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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ ephesians-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 4:1. Walk worthy of the vocation.—They had been called to life in the Spirit, and they must also “walk in the Spirit.”
Ephesians 4:2. With all lowliness.—The Christian—“born from above”—is to exhibit a trait of character which the “high-born” Greek despised, and which Heine in modern times called “a hound’s virtue.” “The pride that apes humility” steals in under Chrysostom’s description of this “lowliness.” He says, “It is a making of ourselves small when we are great.” And meekness.—“A grace in advance of ‘lowliness,’ not as more precious than it, but as presupposing it, and as being unable to exist without it” (Trench). With long-suffering.—The exact opposite of our “short-tempered”—e.g. “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?” means “Has the Lord become irritable?” (Micah 2:7). The word suggests to men by nature irascible that “slowness to wrath” recommended by St. James. Forbearing one another in love.—The brother who is tempted to anger is not to look down from the height of a lofty pride on those who try his patience, but in compassionate love, remembering his own frailty, must “suffer long and be kind.”
Ephesians 4:3. Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—It is no easy-going indifference that is inculcated; they will have to “exert themselves,” “give diligence” (R.V.), before that peace obtains which is the harmonious and frictionless working of each part of the machine.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 4:1-3
The Dignity of the Christian Life—
I. Imposes the obligation to act in harmony with its lofty aims.—“Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1). There is the practical, stimulative influence of a high ideal. The Spirit within us has not only changed our nature and cleansed our spiritual vision, but He has lifted our horizon, formed within us distinct outlines of the Christian ideal after which we are to labour, and furnished us with the moral forces with which we are to attain the beauty and unity of a perfect spiritual character. We who are created in God’s image and restored in Christ and made partakers of the divine nature in Him, are bound by the conditions of our creation and redemption to endeavour to be like Him here that we may have the fruition of His glorious Godhead hereafter. The true Christian cannot stoop to any meanness either in thought or action. He is dignified without being proud.
II. Involves the practice of self-suppression.—
1. In a just estimate of ourselves. “With all lowliness and meekness.” In endeavouring to balance the value and use of our powers and faculties, and in measuring the degree and volume of our influence, we must observe humility—not a cringing, cowardly spirit which would deter us from the right for fear of doing wrong, but an elevated sense of right with courage to perform it, and with humility to acknowledge and confess when we are in the wrong. It does not mean the craven surrender of our honest convictions and carefully formed judgment. We may efface ourselves, but not the truth within us. An Italian bishop being asked the secret of his habitual humility and patience, replied, “It consists in nothing more than in making good use of my eyes. In whatever state I am, I first of all look up to heaven and remember that my principal business here is to get there. I then look down to earth and call to mind the space I shall shortly occupy in it. I then look abroad into the world and observe what multitudes there are who in all respects have more cause to be unhappy than myself, Thus I learn where true happiness is placed, where all our cares must end, and how very little reason I have to repine or complain.”
2. In a loving forbearance towards each other.—“With longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). The meek man may be severe with himself, and his constant habit of self-suppression may render him somewhat impatient with the unreasonable outbreaks of temper in others. Meekness must be balanced and moderated with patience, and both virtues exercised in the all-pervading element of love. Love softens every harshness, tones down asperity, and welds together the Christian character in a firm but not too rigid a unity. “Bind thyself to thy brother,” said Chrysostom. “Those who are bound together in love bear all burdens lightly. Bind thyself to him and him to thee. Both are in thy power; for whomsoever I will, I may easily make my friend.”
III. Demands an earnest striving after a peaceful spiritual unity.—“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Peace—“a silken cord binding into one the members of the Church; the encompassing element of the unity of the Spirit” (Beet). The apostle repeatedly and solemnly inculcates unity and peace on all the Churches, warns them against contentions and divisions, and kindles into righteous indignation against all those insidious and false teachers who, under the pretence of advocating a higher piety, really disturb and rend the Church of Christ. On what an enormous scale are preparations made for war! We should not be less diligent and elaborate in taking every precaution in promoting and maintaining peace.
1. True humility is always dignified.
2. Personal happiness is not the highest aim of the Christian life.
3. The noblest virtues of the Christian character are not attained without earnest endeavour.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 4:1-3. True Church Life.—
1. The word “walk” is of a very extensive signification. It includes all our inward and outward motions, all our thoughts, words, and actions. It takes in, not only everything we do, but everything we either speak or think.
2. We are called to walk, first, “with all lowliness,” to have the mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus; not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think; to be little, and poor, and mean, and vile in our own eyes; to know ourselves as also we are known by Him to whom all hearts are opened; to be deeply sensible of our own unworthiness. Who can be duly sensible how much remains in him of his natural enmity to God, or how far he is still alienated from God by the ignorance that is in him?
3. Yea, suppose God has now thoroughly cleansed our heart, and scattered the last remains of sin; yet how can we be sensible enough of our own helplessness, our utter inability to all good, unless we are every hour, yea, every moment, endued with power from on high?
4. When our inmost soul is thoroughly tinctured therewith, it remains that we “be clothed with humility.” The word used by St. Peter seems to imply that we be covered with it as with a surtout; that we be all humility, both within and without; tincturing all we think, speak, and do. Let all our actions spring from this fountain; let all our words breathe this spirit; that all men may know we have been with Jesus, and have learned of Him to be lowly in heart.
5. And being taught of Him who teacheth as never man taught, to be meek as well as lowly in heart. This implies not only a power over anger, but over all violent, turbulent passions. It implies the having all our passions in due proportion; none of them either too strong or too weak, but all duly balanced with each other, all subordinate to reason, and reason directed by the Spirit of God.
6. Walk with all “longsuffering.” This is nearly related to meekness, but implies something more. It carries on the victory already gained over all your turbulent passions, notwithstanding all the powers of darkness, all the assaults of evil men or evil spirits. It is patiently triumphant over all opposition, and unmoved though all the waves and storms thereof go over you.
7. The “forbearing one another in love” seems to mean, not only the not resenting anything, and the not avenging yourselves; not only the not injuring, hurting, or grieving each other, either by word or deed, but also the bearing one another’s burdens, yea, and lessening them by every means in our power. It implies the sympathising with them in their sorrows, afflictions, and infirmities; the bearing them up when, without our help, they would be liable to sink under their burdens.
8. Lastly, the true members of the Church of Christ “endeavour,” with all possible diligence, with all care and pains, with unwearied patience, to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” to preserve inviolate the same spirit of lowliness and meekness, of longsuffering, mutual forbearance, and love; and all these cemented and knit together by that sacred tie—the peace of God filling the heart. Thus only can we be and continue living members of that Church which is the body of Christ.
9. Does it not clearly appear from this whole account why, in the ancient creed commonly called the Apostles’, we term it the universal or catholic Church, “the holy catholic Church”? The Church is called holy, because it is holy, because every member thereof is holy, though in different degrees, as He that called them is holy. How clear this is! If the Church, as to the very essence of it, is a body of believers, no man that is not a Christian believer can be a member of it. If this whole body be animated by one Spirit, and endued with one faith, and one hope of their calling, then he who has not that Spirit and faith and hope is no member of this body. It follows, that not only no common swearer, no Sabbath-breaker, no drunkard, no whoremonger, no thief, no liar, none that lives in any outward sin, but none that is under the power of anger or pride, no lover of the world—in a word, none that is dead to God—can be a member of His Church.—Wesley.
Brotherly Love in Action.
I. Walk in lowliness.—Humble thoughts of ourselves, of our own knowledge, goodness, and importance are necessary to Christian peace and union. We shall not despise our brethren for their want of the internal gifts or external advantages we enjoy. We shall not lean to our own understanding; but, conscious of our liability to err, we shall be attentive to instruction and reproof, open to conviction, ready to retract our errors and confess our faults.
II. Walk in meekness—in a prudent restraint and government of the passions. We shall not be easily provoked, our resentments will not be sudden, without cause or without bounds. If a variance happens, we shall stand ready to be reconciled. We shall be cautious not to give, and slow to take offence. In matters of religion our zeal will be tempered with charity.
III. To our meekness we must add longsuffering and forbearance.—These terms express the patient and exalted exercise of meekness rather than virtues distinct from it. We are not only to be meek, but longsuffering in our meekness; not only to restrain anger under ordinary offences, but to suppress malice and forbear revenge under the most provoking injuries.
IV. We must endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—Not unity of opinion—this is not possible, nor reasonable to be expected, in the present state of mankind; but unity of spirit, of heart and affection, disposing us to preserve the bond of peace and maintain all the duties of Christian fellowship, whatever differences of sentiment take place. To the same purpose are the apostle’s exhortations to all the Churches, and especially to those in which diversity of opinion concerning ceremonial usages threatened their external peace.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 4:3. Peace the Bond of Unity.
I. There is a union of the visible Church and the members thereof among themselves, and this is twofold: the one necessary to the being of a Church and being of a Church member, so that a Church cannot be a Church nor a man a member without it, the tie of which is God’s covenant with the visible Church, and the Church’s laying hold of it; the other necessary to the well-being of the Church, which is entertained by unity in judgment, in heart and affection, by concurrences in purposes and actings.
II. Neither fair pretences for peace and union in the Church, not seconded but contradicted by practice, nor yet careless endeavours easily broken by difficulties, will God accept as the duty required for preserving or restoring unity.—There is no less called for than the utmost of our serious endeavours for that end, so that we not only eschew what may give cause of rending, but also be not easily provoked when it is given by others, and when a rent is made spare no pains for having it removed, and weary not under small appearances of success.
III. Whatever differences may fall out among the members of the Church they are not to break the bond of peaceable walking one with another by factious sidings, but ought to study unanimous and joint practice in those things wherein there is agreement; and where this peaceable deportment is, it tends to preserve what remains of spiritual unity and to regain what is already lost.—Fergusson.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 4:4-6. One body … and in you all.—“Seven elements of unity St. Paul enumerates.… They form a chain stretching from the Church on earth to the throne and being of the universal Father in heaven” (Findlay).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 4:4-6
The Sevenfold Unity of the Church reflected in the Trinity of Divine Persons.
I. One Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), the animating Principle of the one body (Ephesians 4:4)—the Church; the Source of its life and ever-watchful Guardian of the Church’s unity; the Inspirer of the one hope, “Even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4). Where the Spirit of Christ dwells as a vitalising, formative principle, He finds or makes for Himself a body. Let no man say, “I have the spirit of religion, I can dispense with forms, I need no fellowship with men, I prefer to walk with God.” God will not walk with men who do not care to walk with His people. The oneness of communion amongst the people of Christ is governed by a unity of aim. The old pagan world fell to pieces because it was without hope; its golden age was in the past. No society can endure that lives upon its memories, or that contents itself with cherishing its privileges. Nothing holds men together like work and hope. Christianity holds out a splendid crown of life. It promises our complete restoration to the image of God, the redemption of the body with the spirit from death, and our entrance upon an eternal fellowship with Christ in heaven. The Christian hope supplies to men more truly and constantly than Nature in her most exalted forms
“The anchor of their purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of their heart, and soul
Of all their moral being.”
The hope of our calling is a hope for mankind, nay, for the entire universe. We labour for the regeneration of humanity. We look for the actual ingathering into one in Christ of all things in all worlds, as they are already gathered in God’s eternal plan. If it were merely a personal salvation that we had to seek, Christian communion might appear to be an optional thing and the Church no more than a society for mutual spiritual benefit. But seen in this larger light, Church membership is of the essence of our calling (Findlay).
II. One Lord (Ephesians 4:5), or Master, whom we are called to serve. A consentaneous and harmonious obedience to His mandates blends His servants into one compact unity. One faith (Ephesians 4:5), one body of inviolable truth, one code of divine commands, one gospel of promise, presenting one object of faith. One baptism (Ephesians 4:5), one gateway of entrance into the company of believers forming the one Church, one initiatory right common to all. Christians may differ as to the mode of baptism and the age at which it should be administered, but all agree it is an institution of Christ, a sign of spiritual renewal, and a pledge of the righteousness that comes by faith. Wherever the sacraments are duly observed, there the supremacy of Christ’s rule is recognised, and this rule is the basis on which future unity must be built.
III. One God, the supreme and final unity, who is “the Father of all,” who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Ephesians 4:6). Above all—He reigns supreme over all His people (Romans 9:5). Through all—informing, inspiring, stimulating, and using them as instruments to work out His purposes (Romans 11:36). In all—dwelling in and filling their hearts and the ever-widening circle of their experience. “The absolute sovereignty of the divine Mind over the universe,” said Channing, “is the only foundation of hope for the triumph of the human mind over matter, over physical influences, over imperfection and death.” With what a grand simplicity the Christian conception of the one God and Father rose above the vulgar pantheon, the swarm of motley deities—some gay and wanton, some dark and cruel, some of supposed beneficence, all infected with human passion and baseness—which filled the imagination of the Græco-Asiatic pagans. What rest there was for the mind, what peace and freedom for the spirit, in turning from such deities to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! This was the very God whom the logic of Greek thought and the practical instincts of Roman law and empire blindly sought. Through ages He had revealed Himself to the people of Israel, who were now dispersed amongst the nations to bear His light. At last He declared His full name and purpose to the world in Jesus Christ. So the gods many and lords many have had their day. By His manifestation the idols are utterly abolished. The proclamation of one God and Father signifies the gathering of men into one family of God. The one religion supplies the basis for one life in all the world. God is over all, gathering all worlds and beings under the shadow of His beneficent dominion. He is through all and in all; an omnipresence of love, righteousness, and wisdom, actuating the powers of nature and of grace, inhabiting the Church and the heart of men (Findlay).
1. In the moral as in the material world there is diversity in unity and unity in diversity.
2. All phases of good find their consummation in an imperishable unity.
3. To disturb the balance of unity is a great evil.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 4:4-6. The Unity of the Church.
I. There is one body.—The Church is a body of which Christ is the Head, and believers are the members. Though Christians are formed into distinct societies, they constitute but one body. They are united to the Head by faith and to their fellow-members by love.
II. There is one Spirit.—As all members of the natural body are animated by one soul, so all the members of Christ’s body are sanctified, strengthened, and led by the same Spirit. Since there is one Spirit which dwells in all Christians, all contention, bitterness, and envy, all animosity, division, and separation in the Church are offences against the Holy Spirit.
III. There is one hope of our calling.—We are all called by the same word, our hope is grounded on the same promises, the object of our hope is the same immortal life.
IV. There is one Lord.—Christ is Lord of all by the same right. He has bought us with a high price, redeemed us by His own blood. There is no respect of persons with him. We are called to the same service, are under the same laws, and must appear at the same judgment.
V. There is one faith.—The same gospel is the rule of our faith, and this all Christians profess to receive. The faith of all true Christians is essentially the same. The object of it is the word of God, the nature of it is receiving the love of the truth, the effect of it is to purify the heart.
VI. There is one baptism.—We are all baptised in the name of Christ, and He is not divided. May differ as to the age at which persons become the subjects of baptism and the manner of administration, but regarding the design of it we are one. Baptism intended not to divide, but unite the whole Christian world.
VII. There is one God and Father.—The Father of the whole creation, but in a more eminent sense the Father of Christians. He is above all. He reigns supreme. He is through all. His essence pervades our frame, His eyes search and try our souls, His influence preserves our spirits. He is in all. In all true Christians by His Spirit. They are the temple of God, and His Spirit dwelleth in them.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 4:4. The Oneness of the Church.—
1. All the members of the Church being one body is a strong argument enforcing the duty of keeping peace and unity; it being no less absurd for Christians to bite and devour one another than if the members of the selfsame natural body should tear and destroy one another.
2. As those in nature are in a hopeless state, having no right to heaven and happiness, so the gospel doth open to the person called a large door of well-grounded hope, that, whatever be his misery here, he shall be perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God for ever hereafter.
3. The joint aiming of the saints at one mark should make them of one mind and heart, seeing there is that in glory which will suffice all. Their seeking of one thing need be no occasion of strife and emulation, but rather of unity, for why should they strive together who not only are brethren but also heirs together of the grace of life and shall one day reign together in glory?—Fergusson.
One Body and One Spirit.
I. The unity or oneness of the Church as set forth by the unity or oneness of the body.—One life animates the whole. The parts mutually subserve one another, while the head thinks and the heart beats for all. There is a certain harmony existing between all the members; they constitute a symmetry among themselves, so that one could not be taken away without destroying the perfection of all the others, more or less marring the grace and beauty of the whole frame. So the Church is one—one mystical body—having one author, God; one Head, which is Christ; and one informing Spirit, the Holy Ghost; one country towards which all its members are travelling, heaven; one code of instructions to guide them thither, the word of God; one and the same band of enemies seeking to bar their passage, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Despite all miserable divisions, wherever there is a man with true love to God and man, any true affiance on Christ, any true obedience to the Spirit and His leadings, there exists a member of this mystical body.
II. As in the human body there is unity, so there is also variety, diversity, multiplicity.—This is true of the Church of Christ. Its different members have different functions and offices, and in performing these the Church makes equable and harmonious growth.
1. As members of the same body, let us not separate from brethren in Christ.
2. If we are members one of another, many are the debts as such we owe the one to the other.
(1) We owe one another truth.
(2) Love one to another.
(3) Honour one to another.—R. C. Trench.
Ephesians 4:5. One Lord.
I. Christ is our Lord according to every notion and acceptation of the word “Lord.”—He is our Prince and Governor, we are His subjects and vassals; He is our Master, and we are His servants; He is our Owner, or the Possessor and Proprietary of us; He is our Preceptor or Teacher; that is, the Lord of our understanding, which is subject to the belief of His dictates; and the Lord of our practice, which is to be directed by His precepts. He is therefore also our Captain and Leader, whose orders we must observe, whose conduct we should follow, whose pattern we are to regard and imitate in all things.
II. Christ is also our Lord according to every capacity or respect of nature or office that we can consider appertaining to Him.—
1. He is our Lord as by nature the Son of God, partaking of the divine essence and perfection.
2. He is our Lord as man, by the voluntary appointment and free donation of God His Father; in regard to the excellency of His Person, and to the merit of His performances.
3. He also, considered as God and man united in one Person, is plainly our Lord.
4. If we are to consider Him as Jesus, our Saviour, that notion doth involve acts of dominion, and thence resulteth a title thereto. Nothing more becomes a Lord than to protect and save; none better deserves the right and the name of a Lord than a Saviour.
5. Likewise, if He be considered as the Christ, that especially implieth Him anointed and consecrated to sovereign dominion, as King of the Church.
III. Survey the several grounds upon which dominion may be built, and we shall see that upon all accounts He is our Lord.—
1. An uncontrollable power and ability to govern is one certain ground of dominion.
2. To make, to preserve, to provide and dispense maintenance, are also clear grounds of dominion.
3. He hath acquired us by free donation from God His Father.
4. He hath acquired us by just right of conquest, having subdued those enemies unto whom (partly by their fraud and violence, partly from our own will and consent) we did live enslaved and addicted.
5. He hath also further acquired us to Himself by purchase, having by a great price bought us, ransomed us out of sad captivity, and redeemed us from grievous punishment due to us.
6. He likewise acquired a lordship over us by desert, and as a reward from God, suitable to His performances of obedience and patience, highly satisfactory and acceptable to God.
7. He hath acquired a good right and title to dominion over us as our continual most munificent benefactor.
8. Our Saviour Jesus is not only our Lord by nature and by acquisition in so many ways (by various performances, deserts, and obligations put on us), but He is also so by our own deeds, by most free and voluntary, most formal and solemn, and therefore most obligatory acts of ours.
(1) If we are truly persuaded that Christ is our Lord and Master, we must then see ourselves obliged humbly to submit unto and carefully to observe His will, to attend unto and to obey His law, with all readiness and diligence.
(2) If Christ be our Lord, then are we not our own lords or our own men; we are not at liberty, or at our own disposal, as to our own persons or our actions.
(3) If Christ be our Lord (absolutely and entirely such), then can we have no other lords whatever in opposition to Him, or in competition with Him, or otherwise any way than in subordination and subserviency to Him.
(4) If Christ be our Lord, we are thereby disobliged, yea, we are indeed prohibited, from pleasing or humouring men, so as to obey any command, to comply with any desire, or to follow any custom of theirs, which is repugnant to the will or precept of Christ.
(5) Finally, for our satisfaction and encouragement, we may consider that the service of Christ is rather indeed a great freedom than a service.—Barrow.
Ephesians 4:6. God the Father.
I. God is the universal Father.—
1. God is the Father of all things, or of us as creatures, as the efficient Cause and Creator of them all.
2. The Father of intellectual beings. He is styled the Father of spirits; the angels, in way of excellency, are called the sons of God.
3. The Father in a more especial manner of mankind.
4. The Father of all good men, such a relation being built upon higher grounds; for as good they have another original from Him, virtue springs in their hearts from a heavenly seed, that emendation and perfection of nature is produced by His grace enlightening and quickening them; they are images of Him, resembling Him in judgment and disposition of mind, in will and purpose, in action and behaviour, which resemblances argue them to be sons of God and constitute them such.
II. The uses of this truth.—
1. It may teach us what reverence, honour, and observance are due from us to God, in equity and justice, according to ingenuity and gratitude.
2. This consideration may instruct and admonish us what we should be and how we should behave ourselves, for if we be God’s children it becometh us, and we are obliged in our disposition and demeanour to resemble, to imitate Him. It is natural and proper for children to resemble their parents in their complexion and countenance, to imitate them in their actions and carriage.
3. This consideration may raise us to a just regard, esteem, and valuation of ourselves; may inspire noble thoughts and breed generous inclinations in us; may withdraw us from mean, base, and unworthy designs or practices; may excite and encourage us to handsome, brave, worthy resolutions and undertakings suitable to the dignity of our nature, the nobleness of our descent, the eminence of so high a relation, of so near an alliance to God.
4. This consideration is a motive to humility, apt to depress vain conceit and confidence in ourselves. If we are God’s children, so as to have received our beings, all our powers and abilities, all our goods and wealth, both internal and external, both natural and spiritual, from His free disposal, so as be continually preserved and maintained by His providence to depend for all our subsistence upon His care and bounty, what reason can we have to assume or ascribe anything to ourselves?
5. This consideration shows us the reason we have to submit entirely to the providence of God with contentedness and acquiescence in every condition.
6. Obligeth us to be patient and cheerful in the sorest afflictions, as deeming them to come from a paternal hand, inflicted with great affection and compassion, designed for and tending to our good.
7. Shows the reason we have to obey those precepts which enjoin us to rely on God’s providence.
8. Serves to breed and cherish our faith, to raise our hope, to quicken our devotion. For whom shall we confide in if not in such a Father? From whom can we expect good if not from Him? To whom can we have recourse so freely and cheerfully on any occasion if not to Him?
9. Considering this point will direct and prompt us how to behave ourselves towards all God’s creatures according to their respective natures and capacities. If God be the Father of all things, they are all thence in some sort our brethren, and so may claim from us a fraternal affection and demeanour answerable thereto.—Barrow.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 4:7. But unto every one of us is given grace.—The distributing Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11) leaves no humblest member of the body of Christ without his endowment.
Ephesians 4:8. Wherefore He saith.—What follows is a quotation of Psalms 68:18 “with free alteration” (Meyer), adapting the return of the hero-king to his own city to that most magnificent of all triumphs—over Hades and Death—achieved by Him “who was dead and is alive for evermore.” “Being by the right hand of God exalted He hath poured forth this” abundance, as a conqueror scatters his largess.
Ephesians 4:9-10. Now that He ascended … that He might fill all things.—The exaltation, in His case, presupposed the humiliation. From the throne of the universe—“the glory which He had with the Father”—to the profoundest depths where any poor lost piece of humanity that is redeemable can be found, and thence again to the throne He relinquished. The same also.—Exalted, to be confidingly and adoringly loved; humbled, to be worshipped no less as “the Son of man who is in heaven.”
Ephesians 4:11. And He gave some to be, etc.—“Christ gave the persons, and the community gave to them the service” (Meyer). Apostles … prophets … evangelists.—We cannot accept the order as significant of rank. It would grace an angel to be the “evangelist” of such a salvation. As apostles they went forth “sent” by their Master to men in their need; as prophets they “spoke out” what He had taught them; as evangelists they were the messengers of good tidings. They were apostles that they might be evangelists (Matthew 10:5-7), “going about heralding” the kingdom and gathering men into it. Pastors and teachers.—Shepherds and instructors of those gathered together by men of another order. These are the true “bishops,” whatever “other name” they bear (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Ephesians 4:12. For the perfecting of the saints.—“Saints,” whilst a title of the highest honour, is often expressive of the ideal rather than the real life of those who bear it; the “perfecting” is the rendering into actual life of what is implied in the term of honour. For the work of the ministry.—R.V. “into the work.” If the end of all Christ’s gifts so far as “the saints” are concerned is their perfect equipment, so far as His messengers are concerned they go forth unto service first, honour afterwards. For the edifying of the body of Christ.—Practically the same as the foregoing, but with an ultimate reference to Christ. The double figure of a building and of a body is familiar to our own speech, as when we speak of “building up a strong frame.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 4:7-12
The Gifts of Christ to His Church—
I. That each member of the Church possesses some gift from Christ.—“Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). All are not alike talented, but each one has some gift of grace. Every gift is not from earth, but from heaven; not from man, but from Christ. Look not down, then, as swine to the acorns they find lying there, and never once up to the tree they come from. Look up; the very frame of our body bears that way. It is nature’s check to the body. “Graces are what a man is; but enumerate his gifts and you will know what he has. He is loving, he has eloquence, or medical skill, or legal knowledge, or the gift of acquiring languages, or that of healing. You have only to cut out his tongue, or to impair his memory, and the gift is gone. But you must destroy his very being, change him into another man, obliterate his identity, before he ceases to be a loving man. Therefore you may contemplate the gift separate from the man; you may admire it and despise him. But you cannot contemplate the grace separate from the man” (F. W. Robertson).
“If facts allure thee, think how BACON shined,
The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.”
The humblest member of the Church of Christ is not without his gift. The grace of the gospel elevates and sanctifies all his powers and opportunities, and turns them into noblest uses.
II. That the gifts of Christ to His Church are distributed with the lavish generosity of a conquoror returning from the field of victory (Ephesians 4:8-10).—We have read of the profuse gifts of victorious warriors:—of Gonsalvo, the great Spanish captain, whose unselfish prodigality was proverbial. “Never stint your hand,” he was accustomed to say: “there is no way of enjoying one’s property like giving it away”;—of Alexander the Great, who on one occasion gave a blank draft to one of his generals with liberty to fill in any amount he chose. When the treasurer, surprised at the enormous sum inserted, asked his imperial master if there was not some mistake, he answered: “No; pay it, pay it: the man honours me by assuming the inexhaustible resources of my empire”;—of Belisarius, whose victories were always followed by liberal and extravagant largesses. “By the union of liberality and justice,” writes Gibbon, “he acquired the love of his soldiers, without alienating the affections of the people. The sick and wounded were relieved with medicines and money, and still more efficaciously by the healing visits and smiles of their commander. The loss of a weapon or a horse was instantly repaired, and each deed of valour was rewarded by the rich and honourable gifts of a bracelet or a collar, which were rendered more precious by the judgment of Belisarius. He was endeared to the husbandmen by the peace and plenty which they enjoyed under the shadow of his standard. Instead of being injured, the country was enriched by the march of the Roman armies; and such was the rigid discipline of their camp that not an apple was gathered from the tree, not a path could be traced in the fields of corn. Victory by sea and land attended his arms. He subdued Africa, Italy, and the adjacent islands, led away captives the successors of Genseric and Theodoric, filled Constantinople with the spoils of their palaces, and in the space of six years recovered half the provinces of the Western empire”;—and of Aurelian, whose triumphant entry into Rome after his victories in the East was the longest, most brilliant, and imposing of any recorded in the annals of the empire, and was signalised by rich donations to the army and the people; the Capitol and every other temple glittered with the offerings of his ostentatious piety, and the temple of the sun alone received above fifteen thousand pounds of gold. But who can measure the munificence of the ascended Saviour, the divine Conqueror, who, as the fruit of His unparalleled victory, has scattered His gifts among men, to enrich them for ever? He gives not grudgingly and sparingly, but after the measure of His own great nature. He gives not for display but for blessing, and His smallest gift out-values the most lavish donation of the richest earthly benefactor.
III. That the gifts of Christ qualify men for special work in His Church (Ephesians 4:11).—The “apostles, prophets, evangelists” linked Church to Church and served the entire body; the “pastors and teachers” had charge of local and congregational affairs. The apostles, with the prophets, were the founders of the Church. Their distinctive functions ceased when the foundation was laid and the deposit of revealed truth was complete. The evangelistic and pastoral callings remain; and out of them have sprung all the variety of Christian ministries since exercised. Evangelists, with apostles or missionaries, bring new souls to Christ and carry His message into new lands. Pastors and teachers follow in their train, tending the ingathered sheep, and labouring to make each flock that they shepherd, and every single man, perfect in Christ Jesus.
IV. That the gifts of Christ furnish the full moral equipment of the members of His Church (Ephesians 4:12).—Christ’s gifts of great and good men in every age have been bestowed for a thoroughly practical purpose—“the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, the edifying of the body of Christ.” No one man has all the gifts requisite for the full development of the Church; but it is the privilege and honour of each worker to use his special gift for the general good. The combination of gifts, faithfully and diligently employed, effects the desired end. The Church must be built up, and this can be done only by the harmonious use of the gifts of Christ, not by mere human expedients. “We may have eloquent preaching, crowded churches, magnificent music, and all the superficial appearance of a great religious movement, whilst the vaunted revival is only a poor galvanised thing, a corpse twitching with a strange mimicry of life, but possessed of none of its vital energy and power.” Gifts are dangerous without the grace and wisdom to use them. Many a brilliant genius has gone down into oblivion by the reckless abuse of his gifts. Christ endows His people with gifts that they may use them for the increase and upbuilding of His Church, and they must be exercised in harmony with the rules and purpose of the divine Architect. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
1. Christ’s estimate of His Church is seen in the spiritual riches He has lavished upon it.
2. The gifts of each member of the Church are for the benefit of all.
3. The gifts of Christ to His Church are the offerings of a boundless love.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 4:7. The Gospel according to Mark.—The writers of the four gospels completed their work not for the sake of making a literary reputation for themselves, or of adding to the literary masterpieces of the world, but for the spiritual benefit of the Christian Church. Christ our Lord sitting in the heavens, seeing exactly what was wanted in the apostolic Churches, and in the Church of all time, seeing what was wanted in the evangelists themselves if they were to supply the Church’s wants, measured out His gifts to the evangelists. Accordingly, to each evangelist He gave that special gift which was needed in order to do his particular work. What was the grace that was given to St. Mark? It has been said that St. Mark’s gospel has no special character, that it is the least original of the four, that it is insipid, that it might have been dispensed with without loss to the harmony of the evangelical narrative. Even St. Augustine has spoken of it as an epitome of St. Matthew; and his deservedly great authority has obtained a currency of this opinion in the Western Church. But in point of fact, although St. Mark has more in common with St. Matthew than with any other evangelist, he is far from being a mere epitomist of the first gospel. He narrates at least three independent incidents which St. Matthew does not notice. He has characteristics which are altogether his own.
I. St. Mark is remarkable for his great attention to subordinate details.—He supplies many particulars which evangelists who write more at length altogether omit. From him, for instance, we learn the name of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, and of Bartimæus, the blind man healed by our Lord. From him we learn how Simon of Cyrene was related to well-known Christians of the next generation—Alexander and Rufus. He it is who tells us that the woman of Canaan whose petition our Lord so indulgently received was a Syrophenician, and that our Lord was popularly spoken of as the carpenter. He is careful to point out more minutely than do others the scenes in which our Lord took part on four occasions. He describes particularly our Lord’s look. He notes the express affections of our Lord’s human soul, His love for the rich young man, His anger with the Pharisee, His pity for the leper, His groaning in spirit on two separate occasions. And here we have something more than a literary peculiarity—than a style of writing which corresponds to those pre-Raphaelite artists who render every leaf and every blade of grass with scrupulous accuracy. I say that we are here face to face with a moral and spiritual excellence which forms part of the special grace given to St. Mark. Close attention to details in any workman means a recognition of the sacredness of fact. Where details are lost sight of, or blurred over, in the attempt to produce a large, general, indistinct effect, there is always a risk of indifference to the realities of truth. The very least fact is sacred, whatever be its relative importance to other facts. But in a life like that of our Lord, everything is necessarily glowing with interest, however trivial it might appear to be in any other connection. This care for details is thus the expression of a great grace—reverence for truth, reverence for every fragment of truth that touched the human life of the Son of God.
II. St. Mark is remarkable for the absence of a clearly discernible purpose in his gospel, over and above that of furnishing a narrative of our Lord’s conflict with sin and evil during His life as man upon the earth. The three other evangelists have each of them a manifest purpose in writing of this kind. St. Matthew wishes to show to the Jews that our Lord is the Messiah of the Jewish prophecy. St. Luke would teach the Gentile Churches that He is the Redeemer whose saving power may be claimed through faith by the whole race of men. St. John is, throughout, bent upon showing that He speaks and acts while in the flesh as the eternal Word or Son of God, who has been made flesh and was dwelling among us. And it has been said that St. Mark’s narrative is an expansion of those words of Peter—that Jesus of Nazareth “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him.” Probably this is true; but then these words describe not a purpose beyond the narrative, but the substance of the narrative itself. St. Mark simply records a sacred life as he had learned it from the lips of Peter, not for any purpose beyond the narrative itself; but whatever it might prove beyond itself, it was to a believing Christian unspeakably precious.
III. A few words in conclusion.—“Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” As no two human souls exactly resemble each other, so no two souls are endowed in an exactly similar way. And for the difference of endowment let us be sure there is always a reason in the divine Mind, for each soul in every generation has its appointed work to do, without itself as within itself; and it is endowed with exactly the grace, whether of mind or heart, which will best enable it to do that particular work. Some may think that they have received little or nothing—some gift so small as to be scarcely appreciable. The probability is that they have not yet considered what God has done for them. They have spent their time in thinking of what He has withheld, instead of thinking of what He has given; of what they might have been, instead of what they are. Certainly the grace which our Lord gave to St. Paul when he wrote his great epistle to the Romans was immensely greater than that which He gave to Tertius, the poor amanuensis, who took it down from the apostle’s dictation, and who inserts a greeting from himself just at the end of the document. And yet Tertius, too, had his part in the work—a humble but a very real part, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. He did not say, “Because I am not the eye I am not of the body.” He made the most of the grace which was certainly his. And others may think, rightly or wrongly, that unto them very great graces have been given according to the gift of Christ, that they are the hands or the eyes of the holy body, the men who do its work, or the men who discern the truths which support its life. Well, if it be so, this is a reason, not for confident satisfaction, but for anxiety. Such gifts as these are edge tools; they may easily prove the ruin of their possessors. For all such gifts an account must one day most assuredly be rendered; and if self has appropriated that which belongs to God or to His Church, it cannot but entail misery on the possessor. If a man has wealth, or ability, or station; much more if he has cultivated intelligence and generous impulses; most of all if his heart has been fired by the love of God, and the unseen is to him a serious reality, and he has hopes and motives which really transcend the frontiers of the world of sense, then, assuredly, his safety lies in remembering that he is a trustee who will one day have to present his account at the great audit, when the eminence of his gifts will be the exact measure of his responsibility. Eighteen centuries have passed since St. Mark went to reign somewhere beneath his Master’s throne whose life he had described; but he has left us the result of his choicest gift—he has left us his gospel. What has it—what have the three gospels—hitherto done for each of us? It is recorded that John Butler, an excellent Church of England layman of the last generation, stated on his death-bed that on looking back on his life the one thing he most regretted was that he had not given more time to the careful study of the life of our Lord in the four evangelists. Probably he has not been alone in that regret; and if the truth were told, many of us would have to confess that we spend much more thought and time upon the daily papers, which describe the follies and errors of the world, than on the records of that life which was given for the world’s redemption. The festival of an evangelist ought to suggest a practical resolution that, so far as we are concerned, the grace which he received, according to the measure of the gift of Christ, shall not, please God, be lost. Ten minutes a day seriously spent on our knees, with the gospel in our hands, will do more to quicken faith, love, reverence, spiritual and moral insight and power, than we can easily think.—H. P. Liddon.
Ephesians 4:9-10. The contrasted Humiliation and Exaltation of Christ.
I. The circumstances of the Saviour’s depression from His original state.—We say that a person stoops, that he bends, that he sinks. Moral correspondencies to these actions are understood. They are condescensions. Immanuel is the name of our Saviour when born into our world and dwelling in it—God with us. A local residence is thus described. And we are informed of the degree which marks His coming down from heaven, of the manner in which He came into the world—He descended into the lower parts of the earth. What lowliness is this! Similar terms are employed in other portions of the inspired volume; by collating them with those of the text we shall most satisfactorily determine its sense.
1. The incarnation of Christ may be thus expressed.—To what did He not submit? By what was He not buffeted? What insult did not disfigure His brow? What shade did not cloud His countenance? What deep waters did not go over His soul? His was humanity in its severest pressures and humblest forms.
2. This form of language may denote the death of Christ.—It is the ordinary phrase of the Old Testament: “They shall go into the lower parts of the earth: Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.” Does it not seem strange that His soul should be commended hence who had often bound death to His bidding and summoned from the grave its prey? He is brought low to the dust of death. The erect figure is prostrated. The instinctive life is arrested. That mysterious frame—related to the infinite and the divine temple of all greatness, shrine of all sanctity—that “Holy Thing” sleeps in death.
3. This style may be intended to intimate that burial to which He yielded.—“Lest I become like them that go down into the pit.” “So must the Son of man be in the heart of the earth.” He has made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death! He is put away into darkness. He is held of death in its gloomy chambers. He is as a victim and a prey. It is a prison-keep.
4. The separation of the Redeemer’s body and spirit may be described in these words.—We mark in this departure of His soul the simple requirement of death. It could not be retained. It descended into the lower parts of the earth. This is the reverse of resurrection and heavenward flight. It was humiliation. These are the gradations of His descent. These are the “lower parts of the earth” to which He declined. This is His coming forth from the Father! This is His coming down from heaven! This is His coming into the world! His measureless surrender of claims! His inconceivable renunciation of honours! Stooping to inferior and still inferior levels of ignominy! Plunging to deeper and still deeper abysses of shame!
II. The glory of His subsequent exaltation.—
1. It is in itself an absolute expression of love.
2. It justifies an expectation of surpassing benefits.
3. The act regulates and secures its own efficiency.
4. This act is to be regarded as of incomparable worth and excellence.—The mission of Christ contemplated the highest principles which can direct the divine conduct. He came to vindicate that character which to conceive aright is the happiness of all creatures—to uphold and avenge that law which cannot be infringed without an utter loss of good and overthrow of order—to atone for sin whose slight and impunity would have been the allowance of infinite mischiefs and evils—to bring in an everlasting righteousness adequate to the justification of the most guilty, and of the most multiplied objects who needed it—leaving it for ever proved that no rule nor sanction of God’s moral government can be violated without a necessary and meet resentment! His ascension was a radiant triumph. Scarcely is it more described than His resurrection. We catch but a few notes of the resounding acclaim, we mark but a few fleeces of the glory-cloud, we recognise but a few attendants of the angel-train. With that laconic force which characterises holy writ, it is simply recorded, “Who is gone into heaven.”
III. The reciprocal influence of these respective facts.—“The same” was He who bowed Himself to these indignities and who seized these rewards. And this identity is of the greatest value. Not only do we hail Him in His reinstatement in original dignities, but in the augmentation of His glories. Deity was never so beheld before. There is a combination and a form of the divine perfections entirely new. We repine that He is not here. We forget that it is expedient that He should go away. Heaven alone provides scope for His undertakings and channel for His influences. There must He abide until the restitution of all things. But nothing of His sympathy or His grace do we forego.—R. W. Hamilton.
Ephesians 4:9-10. The Ascension and its Results.
I. With respect to the new heavens and the new earth, what may we not infer from the ascension of Christ in full integrity of His nature above all heavens with respect to the conversion and transformation and ennobling of this material?—The nature and history of His person revealed the relations clearly between heaven and earth, between God and man, between the material and the spiritual. We cannot for a moment look upon the transformation and exaltation of Christ’s nature as an isolated fact dissociated from the restitution and exaltation of all things spoken of in His word. The nature with which He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven was the same nature in which He was crucified, though glorified and swallowed up of life. Must we not say, then, that the body which ascended in relation to the body which was crucified and laid in the grave may illustrate the relation of the present heavens and the new earth? And, in accordance with this idea, are there not every way most wonderful changes and transformations of which the ascension of Christ’s body seems to be the fulfilment and crown and also the firstfruits? The flower from its imprisoned bud, the insect from its grovelling form, light out of darkness, electricity from ponderable elements, the strange affinities of matter striving to break forth from their captivity, the unerring instincts of animal life held, as it were, in bondage—all seem to point with prophetic finger to a future deliverance and ennobled state and condition whilst meekly waiting, but with earnest expectation, with the whole creation for the deliverance and glorious liberty of the sons of God. The gospel therefore contains a gospel for nature as well as for man—the prediction of the day when the strife of elements shall cease, when the powers of darkness shall be swallowed up of life, when the lion shall lie down with the lamb, when the tares shall no longer grow with the wheat, when creation, now so weary, shall lift up her head and rejoice in the redemption for which she now groans and travails.
II. If we cannot dissociate the history of Jesus from the history of the earth, much less can it be dissociated from the history of mankind.—He is humanity, root and crown. Humanity exists nowhere else but in Him. No aggregate of men make humanity, nor can personality be ascribed to humanity except in Him. Individual men may have a personality, but humanity is only an idea except it exists in Him who is its root and crown; and it is in this sense that He is spoken of, and that He speaks of Himself as, the Son of man. In His ascension, therefore, which carries as a necessary presupposition all the facts of His history, mankind is delivered from its curse and from bondage. Identity of nature and reciprocity of choice now constitute the most intimate union and most blessed fellowship of which we are conscious, and it is the fair offshoot, the true type of that which is to be the highest, to which He is exalted above all heavens, from which height He has promised to gather together our common humanity. In such and for such a relation He is exalted to the throne of universal dominion as the Bridegroom of mankind, to be the Head over all things to His Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him which filleth all in all.
III. What may we not learn from the fact of Christ’s ascension—not merely with respect to the new heavens and the new earth, not merely with respect to mankind and its history, but with respect to the government and providence of earth? If all nature is gathered up and represented in human nature, and if all human nature is gathered up and represented in the Son of man, and if the Son of man resteth and sitteth upon the throne of universal dominion, then, my brethren, the conclusion is as direct as it is clear, that all things must be working together in the interests of His kingdom and of His Church, that all things have but one purpose and one end to which the whole creation moves. We may say with Herbert:
“For us the winds do blow,
The earth does rest, heavens move, and
Nothing we see but means our good—
’Tis our delight or has our treasure.
The whole is either cupboard of our food
Or cabinet of pleasure.”
These lines contain as deep a philosophy as they do good poetry. “All things unto our flesh are kind in their descent and being.” As they descend to us they bless our lower nature, but as we follow them in their ascent they bless our minds. And in history are there not changes similar to and commensurate with those which we have seen in nature, and all subordinated to one end? Mighty nations and kingdoms have arisen and passed away, and passed away, we might add, in the greatness of their might. What strange development, as it has well been asked, is it that the power of the world should rise to a great height of glory, and, not able to sustain it, pass away? Because they knew not God—because they were prejudicial to the interests of man. The present state and prospects of the world are but the results of all its past history, of the action and reaction, the strife and ceaseless conflict, which have been going on from the first—the strife and ceaseless conflict between the spirit of man’s revolt in all the forms of will-worship and idolatrous power, and the returning spirit of allegiance towards God and His kingdom of life and love. On the one hand, therefore, we have a series of rapid and mighty developments of the very power which destroyed them when at the very height of their glory; on the other hand, we have the continuous and silent growth and expansion of the same ideas—all-conquering ideas and all-conquering beliefs personally embodied from the first in men confessing their allegiance to God.—Dr. Pulsford.
Ephesians 4:10. The Humiliation and Exaltation of Christ.
I. Christ’s humiliation.—Implied in the words, “He that descended.” These words bear the same sense with those in Psalms 139:15, and may be properly taken for Christ’s incarnation and conception in the womb of the Virgin—
1. Because other expositions may be shown to be unnatural, forced, or impertinent, and there is no other besides this assignable.
2. Since Paul here uses David’s words it is most probable he used them in David’s sense.
3. The words descending and ascending are so put together in the text that they seem to intend a summary of Christ’s whole transaction in man’s redemption, begun in His conception and consummated in His ascension.
II. Christ’s glorious advancement and exaltation.—“He ascended far above all heavens” to the most eminent place of dignity and glory in the highest heaven.
III. The qualification and state of Christ’s person in reference to both conditions.—He was the same, showing the unity of the two natures in the same person.
IV. The end of Christ’s ascension.—“That He might fill all things.” All things may refer—
1. To the Scripture prophecies and predictions.
2. To the Church as He might fill that with His gifts and graces.
3. To all things in the world. This latter interpretation preferred. He may be said to fill all things—
1. By the omnipresence of His nature and universal diffusion of His Godhead.
2. By the universal rule and government of all things committed to Him as Mediator upon His ascension.—South.
Ephesians 4:11-12. The Work of the Ministry.
I. It is evident that public teachers in the Church are to be a distinct order of men.—Christ has given some pastors and teachers. None has a right publicly to teach in the Church but those who are called, sent, authorised to the work in the gospel way. All Christians are to exhort, reprove, and comfort one another as there is occasion; but public teaching in the Church belongs peculiarly to some—to those who are given to be pastors and teachers.
II. Public teachers are here called Christ’s gifts.—“He gave some pastors and teachers.” The first apostles were commissioned immediately by Christ. They who were thus commissioned of Heaven to preach the gospel were authorised to ordain others. Christ gave pastors and teachers, not only to preach His gospel, but to train up and prepare holy men for the same work.
III. Ministers are to be men endued with gifts suitable to the work to which they are called.—As in the early days of the gospel public teachers were called to extraordinary services, so they were endued with extraordinary gifts; but these gifts were only for a season. As the business of a minister is to teach men the things which Christ has commanded in the Scriptures, so it is necessary he himself should be fully instructed in them. In the early days, as there were evangelists who went forth to preach the gospel where Christ had not been named, so there were pastors and teachers who had the immediate care of Churches already established.
IV. The great object of the ministry is the building up of the Church of Christ.—The ministry is intended for the improvement of saints, as well as for the conversion of sinners. The apostle mentions also the unity of the knowledge of Christ. We must not rest in attainments already made, but continually aspire to the character of a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.—Lathrop.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 4:13. Till we all come.—Suggestive of standing opposite to something towards which we have been toiling. Can one think without a tremor of joy, of the moment when he will find himself in perfect correspondence with the divine Archetype? In the unity of the faith.—The world has seen many attempts to bring about uniformity of creed, after the manner of Procrustes, by stretching or chopping. “The unity of the faith” is a very different thing, and much to be desired. The knowledge of the Son of God.—Lit. the complete knowledge. Unto a full-grown man.—As above intimated, a child does not become a man by means of the rack. The significance of the word “man” here is as great as when we bid some one who has lost his self-respect to “be a man.”
Ephesians 4:14. That we henceforth be no more children.—In what respects his readers are not to be children the apostle makes plain, viz. in helplessness and credulity. Tossed to and fro.—With no more power of resistance than a cork on the waves. By the sleight of men and cunning craftiness.—As some poor simpleton, who thinks himself capable, falls a victim to card-sharpers, so unstable souls fall victims to those who say with Falstaff, “If the young dace be a bite for the old pike, I see no reason in the law of nature but I may snap at him.”
Ephesians 4:15. But speaking the truth in love.—If it be possible to make the medicine palatable without destroying its efficacy—to capsule the bitter pill—its chances are so much the greater of doing good. The A.V. margin gives “being sincere,” and the R.V. “dealing truly,” the different renderings indicating the difficulty of finding an English equivalent. May grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.—The embodied Truth of God, who could say without blasphemy, “I am—not simply I teach—the Truth.”
Ephesians 4:16. Fitly joined together and compacted.—R.V. “fitly framed and knit together.” Bengel suggests that the first expression means the fitting together, and the second the fastening together. Meyer, denying this, says the distinction is that the former corresponds to the figure, the latter to the thing represented. The grammar, like the physiology, of this verse is difficult. Are we to read, “The whole body … maketh increase of the body”? Apparently we must, for the body “builds itself up in love.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 4:13-16
True Christian Manhood—
I. Attained by the unity of an intelligent faith in Christ.—
1. This faith must be based on knowledge. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). A faith, so called, not based on knowledge is fanaticism. True faith is the result of conviction—a profound consciousness of the truth. Many reach this stage. They have heard the evidence, examined it, and are clearly persuaded of its truth; but they never get beyond that. They are like the neap tide that comes rolling in as if it would sweep everything before it; but when it arrives at a certain point, it stops, and with all the ocean at its back it never passes the mark where it is accustomed to pause. It is well to get to the neap-tide mark of conviction; but there is no salvation till the soul is carried by the full spring tide of conviction into a voluntary and complete surrender to Christ. It is weak, it is cowardly, when convinced of the right, not to do it promptly and heartily. Faith acquires its full-rounded unity when it is exercised, not on any abstract truth, but on a person who is the living embodiment of all truth. The final object of faith is “the Son of God,” and any truth is valuable only as it helps us to Him. Christ has Himself revealed the truth essential to be believed in order to salvation: He is Himself that truth.
2. Perfect manhood is a complete Christ-likeness.—“Unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Man is so great that he is perpetually striving after a loftier ideal; nothing that has limits can satisfy him. “It is because there is an infinite in Him which with all his cunning he cannot quite bury under the finite. Will the whole finance ministers and upholsterers and confectioners of modern Europe undertake in joint-stock company to make one shoeblack happy? They cannot accomplish it above an hour or two; for the shoeblack also has a soul quite other than his stomach, and would require, if you consider it for his permanent satisfaction and saturation, simply this allotment, no more and no less—God’s infinite universe altogether to himself, therein to enjoy infinitely and fill every wish as fast as it arose. Try him with half a universe of an omnipotence, he sets to quarrelling with the proprietor of the other half and declares himself the most maltreated of men” (Carlyle). True manhood does not consist in the development of a fine physique, or of a brilliant mentality, or in the pursuit of heroic ambitions. It lies in the nobleness of the soul at peace with God, seeking in all things to please Him, and to possess and exhibit the mind of Christ. The pagan hero is the warrior, the ruler, the poet, the philosopher; the Christian hero is the Christ-like man. The supreme type of manhood is Christ-likeness. The ideal is conceived by faith, and the actual is attained only by the exercise of the same grace.
II. Superior to the childish vacillation induced by deceptive teaching (Ephesians 4:14).—The false teachers played with truth, as men play with dice, with the reckless indifference of gamblers, and they and their victims were swayed to and fro, with ruin for the ultimate goal. Like a rudderless ship they were tossed about at the caprice of every current, with the inevitable result of wreckage among the rocks and quicksands. Professing a zeal for truth, they deceived themselves and others by ever changing their point of view, and craftily avoiding the practical bearing of truth in its aims to change the heart and reform the life. The moment the application of truth pressing upon the conscience made them uncomfortable, they tacked about and sailed off under another issue. As the restless seaweed, waving to and fro in the ever-changing tide, can never grow to the dignity of a tree, so those who are swayed by every changing phase of error can never grow up to the strength and stability of true Christian manhood. We can sympathise with the doubts and perplexities of an earnest seeker after truth; but our sympathy changes into impatience when we discover that the seeker is more in search of novelty than truth, of variety rather than certainty. To be for ever in doubt is to be in the fickle stage of mental and moral infancy. It is the worst phase of childishness.
III. Is a continual growth in the truth and love of Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).—It is the high distinction of man that he is susceptible of almost unlimited growth in mental and moral attainments. One of the greatest distances between animalism and man is seen in the unbridged gulf of progress. The animal remains where he was, but man has been progressing in every department of life from the very first. There is between them all the breadth of history. The animal builds its nest as it ever did, the ant by the same marvellous instinct constructs its geometrical cells now as at the first; but man is a genius—he creates. His first rude efforts in shaping his dwellings have gone on progressing and improving until we have the architectural development of to-day. In every kind of art it is the same—rude flint knives, lance heads, needles, were his first weapons and implements; to them succeeded bronze, and then iron—each marking stages in that history of progress up to the beautiful cutlery, stores, and arsenals of the present day. The animal roars or chatters to-day as it has done all along. It has made no progress towards intelligent speech—a rubicon the animal will never cross. But man, who began with one speech, and a very limited vocabulary of words, has developed speech into the great languages of ancient and modern literature. A wider gulf than this is hardly conceivable. But the moral growth of man is more remarkable. The era of the gospel is a revelation of the power of love. With the ancients a mere sentiment, Christianity teaches that love is the essence of religion; and that nature is the manliest and noblest that advances in the knowledge of divine truth and in the self-sacrificing love of Christ. The whole fabric of the Christian character is built up in the ever-increasing exercise of Christ-like love.
Lessons.—Christian manhood is—
1. Acquired by an intelligent faith in Christ.
2. Developed by an imitation of Christ.
3. Maintained and strengthened by constant fidelity to Christ.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 4:13-16. The Growth of the Church.
I. The goal of the Church’s life (Ephesians 4:13).—The mark at which the Church is to arrive is set forth in a twofold way—in its collective and its individual aspects. We must all unitedly attain the oneness of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God; and we must attain, each of us, a perfect manhood, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. All our defects are, at the bottom, deficiencies of faith. We fail to apprehend and appropriate the fulness of God in Christ. The goal of the regenerate life is never absolutely won; it is hid with Christ in God. But there is to be a constant approximation to it, both in the individual believer and in the body of Christ’s people. And a time is coming when that goal will be practically attained, so far as earthly conditions allow. The Church after long strife will be reunited, after long trial will be perfected. Then this world will have had its use, and will give place to the new heavens and earth.
II. The malady which arrests its development (Ephesians 4:14).—The childishness of so many Christian believers exposed them to the seductions of error, and ready to be driven this way and that by the evil influences active in the world of thought around them. So long as the Church contains a number of unstable souls, so long she will remain subject to strife and corruption. At every crisis in human thought there emerges some prevailing method of truth, or of error, the resultant of current tendencies, which unites the suffrages of a large body of thinkers, and claims to embody the spirit of the age. Such a method of error our own age has produced as the outcome of the anti-Christian speculation of modern times, in the doctrines current under the names of Positivism, Secularism, or Agnosticism. Modern Agnosticism removes God farther from us, beyond the reach of thought, and leaves us with material nature as the one positive and accessible reality, as the basis of life and law. Faith and knowledge of the Son of God it banishes as dreams of our childhood. This materialistic philosophy gathers to a head the unbelief of the century. It is the living antagonist of divine revelation.
III. The means and conditions of its growth (Ephesians 4:15-16).—To the craft of false teachers St. Paul would have his Churches oppose the weapons only of truth and love. Sincere believers, heartily devoted to Christ, will not fall into fatal error. A healthy life instinctively repels disease. Next to the moral condition lies the spiritual condition of advancement—the full recognition of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. He is the perfect ideal for each, the common source of life and progress for all. He is the Head of the Church and the heart of the world. Another practical condition of Church growth is organisation—“all the body fitly framed and knit together.” A building or a machine is fitted together by the adjustment of its parts. A body needs, besides this mechanical construction, a pervasive life, a sympathetic force, knitting it together. And so it is in love that this body of the Church builds up itself. The perfect Christian and the perfect Church are taking shape at once. Each of them requires the other for its due realisation. The primary condition of Church health and progress is that there shall be an unobstructed flow of the life of grace from point to point through the tissues and substance of the entire frame.—Findlay.
Ephesians 4:13-15. Christian Manhood.
I. Christian manhood is a growth.—
1. A growth having its inception in the simple fact of becoming a Christian. This is a decided advance upon the most moral and cultivated state otherwise attainable. It involves the quickening into a new life which is to grow.
2. A growth marking a continual advancement till we all come in the unity—the respect in which one grows—the union, conjunction of faith and of knowledge.
3. A growth resulting from culture under divinely appointed agencies. The most splendid growth, other things being equal, is the result of the highest culture. The highest culture is possible only through the most rigid conformity to the laws of development and the appliance of the best agencies.
4. A growth the standard of whose completeness is the fulness of Christ. The stature—the adultness, the full-grown manhood of Christ—is the standard of growth, whose attainment is the Christian’s noblest zeal.
II. The elements of Christian manhood.—
1. Largeness—in the Christian’s views of truth, of man’s need, of Christ’s work, of schemes and plans for its greater furtherance.
2. Dignity.—That deep, inwrought sense of the true worth and greatness of his nature, as a renewed man, and of his position as a child of God and joint-heir with Christ. Christian ethics are the best ethics; highest, purest, noblest, safest. He lives by these naturally who has a well-developed Christian manhood.
3. Courageousness and strength.—Courage makes a man put forth his best strength, while strength enables courage to achieve its best deeds.
III. The outworking of Christian manhood.—It gives:—
1. Steadfastness.—No more children. No more carried about—borne round and round as in the swiftly whirling eddy of the sea—by every wind of doctrine.
2. Sincerity.—“Speaking the truth in love” refers both to the sincerity of life and our relation to the truth.
3. A further growth.—As the full-grown tree, leaves and blossoms and bears; as fruit, after it is full-grown, mellows, matures, sweetens: ripening as wheat for the garner.—J. M. Frost.
Ephesians 4:14-16. Christian Maturity.
I. The negative part of this description.—
1. Christians must not remain children.—In humility, meekness, and teachableness, let them be children; but in understanding, constancy, and fortitude they should be men. Children have but little knowledge and a weak judgment. They believe hastily and act implicitly. They are governed by passion more than reason, by feeling more than judgment.
2. The apostle cautions that we be not tossed to and fro like a ship rolling on the waves.—The man without principle, knowledge, and judgment is at the mercy of every rude gust. He is driven in any direction, as the wind happens to blow. He makes no port, but is every moment in danger of shipwreck.
3. We must not be carried about with every wind of doctrine.—False doctrines, like winds, are blustering and unsteady. They blow from no certain point, but in all directions, and frequently shift their course. The light and chaffy Christian, the hypocritical and unprincipled professor, is easily carried about by divers and strange doctrines. He shifts his course and changes his direction, as the wind of popular opinion happens to drive.
4. We are in danger from the cunning craftiness of men.—True ministers use plainness of speech, and by manifestation of the truth commend themselves to the consciences of men. Corrupt teachers use sleight and craft, that they may ensnare the simple, decoy the unsuspecting, and thus make proselytes to their party. They pretend to superior sanctity. They are watchful to take advantage of an unhappy circumstance in a Church. They unsettle men’s minds from the established order of the gospel, and prejudice them against the regular maintenance of the ministry, representing all order in Churches as tyranny and all stated provision for the ministry as oppression. They promise men liberty, but are themselves the servants of corruption.
II. The positive part.—
1. The mature Christian must speak the truth in love. Be sincere in love. We should acquire a good doctrinal knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. We should be well established in the truth. We should see that our hearts are conformed to the truth. We must walk in the truth.
2. We must grow up in all things into Christ.—A partial religion is not that which the gospel teaches. We must have respect to the whole character of Christ, to the whole compass of duty, to every known doctrine and precept of Scripture. All the graces of the gospel unite in forming the Christian’s temper. They all operate in harmony. His religion is one continued, uniform, consistent work.
III. How Christian maturity is attained.—From the growth of the human body the apostle borrows a similitude to illustrate the spiritual growth of the Christian Church. It is as absurd to expect growth in knowledge and holiness without the means instituted for the edifying of the body of Christ as it would be to expect the growth of a natural body without supplies of food.
1. There is no Christian growth where love is wanting.
2. Christians are bound to seek the peace in order to the edification of the Church.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 4:14. The Case of Deceivers and Deceived considered.
I. Consider the case of deceivers or seducers such as by their sleight and cunning craftiness lie in wait to deceive.—The particular motives by which men may be led to beguile others are reducible to three—pride, avarice, and voluptuousness: love of honour, or profit, or pleasure.
1. There is often a great deal of pride and vanity in starting old notions and broaching new doctrines. It is pretending to be wiser than the rest of the world, and is thought to be an argument of uncommon sagacity. Upon this footing some are perpetually in quest of new discoveries. Nothing pleases them, if they have not the honour of inventing it or of receiving it in their times. When once a man has thus far given loose to his vanity and thinks himself significant enough to be head of a sect, then he begins first to whisper out his choice discoveries to a few admirers and confidants, who will be sure to flatter him in it; and next to tell aloud to all the world how great a secret he had found out, with the inestimable value of it. And now at length comes in the use of sleight and cunning craftiness and all imaginable artifices; first to find out proper agents to commend and cry up the conceit, next to spread it in the most artful manner among the simple and least suspecting, and after that to form interests and make parties; and so, if possible, to have a public sanction set to it or a majority at least contending for it. Love of fame and glory is a very strong passion, and operates marvellously in persons of a warm complexion.
2. Observe how avarice or love of profit may sometimes do the same thing. There is a gain to be made in some junctures by perverting the truth and deceiving the populace. Men who are not worthy to teach in the Church, or who have been set aside for their insufficiency or immorality, may bring up new doctrines and draw disciples after them, for the sake of protection and maintenance or for filthy lucre. With such the vending of false doctrine is a trade and preaching a merchandise. Thus has avarice been the mother of heresies and has brought many deceivers into the Church of Christ; but they have contrived generally to give some plausible turn and colour to their inventions through their “sleight” and “cunning craftiness,” in order to deceive the hearts of the simple and to beguile unwary and unstable souls.
3. One motive more—voluptuousness, or love of pleasure. As religious restraints set not easy upon flesh and blood, but bear hard upon corrupt nature, so men of corrupt minds will be ever labouring to invent and publish smooth and softening doctrines, such as may either qualify the strictness of the gospel rule or sap the belief of a future reckoning. Many ancient heretics had such views as these in the first broaching of their heresies. Their design was to take off the awe and dread of a future judgment, and thereby to open a door to all licentiousness of life and dissoluteness of manners.
II. Consider the case of the deceived who suffer themselves to be “tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.”—They are supposed to be ignorantly, and in a manner blindly, led on by others, otherwise they would be rather confederates and confidants in managing the deceit, and so would be more deceivers than deceived.
1. Now as to those who are so ignorantly imposed upon. They are more or less to blame, according as their ignorance is more or less blamable; and that, again, will be more or less blamable, according as it is more or less affected or wilful. There are, I think, three cases which will take in all sorts of men who suffer themselves to be deceived in things of this kind. The first is of those who have no opportunity, no moral possibility of informing themselves better; the second is of those who might inform themselves better, but do not; the third of those who might also be better informed, but will not. If they be “like children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine,” yet if they are really children in understanding and are overborne by others in such a way as is morally irresistible considering their circumstances, then it seems to be their misfortune to be so imposed upon rather than their fault, and so is not imputable.
2. A second case is of those who may inform themselves better but neglect to do it. I suppose it to be merely neglect in them, not design. Perhaps they have little or no leisure for inquiries; they are taken up with worldly cares and business. They have a very great esteem and value for the man who so misleads them, and they know no better, but swallow everything he says without considering; or they are not aware of any ill consequences of the doctrine, see or suspect no harm in it. They are much to blame in this affair, because God has given them the faculty of reason, which ought not to be thus left to lie dormant and useless. Men who can be sharp enough in secular affairs to prevent being imposed upon may and ought to have some guard upon themselves with respect also to their spiritual concernments.
3. There is yet a third sort of men, worse than the former, who suffer themselves to be deceived and might know better, but will not; that is to say, their ignorance is affected and wilful, they “love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” These are such as readily run in with “every wind of doctrine” which hits their taste and chimes in with their favourite inclinations. They admit the doctrine because they like it, and they easily believe it true because they would have it so. It is with this kind of men that deceivers prevail most and make their harvest.
III. Some advices proper to prevent our falling in with either.—The best preservative in this case is an honest and good heart, well disposed towards truth and godliness, having no by-ends to serve, no favourite lust or passion to indulge. If any man is but willing to know and to do God’s commandments, he will easily discern in most cases whether a doctrine be of God or whether it be of men. The evidences of the true religion and of its main doctrines are so bright and strong when carefully attended to, that common sense and reason are sufficient to lead us, when there is no bias to mislead us. For several years last past rude and bold attacks have been made against the important doctrines of Christianity and against all revealed religion, and this is what they are still carrying on with exquisite subtlety and craftiness many ways and with a great deal of fruitless pains and labour. For I may have leave to suppose that no man can in this case be deceived who has not first a desire to be so, and is not the dupe and bubble to his own lust and vices.—Dr. Waterland.
Ephesians 4:15. Speaking the Truth in Love—
1. A different thing from the irritating candour of the professed friend.
2. Implies an experimental knowledge of the truth and its spiritual mission.
3. Is the most effectual way of winning a hearing and gaining adherents.
4. A method conspicuously exemplified in the teaching of Christ.
Growth into Christ in Love and Truth.
I. The standard of Christian excellence—Christ’s headship.—
1. The prominent notion suggested is His rank in the universe. He rules as God in creation. But evidently the apostle does not mean this in the text. We are to grow into Him as Head. Growth into Christ’s Godhead is impossible. God-like we may, God we cannot even by truth and love, become.
2. He is the Head as being the Source of spiritual life. This is implied in metaphor. The highest life-powers—sensation, feeling, thought—come from the brain. To one who has read the history of those times, there is an emphatic truth in Christ’s being the life of the world. The world was like a raft becalmed in the tropics—some of its freight dead and baking in the sun, some sucking as if for moisture from dried casks, and some sadly, faintly looking for a sail. Christ’s coming to that world was as life to the dead, imparting new impulse to human heart and human nature. It was like rain and wind coming to that bark—once more it cuts the sea, guided by a living hand. So also with each man who drinks Christ’s Spirit. He becomes a living character. Not sustained on dogmas or taken-up opinions, but alive with Christ.
3. He is Head as chief of the human race. Never had the world seen, never again will it see, such a character. Humanity found in Him a genial soil, and realised God’s idea of what man was meant to be. He is chief. Nothing comes near Him.
II. Progress towards the standard of Christian excellence.—“We grow up into Him in all things.
1. Growth in likeness to Him.—The human soul was formed for growth, and that growth is infinite. The acorn grows into the oak, the child into the philosopher. And at death the soul is not declining; it is as vigorous as ever. Hence nothing but an infinite standard will measure the growth of the soul of man.
2. Growth in comprehension of Him.—Christ is not comprehensible at first. Words cannot express the awe with which a man contemplates that character when it is understood. This is the true heroic, this the only God-like, this the real divine. From all types of human excellence I have made my choice for life and death—Christ.
III. The approved means of growth the mode of progress.—“Speaking the truth in love.” Truth and love—and these joined. To “grow into Christ” we must have both traits of character. Would you be like Christ? Cultivate love of beauty and tenderness. His soul was alive to beauty. He noted the rising and the setting sun, the waving corn, the lily of the field. His was love which insult could not ruffle nor ribaldry embitter, and which only grew sweeter and sweeter. Would you be like Christ? Be true! He never swerved. He was a martyr to truth. Would He soften down truth for the young man whom He loved, or make it palatable? No; not for friendship, not for love, nor for all the lovely things this world has to show. “One thing thou lackest: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me.” That was “speaking the truth in love.” There is no good to be got out from Christ, except by being made like Him. There is no pardon, no blessing, separate from inward improvement. Sanctity of character alone blesses. Each man is his own hell and his own heaven. God Himself cannot bless you unless He gives you His own character.—F. W. Robertson.
Ephesians 4:16. The Law of Mutual Dependence.
I. This text admonishes us of the manifold instruments and agencies on whose concurrence and harmonious action the prosperity and the perfection of the Christian Church depend.—It likens the Church to that most complicated, admirable machine, the human body, which only produces its proper results, the preservation and comfort of human life, by the healthful tone and right performance of its various powers and functions. We live, and are at ease, in virtue of the sound condition and regular operation of all the multitude of parts and organs which compose our corporeal frame. Should the heart refuse to circulate the blood, and to diffuse through all the various channels of inter-communication with the members of the body its life-sustaining pulses, death ensues in a moment.
II. The same law of mutual dependence reigns in improved civilised society.—In man, social as well as individual, the body politic and social must prosper, or its members suffer. The individual too cannot suffer without inflicting, by so much, an injury on the community. The ruler and the subject, the capitalist and the operative, the merchant, the farmer, the scholar and the artisan, the manufacturer and the sailor, perform functions alike indispensable to the great result aimed at or desired by all communities. They are mutually dependent, are indissolubly united in interest by ties not always visible, but yet real and essential to the well-being of all parties.
III. I hasten to apply my subject to the Church, where the text finds illustration yet more pertinent and affecting. The Church is a community, organised, with special ends to be accomplished, and endowed with special capabilities and adaptations, yet having many points of resemblance to human society in general. All the members and all the officers of the Church are appointed and honoured of God to be co-workers with Himself, co-agents with the Holy Ghost, in the edification of the body of Christ. The pastor, not less in the study, when he gathers things new and old from holy books and common, than in the pulpit, or in breaking the bread of the sacrament at the altar, or in the sick-chamber—all the subordinate lay ministries devoted to godly counsel, to faithful admonition, or to the management and conversation of the material interests of the Church—the pious mother nurturing up her children in God’s love—the sufferer on a bed of languishing, giving forth blessed examples of patience and resignation and faith—the teacher of the Sabbath school—they who, in the Spirit, lift up our joyous songs of praise in the sanctuary—all who pray in the closet or in the congregation, are, and should be deemed, essential parts of that good, great system through whose wondrous, harmonious working God is pleased to renew and sanctify souls and train them up to be heirs of glory. Who, in this great co-partnership for honouring Christ, has any ground of complaint?—the foot, that it is not the head? the eye, that it is too feeble to do the functions of the brawny arm? the ears, that they cannot do the office of locomotion? Every part is indispensable. None can say which is most important in God’s plan; and achievements, ascribed hastily to the eloquence of the preacher, often stand credited in the record kept above to the prayer of faith.—Dr. Olin.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 4:17. That ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk.—In this and the two following verses we have again the lurid picture of Ephesians 2:2-3 : “in the vanity of their mind.”
“The creature is their sole delight,
Their happiness the things of earth.”
Ephesians 4:18. Having the understanding darkened.—Remembering our Lord’s saying about the single eye and the fully illuminated body we might say, “If the understanding—by which all light should come—be darkened, ‘how great is that darkness’!” Because of the blindness.—R.V. “hardness.” The word describes the hard skin formed by constant rubbing, as the horny hand of a blacksmith.
Ephesians 4:19. Who being past feeling.—Having lost the “ache” which should always attend a violation of law. An ancient commentator uses the now familiar word “anæsthetes” to explain the phrase. Have given themselves over.—“Given” represents a word which often connotes an act of treason—and “themselves” is emphatic—“the most tremendous sacrifice ever laid on the altar of sin” (Beet). To lasciviousness.—“St. Paul stamps upon it the burning word ἀσέλγεια like a brand on the harlot’s brow” (Findlay). To work all uncleanness with greediness.—R.V. margin, “to make a trade of all uncleanness with covetousness.’ Their “sin’s not accidental, but a trade”; and a trade at which they work with a “desire of having more.”
Ephesians 4:20. No not so.—As differently as possible. The same mode of speech which led St. Paul to say to the Galatians, “Shall I praise you?… I praise you not”—i.e. “I blame you highly.”
Ephesians 4:21. If so be that ye have heard Him.—The emphasis is on “Him”—“assuming, that is, that it is He, and no other.”
Ephesians 4:22. That ye put off concerning the former conversation.—It is no “philosophy of clothes” inculcated here. It is a deliverance from “the body of death,” like stripping oneself of his very integument. Conversation.—R.V. “manner of life.” Which is corrupt.—R.V. much more strikingly—“waxeth corrupt.” St. Paul’s figure elsewhere is appropriate—“like a gangrene eating into the flesh.”
Ephesians 4:23-24. The stripping off being complete, and the innermost core of the man being renewed, the investiture may begin. The “habit” laid aside is never to be resumed, and the new robes, “ever white,” are not to be soiled. Righteousness and true holiness.—R.V. “Righteousness and holiness of truth.” See the “dealing truly” of Ephesians 4:15, R.V. margin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 4:17-24
A Thorough Moral Transformation—
I. Contrasted with a former life of sin.—
1. A state of self-induced mental darkness. “Having the understanding darkened, … because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18). Infidelity is more a moral than a mental obliquity. The mind is darkened because the heart is bad. Men do not see the truth because they do not want to see it. The light that would lead to righteousness and to God is persistently shut out.
2. A state of moral insensibility that abandoned the soul to the reckless commission of all kinds of sin.—“Who being past feeling have given themselves over … to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:19). Sin is made difficult to the beginner. The barriers set up by a tender conscience, the warnings of nature, the teachings of providence, the light of revelation, the living examples of the good, have all to be broken down. Early transgressions are arrested by the remorse they occasion; but gradually the safeguards are neglected and despised, until the habit is acquired of sinning for the love of sin. A spirit of recklessness ensues, the reins are relaxed and then thrown upon the neck of the passions, and the soul is abandoned to the indulgence of all kinds of iniquity.
“We are not worst at once. The course of evil
Is of such slight source an infant’s hand
Might close its breach with clay;
But let the stream get deeper, and we strive in vain
To stem the headlong torrent.”
3. A state that rendered all mental activities worthless.—“Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Ephesians 4:17). The art of right thinking was lost. For the man that will not think, think clearly and justly, the calamities and the raptures of life, the blessing and the curse, have no meaning. They evoke neither gratitude nor fear. The beauties of nature, as they sparkle in the stars, or shine in the flowers, or gleam in the coloured radiance of the firmament, are unheeded. The voice of God that speaks in the events of daily life has no lesson for him. The senses, which are intended as the avenues of light and teaching to the soul, are dulled by inaction, clogged by supine indifference, and polluted and damaged by inveterate sin. When the reason is poisoned at its source, all its deductions are aimless and worthless.
II. Effected by the personal knowledge of the truth in Christ.—“But ye have not so learned Christ, … as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:20-21). The gospel has introduced to the world the principles of a great moral change. It announces Christ as the light of the world—a light that shines through all the realms of human life. The diseased reason is restored to health, the intellectual faculties have now a theme worthy of their noblest exercise, and are made stronger and more reliable by being employed on such a theme, and the moral nature is lifted into a purer region of thought and experience. The world is to be transformed by the moral transformation of the individual, and that transformation is effected only by the truth and a personal faith in Christ.
III. Involves the renunciation of the corrupting elements of the former life.—“That ye put off … the old man, which is corrupt” (Ephesians 4:22). The inward change is evidenced by the outward life. The old man dies, being conquered by the new. Corruption and decay marked every feature of the old Gentile life. It was gangrened with vice. It was a life of fleshly pleasure, and could end in only one way—in disappointment and misery. The new moral order inaugurated by the gospel of Christ effected a revolution in human affairs, and the corrupting elements of the old order must be weeded out and put away. An excellent man in London kept an institution near the Seven Dials at his own expense. He spent his nights in bringing the homeless boys from the streets into it. When they came in he photographed them, and then they were washed, clothed, and educated. When he sent one out, having taught him a trade, he photographed him again. The change was marvellous, and was a constant reminder of what had been done for him. The change effected in us by the grace of God not only contrasts with our former life, but should teach us to hate and put away its corrupting sins.
IV. Evidenced in investing the soul with the new life divinely created and constantly receiving progressive renewal by the Spirit (Ephesians 4:23-24).—It is a continual rejuvenation the apostle describes; the verb is present in tense, and the newness implied is that of recency and youth, newness in point of age. But the new man to be put on is of a new kind and order. It is put on when the Christian way of life is adopted, when we enter personally into the new humanity founded in Christ. Thus two distinct conceptions of the life of faith are placed before our minds. It consists, on the one hand, of a quickening constantly renewed in the springs of our individual thought and will; and it is at the same time the assumption of another nature, the investiture of the soul with the divine character and form of its being. The inward reception of Christ’s Spirit is attended by the outward assumption of His character as our calling amongst men. The man of the coming times will not be atheistic or agnostic; he will be devout: not practising the world’s ethics with the Christian’s creed; he will be upright and generous, manly and God-like (Findlay).
1. Religion is a complete renewal of the soul.
2. The soul is renewed by the instrumentality of the truth.
3. The renewal of the soul is the renewal of the outward life.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 4:19. The Gentile Life—a Warning.
I. The Gentiles walked in the vanity of their minds.—The false deities the Gentiles worshipped are called vanities. The prevalence of idolatry is a melancholy proof of the depravity of human nature. Atheism and idolatry proceed not from the want of sufficient evidence that there is one eternal, all-perfect Being, but from that corruption of heart which blinds the understanding and perverts the judgment.
II. The heathens were darkened in their understanding.—Not in respect of natural things, for in useful arts and liberal sciences many of them greatly excelled; but in respect of moral truth and obligation. Their darkness was owing, not solely to the want of revelation, but to the want of an honest and good heart. Religion consists not merely in a knowledge of and assent to divine truths, but in such conformity of heart to their nature and design, and in such a view of their reality and importance as will bring the whole man under their government.
III. They were alienated from the life of God.—They walked according to the course of the world, not according to the will of God. Their alienation was through ignorance. Particular wrong actions may be excused on the ground of unavoidable ignorance. This ignorance had its foundation in the obstinacy and perverseness of the mind. Such a kind of ignorance, being in itself criminal, will not excuse the sins which follow from it.
IV. They were become past feeling.—This is elsewhere expressed by a conscience seared with a hot iron. By a course of iniquity the sinner acquires strong habits of vice. As vicious habits gain strength, fear, shame, and remorse abate. Repeated violations of conscience blunt its sensibility and break its power.
V. They gave themselves over to lasciviousness.—If we break over the restraints the gospel lays upon us, and mock the terrors it holds up to our view, we not only discover a great vitiosity of mind, but run to greater lengths in the practice of iniquity. As water, when it has broken through its mounds, rushes on with more impetuous force than the natural stream, so the corruptions of the human heart, when they have borne down the restraints of religion, press forward with more violent rapidity, and make more awful devastation in the soul than where these restraints had never been known.
1. How extremely dangerous it is to continue in sin under the gospel.
2. You have need to guard against the beginnings of sin.
3. Christians must be watchful lest they be led away by the influence of corrupt example.
4. Religion lies much in the temper of the mind.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 4:17-18. The Life of God.
I. There is but one righteousness, the life of God; there is but one sin, and that is being alienated from the life of God.—One man may commit different sorts of sins from another—one may lie, another may steal; one may be proud, another may be covetous; but all these different sins come from the same root of sin, they are all flowers off the same plant. And St. Paul tells us what that one root of sin, what that same devil’s plant, is, which produces all sin in Christian heathen. It is that we are every one of us worse than we ought to be, worse than we know how to be, and, strangest of all, worse than we wish or like to be. Just as far as we are like the heathen of old, we shall be worse than we know how to be. For we are all ready enough to turn heathens again, at any moment. They were alienated from the life of God—that is, they became strangers to God’s life; they forgot what God’s life and character was like; or if they even did awake a moment, and recollect dimly what God was like, they hated that thought. They hated to think that God was what He was, and shut their eyes and stopped their ears as fast as possible. And what happened to them in the meantime? What was the fruit of their wilfully forgetting what God’s life was? St. Paul tells us that they fell into the most horrible sins—sins too dreadful and shameful to be spoken of; and that their common life, even when they did not run into such fearful evils, was profligate, fierce, and miserable. And yet St. Paul tells us all the while they knew the judgment of God, that those who do such things are worthy of death.
II. These men saw that man ought to be like God; they saw that God was righteous and good; and they saw, therefore, that unrighteousness and sin must end in ruin and everlasting misery.—So much God had taught them, but not much more; but to St. Paul He had taught more. Those wise and righteous heathen could show their sinful neighbours that sin was death, and that God was righteous; but they could not tell them how to rise out of the death of sin into God’s life of righteousness. They could preach the terrors of the law, but they did not know the good news of the gospel, and therefore they did not succeed; they did not convert their neighbours to God. Then came St. Paul and preached to the very same people, and he did convert them to God; for he had good news for them, of things which prophets and kings had desired to see, and had not seen themselves, and to hear, and had not heard them. And so God, and the life of God, was manifested in the flesh and reasonable soul of a man; and from that time there is no doubt what the life of God is, for the life of God is the life of Christ. There is no doubt now what God is like, for God is like Jesus Christ.
III. Now what is the everlasting life of God, which the Lord Jesus Christ lived perfectly, and which He can and will make every one of us live, in proportion as we give up our hearts and wills to Him, and ask Him to take charge of us and shape us and teach us? And God is perfect love, because He is perfect righteousness; for His love and His justice are not two different things, two different parts of God, as some say, who fancy that God’s justice had to be satisfied in one way and His love in another, and talk of God as if His justice fought against His love, and desired the death of a sinner, and then His love fought against His justice, and desired to save a sinner. The old heathen did not like such a life, therefore they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. They knew that man ought to be like God; and St. Paul says they ought to have known what God was like—that He was love; for St. Paul told them He left not Himself without witness, in that He sent rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. That was, in St. Paul’s eyes, God’s plainest witness of Himself—the sign that God was love, making His sun shine on the just and on the unjust, and good to the unthankful and the evil—in one word, perfect, because He is perfect love. But they preferred to be selfish, covetous, envious, revengeful, delighting to indulge themselves in filthy pleasures, to oppress and defraud each other.
IV. God is love.—As I told you just now, the heathen of old might have known that, if they chose to open their eyes and see. But they would not see. They were dark, cruel, and unloving, and therefore they fancied that God was dark, cruel, and unloving also. They did not love love, and therefore they did not love God, for God is love. And therefore they did not love each other, but lived in hatred and suspicion and selfishness and darkness. They were but heathen. But if even they ought to have known that God was love, how much more we? For we know of a deed of God’s love, such as those poor heathen never dreamed of. And then, if we have God abiding with us, and filling us with His eternal life, what more do we need for life, or death, or eternity, or eternities of eternities? For we shall live in and with and by God, who can never die or change, an everlasting life of love.—C. Kingsley.
Ephesians 4:19. Past Feeling.—
1. Though original sin has seized upon the whole soul, yet the Lord has kept so much knowledge of Himself and of right and wrong in the understanding of men as they may know when they sin, and so much of conscience as to accuse or excuse according to the nature of the fact, whereupon follows grief or joy in their affections. Wicked men may arrive at such a height of sin as to have no sense of sin, no grief, nor check, nor challenge from conscience from it.
2. A watchful conscience doing its duty is the strongest restraint from sin; and where that is not, all other restraints will serve for little purpose. For a man to be given over to lasciviousness without check or challenge argues a great height of impiety.
3. As upon senseless stupidity of conscience there follows an unsatiableness in sinning, especially in the sin of uncleanness, so when a man comes to this, he is then arrived at the greatest height of sin unto which the heathens, destitute of the knowledge of God, ever attained.—Fergusson.
Ephesians 4:20-24. Putting off the Old Nature and putting on the New.
I. The change here spoken of is radically seated in the mind.—These terms do not import the creation of new powers and faculties, but the introduction of new tempers and qualities. The renovation enlightens the eyes of the understanding, and gives new apprehensions of divine things. It purifies the affections and directs them to their proper objects. There are new purposes and resolutions.
II. He who is renewed puts off the old man.—The new spirit is opposite to sin and strives against it. The Christian mortifies the affections and lusts of the flesh because he has found them deceitful. He in deliberate and hearty purpose renounces all sin. He abstains from the appearance of evil.
III. He puts on the new man.—As the former signifies a corrupt temper and conversation, so the latter must intend a holy and virtuous disposition and character. The new man is renewed in righteousness and true holiness. He not only ceases to do evil, but learns to do well.
IV. The pattern according to which the new man is formed is the image of God.—The likeness must be understood with limitations. The image of God in us bears no resemblance to the perfections in the divine nature, such as immensity, immutability, and independence. There are some essential properties of the new man to which there is nothing analogous in the deity. Reverence, obedience, trust, and resignation are excellencies in rational creatures; but cannot be ascribed to the Creator. In those moral perfections in which the new man is made like God there is only a faint resemblance, not an equality. The new man resembles God in mercy and goodness, in holiness, in truth.
V. This great change is effected by the gospel.—It was the consequence of their having learned Christ. The first production and improvement of this change is the work of divine grace, and the Spirit of God works on the soul by means of the word. To this change the use of means and the grace of God are both necessary.
VI. The change is great.—Let none imagine he is a subject of this change merely because he entertains some new sentiments, feels transient emotions, or has renounced some of his former guilty practices. The real nature and essence of conversion is the same in all.—Lathrop.
Religious Affections are attended with a Change of Nature.
I. What is conversion?—
1. A change of nature.
2. A permanent change.
3. A universal change.
4. A union of God’s Spirit with the faculties of the soul.
5. Christ by His grace savingly lives in the soul.
II. Its connection with sanctification.—
1. All the affections and discoveries subsequent to the first conversion are transforming.
2. This transformation of nature is continuous until the end of life, when it is brought to perfection in glory.
1. Allowance must be made for the natural temper.
2. Affections which have no abiding effect are not spiritual and gracious.
3. In some way it will be evident, even to others, that the true disciple has been with Jesus.—Lewis O. Thompson.
Ephesians 4:23. The Christian Spirit, a New Spirit.
I. There are some changes in men which come not up to the renewed spirit, and yet are too often rested in.—
1. The assuming of a new name and profession is a very different thing from a saving change in the temper of the mind. We may be of any profession, and yet be unrenewed. People value themselves upon wearing the Christian name, instead of that of Pagan, or Jew, or Mahometan; or upon being styled Papists or Protestants; or upon their attaching themselves to one or another noted party, into which these are subdivided, and upon such a new appellation they are too ready to imagine that they are new men: whereas we may go the round of all professions, and still have the old nature remaining in full force.
2. A bare restraint upon the corrupt spirit and temper will not come up to this renovation, though the one may sometimes be mistaken for the other. The light of nature may possess conscience against many evils, or a sober education lay such a bridle upon the corrupt inclination as will keep it in for a season, the fear of punishment or of shame and reproach may suppress the outward criminal act, while the heart is full of ravening and wickedness. Therefore, though it is a plain sign of an unrenewed mind if a man live in any course of gross sin, yet it is not safe to conclude merely from restraints that a man is truly renewed.
3. A partial change in the temper itself will not amount to such a renovation as makes a true Christian. Indeed, in one sense the change is but partial in any in this life; there will be remains of disorder in all the powers of the soul, so as to exclude a pretence to absolute perfection. It is not enough to have the mind filled with sound knowledge and useful notions, nor barely to give a dead assent to the doctrines of the gospel, unless we believe with the heart, and the will and affections be brought under the power of those truths; and even here there may be some alternation, and yet a man not be renewed. Nor is it sufficient that we should find ourselves disposed to some parts of goodness, while our hearts are utterly averse to others which are equally plain. And therefore, though we should be of a courteous, peaceable, and kind temper towards men; though we should be inclined to practise justice, liberality, truth, and honesty in our transactions with them, and to temperance and chastity in our personal conduct; though these are excellent branches of the Christian spirit; yet if there be not a right temper towards God also, if the fear and love of God are not the ruling principles of the soul, there is an essential defect in the Christian spirit.
II. A particular view of this renovation in some principal acts of the mind.—
1. The mind comes to have different apprehensions of things, such as it had not before. The new creation begins with light, as the old is represented to do. Light bearing in, and the mind being fixed in attention, man discerns the great corruption of his heart, and the badness of the principles and ends which governed him in the appearances of goodness, upon which he valued himself before. And so the excellency and suitableness of Christ, in all His offices, and the necessity of real, inward holiness, appear in quite another manner to his soul than hitherto.
2. The practical judgment is altered. This light, shining with clearness and strength into the mind, unsettles and changes the whole practical judgment by which a man suffered himself to be governed before in the matters of his soul. He judges those truths of religion to be real which once had no more force with him than doubtful conclusions, and accordingly he cannot satisfy himself any longer barely not to disbelieve them, but gives a firm and lively assent to them.
3. A new turn is given to the reasoning faculty, and a new use made of it. When the word of God is mighty it casts down imaginations; so we render the original word (2 Corinthians 10:5). It properly signifies “reasonings.” Not that the faculty itself is altered, or that when men begin to be religious they lay aside reasoning: then in truth they act with the highest reason; they reason most justly and most worthy of their natures. But now the wrong bias, which was upon the reasoning faculty from old prejudices and headstrong inclinations, is in a good measure taken off; so that instead of its being pressed at all adventures into the service of sin, it is employed a better way, and concludes with more truth and impartiality.
4. There is an alteration in a man’s governing aim, or chief end. This is like the centre, to which all inferior aims and particular pursuits tend. The original end of a reasonable creature must be to enjoy the favour of God as his supreme happiness, to be acceptable and pleasing to him. By the disposition of depraved nature we are gone off from this centre, and have changed our bias, from God to created good, to the pleasing of the flesh, to the gratification of our own humour, or to the obtaining of some present satisfaction, according to the prevailing dictate of fancy or appetite. This makes the greatest turn that can be in the spirit of the mind; all must be out of course till this be set right. Now it is the most essential part of the new nature to bring a sinner in this respect to himself, that is, to bring him back to God. All the light he receives, all the rectification of his judgment, is in order to this; and when this is well settled, everything else, which was out of course before, will return to its right channel.
5. There is hereupon a new determination to such a course of acting as will most effectually secure this end. As long as this world is the chief good which a man has in view, he contrives the best ways he can think of to promote his particular ends in it. But when the favour of God comes to have the principal share in his esteem, he carefully examines and heartily consents to the prescribed terms of making that sure. Now he is desirous to be found in Christ upon any terms.
6. The exercise of the affections becomes very different. A change will appear in this respect, through the different turns of his condition as well as in the prevailing tenor of his practice. While a man is a stranger to God and blind to the interests of his soul, he is little concerned how matters lie between God and him. But a sinner come to himself is most tenderly concerned at anything that renders his interests in God doubtful or brings his covenant-relation into question; and nothing sets the springs of godly sorrow flowing so much as the consciousness of guilt, or of any unworthy behaviour to God.
1. Let us seriously examine our own minds, whether we can discern such an alteration made in our spirit.
2. If we must answer in the negative, or have just ground to fear it, yet let us not despair of a change still, but apply ourselves speedily in the appointed way to seek after it.
3. Let the best retain a sense of the imperfection of the new nature in them, and of their obligation still to cultivate it, till it arrive at perfection.—Dr. Evans.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 4:25. Putting away lying.—Findlay holds to it that “the lie, the falsehood, is objective and concrete; not lying, or falsehood, as a subjective act, habit, or quality.” Members one of another.—Let there be “no schism in the body.”
Ephesians 4:26. Let not the sun go down on your wrath.—The word for “wrath” is not the usual one. It almost seems as if the compound form had reference to the matter “alongside which” wrath was evoked. If “curfew” could ring out the fires of wrath at sundown, we might welcome the knell. Meyer quotes the Pythagorean custom of making up a quarrel by the parties “shaking hands” before sunset.
Ephesians 4:28. Let him that stole steal no more.—Though we have not here the word for “brigand,” we may think that the thieving had not always been without violence. That he may have to give.—Not the profits of wickedness, but “the good” results of his own labour, and may give it to the needy “with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:8), with a “hilarity” beyond that of “those who divide the spoil” (Isaiah 9:3).
Ephesians 4:29. Let no corrupt communication.—R.V. “speech.” Putrid speech can never come forth from any but a bad person, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” But that which is good to the use of edifying.—The word in season “fitly spoken” has an æsthetic charm (Proverbs 25:11), but it was more necessary to teach these loquacious Asiatics the utilitarian end of having a human tongue. “It is the mere talk, whether frivolous or pompous—spoken from the pulpit or the easy-chair—the incontinence of tongue, the flux of senseless, graceless, unprofitable utterance that St. Paul desires to arrest” (Findlay).
Ephesians 4:30. Grieve not.—“Do not make Him sorrow.” A strong figure like that which says that God was sorry that He had made man (Genesis 6:6). Whereby ye are sealed.—Cf. Ephesians 1:13. “In whom ye were sealed” (R.V.)
Ephesians 4:31. Let all bitterness.—I.e. “of speech.” “Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil,” said one liberally endowed with it. The satirist Hipponax—a native of Ephesus—was called “the bitter.” Such a man as “speaks poniards,” and whose “every word stabs,” may be brilliant and a formidable opponent; he will never be loved. Wrath and anger.—The former is the fuming anger, “the intoxication of the soul,” as St. Basil calls it; the latter is the state after the paroxysm is over, cherishing hatred and planning revenge. Clamour and railing.—“Clamour” is the loud outcry so familiar in an Eastern concourse of excited people (Acts 23:9), like that hubbub in Ephesus when for two hours the populace yelled, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:28). “Railing,” blasphemy—speech that is calculated to do injury. Malice.—“Badness.” “This last term is separated from the others as generic and inclusive” (Beet).
Ephesians 4:32. Be ye kind.—The word is found in Christ’s invitation to the weary—“My yoke is easy.” It is characteristic of the Father that “He is kind to the unthankful.” The man who drinks wine that is new and harsh says, “The old is good” (mellow). Tenderhearted.—Soon touched by the weakness of others. Forgiving … as God … forgave you.—The motive and measure of our forgiveness of injuries is the divine forgiveness shown to “all that debt” of our wrong-doing (Matthew 18:32).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 4:25-32
Christian Principles applied to Common Life.
Let us put these principles into the form of concrete precepts.
I. Be truthful.—“Putting away lying, speak every man truth, … for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). Society is so closely welded together and interdependent that the evil effects of a falsehood not only damage others but rebound ultimately towards the man who uttered it. A lie is a breach of promise; for whosoever seriously addresses his discourse to another tacitly promises to speak the truth, because he knows the truth is expected. Truth never was indebted to a lie. “In the records of all human affairs,” writes Froude, “it cannot be too often insisted on that two kinds of truths run for ever side by side, or rather crossing in and out with each other form the warp and woof of the coloured web we call history: the one the literal and eternal truths corresponding to the eternal and as yet undiscovered laws of fact; the other the truths of feeling and thought, which embody themselves either in distorted pictures of outward things or in some entirely new creation—sometimes moulding and shaping history; sometimes taking the form of heroic biography, tradition, or popular legend.”
II. Avoid sinful anger.—“Be ye angry, and sin not: … neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Anger is not forbidden. A nature ardent for truth and justice burns with indignation against cruelty and wrong. But it is a dangerous passion even for the best of men, and is apt to exceed the limits of prudence and affection. To nurse our wrath and brood over our imagined wrongs is to give place to the devil, who is ever near to blow up the dying embers of our anger. Plutarch tells us it was an ancient rule of the Pythagoreans that, if at any time they happened to be provoked by anger to abusive language, before the sun set they would take each other’s hands, and embracing make up their quarrel. The Christian must not be behind the pagan in placability and forgiveness.
III. Be honest.—“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour” (Ephesians 4:28). Laziness is a fruitful source of dishonesty, and is itself dishonest. There are sensitive natures to whom it is very difficult to be dishonest. In Abraham Lincoln’s youthful days he was a storekeeper’s clerk. Once, after he had sold a woman a little bill of goods and received the money, he found on looking over the account again that she had given him six and a quarter cents too much. The money burned in his hands until he had locked the shop and started on a walk of several miles in the night to make restitution before he slept. On another occasion, after weighing and delivering a pound of tea, he found a small weight upon the scales. He immediately weighed out the quantity of tea of which he had innocently defrauded the customer, and went in search for her, his sensitive conscience not permitting any delay. The thief is not reformed and made an industrious worker by simply showing him the advantages of honesty. The apostle appeals to a higher motive—sympathy for the needy—“That he may have to give to him that needeth.” Let the spirit of love and brotherhood be aroused, and the indolent becomes diligent, the pilferer honest.
IV. Be circumspect in speech.—“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). The possession of a human tongue is an immense responsibility. Infinite good or mischief lies in its power. The apostle does not simply forbid injurious words; he puts an embargo on all that is not positively useful. Not that he requires all Christian speech to be grave and serious. It is the mere talk, whether frivolous or pompous—spoken from the pulpit or the easy-chair—the incontinence of tongue, the flux of senseless, graceless, unprofitable utterance, that he desires to arrest (Findlay).
V. Grieve not the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).—Perhaps in nothing do we grieve the Spirit more than by foolish and unprofitable speech, or by listening willingly and without protest to idle gossip and uncharitable backbiting. His sealing of our hearts becomes fainter, and our spiritual life declines, as we become indiscreet and vain in speech.
VI. Guard against a malicious disposition.—“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). Malice is badness of disposition, the aptness to envy and hatred, which apart from any special occasion is always ready to break out in bitterness and wrath. Bitterness is malice sharpened to a point and directed against the exasperating object. Wrath and anger are synonymous, the former being the passionate outburst of resentment in rage, the latter the settled indignation of the aggrieved soul. Clamour and railing give audible expression to these and their kindred tempers. Clamour is the loud self-assertion of the angry man who will make every one hear his grievance; while the railer carries the war of the tongue into his enemy’s camp and vents his displeasure in abuse and insult. Never to return evil for evil and railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing—this is one of the lessons most difficult to flesh and blood (Findlay).
VII. Cherish a forgiving spirit.—“Be ye kind, … forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). It is man-like to resent an injury; it is Christ-like to forgive it. It is a triumph of divine grace when the man who has suffered the injury is the most eager to effect a reconciliation. Dean Hook relates he was once asked to see a gentleman who had ill-treated him. Found him very thin and ill. Told me that he was conscious that his feelings and conduct had not been towards me what they ought to have been for years. I told him that whenever there was a quarrel there were sure to be faults on both sides, and that there must be no question as to the more or less, but the forgiveness must be mutual. I kissed his hand, and we wept and prayed together. O God, have mercy on him and me for Jesu’s sake! I have had a taste of heaven where part of our joy will surely consist in our reconciliations.
1. Religion governs the whole man.
2. True religion is intensely practical.
3. Religion gives a nameless charm to the commonest duties.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 4:25. Truth between Man and Man.
I. The duty of veracity here recommended.—
1. Truth is to be observed in common conversation. People have more special need, in some respects, to be admonished of their obligations inviolably to maintain truth here; for many are more ready to allow themselves to transgress in what they account trivial instances than upon solemn occasions; and yet by such beginnings way is made for the disregard of truth, in the most considerable matters, in process of time.
2. Truth should be maintained in bearing testimony. A conscientious regard to truth will engage us to be very careful that we spread nothing to the lessening or reproach of our neighbour, of which we have not good assurance; that we publish not a defamation upon hearsay, nor take up, without sufficient grounds, “a report against our neighbour.” If we are called to give public testimony between man and man, a sincere respect to truth will engage us to a careful recollection, before we give our testimony, as to what we can say upon the matter. It will dispose to lay aside affection on one hand and prejudice on the other, and impartially to relate the true state of things as far as we can bear witness to them, nakedly to represent facts as they have come within our notice.
3. Truth must be exercised in our promises and engagements, and veracity requires two things in relation to them:
(1) That we really intend to perform them when they are made;
(2) That we are careful of performance after they are made.
II. The reason the apostle gives for the inviolable maintenance of truth: because we are members one of another.—
1. This argument is applicable to mankind in general. We are members one of another, as we partake of the same human nature, and in that respect are upon a level. We are members of society in common, entitled to the same rights, claims, and expectations one from another as men, and are mutually helpful and subservient as the members of the body are to each other; and the principal link that holds us together is mutual confidence, founded upon the hope of common fidelity. Now, lying makes void and useless the great instrument of society, the faculty of speech or writing. The power of speech was given us by our Creator, and the art of writing, since found out, on purpose that we might be able so to convey our sense to others, that they may discern it, where we pretend to express it, just as if they were so far privy to what passed in our minds. And unless truth be inviolably observed in everything, the bonds of human society cannot fail to be weakened.
2. This argument may be particularly applicable to Christians. We are members one of another in a more distinguishing sense, as we belong to the body of Christ. And this lays additional engagements upon all the visible members of that body to put away lying and to speak the truth one to the other,—in conformity to the common Father, to whom we belong, who is eminently styled “a God of truth”; in conformity to our head the Lord Jesus, there should be a strict observation of truth among Christians; in conformity to the Spirit that animates us, who is eminently described by this attribute, “the Spirit of truth.”
1. This is one remarkable evidence how much Christianity is calculated for the benefit of mankind and the good of society at present, as well as for our everlasting welfare, in that it so strictly enjoins and enforces the exacted regard to truth.
2. We see thence upon how good reason the Christian religion strictly forbids common swearing.
3. All that name the name of Christ are concerned to see that they comply with the exhortation.
4. Christians should do all they can to promote truth among others, both for the honour of God, and the spiritual and eternal good of their neighbours, and the general interest of society.—Jeremiah Seed.
The Sin of Falsehood.
I. There are cases in which one may speak that which is not true and yet not be chargeable with lying, for he may have no intention to deceive.
II. The grossest kind of lying, or speaking a known falsehood under the awful solemnity of an oath.—Men violate truth when they affix to words an arbitrary meaning or make in their own minds certain secret reservations with a design to disguise facts and deceive the hearers. When we express doubtful matters in terms and with an air of assurance, we may materially injure as well as grossly deceive our neighbour. Men are guilty of malicious falsehood when they repeat with romantic additions and fictitious embellishments the stories they have heard of a neighbour that they may excite against him severer ridicule or cast on his character a darker stain. Men may utter a falsehood by the tone of their voice, while their words are literally true.
III. We are bound to speak truth in our common and familiar conversation.—We must speak truth in our commerce with one another. In giving public testimony we must be careful to say nothing but truth, and conceal no part of the truth. We must adhere to truth when we speak of men’s actions or characters. We must observe truth in our promises.
IV. A regard to truth is a necessary part of the Christian character.—Deceitfulness is contrary, not only to the express commands of the gospel, but to the dictates of natural conscience.
V. The argument the apostle urges for the maintenance of truth.—“We are members one of another.” As men we are members one of another. As Christians we are children of the same God, the God of truth; we are disciples of the same Lord, the faithful and true Witness. If we walk in guile and deceit, if we practise vile arts of dishonesty, we contradict our human and our Christian character. We see the danger of profane language, as it leads to the grossest kind of falsehood, even to perjury in public testimony. We see how dangerous it is to practise those diversions which are attended with temptations to fraud.—Lathrop.
College Life. “For we are members one of another.”
I. It is for us who govern and teach to remember how great is our responsibility in those respects.—We are not merely instructors but educators of youth. The question of what books we use or what vehicles of teaching we employ sinks into insignificance compared with the question what end it is we design in our teaching. Are we prepared to abdicate our higher functions of educators and to sink down to the lower one of teachers? Must we not, if we are true to our calling, strive to instil into you that manliness which springs from the fear of God, that truthfulness which is seen in the frank look and unshrinking eye, that obedience which is rendered in no spirit of servility as unto the Lord and not as unto men, that self-mastery which is the foundation of all wisdom and all power? If the soul is of more value than the body, if the life to come is of more importance than the life that now is, if the knowledge of God and His Christ is infinitely more precious than all the knowledge of this world and all the distinction to which it leads—then there can be no question that education is infinitely before instruction, that principles are higher than knowledge, that knowledge is only of value in proportion as it is pervaded and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. But precept without example is powerless. A man whose life is pure and high may not open his lips, yet his very silence shall be eloquent for God. Day by day a virtue is going out of him; day by day he is giving strength to one who is wrestling with doubt or temptation; day by day he is a beacon to those who are tossed on the waves of irresolution and uncertainty. The teacher, if he is to produce a powerful moral effect, if he is to mould character, if he is to leave an impress upon the minds and hearts of those whom he teaches, must be what he teaches, must live what he inculcates.
II. And now I would place before you your duties.—
1. Keep distinctly before you the end and aim of your coming here—the ministry of Christ’s Church. 2. You are members of a community. You are all united to one another. You have all common pursuits, common ends, common interests. You may all help greatly to make or to mar the lives and characters of those with whom you are in such constant and daily intercourse. Let this consideration have its full weight with you. Be but true to yourselves, and to the God who has called you to the knowledge of Himself and His Son Jesus Christ, and by you this college shall grow and prosper. If principles and aims such as those I have endeavoured to indicate prevail in a college, there will be a real and substantial harmony between those who govern and those who are governed. Let us strive one and all, teachers and taught, to make this our college a college of which none can be ashamed.—J. J. Stewart Perowne (preached on the forty-sixth anniversary of St. David’s College, Lampeter).
Ephesians 4:26-27. Sinful Anger.
I. These words are not an injunction to be angry, but a caution not to sin when we are angry.—As there is in our nature a principle of resentment against injury, so there is in us a virtuous temper, a holy displeasure against moral evil.
II. Anger is sinful when it rises without cause.—Rash anger is sinful. Anger is sinful when it breaks out into indecent, reviling, and reproachful language; when it prompts to designs or acts of revenge; when it settles into malice.
III. Neither give place to the devil.—See that you subdue your lusts and rule your spirits. Arm yourselves with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Take time to consider whether any motive suggested in favour of sin is so powerful as the arguments the Scriptures offer against it. Our greatest danger is from ourselves.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 4:26. Anger and Meekness.
I. In what cases our anger may be innocently indulged.—
1. On the approach of any injurious aggressor threatening our destruction, or using any act of violence that may endanger our safety.
2. How far soever the harsh gratings of anger may seem to be removed from the soft motions of benevolence, yet these sometimes, as oil does to steel, give an edge to our resentment; where it will be found not only innocent and excusable, but even commendable and generous. As in the natural system of the world there are some repelling qualities, which yet must conspire to aid the grand power of attraction; so even those passions which, considered in a simple view, have but an unfriendly and unsociable aspect, are yet, in their general comprehension, aiding and assisting to preserve inviolable the bonds of the great community.
3. Our anger is apt to kindle at the apprehension of a slight or an affront, a contempt or reproach thrown upon us; on which occasions, if the apprehension be well grounded, our resentment, to a certain degree, must be allowed to be excusable, and so not sinful. Our tameness in these instances would be construed into stupidity, and be treated as such by the pert and petulant.
4. We may not only be angry without sinning in the instances alleged, as we sometimes may sin in not being angry. God, who designed human society, designed the good of it; and that good to be promoted by every individual to the utmost of his power. Hereby there is tacitly committed to every man a kind of trust and guardianship of virtue, whose rights obliged to support and maintain in proportion to his abilities; not only by example, by advice and exhortation, but even by reproof and resentment, suitable to the circumstances of the offender and the offence.
II. When our anger becomes intemperate and unlawful.—
1. When it breaks out into outrageous actions; for then, like a boisterous wind, it quite puts out that light which should guide our feet in the way of peace; it dethrones our reason, and suspends its exercise. An extravagance of this kind is the more dangerous, and therefore the more sinful, because, though the impulse of passion should meet with no opposition to inflame it—which, however, is generally the case—yet, when it has worked the blood into so violent a ferment, it is apt of itself to redouble its force. And no one can tell what fury, wound up to the highest pitch, may produce.
2. Anger becomes unlawful when it vents itself in unseemly and reviling language. It were to be wished that those who have such a peculiar delicacy of feeling when they are affronted would abstain from all appearance of an affrontive and disrespectful behaviour to others; that they who are so quick to receive would be as slow to give an affront. On the contrary, it often happens that they only feel for themselves; they are not the least sensible of the indignities offered to others. How frequently do those who are highly enraged pass a general and undistinguishing censure upon a man’s character?
3. We are not always to judge of the sinfulness of anger from the open and undignified appearance of it, either in our words or actions; it may be concealed and treasured up in our thoughts, and yet retain as much malignity as when it immediately breaks out and discovers itself in contumelious language or acts of violence. For by brooding in the mind it becomes the parent of a very untoward issue, malice, and hatred. Malice is a cool and deliberate resentment; but sometimes more keen and malevolent than that which is rash and precipitate. It is like a massive stone, slowly raised, but threatening the greater danger to him on whom it shall fall. Anger is yet sinful when encouraged in our thoughts to the degree of hatred.
III. Consider its opposite virtue, meekness.—Meekness is, as Aristotle long ago defined it, a due mean between tameness and stupidity on the one hand, and rage and fury on the other. It is not absolute freedom from passion, but such a command over it as to prevent our being transported beyond the bounds of humanity and good sense. It is this virtue which, if it does not give a man such a glaring and shining figure as some other good qualities, yet constitutes the most lovely, beautiful, and agreeable character, and gains unenvied praise.
1. A meek man will have sense enough to know when he is injured, and spirit enough to resent it; but then he will consider whether he can do more good by openly resenting the offence and punishing the offender than by overlooking it and passing it by.
2. A man of a meek temper will distinguish between a man’s general standing sentiments when he is perfectly calm and undisturbed and his occasional sentiments when his spirits are ruffled and overheated.
3. A meek man will never be angry with a person for telling him what he imagines to be a fault in him, provided it be done in a private manner, and the advice be conveyed in the most palatable vehicle.
4. A man of a meek spirit is glad to be reconciled to the person who has offended or injured him, and therefore is ready to hearken to all overtures of accommodation. A meek man will show such an inclination and readiness to forgive the offences of others as if he had perpetual need of the same indulgence, but will so carefully avoid giving the least offence as if it might be thought he would forgive nobody.
1. Let us endeavour to acquire a greatness of mind: by this I do not mean arrogance, for that bespeaks a little mind—a mind that can reflect on nothing within itself that looks great except arrogance; but a true greatness of mind arises from a true judgment of things, and a noble ascendency of the soul inclining us to act above what is barely our duty. It is rising to the sublime in virtue. This will create a reverence for ourselves, and will set us as far above the mean gratification of giving any real occasion of passion to others, as of being susceptible of it when an occasion may be given to us.
2. One of the ancients said that he had gained one advantage from philosophy: that it had brought him to wonder at nothing. But it looks as if we, the generality of us, were strangers in the world; we are ever expressing our surprise and wonder at everything; and thus surprise prepares the way for passion. We wonder that we should meet with such a behaviour, such a treatment, such an affront; whereas the greatest wonder is that we should wonder at it.
3. Nothing can have so prevalent a power to still all the undue agitations of passion so apt to arise from the various connections we have with the prejudices and passions of others, nothing so fit to induce a smooth and easy flow of temper, as a frequent application to the throne of grace, to beseech Him, who is the God of Peace, that His peace may rule in our hearts, that it may be the fixed and predominant principle there.—Jeremiah Seed.
Ephesians 4:28. A Warning against Theft.
I. Here is a general prohibition of theft.—This supposes distinct rights and separate properties. Stealing is taking and carrying away another’s goods in a secret manner and without his consent. The prohibition relates to every unfair, indirect, dishonest way by which one may transfer to himself the property of another.
II. This prohibition of theft is a virtual injunction of labour.—If a man may not live at the expense of others, he must live at his own; and if he has not the means of subsistence, he must labour to acquire them. No man has a right to live on charity so long as he can live by labour. The obligation to labour is not confined to the poor; it extends to all according to their several capacities.
III. Every man must choose for himself an honest calling, and must work that which is good.—A work in which a man makes gain by the expense and enriches himself by the loss of others is theft embellished and refined. Gaming, when it is used as an art to get money, is criminal, because it is unprofitable, and what one gains by it another must lose.
IV. In all our labours we should have regard to the good of others.—The man who is poor should aim to mend his circumstances and to provide not only for his immediate support but for his future necessities. The condition which subjects us to labour does not exempt us from obligations to beneficence. We must confine ourselves within our own proper sphere, for here we can do more good than elsewhere. In all our works, secular or spiritual, charity must direct us. Love is an essential principle in religion, and as essential in one man as another.—Lathrop.
St. Paul’s Exaltation of Labour.
I. St. Paul often recurs to the plain and quiet work of humble life.—He enforces not only the duty of it, but how high the duty ranks; and if it is well done, how it raises those who do it. Having worked with his own hands, he appreciated the sterling test of honest attention to work. He knew what temptations there were to relax and to give in to the sense of tediousness day by day and hour by hour. St. Paul, who honours the industry of a slave, will not allow it to be dishonoured by the slave himself thinking himself superior to it, and discourages all high flights which set him at enmity with his work and draw him away from the sterling Christian yoke of humble labour to which he has been called in God’s providence.
II. At the same time the apostle does not honour all industry; far from it. He always reprobates the covetous, money-getting spirit. He admires industry, but it must be industry which is consecrated by the motive; and the motive 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. Men form their religious standard by two distinct tests: one the law of conscience and obedience to God, the other what is striking to man. St. Paul’s standard is seen in his sympathy with the work of the ruler of a household, with the work of a father or mother of a family, the work of hospitality and attention to strangers, the work of common trades and callings, the work even of the slave in doing his assigned daily tasks.
III. We see the spirit of this great apostle—how it embraced the whole appointed lot of man, from his highest to his most humble field of employment. He rejected nothing as mean or low that came by God’s appointment; all was good, all was excellent, all was appropriate that He had commanded. The heathen valued all labour by which men became eloquent, or became able soldiers or statesmen; but they had not the slightest respect for the ordinary work of mankind. They thought this world made for the rich. How different is St. Paul’s view! No work allotted to man is servile work in his eyes, because he has an insight into what faithful labour is—what strength of conscience it requires, what resistance to temptations and snares it demands. The word of God consecrates the ordinary work of man—it converts it into every one’s trial, and as his special trial his special access to a reward also.—J. B. Mozley.
Ephesians 4:29. The Government of the Tongue.
I. The apostle cautions us against all loose and licentious language.
II. Enticing language is forbidden.
III. Corrupt communication includes all kinds of vain discourse; all such language as offends Christian sobriety, seriousness, and gravity, savours of profaneness and impiety, or borders on obscenity and lewdness.
IV. Instruction is useful to edifying.
V. Reproof conducted with prudence is useful to edifying.
VI. Exhortation is good for the use of edifying.
VII. Christians may edify one another by communicating things they have experienced in the course of the religious life.
VIII. Conversing on religious subjects in general is good for the use of edifying.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 4:30. The Benefit conferred by the Spirit on Believers.
I. That believers are sealed by the Spirit implies that they are recognised and set apart and in a peculiar sense the divine property.—
1. A seal is often a distinguishing mark or token by which a claim to property may be shown and established (Revelation 3:2-3).
2. That believers are thus sealed proves that they are His in a peculiar manner.
3. The sense in which they are His is clearly brought out (1 Corinthians 3:23). They are Christ’s by gift, by purchase, by conquest, by surrender. Christ is God’s, and His people in Him.
4. They who are sealed are thus a peculiar people, separated to God’s worship, service, and glory.
5. Have you recognised practically that you are God’s?
II. That believers are sealed implies that attempts will be made to alienate them from God’s possession.—
1. A mark or token is affixed to that which is in danger of being taken away.
2. We are distinctly taught that believers are exposed to efforts to separate them from God (John 10:7-10; John 10:27-29).
3. The activity of the wicked one seems in a great measure directed to this point.
4. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not lead him to indolence.
5. Your safety is not merely to get into the place of safety, but to continue there.
III. That believers are sealed implies that they have received the impress of the divine Image.—
1. The sealing is the work of the Spirit, whose office it is to regenerate and sanctify.
2. The seal is that which distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever, and the true distinguishing mark is regeneration.
3. We therefore conclude that the seal has engraven on it the image of God, which it leaves.
4. The confidence of no one should outrun his sanctification.
5. Can you discern the outline of the image? There are counterfeits.
IV. That believers are sealed implies that, though associated and mixed up with others, they are not confounded with them.—
1. A distinguishing mark is necessary when things which are again to be separated and classified are mingled with each other.
2. The seal leads to recognition. Hence the believer is known by himself, fellow-believers, the world, the devil, angels, Christ, the Father.
3. This recognition takes place in time, at the judgment, in eternity.
V. That believers are sealed implies that God will visit the earth with distinguishing judgments.—In proof and illustration (Ezekiel 9:0; Revelation 7:9). The Passover. The destruction of Jerusalem. Now. The judgment day. Are you prepared for such a season?
VI. That believers are sealed implies that they are in a state of reservation.—A seal is a pledge, a signature. An engagement presently fulfilled needs no pledge.—Stewart.
The Office of the Holy Spirit and the Danger of grieving Him.
I. His office is to seal us unto the day of redemption.—That day in which the people of God will be put into complete possession of the blessings purchased for them by Christ. To seal us to this day is to prepare us and to set us apart from it, to fix such a mark on us as in that day shall distinguish us from others and make it fully appear to whom we belong. When a man sets his seal to a paper, he thereby declares his approbation of it and acknowledges it to be his own deed. Those who bear the seal of the Spirit will be approved by Christ and acknowledged for His own in the day of resurrection. A seal stamps its own image on the wax. The Spirit stamps on the soul the image of Himself. This seal is said to be the earnest of our inheritance. An earnest is a pledge of something to be bestowed and enjoyed hereafter—a part of it is already bestowed to assure us that in due time we shall receive the whole.
II. He is not to be grieved.—
1. Beware of doing anything which your conscience, enlightened by the word of God, forbids you to do.
2. Beware of running into temptation.
3. Beware of indulging fleshly lusts.
4. Beware of practising deceit and falsehood.
5. Beware of profaning the Lord’s Day.
6. Beware of cherishing evil and malignant tempers.—E. Cooper.
On Grieving the Holy Spirit.
I. Our duty is to render to the Holy Spirit cheerful and universal obedience.
II. The Spirit is the great Sanctifier.
III. We must co-operate diligently in the production of the fruits of the Spirit.
IV. Our danger is in quenching the Spirit.—Our light grows dim, and we gradually adopt evil habits. We neither see nor heed spiritual dangers. Religious sensibilities are blunted. How far any of us have gone in resisting the Spirit God alone knows. Many who resist great light and strong impressions seem never to feel again.—Olin.
Grieving the Spirit.
I. Indifference and carelessness in religion is opposition to the grace of God.
II. Spiritual pride grieves the divine Spirit.
III. The Spirit is grieved when we neglect the means appointed for obtaining His influence.
IV. Opposition to the strivings of the Spirit is another way in which He is often grieved.
V. There are particular sins which are opposite to the work of the Spirit. Impurity, intemperance, dissipation, and all the vices of sensuality. The indulgence of malignant passions grieves the Spirit. Contentions among Christians are opposite to the Spirit. Men grieve the Spirit when they ascribe to Him those motions and actions which are contrary to His nature. If they blindly follow every impulse of a heated imagination, every suggestion of the common deceiver, every motion of their own vanity and pride, they profane and blaspheme His sacred name.—Lathrop.
Grieve not the Spirit.—But wherewith can we so grieve Him? Alas! that one must rather ask, Wherein may he not? I fear that one of the things which will most amaze us when we open our eyes upon eternity will be the multitude of our own rudenesses to divine grace, that is, to God the Holy Ghost whose motions grace is. Oh, let not that His seal upon you, the gift of His Spirit, mark you as a deserter! O Holy Creator Spirit, come down once more into our souls in Thine own thrilling fire of life and light and heat, kindling our senses with Thy light, our hearts with Thy love! wash away our stains, bedew our dryness, heal our wounds, bend our stubbornness, guide our wanderings, that Thou, being the inmate of our hearts, the instructor of our reason, the strength of our will, we may see by Thy light whom as yet we see not and know Him who passeth knowledge, and through God may love God now as wayfarers, and, in the day of perfect redemption, in the beatific vision of our God!—E. B. Pusey.
The Sealing of the Spirit.—
1. The seal is used in conveying and assuring to any person a title to his estate, in delivering which a part is put into the hands of the new proprietor. We are sealed as an assurance of our title to our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.
2. In sealing any person, the contra-part of the seal is impressed on that which is sealed. We are thus sealed by the Spirit, stamped with the image of God.
3. Sealing is used for preservation. It is by this we are to be preserved until that day. By grieving the Spirit we break this seal.—E. Hare.
Ephesians 4:31-32. Vices to be renounced and Virtues to be cherished.
I. Put away all bitterness.—All such passions, behaviour, and language as are disgusting and offensive to others, wound their tender feelings, and embitter their spirits. No temper is more inconsistent with the felicity of social life than peevishness.
II. Put away wrath and anger.—The former signifies heat of temper, the latter this heat wrought into a flame. Though anger, as a sense and feeling of the wrongs done us, is innocent and natural, all the irregular and excessive operations of it are sinful and dangerous.
III. Put away all malice.—This is a degree of passion beyond simple anger. It is a fixed, settled hatred, accompanied with a disposition to revenge. It is anger resting in the bosom and studying to do mischief. Malice is a temper which every one condemns in others, but few discern in themselves.
IV. Put away all clamour and evil speaking.—Clamour is noisy, complaining, and contentious language in opposition to that which is soft, gentle, and courteous. Never believe, much less propagate an ill report, of your neighbour without good evidence of its truth. Never speak evil of a man when your speaking may probably do much hurt, but cannot possibly do any good.
V. Christians are to be kind one to another.—Such kindness as renders us useful. Kindness wishes well to all men, prays for their happiness, and studies to promote their interest. It will reprove vice and lend its aid to promote knowledge and virtue.
VI. Christians should be tender-hearted.—They should not be guided by a blind, instinctive pity; but by habitual goodness of heart, cultivated with reason, improved by religion, and operating with discretion. While they commiserate all who appear to be in affliction, they should regard among them the difference of characters and circumstances.
VII. We are to forgive one another.—Forgiveness does not oblige us tamely to submit to every insult and silently bear every injury. To those who have injured us we should maintain goodwill and exercise forbearance. God’s forgiveness of our sins is urged as a motive to mutual forgiveness. “Even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” He who forgives not an offending brother will not be forgiven of his heavenly Father.—Lathrop.
Malice incompatible with the Christian Character.
I. That we may be convinced of the hatefulness of a malignant temper look to the source whence it proceeds.—From the bitterness of the fountain we may judge of the character of the water which it sends forth. From the corruptness of the tree we may estimate the character of the fruit. The author of malice is the devil.
II. Let us after the same manner proceed to appreciate the loveliness of the opposite quality, the quality of mercy and lovingkindness, by a reference to its Author. Malice is gratified by murder. In God we live and move and have our being. Malice is envious. God giveth us richly all things to enjoy. Malice is false and calumnious. God sent His Son into the world to give light to them that sit in darkness. Malice is resentful and vindictive, impatient of offence, and intemperate in requiring satisfaction. God is love.
III. Let us turn for a further motive to the character and conduct of the Son of God.—He has given us an example of the most profound humility, a temper in which malice has no portion, and which cannot exist independently of lovingkindness and tenderness of heart.
IV. To the example of our blessed Redeemer let us add His commandments; and there arises anotherforcible motive to put away all malice and to be kind one to another.—“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”
V. If we would avoid a malicious and cultivate a charitable temper, we must renounce the devil and all his works.—We must triumph over those passions which he plants and propagates in the heart of man.—R. Mant.
Ephesians 4:32. Errors respecting Forgiveness of Sin.
I. That forgiveness of sin is unnecessary.—Every sin is punished on the spot. This natural punishment is felt as long as the sin is indulged, and it ceases as soon as the sin is abandoned. This error may be exposed by a reference to the philosophy of human nature, to experience, and to Scripture.
II. That forgiveness of sin is impossible.—The consequences of every sin stretch out into infinity, and they cannot be annihilated without a supernatural interposition; but it would derogate from the supremacy of law to allow that a miracle is possible. The possibility of miracle is contrary neither to intuition nor to experience. A supernatural Being is the author of a supernatural system: creation, incarnation, the Bible, spiritual influence.
III. That forgiveness of sin might be dispensed without an atonement.—“If a man suffer insult or injury from his fellow-man, he ought to forgive him freely; why should not God?” Because He is God, and not man. He is the moral Governor of the universe, and must consult for the majesty of His law and the interests of His responsible creatures. Forgiveness without atonement would not satisfy the conscience of the awakened sinner.
IV. That forgiveness of sin will not be bestowed till the day of judgment.—Pardon through Christ is immediate. It is enjoyed as soon as we believe.
V. That forgiveness of sin as freely offered in the gospel is inimical to morality.—“Pay a workman before he begins his work, and he will be indolent; pay him when he has finished his work, and he will be diligent.” Not if he were an honest man, and no one is forgiven who is not sanctified. A sense of unpardoned guilt is the greatest hindrance to obedience. A sense of redeeming love the most powerful incentive.—G. Brooks.
I. The reality of forgiveness, or the grace of a forgiving spirit in us, lies not so much in our ability to let go or to be persuaded to let go the remembrance of our injuries, as in what we are able to do, what volunteer sacrifices to make, what painstaking to undergo, that we may get our adversary softened to want or gently accept our forgiveness.
II. In all that you distinguish of a nobler and diviner life, in Christ’s bearing of His enemies and their sins, He is simply showing what belongs in righteousness to every moral nature from the uncreated Lord down to the humblest created intelligence. Forgiveness, this same Christly forgiveness, belongs to all—to you, to me, to every lowest mortal that bears God’s image.
III. Christ wants you to be with Him in His own forgiveness. He wants such a feeling struggling in your bosom that you cannot bear to have an adversary, cannot rest from your prayers and sacrifices and the lifelong suit of your concern, till you have gained him away from his wrong and brought him into peace. This in fact is salvation: to be with Christ in all the travail of His forgiveness. As Christ was simply fulfilling the right in His blessed ways of forgiveness, so we may conceive that He is simply fulfilling the eternal love. For what is right coincides with love, and love with what is right.
IV. When a true Christian goes after his adversary in such a temper as he ought—tender, assiduous, proving himself in his love by the most faithful sacrifices—he is not like to stay by his enmity long. As the heat of a warm day will make even a wilful man take off his overcoat, so the silent melting of forgiveness at the heart will compel it, even before it is aware, to let the grudges go. A really good man may have enemies all his life long, even as Christ had, and the real blame may be chargeable not against him, but against them.
V. Have then Christian brethren under Christ’s own gospel nothing better left than to take themselves out of sight of each other just to get rid of forgiveness, going to carry the rankling with them, live in the bitterness, die in the grudges of their untamable passion? What is our gospel but a reconciling power even for sin itself, and what is it good for, if it cannot reconcile? No, there is a better way. Christ laid it on them by His own dear passion when He gave Himself for them, by His bloody sweat, His pierced hands, and open side, to go about the matter of forgiving one another even as He went about forgiving them.—Bushnell.