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He exhorteth to unity; and declareth that God therefore giveth divers gifts unto men, that his church might be edified and grow up in Christ: he calleth them from the impurity of the Gentiles, to put on the new man, and to cast off lying, and corrupt communication.
Anno Domini 62.
THE great discoveries in the foregoing part of this Epistle, to which the Apostle has given the appellation of the mystery of God, and of Christ, were set forth by him, not merely for the purpose of weaning the Ephesians from the vain mysteries of their idol gods, and of fixing them in the belief and profession of the gospel; but also for giving them an elevation of sentiment and affection, becoming those whose minds were enlightened with the knowledge of the mystery of God's will; and, at the same time, for leading them to a right behaviour, in all the relations of life wherein they were placed. Accordingly, as a proper introduction to the excellent summary of morality containedintheremainingchaptersofthisEpistle,theApostle,fromtheconsideration of the great privileges which the Ephesians enjoyed in the Christian fellowship, earnestly besought them to live in a manner worthy of the calling by which they were called, that is, of the honourable appellations bestowed on them by God since their admissionintotheChristianfellowship, ver.l.—And,first of all, he commanded them to assist each other when in distress, from a principle of love, Ephesians 4:2.—and to live together in peace, because the disciples of Christ, the initiated into the mystery of God, make one body, or society, are animated by one Spirit, have one hope of their calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and worship one God, the supreme Ruler of the Universe, Ephesians 4:3-6.—Whereas, none of the heathen fellowships had any such bonds of union, leading them to consult each other's interests.—Next, he informed them, that, for the right instruction and government of this well-united body, or fellowship, various supernatural gifts were distributed to the different members thereof, by Christ, the head of the fellowship, Ephesians 4:7.—and, from Psalms 68:0 proved that the power of distributing these gifts to men was conferred on Christ, in his mediatorial capacity, as a reward of his obedience unto death, Ephesians 4:8.—and in confutation of the unbelieving Jews, who affirmed that the Christ was never to die, Joh 12:34 he told them that the expression in the Psalm, He ascended on high, implies Messiah's descent from heaven, and death on earth, Ephesians 4:9-10.—Then he observed, that, by these gifts, some were fitted to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, Ephesians 4:11.—in order that they might build the church of Christ, Ephesians 4:12.—Wherefore, the fellowship of the mystery of God was a much more excellent and better regulated society than any of the heathen fellowships, on account of the extraordinary endowments possessed by its directors and teachers, among many other reasons. And he informs them, that the faithful, persevering members of this fellowship should arrive at the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, in such entire harmony and agreement as will cement them together in still dearer bonds; and, getting above that infant state in which so many of them now are, they shall grow up to the maturity of a perfect man, even to the full measure of the spiritual stature, so as to reach what may be called the standard of the fulness of Christ, attaining to those eminent degrees of grace and goodness which will fit them to become his stated residence, and to be filled with the most glorious tokens of his presence and favour, Ephesians 4:13-14.—In the mean time, he commanded all the teachers of the Christian fellowship to speak tothe people the true doctrines of the gospel from love, that they might adhere closely to Christ, the head of the body, or fellowship, by holding the doctrines delivered to them by those teachers whom he had inspired and authorized, Ephesians 4:15-16.
Having thus explained the bonds by which the members of the fellowship of the mystery of God are united, the principles by which they are actuated, the supernatural gifts with which many of them were endowed, especiallythose who were appointed to instruct and direct the whole body, and the duty of those who were appointed by Christ instructers, St. Paul, as an inspired apostle, or mystagogue of the mystery of God, in the name, and by the authority of Christ, the head of the fellowship, commanded the Ephesians to relinquish the vices which prevailed among the idolatrous Gentiles, and, in particular, no longer to walk, as the other Gentiles walked, in the foolishness of their minds. For, although the Gentiles boasted that their mysteries were the only true wisdom, and the only effectual support of the soul, they were, in reality, foolishness, and led those who were guided by them into every kind of sensuality, Ephesians 4:17-19.—contrary both to the doctrine and to the example of Christ, Ephesians 4:20-21.—Likewise, he commanded them to lay aside all their former lusts, and to be renewed in their mind after the image of God, which, he told them, consists in righteousness and true holiness; an idea of God very different from the representations of the heathen Gods given in the mysteries, Ephesians 4:22-24.—and particularly to abstain from lying, anger, theft, and obscene discourse, because these vices grieved the Spirit of God, who had sealed, or marked them as persons belonging to the fellowship and mystical body of Christ, Ephesians 4:25-30.—Then a second time he prohibited anger in all its modes, and enjoined kindness and forgiveness of injuries, after the example of Christ their head, Ephesians 4:31-32.
