further the motive with which we are to work. There is the incentive of providing for our own, and specially our own household, and of providing for our household not merely for the present, but, in view of the uncertainty of our life, also as we can for the future. And if any one of ours needed special nourishment or change of air, that would be a reason for our working hard that what was needed might be supplied. But in the language here employed there is a look to the needy in body or in soul beyond our own immediate circle. And it is taught that the Christian is to labor with the view and in the hope of having something over, after making all reasonable allowance for his own, to bestow on the poor and to send the gospel to the heathen. It is this in our aim which is needed to make labor, however assiduous and lawful, distinctively Christian. And the exhorter here himself set a Christian example, "In all things I gave you an example, how that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." And he, even the humblest laborer, who strives in his labor to have something over for Christ (in him that hath need), will not fail, or if he can be said to fail, yet will his effort lead to his labor being accepted of Christ. And if this is the true gospel of labor, then how much labor is there which must be rejected in which there is a wrong done to Christ in his not receiving his dues or acknowledgment?
IV. UNWHOLESOME SPEECH.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth." "Perhaps the image which the word (corrupt) calls up was not distinctly present to the apostle's mind; but it might have been, for it is a very just one. The epithet is used to describe vegetables, meat, and fish which are beginning to go bad; and there are some people whose conversation is quite as unwholesome as food which is not quite fresh. Unsound itself, it injures the moral health and vigor of those who listen to it." Without being poisonous, words may be unwholesome. Falsehood he has already condemned. Violence and detraction in speech fall under the next head. Filthiness and foolish talking and jesting come up in the beginning of the next chapter. Words may be neither false, nor violent, nor defamatory, nor foul, nor senseless, nor profane, and yet be unwholesome. And to such we limit our attention here. There are some who give the chief place in their conversation to business or household affairs. There are others who give it to fashion, pleasure, amusement. There are others again who give it to the little affairs of their neighbors or to politics. Conversation may properly enough turn upon these things; but when it is so occupied with them as to rouse the impression that the world in one or other of these forms is everything, as to shut out the thought of God, as to take away the feeling of the seriousness of life, then (like food that is not quite fresh) it is fitted to do harm. There is not, in such conversation, nutriment for the moral being, exercise for the moral powers. It is to be said, too, that the spirit of worldly conversation is gathered up in certain worldly maxims such as these: that we must look after ourselves; that we must take the good of the world; that we must have our time of gaiety; that we must be like our neighbors. These maxims (as excuses for selfishness, thoughtlessness) are unsound; and the apostle, speaking for Christ, would say emphatically, "Let no such corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth." And the peculiarly Christian reason against that kind of speech is given in the words, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption." It will be seen that the apostle regards speech in a sacred light—he would have it as a medium or organ of the Holy Spirit. It is taught that the Divine Spirit is intensely interested in all the movements of our life. There is not a department to which his interest does not extend, and which he would not have permeated with his holy influences. And when he is thwarted in his holy ends he is grieved as a mother is grieved when a son whom she loves as none else can is not acting according to her wishes and prayers. And it is to be noticed that what is represented as grieving the Spirit is that which is hurtful, not so much by its heinousness as by its commonness. Against graver faults we are placed more on our guard; but we do not think how we grieve the Holy Spirit by the feeble moral tone of our conversation. The Spirit is grieved with the conversation of the unconverted (which is necessarily unwholesome); but he is especially grieved when Christians thwart him by a conversation which is not of him. For on them, as already expressed in the first chapter, his seal was placed, against the day of their final redemption. You, then, who have the seal of the Holy Spirit of God on you, as marked for redemption, grieve him not by unedifying conversation.
2. The positive of Christianity. "But such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear." The Christian element in conversation is that a regard be paid to edification. We are made to communicate with others by speech, not that we may impose on them, or play with them, or regard them carelessly, but that we may edify them. There is not only that which is edifying, but edifying for the occasion. And "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." And what constitutes its fitness is not its mere artistic form or reconditeness, but especially a depth of feeling in it, and a moral discrimination, that make it meet a need and prove a blessing to them that hear. A word of this kind, that may not be wanting in sharpness, but can convey comfort too and direction and incitement to good, what an accomplishment it is to be able to speak it! And, however far we are behind, let us strive after the Christian ideal of conversation which is here placed before us.
V. BAD TEMPER.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice." By bitterness here we are to understand all want of sweetness of temper. This is indicated by what are mentioned as its manifestations. It takes the form of wrath, or a sudden outburst of passion. Or it takes the form of the more settled feeling of anger. The wrath, again, takes the form of clamor, or violent speech. And the anger takes the form of railing, or more deliberate and continued speaking against a brother. And the evil temper in these its manifestations, in all the varieties that belong to it (as is indicated by the word "all"), is represented as having its subsistence in malice, by which we are to understand ill feeling, and that not simply in its worst form, but (as is also indicated by "all") in all its forms. This apostolic analysis of bad temper shows that he regarded it in a serious light. He did not regard it as some would, as a mere physical infirmity. Constitution has to do with it in this respect, that some have more to contend against than others. But, whatever our constitutional temper is, we are bound to bring it under law to Christ. Bad temper, therefore, is a sin, an unchristian state, of which we are to repent, and from which we are, according to the thought here, to be forcibly delivered. For "put away" here is stronger than "put away" in the twenty-fifth verse, and implies the putting forth of something like force upon us (by the stronger than we), in order that we may get rightly away from it.
2. The positive of Christianity. "And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." The kindness here inculcated is that good feeling toward others which keeps us Prom unseemly manifestations, and sweetens our whole bearing as brethren. And this kindness is to extend (where there is occasion) to tenderness of heart (or, as it used to be in Colossians 3:12, with the same allusion as here, "bowels of mercies"). And this tenderness of heart is to take the very beautiful and distinctively Christian form of forgivingness. For God in Christ forgave us. The allusion is to the historical fact of Christ once for all putting away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Thus God not only showed himself forgiving, but actually made forgiveness a gospel reality. It is after the manner of the apostle to ground deep human duty. He has especially a satisfaction in falling back on the great fact of the atonement. Forgiveness is not an optional matter with us, or something that we may want without losing our Christianity; but it is that to which we are peculiarly, indissolubly bound by the fact that God has gone before us in it in his dealing with us. Let us, then, have that nobility, generosity of disposition, that emanation from God himself, which will lead us to forgive those that sin against us.—R.F.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Walking worthy of our vocation.
"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord," etc. The verses, looked at homiletically, suggest the following truths:—
I. THAT MAN'S EXTERNAL CONDITION IN THIS WORLD IS NO TRUE TEST OF HIS REAL WORTH. A greater man than Paul, greater in true thought, lofty aims, disinterested sympathies, self-sacrificing love, Christ-like devotion, and philanthropy, never lived. He was great in himself, great in his spiritual influence, great in the estimation of all capable of appreciating worth. Yet he was a "prisoner" and doomed to martyrdom—a condition the most ignominious and painful. This fact shows:
1. The corruption of human society. So blind in moral judgment and so perverse in heart has civil society been, almost from the beginning, that it has doomed its best men to degradation, suffering, and often martyrdom.
2. The high probability of a future retributive dispensation. The beheading of John the Baptist, the imprisonment of a Paul, the crucifying of the Christ, proclaim with a tongue of thunder a coming judgment, a day when "all ungodly men shall be convinced of all ungodly things which they have ungodly committed."
II. THAT THE END OF ALL TRUE THEOLOGY IS THE IMPROVEMENT OF CHARACTER. The apostle, after laying down in the preceding chapters the grandest theological truths, begins in these verses an application of these truths to practical life. "I beseech you therefore." "Therefore." Why? Because of the wonderful things I have stated. Theology, if it remains with us merely as a science, will do us no spiritual service. It may stimulate thought, widen the realm of intelligence, afford scope and incentive to our speculative faculties, and develop our powers of logic and controversy. But what boots all this? Devils in depravity and torture are theologians. It is only when theological truths pass from the intellect to the heart, and thence circulate as blood through every particle of our being—in other words, when doctrines are translated into deeds—that they really serve us. Theology is bread; but undigested bread does not impart health, but impairs it, does not invigorate the man, but enfeebles him. A great theologian is often a moral invalid.
III. THAT THE PRIVILEGES OF A MORAL BEING ARE THE MEASURE OF HIS OBLIGATIONS. "Walk worthy of the vocation," etc. The Bible teaches us our duty, not so much by written precepts as by principles, either expressed or implied. Indeed, it seems to me no code of legislative propositions, though its volumes filled the world, could supply directions for the boundless activities of an undying soul. You cannot bring all the obligations of souls into any number of written sentences. Hence we have principles, and often one principle will meet all the possible activities of a soul, determine its duty in every separate act. The principle we have stated is an example. When a real Christian is told to "act worthy of his vocation," he is told everything touching all conceivable obligations. This point supplies us with two general remarks.
1. Christians are called into a Divine sonship, and their duty is to walk worthy of that. The call you have in the fifth verse of the first chapter. "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." We are called to be the sons of God. What is our duty? To act worthy of our relationship, act as sons ought to act towards such a Father. Give him:
(1) The highest reverence. Our heavenly Father is not only greatest to us, but greatest to the universe. Therefore reverence him.
(2) The highest gratitude. We owe everything to him—being and the highest blessings of being. Therefore to him our profoundest and incessant thanks are due.
(3) The highest esteem. He is the best of Beings, the Fountain of all virtues, the Standard of all character, the Totality of goodness. Therefore he should be loved with all our soul and strength.
(4) The highest confidence. Yield to him a cheerful trust, a boundless reliance. Trust in him forever.
(5) The highest attention. He should occupy more of our thoughts than any other being. You should study his character, trace his ways, anticipate his wishes, imbibe his Spirit, imitate his character, and thus become partakers of his nature. When Christians are told to walk worthy of their sonship, what more can he said? It means to live a pure, useful, elevated, morally royal life.
2. Christians are called into a spiritual corporation, and their duty is to walk worthy of that. When on earth Christ founded a new society, its members consisted of those who practically accepted him as their great Teacher, Example, Savior, Lord. That society, few in numbers at first, has been increasing ever since. Millions have gone to heaven, and millions are still on this earth found in connection with all Churches, and not a few in connection with none. This society, though its members are divided by sentiment and ritual and distance, are nevertheless one—one in spirit, purpose, life. They are but branches of one tree the Root of which is Christ, members of one body the Head of which is Christ. Now, every Christian is called into this grand corporation. And the apostle here states two things concerning our relation to it.
(1) The grand purpose we should aim at. "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." "Unity of the Spirit" means the unity of which the Spirit is the Author. Unity, not merely doctrinal or ecclesiastical, for there may be doctrinal and ecclesiastical unity where there is spiritual separation. It is the unity of souls in Christ. Now, every one belonging to this corporation should diligently endeavor to maintain its unity. This unity is consonant with diversity; the waves are different, but the ocean is one; the branches are different, but the tree is one; the members are different, but the body is one; the stars are different, but the system is one. Men's thoughts may be different, but men's loves may be one, and loves are the bonds of souls.
(2) The method for promoting this purpose. Three things are indicated here.
(a) Humility. "With all lowliness and meekness." Pride, arrogance, and haughtiness in all its forms, have ever been amongst the most disturbing elements in Church life.
(b) Mutual forbearance. "Forbearing one another." The best members of this Church are imperfect in belief, sympathies, and conduct; hence mutual forbearance is necessary in order to maintain unity. He who feels disposed to quarrel with every fault of his associates may spend his time in doing nothing else.
(c) Brotherly love. "Forbearing one another in love." Love is the healer of discords. No hand but hers can retune the discordant harp of Church life. These—lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, loving forbearance—quiet, unpretending, unshowy virtues are amongst the best means for promoting true unity in the Church of God. Who is the most useful Christian? Not as a rule he who has the most transcendent genius, brilliant talents, and commanding eloquence, but he who has the most of this quiet, loving, forbearing spirit. The world may do without its Niagaras, whose thundering roar and majestic rush excite the highest amazement of mankind, but it cannot spare the thousand rivulets that glide unseen and unheard every moment through the earth, imparting life and verdure and beauty wherever they go. And so the Church may do without its men of splendid abilities, but it cannot do without its men of tender, loving, forbearing souls.—D.T.
The unities of Christianity a reason for union amongst Christians.
"Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." These various unities in Christianity are here specified by the apostle in order to enforce the importance and obligation of a loving concord amongst all true Christians. By noticing these unities with a little closer attention we shall see how they formed in the apostle's mind an argument for a loving union amongst all the disciples of Christ.
I. All Christians are members of ONE SPIRITUAL ORGANIZATION. "One body." Though they are very numerous and ever increasing, though they differ widely in many morally unfundamental points, and live in different lands and different worlds, still they are parts of one great whole. The tree, though it has a thousand branches all varying in size and shape and hue, is an organic whole. This unity, though not visible, really exists. To be a Christian is to be a branch of the one tree, a stone in the one building, a member of the one body. Now, this fact is certainly a strong reason for the cherishing amongst all of brotherly love and hearty fellowship. "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it."
II. All Christians are animated by ONE GREAT SPIRIT. "One Spirit." What the body is to the human soul, this great organization, this universal Church, is to the Spirit of the living God.
1. Servant. As every member of the body is the servant of the soul, every genuine Christian is the servant of the Spirit, obeys his dictates in everything.
2. Symbol. As the body reveals and expresses the soul by its looks, words, and operations, so the true Church reveals the Divine Spirit; reveals its quickening, redeeming, elevating, sanctifying influence.
3. Residence. As the body is the residence of the soul, even so the Church is the temple for the Holy Ghost to dwell in. If there is this one Spirit running through all, guiding, animating, overruling all, should there not be through all a mutual, loving sympathy and interest?
III. All Christians have ONE GLORIOUS HEAVEN. "One hope." What is the object of a true Christian's hope? Not happiness. He whose grand object in life is his own happiness is under the influence of that selfishness which is the essence of sin and the devil of the soul. That spirit in Churches which cries, "Oh that I had the wings of a dove! then would I fly away and be at rest," is discontented selfishness, nothing more. Alas! that there should be churches, chapels, and pulpits in England ministering to an insatiable avarice that considers this beautiful world not good enough for its home! But if the object of a true Christian's hope is not happiness, what then? Moral goodness. Goodness as exemplified in the life of Jesus. To become like Christ, to be partakers of the Divine nature, to be holy even as God is holy,—this is the great object of a true Christian's hope. And herein is heaven and nowhere else. To be happy is to be good, to be good is to be like God, and this is the grand object of genuine Christian hope. "Then shall I be satisfied when I awake up in thine own image." Mural goodness is the only true Paradise of souls.
IV. All Christians have ONE SOVEREIGN MASTER. "One Lord." Who is this one Lord? By the general consent of acknowledged expositors, the one Lord Jesus Christ. "One is your Master, even Christ." There are men in Christendom who assume titles indicating authority over human souls. We have the Pope of Rome, the lord bishop, and the "Primate of all England." Terribly sad it is that in the name of him who had nowhere to lay his head, and who taught that the least should be greatest in his kingdom, there should be found men either so dull or daring as to assume such titles as these. Call no man "master," said this "one Lord." He is the Head of the Church which is his body, the only Head. Is not this also a potent reason for loving concord among Christians? They have to draw their doctrines from one Teacher, they have to learn their duty from one Master, they have to fashion their character after one Model, to depend for reconciliation to God upon one Mediator.
V. All Christians have ONE SUPREME CREED. "One faith." This means, as we have seen, one Object of faith. What is the one creed? Theological propositions put forth as articles of belief? If so, there are many faiths—faiths almost as numerous as there are Christian professors. No two men can perhaps believe the same thing in exactly the same way; the same proposition shapes itself differently to different souls. The New Testament teaches with unmistakable explicitness that the true creed of a Christian is not a propositional manifesto, but a personal life—the life of Christ. In more than thirty passages of one Gospel, the Gospel of St. John, we find with reference to Christ the expressions, "trusting to me," "trusting to him," or "trusting to the Son." Take two or three as specimens. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." Again, "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." Again, "He that believeth on him shall not be damned." Again, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do," etc. "Do this in remembrance of me." Christ is the one Creed. He is, in truth, the Bible. See how this one creed argues the importance of loving union amongst Christians. If our creed is a series of propositions we shall be divided, but if our creed is the personal life of One all-holy, all-loving, all-good, we shall be united. If all the members of all the Churches believed with a living faith in the one personal Christ, there would be a loving concord of souls.
VI. All Christians have ONE SPIRITUAL CLEANSING. "One baptism." The primary meaning of" baptism" is cleansing. Βαπτισμός is rendered" washing "in several places. There are two kinds of baptisms or cleansings mentioned in the New Testament—the material and the spiritual, that of water and that of fire. The latter, namely, the fiery baptism of the Spirit, is the great thing. This undoubtedly is the one baptism, the one cleansing.
1. This is the one essential cleansing. Without this, though we were baptized in all the rivers of the world, we are not members of that one body of which Christ is the Head. Millions have entered heaven without water baptism, but not one without the spiritual.
2. This is the one Divine cleansing. It is the Spirit's work. This is the "washing of regeneration" and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. Is not this one essential, Divine cleansing another good argument for unity of love in all Christians?
VII. All Christians have ONE ADORABLE GOD. "One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
1. There is but one God. This fact is supported by the structure and order of nature; stands in direct antagonism to atheism, fetichism, polytheism, and pantheism; and is accepted as a fundamental truth in all evangelical Churches throughout the world. The glorious fact reveals the greatness of the Creator, the definiteness of moral obligations, the fitness of religion for the constitution of man, and the universal brotherhood of souls.
2. This one God is universal Father. "Father of all." "Of all and through all." "All is not neuter: πάντων." It is true that God is the Author of all nature, is over all nature, and lives through all nature; but the apostle's reference here is undoubtedly to intelligent existences, and it may be that he intends only the members of the true Church. All the members of the true Church recognize him as "the Father of all, over all, through all, and in all."
CONCLUSION. Here, then, in the unities of Christianity are the bonds of true union amongst men. Notwithstanding all the discords and conflicts that rage and revel through the world, there lies deep down in the heart of humanity an ineradicable desire for unity. The greatest events that have marked and helped the progress of the human race are the outcomes of this desire. Mankind have tried for this unity in many different ways. They have tried by:
1. Political means. In ancient times kings and warriors endeavored to bring men together under one iron scepter. The Assyrian, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman, each in his turn made the desperate endeavor. In modern times Spain and France and Russia have tried and failed. Far enough are we from denouncing or even depreciating such a grand political purpose. For our own part, we should like to see what we think will one day appear on this earth—one great cosmopolitan government—a government embracing within its majestic arms of righteous and sanitary law all the children of men the world over. The fact that England now sways her scepter over India and Australia shows that neither diversities of race, language, color, religion, habit, nor remoteness of position from the central power are necessary obstructions to the establishment of such a rule. With such a government immense and manifold would be the advantages. The liberties of all would be secured. The spirit of nationality, the prolific parent of desolating wars, would find no place. All would be fellow-citizens of one state. All the tyrannies and rivalries of little despots would be played out. The age of standing armies would be over. The markets of the world be open alike to all. Such a government, I believe, will come. The gradual absorption of the smaller into the larger states, the ever-multiplying facilities of intercourse between the remotest parts of the globe and diversified races of mankind, and the ever-advancing intellectual, moral, numerical, and colonizing superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race charm my poor soul at times with the belief that such an empire is in the tenor of things inevitable. But let it come. The real unity for which the human soul craves will not be met. Law cannot create love.
2. Ecclesiastical means. Religion has made one great attempt to bind the human race into one grand confederation. The Church of Rome sets up one head to which all souls must bow, prescribes one ritual through which all souls must move, propounds one creed to which all souls must adhere. The object is a noble one; our hearts go with it. But the means, involving priestly assumptions and the infringement of the rights of conscience, are amongst the worst damnabilities of history. Hence it has failed in its object. Aiming at unity, it has led to endless divisions. Many a peace-loving soul, pained with the controversies of the sects, has sought refuge in Rome, but has found it a stormy as well as perilous port.
3. Commercial means. Merchandise in this age is preached as the uniting power. Self-interest is to be the golden chain to bind all men together. Nothing is more unphilosophic than this. Self-interest is not a uniting but an insulating power. The battles of the market, if not as bloody, are as base and as heartless as those of the field and the ocean. The true principles of union are in the text. For universal union there must be universal love, for universal love there must be universal excellence, and for universal excellence there must be the universal recognition of the one body, the one Spirit, the one heaven, the one Master, the one creed, the one cleansing, the one God and Father of all.—D.T.
Redemptive influence the gift of Christ.
"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, anal carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." The subject is—Moral restorative influence the gift of Christ. The "grace" mentioned in the seventh verse refers undoubtedly to the spiritual influences of God in the salvation and perfection of man. There are four things in this remarkable passage concerning this grace, this restorative influence.
I. THIS GIFT IS COMMUNICATED BY CHRIST. "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. The expression, "according to the measure of the gift of Christ," means, I think, that its bestowment is entirely according to his sovereign purpose.
1. Borne have a higher measure of grace than others. Some have wider and clearer views of truth, a richer experience of Divine love and faithfulness, broader and stronger sympathies, more soul-uplifting hopes and aspirations than others. There are babes in Christ and there are men in Christ. Some are qualified to be ministers, martyrs, apostles, etc. Some are only fitted for a humble place in his vineyard.
2. This measure is determined by the will of Christ. It is according to "the measure of the gift of Christ," not according to the measure of a man's capacity, merit, or effort. The fact removes all ground for boasting in the most distinguished in his Church. By the grace of God each disciple is what he is.
II. THIS GIFT IS COMMUNICATED BY CHRIST AS THE RESULT OF HIS WONDERFUL HISTORY. "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive."
1. His history was a history of wonderful triumphs. "He led captivity captive." He achieved the most brilliant victories. He triumphed over "principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly." He triumphed over death, rose from the grave, and became the Prince of life. He triumphs over the enmity of the human heart and brings the souls of the rebellious into captivity to himself.
2. His history was a history of wonderful changes.
(1) It involved the lowest descension. "He descended into the lower parts of the earth." He not only came down to the condition of humanity, but he took his place in the lowest social grade. "He made himself of no reputation," etc. He descended even into the grave and Hades.
(2) It involved the highest ascension. "He ascended on high .. ascended up far above all heavens." How many heavens are there? Who can tell the height of the lowest? He is "far above" the highest. He thus descended and ascended in order that "he might fill" all human things with his spiritual influence, fill all human souls with his ideas, principles, and aims.
III. THIS GIFT IS COMMUNICATED BY CHRIST IN A GREAT VARIETY OF MINISTRIES. "He gave some, apostles; some, prophets; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." "Apostles." No one was an apostle but those immediately appointed by Christ, who had seen him after his resurrection and endowed with a special inspiration. "Prophets." Those who, being divinely inspired, taught in the name of God. "Evangelists." Probably itinerant preachers, missionaries, such as Philip. "Pastors and teachers." Overseers and instructors. All who in any way promote spiritual Christianity in the world, flora those who were the most feeble in power to those of loftiest capacity, are the gift of Christ. He calls them, qualifies them, and appoints them their respective spheres.
IV. THIS GIFT IS COMMUNICATED BY CHRIST IN ORDER TO PERFECT HIS CHURCH. "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry." Spiritual perfection is the grand aim of all.
1. Perfection in service. "For the work of the ministry." The twelfth verse teaches that a perfect ministry implies a perfect character. There is no perfect service where there is not a perfect character. A man must be good to do good.
2. Perfection in unity. "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God." This may mean oneness or harmony of mind in relation to the doctrine and spirit of Christ, a common thought and sympathy in relation to the Son of God.
3. Perfection in character. "Unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Christ is the Standard of excellence, and perfection of character is conformity to him. His character is the measure. To be Christ-like is to be perfect.
4. Perfection in strength. "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine."
(1) The strength of firmness … Possessing power enough to stand against all the winds and waves of religious opinions. There are some men at the mercy of every new doctrine. Their souls have no anchorage; they are not" rooted and grounded in the faith."
(2) The strength of determination. "By the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness." The ideas seem to be not influenced by the mere contingencies of sentiment nor the craftiness of heretical teachers.
5. Perfection in Church growth. "Speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ." The two verses teach:
(1) That Church growth is an advancing assimilation to Christ. "We may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ." The true growth of the soul is progress towards a perfect conformity to Christ.
(2) That Church growth requires the loving exhibition of truth. "Speaking the truth in love." There is a truth, a reality in the gospel, and the ministry of this truth in love is necessary to promote the true growth of the Church.
(3) That Church growth is in every part dependent upon its vital connection with Christ. "From whom the whole body fitly joined together," etc.
(4) That Church growth requires the healthy action of all its members. "By that which every joint supplieth," etc.—D.T.
Symptoms of moral madness.
"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." In these verses the Christians at Ephesus are warned against the course of life pursued by the Gentiles, whom he describes as the prey of mental delusion, benighted in intellect, unbridled in licentiousness. Our subject is—Symptoms of moral madness. What is "vanity of mind" in a scriptural sense? Not mere mental fatuity. Ματαιότης, vanity, includes moral worthlessness and corruption. Sin is folly, and sinners are justly represented as fools. It is said of the prodigal son, that "when he came to himself" he began to inquire. A sinner is not himself. "We learn for the first time," says Dr. Arnot, "that the man has been mad by learning that his reason is restored. It is a characteristic of the insane that they never know or confess their insanity until it has passed away: it is when he has 'come to himself' that he first discovers he has been beside himself. The two beings to whom a man living in sin is most a stranger are himself and God; when the right mind returns he becomes acquainted with both again. The first act of the prodigal, when light dawned on his darkness, was to converse with himself, and the second to return to his father." We learn from these verses that this moral madness is associated with several things.
I. WITH AN INTELLECT WITHOUT TRUE LIGHT. There are two expressions here indicating the state of a sinner's intellect. "Understanding darkened" and "ignorance that is in them." When we say that the sinner's intellect is in the dark, we mean, of course, in respect to the spiritual realities and interests of his being. He may have the light of poetic fancy and of secular intelligence—the stars of general science may beam on his horizon; but so far as moral light is concerned, he is in the dark. His eyes are blinded. Three things show this.
1. His adoption of the partial to the rejection of the complete in enjoyment. He has sensual pleasures, but these pleasures even in their highest measure constitute but an infinitesimal portion of those enjoyments for which human nature craves and for which it is organized—the pleasures of holy loves, devout meditations, sublime fellowships, and uplifting hopes and aims. Is not the man mad who chooses the partial and rejects the complete?
2. His adoption of the fleeting to the rejection of the enduring in enjoyment. The pleasures and dignities he strives after are all connected with this life, which in its longest periods is brief and its securest conditions uncertain. What is our life? "A vapor." All is flowing as a stream, all is transient as a dream. The joys and honors of immortality he practically ignores and rejects. Is not this madness?
3. His adoption of the ruinous to the rejection of the restorative in enjoyment. By the adoption of the partial and the fleeting to the rejection of the complete and permanent, he pursues a course that involves the ruin of himself, the utter loss of all good. Are not these facts sufficient to show the darkness of the sinner's mind and the dense ignorance that reigns within him?
II. WITH A SOUL WITHOUT THE TRUE GOD. "Alienated from the life of God." No soul, no creature in the world can live a moment without God. "By him we live, and move, and have our being." Yet there is a solemn sense in which moral beings can and do live aloof from him, live without him. Sinners are "without God" in the world. "He is not in all their thoughts." They shut him out from the whole sphere of their feelings, thoughts, and activities. Not only do they practically ignore his presence and his claims, but his very existence. They are without God. Practical atheists. Is not this moral madness?
1. Is it not moral madness to shut the eye to the greatest Object in the universe—One compared with whom the creation itself is as nothing?
2. Is it not moral madness to disregard the most absolute Master of our destiny—the one Being in whose hand our breath is; One whose very word can make for us an eternal hell or heaven?
3. Is it not moral madness to have no sympathy with the best Being in existence—the Fountain of all love, truth, and blessedness?
III. WITH A HEART WITHOUT TRUE SENSIBILITY. "Blindness [hardness] of their heart." "Past feeling." This insensibility, whilst it has been brought about by moral irrationality and ignorance, reacts, deepens the darkness of the understanding, and intensifies the folly of the soul. When the man's heart gets so hardened as to be "past feeling," he becomes utterly incapable of taking right views of spiritual things. The impure atmosphere of a corrupt and hardened heart will obscure the vision of the intellect. When the heart is "past feeling," man becomes so stupid in intellect as to be utterly incapable of seeing the beauty or feeling the force of spiritual truth.
1. To be "past feeling "is to be past the power of true improvement. Where there is no feeling there is no pain, and where there is no pain there will be no impulse for the search of a remedy. A bodily disease without pain is the most hopeless, and a moral disease without pain must prove fatal. "Past feeling." The moral heart run to "fat."
2. To be "past feeling" is to be past the power of true enjoyment. There is no pleasure without feeling.
IV. WITH A LIFE WITHOUT TRUE 'VIRTUE. "Given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." The passage includes two things.
1. A voluntary abandonment to sin. "Given themselves over unto lasciviousness," etc. Having lost spiritual intelligence, God, and sensibility, the soul abandons itself to moral corruption. It does it voluntarily. "Given themselves." They are not forced by God or the devil. What a sight!—souls made in the image of God plunging into a hideous, sunless, lifeless, lawless chaos!
2. An avaricious appetite for sin. "With greediness." The word "greediness" elsewhere means "covetousness"—a desire to have more.
1. That a clear intellect requires a dean heart.
2. That a. clean heart requires a vital connection with God. Religion is essential to a sound intellect.—D.T.
The true method of studying Christianity.
"But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." These verses, including those back to the seventeenth, contain a general exhortation to holiness. The exhortation takes two forms—the negative and the positive. The negative we have noticed in our previous homily, Ephesians 4:17-19; the positive is now before us. The subject is—The true method of studying Christianity. Christianity is to be "learned." It is not an inbred knowledge. Man has no intuitions about it. Nor is it a knowledge imparted in any way irrespective of the use of our faculties and means. It comes to a man as the result of "learning." The man who does not rightly study will never know it. But what is the true method of studying? This is our present question, a question which we shall endeavor to answer in the light of the passage before us.
I. THE TRUE METHOD OF STUDYING CHRISTIANITY REQUIRES THAT IT SHOULD BE STUDIED IN CHRIST. "Truth … in Jesus." Christianity must be looked upon as seen in Christ.
1. Not as seen in religious professors. This would give a false view.
2. Not as seen in religious books. This would give a false view.
3. Not as seen in religious institutions. These would give a false view. There is nothing cold in truth or narrow, as seen in Jesus, but all that is broad, warm, free, sublime.
II. THE TRUE METHOD OF STUDYING CHRISTIANITY REQUIRES THAT IT SHOULD BE STUDIED UNDER THE TUITION OF CHRIST, We are "taught by him," or, as some translate it, "taught in him." Christ is the only effective Teacher of his own religion. If the sun is to be seen it must show itself—all the stars and moons of the universe cannot reveal it; so with Christ. But how are we to place ourselves under his tuition? Three things are necessary.
1. We should realize our true moral relation to truth as it is in him. Truth in him has a special relation to us, not merely as men, but as corrupt, guilty, and ruined sinners. We must feel ourselves to be the character to which it is specially addressed.
2. We must endeavor to identify ourselves with the particular class of character which it indicates. "Truth in Jesus" has reference to special classes of sinners, such as the worldling, the formalist, the hypocrite, the inquirer, the penitent. We must put ourselves in the right class.
3. We must invoke the aid of his Spirit. Christ's body is not in the world, but his Spirit is. The bodies and souls of ether great men have left the world—Plato, Seneca, etc. They are not with the students of their works, but Christ is. He is with all his students.
III. THE TRUE METHOD OF STUDYING CHRISTIANITY REQUIRES THAT WE SHOULD STUDY IT IN ORDER TO BE MADE CHRIST-LIKE. "Which after God"—that is, God's image—"is created in righteousness and true holiness." It is not to be studied for intellectual, ecclesiastical, secular, or professional purposes, hut for moral ends—studied in order to make us like God. The moral transformation is here indicated as consisting of two things.
1. The renunciation of the old and corrupt character. The "old man" is put off.
(1) Character is the man. It is moral character that makes the human animal a man. "As a man thinketh in heart so is he." His character forms his world, his heaven or his hell.
(2) A sinful character is the old man. It is old because it is the first character we get. This must be put off. Old principles, purposes, habits, motives, thrown away.
2. The adoption of a new principle of character. "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind." Renewed in the central springs of being. The assimilation of our character to the grandest ideal which after God is created, and so on.—D.T.
The abjured and the enjoined in Christian life.
"Wherefore," etc. In the preceding verses, as we have seen, under the head of The true method of studying Christianity, the apostle exhorted the Ephesians "to put off the old man and to put on the new man." He here proceeds to particularize and urge this the great practical work of Christianity. He abjures the elements of the old man and enjoins the elements of the new. Our subject is the abjured and the enjoined in the Christian life.
I. THE ABJURED IN CHRISTIAN LIFE. There are certain things here which are, alas! often found in connection with nominal Christians, and which are therefore too often regarded as identified with the Christian system, which are here abjured in language most earnest and strong. What are they?
1. Lying speech. "Putting away lying." A lie is a falsehood intended to deceive, with an immoral design; it is a misrepresentation of that to another about which he has a right to know the truth. What, then, is fiction and parable, say you? There is no justifiable fiction that does not agree with fact and serve the cause of reality and morals. Lying is one of the most prevalent sins. The ancient heathens everywhere practiced it, and moderns too. All travelers and missionaries bear testimony to this. Heathens are not to be believed on their oaths. Alas! the vice is not confined to heathendom; it prevails throughout the civilized world. Lies fill the social atmosphere. Men in every department of life are deceiving and being deceived by their fellow-men, and often for selfish and immoral ends. Christianity condemns lies. "Lying lips are an abomination unto the Lord." And "liars at last shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone." Christianity is essentially and eternally antagonistic to all insincerities and unrealities. Vanity, cowardice, and greed are the prolific factors of falsehoods,
2. Sinful anger. "Be ye angry, and sin not." We say, "sinful anger," for the text implies that there is an anger that is not sinful. Anger is the mind in emotional antagonism, and in a world of unreality, sin, and crime there is much to justify the strongest antagonism of the soul. Christ himself looked upon the conduct of the Jews with anger (Mark 3:5). Indignation sometimes fired his breast, and "woes" like thunderbolts rolled from his lips. The stronger a being's love for the right, the mightier his indignation for the wrong. The text implies two things concerning sinful anger.
(1) That it is abiding. Hence the command, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Anger should not be allowed to continue in the mind, because it is painful to the soul; it is a fire that burns. He who cherishes it could not better gratify the vengeance of an enemy, for he is in agony all the while. The great Creator, in whose nature there is "no fury," never made the human soul for anger. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Do not take it to bed with you; it will break your slumber and it will breed the devils of revenge. "Anger resteth in the bosom of fools." There is another thing here implied concerning sinful anger.
(2) It is favorable to the devil. "Neither give place to the devil." An angry soul is just the sphere to which the devil has the freest access and can best work out his malignant ends. All the assassinations, murders, and wars he works through angry souls. Don't give place to the devil. Human souls may keep the devil out. He cannot enter without their consent.
3. Social dishonesty. "Let him that stole steal no more." Stealing in some way or other is a vice as prevalent as lying. Our popular ideas of larceny are not deep or broad enough for Christianity. Englishmen regard those as thieves only whom the law has convicted of pilfering, and who are generally amongst the poor and needy. But in the eye of Christianity he is a thief who takes from another his rightful due. The tradesman who deals in short weights and measures, and overcharges for his wares, is a thief; the servant who does not occupy faithfully in his master's service the hours and faculties for which he is paid, is a thief; the physician who prolongs his visit to his patient beyond what is necessary, in order to get gain, is a thief; the rulers who tax the people to pay them enormous salaries for offices inefficiently and often injuriously filled, are thieves. To all these Christianity says, "Let him that stole steal no more;" be honest.
4. Corrupt language. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth." It is a putrescent language that is here abjured. What is a foul speech in the sense of Christianity? Not the ungrammarie in structure or the inelegant in style. The irreligious speech, which treats sacred things with frivolous profanity and sneering ridicule, is foul and corrupt; the selfish speech, which argues and persuades solely for personal gratification, is foul and corrupt; the malicious speech, which endeavors to undermine the influence, damage the interests, and injure the reputation of others, is foul and corrupt; the sensuous speech, that seeks to influence the animal passions and pollute the pure love of mankind, is foul and corrupt. All such language—and, alas! it abounds amongst us—is indeed putrescent. As heaps of decomposing vegetable and animal matter send forth gases into the atmosphere injurious to the physical health of the world, all corrupt communications proceeding from the mouths of men impregnate the mental atmosphere with elements damaging to the moral health of souls.
5. The anti-Divine. "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." Of course we are not to suppose that the eternal Spirit literally endures grief. He is the ever-blessed God. What is meant is, "do not do that which is repugnant to the heart and desires of the infinite Spirit." And what is thus repugnant to the Spirit? All that the Spirit here abjures, as well as moral evil of all kinds. A good reason is here added by Paul, "Whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." This expression implies two things.
(1) There is a perfection awaiting the genuine disciples of Christ—"the day of redemption"—redemption from all evils, corporeal, intellectual, social, spiritual. Blessed day!
(2) The Divine Spirit has secured them to this. They are sealed for it. How flagrant the ingratitude and impiety of opposing such a spirit! Another thing abjured here is:
6. Malevolent conduct. "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice." Malice, or malevolence, is the root of all. It is malice that generates the bitter things in social life; it is malice that kindles the fires of "wrath and anger;" it is malice that makes the tumultuous "clamors" and the contentious brawls. Let this malice be destroyed, and social love and purity anti peace shall prevail. Such are some of the evils that Christianity abjures, and, in abjuring, it abjures that which is the disgrace, the guilt, and the curse of mankind. With an exulting confidence, I say to infidels that whatever is had in the world or the Church, instead of growing out of Christianity, is in direct antagonism to it. All wrong is antichrist; all right is Christian.
II. THE ENJOINED IN CHRISTIAN LIFE. Christian life is not a negation. It does not consist in the mere deprivation of the morally wrong; its essence is the spirit of goodness—love. This love, in its social character, is forcibly inculcated in these words. We are here taught:
1. That the social love enjoined is courteous. "Be ye kind one to another." Christianity requires us to cherish a benignant spirit, and maintain an amiable and considerate deportment towards all mankind. Where this kindness of nature is there will be true courtesy and a gentle bearing in all our intercourse with men. There is a politeness of manner in society which has no heart, no nature; it is mere mechanism and polish; it is often in alliance with the coarse in thought, the selfish in spirit, the putrid in moral feeling. Such politeness is theatrical. The coarse-minded churl on the stage assumes the costume and plays the part of a gentleman. The spirit of Christianity is antagonistic to all that is coarse, crabbed, and morose. Love "doth not behave itself unseemly."
2. That the social love enjoined is compassionate. "Tender-hearted." There is suffering in society—physical, mental, moral, social. Children of sorrow and trial are found in every walk of life. Towards those Christianity inculcates "tender-hearted" compassion. "Put on .. as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:12, Colossians 3:13). "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing" (1 Peter 3:8, 1 Peter 3:9).
3. That the social love enjoined is forgiving. "Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Few men pass through life without meeting with those who commit offences against them; those who seek to damage their secular interests, their social enjoyments, or their moral reputation. How does Christianity require its disciples to act towards them? Not with the spirit of vengeance, but with that of forgiveness. "Forgiving one another." The words contain three facts.
(1) That God hath forgiven Christians. Glorious fact this.
(2) That God in forgiving Christians has acted in Christ. "As God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you," Θεὸς ἐν Χριστῶ—in Christ. God works through various organs, through material nature, through moral mind, and through Jesus Christ. But it is only through the last—Christ—that he forgives. "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." It is only in Christ that he works in the sinner that state of mind which separates him from his sin.
(3) That God's forgiveness of Christians is a rule for their forgiveness. "Even as God." How does God grant forgiveness?
(a) Freely. No urging required, no constraint.
(b) Abundantly. "He will abundantly pardon." "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?" This was Peter's question to Christ; and what was the reply? "Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21, Matthew 18:22).
4. That the social love enjoined is God-like. "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children." "Become, then, followers of God, as beloved children (Ellicott). "God is love." Seek to become like him in love. His love is disinterested, compassionate, forgiving, boundless, and ever-acting. This is the standard to be aimed at; nothing lower.
(1) God can be imitated in this respect. We cannot become like God in wisdom, power, sovereignty, hut we can in love. The child can love as well as the man, and the man as well as the seraph. The God of love hath made all souls to love.
(2) God must he imitated in this respect. It is essential to happiness. Heaven is in this love, and nowhere else. "He that loveth dwelleth in God, and God in him."
5. That the social love is self-sacrificing. "And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor."
(1) The self-sacrificing love which Christianity enjoins is like that exemplified in Christ. Christ "hath given himself for us." "He gave himself for our sins." "He loved us, and gave himself for us." Christ so loved mankind that he sacrificed his time, energy, peace, reputation, life, all to save them. The love that Christianity enjoins must be like this, nothing inferior to this, nothing short of this; self-sacrificing love is the love of Christianity. It is the true heroic element.
(2) The self-sacrificing love which Christianity enjoins is acceptable to God. It is "a sweet-smelling savor." Its exhibition in Christ was delightful to the heart of God, and the same self-sacrifice in man can alone make man pleasing in his sight.
CONCLUSION. What a sublime system is Christianity! It abjures in the life of its disciples all that is false, malign, unjust, impure, and profane, and enjoins that spirit of love which purifies, ennobles, and beatifies.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
It is touching to see how the great apostle, who had a right to issue commands to the Churches in the name of Christ, prefers to beseech his readers with gentle entreaty as "the prisoner in the Lord." This method is as much a mark of his wisdom as of his humility and kindness of heart. For we are all more easily moved by persuasion and sympathy than by patronage and authority.
I. CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO A HIGH VOCATION.
1. There is a Divine call. We are not left to drift through life aimlessly, nor are we permitted to carve out careers for ourselves. Divine purposes go before us, mapping out our course of future service; and Divine voices in the gospel and in our hearts bid us follow our vocation.
2. The call is lofty and worthy of all honor. Christians are not saved with a bare and beggarly deliverance, like shipwrecked mariners flung upon the beach, half drowned and bereft of everything. When we enter the Christian life we commence a course of high service, vast enterprise, and splendid aims.
3. The purpose of this vocation is to glorify God and bless the world by realizing the idea of the Christian Church. In the previous chapter St. Paul has been describing some of the great privileges of Christians, which consist chiefly in their being built into one great temple and growing together in union. The breaking down of national, ecclesiastical, intellectual, and moral barriers, and the building up of one great family, knit together by love and united through a common union with Christ, is St. Paul's magnificent conception of the fruits that the gospel is to bear on earth.
II. IT IS THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TO WALK WORTHILY OF THEIR HIGH CALLING.
1. The responsibility of fulfilling our vocation rests upon us. We are called, not driven, and we can disobey the Divine voice. But though we are free from compulsion, we are not free from responsibility. For God has a right to call us whither he wilt, and Christ has laid us under peculiar obligations by his work and sacrifice for us.
2. This fulfillment of our vocation must be in our daily conduct. We are to "walk worthily." Belief and worship are not enough. The life and the whole work and daily occupation are to follow the Divine call.
3. Christian consistency is squaring our conduct with our calling. Many make much of mere self-consistency; but it is well often to be inconsistent with ourselves, or we can never progress, much less repent and amend. Nor is it enough to make our actions consistent with our opinions, unless both opinions and actions are consistent with truth, with God's will, and with our vocation.
III. WALKING WORTHILY OF THE CHRISTIAN CALLING CONSISTS CHIEFLY IN MAINTAINING AND INCREASING OUR MUTUAL BROTHERHOOD. Love is the queen of the New Testament graces. Selfishness, moroseness, lack of sympathy, and the like are sins against the peculiar genius of the gospel. To be zealous in defending the faith, to be pure as white marble in saintly separation from vice, to be strict in integrity, etc., will not be enough; for our calling is to a brotherhood, and our worthy walking must help this.
1. Negatively, we must have lowliness which declines to assert one's self before one's brethren, meekness which acts gently to them, and long-suffering which bears with any provocations they may give us.
2. Positively, we must extend Christian unity and the spirit of peace. The peaceful brotherly spirit must not only be passively harmless, it must be earnest, active, and diligent.—W.F.A.
This is a frequently recurring theme in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and it is always treated with an emphasis that marks its supreme importance, and with a prophetic hopefulness that regards the higher development of it as one of the grandest features of the ideal future.
I. WHEREIN CHRISTIAN UNITY CONSISTS.
1. Externally it consists in the "one body." Plainly the "one body" is the Church, the community of Christians. It should be clear to an impartial reader of the New Testament that neither Christ nor his apostles contemplated the ideal of the kingdom of heaven on earth as we see that kingdom realized only in a Christendom torn and distracted with the bitter rivalries and mutual excommunications of innumerable sects. The Church of Christ, the Church in St. Paul's conception, was to be catholic—one great family, harmonious, mutually sympathetic and mutually helpful.
2. Internally it consists in the "one Spirit." So long as there is not oneness of spirit in the Church, the attempt to preserve external union by force is futile; nay, it is positively hurtful. It is best not to have a mock semblance of union when at heart we differ strongly. But if there is a unity of spirit, that should be regarded as the most essential thing. History shows that the greatest breaches of unity have been caused by the illiberal efforts of bigots to constrain uniformity. If we want true unity we must dispense with agreement in doctrine, form of worship and ecclesiastical order, and be content with oneness of spirit. This unity will be realized, not by increasing, but by minimizing, the points of uniformity; in comprehensiveness, not in stringent discipline; with larger charity, never with more absolute authority.
II. TOWARDS WHAT END CHRISTIAN UNITY IS TENDING. The Christian calling points to "one hope." All things make for final integration (Ephesians 1:10). We fail of our vocation if we are satisfied with a churlish isolation. There will be varieties of life in the future, no doubt, as there will be "many mansions." But all Christians will be united in the one city of God, even in the one house of our Father (John 14:2). It becomes, therefore, our manifest duty to heal the breaches of Zion. Controversialists should ask themselves whether they bring the millennium nearer by their pugnacious advocacy of pet doctrines, or drive it further off by deepening the fissures of a sorely divided Christendom; and ecclesiastical advocates of Church unity should consider whether it is likely they will win over to their side all the divergent sects by standing on the narrowest possible ground and erecting about it frowning ramparts.
III. ON WHAT ORIGINAL FOUNDATIONS CHRISTIAN UNITY IS BASED.
1. One Lord. We all have one and the same Christ, and in him we are one. In proportion as Christianity becomes less an affair of theological dogmas and ecclesiastical systems, and more a religion of personal devotion to Christ, shall we be able to realize our true unity.
2. One faith. All Christians must experience the same spiritual faith in becoming Christ's, and must walk equally by faith. Opinions and rules may differ, but we do not live by opinions and rules—we live by faith. Now, faith is the same spiritual act in child and in philosopher, in penitent and in saint, in the shouting recruit of the Salvation Army and in the grave Quaker, in the evangelical Methodist and in the devout restorer of medieval theology.
3. One baptism. There is one outward sacrament common to nearly the whole of Christendom significant of the washing and renewal all need and all can receive in Christ.
4. One God and Father. A common worship unites. Communion with our one Father makes us members of one family.—W.F.A.
I. CHRISTIANS ARE RECIPIENTS OF GRACE.
1. Without grace we can do nothing. All our attainments will be proportionate to the amount and kind of grace we receive. We cannot fulfill our vocation nor realize the grand unity of the Church by unaided human efforts.
2. But grace is vouchsafed to Christians. It is the peculiar privilege of the New Testament dispensation that it brings the energy of grace as well as the light of truth.
II. CHRISTIAN GRACE IS THE GIFT OF CHRIST.
1. Grace must be a gift. It would cease to be grace if we could create, earn, or deserve it. All the blessings of the gospel are free gifts, as are also our natural endowments.
2. Christian grace comes direct from Christ. His sacrifice won it. His ascension enables him to dispense it (Ephesians 4:8-10).
III. THIS GRACE IS GIVEN TO ALL CHRISTIANS. It is not reserved for high ecclesiastical officials and select saints. We are no Christians if we have it not. The Church is the body of all Christians, and it is one because 'the same grace flows through the whole brotherhood. The gospel is broad and democratic.
IV. THIS GRACE IS DISPENSED TO EACH INDIVIDUAL SEVERALLY. Each one receives the gift. We cannot be blessed by Divine grace in crowds and masses. The Church can only be endowed with grace when her private members are personally blessed. We do not receive grace by becoming part of the grand Catholic Church. But we realize the unity of the Church when we have been first blessed with Christ's grace in our own souls.
V. THIS GRACE IS MEASURED OUT IN VARYING PROPORTIONS. In Christ there was grace without measure. In us it is measured. Christ has a right to measure it, because it is a gift which he can withhold or bestow as he pleases. Yet if it is measured there is no stint, for if Christ has first given us himself, we may be sure that he will never keep back any needful lower blessings. The measure of the grace is determined by our spiritual capacity, our faith, our need, our special mission.—W.F.A.
Ephesians 4:9, Ephesians 4:10
The universal experience of Christ.
I. THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST IMPLIES THAT HE HAD PREVIOUSLY DESCENDED.
1. It implies that he was low down at some period. Had he always enjoyed his rightful honors there could have been no act of rising to them. The coronation shows that the sovereign had once been a subject. The greatness of the elevation of Christ and the stir and change it produces are significant of the low depth of an earlier state.
2. It implies that he had been highly exalted at a previous period. The mere act of ascension may not show this, but the spiritual character of it does. All things ultimately find their level. The high-shooting fountain is an evidence that its water has come from a great elevation.
3. It implies that by his deep humiliation Christ merited his great exaltation. He did not simply deserve it by way of compensation. He earned the high honor of the Ascension by the patient sacrifice of himself in his descent down to a life of lowly service, down to the cross, down even to the dim land of the dead (Philippians 2:5-11). Thus the last is first, and he who humbled himself is exalted.
II. THE ASCENSION AND PREVIOUS DESCENDING OF CHRIST ENABLE HIM TO FILL ALL THINGS.
1. His presence enters into every grade of being. From his awful primeval glory down to the dread depths of Hades and then up to the throne and the right hand of God, by the vast sweep and range of his profound humiliation and superb exaltation, along every step of existence traversed, Christ comes into personal contact with all life and death.
2. His experience gives him knowledge of every grade of being. And with this knowledge he has sympathy for all. Our lack of wide sympathies is chiefly owing to our narrow experience. Christ's sympathy is as universal as his experience. In his exaltation he does not forget the scenes that moved his heart in lowlier walks.
"… Resting by th' incarnate Lord,
Once bleeding, now triumphant for my sake,
I mark him, how by seraph hosts adored,
He to earth's lowest cares is still awake."
3. Filling all things by experience, knowledge, and sympathy, he has power over all things. Down even to the spirits in prison to whom he preached by the Divine Spirit, and through every rank of life, he has influences to exert, graces to bestow, redemption to accomplish. There is no order of things, beyond the reach of Christ. As the great reward of his sacrifice and triumph, of his deepest humiliation and his highest exaltation, he fills heaven, earth, and hell with a presence which, if he is the same now as when he lived among men, is everywhere healing and redemptive.—W.F.A.
The full-grown man.
The object for which the various gifts that flow from the ascension of Christ (see Ephesians 4:8) are bestowed is here described. That object is not the mere enjoyment of the gifts themselves. It is practical and for a distinct purpose, viz. to accomplish "the building up of the body of Christ." For this same end the offices of the Christian ministry and all other ordinances and institutions of Christianity are now ordained. It is not enough to hold services and gather together decorous congregations. Nor is it even enough to secure converts. The final object is to build up the Church itself, by developing its manhood and cementing its unity. The end is twofold; and though the two parts of it are as intimately connected in experience as they are here blended together in the language of St. Paul, they can be considered separately. The first element in the building up of the Church is the development of individual Christians from spiritual infancy to spiritual manhood; the second is the consolidation of the several members of the Church into the one body of Christ—the inward growth to the stature of the fullness of Christ, the outward growth of the various parts of that great organism of which Christ is the Head.
I. THE INWARD GROWTH OF SPIRITUAL MANHOOD, Individual Christians must grow if the whole Church is to grow.
1. The characteristics of the growth. It is the gradual attainment of manhood. There are babes in Christ among men who are old in years. The work of the gospel is not accomplished till it has made strong men of us. A religion of soft sentiment and imbecile intelligence, such as some would commend as a rebuke to our pride, would find no favor with St. Paul. He was a man of robust intellect and vigorous energy. The childlikeness of the Christian is far from the childishness of the sentimental religionist. Many of the greatest heroes have had a singular childlikeness which has only enhanced the manliness of their lives. The perfect Christian is just the perfect man. In particular he must have:
(1) Increase of knowledge.
(2) Stability of belief;
the lack of personal convictions that is so common among us is a symptom of intellectual feebleness. We do not want rigid dogmatism, but surely as our thinking and experience progress some truths should emerge out of the mist of doubt clear and certain, some ground should be securely won, though much must still be beyond our comprehension.
(3) Fidelity; "speaking the truth," or rather "dealing truly;" for this a manly firmness must be acquired.
(4) Love; "in love," etc.
2. The relation of this growth to Christ.
(1) Christ is the object of our growing knowledge; we have to grow in "the knowledge of the Son of God."
(2) Christ is the standard of Christian manliness. "The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" is what we are called to grow up to.
(3) Christ is the end of Christian effort. We have to grow "into him." The degree of our Christian progress may be determined by our nearness to Christ. Apparent increase of knowledge, energy, etc., is real decline if we are drifting further from Christ. The perfect Christian is at once he who is most Christ-like in character and he who is nearest to Christ in living communion.
II. THE OUTWARD GROWTH OF THE CHURCH. The whole body grows with the gradual increase of its several parts. But this general increase has a character and a history of its own. The Church grows up to manhood. Through all the ages of Christendom it has been the object of Christ to develop and educate his people till the infant Church of the first age should become the manly Church of the last. This thought warns us against the foolish veneration for antiquity which Lord Bacon repudiated, reminding us that these later days are the truly ancient times when the world has grown old in experience. Doubtless we may learn much by the study of patristic and primitive Christianity. But we shall be in error if we imagine that all we have to do is to revive the days of the Church's childhood; and we shall be far from the broad, strong, spirit of St. Paul if we timidly shrink from those new advances that make for the increase of the Church's manhood. The Church, as well as the individual Christian must grow in knowledge; it should also grow in fixity of established faith, in fidelity, and in love. The true growth of the Church will also show
(1) more harmony and unity of sympathy and co-operation in work "fitly framed and knit together;"
(2) at the same time more elasticity, versatility, and variety of life and action—"every joint" supplying its own share of work;
(3) enlargement in numbers and size—"increase of the body ;" and
(4) closer union with Christ—the whole body must "grow up in all things unto him which is the Head."—W.F.A.
As the truth is in Jesus.
These words describe the method, not the substance, of Christian teaching; the latter is adverted to in the next verse. The historical name, "Jesus," instead of the more common official name, "Christ," indicates that this teaching is given through the life of our Lord on earth. We come to the knowledge of truth by hearing him, by being taught of him, by seeing it as it is in him.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF TRUTH IS OF SUPREME IMPORTANCE TO US. The means is proportioned to the end. If the life of Christ is necessary for the revelation of truth, the truth thus revealed must be of first moment. Emotion without truth is vapid sentiment; and action without truth can have no moral character, and is as likely to be hurtful as useful. It is a blind man's groping. We can dispense with a superfluity of dogma. We have too many words about truth. But truth itself, the living spiritual reality, is the very breath of our souls. To know ourselves and our vocation, to know God, his love and his will, to know the spiritual order of things as far as it touches our own lives and conduct, is of vital interest.
II. TRUTH IS REVEALED IN CHRIST. Truth is written on the great book of creation, but in obscure hieroglyphics, for nature is an inarticulate prophet. Truth has also come through the inspiration of thought and conscience in poets and seers. But then it is always in words; and words make it but a clumsy garment hiding its finer beauty and, at best, speaking at second hand. In Christ we see truth intelligible, powerful, touching. It is revealed in his very self and in his words and deeds as they are the outcome and signs of his character and nature. Christ is the truth. He has but to be and to be seen and heard for truth to be revealed.
III. THIS REVELATION OF TRUTH IN CHRIST IS OF A DISTINCTIVE CHARACTER.
1. It is human. Truth is seen in Jesus just because he is a real and perfect Man. As man is made in the image of God, the very being of a perfect man must be a manifestation of Divine thoughts.
(1) Therefore any dogmas that are contrary to humanity are false.
(2) Therefore, also, we need not fear truth. She has a human countenance.
2. It is living. Truth in words is cold and dead, though it may be clear and beautiful. Truth in Jesus is alive, revealing itself in action, putting teeth energy, responding to our sympathy.
3. It is spiritual. Truth of religion and of conduct is what we see in Jesus, not reminiscences of secular history nor anticipations of material science. The highest truth concerns God and the soul, duty and the unseen world.
4. It is beautiful. Christ's glory was full of grace and truth. In his face truth has no terrors, but the most winning attractions and the most moving loveliness.
IV. SUCH A PRESENTATION OF TRUTH CALLS FORTH DUTIES ON OUR PART.
1. We have to "learn Christ." That is the one lesson for our souls. We may learn all systems of theology and yet know nothing of the highest truth, if we do not know Christ. They who sit at the feet of Jesus drink from the deepest fountains. As Christ is best described to us in the four Gospels, these Gospels are the chief source of Christian knowledge. Yet inasmuch as the apostles interpret the mind of Christ, we may learn Christ from the whole of the New Testament But we must also come to a personal communion with Christ in order to know him aright.
2. We have to Trove how we have learned Christ by our conduct. This knowledge is to shape our actions. Fidelity, purity, and charity of life must make men see what truth we have found in Jesus.—W.F.A.
I. ANGER IS A DUTY.
1. It is natural. The man who is never angry is lacking in moral fiber. Christ was sometimes angry (Mark 3:5). God is angry with the wicked (Psalms 7:11).
2. It is just. We cannot rightly rebuke evil without anger. Lies and cruelty should not be treated mildly. Christ would not have been faithful to righteousness if he had not shown indignation in response to hypocrisy.
3. It is useful. We may save a man by first being angry with him. A mild complacency may be the greatest cruelty to a bad man. Even when we cannot rouse the conscience of the guilty by anger we may protect the weak and wronged who claim our first sympathy.
II. ANGER BRINGS A DANGER. It is the most perilous of duties even when it is obligatory.
1. It is in danger of being indulged for our own satisfaction instead of the resistance and checking of moral evil. Personal revenge is likely to usurp the place of righteous indignation.
2. It is in danger of running into excess. It is a passion, and every passion tends to irrational extravagance. The angry man must beware of losing his temper.
III. THE LIMITS OF RIGHTEOUS ANGER SHOULD BE CAREFULLY MARKED.
1. We must avoid the mingling of wicked feelings with necessary anger. While angry with our brother we must not cease to love him. We may be most angry with those we love most. But when anger provokes us to wish harm to any one, it degenerates to hatred and becomes a great sin.
2. We must not cherish anger for long. The mercy of God is everlasting; his wrath is for a season (Psalms 103:9). It is the devil only whose habitual mood is anger. Men may do fearful harm by the sudden ebullition of a hasty temper—harm which may be repented of in vain for long years. Nevertheless, the sullen persistence of ill-feeling for weeks and longer that some people practice is in itself more culpable. It would be well to remember every night that we cannot have God's forgiveness of our sins of the day unless we have first forgiven those who have sinned against us.
3. We must not lose self-control in anger. "Neither give place to the devil."
IV. THE CHRISTIAN SAFEGUARD AGAINST THE ABUSE OF ANGER IS LOVE. NO man can be safely angry with his brother unless he first love him. It is only they that love much who can make a wise use of the furious weapon of anger. If we are "kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other," we shall be able to show righteous anger without lowering ourselves to personal spite. Then our anger will be a pain to us and we shall long to abandon it for more congenial feelings. So shall we be like God, whose wrath is sinless, because he loves his children through all the anger their sin has called forth.—W.F.A.
Grieving the Holy Spirit of God.
I. WHAT IT IS TO GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD. We are startled at the expression. Few of us would have thought of using it if we had not found it in the Bible. It cannot be a mere figure of speech. It must describe a strange, sad, touching fact.
1. God is a living Spirit. He can be grieved.
2. God is our Father, related to us, loving us. It is of the self-sacrificing nature of love that it lays itself out to be wounded when it is treated unworthily. We can always hurt most those who love us most.
3. God is within us. The Holy Spirit is God dwelling in our spirits. Because he is so near he is much concerned with our character and conduct.
II. HOW WE MAY GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD.
1. All sin is grievous to him, as holiness is hurt by unholiness and love by unworthiness. This should be one warning against our carelessness in falling into temptation. If we do not feel it, God does. A child who would not refrain from a bad thing on its own account, checks himself as he thinks how it would vex his mother. We should be warned by remembering that our sin hurts God;—did it not kill Christ?
2. St. Paul has in mind the particular sin of corrupt speech (Ephesians 4:29). This defiles the soul and dishonors the temple in which the Spirit of God dwells. Flippant conversation on sacred subjects, as well as language that is absolutely debased, is grievous in the ears of God, not only on its own account, but because it reveals a low tone of spiritual life and a want of the reverence and love that we owe to the Holy Spirit.
III. WHY WE SHOULD BE MOST CAREFUL NOT TO GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD.
1. Because of the obligations of gratitude for past grace. If we are spiritual Christians we are "sealed ;" i.e. we have the mark of God's recognition and owning given by the Spirit. After accepting the uniform of the Divine King, how can we heedlessly bring dishonor on his Name?
2. Because of the responsibilities of our present condition. We are sealed "in the Spirit." To be in living relation with the Spirit of God is the condition of all who are new creatures in Christ. This higher fellowship brings higher claims.
3. Because of the hope of our future redemption. Christians are sealed "unto the day of redemption." The first day of redemption is the day of Christ's death, but that marks only the beginning of deliverance. To each soul the day of God's forgiveness and welcome of the penitent is a day of redemption; but perfect redemption is deliverance from all evil. This is at present a hope, and the hope depends on the work of the Spirit of God. If we are grieving the Spirit of God how can we ask for his aid? There is danger lest one grieve the Holy Spirit so that he take his departure, and then how dark and woeful will the deserted soul be!—W.F.A.
Ephesians 4:31, Ephesians 4:32
Charity to the undeserving.
I. THE NEGATIVE DUTIES. "Let all bitterness, etc., be put away from you." Various influences tempt us to the indulgence of these dark passions.
1. Natural disposition. Some men appear to be born with an acrid and mordant temper, as some plants secrete irritant poisons.
2. Provocation. Anger rouses anger as fire kindles fire. The reference to forgiveness shows that St. Paul is especially condemning outbursts of wrath against people who have treated us maliciously.
3. Evil example. "Clamor and railing" are public offences. When many men concur in pouring wrath on a selected victim it is difficult to stand aside from the current of abuse and recognize the unholiness of it. The admonition may be applied
(1) to public life, that politics may be freed from the degradation of personal spite;
(2) to affairs of religion in condemnation of the odium theologicum, and also of the odium antitheologicum,—why should we hate a man because his opinion is not ours?
(3) to social life, since it is better to suffer an injury unavenged than to add a second injury in return.
II. THE POSITIVE DUTIES. Christianity is not satisfied with passive meekness. We must not only turn the cheek to the smiter, we must love our enemies—a duty of positive feeling and action.
1. General kindness. This would destroy the selfishness that is at the root of all revengeful feelings. He who has injured us is our brother. The ties of our common brotherhood that urge us to love him should be stronger than the provocations of his unkindness that would make us bitter against him.
2. Tenderheartedness. This should make us pity the offender for the shame and guilt he has brought upon himself, and long for reconciliation with him.
3. Forgiveness. The final step for the healing of positive injury is the most necessary, for without it we can have no Divine forgiveness, nor can we truly love our enemy.
III. THE GRAND MOTIVE. "Even as God also in Christ forgave you." As we must forgive others before God will forgive us, so when he has forgiven us a stronger reason is added to urge us to forgive those who may in future injure us.
1. The Divine forgiveness is the reason for our forgiveness and kindness to others. The parable of the unforgiving servant reveals the gross inconsistency of an unforgiving spirit in Christian men and women (Matthew 18:23-35). How can we who simply exist because God has forgiven us deny forgiveness to our brethren? If God who is infinitely above us has condescended to forgiveness, shall we stand more strictly on our petty rights? If God has forgiven us our innumerable, great, and awful sins against him, can we be backward in pardoning the much fewer and slighter sins of our fellow-men against us? Forgiven the debt often thousand talents, how have we the face to exact the debt of a hundred pence?
2. The Divine forgiveness is the pattern of our forgiveness. It is
(1) at the greatest cost—"in Christ," through the gift of God's own Son;
(2) covering all sins, the worst and blackest without exception;
(3) perfect, full, and ungrudging—remembering our sins no more, removing them from us as far as the east is from the west, burying them in the sea;
(4) cheerful and generous—putting the ring and best robe on the penitent;
(5) free, not earned by sacrifice, penance, or good works. Such should be on our forgiveness of one another.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent