THE EXHORTATION ON CHURCH LIFE. CHAPTER 4:1-16
THE FUNDAMENTAL UNITIES
This Encyclical of St. Paul to the Churches of Asia is the most formal and deliberate of his writings since the great epistle to the Romans. In entering upon its hortatory and practical part we are reminded of the transition from doctrine to exhortation in that epistle. Here, as in Romans 11:1-36; Romans 12:1-21, the apostle's theological teaching, brought with measured steps to its conclusion, has been followed by an act of worship expressing the profound and holy joy which fills his spirit as he views the purposes of God thus displayed in the gospel and the Church. In this exalted mood, as one sitting in heavenly places with Christ Jesus, St. Paul surveys the condition of his readers and addresses himself to their duties and necessities. His homily, like his argument, is inwoven with the golden thread of devotion; and the smooth flow of the epistle breaks ever and again into the music of thanksgiving.
The apostle resumes the words of self-description dropped in Ephesians 3:1. He appeals to his readers with pathetic dignity: "I the prisoner in the Lord"; and the expression gathers new solemnity from that which he has told us in the last chapter of the mystery and grandeur of his office. He is "the prisoner"-the one whose bonds were known through all the Churches and manifest even in the imperial palace. Philippians 1:12-14 It was "in the Lord" that he wore this heavy chain, brought upon him in Christ's service and borne joyfully for His people's sake. He is now a martyr apostle. If his confinement detained him from his Gentile flock, at least it should add sacred force to the message he was able to convey. The tone of the apostle's letters at this time shows that he was sensible of the increased consideration which the afflictions of the last few years had given to him in the eyes of the Church. He is thankful for this influence, and makes good use of it. His first and main appeal to the Asian brethren, as we should expect from the previous tenor of the letter, is an exhortation to unity. It is an obvious conclusion from the doctrine of the Church that he has taught them. The "oneness of the Spirit" which they must "earnestly endeavour to preserve," is the unity which their possession of the Holy Spirit of itself implies. "Having access in one Spirit to the Father," the antipathetic Jewish and Gentile factors of the Church are reconciled; "in the Spirit" they "are builded together for a habitation of God". Ephesians 2:18-22 This unity when St. Paul wrote was an actual and visible fact, despite the violent efforts of the Judaisers to destroy it. The "right hands of fellowship" between himself and James, Peter, and John at the conference of Jerusalem were a witness thereto. Galatians 2:7-10 But it was a union that needed for its maintenance the efforts of right-thinking men and sons of peace everywhere. St. Paul bids all who read his letter help to keep Christ's peace in the Churches.
The conditions for such pursuing and preserving of peace in the fold of Christ are briefly indicated in Ephesians 4:1-2. There must be-
(1) A due sense of the dignity of our Christian calling: "Walk worthily" he says, "of the calling wherewith you were called." This exhortation, of course, includes much besides in its scope; it is the preface to all the exhortations of the three following Chapter s, the basis, in fact, of every worthy appeal to Christian men; but it bears in the first instance, and pointedly, upon Church unity. Levity of temper, low and poor conceptions of religion militate against the catholic spirit; they create an atmosphere rife with causes of contention. "Whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal and walk as men?"
(2) Next to low-mindedness amongst the foes of unity comes ambition: "Walk with all lowliness of mind and meekness," he continues. Between the low-minded and the lowly-minded there is a total difference. The man of lowly mind habitually feels his dependence as a creature and his unworthiness as a sinner before God. This spirit nourishes in him a wholesome self-distrust, and watchfulness over his temper and motives.-The meek man thinks as little of his personal claims, as the humble man of his personal merits. He is willing to give place to others where higher interests will not suffer, content to take the lowest room and to be in men's eyes of no account. How many seeds of strife and roots of bitterness would be destroyed, if this mind were in us all. Self-importance, the love of office and power, and the craving for applause must be put away, if we are to recover and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(3) When St. Paul adds "with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love," he is opposing a cause of division quite different from the last, -to wit, impatience and resentfulness. A high Christian ideal and a strict self-judgment will render us more sensitive to wrong-doing in the world around us. Unless tempered with abundant charity, they may lead to harsh and one-sided censure. Gentle natures, reluctant to condemn, are sometimes slow and difficult in forgiveness. Humbleness and meekness are choice graces of the Spirit. But they are self-regarding virtues at the best, and may be found in a cold nature that has little of the patience which bears with men's infirmities, of the sympathetic insight that discovers the good often lying close to their faults. "Above all things"-above kindness, meekness, long-suffering, forgivingness-"put on love, which is the bond of perfectness". Colossians 3:14 Love is the last word of St. Paul's definition of the Christian temper in Ephesians 4:2; it is the sum and essence of all that makes for Christian unity. In it lies a charm which can overcome both the lighter provocations and the grave offences of human intercourse, -offences that must needs rise in the purest society composed of infirm and sinful men. "Bind thyself to thy brother. 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" (Chrysostom).
Ephesians 4:1-3 exhibit the temper in which the unity of the Church is to be maintained. Ephesians 4:4-6 set forth the basis upon which it rests. This passage is a brief summary of Christian doctrine. It defines the "foundation of the apostles and prophets" asserted in Ephesians 2:20, -the groundwork of "every building" in God's holy temple, the foundation upon which Paul's Gentile readers, along with the Jewish saints, were growing into one holy temple in the Lord. Seven elements of unity St. Paul enumerates: one body, Spirit, hope; one Lord, faith, and baptism; one God and Father of all. They form a chain stretching from the Church on earth to the throne and being of the universal Father in heaven.
Closely considered, we find that the seven unities resolve themselves into three, centring in the names of the Divine Trinity-the Spirit, the Lord, and the Father. The Spirit and the Lord are each accompanied by two kindred uniting elements; while the one God and Father, placed alone, in Himself forms a threefold bond to His creatures-by His sovereign power, pervasive action, and immanent presence: "Who is over all, and through all, and in all". comp. Ephesians 1:23
The rhythm of expression in these verses suggests that they belonged to some apostolic Christian song. Other passages in Paul's later epistles betray the same character; and we know from Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 that the Pauline Church was already rich in psalmody. This epistle shows that St. Paul was touched with the poetic as well as the prophetical afflatus. He expected his people to sing; and we see no reason why he should not, like Luther and the Wesleys afterwards, have taught them to do so by giving voice to the joy of the new-found faith in "hymns and spiritual songs." These lines, we could fancy, belonged to some chant sung in the Christian assemblies; they form a brief metrical creed, the confession of the Church then and in all ages.
I. One body there is, and one Spirit.
The former was a patent fact. Believers in Jesus Christ formed a single body, the same in all essentials of religion, sharply distinguished from their Jewish and their Pagan neighbours. Although the distinctions now existing amongst Christians are vastly greater and more numerous, and the boundaries between the Church and the world at many points are much less visible, yet there is a true unity that binds together those "who profess and call themselves Christians" throughout the world. As against the multitudes of heathen and idolaters; as against Jewish and Mohammedan rejectors of our Christ; as against atheists and agnostics and all deniers of the Lord, we are "one body," and should feel and act as one.
In missionary fields, confronting the overwhelming forces and horrible evils of Paganism, the servants of Christ intensely realise their unity; they see how trifling in comparison are the things that separate the Churches, and how precious and deep are the things that Christians hold in common. It may need the pressure of some threatening outward force, the sense of a great peril hanging over Christendom to silence our contentions and compel the soldiers of Christ to fall into line and present to the enemy a united front. If the unity of believers in Christ-their oneness of worship and creed, of moral ideal and discipline-is hard to discern through the variety of human forms and systems and the confusion of ‘tongues that prevails, yet the unity is there to be discerned; and it grows clearer to us as we look for it. It is visible in the universal acceptance of Scripture and the primitive creeds, in the large measure of correspondence between the different Church standards of the Protestant communions, in our common Christian literature, in the numerous alliances and combinations, local and general, that exist for philanthropic and missionary objects, in the increasing and auspicious comity of the Churches. The nearer we get to the essentials of truth and to the experience of living Christian men, the more we realise the existence of one body in the scattered limbs and innumerable sects of Christendom.
There is "one body and one Spirit"; one body because, and so far as, there is one Spirit. What is it constitutes the unity of our physical frame? Outward attachment, mechanical juxtaposition go for nothing. What I grasp in my hand or put between my lips is no part of me, any more than if it were in another planet. The clothes I wear take the body's shape; they partake of its warmth and movement; they give its outward presentment. They are not of the body for all this. But the fingers that clasp, the lips that touch, the limbs that move and glow beneath the raiment, -these are the body itself; and everything belongs to it, however slight in substance, or uncomely or unserviceable, nay, however diseased and burdensome, that is vitally connected with it. The life that thrills through nerve and artery, the spirit that animates with one will and being the whole framework and governs its ten thousand delicate springs and interlacing cords, -it is this that makes one body of an otherwise inert and decaying heap of matter. Let the spirit depart, it is a body no more, but a corpse. So with the body of Christ, and its members in particular. Am I a living, integral part of the Church, quickened by its Spirit? or do I belong only to the raiment and the furniture that are about it? "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." He who has the Spirit of Christ, will find a place within His body. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is a communicative, sociable spirit. The child of God seeks out his brethren; like is drawn to like, bone to bone and sinew to its sinew in the building up of the risen body. By an instinct of its life, the new-born soul forms bonds of attachment for itself to the Christian souls nearest to it, to those amongst whom it is placed in God's dispensation of grace. The ministry, the community through which it received spiritual life, and that travailed for its birth, claim it by a parental right that may not be disowned, nor at any time renounced without loss and peril.
Where the Spirit of Christ dwells as a vitalising, formative principle, it finds or makes for itself 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. He "loved the world"; and we must love it, or we displease Him. "This commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God love his brother also."
The oneness of communion amongst the people of Christ is governed by a unity of aim: "Even as also you were called in one hope of your calling." Our fellowship has an object to realise, our calling a prize to win. All Christian organisation is directed to a practical end. 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. This gives energy, purpose, progress to the fellowship of Christian believers. In this imperfect and unsatisfying world, with the majority of our race still in bondage to evil, it is idle for us to combine for any purpose that does not bear on human improvement and salvation. The Church of Christ is a society for the abolition of sin and death. That this will be accomplished, that God's will shall be done on earth as in heaven, is the hope of our calling. To this hope we "were called" by the first summons of the gospel. "Repent," it cried, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
For ourselves, in our personal quality, 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. This hope, shared by us in common and affecting all the interests and relationships of daily life, is the ground of our communion. 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."
Happy are the wife and husband, happy the master and servants, happy the circle of friends who live and work together as "joint-heirs of the grace of life." Well says Calvin here: "If this thought were fixed in our minds, this law laid upon us, that the sons of God may no more quarrel than the kingdom of heaven can be divided, how much more careful we should be in cultivating brotherly good-will! What a dread we should have of dissensions, if we considered, as we ought to do, that those who separate from their brethren, exile themselves from the kingdom of God."
But 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 a new heavens and earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness"; for the actual gathering into one in Christ of all things in all worlds, as they are already gathered in God's eternal plan. Now 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. As children of the household of faith, we are heirs to its duties with its possessions. We cannot escape the obligations of our spiritual any more than of our natural birth. One Spirit dwelling in each, one sublime ideal inspiring us and guiding all our efforts, how shall we not be one body in the fellowship of Christ? This hope of our calling it is our calling to breathe into the dead world. Its virtue alone can dispel the gloom and discord of the age. From the fountain of God's love in Christ springing up in the heart of the Church, there shall pour forth "One common wave of thought and joy, Lifting mankind again!"
II. The first group of unities leads us to the second. If one Spirit dwells within us, it is one Lord who reigns over us. We have one hope to work for; it is because we have one faith to live by. A common fellowship implies a common creed.
Thus Christ Jesus the Lord takes His place fourth in this list of unities, between hope and faith, between the Spirit and the Father. He is the centre of centres, the Lamb in the midst of the throne, the Christ in the midst of the ages. United with Christ, we are at unity with God and with our fellowmen. We find in Him the fulcrum of the forces that are raising the world, the corner-stone of the temple of humanity.
But let us mark that it is the one Lord in whom we find our unity. To think of Him as Saviour only is to treat Him as a means to an end. It is to make ourselves the centre, not Christ. This is the secret of much of the isolation and sectarianism of modern Churches. Individualism is the negation of Church life. Men value Christ for what they can get from Him for themselves. They do not follow Him and yield themselves up to Him, for the sake of what He is. "Come unto me, all ye that are burdened, and I will give you rest": they listen willingly so far. But when He goes on to say "Take my yoke upon you," their ears are deaf. There is a subtle self-seeking and self pleasing even in the way of salvation.
From this springs the disloyalty, the want of affection for the Church, the indifference to all. Christian interests beyond the personal and local, which is worse than strife; for it is death to the body of Christ. The name of the "one Lord" silences party clamours and rebukes the voices that cry, "I am of Apollos, I of Cephas." It recalls loiterers and stragglers to the ranks. It bids each of us, in his own station of life and his own place in the Church, serve the common cause without sloth and without ambition.
Christ's Lordship over us for life and death is signified by our baptism in His name. We have received, most of us in infancy through our parents' reverent care, the token of allegiance to the Lord Christ. The baptismal water that He bade all nations receive from His apostles, has been sprinkled upon you. Shall this be in vain? Or do you now, by the faith of your heart in Christ Jesus the Lord, endorse the faith your parents and the Church exercised on your behalf? If so, your faith saves you. Your obedience is at once accepted by the Lord to whom it is tendered; and the sign of God's redemption of the race which greeted you at your entrance into life, assumes for you all its significance and worth. It is the seal upon your brow, now stamped upon your heart, of your eternal covenant with Christ.
But it is the seal of a corporate life in Him. Christian baptism is no private transaction; it attests no mere secret vow passing between the soul and its Saviour. "For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit". 1 Corinthians 12:13 Our baptism is the sign of a common faith and hope, and binds us at once to Christ and to His Church.
One baptism there has been through all the ages since the ascending Lord said to His disciples: "Go, make disciples of all the nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The ordinance has been administered in different ways and under varying regulations: but with few exceptions, it has been observed from the beginning by every Christian community in fulfilment of the word of Christ, and in acknowledgment of His dominion. Those who insist on the sole validity of this or that mode or channel of administration, recognise at least the intention of Churches baptising otherwise than themselves to honour the one Lord in thus confessing His name; and so far admit that there is in truth "one baptism." Wherever Christ's sacraments are observed with a true faith, they serve as visible tokens of His rule.
In this rule lies the ultimate ground of union for men, and for all creatures. Our fellowship in the faith of Christ is deep as the nature of God; its blessedness rich as His love; its bonds strong and eternal as His power.
III. The last and greatest of the unities still remains. Add to our fellowship in the one Spirit and confession of the one Lord, our adoption by the one God and Father of all.
To the Gentile converts of the Asian cities this was a new and marvellous thought. "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians," they had been used to shout; or haply, "Great is Aphrodite of the Pergamenes," or "Bacchus of the Philadelphians." Great they knew was "Jupiter Best and Greatest" of conquering Rome; and great the numen of the Caesar, to which everywhere in this rich and servile province shrines were rising. Each city and tribe, each grove or fountain or sheltering hill had its local genius or daimon, requiring worship and sacrificial honours. Every office and occupation, every function in life-navigation, midwifery, even thieving-was under the patronage of its special deity. These petty godships by their numbers and rivalries distracted the pious heathen with continual fear lest one or other of them might not have received due observance.
With what a grand simplicity the Christian conception of "the one God and Father" rose above this vulgar pantheon, this 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 Graeco-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! Here is no jealous Monarch regarding men as tribute-payers, and needing to be served by human hands. He is the Father of men. pitying us as His children and giving us all things richly to enjoy. Our God is no local divinity, to be honoured here but not there, tied to His temple and images and priestly mediators; but the "one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." 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. You need not go far to seek Him; if you believe in Him, you are yourself His temple.
THE MEASURE OF THE GIFT OF CHRIST
In Ephesians 4:7 the apostle passes from the unities of the Church to its diversities, from the common foundation of the Christian life to the variety presented in its superstructure. "To each single one of us was the grace given." The great gift of God in Christ is manifold in its distribution. Its manifestations are as various and fresh as the idiosyncrasies of human personality. There is no capacity of our nature, no element of human society which the gospel of Christ cannot sanctify and turn to good account.
All this the apostle keeps in view and allows for in his doctrine of the Church. He does not merge man in humanity, nor sacrifice the individual to the community. He claims for each believer direct fellowship with Christ and access to God. The earnestness with which in his earlier epistles St. Paul insisted on the responsibilities of conscience and on the personal experience of salvation, leads him now to press the claims of the Church with equal vigour. He understands well that the person has no existence apart from the community, that our moral nature is essentially social and the religious life essentially fraternal. Its vital element is "the communion of the Holy Spirit." Hence, to gather the real drift of this passage we must combine the first words of Ephesians 4:7 with the last of Ephesians 4:12: "To each single one of us was the grace given-in order to build up the body of Christ." God's grace is not bestowed on us to diffuse and lose itself in our separate individualities; but that it may minister to one life and work towards one end and build up one great body in us all. The diversity subserves a higher unity. Through ten thousand channels, in ten thousand varied forms of personal influence and action, the stream of the grace of God flows on to the accomplishment of the eternal purpose.
Like a wise master in his household and sovereign in his kingdom, the Lord of the Church distributes His manifold gifts. His bestowments and appointments are made with an eye to the furtherance of the state and house that He has in charge. As God dispenses His wisdom, so Christ His gifts "according to plan". Ephesians 3:11 The purpose of the ages, God's great plan for mankind, determines "the measure of the gift of Christ." Now, it is to illustrate this measure, to set forth the style and scale of Christ's bestowments within His Church, that the apostle brings in evidence the words of Psalms 68:18. He interprets this ancient verse as he cites it, and weaves it into the texture of his argument. In the original it reads thus:
"Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led Thy captivity captive, Thou hast received gifts among men, -Yea, among the rebellious also that the LORD God might dwell with them." (R.V.) Let us go back for a moment to the occasion of the old Hebrew song. Psalms 68:1-35, is, as Ewald says, "the greatest, most splendid and artistic of the temple-songs of Restored Jerusalem." It celebrates Jehovah's entry into Zion. This culminating verse records, as the crowning event of Israel's history, the capture of Zion from the rebel Jebusites and the Lord's ascension in the person of His chosen to take His seat upon this holy hill. The previous verses, in which fragments of earlier songs are embedded, describe the course of the Divine Leader of Israel through former ages. In the beat and rhythm of the Hebrew lines one hears the footfall of the Conqueror's march, as He "arises and His enemies are scattered" and "kings of armies flee apace," while nature trembles at His step and bends her wild powers to serve His congregation. The sojourn in the wilderness, the scenes of Sinai, the occupancy of Canaan, the wars of the Judges were so many stages in the progress of Jehovah, which had Zion always for its goal. To Zion, the new and more glorious sanctuary, Sinai must now give place. Bashan and all mountains towering in their pride in vain "look askance at the hill which God has desired for His abode," where "Jehovah will dwell forever." So the day of the Lord's desire has come I From the Kidron valley David leads Jehovah's triumph up the steep slopes of Mount Zion. A train of captives defiles before the Lord's anointed, who sits down on the throne that God gives him and receives in His name the submission of the heathen. The vanquished chiefs cast their spoil at his feet; it is laid up in treasure to build the future temple; while, upon this happy day of peace, "the rebellious also" share in Jehovah's grace and become His subjects.
In this conquest David "gave to men" rather than "received"-gave even to his stubborn enemies (witness his subsequent transaction with Araunah the Jebusite for the site of the temple); for that which he took from them served to build amongst them God's habitation: "that," as the Psalmist sings, "the Lord God might dwell with them." St. Paul's adaptation of the verse is both bold and true. If he departs from the letter, he unfolds tire spirit of the prophetic words. That David's giving signified a higher receiving, Jewish interpreters themselves seem to have felt, for this paraphrase was current also amongst them.
The author of this Hebrew song has in no way exaggerated the importance of David's victory. The summits of the elect nation's history shine with a supernatural and prophetic light. The spirit of the Christ in the unknown singer "testified beforehand of the glory that should follow" His warfare and sufferings. From this victorious height, so hardly won, the Psalmist's Verse flashes the light of promise across the space of a thousand years; and St. Paul has caught the light, and sends it on to us shining with a new and more spiritual brightness. David's "going up on high" was, to the apostle's mind, a picture of the ascent of Christ, his Son and Lord. David rose from deep humiliation to a high dominion; his exaltation brought blessing and enrichment to his people; and the spoil that he won with it went to build God's house amongst rebellious men. All this was true in parable of the dispensation of grace to mankind through Jesus Christ; and His ascension disclosed the deeper import of the words of the ancient Scripture. "Wherefore God saith" (and St. Paul takes the liberty of putting in his own words what He saith)-"wherefore He saith: He ascended on high; He led captivity captive; He gave gifts to men."
The three short clauses of the citation supply, in effect, a threefold measure of the gifts of Christ to His Church. They are gifts of the ascended. Saviour. They are gifts bestowed from the fruit of His victory. And they are gifts to men. Measure them, first, by the height to which He has risen - from what a depth! Measure them, again, by the spoils He has already won. Measure them, once more, by the wants of mankind, by the need He has undertaken to supply.- As He is, so He gives; as He has, so He gives; as He has given, so He will give till we are filled unto all the fulness of God.
I. Think first, then, of Him. Think of what and where He is! Consider "what is the height" of His exaltation; and then say, if you can, "what is the breadth" of His munificence.
We know well how He gave as a poor and suffering man upon earth-gave, with what affluence, pity, and delight, bread to the hungry-thousands, wine to the wedding-feast, health to the sick, sight to the blind, pardon to the sinful, sometimes life to the dead! Has His elevation altered Him? Too often it is so with vain and weak men like ourselves. Their wealth increases, but their hearts contract. The more they have to give, the less they love to give. They go up on high as men count it, and climb to places of power and eminence; and they forget the friends of youth and the ranks from which they sprang-low-minded men. Not so with our exalted Friend. "It is not one that went down, and another that went up." says Theodoret. "He that descended, it is He also that ascended up far above all the heavens!" (Ephesians 4:10). Jesus of Nazareth is on the throne of God, -"the same yesterday and to-day!" But now the resources of the universe are at His disposal. Out of that treasure He can choose the best gifts for you and me.
Mere authority, even Omnipotence, could not suffice to save and bless moral beings like ourselves; nor even the best will joined to Omnipotence. Christ gained by His humiliation, in some sense, a new fulness added to the fulness of the Godhead. This gain of His sufferings is implied in what the apostle writes in Colossians 1:19 concerning the risen and exalted Redeemer: "It was well-pleasing that all the fulness should make its dwelling in Him." His plenitude is that of the Ascended One who had descended. "If He ascended, what does it mean but that He also descended into the under regions of the earth?" (Ephesians 4:9). If He went up, why then He had been down!-down to the Virgin's womb and the manger cradle, wrapping His Godhead within the frame and the brain of a little child; down to the home and the bench of the village carpenter; down to the contradiction of sinners and the level of their scorn; down to the death of the cross, - to the nether abyss, to that dim populous underworld into which we look shuddering over the grave's edge! And from that lower gulf He mounted up again to the solid earth and the light of day and the world of breathing men; and up, and up again, through the rent clouds and the ranks of shouting angels, and under the lifted heads of the everlasting doors, until He took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.
Think of the regions He has traversed, the range of being through which the Lord Jesus passed in descending and ascending, "that He might fill all things." Heaven, earth, hades-hades, earth, heaven again are His; not in mere sovereignty of power, but in experience and communion of life. Each He has annexed to His dominion by inhabitation and the right of self-devoting love, as from sphere to sphere He "travelled in the greatness of His power, mighty to save." He is Lord of angels; but still more of men, -Lord of the living, and of the dead. To them that sleep in the dust He has proclaimed His accomplished sacrifice and the right of universal judgment given Him by the Father.
Nor did Abraham alone and Moses and Elijah have the joy of "seeing His day," but all the holy men of old, who had embraced its promise and "died in faith," who looked forward through their imperfect sacrifices "which could never quite take away sins" to the better thing which God provided for us, and for their perfection along with us. On the two side-posts of the gate of death our great High Priest sprinkled His atoning blood. He turned the abode of corruption into a sweet and quiet sleeping chamber for His saints. Then at His touch those cruel doors swung back upon their hinges, and He issued forth the Prince of life, with the keys of death and hades hanging from His girdle. From the depths of the grave to the heaven of heavens His Mastership extends. With the perfume of His presence and the rich incense of His sacrifice Jesus Christ has "filled all things." The universe is made for us one realm of redeeming grace, the kingdom of the Son of God's love.
"So there crowns Him the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown;
And His love fills infinitude wholly, nor leaves up nor down
One spot for the creature to stand in!"
So "Christ is all things, and in all." And we are nothing; but we have everything in Him. How, pray, will He give who has thus given Himself, -who has thus endured and achieved on our behalf? Let our hearts consider; let our faith and our need be bold to ask. One promise from His lips is enough: "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it."
II. A second estimate of the gifts to be looked for from Christ, we derive from His conquests already won. David as he entered Zion's gates "led captivity captive,"-led, that is in Hebrew phrase, a great, a notable captivity. Out of the gifts thus received he enriched his people. The resources that victory placed at his disposal, furnished the store from which to build God's house. In like fashion Christ builds His Church, and blesses the. human race. With the spoils of His battle He adorns His bride The prey taken from the mighty becomes the strength and beauty of His sanctuary. The prisoners of His love He makes the servants of mankind.
This "captivity" implies a warfare, even as the ascent of Christ a previous descending. The Son of God came not into His earthly kingdom as kings are said to have come sometimes disguised amongst their subjects, that they might learn better of their state and hear their true mind; nor as the Greeks fabled of their gods, who wandered unknown on earth seeking adventure and wearied haply of the cloying felicities of heaven, suffering contempt and doing to men hard service. He came, the Good Shepherd, to seek lost sheep. He came, the Mighty One of God, to destroy the works of the devil, to drive out "the strong one armed" who held the fortress of man's soul. He had a war to wage with the usurping prince of the world. In the temptation of the wilderness, in the strife with disease and demoniac powers, in the debate with Scribes and Pharisees, in the anguish of Gethsemane and Calvary that conflict was fought out; and by death He abolished him who holds the power of death, by His blood He "bought us for God." But with the spoils of victory, He bears the scars of battle, -tokens glorious for Him, humbling indeed to us, which will tell forever how they pierced His hands and feet!
For Him pain and conflict are gone by. It remains to gather in the spoil of His victory of love, the harvest sown in His tears and His blood. Arid what are the trophies of the Captain of our salvation? what the fruit of His dread passion? For one, there was the dying thief, whom with His nailed hands the Lord Jesus snatched from a felon's doom and bore from Calvary to Paradise. There was Mary the Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons, the first to greet Him risen. There were the three thousand whom on one day, in the might of His Spirit, the ascended Lord and Christ took captive in rebel Jerusalem, "lifted from the earth" that He might draw all men unto Him. And there was the writer of this letter, once His blasphemer and persecutor. By a look, by a word, Jesus arrested Saul at the height of his murderous enmity, and changed him from a Pharisee into an apostle to the Gentiles, from the destroyer into the wise master-builder of His Church.
St. Paul's own case suggested, surely, the application he makes of this ancient text of the Psalter and lighted up its Messianic import. In the glory of His triumph Jesus Christ had appeared to make him captive, and put him at once to service. From that hour Paul was led along enthralled, the willing bond-slave of the Lord Jesus and celebrant of His victory. "Thanks be unto God," he cries, "who ever triumphs over us in the Christ, and makes manifest through us the savour of His knowledge in every place."
Such, and of such sort are the prisoners of the war of Jesus; such the gifts that through sinners pardoned and subdued He bestows upon mankind, -"patterns to those who should hereafter believe." Time would fail to follow the train of the captives of the love of Christ, which stretches unbroken and ever multiplying through the centuries to this day. We, too, in our turn have laid our rebel selves at His feet; and all that we surrender to Him, by right of conquest He gives over to the service of mankind.
"His love the conquest more than wins;
To all I shall proclaim:
Jesus the King, the Conqueror reigns
Bow down to Jesu's name!"
He gives out of the spoil of His war with evil, -gives what He receives. Yet He gives not as He receives. Everything laid in His hands is changed by their touch. Publicans and Pharisees become apostles. Magdalenes are made queens and mothers in His Israel. From the dregs of our streets He raises up a host of sons to Abraham. From the ranks of scepticism and anti-Christian hate the Lord Christ wins new champions and captains for His cause. He coins earth's basest metal into heaven's fine gold. He takes weak things of the earth and foolish, to strike the mightiest blows of battle.
What may we not expect from Him who has led captive such a captivity! What surprises of blessing and miracles of grace there are awaiting us, that shall fill our mouth with laughter and our tongue with singing-gifts and succours coming to the Church from unlooked-for quarters and reinforcements from the ranks of the enemy. And what discomfitures and captivities are preparing for the haters of the Lord, -if, at least, the future is to be as the past; and if we may judge from the apostle's word, and from his example, of the measure of the gift of Christ.
III. A third line of measurement is supplied in the last word of Ephesians 4:8, and is drawn out in Ephesians 4:11-12. "He gave gifts to men-He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, with a view to the full equipment of the saints for the work of ministration, for building up of the body of Christ." Yes, and some martyrs, some missionaries, some Church rulers and Church statesmen, some poets, some deep thinkers and theologians, some leaders of philanthropy and helpers of the poor; all given for the same end-to minister to the life of His Church, to furnish it with the means for carrying on its mission, and to enable every saint to contribute his part to the commonwealth of Christ according to the measure of Christ's gift to each.
Comparison with Ephesians 4:16 that follows and with Ephesians 4:7 that precedes, seems to us to make it clear that we should read, without a comma, the second and third clauses of Ephesians 4:12 as continuations of the first. The "work of ministering" and the "building up of the body of Christ" are not assigned to special orders of ministry as their exclusive calling. Such honour have all His saints. It is the office of the clergy to see that the laity do their duty, of "the ministry" to make each saint a minister of Christ, to guide, instruct, and animate the entire membership of Christ's body in the work He has laid upon it. Upon this plan the Christian fellowship was organised and officered in the apostolic times. Church government is a means to an end. Its primitive form was that best suited to the age; and even then varied under different circumstances. It was not precisely the same at Jerusalem and at Corinth; at Corinth in 58, and at Ephesus in 66 A.D. That is the best Church system, under any given conditions, which serves best to conserve and develop the spiritual energy of the body of Christ.
The distribution of Church office indicated in Ephesians 4:11 corresponds closely to what we find in the Pastoral epistles. The apostle does not profess to enumerate all grades of ministry. The "deacons" are wanting; although we know from Philippians 1:1 that this order already existed in Pauline Churches. Pastors (shepherds)-a title only employed here by the apostle-is a fitting synonym for the "bishops" (i.e., overseers) of whom he speaks in Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, and largely in the epistles to Timothy and Titus, whose functions were spiritual and disciplinary as well as administrative. Addressing the Ephesian elders at Miletus four years before, St. Paul bade them "shepherd the Church of God."
1 Peter 5:1-2 the same charge is laid by the Jewish apostle upon his "fellow-elders, " that they should "shepherd the flock of God, making themselves examples" to it; Christ Himself he has previously called "Shepherd and Bishop of souls". 1 Peter 2:25 The expression is derived from the words of Jesus recorded in John 10:1-42, concerning the true and false shepherd of God's flock, and Himself the Good Shepherd, -words familiar and dear to His disciples.
The office of teaching, as in 1 Timothy 5:17, is conjoined with that of shepherding. From that passage we infer that the freedom of teaching so conspicuous in the Corinthian Church 1 Corinthians 14:26, etc. was still recognised. Teaching and ruling are not made identical, nor inseparable functions, any more than in Romans 12:7-8; but they were frequently associated, and hence are coupled together here. -Of apostolic evangelists we have examples in Timothy and the second Philip; men outside the rank of the apostles, but who, like them, preached the gospel from place to place. The name apostles (equivalent to our missionaries) served, in its wider sense, to include ministers of this class along with those directly commissioned by the Lord Jesus.
The prophets, like the apostles and evangelists, belonged to the Church at large, rather than to one locality. But their gift of inspiration did not carry with it the claim to rule in the Church. This was the function of the apostles generally, and of the pastor-bishops, or elders, locally appointed. The first three orders (apostles, prophets, evangelists) linked Church to Church and served the entire body; the last two (pastors and teachers) had charge of local and congregational affairs. The apostles. (the Twelve and Paul), 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.
Marvellous were Christ's "gifts for men" bestowed in the apostolic ministry. What a gift to the Christian community, for example, was Paul himself! In his natural endowments, so rich and finely blended, in his training and early experience, in the supernatural mode of his conversion, everything wrought together to give to men in the apostle Paul a man supremely fitted to be Christ's ambassador to the Pagan world, and for all ages the "teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." "A chosen vessel unto me," said the Lord Jesus, "to bear my name."
"Such a gift to the world was St. Augustine: a man of the most powerful intellect and will, master of the thought and life of his time. Long an alien from the household of faith, he was saved at last as by miracle, and utterly subdued to the will of Christ. In the awful crisis of the fifth century, when the Roman empire was breaking up and the very foundations of life seemed to be dissolved, it was the work of this heroic man to reassert the sovereignty of grace and to reestablish faith in the Divine order of the world."
Such another gift to men was Martin Luther, the captive of justifying grace, won from the monastery and the bondage of Rome to set Germany and Europe free. What a soul of fire, what a voice of power was his! to whose lips our Lord Christ set the great trumpet of the Reformation; and he blew a blast that waked the sleeping peoples of the North, and made the walls of Babylon rock again to their foundation. Such a gift to Scotland was John Knox, who from his own soul breathed the spirit of religion into the life of a nation, and gave it a body and organic form in which to dwell and work for centuries.
Such a gift to England was John Wesley. Can we conceive a richer boon conferred by the Head of the Church upon the English race than the raising up of this great evangelist and pastor and teacher, at such a time as that of his appearance? Standing at the distance of a hundred years, we are able to measure in some degree the magnitude of this bestowment. In none of the leaders and commanders whom Christ has given to His people was there more signally manifest that combination of faculties, that concurrence of providences and adjustment to circumstances, and that transforming and attempering influence of grace in all-the "effectual working in the measure of each single part" of the man and his history, which marks those special gifts that Christ is wont to bestow upon His people in seasons of special emergency and need. We are passing into a new age, such as none of these great men dreamed of, an age as exigent and perilous as any that have gone before it. The ascendency of physical science, the political enfranchisement of the masses, the universal spread of education, the emancipation of critical thought, the gigantic growth of the press, the enormous increase and aggregation of wealth, the multiplication of large cities, the worldwide facilities of intercourse, -these and other causes more subtle are rapidly transforming human society. Old barriers have disappeared; while new difficulties are being created, of a magnitude to overtask the faith of the strongest. The Church is confronted with problems larger far in their dimensions than those our fathers knew. Demands are being made on her resources such as she has never had to meet before. Shall we be equal to the needs of the coming times?-Nay, that is not the question; but will He?
There is nothing new or surprising to the Lord Jesus in the progress of our times and the developments of modern thought, nothing for which He is not perfectly prepared. He has taken their measure long ere this, and holds them within His grasp. The government is upon His shoulders-"the weight of all this unintelligible world"-and He can bear it well. He has gifts in store for the twentieth century, when it arrives, as adequate as those He bestowed upon the first or fifth, upon the sixteenth or eighteenth of our era. There are Augustines and Wesleys yet to come. Hidden in the Almighty's quiver are shafts as polished and as keen as any He has used, which He will launch forth in the war of the ages at the appointed hour. The need, the peril, the greatness of the time will be the measure of the gift of Christ.
There is a danger, however, in waiting for great leaders and in looking for signal displays of Christ's power amongst men. His "kingdom comes not with observation," so that men should say, Lo here! or Lo there! It steals upon us unforeseen; it is amongst us before we know. "We looked," says Rutherford, "that He should take the higher way along the mountains; and lo, He came by the lower way of the valleys!" While men listen to the earthquake and the wind rending the mountains, a still, small voice speaks the message of God to prepared hearts. Rarely can we measure at the first the worth of Christ's best gifts. When the fruit appears, after long patience, the world will haply discover when and how the seed was sown. But not always then. "The sower, passing onward, was not known; And all men reaped the harvest as their own." Those who are most ready to appraise their fellows are constantly at fault. Our last may prove Christ's first; our first His last! "Each of us shall give account of himself to God": each must answer for his own stewardship, and the grace that was given to each. "Let us not therefore judge one another any more." But let every man see to it that his part in the building of God's temple is well and faithfully done. Soon the fire will try every man's work, of what sort it is.
THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH
We must spend a few moments in unravelling this knotty paragraph and determining the relation of its involved clauses to each other, before we can expound it. This passage is enough to prove St. Paul's hand in the letter. No writer of equal power was ever so little of a literary craftsman. His epistles read, as M. Renan says, like "a rapid conversation stenographed." Sometimes, as in several places in Colossians 2:1-23, his ideas are shot out in disjointed clauses, hardly more continuous than shorthand notes; often, as in this epistle, they pour in a full stream, sentence hurrying after sentence and phrase heaped upon phrase with an exuberance that bewilders us. In his spoken address the interpretation of tone and gesture, doubtless, supplied the syntactical adjustments so often wanting in Paul's written composition.
The gifts pertaining to special office in the Church were bestowed to promote its corporate efficiency and to further its general growth (Ephesians 4:11-12). Now the purpose of these endowments sets a limit to their use. "Christ gave apostles, prophets," and the rest-"till we all arrive at our perfect manhood and reach the stature of His fulness." Such is the connection of Ephesians 4:13 with the foregoing context. The aim of the Christian ministry is to make itself superfluous, to raise men beyond its need. Knowledge and prophesyings, apostolates and pastorates, the missions of the evangelist and the schools of the teacher will one day cease; their work will be done, their end gained, when all believers are brought "to the unity of faith, to the full knowledge of the Son of God." The work of Christ's servants can have no grander aim, no further goal lying beyond this. Ephesians 4:14, therefore, does not disclose an ulterior purpose arising out of that affirmed in the previous sentence; it restates the same purpose. To make men of us (Ephesians 4:13) and to prevent our being children (Ephesians 4:14) is the identical object for which apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers are called to office. The goal marked out for all believers in the knowledge and the moral likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13), is set up. that it may direct the Church's course through dangers shunned and enemies vanquished (Ephesians 4:14) to the attainment of her corporate perfection (Ephesians 4:15-16). The whole thought of this section turns upon the idea of "the perfecting of the saints" in Ephesians 4:12. Ephesians 4:16 looks backward to this; Ephesians 4:7 looked forward to it.
So much for the general construction of the period. As to its particular words and phrases, we must observe:-
(1) The "perfect [full-grown] man" of Ephesians 4:13 is the individual, not the generic man, not "the one [collective] new man" of Ephesians 2:15. The Greek words for man in these two places differ. The apostle proposes to the Christian ministry the end that he was himself pursuing, viz., to "present every man perfect in Christ."
(2) "Sleight of men" (A.V and R.V) does not seem to us to express the precise meaning of the words so translated in Ephesians 4:14. Kubeia (from kubos, a cube, or die) occurs only here in the New Testament; in classical Greek it appears in its literal sense of dice-play, gambling. The interpreters have drawn from this the idea of trickery, cheating-the common accompaniment of gambling. But the, kindred verb (to play dice, to gamble) has another well-established use in Greek, namely, to froward: this supplies for St. Paul's noun the signification of sport or hazarding, preferred by Beza among the older expositors and by von Soden amongst the newest. In the sport of men, says von Soden: "conduct wanting in every kind of earnestness and clear purpose. These men play with religion, and with the welfare of Christian souls." This metaphor accords admirably with that of the restless waves and uncertain winds just preceding it; while it leads fittingly to the further qualification "in craftiness," which is almost an idle synonym after "sleight."
(3) Another rare word is found in this verse, not very precisely rendered as "wiles"-a translation suiting it better in Ephesians 6:11. Here the noun is singular in number: methodeia. It signifies methodising, reducing to a plan; and then, in a bad sense, scheming, plotting. "Error" is thus personified: it "schemes" just as in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 it "works." Amid the reckless speculations and the unscrupulous perversions of the gospel now disturbing the infant faith of the Asian Churches, the apostle saw the outline of a great system of error shaping itself. There was a method in this madness. Unto the scheme of error-into the meshes of its net-those were being driven who yielded to the prevailing tendencies of speculative thought. With all its cross currents and capricious movements, it was bearing steadily in one direction. Reckless pilots steered ignorant souls this way and that over the windswept seas of religious doubt; but they brought them at last to the same rocks and quicksands.
(4) As the contrast between manhood and childhood links Ephesians 4:13-14, so it is by the contrast of error and craftiness with truth that we pass from Ephesians 4:14-15. "Speaking truth" insufficiently renders the opening word of the latter verse. The "dealing truly" of the Revised margin is preferable. In Galatians 4:16 the apostle employs the same verb, signifying not truth of speech alone, but of deed and life. comp. Ephesians 5:9 The expression resembles that of 1 John 3:19: "We are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him," where truth and love are found in the like union.
(5) The last difficulty of this kind we have to deal with, lies in the connection of the clauses of Ephesians 4:16. "Through every joint of supply" is an incongruous adjunct to the previous clause, "fitly framed and knit together," although the rendering "joint" gives this connection a superficial aptness. The apostle's word means juncture, rather than joint. The points of contact between the members of Christ's body form the channels of supply through which the entire frame receives nourishment. The clause "through every juncture of the supply"-an expression somewhat obscure at the best-points forwards, not backwards. It describes the means by which the Church of Christ, compacted in its general framework by those larger ligatures which its ministry furnishes (Ephesians 4:11-12), builds up its inward life, through a communion wherein "each single part" of the body shares, and every tie that binds one Christian soul to another serves to nourish the common life of grace. We may paraphrase the sentence thus: "Drawing its life from Christ, the entire body knit together in a well-compacted frame, makes use of every link that unites its members and of each particular member in his place to contribute to its sustenance, thus building itself up in love evermore."
These difficult verses unfold to us three main conceptions: The goal of the Church's life (Ephesians 4:13), the malady which arrests its development (Ephesians 4:14), and the means and conditions of its growth (Ephesians 4:15-16).
I. The mark at which the Church has to arrive is set forth, in harmony with the tenor of the epistle, 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."
The "one faith" of the Church's foundation (Ephesians 4:5) is, at the same time, its end and goal. The final unity will be the unfolding of the primal unity; the implicit will become explicit; the germ will be reproduced in the developed organism. "The faith" is still, in St. Paul, the tides qua credimus, not quam credimus; it is the living faith of all hearts in the same Christ and gospel. When "we all" believe heartily and understandingly in "the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation," the goal will be in sight. All, our defects are, at the bottom, deficiencies of faith. We fail to apprehend and appropriate the fulness of God in Christ. Faith is the essence of the heart's life: it forms the common consciousness of the body of Christ.
While faith is the central organ of the Church's life, the Son of God is its central object. The dangers assailing the Church and the divisions threatening its unity touch His Person; and whatever touches the Head, vitally affects the health of the body and the well-being of every member in it. Many had believed in Jesus as the Christ and received blessing from Him, whose knowledge of Him as the Son of God was defective. This ignorance exposed their faith to perversion by the plausible errors circulating in the Churches of Asia Minor. The haze of speculation dimmed His glory and distorted His image. Dazzled by the "philosophy and empty deceit" of specious talkers, these half-instructed believers formed erroneous or uncertain views of Christ. And a divided Christ makes a divided Church. We may hold divergent opinions upon many points of doctrine-in regard to Church order and the Sacraments, in regard to the nature of the future judgment, in regard to the mode and limits of inspiration, in regard to the dialect and expression of our spiritual life-and yet retain, notwithstanding, a large measure of cordial unity and find ourselves able to co-operate with each other for many Christian purposes. But when our difference concerns the Person of Christ, it is felt at once "to be fundamental." There is a gulf between those who worship and those who do not worship the Son of God.
"Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him and he in God.". 1 John 4:15 This is the touchstone of catholic truth that the apostles have laid down; and by this we must hold fast. The kingship of the Lord Jesus is the rallying-point of Christendom. In His name we set up our banners. There are a thousand differences we can afford to sink, and quarrels we may well forget, if our hearts are one towards Him. Let me meet a man of any sect or country, who loves and worships my Lord Christ with all his mind and strength, he is my brother; and who shall forbid us "with one mind and one mouth to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"? It is nothing but our ignorance of Him, and of each other, that prevents us doing this already. Let us set ourselves again to the study of Christ. Let us strive "all of us" to "attain to the full knowledge of the Son of God"; it is the way to reunion. As we approach the central revelation, and the glory of Christ who is the image of God shines in its original brightness upon our hearts, prejudices will melt away; the opinions and interests and sentiments that divide us will be lost in the transcendent and absorbing vision of the one Lord Jesus Christ.
"Names and sects and parties fall: Thou, O Christ, art all in all!"
The second and third unto of Ephesians 4:13 are parallel with the first, and with each other. A truer faith and better knowledge of Christ, uniting believers to each other, at the same time develop in each of them a riper character. Jesus Christ was the "perfect man." In Him our nature attained, without the least flaw or failure, its true end, -which is to glorify God. In His fulness the plenitude of God is embodied; it is made human, and attainable to faith. In Jesus Christ humanity rose to its ideal stature; and we see what is the proper level of our nature, the dignity and worth to which we have to rise. We are "predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's Son." All the many brethren of Jesus measure themselves against the stature of the Firstborn; and they will leave to say to the end with St. Paul: "Not as though I had attained, either were already perfect. I follow after; I press towards the mark." A true heart that has seen perfection will never rest short of it. "Till we arrive-till we all arrive" at this, the work of the Christian ministry is incomplete. Teachers must still school us, pastors shepherd us, evangelists mission us. There is work enough and to spare for them all-and will be, to all appearance, for many a generation to come. 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; and Christ will "present her to Himself" a bride worthy of her Lord, "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing." Then this world will have had its use, and will give place to the new heavens and earth.
II. The goal that the apostle marked out did not appear to him to be in immediate prospect. The childishness of so many Christian believers stood in the way of its attainment. In this condition they were exposed 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. When he says in verse 14, "that we may be no longer children tossed to and fro," etc., this implies that many Christian believers at that time were of this childish sort, and were being so distracted and misled. The apostle writes on purpose to instruct these "babes" and to raise them to a more manly style of Christian thought and life.
It is a grievous thing to a minister of Christ to see those who for the time ought to be teachers, fit for the Church's strong meat and the harder tasks of her service, remaining still infantile in their condition, needing to be nursed and humoured, narrow in their views of truth, petty and personal in their aims, wanting in all generous feeling and exalted thought. Some men, like St. Paul himself, advance from the beginning to a settled faith, to a large intelligence and a full and manly consecration to God. Others remain "babes in Christ" to the end. Their souls live, but never thrive. They suffer from every change in the moral atmosphere, from every new wind of doctrine. These invalids are objects full of interest to the moral pathologist; they are marked not unfrequently by fine and delicate qualities. But they are a constant anxiety to the Church. Till they grow into something more robust they must remain to crowd the Church's nursery, instead of taking part in her battle like brave and strenuous men.
The appearance of false doctrine in the Asian Churches made their undeveloped condition a matter for peculiar apprehension to the apostle. The Colossian heresy, for example, with which he is dealing at this present moment, would have no attraction for ripe and settled Christians. But such a "scheme of error" was exactly suited to catch men with a certain tincture of philosophy and in general sympathy with current thought, who had embraced Christianity under some vague sense of its satisfaction for their spiritual needs, but without an intelligent grasp of its principles or a thorough experience of its power.
St. Paul speaks of "every wind of the doctrine," having in his mind a more or less definite form of erroneous teaching, a certain "plan of error." Reading this verse in the light of the companion letter to Colossae and the letters addressed to Timothy when at Ephesus a few years later, we can understand its significance. We can watch the storm that was rising in the Graeco-Asiatic Churches. The characteristics of early Gnosticism are well defined in the miniature picture of Ephesians 4:14. We note, in the first place, its protean and capricious form, half Judaistic, half philosophical-ascetic in one direction, libertine in another: "tossed by the waves, and carried about with every wind." In the next place, its intellectual spirit, -that of a loose and reckless speculation: "in the hazarding of men,"-not in the abiding truth of God. Morally, it was vitiated by "craftiness." And in its issue and result, this new teaching was leading "to the scheme of error" which the apostle four years ago had sorrowfully predicted, in bidding farewell to the Ephesian elders at Miletus. Acts 20:1-38 This scheme was no other than the gigantic Gnostic system, which devastated the Eastern Churches and inflicted deep and lasting wounds upon them.
The struggle with legalism was now over and past, at least in. its critical phase. The apostle of the Gentiles had won the battle with Judaism and saved the Church in its first great conflict. But another strife is impending; Ephesians 6:10 a most pernicious error has made its appearance within the Church itself. St. Paul was not to see more than the commencement of the new movement, which took two generations to gather its full force; but he had a true prophetic insight, and he saw that the strength of the Church in the coming day of trial lay in the depth and reality of her knowledge of the Son of God.
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. While the Gnosticism of the early ages asserted the infinite distance of God from the world and the intrinsic evil of matter, modern Agnosticism removes God still further 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. The supernatural, it tells us, is an illusion; and we must resign ourselves to be once more without God in the world and without hope beyond death.
This materialistic philosophy gathers to a head the unbelief of the century. It is the living antagonist of Divine revelation. It supplies the appointed trial of faith for educated men of our generation, and the test of the intellectual vigour and manhood of the Church.
III. In the midst of the changing perils and long delays of her history, the Church is called evermore to press towards the mark of her calling. The conditions on which her progress depends are summed up in Ephesians 4:15-16.
To the craft of false teachers St. Paul would have his Churches oppose the weapons only of truth and love. "Holding the truth in love," they will "grow up in all things unto Christ." Sincere believers, heartily devoted to Christ, will not fall into fatal error. A healthy life instinctively repels disease. They "have an anointing from the Holy One" which is their protection. 1 John 2:20-29 In all that belongs to godliness and a noble manhood, such natures will expand; temptation and the assaults of error stimulate rather than arrest their growth. And with the growth and ripening in her fellowship of such men of God, the whole Church grows. Next to the moral condition lies the spiritual condition of advancement, -viz., the full recognition of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. Christ assumes here two opposite relations to the members of His body. He is the Head into (or unto) which we grow in all things; but at the same time, from whom all the body derives its increase (Ephesians 4:16). He is the perfect ideal for us each; He is the common source of life and progress for us all. In our individual efforts after holiness and knowledge, in our personal aspirations and struggles, Jesus Christ is our model, our constant aim: we "grow into Him" (Ephesians 4:15). But as we learn to live for others, as we merge our own aims in the life of the Church and of humanity, we feel, even more deeply than our personal needs had made us to do, our dependence upon Him. We see that the forces which are at work to raise mankind, to stay the strifes and heal the wounds of humanity, emanate from the living Christ (Ephesians 4:16). He is the head of the Church and the heart of the world.
The third, practical condition of Church growth is brought out by the closing words of the paragraph. It is organisation: "all the body fitly framed comp. Ephesians 2:21 and knit together." Each local ecclesia, or assembly of saints, will have its stated officers, its regulated and seemly order in worship and in work. And within this fit frame, there must be the warm union of hearts, the frank exchange of thought add feeling, the brotherly counsel in all things touching the kingdom of God, by which Christian men in each place of their assembling are "knit together." From these local and congregational centres, the Christian fellowship spreads out its arms to embrace all that love our Lord Jesus Christ.
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: "knit together in love," the apostle says in Colossians 2:2; and so it is "in love" that this "body builds up itself." The tense of the participles in the first part of Ephesians 4:16 is present (continuous); we see a body in process of incorporation, whose several organs, imperfectly developed and imperfectly co-operant, are increasingly drawn to each other and bound more firmly in one as each becomes more complete in itself. The perfect Christian and the perfect Church are taking shape at once. Each of them requires the other for its due realisation.
The rest of the sentence, following the comma that we place at "knit together," has its parallel in Colossians 2:19: "All the body, through its junctures and bands being supplied and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." According to St. Paul's physiology, the "bands" knit the body together, but the "junctures" are its means of supply. Each point of contact is a means of nourishment to the frame. In touch with each other, Christians communicate the life flowing from the common Head. The apostle would make Christian intercourse a universal means of grace. No two Christian men should meet anywhere, upon any business, without themselves and the whole Church being the better for it.
"Wherever two or three are met together in my name," said Jesus, "there am I in the midst." In the multitude of these obscure and humble meetings of brethren who love each other for Christ's sake, is the grace supplied, the love diffused abroad, by which the Church lives and thrives. The vitality of the Church of Christ does not depend so much upon the large and visible features of its construction-upon Synods and Conferences, upon Bishops and Presbyteries and the like, influential and venerable as these authorities may be; but upon the spiritual intercourse that goes on amongst the body of its people. "Each several part" of Christ's great body, "according to the measure" of its capacity, is required to receive and to transmit the common grace.
However defective in other points of organisation, the society in which this takes place fulfils the office of an ecclesiastical body. It will grow into the fulness of Christ; it "builds up itself in love." 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.
ON CHRISTIAN MORALS
THE WALK OF THE GENTILES
CHRIST has called into existence and formed around Him already a new world. Those who are members of His body are brought into another order of being from that to which they had formerly belonged. They have therefore to walk in quite another way-"no longer as the Gentiles." St. Paul does not say "as the other Gentiles" (A.V); for his readers, though Gentiles by birth, Ephesians 2:11 are now of the household of faith and the city of God. They hold the franchise of the "commonwealth of Israel." As at a later time the apostle John in his Gospel, though a born Jew, yet from the standpoint of the new Israel writes of "the Jews" as a distant and alien people, so St. Paul distinguishes his readers from "the Gentiles" who were their natural kindred. When he "testifies," with a pointed emphasis, "that you no longer walk as do indeed the Gentiles," and when in Ephesians 4:20 he exclaims, "But you did not thus learn the Christ," it appears that there were those bearing Christ's name and professing to have learnt of Him who did thus walk. This, indeed, he expressly asserts in writing to the Philippians: Philippians 3:18-19 "Many walk, of whom I told you oftentimes, and now tell you even weeping,"-the enemies of the cross of "Christ; whose god is their belly, and their glory in their shame, who mind earthly things." We cannot but associate this warning with the apprehension expressed in Ephesians 4:14 above. The reckless and unscrupulous teachers against whose seductions the apostle guards the infant Churches of Asia Minor, tampered with the morals as well as with the faith of their disciples, and were drawing them back insidiously to their former habits of life.
The connection between the foregoing part of this chapter and that on which we now enter, lies in the relation of the new life of the Christian believer to the new community which he has entered. The old world of Gentile society had formed the "old man" as he then existed, the product of centuries of debasing idolatry. But in Christ that world is abolished, and, a "new man" is born. The world in which the Asian Christians once lived as "Gentiles in the flesh," is dead to them. They are partakers of the regenerate humanity constituted in Jesus Christ. From this idea the apostle deduces the ethical doctrine of the following paragraphs. His ideal "new man" is no mere ego, devoted to his personal perfection: he is part and parcel of the redeemed society of men; his virtues are those of a member of the Christian order and commonwealth.
The representation given of Gentile life in the three verses before us is highly condensed and pungent. It is from the same hand as the lurid picture Romans 1:18-32. While this delineation is comparatively brief and cursory, it carries the analysis in some respects deeper than does that memorable passage. We may distinguish the main features of the description, as they bring into view in turn the mental, spiritual, and moral characteristics of the existing Paganism. Man's intellect was confounded; religion was dead; profligacy was flagrant and shameless.
I. "The Gentiles walk," the apostle says, "in vanity of their mind"-with reason frustrate and impotent; "being darkened in their understanding"-with no clear or settled principles, no sound theory of life. Similarly he wrote in Romans 1:21: "They were frustrated in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened." But here he seems to trace the futility further back, beneath the "reasonings" to the "reason" (nous) itself. The Gentile mind was deranged at its foundation. Reason seemed to have suffered a paralysis. Man has forfeited his claim to be a rational creature, when he worships objects so degraded as the heathen gods, when he practises vices so detestable and ruinous.
The men of intellect, who held themselves aloof from popular beliefs, for the most part confessed that their philosophies were speculative and futile, that certainty in the greatest and most serious matters was unattainable. Pilate's question, "What is truth?"-no jesting question surely-passed from lip to lip and from one school of thought to another, without an answer. Five centuries before this time the human intellect had a marvellous awakening. The art and philosophy of Greece sprang into their glorious life, like Athene born from the head of Zeus, full-grown, and in shining armour. With such leaders as Pericles and Phidias, as Sophocles and Plato, it seemed as though nothing was impossible to the mind of man. At last the genius of our race had blossomed; rich and golden fruit would surely follow, to be gathered from the tree of life. But the blossoms fell, and the fruit proved as rottenness. Grecian art had sunk into a meretricious skill; poetry was little more than a trick of words; philosophy a wrangling of the schools. Rome towered in the majesty of her arms and laws above the faded glory of Greece. She promised a more practical and sober ideal, a rule of world-wide justice and peace and material plenty. But this dream vanished, like the other. The age of the Caesars was an age of disillusion. Scepticism and cynicism, disbelief in goodness, despair of the future possessed men's minds. Stoics and Epicureans, old and new Academics, Peripatetics and Pythagoreans disputed the palm of wisdom in mere strife of words. Few of them possessed any earnest faith in their own systems. The one craving of Athens and the learned was "to hear some new thing," for of the old things all thinking men were weary. Only rhetoric and scepticism flourished. Reason had built up her noblest constructions as if in sport, to pull them down again. "On the whole, this last period of Greek philosophy, extending into the Christian era, bore the marks of intellectual exhaustion and impoverishment, and of despair in the solution of its high problem" (Dollinger). The world itself admitted the apostle's reproach that "by wisdom it knew not God." It knew nothing, therefore, to sure purpose; nothing that availed to satisfy or save it.
Our own age, it may be said, possesses a philosophic method unknown to the ancient world. The old metaphysical systems failed; but we have relaid the foundations of life and thought upon the solid ground of nature. Modern culture rests upon a basis of positive and demonstrated knowledge, whose value is independent of religious belief. Scientific discovery has put us in command of material forces that secure the race against any such relapse as that which took place in the overthrow of the Graeco-Roman civilisation. Pessimism answers these pretensions made for physical science by her idolaters. Pessimism is the nemesis of irreligious thought. It creeps like a slow palsy over the highest and ablest minds that reject the Christian hope. What avails it to yoke steam to our chariot, if black care still sits behind the rider? to wing our thoughts with the lightning, if those thoughts are no happier or worthier than before?
"Civilisation contains within itself the elements of a fresh servitude. Man conquers the powers of nature, and becomes in turn their slave" (F.W. Robertson). Poverty grows gaunt and desperate by the side of lavish wealth. A new barbarism is bred in what science grimly calls the proletariate, a barbarism more vicious and dangerous than the old, that is generated by the inhuman conditions of life under the existing regime of industrial science.
Education gives man quickness of wit and new capacity for evil or good; culture makes him more sensitive; refinement more delicate in his virtues or his vices. But there is no tendency in these forces as we see them now in operation, any more than in the classical discipline, to make nobler or better men. Secular knowledge supplies nothing to bind society together, no force to tame the selfish passions, to guard the moral interests of mankind. Science has given an immense impetus to the forces acting on civilised men; it cannot change or elevate their character. It puts new and potent instruments into our hands; but whether those instruments shall be tools to build the city of God or weapons for its destruction, is determined by the spirit of the wielders. In the midst of this splendid machinery, master of the planet's wealth and lord of nature's forces, the civilised man at the end of this boastful century stands with a dull and empty heart-without God. Poor creature, he wants to know whether "life is worth living"! He has gained the world, but lost his soul. In vanity of mind and darkness of reasoning men stumble onwards to the end of life, to the end of time. The world's wisdom and the lessons of its history give no hope of any real advance from darkness to light until, as Plato said, "We are able more safely and securely to make our journey, borne on some firmer vehicle, on some Divine word." Such a vehicle those who believe in Christ have found in His teaching, The moral progress of the Christian ages is due to its guidance. And that moral progress has created the conditions and given the stimulus to which our material and scientific progress is due. Spiritual life gives permanence and value to all man's acquisitions. Both of this world and of that to come "godliness holds the promise." We are only beginning to learn how much was meant when Jesus Christ announced Himself as "the light of the world." He brought into the world a light which was to shine through all the realms of human life.
II. The delusion of mind in which the nations walked resulted in a settled state of estrangement from God. They were "alienated from the life of God."
"Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel," St. Paul said in Ephesians 2:12, using as he does here, the Greek perfect participle, which denotes an abiding fact. These two alienations generally coincide. Outside the religious community, we are outside the religious life. This expression gathers to a point what was said in verses 11, 12 of chapter 2 (Ephesians 2:11-12), and further back in Ephesians 2:1-3; it discloses the spring of the soul's malady and decay in its separation from the living God. When shall we learn that in God only is our life? We may exist without God, as a tree cast out in the desert, or a body wasting in the grave; but that is not life.
Everywhere the apostle moved amongst men who seemed to him dead-joyless, empty-hearted, weary of an idle learning or lost in sullen ignorance, caring only to eat and drink till they should die like the beasts. Their so-called gods were phantasms of the Divine, in which the wiser of them scarcely even pretended to believe. The ancient natural pieties-not wholly untouched by the Spirit of God, despite their idolatry-that peopled with fair fancy the Grecian shores and skies, and taught the sturdy Roman his man, fulness and hallowed his love of home and city, were all but extinguished. Death was at the heart of Pagan religion; corruption in its breath. Few indeed were those who believed in the existence of a wise and righteous Power behind the veil of sense. The Roman augurs laughed at their own auspices; the priests made a traffic of their temple ceremonies. Sorcery of all kinds was rife, as rife as scepticism. The most fashionable rites of the day were the gloomy and revolting mysteries imported from Egypt and Syria. A hundred years before, the Roman poet Lucretius expressed, with his burning indignation, the indisposition of earnest and high-minded men towards the creeds of the later classic times:-
"Humana ante oculos foede cum vita jaceret, In terris oppressa gravi sub religione, Quae caput e coeli regionibus ostendebat Horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans. Primum Graius homo mortalis tollere contra Est oculos ausus primusque obsistere contra." -" De Rerum Natura," Bk. 1., 62-67.
How alienated from the life of God were those who conceived such sentiments, and those whose creed excited this repugnance. And when amongst ourselves, as it occurs in some unhappy instances, a similar bitterness is cherished, it is matter of double sorrow, -of grief at once for the alienation prompting thoughts so dark and unjust towards our God and Father, and for the misshapen guise in which our holy religion has been presented to make this aversion possible. The phrase "alienated from the life of God" denotes an objective position rather than a subjective disposition, the state and place of the man who is far from God and his true life. God exiles sinners from His presence. By a necessary law, their sins acts as a sentence of deprivation. Under its ban they go forth, like Cain, from the presence of the Lord. They can no longer partake of the light of life which streams forth evermore from God and fills the souls that abide in His love. And this banishment was due to the cause already described, -to the radical perversion of the Gentile mind, which is re-affirmed in the double prepositional clause of Ephesians 4:18: "because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart." The repeated preposition (because of) attaches the two parallel clauses to the same predicate. Together they serve to explain this sad estrangement from the Divine life; the second because supplements the first. It is the ingrained "ignorance" of men that excludes them from the life of God; and this ignorance is no misfortune or unavoidable fate, it is due to a positive "hardening of the heart."
Ignorance is not the mother of devotion, but of in devotion. If men knew God they would certainly love and serve Him. St. Paul agreed with Socrates and Plato in holding that virtue is knowledge. The debasement of the heathen world, he declares again and again, was due to the fact that it "knew not God." The Corinthian Church was corrupted and its Christian life imperilled by the presence in it of some who "had not the knowledge of" 1 Corinthians 15:33-34. At Athens, the centre of heathen wisdom, he spoke of the Pagan ages as "the times of ignorance"; Acts 17:30 and found in this want of knowledge a measure of excuse. But the ignorance he censures is not of the understanding alone; nor is it curable by philosophy and science. It has an intrinsic ground, -"existing in them."
Since the world's creation, the apostle says, God's unseen presence has been clearly visible. Romans 1:20 Yet multitudes of men have always held false and corrupting views of the Divine nature. At this present time, in the full light of Christianity, men of high intellect and wide knowledge of nature are found proclaiming in the most positive terms that God, if He exists, is unknowable. This ignorance it is not for us to censure; every man must give account of himself to God. There may be in individual cases, amongst the enlightened deniers of God in our own days, causes of misunderstanding beyond the will, obstructing and darkening circumstances, on the ground of which in His merciful and wise judgment God may "overlook" that ignorance, eve as He did the ignorance of earlier ages. But it is manifest that while this veil remains, those on whose heart it lies cannot partake in the life of God. Living in unbelief, they walk in darkness to the end, knowing not whither they go.
The Gentile ignorance of God was attended, as St. Paul saw it, with an induration of heart, of which it was at once the cause and effect. There is a wilful stupidity, a studied misconstruction of God's will, which has played a large part in the history of unbelief. The Israelitish people presented at this time a terrible example of such guilty callousness. Romans 11:7-10, Romans 11:25 They professed a mighty zeal for God; but it was a passion for the deity of their partial and corrupt imagination, which turned to hatred of the true God and Father of men when He appeared in the person of His Son. Behind their pride of knowledge lay the ignorance of a hard and impenitent heart.
In the case of the heathen, hardness of heart and religious ignorance plainly went together. The knowledge of God was not altogether wanting amongst them; He "left Himself not Without witness," as the apostle told them. Acts 14:17 Where there is, amid whatever darkness, a mind seeking after truth and right, some ray of light is given, some gleam of a better hope by which the soul may draw nigh to God, in coming whence or how perhaps none can tell. The gospel of Christ finds in every new land souls waiting for God's salvation. Such a preparation for the Lord, in hearts touched and softened by the preventings of grace, its first messengers discovered everywhere, -a remnant in Israel and a great multitude amongst the heathen.
But the Jewish nation as a whole, and the mass of the pagans, remained at present obstinately disbelieving. They had no perception of the life of God, and felt no need of it; and when offered, they thrust it from them. Theirs was another god, "the god of this world," who "blinds the minds of the unbelieving". 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 And their "ungodliness and unrighteousness" were not to be pitied more than blamed. They might have known better; they were "holding down the truth in unrighteousness," putting out the light that was in them and contradicting their better instincts. The wickedness of that generation was the outcome of a hardening of heart and blinding of conscience that had been going on for generations past.
III. By two conspicuous features the decaying Paganism of the Christian era was distinguished, - its unbelief and its licentiousness. In his letter to the Romans St. Paul declares that the second of these deplorable characteristics was the consequence of the former, and a punishment for it inflicted by God. Here he points to it as a manifestation of the hardening of heart which caused their ignorance of God: "Having lost all feeling, they gave themselves up to lasciviousness, so as to commit every kind of uncleanness in greediness."
Upon that brilliant classic civilisation there lies a shocking stain of impurity. St. Paul stamps upon it the burning word Aselgeia (lasciviousness), like a brand on the harlot's brow. The habits of daily life, the literature and art of the Greek world, the atmosphere of society in the great cities was laden with corruption. Sexual vice was no longer counted vice. It was provided for by public law; it was incorporated into the worship of the gods. It was cultivated in every luxurious and monstrous excess. It was eating out the manhood of the Greek and Latin races. From the imperial Caesar down to the horde of slaves, it seemed as though every class of society had abandoned itself to the horrid practices of lust.
The "greediness" with which debauchery was then pursued is at the bottom self-idolatry, self-deification; it is the absorption of the God-given passion and will of man's nature in the gratification of his appetites. Here lies the reservoir and spring of sin, the burning deep within the soul of him who knows no God but his own will, no law above his own desire. He plunges into sensual indulgence, or he grasps covetously at wealth or office; he wrecks the purity, or tramples on the rights of others; he robs the weak, he corrupts the innocent, he deceives and mocks the simple-to feed the gluttonous idol of self that sits upon God's seat within him. The military hero wading to a throne through seas of blood, the politician who wins power and office by the sleights of a supple tongue, the dealer on the exchange who supplants every competitor by his shrewd foresight and unscrupulous daring, and absorbs the fruit of the labour of thousands of his fellow-men, the sensualist devising some new and more voluptuous refinement of vice-these are all the miserable slaves of their own lust, driven on by the insatiate craving of the false god that they carry within their breast.
For the light-hearted Greeks, lovers of beauty and of laughter, self was deified as Aphrodite, goddess of fleshly desire, who was turned by their worship into Aselgeia, -she of whom of old it was said, "Her house is the way to Sheol." Not such as the chaste wife and house-keeping mother of Hebrew praise, but Lais with her venal charms was the subject of Greek song and art. Pure ideals of womanhood the classic nations had once known-or never would those nations have become great and famous-a Greek Alcestis and Antigone, Roman Cornelias and Lucretias, noble maids and matrons. But these, in the dissolution of manners, had given place to other models. The wives and daughters of the Greek citizens were shut up to contempt and ignorance, while the priestesses of vice-hetaerae they were called, or companions of men-queened it in their voluptuous beauty, until their bloom faded and poison or madness ended their fatal days. Amongst the Jews whom our Lord addressed, the choice lay between "God and Mammon"; in Corinth and Ephesus, it was "Christ or Belial." These ancient gods of the world-"mud-gods," as Thomas Carlyle called them-are set up in the high places of our populous cities. To the slavery of business and the pride of wealth men sacrifice health and leisure, improvement of mind, religion, charity, love of country, family affection. How many of the evils of English society come from this root of all evil!
Hard by the temple of Mammon stands that of Belial. Their votaries mingle in the crowded amusements of the day and rub shoulders with each other. Aselgeia flaunts herself, wise observers tell us, with increasing boldness in the European capitals. Theatre and picture-gallery and novel pander to the desire of the eye and the lust of the flesh. The daily newspapers retail cases of divorce and hideous criminal trials with greater exactness than the debates of Parliament; and the appetite for this garbage grows by what it feeds upon. It is plain to see whereunto the decay of public decency and the revival of the animalism of pagan art and manners will grow, if it be not checked by a deepened Christian faith and feeling.
Past feeling, says the apostle of the brazen impudicity of his time. The loss of the religious sense blunted all moral sensibility. The Greeks, by an early instinct of their language, had one word for modesty and reverence, for self-respect and awe before the Divine. There is nothing more terrible than the loss of shame. When immodesty is no longer felt as an affront, when there fails to rise in the blood and burn upon the cheek the hot resentment of a wholesome nature against things that are foul, when we grow tolerant and familiar with their presence, we are far down the slopes of hell. It needs only the kindling of passion, or the removal of the checks of circumstance, to complete the descent. The pain that the sight of evil gives is a divine shield against it. Wearing this shield the sinless Christ fought our battle, and bore the anguish of our sin.
THE TWO HUMAN TYPES
BUT as for you!-The apostle points us from heathendom to Christendom. From the men of blinded understanding and impure life he turns to the cleansed and instructed. "Not thus did you learn the Christ"-not to remain in the darkness and filth of your Gentile state.
The phrase is highly condensed. The apostle, in this letter so exuberant in expression, yet on occasion is as concise as in Galatians. One is tempted, as Beza suggested and Hofmann insists, to put a stop at this point and to read: "But with you it is not so: you learned the Christ!" In spite of its abruptness, this construction would be necessary, if it were only "the Gentiles" of Ephesians 4:17 with whose "walk" St. Paul means to contrast that of his readers. But, as we have seen, he has before his eye a third class of men, unprincipled Christian teachers (Ephesians 4:14), men who had in some sense learnt of Christ and yet walked in Gentile ways and were leading others back to them. Ephesians 4:20, after all, forms a coherent clause. It points an antithesis of solemn import. There are genuine, and there are supposed conversions; there are true and false ways of learning Christ. Strictly speaking, it is not Christ, but the Christ whom St. Paul presumes his readers to have duly learnt. The words imply a comprehending faith, that knows who and what Christ is and what believing in Him means, that has mastered His great lessons. To such a faith, which views Christ in the scope and breadth of His redemption, this epistle throughout appeals; for its impartation and increase St. Paul prayed the wonderful prayer of the third chapter. When he writes not simply, "You have believed in Christ," but "You have learned the Christ, " he puts their faith upon a high level; it is the faith of approved disciples in Christ's school. For such men the "philosophy and vain deceit" of Colossae and the plausibilities of the new "scheme of error" will have no charm. They have found the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hidden in Christ. The apostle s confidence in the Christian knowledge of his readers is, however, qualified in Ephesians 4:21 in a somewhat remarkable way "If verily it is He whom you heard, and in Him that you were taught, as truth is in Jesus." We noted at the outset the bearing of this sentence on the destination of the letter. It would never occur to St. Paul to question whether the Ephesian Christians were taught Christ's true doctrine. If there were any believers in the world who, beyond a doubt, had heard the truth as in Jesus in its certainty and fulness, it was those amongst whom the apostle had "taught publicly and from house to house," "not shunning to declare all the counsel of God" and "for three years night and day unceasingly with tears admonishing each single one." Acts 20:18-35 To suppose these words written in irony, or in a modest affectation, is to credit St. Paul with something like an ineptitude. Doubt was really possible as to whether all his readers had heard of Christ aright, and understood the obligations of their faith. Supposing, as we have done, that the epistle was designed for the Christians of the province of Asia generally, this qualification is natural and intelligible. There are several considerations which help to account for it. When St. Paul first arrived at Ephesus, eight years before this time, he "found certain disciples" there who had been "baptised into John's baptism," but had not "received the Holy Spirit" nor even heard of such a thing. Acts 19:1-7 Apollos formerly belonged to this company, having preached and "taught carefully the things about Jesus," while he "knew only the baptism of John." Acts 18:25 One very much desires to know more about this Church of the Baptist's disciples in Asia Minor. Its existence so far away from Palestine testifies to the power of John's ministry and the deep impression that his witness to the Messiahship of Jesus made on his disciples. The ready reception of Paul's fuller gospel by this little circle indicates that their knowledge of Jesus Christ erred only by defect; they had received it from Judea by a source dating earlier than the day of Pentecost. The partial knowledge of Jesus current for so long at Ephesus, may have extended to other parts of the province, where St. Paul had not been able to correct it as he had done in the metropolis.
Judaistic Christians, such as those who at Rome "preached Christ of envy and strife," were also disseminating an imperfect Christian doctrine. They limited the rights of uncircumcised believers; they misrepresented the Gentile apostle and undermined his influence. A third and still more lamentable cause of uncertainty, in regard to the Christian belief of Asian Churches, was introduced by the rise of Gnosticising error in this quarter. Some who read the epistle had, it might be, received their first knowledge of Christ through channels tainted with error similar to that which was propagated at Colossae. With the seed of the kingdom the enemy was mingling vicious tares. The apostle has reason to fear that there were those Within the wide circle to which his letter is addressed, who had in one form or other heard a different gospel and a Christ other than the true Christ of apostolic teaching.
Where does he find the test and touchstone of the true Christian doctrine? -In the historical Jesus: "as there is truth in Jesus." Not often, nor without distinct meaning, does St. Paul use the birthname of the Saviour by itself. Where he does it is most significant. He has in mind the facts of the gospel history; he speaks of "the Jesus" of Nazareth and Calvary. The Christ whom St. Paul feared that some of his readers might have heard of was not the veritable Jesus Christ, but a shadowy and notional Christ, lost amongst the crowd of angels, such as was now being taught to the Colossians. This Christ was neither the image of God, nor the true Son of man. He supplied no sufficient redemption from sin, no ideal of character, no sure guidance and authority to direct the daily walk. Those who followed such a Christ would fall back unchecked into Gentile vice. Instead of the light of life Shining in the character and words of Jesus, they must resort to "the doctrines and commandments of men". Colossians 2:8-23
Amongst the Gnostics of the second century there was held a distinction between the human (fleshly and imperfect) Jesus and the Divine Christ, who were regarded as distinct beings, united to each other from the time of the baptism of Jesus to His death. The critics who assert the late and non-Pauline authorship of the epistle assert that this peculiar doctrine is aimed at in the words before us, and that the identification of Christ with Jesus has a polemical reference to this advanced Gnostic error. The verses that follow show that the writer has a different and entirely practical aim. The apostle points us to our true ideal, to "the Christ" of all revelation manifest in "the Jesus" of the gospel. Here we see "the new man created after God," whose nature we must embody in ourselves. The counteractive of a false spiritualism is found in the incarnate life of the Son of God. The dualism which separated God from the world and man's spirit from his flesh, had its refutation in "the Jesus" of Paul's preaching, whom we see in the Four Gospels. Those who persisted in the attempt to graft the dualistic theosophy upon the Christian faith were in the end compelled to divide and destroy the Christ Himself. They broke up into Jesus and Christ the unity of His incarnate Person.
It is an entire mistake to suppose that the apostle Paul was' indifferent to the historical tradition of Jesus; that the Christ he taught was a product of his personal inspiration, of his inward experience and theological reflection. This preaching of an abstract Christ, distinct from the actual Jesus, is the very thing that he condemns. Although his explicit references in the epistles to the teaching of Jesus and the events of His earthly life are not numerous, they are such as to prove that the Churches St. Paul taught were well instructed in that history. From the beginning the apostle made himself well acquainted with the facts concerning Jesus, and had become possessor of all that the earlier witnesses could relate. His conception of the Lord Jesus Christ is living and realistic in the highest degree. Its germ was in the visible appearance of the glorified Jesus to himself on the Damascus road; but that expanding germ struck down its roots into the rich soil of the Church's recollections of the incarnate Redeemer as He lived and taught and laboured, as He died and rose again amongst men. Paul's Christ was the Jesus of Peter and of John and of our own Evangelists; there was no other. He warns the Church against all unhistorical, subjective Christs, the product of human speculation.
The Asian Christians who held a true faith had received Jesus as the Christ. So accepting Him, they accepted a fixed standard and ideal of life for themselves. With Jesus Christ evidently set forth before their eyes, let them look back upon their past life; let them contrast what they had been with what they are to be. Let them consider what things they must "put off" and what "put on," so that they may "be found in Him."
Strangely did the image of Jesus confront the pagan world; keenly its light smote on that gross darkness. There stood the Word made flesh-purity immaculate, love in its very self-shaped forth in no dream of fancy or philosophy, but in the veritable man Christ Jesus, born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, -truth expressed
"In loveliness of perfect deeds, More strong than all poetic thought."
And this life of Jesus, living in those who loved Him, 2 Corinthians 4:11 ended not when He passed from earth; it passed from land to land, speaking many tongues, raising up new witnesses at every step as it moved along. It was not a new system, a new creed, but new men that it gave the world in Christ's disciples, men redeemed from all iniquity, noble and pure as sons of God. It was the sight of Jesus, and of men like Jesus, that shamed the old world, so corrupt and false and hardened in its sin. In vain she summoned the gates of death to silence the witnesses of Jesus. At last
"She veiled her eagles, snapped her sword,
And laid her sceptre down;
Her stately purple she abhorred,
And her imperial crown."
"She broke her flutes, she stopped her sports,
Her artists could not please;
She tore her books, she shut her courts,
She fled her palaces";
"Lust of the eye and pride of life-
She left it all behind,
And hurried, torn with inward strife,
The wilderness to find."
- Obermann Once More.
The Galilean conquered! The new man was destined to convict and destroy the old. "God sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh". Romans 8:3 When Jesus lived, died, and rose again, an inconceivable revolution in human affairs had been effected. The cross was planted on the territory of the god of this world; its victory was inevitable. The "grain of wheat" fell into the ground to die: there might be still a long, cruel winter; many a storm and blight would delay its growth; but the harvest was secure. Jesus Christ was the type and the head of a new moral order, destined to control the universe.
To see the new and the old man side by side was enough to assure one that the future lay with Jesus. Corruption and decrepitude marked every feature of Gentile life. It was gangrened with vice, "wasting away in its deceitful lusts."
St. Paul had before his eyes, as he wrote, a conspicuous type of the decaying Pagan order. He had appealed as a citizen of the empire to Caesar as his judge. He was in durance as Nero's prisoner, and was acquainted with the life of the palace. Philippians 1:13 Never, perhaps, has any line of rulers dominated mankind so absolutely or held in their single hand so completely the resources of the world as did the Caesars of St. Paul's time. Their name has ever since served to mark the summit of autocratic power. It was, surely, the vision of Tiberius sitting at Rome that Jesus saw in the wilderness, when "the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and said, All this hath been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will I give it." The Emperor was the topstone of the splendid edifice of Pagan civilisation, that had been rearing for so many ages. And Nero was the final product and paragon of the Caesarean house!
At this epoch, writes M. Renan, "Nero and Jesus, Christ and Antichrist, stand opposed, confronting each other, if I may dare to say so, like heaven and hell." In face of Jesus there presents itself a monster, who is the ideal of evil as Jesus of goodness Nero's was an evil nature, hypocritical, vain, frivolous, prodigiously given to declamation and display; a blending of false intellect, profound wickedness, cruel and artful egotism carried to an incredible degree of refinement and subtlety He is a monster who has no second in history, and whose equal we can only find in the pathological annals of the scaffold The school of crime in which he had grown up, the execrable influence of his mother, the stroke of parricide forced upon him, as one might say, by this abominable woman, by which he had entered on the stage of public life, made the world take to his eyes the form of a horrible comedy, with himself for the chief actor in it. At the moment we have now reached [when St. Paul entered Rome], Nero had detached himself completely from the philosophers who had been his tutors. He had killed nearly all his relations. He had made the most shameful follies the common fashion. A large part of Roman society, following his example, had descended to the lowest level of debasement. The cruelty of the ancient world had reached its consummation The world had touched the bottom of the abyss of evil; it could only reascend.
Such was the man who occupied at this time the summit of human power and glory, the man who lighted the torch of Christian martyrdom and at whose sentence St. Paul's head was destined to fall, the Wild Beast of John's awful vision. Hero of Rome, the son of Agrippina, embodied the triumph of Satan as the god of this world. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, reigned only in a few loving and pure hearts. Future history, as the scroll of the Apocalypse unfolded it, was to be the battlefield of these two confronting powers, the war of Christ with Antichrist.
Could it be doubtful, to any one who had measured the rival forces, on which side victory must fall? St. Paul' pronounces the fate of the whole kingdom of evil in this world, when he declares that "the old man" is "perishing, according to the lusts of deceit": It is an application of the maxim he gave us in Galatians 6:8: "He that soweth to his own flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." In its mad sensuality and prodigal lusts, the vile Roman world he saw around him was speeding to its ruin. That ruin was delayed; there were. moral forces left in the fabric of the Roman State, which in the following generations reasserted themselves and held back for a time the tide of disaster; but in the end Rome fell, as the ancient world-empires of the East had fallen, through her own corruption, and by "the wrath" which is "revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." For the solitary man, for the household, for the body politic and the family of nations the rule is the same. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."
The passions which carry men and nations to their ruin are "lusts of deceit." The tempter is the liar. Sin is an enormous fraud. "You shall not die," said the serpent in the garden; "Your eyes will be opened, and you will be as God!" So forbidden desire was born, and "the woman being deceived fell into transgression."
"So glistered the dire Snake, and into fraud Led Eve, our credulous mother, to the tree Of prohibition, root of all our woe."
By its baits of sensuous pleasure, and still more by its show of freedom and power to stir our pride, sin cheats us of our manhood; it sows life with misery, and makes us self-despising slaves. It knows how to use God's law as an incitement to transgression, turning the very prohibition into a challenge to our bold desires. "Sin taking occasion by the commandment deceived me, and by it slew me." Over the pit of destruction play. the same dancing lights that have lured countless generations, the glitter of gold; the purple robe and jewelled coronet; the wine moving in the cup; fair, soft faces lit with laughter. The straying foot and hot desires give chase, till the inevitable moment comes when the treacherous soil yields, and the pursuer plunges beyond escape into sin's reeking gulfs. Then the illusion is over. The gay faces grow foul; the glittering prize proves dust; the sweet fruit turns to ashes; the cup of pleasure burns with the fire of hell. And the sinner knows at last that his greed has cheated him, that he is as foolish as he is wicked.
Let us remember that there is but one way of escape from the all-encompassing deceit of sin. It is in "learning Christ." Not in learning about Christ, but in learning Him. It is a common artifice of the great deceit to "wash the outside of cup and platter." The old man is improved and civilised; he is baptised in infancy and called a Christian. He puts off many of his old ways, he dresses himself in a decorous garb and style; and so deceives himself into thinking that he is new, while his heart is unchanged. He may turn ascetic, and deny this or that to himself; and yet never deny himself. He observes religious forms and makes charitable benefactions, as though he would compound with God for his unforsaken sin. But all this is only a plausible and hateful manifestation of the lusts of deceit.
To learn the Christ is to learn the way of the cross. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me," He bids us; "for I am meek and lowly in heart." Till we have done this we are not ever at the beginning of our lesson.
From the perishing old man the apostle tutus, in Ephesians 4:23-24, to the new. These two clauses differ in their form of expression more than the English rendering indicates. When he writes. "that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind," it is a continual rejuvenation that he 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" (Ephesians 4:24) is of a new kind and order; and in this instance the verb is of the aorist tense signifying an event, not a continuous act. The new man is put on when the Christian way of life is adopted, when we enter personally into the new humanity founded in Christ. We "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," Romans 13:14 who covers and absorbs the old self, even as those who await in the flesh His second advent will "put on the house from heaven," when "the mortal" in them will be "swallowed up of life". 2 Corinthians 4:2-4 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.
Borne on the stream of his evil passions, we saw "the old man" in his "former manner of life," hastening to the gulf of ruin. For the man renewed in Christ the stream of life flows steadily in the opposite direction, and with a swelling tide moves upward to God. His knowledge and love are always growing in depth, in refinement, in energy and joy. Thus it was with the apostle in his advancing age. The fresh impulses of the Holy Spirit, the unfolding to his spirit of the mystery of God, the fellowship of Christian brethren, and the interests of the work of the Church renewed Paul's youth like the eagle's. If in years and toil he is old, his soul is full of ardour, his intellect keen and eager; the "outward man decays, but the inward man is renewed day by day." This new nature had a new birth. The soul reanimating itself perpetually from the fresh springs that are in God, had in God the beginning of its renovated life. We have not to create or fashion for ourselves the perfect life, but to adopt it, to realise the Christian ideal (Ephesians 4:24). We are called to put on the new type of manhood as completely as we renounce the old (Ephesians 4:22). The new man is there before our eyes, manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom we live henceforth. When we "learn the Christ," when we have become His true disciples, we "put on" His nature and "walk in Him." The inward reception of His Spirit is attended by the outward assumption of His character as our calling amongst men.
Now, the character of Jesus is human nature as God first formed it. It existed in His thoughts from eternity. If it be asked whether St. Paul refers, in Ephesians 4:24, to the creation of Adam in God's likeness, or to the image of God appearing in Jesus Christ, or to the Christian nature formed in the regenerate, we should say that, to the apostle's mind, the first and last of these creations are merged in the second. The Son of God's love is His primeval image. The race of Adam was created in Christ. Colossians 1:15-16 The first model of that image, in the natural father of mankind, was marred by sin and has become "the old man" corrupt and perishing. The new pattern replacing this broken type is the original ideal, displayed "in the likeness of sinful flesh"- wearing no longer the charm of childish innocence, but the glory of sin vanquished, and sacrifice endured-in the Son of God made perfect through suffering. Through all there has been only one image of God, one ideal humanity. The Adam of Paradise was, within his limits, what the Image of God had been in perfectness from eternity. And Jesus in His human personality represented, under the changed circumstances brought about by sin, what Adam might have grown to be as a complete and disciplined man.
The qualities which the Apostle insists upon in the new man are two: "righteousness and holiness [or piety] of the truth." This is the Old Testament conception of a perfect life, whose realisation the devout Zacharias anticipates when he sings how God has "shown mercy to our fathers, in remembrance of His holy covenant, that we being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life." Enchanting vision, still to be fulfilled! "Righteousness" is the sum of all that should be in a man's relations towards God's law; "holiness" is a right disposition and bearing towards God Himself. This is not St. Paul's ordinary word for holiness (sanctification, sanctity), which he puts so often at the head of his letters, addressing his readers as "saints" in Christ Jesus. That other term designates Christian believers as devoted persons, claimed by God for His own; it signifies holiness as a calling. The word of our text denotes specifically the holiness of temper and behaviour-"that becometh saints." The two words differ very much as devotedness from devoutness.
A religious temper, a reverent mind, marks the true child of grace. His soul is full of the loving fear of God. In the new humanity, in the type of man that will prevail in the latter days when the truth as in Jesus has been learnt by mankind, justice and piety will hold a balanced sway. The man of the coming times will not be atheistic or agnostic: he will be devout. He will not be narrow and self-seeking; he will not be pharisaic and pretentious, practising the world's ethics with the Christian's creed: he will be upright and generous, manly and godlike.
The transformation described in the last paragraph (Ephesians 4:17-24) has now to be carried into detail. The vices of the old heathen self must be each of them replaced by the corresponding graces of the new man in Christ Jesus.
The peculiarity of the instructions given by the apostle for this purpose does not lie in the virtues enjoined, but in the light in which they are set and the motives by which they are inculcated. The common conscience condemns lying and theft, malice and uncleanness; they were denounced with eloquence by heathen moralists. But the ethics of the New Testament differed in many respects from the best moral philosophy: in its direct appeal to the conscience, in its vigour and decision, in the clearness with which it traced our maladies to the heart's alienation from God; but most of all in the remedy which it applied, the new principle of faith in Christ. The surgeon's knife lays bare the root of the disease; and the physician's hand pours in the healing balm. Let us observe at the outset that St. Paul deals with the actual and pressing temptations of his readers. He recalls what they had been and forbids them to be such again. The associations and habits of former life, the hereditary force of evil, the atmosphere of Gentile society, and added to all this, as we discover from Ephesians 5:6, the persuasions of the sophistical teachers now beginning to infest the Church, tended to draw the Asian Christians back to Gentile ways and to break down the moral distinctions that separated them from the pagan world.
Amongst the discarded vices of the forsaken Gentile life, the following are here distinguished: lying, theft, anger, idle speech, malice, impurity, greed. These may be reduced to sins of temper, of word, and of act. Let us discuss them in the order in which they are brought before us.
I. "The falsehood" of Ephesians 4:25 is the antithesis of "the truth" from which righteousness and holiness spring (Ephesians 4:24). In accepting the one, Paul's Gentile readers "had put off" the other. When these heathen converts became Christians, they renounced the great lie of idolatry, the system of error and deceit on which their lives were built. They have passed from the realm of illusion to that of truth. "Now," the: apostle says, "let your daily speech accord with this fact: you have bidden farewell to falsehood; speak truth, each with his neighbour." The true religion breeds truthful men; a sound faith makes an honest tongue. Hence there is no vice more hateful than jesuitry, nothing more shocking than the conduct of those who defend what they, call "the truth" by disingenuous arts, by tricks of rhetoric and the shifts of an unscrupulous partisanship. "Will you speak unrighteously for God, and talk deceitfully for Him? "As Christ's truth is in me, cries the apostle, when he would give the strongest possible assurance of the fact he wishes to assert. The social conventions and make-believes, the countless simulations and dissimulations by which the game of life is carried on, belong to the old man with his lusts of deceit, to the universal lie that runs through all ungodliness and unrighteousness, which is in the last analysis the denial of God.
St. Paul applies here the words of Zechariah 8:16, in which the prophet promises to restored Israel better days on the condition that they should "speak truth each with his neighbour, and judge truth and the judgment of peace in their gates. And let none of you," he continues, "imagine evil in his heart against his neighbour; and love no false oath, for all these things do I hate, saith the Lord." Such is the law of the New Covenant life. No doubt St. Paul is thinking of the intercourse of Christians with each other when he quotes this command and adds the reason, "For we are members one of another." But the word neighbour, as Jesus showed, has in the Christian vocabulary no limited import it includes the Samaritan, the heathen man and publican. When the apostle bids his converts "Follow what is good towards one another, and towards all," 1 Thessalonians 5:15 he certainly presumes the neighbourly obligation of truthfulness to be no less comprehensive. Believers in Christ represent a communion which in principle embraces all men. The human race is one family in Christ. For any man to lie to his fellow is, virtually, to lie to himself. It is as if the eye should conspire to cheat the hand, or the one hand play false to the other. Truth is the right which each man claims instinctively from his neighbour; it is the tacit compact that binds together all intelligences. Without neighbourly and brotherly love perfect truthfulness is scarcely possible. "Self-respect wilt never destroy self-seeking, which will always find in self-interest a side accessible to the temptations of falsehood" (Harless).
II. Like the first precept, the second is borrowed from the Old Testament and shaped to the uses of the New. "Be ye angry, and sin not": so the words of Psalms 4:4 stand in the Greek version and in the margin of our Revised Bible, where we commonly read, "Stand in awe, and sin not. Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." The apostle's further injunction, that anger should be stayed before nightfall, accords with the Psalmist's words; the calming effect of the night's quiet the apostle anticipates in the approach of evening. As the day's heat cools and its strain is relaxed, the fires of anger should die down. With the Jews, it will be remembered, the new day began at evening. Plutarch, the excellent heathen moralist contemporary with St. Paul, gives this as an ancient rule of the Pythagoreans: "If at any time they happened to be provoked by anger go abusive language, before the sun set they would take each other's hands and embracing make up their quarrel." If Paul had heard of this admirable prescription, he would be delighted to recognise and quote it as one of those many facts of Gentile life which "show the work of the law written in their hearts". Romans 2:15 The passion which outlives the day, on which the angry man sleeps and that wakes with him in the morning, takes root in his breast; it becomes a settled rancour, prompting ill thoughts and deeds.
There is no surer way of tempting the devil to tempt us than to brood over our wrongs. Every cherished grudge is a "place given" to the tempter, a new entrenchment for the Evil One in his war against the soul, from which he may shoot his "fire-tipped darts". Ephesians 6:16 Let us dismiss with each day the day's vexations, commending as evening falls our cares and griefs to the Divine compassion and seeking, as for ourselves, so for those who may have done us wrong, forgiveness and a better mind. We shall rise with the coming light armed with new patience and charity, to bring into the world's turmoil a calm and generous wisdom that will earn for us the blessing of the peace-makers, who shall be called sons of God.
Still the apostle says: "Be angry, and sin not." He does not condemn anger in itself, nor wholly forbid it a place within the breast of the saint. Wrath is a glorious attribute of God, -perilous, indeed, for the best of men; but he who cannot be angry has no strength for good. The apostle knew this holy passion, the flame of Jehovah that burns unceasingly against the false and foul and cruel. But he knew its dangers-how easily an ardent soul kindled to exasperation forgets the bounds of wisdom and love; how strong and jealous a curb the temper needs, lest just indignation turn to sin, and Satan gain over us a double advantage, first by the wicked provocation and then by the uncontrolled resentment it excites.
III. From anger we pass to theft.
The eighth commandment is put here in a form indicating that some of the apostle's readers had been habitual sinners against it. Literally his words read: "Let him that steals play the thief no more." The Greek present participle does not, however, necessarily imply a pursuit now going on, but a habitual or characteristic pursuit, that by which the agent was known and designated: "Let the thief no longer steal!" From the lowest dregs of the Greek cities-from its profligate and criminal classes-the gospel had drawn its converts. comp. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 In the Ephesian Church there were converted thieves; and Christianity had to make of them honest workmen.
The words of Ephesians 4:28, addressed to a company of thieves, vividly shows the transforming effect of the gospel of Christ: "Let him toil, working with his hands what is good, that he may have wherewith to give to him that is in need." The apostle brings the loftiest motives to bear instantly upon the basest natures, and is sure of a response. He makes no appeal to self-interest, he says nothing of the fear of punishment, nothing even of the pride of honest labour. Pity for their fellows, the spirit of self-sacrifice and generosity is to set those pilfering and violent hands to unaccustomed toil. The appeal was as wise as it was bold. Utilitarianism will never raise the morally degraded. Preach to them thrift and self-improvement, show them the pleasures of an ordered home and the advantages of respectability, they will still feel that their own way of life pleases and suits them best. But let the divine spark of charity be kindled in their breast-let the man have love and pity and not self to work for, and he is a new creature. His indolence is conquered; his meanness changed to the noble sense of a common manhood. Love never faileth.
IV. We have passed from speech to temper, and from temper to act; in the warning of Ephesians 4:29-30 we come back to speech again.
We doubt whether corrupt talk is here intended. That comes in for condemnation in verses 2 and 3 (Ephesians 5:2-3) of the next chapter. The Greek adjective is the same that is used of the "worthless fruit" of the "worthless [good-for-nothing] tree" in Matthew 12:33; and again of the "bad fish" of Matthew 13:48, which the fisherman throws away not because they are corrupt or offensive, but because they are useless for food. So it is against inane, inept and useless talk that St. Paul sets his face. Jesus said that "forevery idle word men must give account to God". Matthew 12:36
Jesus Christ laid great stress upon the exercise of the gift of speech. "By thy words," He said to His disciples, "thou shalt be justified, and by thy words condemned." The possession of a human tongue is an immense responsibility. Infinite good or mischief lies in its power. (With the tongue we should include the pen, as being the tongue's deputy.) Who shall say how great is the sum of injury, the waste of time, the irritation, the enfeeblement of mind and dissipation of spirit, the destruction of Christian fellowship that is due to thoughtless speech and writing? The apostle does not simply forbid injurious words, he puts an embargo on all that is not positively useful. It is not enough to say: "My chatter does nobody harm; if there is no good in it, there is no evil." He replies: "If you cannot speak to profit, be silent till you can."
Not that St. Paul requires all Christian speech to be grave and serious. Many a true word is spoken in jest; and "grace" may be "given to the hearers" by words clothed in the grace of a genial fancy and playful wit, as well as in the direct enforcement of solemn themes. 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: "let it not proceed out of your mouth." Such speech must not "escape the fence of the teeth." It is an oppression to every serious listener; it is an injury to the utterer himself. Above all, it "grieves the Holy Spirit."
The witness of the Holy Spirit is the seal of God's possession in us; it is the assurance to ourselves that we are His sons in Christ and heirs of life eternal. From the day it is affixed to the heart, this seal need never be broken nor the witness withheld, "until the day of redemption." Dwelling within the Church as the guard of its communion, and loving us with the love of God, the Spirit of grace is hurt and grieved by foolish words coming from lips that He has sanctified. As Israel in its ancient rebellions "vexed His Holy Spirit," Isaiah 63:10 so do those who burden Christian fellowship and who enervate their own inward life by speech without worth and purpose. As His fire is quenched by distrust, 1 Thessalonians 5:19 so His love is vexed by folly. His witness grows faint and silent; the soul loses its joyous assurance, its sense of the peace of God. When our inward life thus declines, the cause lies not unfrequently in our own heedless speech. Or we have listened willingly and without reproof to "words that may do hurt," words of foolish jesting or idle gossip, of mischief and backbiting. The Spirit of truth retires affronted from His desecrated temple, not to return until the iniquity of the lips is purged and the wilful tongue bends to the yoke of Christ. Let us grieve before the Holy Spirit, that He be not grieved with us for such offences. Let us pray evermore: "Set a watch, O Jehovah, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips."
V. In his previous reproofs the apostle has glanced in various ways at love as the remedy of our moral disorders and defects. Falsehood, anger, theft, misuse of the tongue involve disregard of the welfare of others; if they do not spring from positive ill-will, they foster and aggravate it. It is now time to deal directly with this evil that assumes so many forms, the most various of our sins and companion to every other: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing be put away from you, with all malice."
The last of these terms is the most typical. 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: this passion was put under restraint already in Ephesians 4:26-27. 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.
These sins of speech were rife in heathen society; and there were some amongst Paul's readers, doubtless, who found it hard to forego their indulgence. Especially difficult was this when Christians suffered all manner of evil from their heathen neighbours and former friends; it cost a severe struggle to be silent and "keep the mouth as with a bridle" under fierce and malicious taunts. Never to return evil for evil and railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing, -this was one of the lessons most difficult to flesh and blood.
Kindness in act, tenderheartedness of feeling are to take the, place of malice with its brood of bitter passions. Where injury used to be met with reviling and insult retorted in worse insult, the men of the new life will be found "forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave" them. Here we touch the spring of Christian virtue, the master motive in the apostle's theory of life. The cross of Jesus Christ is the centre of Pauline ethics, as of Pauline theology. The sacrifice of Calvary, while it is the ground of our salvation, supplies the standard and incentive of moral attainment. It makes life an imitation of God.
The commencement of the new chapter at this point makes an unfortunate division; for its first two verses (Ephesians 5:1-2) are in close consecution with the last verse of chap. 4 (Ephesians 4:32). By kindness and pitifulness of heart, by readiness to forgive, God's "beloved children" will "show themselves imitators" of their Father. The apostle echoes the saying of His Master, in which the law of His kingdom was laid down: "Love your enemies, and do good, and lend never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be called children of the Highest: for He is kind to the thankless and evil. Be ye therefore pitiful, as your Father is pitiful". Luke 6:35-36 Before the cross of Jesus was set up, men could not know how much God loved the world and how far He was ready to go in the way of forgiveness. Yet Christ Himself saw the same love displayed in the Father's daily providence. He bids us imitate Him who makes His sun shine and His rain fall on the just and unjust, on the evil and the good. To the insight of Jesus, nature's impartial bounties in which unbelief sees only moral indifference spoke of God's compassion; they proceed from the same love that gave His Son to taste death forevery man.
Ephesians 4:32, Ephesians 5:1-2 the Father's love and the Son's self-sacrifice are spoken of in terms precisely parallel. They are altogether one in quality. Christ does not by His sacrifice persuade an angry Father to love His children; it is the Divine compassion in Christ that dictates and carries into effect the sacrifice. At the same time it was "an offering and a sacrifice to God." God is love; but love is not everything in God. Justice is also Divine, and absolutely in its own realm. Law can no more forego its rights than love forget its compassions. Love must fulfil all righteousness; it must suffer law to mark out its path of obedience, or it remains an effusive ineffectual sentiment, helpless to bless and save. Christ's feet followed the stern and straight path of self-devotion; "He humbled Himself and became obedient," He was "born under law." And the law of God imposing death as the penalty for sin, which shaped Christ's sacrifice, made it acceptable to God. Thus it was "an odour of a sweet smell."
Hence the love which follows Christ's example, is love wedded with duty. It finds in an ordered devotion to the good of men the means to fulfil the all-holy Will and to present in turn its "offering to God." Such love will be above the mere pleasing of men, above sentimentalism and indulgence; it will aim higher than secular ideals and temporal contentment. It regards men in their kinship to God and obligation to His law, and seeks to make them worthy of their calling. All human duties, for those who love God, are subordinate to this; all commands are summed up in one: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The apostle pronounced the first and last word of his teaching when he said: "Walk in love, as the Christ also loved us."
VI. Above all others, one sin stamped the Gentile world of that time with infamy, -its uncleanness. St. Paul has stigmatised this already in the burning words of Ephesians 4:19. There we saw this vice in its intrinsic loathsomeness; here it is set in the light of Christ's love on the one hand (Ephesians 5:2), and of the final judgment on the other (Ephesians 5:5-6). Thus it is banished from the Christian fellowship in every form-even in the lightest, where it glances from the lips in words of jest: "Fornication and all uncleanness, let it not even be named among you." Along with "filthiness, foolish talk and jesting" are to be heard no more. Passing from Ephesians 5:2 to Ephesians 5:3 by the contrastive But, one feels how repugnant are these things to the love of Christ. The perfume of the sacrifice of Calvary, so pleasing in heaven, sweetens our life on earth; its grace drives wanton and selfish passions from the heart, and destroys the pestilence of evil in the social atmosphere. Lust cannot breathe in the sight of the cross.
The "good-for-nothing speech" of Ephesians 4:29 comes up once more for condemnation in the foolish speech and jesting of this passage. The former is the idle talk of a stupid, the latter of a clever man. Both, under the conditions of heathen society, were tainted with foulness.
Loose speech easily becomes low speech. Wit, unchastened by reverence, finds a tempting field for its exercise in the delicate relations of life, and displays its skill in veiled indecencies and jests that desecrate the purer feelings, while they avoid open grossness.
St. Paul's word. for "jesting" is one of the singular terms of this epistle. By etymology it denotes a well-turned style of expression, the versatile speech of one who can touch lightly on many themes and aptly blend the grave and gay. This social gift was prized amongst the polished Greeks. But it was a faculty so commonly abused, that the word describing it fell into bad odour: it came to signify banter and persiflage; and then, still worse, the kind of talk here indicated, -the wit whose zest lies in its flavour of impurity. "The very profligate old man in the ‘Miles Gloriosus' of Plautus" Ephesians 3:1, who prides himself, and not without reason, upon his wit, his elegance and refinement [ cavillator lepidus, facetus], is exactly the ευτραπελος. And keeping in mind that ευτραπελια, being only once expressly and by name forbidden in Scripture, is forbidden to Ephesians, it is not a little notable to find him urging that all this was to be expected from him, being as he was an Ephesian by birth:-
"Post Ephesi sum natus; non enim in Apulia, nor Animulae."
In place of senseless prating and wanton jests-things unbefitting to a rational creature, much more to a saint-the Asian Greeks are to find in thanksgiving employment for their ready tongue. St. Paul's rule is not one of mere prohibition. The versatile tongue that disported itself in unhallowed and frivolous utterance, may be turned into a precious instrument for God's service. Let the fire of Divine love touch the jester's lips, and that mouth will show forth His praise which once poured out dishonour to its Maker and shame to His image in man.
VII. At the end of the Ephesian catalogue of vices, as at the beginning, Ephesians 4:19 uncleanness is joined with covetousness, or greed.
This, too, is "not even to be named amongst you, as becometh saints." Money! property! these are the words dearest and most familiar in the mouths of a large class of men of the world, the only themes on which they speak with lively interest. But Christian lips are cleansed from the service both of Belial and of Mammon. When his business follows the trader from the shop to the fireside and the social circle, and even into the Church, when it becomes the staple subject of his conversation, it is clear that he has fallen into the low vice of covetousness. He is becoming, instead of a man, a money-making machine, an "idolater" of
"Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell From heaven."
The apostle classes the covetous man with the fornicator and the unclean, amongst those who by their worship of the shameful idols of the god of this world exclude themselves from their "inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."
A serious warning this for all who handle the world's wealth. They have a perilous war to wage, and an enemy who lurks for them at every step in their path. Will they prove themselves' masters of their business, or its slaves? Will they escape the golden leprosy, -the passion for accumulation, the" lust of property? None are found more dead to the claims of humanity and kindred, none further from the kingdom of Christ and God, none more "closely wrapped" within their "sensual fleece" than rich men who have prospered by the idolatry of gain. Dives has chosen and won his kingdom. He "receives in his lifetime his good things; afterwards he must look for "torments."