Ephesians 4:1. I therefore the prisoner of the Lord, &c.— St. Paul having concluded the special part of his Epistle with the foregoing chapter, comes in this, as his manner is, to practical exhortations. He begins with unity, love, and concord, which he presses upon them from a consideration which he makes use of in more of his Epistles than one; that is, their being all members of one and the same body, whereof Christ is the head. Some have observed of this Epistle, and of the others which were written by St. Paul in his imprisonment, (namely, those to the Colossians and Philippians, to Philemon, and the second to Timothy) that they are more especially remarkable for their divine unction, and discover a peculiar favour of the things of God; by which it may be seen, that, while his sufferings did abound, his consolations also did much more abound. It is, however, manifest, that this Epistle,—as it sets forth, in the preceding part, the gracious design of God in the gospel dispensation; and represents the benefits and privileges which belong to all the faithful in Christ Jesus, as well Gentiles as Jews,—is cast into a strain of thanksgivings and prayers, and written, as it were, all in a rapture, in a sublime and elevated stile, flowing from a mind transported with the consideration of the unsearchable wisdom and goodness of God in the work of redemption, and of the amazing love displayed in Christ towards the Gentile world. The remaining part of it is no less admirable, for the engaging manner in which he improves what he had before delivered, urging the duties which became their character with the greatest tenderness, in expressions full of love and endearment; adding the strongest arguments to enforce them, and making mention of his bonds to recommend the exhortations which he offered to them. The prisoner of the Lord signifies for the sake, or on account of the Lord.
Ephesians 4:2. With long-suffering,— As there is no copulative between meekness and long-suffering, it seems most natural to connect the latter with the following clause, with longsuffering forbearing one another in love. And if the exhortation be thus rendered, it will prevent the solecism, which would arise from connecting the word forbearing (ανεχομενοι ) with υμας, ye, in the verse before; to which we should be led, by our translation.
Ephesians 4:6. One God and Father of all, &c.— Though God may be stiled the Father of all things universally, who is above, through, and in them all, as he created and upholds them, and has supreme dominion over them: and as in him we live, and move, and have our being; yet the father of all, &c. in this place, evidently means something more peculiar and distinguishing, withspecial relation to all his believing people, and to his gracious operation in them: for this best suits the design of the Apostle's argument, and is most agreeable to all the other instances of union before recited, which, undoubtedly, have a particular and restrained reference to the church; and the all here intended, admits of a very easy construction, as answering to the one body, Eph 4:4 and to you all in the close of this verse. But when the Father of all true believers is said to be one God, this no more excludes the Son and Spirit from being God, together with the Father, than Christ's being called one Lord, and the Holy Ghost one Spirit, Eph 4:4-5 excludes the Father from being Lord and Spirit together with them: and what is here said of God the Father as over or above all, (επι παντων ), is said of Christ, as over all, (επι παντων ) God blessed for ever (Romans 9:5.) and as the Father is through and in all believers, and all things that refer to them as believers; so it is said of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all things are by him, or through him, (δι ου τα παντα ), 1Co 8:6 and that he fills all in all, Eph 1:23 and believers are the temples of the Holy Ghost, in whom the Spirit of God dwells, (1 Corinthians 3:16.) Therefore one God and Father of all may be considered either as a personal character, and so the meaning is, that there is but one God the Father, in distinction from one God the Son and Spirit; or as an essential character, and so there is but one true God, inclusive of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to whom we are devoted in our baptism, Eph 4:5 in opposition to all false Gods; and with just the same propriety it may be said, there is one God the Son, and one God the Spirit, to distinguish them personally from the Father, and essentially from all false gods.
Ephesians 4:7. Is given grace, &c.— That their differing in some respects, though united in so many, might not be urged as a plea for self-esteem, or neglect of others who wanted such advantages, the Apostle insists upon it, that all is communicated to us in the way of free gift and unmerited liberality.
Ephesians 4:9-10. (Now, that he ascended, &c.— St. Paul's argumentation in these two verses is skilfully adapted to the main design of his Epistle. The convert Gentiles were attacked by the unconverted Jews, who were declared enemies to the thoughts of a Messiah who should die. St. Paul, to enervate that objection, proves, by a passage out of the Psalms, (Ephesians 4:8.) that he must die, and be buried. Besides the unbelieving Jews, several of those who were converted to the gospel, or at least professed to be so, attacked the Gentile converts on the other side, persuading them that they could not be admitted to be the people of God in the kingdom of the Messiah, nor receive any advantage by him, unless they were circumcised, and put themselves wholly under the Jewish constitution. He had said a great deal in the first three chapters to deliver them from this perplexity; but yet takes occasion here to offer them a new argument, by telling them, that Christ, the same Jesus that died, and was laid in his grave, was exalted to the right-hand of God, above all the heavens, in the highest state of dignity and power; thathe himself being filled bodily with the fulness of God, believers, who were allhis members, might receive immediately, from him their head, a fulness of gifts and graces, upon no other terms but as they were his members.
Ephesians 4:12. For the persecuting of the saints,— For the fitting out holy persons,—to the edifying, &c. Blackwall.
Ephesians 4:13. Till we all come, &c.— "Till all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, that are faithful members of this mystical body of Christ (including those who now do, and hereafter shall perseveringly believe, in successive generations to the end of the world,) shall meet, and be cemented together in an entire agreement about the doctrines of faith, in the sweetest harmony, union,and oneness, by means of the same faith in Christ; and of a clear, affectionate, and fiducial knowledge, and (επιγνωσεως ) approving acknowledgment of the eternal Son of God, as a divine person, and the only Lord and Saviour; and so, by gradually improving in gifts and graces, shall, at length, arrive at a state of complete manhood in spiritual understanding, vigour, strength, and attainments of every valuable kind, even unto the full proportion of that mature age and spiritual stature in Christ, which he designs for his faithful people, and which is acquired by derivation from his mediatorial fulness, and makes up the fulness of his faithful mystical body under him, as its head, with regard to the perfection of its graces, comfort, and holiness." Dr. Heylin renders this verse as follows: Till we all become united in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, grow up to maturity, and arrive at the measure of perfection to which the fulness that is in Christ will raise. See ch. Ephesians 3:19.
Ephesians 4:14. By the sleight of men, &c.— The word κυβεια, rendered sleight, properly signifies the artifice of those infamous gamesters, who know how to cog the dice. The next clause may be rendered, and subtlety in every method of deceit. Some render it, and cunning craftiness, as to the art, or method of deceit. The word rendered cunning craftiness, implies all the various degrees of subtlety, dissimulation, and insidiousness, by which men endeavour to deceive. It is to be hoped that no reader, and particularly none of the sacred order, will fail to observe what the Apostle so plainly asserts in the beginning of the next verse; namely, that it was the design of the ministry to preserve peace and charity, as well as orthodoxy, regularity, and discipline in the church;—to maintain the truth in love.
Ephesians 4:16. From whom the whole body— The sum of this whole figurative discourse is, that all real Christians, as members of one body, whereof Christ is the head, should, each in his proper sphere, according to the gifts bestowed upon him, labour with concern, good-will, and zeal, for the benefit and increase of the whole, till it be grown up to that fulness which is to complete it in Christ Jesus. This sense of the exhortation carries with it a strong insinuation (especially if we take in the rest of the admonitions to the end of the Epistle) that the Mosaical observances were no part of the business or character of a Christian, but were wholly to be declined and laid aside by the subjects of Christ's kingdom. The Apostle considers Christ in the allusion before us, not only as the head, but likewise as the heart of the church; whence the blood and spirits are derived, through many canals and tubes which communicate together, to the extreme parts, where the increase and nourishment of those parts which want it is produced. Bengelius translates this verse as follows: In whom the whole frame, joined together and compacted, receives increase of the body from every connection of supply, by an operation proportionate to each part, or member, for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:17. — From this verse to Eph 4:24 the Apostle exhorts the Ephesians wholly to forsake the former conversation, in which they had passed their lives, while they were Gentiles; and to take up that which became them, and was proper to them, now that they were Christians. The vanity of mind spoken of in this verse, appears from Romans 1:21. &c. to be, the apostatizing of the Gentiles from the true God to idolatry; and, in consequence thereof, to all that profligate way of living which followed thereupon, and is described in the place referred to by St. Paul.
Ephesians 4:18. Being alienated from the life of God,— The life of God seems to signify more than a life prescribed by God to his people, as some understand it. It intimates a life consisting in a righteous and holy imitation of his perfections, and a constant devotedness to his service; and perhaps it may also intimate its being originally derived from him; (see Ephesians 4:24.) they having been alienated in affection as well as in practice from the life of God—that noble principle of true religion, which is, indeed, the divine life in the soul, forming it to the service and imitation of him by whom it is implanted. Though the last clause of this verse may certainly refer to the Gentiles, in their unconverted state, yet it is equally true of the natural blindness of men universally, in their unregenerate state. If the words rendered mind, understanding, and heart are to be distinguished, the first may signify the mind in general, comprehending the understanding, or intellectual faculties; and the heart may imply the affections and passions, by the irregularity and obstinacy of which the understanding is often obscured, and led into false and irrational judgments.
Ephesians 4:19. With greediness.— The word πλεονεξια, rendered greediness, in its common acceptation, is, "The letting loose our desires to that which we have no right to by the law of justice." But St. Paul, in some of his Epistles, uses it for "intemperate and exorbitant desires of carnal pleasures." See ch. Ephesians 5:3.Colossians 3:5; Colossians 3:5. 1 Corinthians 5:10-11. Thus, the Hebrew word which signifies covetousness, the LXX. translate by the word μιασμος, which denotes pollution; and in this sense the Apostle uses the word πλεονεξια here; implying a transgression of the bounds, not only of virtue and decency, but even of natural appetite. See Romans 1:29.
Ephesians 4:20. But ye have not so learned Christ;— This may, perhaps, intimate, that there was a manner of learning Christ, which might seem more consistent with such irregularities; and may glance on some teachers, who called themselves Christians, and yet took very little care to inculcate practical religion.
Ephesians 4:21. If so be, &c.— Forasmuch as, or seeing ye have heard him, &c. See ch. Ephesians 3:2. Beza, Gataker, and others, translate and connect this and the preceding verse as follows: But it is not so with you; you have learned Christ; for ye have heard of him, &c.
Ephesians 4:22. That ye put off, &c.— The verbs put off, be renewed, and put on, in this and the following verses, are in the infinitive mood; which shews their connection with the preceding words, and that the sense is, "Ye have been instructed to put off the old man, to be renewed, to put on," &c. As particular dispositions of mind are sometimes expressed by particular garments, when a man appears in them; so the whole of a good or bad character may be represented by a complete dress; yea, by the body in which he appears; and vice, alas! being too natural, and having the first possession, whereas goodness, if it ever succeeds at all, is supervenient and supernatural; the former may well be called the old, and the latter, the new man; which opposite characters may be seen clearly delineated in the following part of this, and in several other of St. Paul's Epistles. Some have explained the deceitful lusts spoken of in this verse, of the lusts into which they were led by the artifices of the heathen priests, who represented them as not disagreeable to their established deities; or by the sophistry oftheirphilosophers,who found out so many fallacious excuses for the grossest vices; but it is a more important sense to understand these deceitful lusts of those which generally prevail in the world; which can lead to no rational solid happiness, but delude by vain appearances and fallacious hopes, always ending in shame and disappointment.
Ephesians 4:23. And be renewed in the Spirit of your minds;— "This saving knowledge of Christ excites and binds you, not only to mortify your corruptions, but also to abound in all grace and holiness, that you may press after a still further renovation, through the sanctifyinginfluences of the Holy Spirit, in the inmost powers of the soul, which is of a spiritual nature, but is naturally all over depraved by the fall; and particularly after a growing renovation in your understanding, that superior and leading faculty, as well as in your will and affections, which are, or ought to be, under its conduct." As the Apostle supposed that there Ephesians had learned Christ, and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus, Eph 4:20-21 he could not but consider them, in the judgment of charity, as already regenerated, or born again; and therefore renewing in the spirit of their mind, must relate, not to the first grand work of the Spirit in their conversion, but to a progressiveness in those holy principles and dispositions that were wrought in them by heart-changing grace.
Ephesians 4:24. True holiness.— As this stands in a beautiful contrast to deceitful lusts, Eph 4:22 we may, with great propriety, retain our version; though archbishop Tillotson would translate the clause, the holiness of truth, which is perfectly agreeable to the original—by truth understanding the gospel, and so explaining it of evangelical holiness, in opposition to such mere moral virtues as might be found in a heat
Ephesians 4:25.— After the general exhortation, in the foregoing verses, to renounce the old course of life which they led when they were heathens, and to become perfectly new men, conformed to the holy rules of the gospel,—St. Paul descends to particulars; dehorting them from many vices, and pressing them to the practice of several important virtues. The words Το ψευδος, rendered lying, might be rendered more properly every lie; and as lying is so opposite to that sincerity which becomes a Christian, what is said against it may be best taken in the most extensive sense. The Apostle might possibly allude to the doctrine of those heathen moralists,who thought that lying might, in many cases, be justified: as well as to those, who, in order to conciliate the esteem of the Jewsand Gentiles, did not confine themselves to the rigid truth.
Ephesians 4:26. Be ye angry, and sin not:— It is evident that this is not a command to be angry, but a concession only, with a caution to beware of sinning in it. Comp. Isaiah 8:9-10. Nahum 3:14-15. Some would read this interrogatively,—Are ye angry, yet sin not? The next is a Hebrew expression,—used to intimate that a thing necessary to be done, should not be prolonged or delayed;—and an allusion to Deu 21:23 to this effect: "If thepunishments inflicted by the law were not to be extended to the going down of the sun, much less should private resentments be extended longer." This was agreeable to the practice of the Pythagoreans, who used always, if the members of their sect had any difference with each other, to give tokens of reconciliation before the sun went down.
Ephesians 4:28. Let him that stole steal no more:— Stealing properly signifies private thefts, or frauds, in distinction from public or violent robbery: and as in many of the Gentile nations theft was thought to be no sin; so, perhaps, some of the Ephesian converts had not perfectly divested themselves of their own immoral notions concerning it, and must, of course, have been sometimes under strong temptations to the commission of it. Instead of, working with his hands the thing which is good, Markland would read, working with his hands, that he may have good things to give to him, &c.
Ephesians 4:29. Let no corrupt communication proceed, &c.— This primarily refers to obscene talk; which is, with great propriety, called corrupt, or putrid, as the word σαπρος, signifies, in direct opposition to that which is seasoned with salt; and is recommended, Col 4:6 as tending to preserve from such putrefaction and rottenness. But that which is good, &c. some read, But if any thing be good to needful edification: as if it were intimated, "that if any useful thought arise, or an occasion may be fitly taken to graft an edifying remark on any thing which passes in conversation, there should be a readiness to improve it; that so every one may furnish out his quota, without unprofitable or disagreeable charms of silence, or the temptation of having recourse to any thing that is ill, to prevent them; which, unfortunately, is but too often the case."
Ephesians 4:30. Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed.— The original is emphatical, Grieve not that Holy Spirit of God;—whereby ye are sealed; that is to say, "As all the things, against which I have been cautioning you, are directly contrary to the holy nature, will, and operations, gifts and graces of the good Spirit of God; and as he, speaking after the manner of men, is grieved at them, as a friend uses to be at the disagreeable and ungrateful behaviour of one with whom he dwells, and has treated with kindness and favour,—have a care lest, by indulging any of them, you offend and rebel against him, as Israel did of old (Isaiah 63:10.), and provoke him to withdraw his gracious presence, who is not only infinitely pure and holy in himself, but loves holiness, and is the author and worker of its first beginnings, and of all its increases in you; by which, in some remarkablemanifestations and impressions of light and grace, consequent to your first believing, (see ch. Eph 1:13), you are evidently sealed as with his own image, and are thereby distinguished for his own, with assuring tokens of salvation; and have the pledge and earnest of it in yourselves, for your present comfort, until, if faithful unto death, you be possessed of the heavenly inheritance." The term of sealing seems to be a metaphor, taken from merchants putting some seal, or mark, upon their commodities, by which they may be known to be theirs. One of the ancients somewhere says, Delicata res est Spiritus Dei;—"There is, if we may so express it, a certain delicacy in the Spirit of God, which should engage those who desire his influences, solicitously to guard against every approach to what might be offensive to him."
Ephesians 4:31. Let all bitterness, &c. be put away— "Do not passionately resent every trifle, nor bitterly inveigh, with all the licentiousness and keenness of satire, against those who have greatly injured you;—for these things are most contrary to the nature of God, the genius of Christianity, and the character of its great Founder." Such is the meaning of this verse, if we suppose each word to have a different idea annexed to it; but if they are only synonimous terms, the Apostle's design in amassing them together might be to shew, that he would have them to be upon their guard against all the malevolent passions, and those outrages of speech and expression which they tend to produce. The like remark may be applied to many other passages of scripture, and particularly to those where all kinds of lewdness are forbidden in such a variety of phrase and language.
Inferences.—If divine grace has taught us to know the hope of our calling, it will surely add great weight to the pathetic exhortations of this faithful servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ, to walk worthy of it. It will teach us that humility, meekness, and long-suffering, of which our divine Saviour was so glorious an example;—an example, which should powerfully engage us to the exercise of that mutual forbearance, so well suiting those whom he has brought into so happy a state.
To incite us hereto, let us reflect—"Do we not all, indeed, belong to one body, however called by different denominations? Have we not all (so far as we are truly called Christians) received one Spirit? Is there not one hope of our common calling—even that of dwelling together, in one and the same blissful world, with God, and with each other? Have we not one Lord, even Jesus Christ, to whom we all equally profess subjection; who has taught us one faith: who has instituted one baptism, and who has introduced and consecrated us to one God and Father of all?—And what then are the considerations which should prevail so far as to divide us, when compared with such bonds of union as these?"
Let us all, therefore, in the name of this God, who is over all, who operates through all, and in us all; in the name of this one Saviour, and one Spirit,—awful and endearing names! into which we were all baptized; let us charge it upon our own souls, that we not only do nothing, through a factious and uncharitable temper to divide his church, but that we study what we can to heal its breaches, and to promote its growth and edification. And let us pray that God would guide and prosper our endeavours for that purpose, and preserve our hearts in such a situation and temper, that we may stand continually willing to give up every temporal interest which may interfere with such a design; yea, and even to make our own blood, if such were the will of God, the cement of those wounds, with which a body thus intimately united to Christ has so long been bleeding almost to death.
Were we actually to give such a proof of our regard to it, what would it be in comparison of the infinite condescension and love of that Saviour, who for us descended to these lower regions of the earth, and dwelt for a while among the dead; and then triumphantly rising and ascending on high, led those enemies, who held us in captivity, themselves captive, as at his chariot-wheels; and having received gifts from men, scattered them down with such royal munificence, that he might fit his ministers for the offices to which he had called them.
These his ministers we are taught by this chapter to regard as the special gifts of his love to the church; and as such, let us adore him for them; not only for apostles, prophets, and evangelists, but also for pastors and teachers. And let us earnestly pray, that through the continued influences of that Spirit, which he has sent down from on high, holy men may, in every succeeding age, be so perfectly and completely fitted for the work of the ministry, that the body of Christ may be edified; that by this means we may all come to that union, to that strength, to that full maturity, to which, by calling us into the fellowship of the gospel, he intended to raise us.
In the mean time, while we are advancing towards it, may we rise above that childish weakness which would make us the sport of every wind of doctrine, and a prey to every artifice of designing men. Let us ever maintain a due regard to the united interests of truth and love, that our union with Christ may be secured, and our growth in him more happily and abundantly advanced.
And since we have learned Christ, since the light of his blessed gospel has been imparted to us, and we are no longer numbered among the heathen nations, let us not abandon ourselves to those irregularities of temper and life, for which even their ignorance will not be a sufficient excuse, since the light even of their obscure dispensation taught them to condemn and to abhor such courses.
There are deceitful lusts, according to which the old man is corrupt; let us be always on our guard against them, and labour after such a renovation as becomes our profession; and, in order to its being effectual, let us be earnestly solicitous to obtain it in the spirit of our mind; that we may shew its influence upon us, not merely by ceasing to do evil, but by learning, to the utmost of our power, to do good. Thus, let it be our care to put on the new man, to be partakers of a new and holy nature, and to be brought to the whole of that temper in all its branches, by which we shall resemble the blessed God, the bright Original of universal righteousness and holiness, and the great Model of perfection.
In consequence of this, remembering our relation to each other, let us speak the truth from our hearts; and upon all occasions let us treat others with the same candour and integrity with which we would ourselves desire to be treated. If anger or indignation rise, let it be only on just occasions, and in due proportion; and let us take care that it rest not in our bosoms; lest, by indulging it, we give place to the devil, and become like that malignant spirit.—Let us be upright in our dealings; and, conscientiously avoiding the iniquitous practice of defrauding others, let generous and charitable sentiments always possess us; nor let those whose circumstances in life may constrain them to maintain themselves by their own manual labour, think that they may violate the strictest rules of honesty, or are dispensed with from all obligations to relieve others more necessitous than themselves. Whenever we engage in conversation, let us avoid every thing that may have the remotest tendency to corrupt discourse; and let us study what may improve and edify the minds of our hearers; embracing every opportunity of suggesting any thing that is good, and that may tend to minister grace, or to promote the more abundant exercise of it in the minds of those in whom it is already implanted.
Thus will the Spirit of God, that sacred Agent of Divine inspiration and sanctification, be delighted, instead of being grieved, as he so frequently is by the vain and foolish discourses of those who would be thought his temples. For his influences let us look, to dispose us to every good word and work, and seasonably to remind us of these plain but weighty admonitions, which, alas, are so little remembered by the generality of those who call themselves Christians, that one would imagine they had scarce ever read them.
The words in Eph 4:28 make up a complete sense, without depending on what goes before, or what follows after. They contain a confirmation and explication of the eighth commandment. For what the Apostle enjoins concerning labour and working with our hands, is no more than a necessary consequence of the command, "Thou shalt not steal." For since all men are equal sharers in the wants and necessities of life, and the things which should supply these wants are unequally divided, so that some have more than enough, and some much less, it follows, that the necessities of the one must be supplied from the abundance of the other. Steal you must not, or give perhaps you will not. The only sure way then by which you can come at the things you want, is by purchase or exchange; and the only thing that a poor man can exchange is the work and labour of his hands; and therefore it follows, as a consequence of the law, that since you must not steal, you must work, and purchase, by your labour and industry, the things necessary for your support and subsistence. In all that rich men can do, they want the assistance of the poor; they cannot minister to themselves either in the wants, the conveniences, or the pleasures of life: so that the poor man has as many ways to support himself as the rich man has wants and desires; for the wants and desires of the rich must be served by the labours of the poor. But then the rich man has often very wicked desires, and often delights in sensual pleasures; and though to serve the rich be the poor man's maintenance, yet in these cases the poor man must not serve him; and therefore the Apostle adds that he must labour, working with his hands the thing which is good. His poverty obliges him to serve man, and therefore he must work with his hands; and right reason, as well as religion, obliges him to serve God, and therefore he must work only the thing which is good. Labour is the business and employment of the poor; it is the work which God has given them to do; and therefore a man ought not to be satisfied with working merely as far as the wants of nature oblige him, and spending the rest of his time idly and wantonly: for if God has enabled him to gain more by his labour than his own wants, and the conveniences of life necessary to his station require, he then becomes a debtor to such duties as are incumbent on all to whom God has dispensed his gifts liberally. He must consider that he owes tribute to his Maker for the health that he enjoys; that there are others who want limbs to labour, or strength and understanding to arrive at the knowlege of any art or mystery, whereby to maintain themselves; and to these he is a debtor, out of the abundance of his strength, and health, and knowlege with which God has blessed him; and therefore he is obliged to labour, "working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth."
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Apostle addresses to them,
1. A general exhortation to walk worthy of their high vocation. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, suffering now for my fidelity to his gospel, beseech you, by every endearing argument, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, adorning, by your conversation, the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.
2. He particularly exhorts them, (1.) to behave with all lowliness and meekness, in humble thoughts of themselves, and the mildest deportment towards others, with long-suffering passing by offences, and overlooking the infirmities of their brethren, forbearing one another in love, influenced by this divine principle, and patient towards all men. Note; True love, humility unfeigned, and approved meekness, are the most striking lineaments of the Christian's character. (2.) In this manner endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, sweetly cemented together in holy fellowship, and the whole church being in perfect peace, no jarring discord should disturb the happy union.
3. He suggests the strongest motives to the practice which he recommends. There is one body, of which we are all members; and one Spirit, which actuates the whole; and therefore we cannot, if this be the case, but have the tenderest concern for, and closest union with, each other; even as ye are called in one hope of your calling, looking for the same inheritance in glory, and expecting to spend a blessed eternity in your Father's house above. There is one Lord, the great Head of the church, and to whom they all owe duty and allegiance; one faith, the same gospel, and to be apprehended in the same way; one baptism, the sacramental right of admission into the kingdom of grace, wherein we are solemnly dedicated to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: one God and Father of all, who stands in this endeared relation in a peculiar sense to all that are his children by faith in Jesus Christ; who is above all, exalted above all blessing and praise; and through all, dispensing his mighty influences through the whole mystical body; and in you all, making your hearts his temple;—and therefore, being connected by ties so many and so engaging, we should be most closely united together in love, and appear as actuated by one soul.
4. The different gifts and graces bestowed on the members of the same body, far from producing any variance, should cement them the nearer, as they are given for the benefit of the whole. But unto every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gifts of Christ, who gives to each member his respective office and endowment, and dispenses severally, to all true believers, the grace suited to their place and station. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, triumphant over all his foes, having spoiled principalities and powers, and led Satan, sin, death, and hell, as vanquished enemies, bound to his chariot-wheels; and gave gifts unto men, the richest and most amazing gifts of his Spirit. Now that he ascended in this glorious manner, what is it that is herein intimated to us, but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth, humbling himself to take the human nature into personal union with himself, and then to lie down in the grave, making atonement for our sins. He that descended is the same divine Person, the Son of God, who ascended up far above all heavens to the state of the most transcendent dignity, enthroned in majesty on high, that he might fill all things, and abundantly dispense to every member of his church the gifts and graces needful for them. And he gave some apostles, to fill the highest stations in his church; and some prophets, to foretel by inspiration future events, and to expound the prophetic word; and some evangelists, who were generally employed in preaching the word; and some pastors and teachers, to take care of particular churches, and minister unto them in holy things: all which appointments to these several offices are designed for the perfecting of the saints, καταρτισμον, to join them in firm union together, and carry on the work of grace begun in them to its perfection; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowlege of the Son of God, by means of the same blessed gospel, and by happy experience of the power and grace of the same adored Jesus, unto a perfect man, growing up to higher spiritual attainments, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, when we shall bear his image complete: That we henceforth be no more children, weak in faith, and knowlege, and every grace, and consequently liable to be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and, by fair pretences, seduce the simple and unwary into their pernicious heresies and destructive ways; but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; which growth in grace the blessed gospel, through the power of Jesus, tends immediately to promote: from whom the whole body, fitly joined together as members to the living head, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, by that divine energy that is communicated from the life-giving Spirit of the Lord, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. Note; Truth from the heart should ever be spoken among Christians, and with that love which may gain it a more welcome reception.
2nd, Having recommended to them close union, he proceeds to inculcate purity of heart and life.
1. He warns them against the practices of the unconverted heathen. This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, entreating, and solemnly in his name enjoining it upon you as members of his undefiled body, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in their sinful, idolatrous, sensual courses, in the vanity of their mind, acting after the dictates of their vain and corrupted hearts; having the understanding darkened in all spiritual matters; alienated from the life of God, estranged from him who is the fountain of life, and averse to all his holy ways, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart, rejecting every means of instruction, wilfully perverse and obstinate against the notices of his will, and resisting the convictions of their own consciences, not choosing to retain God with all their knowlege; who being past feeling, their hearts hardened in sin, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness, abandoning themselves to every vile affection without restraint, and pursuing their guilty pleasures with insatiable desire.
2. Far otherwise was the lesson which the gospel had taught them. But ye have not so learned Christ, since ye have known his grace; you have been directed to a different spirit and conduct; if so be, or since that ye have heard him speaking in his word to your hearts, and have been taught by him, through the illumination and powerful energy of his Spirit, as the truth is in Jesus, even that pure unadulterated gospel which Jesus taught by his own ministry, and exemplified in his temper and conversation, whose bright example his living members delight to imitate: that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, that body of sin which was born with you: which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,—lusts which promise much gratification in the indulgence, but fatally deceive the soul into endless perdition: and be renewed in the Spirit of your mind yet more and more in knowlege, grace, and holiness; and that ye put on the new man, be made partakers of a divine nature, and in spirit, temper, and conduct, quite changed from your former selves, as if you had been really different persons; which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, after his own image, and by his own power. Wherefore, as those who are influenced by another spirit, beware of those sins to which you were formerly addicted; particularly,
(1.) Putting away lying in every instance, speak every man truth with his neighbour, without deceit or prevarication, paying the strictest regard to your word at all times, and in all circumstances, and preferring the endurance of the greater evils to the suggestion of the least falsehood: for we are members one of another, and therefore bound to use all simplicity and fidelity in our conversation with each other. Note; An habitual liar is infallibly a child of wrath. All Christ's members desire ever to speak the truth from their heart.
(2.) Be ye angry, and sin not: for all anger is not in its own nature evil: but as we are so prone to exceed in our resentments, even where there is just cause for indignation, we must check the rising displeasure, and repress its workings: therefore, whatever cause is given for it, let not the sun go down upon your wrath; but hasten to calm any tumult which may have arisen, that it fix not in hatred, or rankle into malice and revenge: neither give place to the devil, who ever seeks to irritate the irascible nature which is in us, and to blow our passions into a flame. Note; There is scarcely a more besetting sin than anger, nor any against which we need be more habitually on our guard.
(3.) Let him that stole, steal no more, utterly abhorring all such iniquitous practices; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth; and not only be saved from the temptation to dishonesty, whereunto idleness is the most direct road, but also be enabled by his honest industry to afford a pittance from his gains for the relief of the necessitous.
(4.) Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, nothing lewd, profane, opprobrious, light, which in its most distant tendency can lead to evil; but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers, and serve to promote their spiritual and eternal benefit. Note; Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and a Christian spirit will appear in a readiness to introduce and maintain such conversation as is profitable and edifying.
(5.) And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, by these or any such like evils; lest you provoke him to withdraw his blessed influences from you; whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption, that glorious day when the faithful saints of God shall be delivered from the burdens of the flesh, or when they shall rise again in glory, to appear for ever in the presence of God. Lord, take not thy holy Spirit from us! (See the Annotations.)
(6.) Let all bitterness, all rancour of spirit and acrimony and discourse; and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, the fruits of a mind inflamed with passion and rage; be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, gentle, courteous, affectionate; tender-hearted, sympathizing, and full of pity towards the afflicted and the tempted; forgiving one another every provocation and injury, however great or aggravated, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you, freely and fully. Note; A sense how much we are ourselves indebted to the pardoning love of God, will engage us to exercise the like forgiveness to our brethren.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany