THE CHRISTIAN HOUSEHOLD
THE Christian family is the cradle and the fortress of the Christian faith. Here its virtues shine most brightly; and by this channel its influence spreads through society and the course of generations. Marriage has been placed under the guardianship of God; it is made single, chaste, and enduring, according to the law of creation and the pattern of Christ's union with His Church. With parents thus united, family honour is secure; and a basis is laid for reverence and discipline within the house.
I. Thus the apostle turns, in the opening words of chapter 6, from the husband and wife to the children of the household. He addresses them as present in the assembly where his letter is read. St. Paul accounted the children "holy," if but one parent belonged to the Church. 1 Corinthians 7:14 They were baptised, as we presume, with their fathers or mothers, and admitted, under due precautions, to the fellowship of the Church so far as their age allowed. We cannot limit this exhortation to children of adult age. The "discipline and admonition of the Lord," prescribed in Ephesians 6:4, belong to children of tender years and under parental control.
Obedience is the law of childhood. It is, in great part, the child's religion, to be practised "in the Lord." The reverence and love, full of a sweet mystery, which the Christian child feels towards its Saviour and heavenly King, add new sacredness to the claims of father and mother. Jesus Christ, the Head over all things, is the orderer of the life of boys and girls. His love and His might guard the little one in the tendance of its parents. The wonderful love of parents to their offspring, and the awful authority with which they are invested, come from the source of human life in God. The Latin pietas impressed a religious character upon filial duty. This word signifies at once dutifulness towards the gods, and towards parents and kindred. In the strength of its family ties and its deep filial reverence lay the secret of the moral vigour and the unmatched discipline of the Roman commonwealth. The history of ancient Rome affords a splendid illustration of the fifth commandment.
For this is right, says the apostle, appealing to the instincts of natural religion. The child's conscience begins here. Filial obedience is the primary form of duty. The loyalties of afterlife take their colour from the lessons learnt at home, in the time of dawning reason and incipient will. Hard indeed is the evil to remove, where in the plastic years of childhood obedience has been associated with base fear, with distrust or deceit, where it has grown sullen or obsequious in habit. From this root of bitterness there spring rank growths of hatred toward authority, jealousies, treacheries, and stubbornness. Obedience rendered "in the Lord" will be frank and willing, careful and constant, such as that which Jesus rendered to the Father.
St. Paul reminds the children of the law of the Ten Words, taught to them in their earliest lessons from Scripture. He calls the command in question "a first [or chief] commandment"-just as the great rule, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," is the first commandment; for this is no secondary rule or minor precept, but one on which the continuance of the Church and the welfare of society depend. It is a law fundamental as birth itself, written not on the statute-book alone, but on the tables of the heart.
Moreover, it is a "command in promise"-that takes the form of promise, and holds out to obedience a bright future. The two predicates-"first" and "in promise"-as we take it, are distinct. To merge them into one blunts their meaning. This commandment is primary in its importance, and promissory in its import. The promise is quoted from Exodus 20:12, as it stands in the Septuagint, where the Greek Christian children would read it. But the last clause is abbreviated; St. Paul writes "upon the earth'" in place of "the good land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." This blessing is the heritage of dutiful children in every land. Those who have watched the history of godly families of their acquaintance, will have seen the promise verified. The obedience of childhood and youth rendered to a wise Christian rule forms in the young nature the habits of self-control and self-respect, of diligence and promptitude and faithfulness and kindliness of heart, which are the best guarantees for happiness and success in life. Through parental nurture "godliness" secures its "promise of the life that now is."
Children are exhorted to submission: fathers to gentleness. "Do not," the apostle says, "anger your children"; in the corresponding place in Colossians, "Do not irritate your children, lest they be disheartened." Ephesians 3:21 In these parallel texts two distinct verbs are rendered by the one English word "provoke." The Colossian passage warns against the chafing effect of parental exactions and fretfulness, that tend to break the child's spirit and spoil its temper. Our text warns the father against angering his child by unfair or oppressive treatment. From this verb comes the noun "wrath" (or "provocation") used in Ephesians 4:26, denoting that stirring of anger which gives peculiar occasion to the devil.
Not that the father is forbidden to cross his child's wishes, or to do anything or refuse anything that may excite its anger. Nothing is worse for a child than to find that parents fear its displeasure, and that it will gain its ends by passion. But the father must not be exasperating, must not needlessly thwart the child's inclinations and excite in order to subdue its anger, as some will do even of set purpose, thinking that in this way obedience is learnt. This policy may secure submission; but it is gained at the cost of a rankling sense of injustice.
Household rule should be equally firm and kind, neither provoking nor avoiding the displeasure of its subjects, inflicting no severity for severity's sake, but shrinking from none that fidelity demands. With much parental fondness, there is sometimes in family government a want of seriousness and steady principle, an absence in father or mother of the sense that they are dealing with moral and responsible beings in their little ones, and not with toys, which is reflected in the caprice and self-indulgence of the children's maturer life. Such parents will give account hereafter of their stewardship with an inconsolable grief.
It is almost superfluous to insist on the apostle's exhortation to treat children kindly. For them these are days of Paradise, compared with times not far distant. Never were the wants and the fancies of these small mortals catered for as they are now. In some households the danger lies in the opposite extreme from that of over-strictness. The children are idolised. Not their comfort and welfare only, but their humours and caprices become the law of the house. They are "nourished" indeed, but not "in the discipline and admonition of the Lord." It is a great unkindness to treat our children so that they shall be strangers to hardship and restriction, so that they shall not know what real obedience means, and have no reverence for age, no habits of deference and self-denial. It is the way to breed monsters of selfishness, pampered creatures who will be useless and miserable in adult life.
"Discipline and admonition" are distinguished as positive and negative terms. The first is the "training up of the child in the way that he should go"; the second checks and holds him back from the ways in which he should not go. The former word (paideia)-denoting primarily treating-as-a-boy- signifies very often "chastisement"; but it has a wider sense, embracing instruction besides. It includes the whole course of training by which the boy is reared into a man. -Admonition is a still more familiar word with St. Paul. It may be reproof bearing upon errors in the past; or it may be warning, that points out dangers lying in the future. Both these services parents owe to their children. Admonition implies faults in the nature of the child, and wisdom in the father to see and correct them.
"Foolishness," says the Hebrew proverb, "is bound up in the heart of a child." In the Old Testament discipline there was something over-stern. The "hardness of heart" censured by the Lord Jesus, which allowed of two mothers in the house, put barriers between the father and his offspring that rendered "the rod of correction" more needful than it is under the rule of Christ. But correction, in gentler or severer sort, there must be, so long as children spring from sinful parents. The child's conscience responds to the kindly and searching word of reproof, to the admonition of love. This faithful dealing with his children wins for the father in the end a deep gratitude, and makes his memory a guard in days of temptation and an object of tender reverence. The child's "obedience in the Lord" is its response to "the discipline and admonition of the Lord" exercised by its parents. The discipline which wise Christian fathers give their children, is the Lord's discipline applied through them. "Correction and instruction should proceed from the Lord and be directed by the Spirit of the Lord, in such a way that it is not so much the father who corrects his children and teaches them, as the Lord through him" (Monod). Thus the Father of whom every family on earth is named, within each Christian house works all in all. Thus the chief Shepherd, through His under-shepherds, guides and feeds the lambs of His flock. By the gate of His fold fathers and mothers themselves have entered; and the little ones follow with them. In the pastures of His word they nourish them, and rule them with His rod and staff. To their offspring they become an image of the Good Shepherd and the Father in heaven. Their office teaches them more of God's fatherly ways with themselves. From their children's humbleness and confidence, from their simple wisdom, their hopes and fears and ignorances, the elders learn deep and affecting lessons concerning their own relations to the heavenly Father. St. Paul's instruction to fathers applies to all who have the charge of children: to schoolmasters of every degree, whose work, secular as it may be called, touches the springs of moral life and character; to teachers in the Sunday school, successors to the work that Christ assigned to Peter, of shepherding His lambs. These instructors supply the Lord's nurture to multitudes of children, in whose homes Christian faith and example are wanting. The ideas which children form of Christ and His religion are gathered from what they see and hear in the school. Many a child receives its bias for life from the influence of the teacher before whom it sits on Sunday. The love and meekness of wisdom, or the coldness or carelessness of the one who thus stands between Christ and the infant soul, will make or mar its spiritual future.
II. From the children of the house the apostle proceeds to address the servants-slaves as they were, until the gospel unbound their chains. The juxtaposition of children and slaves is full of significance; it is a tacit prophecy of emancipation. It brings the slave within the household, and gives a new dignity to domestic service.
The Greek philosophers regarded slavery as a fundamental institution, indispensable to the existence of civilised society. That the few might enjoy freedom and culture, the many were doomed to bondage. Aristotle defines the slave as an "animated tool," and the tool as an "inanimate slave." Two or three facts will suffice to show how utterly slaves were deprived of human rights in the brilliant times of the classic humanism. In Athens it was the legal rule to admit the evidence of a slave only upon torture, as that of a freeman was received upon oath. Amongst the Romans, if a master had been murdered in his house, the whole of his domestic servants, amounting sometimes to hundreds, were put to death without inquiry. It was a common mark of hospitality to assign to a guest a female slave for the night, like any other convenience. Let it be remembered that the slave population outnumbered the free citizens of the Roman and Greek cities by many times; that they were frequently of the same race, and might be even superior in education to their masters. Indeed, it was a lucrative trade to rear young slaves and train them in literary and other accomplishments, and then to let them out in these capacities for hire. Let any one consider the condition of society which all this involved, and he will have some conception of the degradation in which the masses of mankind were plunged, and of the crushing tyranny that the world laboured under in the boasted days of republican liberty and Hellenic art. No wonder that the new religion was welcome to the slaves of the Pagan cities, and that they flocked into the Church. Welcome to them was the voice that said: "Come unto me, all ye that are burdened and heavy laden"; welcome the proclamation that made them Christ's freedmen, "brethren beloved" where they had been "animated tools". Philemon 1:16 In the light of such teaching, slavery was doomed. Its read option by Christian nations, and the imposition of its yoke upon the negro race, is amongst the great crimes of history, -a crime for which the white man has had to pay rivers of his blood.
The social fabric, as it then existed, was so entirely based upon slavery, that for Christ and the apostles to have proclaimed its abolition would have meant universal anarchy. In writing to Philemon about his converted slave Onesimus, the apostle does not say, "Release him," though the word seems to be trembling on his lips. In 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 he even advises the slave who has the chance of manumission to remain where he is, content to be "the Lord's freedman." To the Christian slave what mattered it who ruled over his perishing body! his spirit was free, death would be his discharge and enfranchisement. No decree is issued to abolish bond-service between man and man; but it was destroyed in its essence by the spirit of Christian brotherhood. It melted away in the spread of the gospel, as snow and winter melt before the face of spring.
"Ye slaves, obey your lords according to the flesh." The apostle does not disguise the slave's subservience; nor does he speak in the language of pity or of condescension. He appeals as a man to men and equals, on the ground of a common faith and service to Christ. He awakens in these degraded tools of society the sense of spiritual manhood, of conscience and loyalty, of love and faith and hope. As in Colossians 3:22-25 thru Colossians 4:1, the apostle designates the earthly master not by his common title ( despotes), but by the very word ( kyrios) that is the title of the Lord Christ, giving the slave in this way to understand that he has, in common with his master (Ephesians 6:9), a higher Lord in the spirit. "Ye are slaves to the Lord Christ!" Colossians 3:24 St. Paul is accustomed to call himself "a slave of Christ Jesus." Nay, it is even said, in Philippians 2:7, that Christ Jesus "took the form of a slave"! How much there was, then, to console the Christian bondman for his lot. In self-abnegation, in the willing forfeiture of personal rights, in his menial and unrequited tasks, in submission to insult and injustice, he found a holy joy. His was a path in which he might closely follow the steps of the great Servant of mankind. His position enabled him to "adorn the Saviour's doctrine" above other men. Titus 2:9-10 Affectionate, gentle, bearing injury with joyful courage, the Christian. slave held up to that hardened and jaded Pagan age the example which it most required. God chose the base things of the world to bring to nought the mighty.
The relations of servant and master will endure, in one shape or other, while the world stands. And the apostle's injunctions bear upon servants of every order. We are all, in our various capacities, servants of the community. The moral worth of our service and its blessing to ourselves depend on the conditions that are here laid down.
I. There must be a genuine care for our work.
"Obey," he says, "with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto the Christ." The fear enjoined is no dread of human displeasure, of the master's whip or tongue. It is the same "fear and trembling" with which we are bidden to "work out our own salvation". Philippians 2:12 The inward work of the soul's salvation and the outward work of the busy hands labouring in the mine or at the loom, or in the lowliest domestic duties, -all alike are to be performed under a solemn responsibility to God and in the presence of Christ, the Lord of nature and of men, who understands every sort of work, and will render to each of His servants a just and exact reward. No man, whether he be minister of state or stable-groom, will dare to do heedless work, who lives and acts in that august Presence, -
"As ever in the great Task-master's eye."
II. The sense of Christ's Lordship ensures honesty in work.
So the apostle continues: "Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers." Both these are rare compound words, -the former indeed occurring only here and in the companion letter, being coined, probably, by the writer for this use. It is the common fault and temptation of servants in all degrees to observe the master's eye, and to work busily or slackly as they are watched or not. Such workmen act as they do, because they look to men and not to God. Their work is without conscience and self-respect. The visible master says "Well done!" But there is another Master looking on who says "Ill done!" to all pretentious doings and works o eye-service, -who sees not as man sees, but judges with the act the motive and intent.
"Not on the vulgar mass
Called work must sentence pass,
Things done, which took the eye and had the price."
In His book of accounts there is a stern reckoning in store for deceitful dealers and the makers-up of unsound goods, in whatever handicraft or headcraft they are engaged.
Let us all adopt St. Paul's maxim; it will be an immense economy. What armies of overlookers and inspectors we shall be able to dismiss, when every servant works as well behind his master's back as to his face, when every manufacturer and shopkeeper puts himself in the purchaser's place and deals as he would have others deal with him. It was for the Christian slaves of the Greek trading cities to rebuke the Greek spirit of fraud and trickery, by which the common dealings of life ‘in all directions were vitiated.
III. To the carefulness and honesty of the slave's daily labour he must even add heartiness: "as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the soul, with good will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men."
They must do the will of God in the service of men, as Jesus Christ Himself did it, -and with His meekness and fortitude and unwearied love. Their work will thus be rendered from inner principle, with thought and affection and resolution spent upon it. That alone is the work of a man, whether he preaches or ploughs, which comes from the soul behind the hands and the tongue, into which the workman puts as much of his soul, of himself, as the work is capable of holding.
IV. Add to all this the servant's anticipation of the final reward. In each case, "whatsoever one may do that is good, this he will receive from the Lord, whether he be a bondman or a freeman." The complementary truth is given in the Colossian letter: "He who does wrong, will receive back the wrong that he did."
The doctrine of equal retribution at the judgment-seat of Christ matches that of equal salvation at the cross of Christ. How trifling and evanescent the differences of earthly rank appear, in view of these sublime realities. There is a "Lord in heaven," alike for servant and for master, "with whom is no respect of persons" (Ephesians 6:9). This grand conviction beats down all caste-pride. It teaches justice to the mighty and the proud; it exalts the humble, and assures the down-trodden of redress. No bribery or privilege, no sophistry or legal cunning will avail, no concealment or distortion of the facts will be possible in that Court of final appeal. The servant and the master, the monarch and his meanest subject will stand before the bar of Jesus Christ upon the same footing. And the poor slave, wonderful to think, who was faithful in the "few things" of his drudging earthly lot, will receive the "many things" of a son of God and a joint-heir with Christ!
"And, ye lords, do the same things towards them"-be as good to your slaves as they are required to be towards you. A bold application this of Christ's great rule: "What you would that men should do to you, do even so to them." In many instances this rule suggested liberation, where the slave was prepared for freedom. In any case, the master is to put himself in his dependent's place and to act by him as he would desire himself to be treated if their positions were reversed. Slaves were held to be scarcely human. Deceit and sensuality were regarded as their chief characteristics. They must be ruled, the moralists said, by the fear of punishment. This was the only way to keep them in their place. The Christian master adopts a different policy. He "desists from threatening"; he treats his servants with even-handed justice, with fit courtesy and consideration. The recollection is ever present to his mind, that he must give account of his charge over each one of them to his Lord and theirs. So he will make, as far as in him lies, his own domain an image of the kingdom of Christ.
ON THE APPROACHING CONFLICT
THE FOES OF THE CHURCH
We follow the Revised reading of the opening word of this paragraph, and the preferable rendering given by the Revisers in their margin. The adverb is the same that is found in Galatians 6:17 ("Henceforth let no man trouble me"); not that used in Philippians 3:1 and elsewhere ("Finally, my brethren," etc.). The copyists have conformed our text, seemingly, to the latter passage. We are recalled to the circumstances and occasion of the epistle. High as St. Paul soars in meditation, he does not forget the situation of his readers. The words of Ephesians 4:14 showed us how well aware he is of the dangers looming before the Asian Churches.
The epistle to the Colossians is altogether a letter of conflict. see Colossians 2:1 ff. In writing that letter St. Paul was wrestling with spiritual powers, mighty for evil, which had commenced their attack upon this outlying post of the Ephesian province. He sees in the sky the cloud portending a desolating storm. The clash of hostile arms is heard approaching. This is no time for sloth or fear, for a faith half-hearted or half-equipped. "You have need of your best manhood and of all the weapons of the spiritual armoury, to hold your ground in the conflict that is coming upon you. Henceforth be strong in the Lord, and in the might of His strength."
It is the apostle's call to arms!-"Be strengthened in the Lord," he says (to render the imperative literally: so in 2 Timothy 2:1). Make His strength your own. The strength he bids them assume is power, ability, strength adequate to its end. "The might of His strength" repeats the combination of terms we found in Ephesians 1:19. That sovereign power of the Almighty which raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, belongs to the Lord Christ Himself. From its resources He will clothe and arm His people. "In the Lord," says Israel evermore, "is righteousness and strength. The rock of my salvation and my refuge is in God." The Church's strength lies in the almightiness of her risen Lord, the Captain of her warfare.
"The panoply of God" (Ephesians 6:2) reminds us of the saying of Jesus in reference to His casting out of demons, recorded in Luke 11:21-22 -the only other instance in the New Testament of this somewhat rare Greek word. The Lord Jesus describes Himself in conflict with Satan, who as "the strong one armed keeps his possessions in peace,"-until there "come upon him the stronger than he," who conquers him and takes away his panoply wherein he trusted, and divides his spoils. In this text the situation is reversed; and the "full armour" belongs to Christ's servants, who are equipped to meet the counter-attack of Satan and the powers of evil. There is a Divine and a Satanic panoply-arms tempered in heaven and in hell, to be wielded by the sons of light and of darkness respectively. comp. Romans 13:12 The weapons of warfare on the two sides are even as the two leaders that furnish them-"the strong one armed" and the "Stronger than he." Mightier are faith and love than unbelief and hate; "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." Let us review the forces marshalled against us, -their nature, their mode of assault, and the arena of the contest.
I. The Asian Christians had to "stand against the wiles [schemes, or methods] of the devil." Unquestionably, the New Testament assumes the personality of Satan. This belief runs counter to modern thought, governed as it is by the tendency to depersonalise existence. The conception of evil spirits given us in the Bible is treated as an obsolete superstition; and the name of the Evil One, with multitudes serves only to point a profane or careless jest. To Jesus Christ, it is very certain, Satan was no figure of speech; but a thinking and active being, of whose presence and influence He saw tokens everywhere in this evil world. comp. Ephesians 2:2 If the Lord Jesus speaks what He knows, and testifies what He has seen concerning the mysteries of the other world, there can be no question of the existence of a personal devil. If in any matter He was bound, as a teacher of spiritual truth, to disavow Jewish superstition, surely Christ was so bound in this matter. Yet instead of repudiating the current belief in Satan and the demons, He earnestly accepts it; and it entered into His own deepest experiences. In the visible forms of sin Jesus saw the shadow of His great antagonist. "From the Evil One" He taught His disciples to pray that they might be delivered. The victims of disease and madness whom He healed, were so many captives rescued from the malignant power of Satan. And when Jesus went to meet His death, He viewed it as the supreme conflict with the usurper and oppressor who claimed to be "the prince of this world."
Satan is the consummate form of depraved and untruthful intellect. We read of his "thoughts," his "schemes," his subtlety and deceit and impostures; of his slanders against God and man, from which, indeed, the name devil (diabolus) is given him. Falsehood and hatred are his chief qualities. Hence Jesus called him "the manslayer" and "the father of falsehood". John 8:44 He was the first sinner, and the fountain of sin. 1 John 3:8 All who do unrighteousness or hate their brethren are, so far, his offspring. 1 John 3:10 With a realm so wide, Satan might well be called not only "the prince," but very "god of this world". 2 Corinthians 4:4 Plausibly he said to Jesus, in showing Him the kingdoms of the world, at the time when Tiberius Caesar occupied the imperial throne: "All this authority and glory are delivered unto me. To whomsoever I will, I give it." His power is exercised with an intelligence perhaps as great as any can be that is morally corrupt; but it is limited on all sides. In dealing with Jesus Christ he showed conspicuous ignorance. Chief amongst the wiles of the devil at this time was the "scheme of error," the cunningly woven net of the Gnostical delusion, in which the apostle feared that the Asian Churches would be entangled. Satan's empire is ruled with a settled policy, and his warfare carried on with a system of strategy which takes advantage of every opening for attack. The manifold combinations of error, the various arts of seduction and temptation, the ten thousand forms of the deceit of unrighteousness constitute "the wiles of the devil."
Such is the gigantic opponent with whom Christ and the Church have been in conflict through all ages. But Satan does not stand alone. In Ephesians 6:12 there is called up before us an imposing array of spiritual powers. They are "the angels of the devil," whom Jesus set in contrast with the angels of God that surround and serve the Son of man. Matthew 25:41 These unhappy beings are, again, identified with the "demons," or "unclean spirits," having Satan for their "prince," whom our Lord expelled wherever He found them infesting the bodies of men. They are represented in the New Testament as fallen beings, expelled from a "principality" and "habitation of their own" Jude 1:6 which they once enjoyed, and reserved for the dreadful punishment which Christ calls "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." They are here entitled principalities and powers- (or dominions), after the same style as the angels of God, to whose ranks, as we are almost compelled to suppose, these apostates once belonged.
In contrast with the "angels of light" 2 Corinthians 11:14 and "ministering spirits" of the kingdom of God, Hebrews 1:14 the angels of Satan have constituted themselves the world-rulers of this darkness. We find the compound expression cosmo-krator (world-ruler) in later rabbinical usage, borrowed from the Greek and applied to "the angel of death," before whom all mortal things must bow. Possibly, St. Paul brought the term with him from the school of Gamaliel. Satan being the god of this world and swaying "the dominion of darkness," according to the same vocabulary his angels are "the rulers of the world's darkness"; and the provinces of the empire of evil fall under their direction.
The darkness surrounding the apostle in Rome and the Churches in Asia-"this darkness," he says -was dense and foul. With Nero and his satellites the masters of empire, the world seemed to be ruled by demons rather than by men. The frightful wish of one of the Psalmists was fulfilled for the heathen world: "Set the wicked man over him, and let Satan stand at his right hand." The last of St. Paul's synonyms for the satanic forces, "the spiritual [powers] of wickedness," may have served to warn the Church against reading a political sense into the passage and regarding the civil constitution of society and the visible world-rulers as objects for their hatred. Pilate was a specimen, by no means amongst the worst, of the men in power. Jesus regarded him with pity. His real antagonist lurked behind these human instruments. The above phrase, "spirituals of wickedness," is Hebraistic, like "judge" and "steward of unrighteousness," and is equivalent to "wicked spirits." The adjective "spiritual," which does duty for a substantive-"the spiritual [forces, or elements] of wickedness"-brings out the collective character of these hostile powers.
St. Paul's demonology is identical with that of Jesus Christ. The two doctrines stand or fall together. The advent of Christ appears to have stirred to extraordinary activity the satanic powers. They asserted themselves in Palestine at this particular time in the most open and terrifying manner. In an age of scepticism and science like our own, it belongs to "the wiles of the devil" to work obscurely. This is dictated by obvious policy. Moreover, his power is greatly reduced. Satan is no longer the god of this world, since Christianity rose to its ascendant. The manifestations of demonism are, at least in Christian lands, vastly less conspicuous than in the first age of the Church. But those are more bold than wise who deny their existence, and who profess to explain all occult phenomena and phrenetic moral aberrations by physical causes. The popular idolatries of his own day, with their horrible rites and inhuman orgies, St. Paul ascribed to devilry. He declared that those who sat at the feast of the idol and gave sanction to its worship, were partaking of "the cup and the table of demons". 1 Corinthians 10:20-21 Heathen idolatries at the present time are, in many instances, equally diabolical; and those who witness them cannot easily doubt the truth of the representations of Scripture upon this subject.
II. The conflict against these spiritual enemies is essentially a spiritual conflict. "Our struggle is not against blood and flesh."
They are not human antagonists whom the Church has to fear, -mortal men whom we can look in the face and meet with equal courage, in the contest where hot blood and straining muscle do their part. The fight needs mettle of another kind. The foes of our faith are untouched by carnal weapons. They come upon us without sound or footfall. They assail the will and conscience; they follow us into the regions of spiritual thought, of prayer and meditation. Hence the weapons of our warfare, like those which the apostle wielded, 2 Corinthians 10:2-5 "are not carnal, but spiritual and mighty toward God."
It is true that the Asian Churches had visible enemies arrayed against them. There were the "wild beasts" with whom St. Paul "fought at Ephesus," the heathen mob of the city, sworn foes of every despiser of their great goddess Artemis. There was Alexander the coppersmith, ready to do the apostle evil, and "the Jews from Asia," a party of whom all but murdered him in Jerusalem; Acts 21:27-36 there was Demetrius the silversmith, instigator of the tumult which drove him from Ephesus, and "the craftsmen of like occupation," whose trade was damaged by the progress of the new religion. These were formidable opponents, strong in everything that brings terror to flesh and blood. But after all, these were of small account in St. Paul's view; and the Church need never dread material antagonism. The centre of the struggle lies elsewhere. The apostle looks beyond the ranks of his earthly foes to the power of Satan by which they are animated and directed, -"impotent pieces of the game he plays." From this hidden region he sees impending an attack more perilous than all the violence of persecution, a conflict urged with weapons of finer proof than the sharp steel of sword and axe, and with darts tipped with a fiercer fire than that which burns the flesh or devours the goods.
Even in outward struggles against worldly power, our wrestling is not simply against blood and flesh. Calvin makes a bold application of the passage when he says: "This sentence we should remember so often as we are tempted to revengefulness, under the smart of injuries from men. For when nature prompts us to fling ourselves upon them with all our might, this unreasonable passion will be checked and reined in suddenly, when we consider that these men who trouble us are nothing more than darts cast by the hand of Satan; and that while we stoop to pick up these, we shall expose ourselves to the full force of his blows." Vasa sunt, says Augustine of human troublers, alius utitur; organa sunt, alius tangit.
The crucial assaults of evil, in many instances, come in no outward and palpable guise. There are sinister influences that affect the spirit more directly, fires that search its inmost fibres, a darkness that sweeps down upon the very light that is in us, threatening its extinction. "Doubts, the spectres of the mind," haunt it; clouds brood over the interior sky and fierce storms sweep down on the soul, that rise from beyond the seen horizon. "Jesus was led of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil." Away from the tracks of men and the seductions of flesh and blood the choicest spirits have been tested and schooled. So they are tempered in the spiritual furnace to a fineness which turns the edge of the sharpest weapons the world may use against them.
Some men are constitutionally more exposed than others to these interior assaults. There are conditions of the brain and nerves, tendencies lying deep in the organism, that give points of vantage to the enemy of souls. These are the opportunities of the tempter; they do not constitute the temptation itself, which comes from a hidden and objective source. Similarly in the trials of the Church, in the great assaults made upon her vital truths, historical conditions and the external movements of the age furnish the material for the conflicts through which it has to pass; but the spring and moving agent, the master will that dominates these hostile forces is that of Satan. The Church was engaged in a double conflict-of the flesh and of the spirit. On the one hand, it was assailed by the material seductions of heathenism and the terrors of ruthless persecution. On the other hand, it underwent a severe intellectual conflict with the systems of error that were rooted in the mind of the age. These forces opposed the Christian truth from without; but they became much more dangerous when they found their way within the Church, vitiating her teaching and practice, and growing like tares among the wheat. It is of heresy more than persecution that the apostle is thinking, when he writes these ominous words. Not blood and flesh, but the mind and spirit of the Asian believers will bear the brunt of the attack that the craft of the devil is preparing for the apostolic Church.
III. The last clause of Ephesians 6:12, in the heavenly places, refuses to combine with the above description of the powers hostile to the Church. The heavenly places are the abode of God and the blessed angels. This is the region where the Father has blessed us in Christ; Ephesians 1:3 where He seated the Christ at His own right hand, Ephesians 1:20 and has in some sense seated us with Christ; Ephesians 2:6 and where the angelic princedoms dwell who follow with keen and studious sympathy the Church's fortunes. Ephesians 3:10 To locate the devil and his angels there seems to us highly incongruous; the juxtaposition is out of the question with St. Paul. Ephesians 2:2 gives no real support to this view: supposing "the air" to be literally intended in that passage, it belongs to earth and not to heaven. Nor do the parallels from other Scriptures adduced supply any but the most precarious basis for an interpretation against which the use of the exalted phrase in our epistle revolts.
No; Satan and his hosts do not dwell with Christ and the holy angels "in the heavenly places." But the Church dwells there already, by her faith; and it is in the heavenly places of her faith and hope that she is assailed by the powers of hell. This final prepositional clause should be separated by a comma from the words immediately foregoing; it forms a distinct predicate to the sentence contained in Ephesians 6:12. It specifies the locality of the struggle; it marks out the battlefield. "Our wrestling is in the heavenly places." So we construe the sentence, following the ancient Greek commentators.
The life of the Church "is hid with Christ in God"; her treasure is laid up in heaven. She is assailed by a philosophy and vain deceit that perverts her highest doctrines, that clouds her vision of Christ and limits His glory, and threatens to drag her down from the high places where she sits with her ascended Lord. Such was, in effect, the aim of the Colossian heresy, and of the great Gnostical movement to which this speculation was a prelude, that for a century and more entangled Christian faith in its metaphysical subtleties and false mysticism. The epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians strike the leading note of the controversies of the Church in this region during its first ages. Their character was thoroughly transcendental. "The heavenly things" were the subject-matter of the great conflicts of this epoch.
The questions of religious controversy characteristic of our own times, though not identical with those of Colossae or Ephesus, concern matters equally high and vital. It is not this or that doctrine that is now at stake-the nature or extent of the atonement, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son with the Father, the verbal or plenary inspiration of Scripture; but the personal being of God, the historical truth of Christianity, the reality of the supernatural, -these and the like questions, which formed the accepted basis and the common assumptions of former theological discussions, are now brought into dispute. Religion has to justify its very existence. Christianity must answer for its life, as at the beginning. God is denied. Worship is openly renounced. Our treasures in heaven are proclaimed to be worthless and illusive. The entire spiritual and celestial order of things is relegated to the region of obsolete fable and fairy tales. The difficulties of modern religious thought lie at the foundation of things, and touch the core of the spiritual life. Unbelief appears, in some quarters, to be more serious and earnest than faith. While we quarrel over rubrics and ritual, thoughtful men are despairing of God and immortality. The Churches are engaged in trivial contentions with each other, while the enemy pushes his way through our broken ranks to seize the citadel.
"The apostle incites the readers," says Chrysostom, "by the thought of the prize at stake. When he has said that our enemies are powerful, he adds thereto that these are great possessions which they seek to wrest from us. When he says in the heavenly places, this implies for the heavenly things. How it must rouse and sober us to know that the hazard is for great things, and great will be the prize of victory. Our foe strives to take heaven from us." Let the Church be stripped of all her temporalities, and driven naked as at first into the wilderness. She carries with her the crown jewels; and her treasure is unimpaired, so long as faith in Christ and the hope of heaven remain firm in her heart. But let these be lost; let heaven and the Father in heaven fade with our childhood's dreams; let Christ go back to His grave-then we are utterly undone. We have lost our all in all!
THE DIVINE PANOPLY
"Stand" is the watchword for this battle, the apostle's order of the day: that you may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and mastering all your enemies to stand Stand therefore, "girding your loins about with truth." The apostle is fond of this martial style,. and such appeals are frequent in the letters of this period. The Gentile believers are raised to the heavenly places of fellowship with Christ, and invested with the lofty character of sons and heirs of God: let them hold their ground; let them maintain the honour of their calling and the wealth of their high estate, standing fast in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Pro aris et focis the patriot draws his sword, and manfully repels the invader. Even so the good soldier of Christ Jesus contends for his heavenly city and the household of faith. He defends the dearest interests and hopes of human life.
This defence is needed, for an "evil day" is at hand! This emphatic reference points to something more definite than the general day of temptation that is co-extensive with our earthly life. St. Paul foresaw a crisis of extreme danger impending over the young Church of Christ. The prophecies of Jesus taught His disciples, from the first, that His kingdom could only prevail by means of a severe conflict, and that some desperate struggle would precede the final Messianic triumph. This prospect looms before the minds of the New Testament writers, as "the day of Jehovah" dominated the imagination of the Hebrew prophets. Paul's apocalypse in 1 and 2 Thessalonians is full of reminiscences of Christ's visions of judgment. It culminates in the prediction of the evil day of Antichrist, which is to usher in the second, glorious coming of the Lord Jesus. The consummation, as the apostle was then inclined to think, might arrive within that generation, 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 although he declares its times and seasons wholly unknown. In his later epistles, and in this especially, it is clear that he anticipated a longer duration for the existing order of things; and "the evil day" for which the Asian Churches are to prepare can scarcely have denoted, to the apostle's mind, the final day of Antichrist, though it may well be an epoch of similar nature and a token and shadow of the last things.
In point of fact a great secular crisis was now approaching. The six years (64-70 after Christ) extending from the fire of Rome to the fall of Jerusalem, were amongst the most fateful and calamitous recorded in history. This period was, in a very real sense, the day of judgment for Israel and the ancient world. It was a foretaste of the ultimate doom of the kingdom of evil amongst men; and through it Christ appears to have looked forward to the end of the world. Already "the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16); and "the evil day" is at hand-a time of terror and despair for all who have not a firm faith in the kingdom of God.
Two chief characteristics marked this crisis, as it affected the people of Christ: persecution from without, and apostasy within the Church. Matthew 24:5, Matthew 24:8-12 To the latter feature St. Paul refers elsewhere. Of persecution he took less account, for this was indeed his ordinary lot, and had already visited his Churches; but it was afterwards to assume a more violent and appalling form. When we turn to the epistle to the Seven Churches Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22 written in the next ensuing period, we find a fierce battle raging, resembling that for which this letter warns the Asian Churches to prepare. The storm which our apostle foresees had then burst. The message addressed to each Church concludes with a promise to "him that overcometh." To the faithful it is said: "I know thy endurance." The angel of the Church of Pergamum dwells where is "the throne of Satan," and where "Antipas the faithful martyr was killed." There also, says the Lord Jesus, "are those who hold the teaching of Balaam, and the teaching of the Nicolaitans," with whom "I will make war with the sword of my mouth." Ephesians 6:17 Laodicea has shrunk from the trial, and grown rich by the world's friendship. Thyatira "suffers the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce" the servants of Christ. Sardis has but "a few names that have not defiled their garments." Even Ephesus, though she had tried the false teachers and found them wanting (surely Paul's epistles to Timothy had helped her in this examination), has yet "left her first love." The day of trial has proved an evil day to these Churches. Satan has been allowed to sift them; and while some good wheat remains, much of the faith of the numerous and prosperous communities of the province of Asia has turned out to be faulty and vain. The presentiments that weighed on St. Paul's mind when four years ago he took leave of the Ephesian elders at Miletus, and which reappear in this passage, were only too well justified by the course of events. Indeed, the history of the Church in this region has been altogether mournful and admonitory.
But it is time to look at the armour in which St. Paul bids his readers equip themselves against the evil day. It consists of seven weapons, offensive or defensive-if we count prayer amongst them: the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness to bear the message of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the word, and the continual cry of prayer.
I. In girding himself for the field, the first thing the soldier does is to fasten round his waist the military belt. With this he binds in his undergarments, that there may be nothing loose or trailing about him, and braces up his limbs for action. Peace admits of relaxation. The girdle is unclasped; the muscles are unstrung. But everything about the warrior is tense and firm; his dress, his figure and movements, speak of decision and concentrated energy. He stands before us an image of resolute conviction, of a mind made up. Such a picture the words "girt about with truth" convey to us.
The epistle is pervaded by the sense of the Church's need of intellectual conviction. Many of the Asian believers were children, half-enlightened and irresolute, ready to be "tossed to and fro and carried about with. every wind of doctrine". Ephesians 4:14 They had "heard the truth as it is in Jesus," but had an imperfect comprehension of its meaning. They required to add to their faith knowledge, -the knowledge won by searching thought respecting the great truths of religion, by a thorough mental appropriation of the things revealed to us in Christ. Only by such a process can truth brace the mind and knit its powers together in "the full assurance of the understanding in the knowledge of the mystery of God, which is Christ". Colossians 2:2-3
Such is the faith needed by the Church, now, as then, the faith of an intelligent, firm, and manly assurance. There is in such faith a security and vigour of action that the faith of mere sentiment and emotional impression, with its nerveless grasp, its hectic and impulsive fervours, cannot impart. The luxury of agnosticism, the languors of doubt, the vague sympathies and hesitant eclecticism in which delicate and cultured minds are apt to indulge; the lofty critical attitude, as of some intellectual god sitting above the strife of creeds, which others find congenial-these are conditions of mind unfit for the soldier of Christ Jesus. He must have sure knowledge, definite and decided purposes-a soul girdled with truth.
II. Having girt his loins, the soldier next fastens on his breastplate, or cuirass.
This is the chief piece of his defensive armour; it protects the vital organs. In the picture drawn in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the breastplate is made "of faith and love." In this more detailed representation, faith becomes the outlying defensive "shield," while righteousness serves for the innermost defence, the rampart of the heart. But, in truth, the Christian righteousness is compounded of faith and love.
This attribute must be understood in its full Pauline meaning. It is the state of one who is right with God and with God's law. It is the righteousness both of standing and of character, of imputation and of impartation, which begins with justification and continues in the new, obedient life of the believer. These are never separate, in the true doctrine of grace. "The righteousness that is of God by faith" is the soul's main defence against the shafts of Satan. It wards off deadly blows, both from this side and from that. Does the enemy bring up against me my old sins? I can say: "It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?" Am I tempted to presume on my forgiveness, and to fall into transgression once more? From this breastplate the arrow of temptation falls pointless, as it resounds: "He that doeth righteousness is righteous. He that is born of God doth not commit sin." The completeness of pardon for past offence and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life, are woven together in an impenetrable mail.
III. Now the soldier, having girt his loins and guarded his breast, must look well to his feet. There are lying ready for him shoes of wondrous make.
What is the quality most needed in the soldier's shoes? Some say it is firmness; and they so translate the Greek word employed by the apostle, occurring only here in the New Testament, which in certain passages of the Septuagint seems to acquire this sense, under the influence of Hebrew idiom. But firmness was embodied in the girdle. Expedition belongs to the shoes. The soldier is so shod that he may move with alertness over all sorts of ground.
Thus shod with speed and willingness were "the beautiful feet" of those that brought over desert and mountain "the good tidings of peace," the news of Israel's return to Zion. Isaiah 52:7-9 With such swift strength were the feet of our apostle shod, when "from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum" he had "fulfilled the gospel of Christ," and is "ready," as he says, "to preach the glad tidings to you also that are in Rome". Romans 1:15 This readiness belonged to His own holy feet, who "came and preached peace to the far off and the near," Ephesians 2:17 when, for example, sitting a weary traveller by the well-side at Sychar, He found refreshment in revealing to the woman of Samaria the fountain of living water. Such readiness befits His servants, who have heard from Him the message of salvation and are sent to proclaim it everywhere.
The girdle and the breastplate look to one's own safety. They must be supplemented by the evangelic zeal inseparable from the Spirit of Christ. This is, moreover, a safeguard of Church life. Von Hofmann says admirably upon this point: "The objection [brought against the above interpretation] that the apostle is addressing the faithful at large, who are not all of them called to preach the gospel, is mistaken. Every believer should be prepared to witness for Christ so often as opportunity affords, and needs a readiness thereto. The knowledge of Christ's peace qualifies him to convey its message. He brings it with him into the strife', of the world. And it is the consciousness that he possesses himself such peace and has it to communicate to others, which enables him to walk firmly and with a sure step in the way of faith." When we are bidden to "stand in the evil day," that does not mean to stand idle or content to hold our ground. Attack is often the best mode of defence. We keep our faith by spreading it. We defend ourselves from our opponents by converting them to the gospel, which breathes everywhere reconciliation and fraternity. Our Foreign Missions are our grand modern apologetic; and God's peacemakers are His mightiest warriors.
IV. With his body girt and fenced and his feet clad with the gospel shoes, the soldier reaches out his left hand to "take up withal the shield, " while his right hand grasps first the helmet which he places on his head, and then the sword that is offered to him in the word of God.
The shield signified is not the small round buckler, or target, of the light-armed man; but the door like shield, measuring four feet by two and-a-half and rounded to the shape of the body, that the Greek hoplite and the Roman legionary carried. Joined together these large shields formed a wall, behind which a body of troops could hide themselves from the rain of the enemy's missiles. Such is the office of faith in the conflicts of life: it is the soldier's main defence, the common bulwark of the Church. Like the city's outer wall, faith bears the brunt and onset of all hostility. On this shield of faith the darts of Satan are caught, their point broken, and their fire quenched. These military shields were made of wood, covered on the outside with thick leather, which not only deadened the shock of the missile, but protected the frame of the shield from the "fire-tipped darts" that were used in the artillery of the ancients. These flaming arrows, armed with some quickly burning and light combustible, if they failed to pierce the warrior's shield, fell in a moment extinguished at his feet.
St. Paul can scarcely mean by his "fiery darts" incitements to passion in ourselves, inflammatory temptations that seek to rouse the inward fires of anger or lust. For these missiles are "firepointed darts of the Evil One." The fire belongs to the enemy who shoots the dart. It signifies the malignant hate with which Satan hurls slanders and threats against the people of God through his human instruments. A bold faith wards off and quenches this fire even at a distance, so that the soul never feels its heat. The heart's confidence is unmoved and the Church's songs of praise are undisturbed, while persecution rages and the enemies of Christ gnash their teeth against her. Such a shield to him was the faith of Stephen the protomartyr.
"I heard the defaming of many; there was terror on every side. But I trusted in Thee, O Jehovah: I said, Thou art my God!"
To "take up the shield of faith," is it not, like the Psalmist, to meet injuries and threats, the boasts of unbelief and of worldly power, the poisoned arrows of the deceitful and the bitter words of unjust reproach, with faith's quiet counter-assertion? "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" says the apostle in the midst of tribulation. "God is my witness, whom I serve in the gospel of His Son," he answers when his fidelity is questioned. No shaft of malice, no arrow of fear can pierce the soul that holds such a shield.
V. At this point (Ephesians 6:17), when the sentence beginning at Ephesians 6:14 has drawn itself out to such length, and the relative clause of Ephesians 6:16 b makes a break and eddy in the current of thought, the writer pauses for a moment. He resumes the exhortation in a form slightly changed and with rising emphasis, passing from the participle to the finite verb: "And take the helmet of salvation." The word take, in the original, differs from the taking up of Ephesians 6:13 and Ephesians 6:16. It signifies the accepting of something offered by the hand of another. So the Thessalonians "accepted the word" brought them by St. Paul 1 Thessalonians 1:6 and Titus "accepted the consolation" given him by the Corinthians 2 Corinthians 8:17 -in each case a welcome gift. God's hand is stretched out to bestow on His chosen warrior the helmet of salvation and the sword of His word, to complete his equipment for the perilous field. We accept these gifts with devout gratitude, knowing from what source they come and where the heavenly arms were fashioned.
The "helmet of salvation" is worn by the Lord Himself, as He is depicted by the prophet coming to the succour of His people. This Isaiah 59:17 helmet, on the head of Jehovah, is the crest and badge of their Divine champion. Given to the human warrior, it becomes the sign of his protection by God. The apostle does not call it "the hope of salvation," as he does in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, thinking of the believer's assurance of victory in the last struggle. Nor is it the sense and assurance of past salvation that here guards the Christian soldier. The presence of his Saviour and God in itself constitutes his highest safeguard.
"O Jehovah my Lord, the strength of my salvation, Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle."
The warrior's head, rising above his shield, was frequently open to attack. The arrow might shoot over the shield's edge, and inflict a mortal blow. Our faith, at the best, has its deficiencies and its limits; but God's salvation reaches beyond our highest confidence in Him. His overshadowing presence is the crown of our salvation, His love its shining crest.
Thus the equipment of Christ's soldier is complete; and he is arrayed in the full armour of light. His loins girt with truth, his breast clad with righteousness, his feet shod with zeal, his head crowned with safety, while faith's all-encompassing shield is cast about him, he steps forth to do battle with the powers of darkness, "strong in the Lord, and in the might of His strength."
VI. It only remains that "the sword of the Spirit" be put into his right hand, while his lips are open in continual prayer to the God of his strength.
The "cleansing word" of Ephesians 5:26, by whose virtue we passed through the gate of baptism into the flock of Christ, now becomes the guarding and smiting word, to be used in conflict with our spiritual foes. Of the Messiah it was said, in language quoted by the apostle against Antichrist: 2 Thessalonians 2:8 "He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." Isaiah 11:4 Similarly, in Hosea, the Lord tells how He has "hewed" the unfaithful "by His prophets, and slain them by the words of His mouth." Hosea 6:5 From such sayings of the Old Testament the idea of the sword of the Divine word is derived. We find it again in Hebrews 6:12: "The word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword"; and in the "sword, two-edged, sharp," which John in the Revelation saw "coming out of the mouth of the Son of man": it belongs to Him whose name is "the word of God," and with it "He shall smite the nations."
This sword of the inspired word Paul himself wielded with supernatural effect, as when he rebuked Elymas the sorcerer, or when he defended his gospel against the Judaisers of Galatia and Corinth. In his hand it was even as
"The sword Of Michael. from the armoury of God, tempered so that neither keen Nor solid might resist that edge."
With what piercing reproofs, what keen thrusts of argument, what double-edged irony and dexterous sword-play did this mighty combatant smite the enemies of the cross of Christ! In times of conflict never may such leaders be wanting to the Church, men using weapons of warfare not carnal, but mighty to "cast down strongholds," to "bring down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and make captive every thought to Christ's obedience." In her struggle with the world's gigantic lusts and tyrannies, the Israel of God must be armed with this lofty and lightning-like power, with the flaming sword of the Spirit. No less in the secret, internal conflicts of the religious life, the sword of the word is the decisive weapon. The Son of man put it to proof in His combat in the wilderness. Satan himself sought to wrest this instrument to his purpose. With pious texts in his mouth he addressed our Lord, like art angel of light, fain to deceive Him by the very Scripture He had Himself inspired! until, with the last thrust of quotation, Jesus unmasked the tempter and drove him from the field, saying, "Get thee behind me, Satan!"
VII. We have surveyed the Christian soldier with his harness on. From head to foot he is clothed in arms supernatural. No weapon of defence or offence is lacking, that the spiritual combat needs. Nothing seems to be wanting: yet everything is wanting, if this be all. Our text began: "Be strong in the Lord." It is prayer that links the believer with the strength of God.
What avails Michael's sword, if the hand that holds it is slack and listless? what the panoply of God, if behind it beats a craven heart? He is but a soldier in semblance who wears arms without the courage and the strength to use them. The life that is to animate that armed figure, to beat with high resolve beneath the corslet, to nerve the arm as it lifts the strong shield and plies the sharp sword, to set the swift feet moving on their gospel errands, to weld the Church together into one army of the living God, comes from the inspiration of God's Spirit received in answer to believing prayer. So the apostle adds: "With all prayer, and supplication praying at every time in the Spirit."
There is here no needless repetition. "Prayer" is the universal word for reverent address to God; and "supplication" the entreaty for such help as "on every occasion"-at each turn of the battle, in each emergency of life-we find ourselves to need. And Christian prayer is always "in the Spirit,"-being offered in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, who is the element of the believer's life in Christ, who helps our infirmities and, virtually, intercedes for us. Romans 8:26-27 When the apostle continues, "watching [or keeping awake] thereunto," he reminds us, as perhaps he was thinking himself, of our Lord's warning to the disciples sleeping in Gethsemane: "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." The "perseverance" he requires in this wakeful attention to prayer is the resolute persistence of the suppliant, who will neither be daunted by opposition nor wearied by delay.
The word "supplication" is resumed at the end of Ephesians 6:18, in order to enlist the prayers of the readers for the service of the Church at large: "with wakeful heed thereto, in all the persistence and supplication for all the saints." Prayer for ourselves must broaden out into a catholic intercession for all the servants of our Master, for all the children of the household of faith. By the bands of prayer we are knit together, -a vast multitude of saints throughout the earth, unknown by face or name to our fellows, but one in the love of Christ and in our heavenly calling, and all engaged in the same perilous conflict.
"All the saints," St. Paul said, Ephesians 1:15 were interested in the faith of the Asian believers; they were called "with all the saints" to share in the comprehension of the immense designs of God's kingdom. Ephesians 3:18 The dangers and temptations of the Church are equally far-reaching; they have a common origin and character in all Christian communities. Let our prayers, at least, be catholic. At the throne of grace, let us forget our sectarian divisions. Having access in one Spirit to the Father, let us realise in His presence our communion with all His children.
REQUEST: COMMENDATION: BENEDICTION
The apostle has bidden his readers apply themselves with wakeful and incessant earnestness to prayer (Ephesians 6:18). For this is, after all, the chief arm of the spiritual combat. By this means the soul draws reinforcements of mercy and hope from the eternal sources (Ephesians 6:10). By this means the Asian Christians will be able not only to carry on their own conflict with vigour, but to help all the saints (Ephesians 6:18); and through their aid the whole Church of God will be sustained in its war with the prince of this world.
The apostle Paul himself stood in the forefront of this battle. He was suffering for the cause of common Christendom; he was a mark for the attack of the enemies of the gospel. On him, more than on any other man, the safety and progress of the Church depended. Philippians 1:25 In this position he naturally says: "Watching unto prayer in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints-and for me." If his heart should fail him, or his mouth be closed, if the word of inspiration ceased to be given him and the great teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth no longer spoke as he ought to speak, it would be a heavy blow and sore discouragement to the friends of Christ throughout the world. "My afflictions are your glory. Ephesians 3:13 My unworthy testimony to Christ is showing forth His praise to all men and angels. Pray for me then, that I may speak and act in this hour of trial in a manner worthy of the dispensation given to me." Strong and confident as the apostle Paul was, he tier himself to be nothing without prayer. It is his habit to expect the support of the intercessions of all who love him in Christ. He knew that he was heaped by this means, on numberless occasions and in wonderful ways. He asks his present readers to entreat that "the word may be given me when I open my mouth, so that I may freely make known the mystery of the gospel, on which behalf I serve as ambassador in bonds, that in it I may speak freely, as I ought to speak." This sentence hangs upon the verb "may-be-given." Jesus said to His apostles: "It shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak, when brought before rulers and kings". Matthew 10:18-20 The apostle stands now before the Roman world. He has appealed to Caesar, and awaits his trial. If he has not yet appeared at the Emperor's tribunal, he will shortly have to do so. Christ's ambassador is about to plead in chains before the highest of human courts. It is not his own life or freedom that he is concerned about; the ambassador has only to consider how he shall represent his Sovereign's interests. The importance which Paul attached to this occasion is manifest from the words written to Timothy 2 Timothy 4:17 referring to his later trial. St. Paul has this special need in his thoughts, in addition to the help from above continually required in the discharge of his ministry, under the hampering conditions of his imprisonment. comp. Colossians 4:3-4
The Church must entreat on Paul's behalf that the word he utters may be God's, and not his own. It is in vain to "open the mouth," unless there is this higher prompting and through the gates of speech there issues a Divine message, unless the speaker is the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit rather than of his individual thought and will. "The words that I speak unto you," Jesus. said, "I speak not of myself." The bold apostle intends to open his mouth; but he must have the true "word given" him to say. We should pray for Christ's ambassadors, and especially for the more public and eloquent pleaders of the Christian cause, that it may be thus with them. Rash and vain words, that bear the stamp of the mere man who utters them and not of the Spirit of his Master, do a hurt to the cause of the gospel proportioned to the blessing that comes from such lips when they speak the word given to them.
Such inspiration would enable the apostle to "make known the mystery of the gospel with freedom and confidence of speech": the expression rendered "with boldness" means all this. Before the emperor Nero, or the slave Onesimus, he will be able with the same aptness and dignity and self-command to declare his message and to vindicate his Master's name. "The mystery of the gospel" is no other secret than that which this epistle unfolds, Ephesians 3:3-9 the great fact that Jesus Christ is the Saviour and the Lord of the whole world. Jesus proclaimed Himself to Pilate, who represented at Jerusalem the imperial rule, as the King of all who are of the truth; and the apostle Paul has the like message to convey to the head of the Empire. It needed the greatest boldness and the greatest wisdom in the ambassador of the Messianic King to play his part at Rome; an unwise word might make his own life forfeit, and bring incalculable dangers on the Church.
St. Paul's trial, we suppose, passed off successfully, as he at this time anticipated. The Roman government was perfectly aware that the political charge against their prisoner was frivolous; and Nero, if he personally gave Paul a hearing on this earlier trial, in all probability viewed his spiritual pretensions on his Master's behalf with contemptuous tolerance. If he did so, the toleration was not due to any want of courage or clearness on the defendant's part. It is possible even that the courage and address of the advocate of the "new superstition" pleased the tyrant, who was not without his moments of good humour nor without the instincts of a man of taste. The apostle, we may well believe, made an impression on the supreme court at Rome similar to that made on his judges in Caesarea.
St. Paul's bonds in Christ have now become widely "manifest" in Rome. Philippians 1:13 He pleads in circumstances of disgrace. But God brings good for His servants out of evil. As he said at a later time, so he could say now: "They have bound me; but they cannot bind the word of God." He was "not ashamed of the gospel" in the prospect of coming to Rome years before; Romans 1:16 and he is not ashamed now, though he has come in chains as an evil-doer. Through the intercessions of Christ's people all these injuries of Satan are turning to his salvation and to the "furtherance of the gospel"; and Paul rejoices and triumphs in them, well assured that Christ will be magnified whether by his life or death, whether by his freedom or his chains. Philippians 1:12-26 The prayers which the imprisoned apostle asks from the Church were fulfilled. For we read in the last verses of the Acts of the Apostles, which put into a sentence the history of this period: "He received all that came to him, preaching the kingdom and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness, none forbidding him."
The paragraph relating to Tychicus is almost identical with that of Colossians 4:7-8. It begins with a "But" connecting what follows with the statement the apostle has just made respecting his position at Rome. As much as to say: "I want your prayers, set as I am for the defence of the gospel and in circumstances of difficulty and peril. But Tychicus will tell you more about me than I can convey by letter. I am sending him, in fact, for this very purpose."
St. Paul knew the great anxiety of the Christians of Asia on his account. Epaphras of Colossae had "shown him the love in the Spirit" that was felt towards him even by those in this region who had never seen him in the Colossians 1:8. The tender heart of the apostle is touched by this assurance. So he sends Tychicus to visit as many of the Asian Churches as he may be able to reach, bringing news that will cheer their hearts and relieve their discouragement. Ephesians 3:13 The note sent at this time to Philemon indicates the hopeful tidings that Tychicus was able to convey to Paul's friends in the East: "I trust that through your prayers I shall be given to you". Philemon 1:22 To the Philippians he writes, perhaps a little later, in the same strain: "I trust in the Lord that I myself shall come shortly". Philippians 2:24 He anticipates, with some confidence, his speedy acquittal and release: it is not likely that this expectation, on the part of such a man as St. Paul, was disappointed. The good news went round the Asian and Macedonian Churches: "Paul is likely soon to be free, and we shall see and hear him again!"
In the parallel epistle he writes, "that you may know"; Colossians 4:8 here it is, "that you also may know my affairs." The added word is significant. The writer is imagining his letter read in the various assemblies which it will reach. He has the other epistle in his mind, and remembering that he there introduced Tychicus in similar terms, he says to this wider circle of Asian disciples: "That you also, as well as the Churches of the Lycus valley, may know how things are with me, I send Tychicus to give you a full report." It is not necessary, however, to look beyond the last two verses for the reference of the also of Ephesians 6:21: "I have asked your prayers on my behalf; and I wish you in turn to know how things go with me." Possibly, there were some matters connected with St. Paul's trial at Rome that could not be fitly or safely communicated by letter. Hence he adds: "He shall make known unto you all things." When he writes "that ye may know my affairs, how I do," we gather that Tychicus was to communicate to those he visited everything about the beloved apostle that would be of interest to his Asian brethren.
The apostle commends Tychicus in language identical in the two letters, except that in Colossians "fellow-servant" is added to the honourable designations of "beloved brother and faithful minister," under which he is here introduced. We find him first associated with St. Paul in Acts 20:4, where "Tychicus and Trophimus" represent Asia in the number of those who accompanied the apostle on his voyage to Jerusalem, when he carried the contributions of his Gentile Churches to the relief of the Christian poor in Jerusalem. Trophimus, his companion, is called a "Greek" and an "Ephesian". Acts 21:28-29 Whether Tychicus belonged to the same city or not, we cannot tell. He was almost certainly a Greek. The Pastoral epistles show Tychicus still in the apostle's service in his last years. He appears to have joined St. Paul's staff and remained with him from the time that he accompanied him to Jerusalem in the year 59. From 2 Timothy 4:9-12 we gather that Tychicus was sent to Ephesus to relieve Timothy, when St. Paul desired the presence of the latter at Rome. It is evident that he was a man greatly valued by the apostle and endeared to him. Tychicus was well known in the Asian Churches, and suitable therefore to be sent upon this errand. And the commendation given to him would be very welcome to the circle to which he belonged. The apostle has great tact in these personal matters, the tact which belongs to delicate feeling and a generous mind. He calls his messenger "the beloved brother" in his relation to the Church in general, and "faithful minister in the Lord" in his special relation to himself. So he describes Epaphroditus to the Philippians as "your apostle and minister of my need." In conveying these letters and messages, this worthy man was Paul's apostle and minister of his need in regard to the Asian Churches. He is a "minister in the Lord, " inasmuch as this office lies within the range of his service to the Lord Christ.
We observe that in writing to the Colossians the apostle applies to Onesimus, the converted slave, the honourable epithets applied here to this long-tried friend: "the faithful and beloved brother" Colossians 4:9 -Every Christian believer should be in the eyes of his fellows a "beloved brother." And every true servant of Christ and His people is a "faithful minister in the Lord," be his rank high or low, and whether official hands have been laid upon his head or not. We are apt, by a trick of words, to limit to the order which we suitably call "the ministry" expressions that the New Testament applies to the common ministry of Christ's saints. comp. Colossians 4:12 This devoted servant of Christ is employed just now as a newsman and letter-carrier. But what a high responsibility it was, to be the bearer to the Asian cities, and to the Church for all time, of the epistles of Paul the apostle to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Had Tychicus been careless or dishonest, had he lost these precious documents or tampered with them, how great the loss to mankind! We cannot read them without feeling our debt to this beloved brother and faithful servant of the Church. Those who travel upon Christ's business, who link distant communities to each other and convey from one to another the Holy Spirit's fellowship and grace, are "the messengers of the Churches and the glory of Christ". 2 Corinthians 8:23