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Our apostle having, in the conclusion of the foregoing chapter, exhorted the Ephesians to mutual offices of love and kindness towards each other, in the beginning of this chapter he makes use of several very cogent arguments to excite and quicken them thereunto.
The first of which is drawn from the example of God: as he had been kind to us, and for Christ's sake forgiven us, let us therefore be followers of him, not as our God only, but as our Father: Be ye followers of God, as dear children.
Where note, 1. The duty exhorted to: Be ye followers of God; that is, in all the excellences of his communicable attributes, and particularly in the exercise of universal goodness and kindness, mercy and forgiveness.
The argument exciting to this duty; as dear children; you are children, and who should children imitate but their father? And you are dear children, will you not imitate such a Father?
Learn from both, That such as lay claim to a relation to God, without imitation to him, are not children, but bastards: they may be of his family, but not of his household; of his family by instruction, but not by descent. There is no implantation into Christ without an imitation, both of the Creator and Redeemer, Christ as a Son over his own house: whose house are we, if we hold fast, & c. Hebrews 3:6
Here we have a second argument urged, to walk in love one with and one towards another, drawn from the example of Christ; he also, as well as God the Father, hath loved us; and the instance given of his love, is the highest that ever was or can be given: He gave himself for us, an offering, and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.
Observe here, 1. The great duty of the law: Walk in love. This implies the exercise of this grace, not barely to have it in the principle and habit, but to exercise and exert it in the act; and it implies the universal exercise of grace; whatever we do both to God and man, must be done in love, Let all your deeds be done with charity. 1 Corinthians 16:14
Observe, 2. As the great duty of the law, to walk in love, so the great pattern of the gospel, as Christ also hath loved us. The particle as hath first the force of an argument, and is as much as because Christ hath loved us; and it has also the force of a rule to direct us in the manner how we should love one another, with an as of identity, but not equality: not with the same degree, but with the same kind, of love wherewith Christ hath loved us.
But why hath, rather than doth love us? Why in the past, rather than in the present, tense?
Ans. To denote both the priority of Christ's love; that he loved us before we loved him; yea, before we loved ourselves; nay, before we had any being in the world, we had a being in his love, even from all eternity. And also to denote the indubitable certainty of his love: He hath loved you; you need not doubt it, nor question it; he hath given actual and undeniable proofs of it; follow him from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven again, and you will find every step he took to have been in love: Walk then in love, as Christ also hath loved us.
Learn hence, 1. That our Lord Jesus Christ hath given an ample and full demonstration of his great and wonderful love unto his church and people.
2. That this love of Christ towards us, should not only be an argument and motive to excite and quicken us to walk in love one towards another, but also an exact rule and copy to direct and guide us in our walking.
There are some incommunicable properties in Christ's love, which we cannot imitate. As his love was an eternal love, an infinite love, a free love, without motive, and in despite of obstacles, a redeeming love; such cannot our love be one to another; but as Christ's love was an operative love, a beneficent love, a preventive love, a soul love, a constant love: thus we are to imitate it, and walk in love one towards another.
Observe, 3. The high instance and expression which Christ has given of his love unto us: He gave himself for us, a sacrifice unto God, & c.
He gave; now gifts are expressions of love; he gave himself, that is more than if he had given all the angels in heaven, and all the treasures on earth, for us, more than the whole world, yea, than ten thousand worlds: he gave himself an offering and a sacrifice, a voluntary sacrifice, a meritorious, efficacious, expiatory, and propitiatory sacrifice, and this for us, to be stuck, and bleed to death in our stead. And he gave himself a sacrifice to God, as an injured and offended God; to God, as a revenger of sin; to God, as the asserter of his truth in the threatenings; he appeared before God as sitting upon a seat of justice, that he might open to us a throne of grace.
Lastly, For a sweet-smelling savour, that is, he gave himself with an intention to be accepted, and God received him with a choice acceptation. Our sin had sent up a very ill savour to heaven, which disturbed the rest of God: Christ expels this ill scent, by the perfume of his precious blood.
Learn hence, 1. That the sacrifice and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ were very free and voluntary: he offered himself, and his offering was a free-will offering.
Learn, 2. That this voluntary sacrifice and free-will offering of Christ, was acceptable to God, because a complete satisfaction for sin's wrong; and efficacious for us, because a discharge from the obligation of sin's guilt.
The apostle, in this and the following verses, exhorts the Ephesians to shun several sins, which were frequently practised among the Gentiles before their conversion to Christianity, as first, fornication, and all sorts and degrees of uncleanness. This was looked upon as an indifferent action, and no sin at all, by the Pagan world.
Next, he advises them to beware of covetousness, that is, all irregular and inordinate desires, and lusting after things forbidden in the general, and particularly all insatiable love of riches, which in trading cities, (such as Ephesus) doth usually very much abound, which sins he earnestly desires may not be named amongst them, that is, not committed by any of them, yea, not so much as named by them, without detestation.
And the argument offered to dissuade from these sins, is drawn ab indecoro as not becoming saints, that is, converted Christians, who profess separation from the world, and solemn dedication to God and Christ, and therefore ought to be holy in heart, chaste in mind, heavenly in desire, undefiled in body. A life of purity and chastity well becoming saints; they must be pure in heart, pure in tongue, pure in intention, pure in expression, pure in conversation, otherwise they answer not their name, nor walk according to their renewed nature: Let no uncleanness be once named amongst you, as becometh saints.
Here our apostle advises Christians to guard against the sins of the tongue, to avoid all filthy discourse, and all foolish discourse, all scurrilous and obscene jesting, all excess in drollery, which is nothing but the foam of a frothy wit. Moderate mirth, by innocent and inoffensive jesting, is not here forbidden: but when we jest by tart reflections upon the way, gesture, or natural imperfections of others, especially when we furnish out a jest in scripture attire, and in a jovular humour make light and irreverent application of scripture phrases!
Lord! what an impious liberty do some men take, to bring forth scripture, as the Philistines brought forth Samson, only to make them sport. These men ere long will find Almighty God in earnest, though they were in jest when they played the buffoon with the most serious things in the world.
Observe farther, Our apostle's argument to dissuade from such talk is this, They are not convenient: not convenient in themselves, not convenient for the speaker, not convenient for the hearers, for they poison instead of profiting the company, and pollute both the minds and manners of the hearers.
O! what a great and common instrument of sin is the mouth or tongue of man! The tongue of a good man is his glory, the tongue of a sinner is his shame; there is no member of the body that doth so much service for the devil as the tongue, especially in common conversation; them it is that men let their tongues run riot, then they utter oaths and blasphemies against God, censorious, opprobrious, slanderous words against their neighbours; to prevent all which, the apostle exhorts, in the last words of the verse, that when we meet together, we should rather recount the favours received from God, and bless him for them: But rather giving of thanks.
As there is at all times, and in all places, cause of thanksgiving administered to us by God, so it is our duty to take all occasions and fit opportunities to excite both ourselves and others to the practice of it, who are naturally very averse and backward to it.
From the whole note, That so quick and easy is the passage from what is lawful and allowed, to what is sinful and forbidden, that it is a task of no small difficulty to keep within the bounds of lawful and allowed mirth, especially by recreating our spirits by pleasant and delightful discourse, so that we exceed not either in matter, manner, or measure.
Well might St. James say, If any man offend not in word, he is a perfect man James 3:2; intimating, that there are many, very many, that do thus offend; and such as do not, are Christians of no common attainment, but great proficients in grace; persons of extraordinay measures both of piety and prudence.
Our apostle, considering how exceeding common the fore-mentioned sins were among the Gentiles, and how ready persons were to esteem lightly of them, advises the Ephesians here not to entertain in their minds light thoughts of them, or to believe any libertines which should represent them as small and inconsiderable matters; for how can a little sin be committed against a great God? or that sin be accounted light, which brings down the heavy wrath of God upon the person, and shuts him out of the kingdom of God?
Note here, 1. The description of heaven; it is a kingdom, for its eminency and glory, for its fulness and sufficiency, for its safety and security, for its duration and perpetuity, so called; and it is the kingdom of Christ, and of God, that is, either the kingdom of Christ by purchase, and the kingdom of God by free donation.
But mark, The kingdom of Christ and of God; of Christ first, because there is no coming into the kingdom of God but by Christ. Christ is first named, because we enter by him into the kingdom, and in his right.
Note, 2. The sins enumerated, which will assuredly shut persons out of his kingdom; and they are not external and corporeal sins only, as whoredom and uncleanness, but internal and spiritual; covetousness, which is idolatry.
As a man may be guilty of adultery, and yet never touch a woman, and of murder, yet never strike his neighbour; so he may be guilty of idolatry, and yet never bow his knee to an idol: secret idolatry, soul idolatry, will shut out of heaven, as well as open idolatry. Any thing that has our highest esteem and regard, our extreme love and delight, and is the special object of our hope, our affiance and trust, of our fear and care, this we make our god.
And thus the covetous man is an idolater, for he gives these acts of soul-worship to the creature, to something in the world which is not God. Every natural man is an idolater; either the world, or some worldly lust, is his god, and no idolater can have, while such, any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Note, 3. The seasonable advice which St. Paul gives the Ephesians, and us in them, not to be partakers of other men's sins: Be not ye therefore partakers with them, lest ye be also partakers with them in their plagues and punishments.
Quest. But when may we be said to be partakers of other men's sins?
Ans. When we consent to them, connive at them, rejoice in them, give counsel or command for them, by not mourning over them, but especially by joining with them in the sinful practice of them; all these ways are we partakers of other men's sins.
Here the Ephesians are put in mind of the darkness and blindness of their heathen state, before the light of the gospel came among them; they were not only dark, very much in the dark, but darkness itself: he next acquaints them with their happy condition, by entertaining of the gospel of Christ; they therefore became light in the Lord, they were savingly enlightened by the word and Spirit of God; and accordingly he urges them to walk answerably to their Christian profession, Walk as children of the light.
Note here, 1. That the state which every soul is in by nature, and before conversion, is a state of spiritual darkness; like men in the dark, they go they know not whither, they do they know not what, they stumble and fall they know not how and when.
Note, 2. That all those whom God calls effectually out of the darkness and ignorance of their natural and unregenerate state, he doth enlighten them by his word and Holy Spirit.
Note, 3. That such as are so called and enlightened, ought to walk suitably to their privilege, and answerably to their high and honourable profession. Walk as children of light; that is, holy, humbly, cheerfully, thankfully, before God; exemplarily and unblamably before the world.
These words contain a reason why the Ephesians, who were once darkness, but then enlightened by the Holy Spirit, should walk as children of the light; namely, because the fruits of that light, or of the Holy Spirit, the author of that light which they had received, is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth, that is, it consisted in these things, these are the fruits of the enlightening and enlivening Spirit of God.
So that the force of the argument lies thus: such a walking as is here directed to, namely, in the love and practice of universal righteousness and goodness, is the genuine fruit and natural result of the Holy Spirit, and accordingly as such they were obliged to it. None can walk as children of the light, but such as are renewed and quickened by the Holy Spirit of God, and made children of light; and such will be found in the practice of those duties, wherein that walk consisteth.
Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord; that is,
1. To study the word, and find what is pleasing unto God.
2. Embrace with our hearts what we find to be so.
And, 3. To practise in our lives what we embrace with our hearts.
The scripture acquaints us with some persons and some performances which are very acceptable unto God; such persons as live most by faith, as are very upright in their walking, very sincere in all they do, such are greatly acceptable, namely, when we do justice and judgment, this is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice; both commutative and distributive justice betwixt man and man, more pleasing to God than the highest acts of worship performed to him without this, Proverbs 21:3. To serve Christ with a pure intention, with good will, or a willing mind, and to suffer patiently for well-doing, this is highly pleasing and acceptable unto God, 1 Peter 2:20.
Observe here, 1. The odious character wherewith sin in general is branded: it is styled darkness, a work of darkness, works of darkness, and an unfruitful work. Sin is styled darkness, because it originally springs from darkness, it naturally delights in darkness, it ultimately leads to eternal darkness. Sin is called a work of darkness, to imply the drudgery and toil, the labour and pains, that the sinner is at in the service of sin: the work of sin is a mere drudgery and toil, the labour and pains, that the sinner is at in the service of sin: the work of sin is a mere drudgery ; it is not a pleasurable service, but a laborious servitude.
And the apostle calling sin by the name of works, doth intimate to us, that one sin never goes single and alone, but has a dangerous train and retinue. Finally, Sin is an unfruitful work; not materially and subjectively unfruitful, for the corrupt nature of man is a rank soil in which sin thrives apace; but terminatively and ultimately, it is unfruitful in the conclusion, in the event and issue, What fruit,& c. Romans 6:21
Observe, 2. A dehortation, or negative precept: Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness: it is both the duty and interest of every christian to have nothing to do with any sinful work; the preceptive will of God requires this, sin being contrary to the holiness of his nature and will; and the dignity and purity of the gospel calls for this, which is a law of holiness, and a rule of holy living.
Observe, 3. A positive injunction: but rather reprove them.
How are we to reprove the unfruitful workers and works of darkness?
1. By our lips; with plainness, but yet with prudence; with faithfulness, but yet with meekness; in reproof never use sharp words, if soft words will serve the turn.
2. With our lives; thus Nehemiah, by his princely demeanor, did reprove the covetousness of former governors, So did not I, because of the fear of the Lord Nehemiah 5:15; a holy life is a visible and daily reproof given both to sin and sinners.
Here our apostle assigns particular reasons why the Ephesians should have no fellowship with the unfruitful workers and works of darkness, but reprove them; namely,
1. The abominable filthiness of those sins which the wicked pagans committed, especially in their heathen mysteries, prescribed by the devil as part of his worship; such things done in secret as it was even a shame to speak of.
2. Because admonitions and reproof make the works of darkness manifest to the sinner's conscience, set sin forth in its black and ugly colours.
A discovery of sin in its vileness, odiousness, and ugliness, is necessary to a sinner's conviction of it, and conversion from it; and God doth not only bless the ministry of the word from the pulpit, but sometimes by a word of reproof from the mouth of a private christian, and the light of his holy example for this great end. A reproof piously and prudently given to open sinners, by private christians, shall not miss of its end; it will certainly have its effect, either in the sinner's conversion and salvation, or in his obduration and condemnation: as all things reprovable are made manifest by light, so a prudent reproof and pious conversation put sin to shame, if not to silence.
The last argument which our apostle offers to consideration, for enforcing the duty of reproving the unfruitful workers and works of darkness, is drawn from the example of God himself, whose great design it is, by his holy word, to awaken men out of the deep sleep of sin and death, that Christ may give them light.
Here note, The dangerous and deplorable, though not hopeless and desperate state, of an unconverted and impenitent sinner, namely, spiritual sleep and death. Every man by nature is in a dead sleep till the renovating change; he apprehends things as a man asleep; all his thoughts of God and Christ, of heaven and hell, of sin and holiness, are slight and hovering notions, not real and thorough apprehensions; the most substantial realities are with them but phantasms and imaginations.
Imaginary dangers startle them, like men in a dream; but real dangers, though never so near, do not affect them. As in natural sleep, all the senses of the body, so in spiritual sleep, are all the senses of the soul bound up; and accordingly, this sleep is not casual, but connatural to our present sinful state; a soul drenched in sensuality sleeps, as it were, by choice and not by chance.
But how, O sinner, canst thou sleep under such a load of sin and guilt, with so many wounds in thy conscience, with so many ulcers in thy soul? Can a diseased man sleep? Can a condemned man sleep? Can a man in debt sleep?
All this the sinner is: and yet though God thunders above, and hell gapes from beneath, and the sinner hangs over it by the fretted thread of this life, yet he is in a profound sleep; but his damnation slumbers not, if he doth not speedily awake, and arise from the dead, that Christ may give him light.
These words may be considered two ways; either,
1. As a direction to those, who according to the foregoing exhortation, do reprove sinners for their unfruitful works of darkness, namely to walk very circumspectly themselves. "See then how circumspectly you walk," so the words may be rendered; and it intimates to us, that those only are fit to reprove sin in others who walk very circumspectly and unblamedly themselves; such only have authority to reprove, and such only can hope for success in reproving, Rather reprove them: see then that ye walk circumspectly Ephesians 5:11.
Secondly, The words may be considered as a new precept, added by St. Paul to the former given in this chapter, for directing the Ephesians to an holy life; he assures them, that if they will walk holily, they must walk circumspectly, and that circumspect walking is wise walking.
Observe here, 1. the necessity of circumspect walking: See that ye walk circumspectly.
Learn hence, That it is impossible for a christian to maintain a holy course of obedience to the commands of God, without great care and caution, heedfulness and circumspection; none can walk holily, that do not walk circumspectly and watchfully. Such is that weakness and inconstancy of our nature, so many and so subtle are our spiritual enemies, and so intimate with us, so strict and exact is the law of God we are to walk by, and so holy and jealous is that God we are to walk before, that it is impossible to walk before him acceptably, if we do not walk circumspectly.
Observe, 2. As the necessity, so the excellency of circumspect walking: it is not foolish, unadvised, and unaccountable walking; but it is truly wise walking; such walking as the wisdom of God recommends to us, and such walking as bespeaks us truly and really wise. Such as walk loosely, walk foolishly: careless walking is foolish walking; but circumspect walking is wise walking; for it is to be wise for ourselves, and wise to our best and true interest; it is to be wise for time, and wise to eternity; wise both for time, and wise to eternity; wise both for this, and for the coming world. See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.
Observe here, 1. A most important and necessary duty exhorted to; namely, to redeem the time. This cannot be done in a natural sense: time, once past, is irrecoverably lost, we can no more recall it; but in a moral sense, time may be said to be redeemed, when our diligence to improve it is redoubled, when we do much work in a little time.
To redeem time, supposes and implies a right knowledge of the use and end of time, and high valuation of the worth and excellency of time, and resolution to rescue it out of the hands of those that would devour it: idleness, excess of sleep, inordinate adorning of the body, immoderate recreations, vain company, an excess of worldly business, all these are robbers of our time, and time must be rescued out of their hands.
Quest. Who are the persons more especially concerned to redeem time?
Ans. All those that are young: such as have idly wasted a great part of their time;
all that are ignorant and graceless; all that are weak and aged, and have but a few sands in their glass; all those that are recovered from sickness; and all such as, through poverty, restraint or service, are scanted of their time,
should wisely redeem it, and industriously improve it, for God and their souls: because upon this moment depends eternity, and according to our present choice will be our eternal lot.
Observe, 2. The apostle's argument here, to excite all persons wisely to redeem their time; namely, because the days are evil; that is, full of sin, by the scandalous lives of professors; full of error, by the subtility of heretical seducers; full of affliction and misery, by reason of sharp and hot persecutions. When days are most evil, most sinful and calamitous, then it is a Christian's duty to improve his time well and wisely, for God and his soul! Redeem the time, because the days are evil.
As if he had said, "Seeing the times are so perilous, and your opportunities of doing good so uncertain, be wise, and understand what are the proper duties of your place and station, and know how to manage yourselves in every relation, with reference to the duties, dangers, snares, and temptations, which may be before you, and this according to the will of God revealed in his word.
Learn hence, That it is a special part of divine wisdom to understand and know what is the mind and will of God concerning us, in every condition of life which his providence brings us into; to the intent that we may fill up every relation with the proper duties of it, to the glory of God and our own and other's satisfaction: Be not unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Observe here, 1. Our apostle's seasonable dehortation: Be not drunk with wine. Drunkenness, as well as uncleanness, and drunkenness with uncleanness, for they commonly go together, were sins which the Ephesians and unconverted pagans were generally guilty of. St. Paul therefore cautions these new converts against this old sin, which transports men to insolent and outrageous practices, as the words next intimate, For therein is excess. The original word may be rendered lewdness and lust, to denote, that when persons are inflamed with wine, they are liable to all manner of excessive wickedness, and particularly to the sin of uncleanness.
Observe, 2. The duty exhorted to, in order to the prevention of this sin; and that is, to labour and endeavour, instead of being filled with wine, to be full of the Holy Spirit of God, to be filled with the sanctifying graces of the Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God, he allows us to seek after the greatest and fullest measures of the Holy Spirit; and injurious we are to ourselves, if we content ourselves with small measures and degrees of it.
The sense of the word seems to be this: Let no Christian allow himself in any sinful excesses; let him never fill himself with wine or strong drink, or with meat and drink to the full, for that fulness will breed all manner of sensual lusts in him: but let his desires and endeavours be carried out after the grace and Spirit of God, let him be filled therewith; for that fulness will keep the soul holy, the body chaste, and render the Christian fit for the fruitation and enjoyment of God in heaven. Take your fill of the Spirit; you can never be overfilled.
The apostle, in the foregoing verse, cautions the Ephesians against that drunkenness and uncleanness which did commonly attend them at the solemnities of their heathen gods: their Bacchanalia, or feasts dedicated to Bacchus the god of wine, were usually concluded with excessive drunkenness and uncleanness. In these drunken feasts they had their drunken hymns, which they sung to their drunken deity, in praise of him whom they called the god of wine.
Now in opposition to these drunken and unpure songs, the apostle exhorts Christian Ephesians to sing the psalms of David, or the hymns composed by spiritual men, such as Zachariah and Simeon, or by the afflatus of the Holy Spirit, which in those times did immediately inspire persons both to pray and sing in their assemblies, 1 Corinthians 14:15, singing these with the mouth, and also making melody in your heart to the Lord.
Note here, The hearts and spirits of good men are full of spiritual mirth and joy: they are as merry in the Lord as sinners in their lusts; that it is lawful and laudable for them to express their mirth, and give vent to their spiritual joy, by singing; that psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, do best become their mouths when they perform those spiritual exercises; that, in singing these, there must be an inward harmony, and musical melody, in the soul and heart, as well as in the tongue; besides a melodious tuning of the voice, the exercise of the understanding, and the orderly motions of the affections, must accompany them that will make melody in the heart to the Lord in their singing.
Singing of psalms then, both in public assemblies and in private families, and sounding forth the high praises of God for mercies received, is a special duty, to be jointly performed by all persons capable of it; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns.
The next duty St. Paul exhorts to, is that of spiritual thanksgiving.
Where note, 1. The time when it ought to be performed: always; that is, at least every day, and upon every solemn occasion, keeping the heart continually in a praising, as well as a praying, frame.
Note, 2. The matter for which we are to give thanks: For all things; that is,
1. For all providences, whether prosperous or adverse; for sickness as well as health, God intending our good for both.
2. For all mercies, for sparing mercy, preventing mercy, recovering mercy, for common benefits, for peculiar and distinguishing favours, for mercies received, for mercies expected, for what we have in hand, and what we have in hope.
Note, 3. The Person to whom our thanksgivings are to be offered: to God and the Father, to God our Creator, to God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Father in him.
Note, 4. The person through whom our thanksgivings are acceptable unto God: In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. As all spiritual addresses, both of praise and thanksgiving, must be offered up to God; so their acceptance with God is only to be expected by or through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our apostle having exhorted the Ephesians to such general duties as belong to all Christians, comes now to exhort them to the practice of relative duties, as they are members of societies, and particularly as they live in a family society one with another, as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants; much of the life and power of religion appearing in the conscientious practice and performance of religious duties.
But first he gives them a general direction to submit themselves one to another in the fear of God, that is, by yielding and mutually condescending to each other, stooping to the meanest office of love and kindness one towards another; and this in the fear of God, that is, either in obedience to the command of God, which enjoins this submission, for then we perform our duty one towards another acceptably, and as we ought, when we eye the command of God in what we do: or else in the fear of God, that is, making the fear of God the rule and measure of our submission one to another; for we are by no means bound to submit ourselves in order to the pleasing of our neighbours, any farther than is consistent with that subjection and obedience which we owe to God.
Learn hence, That where that noble and divine principle of the fear of God prevaileth in the heart, it will make a man conscientiously careful of his duty towards man: the fear of God in him will have both the force of a motive to quicken him up unto, and also of a rule to guide and direct him in, that submission, which, in obedience to God is due and payable to his neighbours. Having laid down this general rule, now he comes to press us to the practice of particular duties, Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, & c.
Note here, He begins with the wife's duty first, before the husband's, probably because her duty of entire subjection is the most difficult duty, and that being conscientiously discharged, is a compelling motive to the husband to set about his duty in like manner.
Note, 2. The particular and special duty which the wife is exhorted to: and that is submission, Wives, submit yourselves. This supposes the wife's due esteem of, and her affectionate love unto, her husband, as the root of this submission.
Note, 3. The universality and extensive nature of the command: it is to all wives, to pay this tribute of subjection to their own husbands; no honour, superiority, or antecedent dignity in the wife, no personal infirmity, no moral infirmity, nay, no error in religion, can give a discharge from this obligation: there is no wife, whatever her birth and breeding, whatever her parts or privileges may be, that is exempted from this tie of subjection to her husband; for the law of nature, the ordinance of God, and her own voluntary covenant and promise in marriage, to oblige and bind her to it.
Yet, note, 4. The qualification and manner of this submission: it must be as unto the Lord; that is, in obedience to the command of the Lord, who has given the husband power over the wife, and required and will reward, her obedience to him; or else, as unto the Lord, it pointeth out a similitude, and likeness, and resemblance, in the wife's subjection to the husband, with that which they owe to Christ the Lord; that is, it must not be feigned, but sincere; it must not be constrained, but willing, from a complacency taken in the doing of this duty.
And lastly, as unto the Lord, that is, in all lawful things; the wife is by no means to obey the husband in any commands which are contrary to that submissive obedience which she owes to Christ, her supreme Lord. Now, with this limitation, the wife, in subjecting herself to her husband, is subject unto the Lord.
Note, 5. The reason given by the Holy Ghost for enforcing this duty of submissive obedience upon wives, For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, & c. that is, the wife ought to submit herself to her husband, because,
1. He is her head; and, 2. Therein doth resemble Christ's headship over his church.
Observe here, That this metaphor of an head, applied to the husband, denotes both the dignity and duty of the husband: it implies his eminency by reason of his sex; it implies his authority to govern and direct, as the head has power to guide and govern the whole body; and it points out his duty, as well as his dignity: as the head is the seat of wisdom and knowledge, so husbands should be endowed with greater measures of knowledge, and prudence, to enable them to guide and govern in the place God has set them.
And further, the apostle would have wives consider and observe that God will have some resemblance of Christ's authority over the church, held forth in the husband's authority over the wife. Is Christ an head of dominion and direction also to his church? so should the husband be to his wife. Doth Christ exercise his dominion and power over the church, not rigidly and tyrannically, but with meekness and gentleness? so should the husband rule.
In a word, is Christ the Saviour of the body meritoriously? so should the husband be ministeriously, to defend the wife from injuries, to supply her necessities, and to improve his whole power and authority over her for her good.
Note, 6. The manner of this subjection specified and declared: as the church is subject, so let the wife be subject. Is the church subject to Christ willingly, cheerfully, dutifully, delightfully? so let the wife be subject. Doth the church subject itself to Christ universally? so let the wife be subject in all things; not absolutely in all things, but in all things lawful, godly, and honest; nothing is excepted out of the wife's subjection to her husband, but that which is contrary to her duty to him who commanded this subjection; when there appears little discretion in the husband's command, then there will appear a great sense of duty in the wife's obedience.
The apostle having propounded the wife's duty first, recommends the husband's duty next; her's was the duty of submission; his, of love and entire affection. This the apostle mentions, because the husband, for want of love, is too ready to abuse that sovereignty and superiority which God has given over his wife, by proving rigorous and bitter unto her; therefore, says he, Husbands, love your wives, that is, with a special, peculiar, conjugal love, such as no other must share in.
This duty of love is very comprehensive, and it includes a very affectionate regard to her, tender care over her, cohabitation with her, contentment and satisfaction in her alone, a patient bearing with her weaknesses, a prudential hiding of her infirmities, a providing a supply of her wants suitable to her rank, a readiness to instruct and direct her, a willingness to pray for her, and with her. Where true conjugal love is found, these duties included will be performed.
Observe next, As the apostle propounded the church for a pattern of subjection to the wife, so he propounds Christ as a pattern of love to husbands: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church. Did he love his church with an active and operative love, with a real and sincere love, with an entire and undivided love, with a lasting and constant love, notwithstanding all his church's weaknesses and failings? such ought the husband's love to be, that is, every husband to his own wife. No meanness of birth, no want of education, no homeliness of person, no frowardness of disposition in the wife, will discharge the husband from the obligation of this duty towards her: Christ's example has both the force of an argument to excite us to it, and is also an exact rule to guide and direct us in it: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church.
Observe farther, The instances and evidences which Christ has given of his love unto his church; he gave himself for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse, and present her to himself a glorious church, without spot or blemish.
Here note, 1. The church's polluted and impure condition supposed, before Christ gave himself for her; the church in herself was, as the world is polluted, otherwise she had stood in no need of Christ's washing and cleansing.
Note, 2. The care of Christ to purify and cleanse his church from this pollution; he gave himself for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her; he loved her, and washed her from her sins in his own blood.
Note, 3. The instrumental means of the church's sanctification; it was with the washing of water, by the word; the word and sacraments are the great instrumental means, in the hand of Christ, by which he applies the virtue and efficacy of his death, for the sanctifying and cleansing of his church and children.
Note, 4. The holy and glorious condition which the church shall be found in at the great marriage-day: without spot or wrinkle; that he might at the last day, present her to himself, a spotless spouse, a glorious churh, having no spot of sin, or wrinkle of deformity, or any such imperfect thing, but be perfectly beautiful, holy, and without blemish; intimating that the church hath her spots and wrinkles now in her militant state; but when Christ shall at last present the church triumphant to himself, then shall she be like himself, without spot.
Blessed be God, believers have now a righteousness in Christ, without spot or wrinkle; then shall they have an holiness in themselves, without spot or wrinkle; nothing of imperfection cleaving to them, or inhering in them. The blood of Christ has already perfectly justified, and thoroughly cleansed, believers from sin's guilt; ere long the Spirit of Christ will perfectly cleanse them from all sin's filth.
O, what a pure and spotless, what a perfect and beautiful creature, will the church come out of Christ's hands, and be presented to the Father, at the great day, in the shining beauty of perfect holiness! God strengthen our faith in the belief of it, and prepare us for the full fruitation and final enjoyment of it.
Our apostle here propounds a farther argument to enforce this duty of love from husband to wife, taken from that near conjunction between them, showing that they are one flesh and one body, not in a natural, but in a relative sense; and accordingly a man should so love his wife even as himself. Doth a man love himself superlatively, cordially, tenderly, industriously, perseveringly? So ought he to love his wife. Will a man be out of love with himself, much less hate himself, though he be deformed, or by some accident maimed? In like manner ought not any natural defect, or accidental mischance, to cause a remission, much less a cessation, of the man's love unto his own wife; as it is an unnatural thing for a man to hate his own flesh personal, so his own flesh relational.
Again, a man is so far from hating his own flesh, that he nourisheth and cherisheth it with the utmost care and tenderness: in like manner ought to be kind to, and tender over, his civil-self, the wife of his bosom; in imitation likewise of Christ's example, who nourishes and cherishes his church, as being flesh of his own flesh, and bone of his own bone; that is, as near to one another by a mystical and spiritual union, as Adam and Eve were by a matrimonial union.
O stupendous privilege, for believers and Christ to be as one flesh! Husband and wife are not so near, as Christ and believers are to each other.
Here the apostle uses a farther argument to excite the husband's love to his espoused wife, taken from the law of marriage, which maketh them two one flesh in a civil sense; therefore the man should leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife: not that their obligations cease to their parents, or as if they were to cast off natural affection to them; but he shows, that there is a nearer union betwixt husband and wife, than betwixt parents and child, and that the bonds of matrimonial love are stronger than those of nature.
Their being said to be one flesh, implies a most strict union, and most intimate communion, and whereby they have one interest. Common goods, common friends, yea and all things common, as if they were but one person; but the apostle further intimates to us, at the 31st verse, that this matrimonial union betwixt man and wife, was designed by God, to shadow forth and represent that mystical union which is betwixt Christ and his Church. Doth the conjugal union give the wife an interest in the estate and honour of the husband, be she never so meanly descended in herself? in like manner, from the saints' union with Christ, does there immediately result a sweet and blessed communion or fellowship with Christ in grace and spiritual privileges; all that Christ is, and has, is theirs by communication to them, or improvement for them; well might the apostle therefore say, This is a great mystery, & c.
In the 33rd verse, the apostle shuts up his discourse upon this argument, with a repeated exhortation to the husband to love his wife, and to the wife to reverence her husband. Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself: "so love," that is, with an extensive love, reaching the whole person, soul and body; with an intensive love, above all persons and relatives whatsoever; with an hearty love, without dissimulation; with an holy love, without alteration; and with great love, beyond comparsion.
And let the wife see that she reverences her husband. The great duty which the wife owes to her husband is reverence. This is made up of three ingredients; namely, estimation, love, and fear: the wife that reverences her husband, esteems him and dares not think meanly of him; her esteem of him provokes her love unto him; and her love of him is accompanied with an ingenuous fear to offend and grieve him; and the wife expresses this reverence in her gestures, by a respectful demeanour towards him; in her speeches to him when with her, and of him when absent from her, always mentioning him with respect and honour; in her actions, by complying with his desires, by following his directions, by hearkening to his reproofs, and by her cheerful and respectful behaviour towards him at all times and in all places, as well at home as abroad before the world. And that the wife may thus reverence her husband, let her be earnest with God in prayer, for wisdom and understanding, for prudence and patience, for humility and meekness: a proud spirit would not agree with an angel, but the humble will agree with any person.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Ephesians 5". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16