Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
Thanks to God for His Sovereign Grace and Mercy
Ephesians 1:3–12. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
IN our progress through the Holy Scriptures, we are necessitated to investigate, in its turn, every doctrine of our holy religion. There are indeed some doctrines which appear to be almost wholly proscribed: but we do not conceive ourselves at liberty to pass over any part of the sacred records as improper for discussion, provided we enter into it with the humility and modesty that become us. It is undeniable that the Apostles mention occasionally, and without the smallest appearance of hesitation, the doctrines of predestination and election: and therefore we are bound to explore the meaning of the inspired writers in reference to these passages, as well as to any others. We are aware that great difficulties attend the explanation of these doctrines; (though certainly not greater than attend the denial of them:) and we are aware also, that they are open to abuse: but there is no doctrine which has not its difficulties; nor any which has not been abused: and, that we may not be supposed to entertain an undue partiality for these obnoxious tenets, or to wish to establish them on inadequate grounds, we have selected a large portion of Scripture which cannot easily be perverted; and which is indeed so plain, that it speaks for itself. We shall be careful also to bring them forward precisely in the way in which they are declared by the Apostles themselves, that is, not in a speculative and controversial way, but in a practical manner, as incentives to holy gratitude and obedience.
Paul, under a deep sense of the mercies given to himself and to the whole Church at Ephesus, breaks forth into the most devout acknowledgments to that God from whom they had flowed, and to whom all possible thanks and praise were due.
In considering his words, we shall show,
I. What are those blessings which we have received from our God.
"He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings."
The Ephesian Church, though chiefly composed of Gentiles,) consisted in part of Jews also. And, though it is possible there might be some hypocrites there, as well as in other Churches, Paul does not stop to make distinctions of that kind, but speaks of them all in the judgment of charity, as real Christians, and partakers of all the blessings which by their profession they were supposed to possess. As believers, they had been blessed with "spiritual blessings in heavenly things," widely different from those which were possessed by any "natural man," and from those which the earthly and carnal Jews expected their Messiah to bestow. Of these, some of the principal are here enumerated.
God has adopted us into his family—dealt with us as children—and given to us the inheritance of children.
Once the believer was "afar off" from God, being an "alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world," but by an act of rich mercy and grace he has been adopted by God, and made to stand in the relation to him of a child to a father. Though he neither has anything, nor ever can have anything, that can recommend him to God, yet "is he accepted" to the Divine favor, having all his past iniquities "forgiven," and his soul washed from all its stains, in "the Redeemer's blood." Being thus brought into the nearest relation to God, he is treated, "not as a servant, who knows not what his lord does; but as a son," who may fitly be made acquainted with all his Father's will. To him is that stupendous mystery made known, that, in the time appointed of the Father, the whole intelligent creation of men and angels, who were once of one family, but were separated by the fall of man, shall be brought once more under the same Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who at first created them, and to whom originally they paid all due allegiance. As to men, there should be no difference between them in this respect: the common Father of all would equally receive all, whether Jews or Gentiles, and incorporate them all into one body, who should equally and without any distinction be partakers of his grace, and heirs of his glory. For all of them without exception, provided only they believe in him, he has provided an inheritance, to which, on the instant that they believe in him, they become entitled, and which, after the period fixed for their abode on earth, they shall possess to all eternity.
These spiritual blessings are given to us "in Christ."
All of them without exception are the purchase of his blood, the fruit of his intercession, and the gifts of his grace. They are all treasured up in him; and when He is given to us, they are made over to us, as the ore in the mine. They were all given to Him, in the first instance, as our head and representative, and can be possessed by us only as we are found in him. Are we chosen? it is "in him." Are we predestined to the adoption of children? it is "in him.") Are we accepted? it is "in him." Are we forgiven? it is "in him." Are we brought into one body? it is "in him." Have we obtained an inheritance? it is "in him." Are we "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, as the earnest of that inheritance?" it is "in him." Are we blessed with all spiritual blessings? it is "in him," and in him alone. O that we were more sensible of our obligations to Christ in reference to these things! Is it not surprising, that any one can read the passage before us, and overlook Christ, who throughout the whole of it is represented as the "All in all?" Let this be borne in mind: that, while all is traced to the Father as the original source, all must be referred to Christ as the procuring cause, and be received from Christ as the fountain-head: and it is only by receiving Christ himself that we can ever partake of any one of his benefits.
Having noticed the benefits given to us in Christ, we proceed to show,
II. In what way he has communicated them to us.
On this depends, in a great measure, the debt of gratitude we owe him. If in the bestowment of them he has been forestalled by earnest solicitations on our part, and been prevailed upon only by the great and meritorious services which we have rendered to him, then, though we have reason to bless him, we have also reason to bless ourselves, and may justly claim for ourselves some part of the honor of our own salvation. But he has communicated these blessings to us,
1. In a way of sovereignty.
He is a Sovereign; and it is only of his own will and pleasure that he has formed any creature whatever. We feel his sovereignty in this respect. Let any man ask himself, 'Why was I created at all? Why formed a man, and not a beast? Why was I born of Christian, and not of heathen, parents? Why under the meridian splendor of Gospel light, and not in the darker ages of the Church? Why was I preserved in life, while millions have closed their eyes upon this world as soon as they were brought into it? Why was I endued with intelligence, while so many are in a state of idiocy, and devoid of reason?' To all such questions there is but one answer; "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight." And this is the true answer that must be given to all inquiries respecting the spiritual blessings which he has bestowed upon us: they are all the fruit of his free and sovereign grace: "He has chosen us from before the foundation of the world," and "predestined us to the enjoyment of them." He has done this purely "of his own will and pleasure," and in doing it, he has consulted nothing but his own glory: it has been "according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace." Yet, while his predestination of us is the result of "his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself," and can be referred to nothing but "his own purpose and grace," we are not to imagine that he is actuated by a mere arbitrary volition; for it is a volition founded in "counsel," though the reasons by which he is actuated are unknown to us. Were this doctrine dependent only on a single expression, we should speak of it with the more diffidence: but, in the passage before us, it is as the warp, which pervades the whole piece: it cannot, like the woof, be separated, and made to give way to some more palatable sentiment: it is impossible for any man to read the passage with an unprejudiced mind, and not to acknowledge, that this is its obvious import; and that nothing but the most determined efforts of ingenious and labored criticism can extract from it any other meaning.
2. In a way of holiness.
One ground on which many object to the doctrines of election and predestination is, that these doctrines are hostile to the interests of morality. But for such an objection there is no real foundation. On the contrary, they are the greatest security of a life of holiness, seeing that they have insured to us the attainment of holiness as a preparation for the ultimate possession of glory. God, we are told, has "chosen us," but to what has he chosen us? to salvation independent of holiness? No; but to salvation in the way of holiness: He has chosen us, "that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love." Here it deserves particular attention, that God has not chosen us because we were holy, or because he foresaw we should become holy, but in order that we might be holy: he has chosen us to holiness as the means, as well as to glory as the end. He has ordained both the means and the end; and the end solely by the means. Hence, wherever election and predestination are spoken of, they are spoken of in this view, as having respect to holiness, and as assuring to us the attainment of holiness: God has chosen us "through sanctification of the Spirit, as well as through the belief of the truth," and has "predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son."
Let this be duly considered, and it will remove the greatest obstruction in our minds to the reception of these deep mysterious truths. When once we see, that they secure infallibly the attainment of holiness in the way to glory, and that no man is entitled to think himself one of God's elect, any farther than the holiness of his life bears testimony to him, we shall soon renounce our prejudices, and willingly concede to sovereign grace the whole glory of our salvation.
3. In a way of wisdom and prudence.
Truly this great salvation is the most stupendous effort both of wisdom and prudence; of wisdom, in its contrivance, and of prudence, in its administration. How wonderfully does it mark God's indignation against sin, even at the moment that it extends mercy to the sinner; since it shows the sinner, and constrains him to acknowledge, that, if the wrath due to him had not been borne by his Surety, he never could have been saved at all. It shows him farther, that in this way of salvation through the sacrifice of the Son of God, all the Divine perfections are glorified; insomuch that, while the claims of justice and mercy appear to oppose each other, they so harmonize together, that justice is exercised in a way of mercy, and mercy in a way of justice. Further, in this way of salvation the soul of the believer is so penetrated with wonder and with love, that he cannot but yield himself up unreservedly to God, and count a thousand lives too little to consecrate to his service, or to sacrifice for his glory. Nor is there less of prudence in the administration of it, than there is of wisdom in its contrivance: for, notwithstanding it is dispensed in a sovereign way altogether according to God's good pleasure, he never interferes with the liberty of the human will, nor ever draws any one but by "the cords of a man." It is by presenting truth to the mind, and motives to the heart, that he overcomes men, and "makes them willing in the day of his power." Infinitely various are the ways in which he dispenses his blessings: and even at this time his people are able to see most unsearchable wisdom in the way in which he has dealt with them, so as to make them see in the clearest light the extent of their obligations to him, and to furnish them with songs of praise, which each is ready to think he shall sing the loudest of any in the kingdom of Heaven. Moreover, so infallible are the means he uses, that he never failed in any one instance to accomplish in any soul the purposes of his grace, or to carry on and perfect the work he had begun. Well then may it he said, in reference to "the riches of his grace" which he has dispensed to us, that "he has abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence."
1. Those who are not able to receive these mysterious truths.
We are far from thinking that the doctrines of election and predestination are of primary and fundamental importance. We well know that many eminently pious persons have not been able to receive them: and we have no doubt but that a person may serve God most acceptably, though he should not have an insight into these mysterious truths. We only ask, that you will be content to wave them for the present, and not set yourselves against them, as too many are apt to do. If you have not a preparation of mind for the reception of them, you will only perplex yourselves by dwelling upon them, and give advantage to Satan to distress your minds. Be content to receive for the present the fundamental doctrines of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and seek to experience them in their full extent. Contemplate the blessings with which God the Father has blessed you through the mediation of his Son; and ever bear in mind, that you are indebted for them all to the Father, as the original source of all; to the Son, as procuring them for you by the virtue of his death; and to the Holy Spirit, as the great agent by whom they are communicated to your souls. Enjoy them in this view, and bless God for them in this view, and "what else you know not now, you shall know hereafter."
2. Those who have embraced them, and found delight in them.
Enjoy them for yourselves; but do not unnecessarily obtrude them upon others. Give milk to babes, and strong meat to those only who are of age to digest it. Be careful too that you do not in any respect abuse them, as the habit of too many is. The decrees of God do not supersede the necessity of fear and watchfulness on your part. The hour that you begin to relax your diligence, from an idea that God will carry on his work in you at all events, you provoke God to abandon you to yourselves, and to give you up to the delusions of your own hearts. It is by your lives only that you can know your election of God: and if you are not making advancement in holiness, you have no reason whatever to hope that you shall ever attain to glory; seeing it is by the means only that you can ever attain the end. If you would make a legitimate improvement of these doctrines, use them as means of exciting the deeper gratitude to God. Trace up to God's electing love and predestinating grace every blessing you either enjoy or hope for: and get your hearts more in unison with that of the Apostle, when he burst forth into that song of praise, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ!" Then shall you find that these truths, which are a stumbling-block to many, shall to you be as marrow and fatness to your souls.
The Wisdom of God in Redemption
Ephesians 1:7, 8. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.
IN no part of the inspired volume are the wonders of redemption more fully opened, than in the passage before us. The pardon of sin, adoption into God's family, and a participation of eternal glory, are all distinctly specified as blessings which under the Gospel we enjoy: and all are traced to Christ as the procuring cause, and to the Father as the prime source, from the riches of whose grace they flow, and to the praise of whose glory they are all ordained—But as the subject would be endless if we entered into it in this general view, we shall limit our observations to the words which we have just read, and notice from them,
I. The substance of the Gospel.
"In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." Here notice,
1. What is implied in this declaration.
It is here supposed that we are in a state of bondage to sin and Satan, and under guilt and condemnation on account of sin. And this but too justly describes the condition of every child of man. We are in a state of bondage to sin and Satan—And we are under guilt and condemnation on account of sin—We cannot more truly mark the state of man, than by comparing it with that of the fallen angels. They fell; and for their sins were cast out of Heaven, and consigned over to merited punishment in Hell, where they are "reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day. "The difference between them and us is this: they are actually suffering the punishment of their sins; we are respited for a season: they are irremediably doomed to perdition; for us a remedy is provided, so that we may yet have redemption and forgiveness, if we seek it in God's appointed way.
Labor, I pray you, to realize this idea in your minds: for it is only by apprehending justly your condition without the Gospel, that you can be prepared for a participation of its blessings.
2. What is expressed.
"Redemption" is provided for us, and "forgiveness" is offered to us, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and "through the blood" of his cross. The Lord Jesus Christ has, by his own obedience unto death, "obtained eternal redemption for us," having suffered in his own person all that was due to our sins, and having so fulfilled the law in our stead, as to bring in an everlasting righteousness, whereby we may be justified. In Him are these blessings treasured up for us, and "out of his fullness may be received by us." By believing in him, we become interested in all that he has done and suffered for us, and attain the actual possession of the blessings he has purchased for us.
This is, in few words, the sum and substance of the Gospel; as John has plainly told us; "This is the record, (the Gospel record,) that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: he who has the Son, has life; and he who has not the Son of God, has not life."
The point to which we would more particularly turn your attention, is,
II. The character of the Gospel.
It is a dispensation,
1. "Rich in grace."
All "the glorious riches of God's grace" are here displayed. Consider the means by which this redemption is procured; even by the incarnation and death of God's only-begotten Son—Consider the persons for whom it is provided: not for angels, (they are left to reap forever the bitter consequences of their sin;) but for men, who were an order of beings far inferior to them—Consider how it is that any become interested in this redemption: it is in consequence of their having been from all eternity elected and predestined to it by the sovereign and unmerited grace of God—From first to last it is all of grace; and designed of God to exhibit to the whole universe, through all ages, "the exceeding riches of his grace." Let any one compare the state of the fallen angels in the lake of fire, and of the redeemed saints that are around the throne of God, and view the wonders of grace which have been wrought in favor of the redeemed; and then he will be able in some measure to comprehend the character of the Gospel, as a dispensation of grace.
2. "Abundant in wisdom and prudence."
In order to render the salvation of man consistent with the perfections of the Deity, justice must be satisfied, and truth be kept inviolate, by the punishment of sin. But if sin be punished, how could the sinner be saved? This was a problem which not all the angels in Heaven could solve. But God, by sending his own Son to be our substitute and surety, has removed the difficulty. Sin has been punished to the full in him: and the law, both in its penalties and requirements, has been fulfilled in him: so that mercy may flow down to us in perfect consistency both with law and justice; and "God may be just, and yet the justifier" of sinful man—Indeed the law is the more magnified, in having executed its sentence against a person of such infinite dignity; and mercy is the more exalted, in being exercised at such a cost as the blood of God's co-equal, co-eternal Son—Here is indeed "the wisdom of God in a mystery," and well may Christ be called in this view, "The wisdom of God, and the power of God."
1. Seek to appreciate this blessed Gospel.
We are grievously negligent in relation to this matter. Men will labor with indefatigable industry to comprehend the laws of nature; but are shamefully remiss in exploring the mysteries of grace, which are revealed to us in the Gospel—Let your minds be intent on this subject, which can never be adequately comprehended, either by men or angels.
2. Labor to adorn it.
Let the character of the Gospel be exemplified in you. Is it full of grace? Be full of praise and thanksgiving; ever cleaving to him by whom your redemption has been wrought, and adoring him by whom the Savior himself was sent into the world—And is it full of wisdom? Do you show how harmoniously every grace may be exercised by you; and how perfectly all the attributes of the Deity, as far as they can be communicated to so frail a creature, may be transferred to, and illustrated by, his redeemed people.
The Sealing of the Spirit
Ephesians 1:13, 14. In whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
THE blessings which we receive through Christ are innumerable. Many are mentioned in the preceding part of this chapter. One of the last and greatest blessings which we receive in this life, is the sealing of the Holy Spirit. This was given to many of the saints at Ephesus.
We shall show,
I. What the sealing of the Spirit is.
The metaphor of sealing conveys no inadequate idea of the Spirit's operations.
A seal stamps its own image on the wax that is impressed by it; and marks the thing sealed to be the property of him that sealed it: and the Holy Spirit forms all the lineaments of the Divine image on the soul that is sealed by him; and shows that it belongs to God.
But the text itself affords us the best explanation of this term.
The future inheritance of the saints consists in a perfect conformity to God's image, and a perfect enjoyment of his love. The sealing of the Spirit is an "earnest of that inheritance," or, in other words, a part of that inheritance already given to the soul, and a pledge that the remainder shall in due time be given to it. This gift of the Spirit is to be continued to the church until the final consummation of all things. The experience of individuals may vary with respect to it; but there shall always be some in the Church who possess and enjoy it.
We are also informed respecting,
II. The manner in which it is effected.
The agent is none other than the Holy Spirit.
It is not in man's power to sanctify his own soul: nor can any one assure himself that he is the Lord's. To impart these blessings is the prerogative of God alone.
The subjects of this work are true believers.
An unbeliever cannot possibly be sealed; because the Holy Spirit would never mark those as God's property, who do not really belong to him: nor are persons usually sealed on their first believing in Christ. This higher state of sanctification and assurance is reserved for those, who, "after having believed," have maintained a close walk with God. They must first be "in Christ," and then for Christ's sake this benefit shall be given unto them.
The means by which it is effected, are the promises.
We do not presume to limit the Spirit's operations; but his usual method of sealing is by applying the "promises" to the soul. Of themselves, the promises can accomplish nothing; but, through his divine power, they have a comforting and transforming efficacy.
The Apostle further specifies,
III. Its proper tendency and operation.
The sealing of the Spirit will never elate a man with pride.
It may seem indeed that such distinguishing mercies would puff us up; but their invariable effect is to humble those who receive them. All the saints of old abased themselves in proportion as they were favored of God. Nor can there be any stronger evidence that a work is not of God, than its producing a contrary effect upon us.
It is intended solely to honor and glorify God.
Every work of grace should lead the mind to God as the author of it; and the more exalted the mercy, the more powerful should this effect be. Now this, above all, administers to us the greatest cause of thankfulness, and will certainly incline us to love and serve him from whom it has been derived.
1. To those who are ignorant of this sublime subject.
To many, alas! the sealing of the Spirit is mere foolishness; but those who account it so, "speak evil of things that they understand not." Let us seek to experience it ourselves, instead of censuring those who do.
2. To those who desire to be sealed.
God is willing to bestow this blessing on all who seek it. If we possess it not, we should inquire what there is in us which has occasioned God to withhold it from us. We should beg of God to take away from us that hardness of heart which incapacitates us for it, and should live more on the promises, that by them it may be imparted to our souls.
3. To those who are sealed.
What a mercy is it, that you, who might long since have been sealed for condemnation, have, according to the good pleasure of God, been sealed for Heaven! Be thankful to God for this unspeakable gift: be careful too that you grieve not him by whom you have been sealed; but improve the promises yet further for your progressive advancement in true holiness.
The Spirit's Influences as a Spirit of Wisdom
Ephesians 1:15–20. Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.
WE are told by our blessed Lord, that however great the pains of parturition may be, a woman remembers no more her anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. Yet if the mother, watching the child from month to month, should see no growth in his bodily stature, nor any improvement in his intellectual Faculties, her joy would soon be turned into grief, and she would account the death of the child a greater blessing than its birth. Somewhat similar to these are the feelings of a minister towards those who have been born to God through his ministrations. Like "the angels in Heaven, he rejoices over every sinner that is brought to repentance," but if his subsequent care and labor be attended with no benefit to his converts, he will feel much pain and sorrow on their account: he will "travail, as it were, in birth a second time, until he see Christ completely formed in them." To see them walking in the truth, is the one object of his desire, and the summit of his joy: and it is only when they stand fast in the faith, that he has a real enjoyment of his life. How full of complaints was the Apostle Paul, when the people to whom he had ministered did not make their profiting to appear. On the contrary, he quite exulted when he heard of their growth in faith and loved. But in nothing did he show his anxiety for their welfare more, than in his unwearied intercessions in their behalf.
The prayer which he offered for the Church at Ephesus, evinces clearly,
I. That the Spirit, as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, may be obtained by all.
What was sought on behalf of all the Christians at Ephesus, may certainly be expected by Christians in every age and place.
1. We need the Spirit as much as they did in the Apostles' days.
If we are unconverted, our eyes are blind, our souls are dead, yes we are incapable of receiving or knowing the things of the Spirit, because we have not that spiritual discernment, whereby alone they can be discerned—If we are converted, still we are in need of fresh supplies of the Spirit, as much as the Ephesian converts were. It is "by the Spirit only that we can know the things which have been freely given to us of God." The Apostles not only had been converted, but had enjoyed the public and private instructions of their Divine Master for nearly four years: yet after his resurrection he "opened their understandings to understand the Scriptures," and on the day of Pentecost gave them his Spirit in a more abundant measure, "to guide them into all truth." It is by repeated communications of the same Spirit that we also are to obtain a deeper insight into the things of God. We find oftentimes, even after we have been enlightened, that the written word is only to us as "a dead letter;" and that unless the Spirit shine upon it, we learn no more from it than from a dial when the sun is hid behind a cloud.
If then we need the Spirit as much as they did of old, we may expect it as well as they.
2. The promises relating to the communications of the Spirit, are made to us, as much as to any persons whatever.
Those of the Old Testament extend to the Church in every age. Shall we confine to the apostolic age such declarations as those; "Turn you at my reproof, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you," "All your children shall be taught of the Lord," "This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them," "I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes?" To deny our interest in such passages as these, were to rob us of half the Scriptures.
And what shall we say to the promises of the New Testament? Shall we limit those also to the Apostles' days? Hear what our Lord says; "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him?" "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink; and out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water: This spoke he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive." "I will send you another Comforter, who shall abide with you forever." Hear what his Apostles also say: "Believe on Christ for the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit: for the promise is to you, and to your children, and to as many as are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of hist."
Language has neither force nor certainty, if such declarations as these be not to be applied to us.
3. In the Liturgy of our Church we pray continually for the communications of the Spirit to our souls.
If we do not intend to mock God in our supplications, we must not only acknowledge our need of the Spirit's influence, but we must really feel it every time that we join in our public services.
But, to prevent misapprehension, we shall proceed to state distinctly,
II. What discoveries the Spirit will make to our souls.
This is certain, that no new revelation is to be expected by us: the canon of Scripture is closed: and if any man pretend to new revelations, let him con-firm his pretensions, by clear and undoubted miracles; or else let him be rejected as an enthusiast and deceiver. The Spirit now enlightens men only by shining upon the written word, and opening their understandings to understand it. But in this way he will make wonderful discoveries to the soul. He will give us just views,
1. Of God himself.
Somewhat of God may be known from books, without any supernatural aid: but the knowledge gained in that way will be merely theoretical; it will have no suitable influence upon the heart and life. But the very same truths, when applied by the Spirit to the soul, make a deep impression on the mind; they fill it with wonder and with love; and constrain the enraptured soul to exclaim, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you!" How precious does Christ appear at such seasons! how "unsearchable the length and breadth and depth and height of his incomprehensible love!" These are the manifestations of himself which our blessed Lord promised to his Church; and without which we cannot know aright either him or his Father.
Let us pray then for "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, in, and for, the knowledge of him."
2. Of the hope to which he has called us.
How low are our apprehensions of the Christian's portion, when no particular revelation of it is made to the soul! We can speak of pardon and acceptance, of grace and glory; but we speak of them with no more feeling than if they were mere fictions. But O what a "gloriously rich inheritance" does ours appear, when our eyes are opened by the Spirit to behold it! One Pisgah-view of the promised land, how does it transport the soul to Heaven, and make us long to be dissolved, that we may be with Christ! As for the inheritances of princes, they then appear as worthless as the toys that amuse a child. The realities of the eternal world surpass all sublunary things, as the splendor of the sun exceeds the glimmering of a taper. "These things, which no carnal eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived, these things, I say, God now reveals to us by his Spirit;" yes, he gives us an earnest of them in our hearts.
3. Of the work he has wrought in us.
We are apt to undervalue the work that is already wrought in us, because so much remains to be done. But when God shines upon his own work, we entertain very different thoughts respecting it. It is no light matter then in our eyes to have been quickened from the dead, and "created anew in Christ Jesus." It seems no less a work than that which was "wrought for Christ, when God raised him from the dead," and "set him at his own right hand, above all the principalities and powers," whether of Heaven or Hell. We were dead and buried; and Satan set, as it were, the stone, the seal, the watch, to keep us securely under the power of the grave. But our God came "by the mighty working of his power." and made us triumphant over all the powers of darkness, and still "always causes us to triumph in Christ." Truly the believer, when he views these things, is a wonder to himself: he is a burning bush, a captive ruling over his oppressors, a worm threshing the mountains.
1. Let us seek to attain the Christian's character.
The Ephesians were already Christians: they possessed the two distinctive marks of the Christian character, "faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and love unto all the saints." These marks we must possess. It is in vain to hope for the higher manifestations of the Spirit, until we have received those communications which are of prime and indispensable necessity. Until these evidences of true religion appear, neither can ministers have any joy over you, nor you any scriptural hope for yourselves. Come then to Christ as perishing sinners, and cast in your lot with his people, that you may have your portion with them in a better world.
2. Let us seek to enjoy the Christian's privileges.
We would not that any of you should live below your privileges. "The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory," is willing to bestow on you the richest gifts, and to exalt you to the sublimest happiness. He is ready to make all his glory pass before your eyes, and to proclaim in your hearing all his goodness. Though he will not catch you up to Paradise, as he did the Apostle Paul, or make the heavens open to you, as he did to the dying Stephen, yet will he shine into your hearts, to give you light and knowledge, of which you have at present scarcely any conception. Seek then these sublime attainments, which will at once enhance your present happiness, and increase your fitness for your heavenly inheritance.
Christ the Head of the Church
Ephesians 1:20–23. He raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.
LITTLE do men imagine what power is necessary to effect the salvation of their souls. They are ready to suppose that they can repent, and turn to God, of themselves, by the force of their own resolutions. But the creation itself was not more the product of a Divine power, than the new creation is in the souls of men. Yes, if we can conceive that any one thing needs a greater exertion of omnipotence than another, it is this. The Apostle strongly expresses this idea in the passage before us. He is praying for the Ephesian converts, that they may have just and adequate notions of the power that has been exercised towards them, in bringing them to their present state. Overwhelmed, as it were, with the thought, he accumulates all the most forcible terms that language could afford him, in order to convey some faint idea of the subject: and then he illustrates the point by the most stupendous effort of omnipotence that ever was exhibited since the foundation of the world; namely, by the raising of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and the investing of him with all power, both in Heaven and earth.
In contemplating this work of omnipotence, the exaltation of Christ upon his Father's throne, we shall fix our attention upon two things:
I. His supremacy above all creatures.
The death, the resurrection, and the ascension of our Lord Jesus, we pass over in silence. It is not the act of our Savior's elevation, but the state to which he is elevated, which we propose for your present consideration. This includes,
1. A state of dignity.
"The right hand of God" is a metaphorical expression for the place of the highest dignity and glory in the heavenly world. There Jesus sits, exalted "far above all" creatures in earth, in Hell, or in Heaven. The phrase, "principalities and powers," is applied in Scripture to men, to devils, and to the holy angels. And the Apostle evidently intended to comprehend them all, because he specified yet further "every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." Now it should seem, that as, on earth, there are different ranks and orders of magistrates, from the king, who is supreme, to those who exercise the most limited jurisdiction, so there is a gradation of beings both in Heaven and Hell. We read of Michael, the archangel; and of Beelzebub, the prince of the devils; and to them we ascribe a pre-eminence among their fellows. But however exalted any creature may be, Jesus Christ is raised "far above" him. The luster of the whole universe, in comparison of his, would be only like that of the twinkling stars before the meridian sun; they may have a splendor in his absence; but before him they are constrained to hide their inglorious heads: they are eclipsed, they vanish at his presence. If he but suffer one ray of his majesty to appear, men fall, as dead, at his feet; devils tremble; and "angels worship him" with profoundest adoration.
2. A state of power.
While Jesus yet hanged upon the cross, "he spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them openly in it." From that time "all things were put under his feet;" and more especially from the moment that he was seated on his mediatorial throne. It is true that "we see not yet (as the Apostle says) all things put under him." But though they are not visibly, they are in fact. All his enemies are like the live kings of Canaan, when Joshua and all the elders of Israel put their feet upon their necks. They are living indeed; but their power is broken: and they are doomed to a speedy and ignominious death. Devils are more aware of this than men: when they saw Jesus in the days of his flesh, they asked, "Are you come to torment us before our time?" Still however they combine with men, and stimulate them to oppose his will. But when they are consulting together, saying, "Let us break his bands asunder, and cast away his cords from us," he "laughs them to scorn, and has them in derision." He suffers them to accomplish their own will, as far as it may subserve his purposes; and "the remainder of their wrath he restrains." Full of pride and blasphemy, they boast what great things they will do: but "he puts his hook in their nose, and his bridle in their jaws," and in a moment brings all their boasted projects to an end. Whatever they may effect, they are his instruments, to "do what his hand, and his counsel, had determined before to be done." In all things "his counsel stands, and he does all his pleasure."
By means of this supremacy, he is enabled to carry on,
II. His government of his Church.
In investing his Son with "all power in Heaven and in earth," God had especial respect to the welfare of his Church. He constituted his Son,
1. The Head of the Church.
The Church is called "his body," and "his fullness." The body, we know, consists of many members: and it is the whole aggregate of members that constitutes the body: and the body, joined to the head, forms the complete man. This is the precise idea in the text. Every believer is a member of Christ: the whole collective number of believers form his entire body: and, by their union with him, Christ himself is represented as complete. The body would not be complete, if any member were wanting; nor is the Head complete without the body: but the body united to the Head is "the fullness," the completion of Christ himself.
The head however exercises a control over the whole body. As being the residence of the soul, it may be said to actuate all the members: it moves in the limbs, sees in the eyes, hears in the ears, speaks in the tongue, and imparts a vital energy to the whole. Thus does Christ "fill all in all." There is not a member of his mystical body which does not derive all his strength from him. From him the understanding receives its comprehension; the will, its activity; the affections, their power. It is by him that we live; or rather, as the Apostle speaks, "he is our life." In all persons, there is the same absolute dependence on him: "in all" circumstances, his agency is wanted: (It is as much wanted to produce a good thought, as to carry it into execution.) "In all" ages, he is equally the true and only source of good to man. None in any place or period of the world have anything which they did not first "receive out of his fullness," so true is it, in the strongest sense of the words, that "he fills all in all." Thus is Christ, in his present exalted state, the living, and life-giving Head of all his Church, his Church militant, and his Church triumphant.
2. The Head over all things for his Church's good.
In the management of the universe, Jesus consults the best interests of his Church. If he permit evil to befall his people, it is with a view to their deeper humiliation. If, on the contrary, he fill them with peace and joy, it is for the purpose of quickening them to more Holy ardor in his ways. Nothing is further from the intention of their enemies than to do them good: but they are all under his control; and when they desire nothing so much as to frustrate his purposes, they ignorantly and unwittingly fulfill them. As, in his own case, the envy of the priests, the treachery of Judas, the cowardice of Pilate, and the blind fury of the populace, conspired to bring him to that death, which was to fulfill the Scriptures and to redeem the world, and which was of necessity to precede his exaltation to glory; so every creature, whatever be its aim, is executing his gracious purposes with respect to his Church, and is doing that very thing, which every member of the Church, if he could foresee the final issue of events, would actually wish to be done.
We may learn from hence,
1. Our duty towards him.
Is he the supreme Governor of the universe? then we should obey his voice—and submit to his will—and seek in all things his glory. Is he in a more especial manner our Head? then we should look to him for direction, and depend on him for everything we may stand in need of.
2. Our security in him.
Who shall overcome him, when "all things are under his feet?" or, "Who shall pluck us out of his hands," provided we belong to him? We may, with Paul, defy all the principalities and powers both of earth and Hell. Neither the Church at large, nor the smallest member of it, has anything to fear. "If he be for us, none can be successfully against us."
3. Our happiness through him.
The principal subject of the Apostle's prayer is, that we may know what mighty power God exercises towards his believing people. The exaltation of Christ is introduced by him quite incidentally, and merely for the purpose of illustrating his main point. But, having introduced the subject, he draws a parallel between the believer's exaltation, and that of Christ. Behold then the Lord Jesus raised from the dead, and seated at his Father's right hand, far above all principalities and powers: such is the honor, and such the happiness, that is imparted to the believing soul: and even that which he now enjoys, is but a shadow of what he will enjoy to all eternity. Believer, let your expectations be enlarged: the felicity of the Head is the felicity prepared for the members: "Such honor have all his saints."
Original Sin Stated, and Improved
Ephesians 2:3. And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
AMONG the many beautiful traits which mark the character of Paul, we cannot but notice particularly his readiness to place himself on a level with the least and lowest of mankind, and to confess his obligations to the sovereign grace of God for all the difference that had been made between him and others. In his Epistle to Titus he gives such a representation of himself and his fellow-Apostles in their unconverted state, as was most humiliating to them, while it afforded rich encouragement to all who felt the plague of their own hearts. In like manner, in the epistle before us, after showing that the Gentile world had been altogether in a state of bondage to sin and Satan, he declares, that he himself, and all others without exception, had in fact been in a condition no less deplorable, both by nature and practice—by practice having habitually fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and being "by nature children of wrath, even as others."
That we may fully enter into the confession which he here makes, we shall,
I. Explain the terms here used.
We may notice them,
As in the preceding verse the words "children of disobedience" mean "disobedient children," so, in our text, "children of wrath" must be understood as importing "children doomed to wrath," just as a similar expression of Peter is actually translated: what in the Greek is "sons of a curse," is in our translation "cursed children." It is a Hebraism, common throughout all the inspired writings.
Such, we are told, is the state of all "by nature." Those who are adverse to the doctrine of original sin, would interpret these words as importing, that men were in this state "by habit or custom," but the words cannot with any propriety be so construed: the only true and proper sense of them is that which our translators have here assigned to them.
The Apostle further says, that he and his fellow-Apostles were in this state, "even as others." The Jews were ready enough to account the Gentiles accursed; but they thought that no curse could attach to them, because they were children of Abraham. This mistake Paul rectifies in our text, declaring, that whatever privileges the Jews might enjoy above the Gentiles, there was in this respect no difference between them; the Jews, yes the Apostles themselves, being, by nature, children of wrath, even as others.
2. Taken in their collective sense.
According to their plain and obvious and undeniable import, they declare, that every child of man, whatever be his privileges, or whatever his attainments, is by nature under the wrath of God.
All, as fallen in Adam, deserve God's wrath. Adam was the covenant-head and representative of all his descendants. Had he stood, they would have stood in him: and as he fell, they fell in him. If it be thought strange, that his posterity should be responsible for his act, let it suffice to say, that, if he fell, there can be no doubt but that we, if subjected to the same trial, should have fallen also: yes, considering all the circumstances in which he was placed, (created in the fullest possession of all his faculties, having a perfect nature, and subjected only to one single trial, and having dependent on him the welfare, not of himself alone, but of all his posterity,) it was infinitely more probable that he would stand, than that we should, who come into the world in a state of infantile weakness. But, whether we approve of it or not, so the matter is; and so it was ordained of God: and, exactly as Levi is said to have paid tithes in Abraham, (though he was not born until one hundred and fifty years after the circumstance of paying tithes occurred,) merely because he was in the loins of Abraham at the time that he paid tithes to Melchizedek, so may we be justly said to have sinned in Adam, because we were in the loins of Adam when he sinned. Hence it is declared by God himself, that, "in Adam all have sinned," and "in Adam all have died."
Moreover, all, as partakers of Adam's fallen nature, are fit for the wrath of God. Adam begat children in his own fallen likeness. Indeed, being corrupt himself, he could transmit nothing but corruption to his descendants; "for who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" Now in whoever iniquity be found, God cannot look upon it without abhorrence: and hence it is said, that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," "neither can corruption inherit incorruption."
Further, all, both as fallen in Adam, and corrupt in themselves are actually under a sentence of wrath, and actually doomed to it. This is indeed an awful truth; but it is explicitly declared by an inspired Apostle, that, "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners," yes, that "by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation."
Having endeavored to ascertain the precise import of the words, we proceed to,
II. Establish the truth contained in them.
In proof of what our text asserts, we appeal,
1. To Scripture.
Consult the declarations of Almighty God. In the Old Testament he has testified, that every human being, without exception, is corrupt, not in act only, but "in every imagination and thought of his heart." And this testimony which the heart-searching God himself bore before the flood, as a reason for destroying the earth, he renewed after the flood, as a reason why he would deluge the earth no more; seeing that, if he should proceed to destroy it as soon as it should become universally corrupt, he would have to repeat his judgments continually, there being nothing but iniquity in every child of man. In the New Testament we have a similar declaration from our blessed Lord. He, assigning a reason why no unregenerate man can possibly behold the kingdom of God, says, "That which is born of the flesh, is flesh," and therefore incapable of enjoying a spiritual kingdom.
With these declarations of God agree the confessions of his most eminent saints. To his original corruption David traced the sin which he had committed in the matter of Uriah; not intending thereby to extenuate, but rather to aggravate, its guilt: "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin has my mother conceived me." Paul also, speaking of the conflicts which he yet had to maintain against the corruption that remained within him, says, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing," "I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." Thus we see both these eminent saints confessing that their nature, as derived from their first parents, was altogether corrupt.
To these we may add the promises which God has made to his fallen creatures: "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." What can be the meaning of this? What need they a new heart, if the old heart be not corrupt? or why should he promise to take away the stony heart, if the heart be not by nature hard and obdurate?
Not to multiply passages, which yet might be multiplied to a great extent, we will further appeal,
2. To experience.
Let any one make his observations on what passes all around him, or trace the records of his own heart, and say, whether children, as born into the world, be not partakers both of Adam's corruption, and Adam's punishment.
Is not every child full of evil tempers and dispositions? There is, it is true, more evil in some than in others: but who ever saw "a child in whose heart folly and iniquity were not bound up?" If a child be even tolerably free from fretfulness, and impatience, and selfishness, and falsehood, is it not admired as a prodigy? And when children grow up to the exercise of reason, do they improve that reason in seeking after God? Do they not invariably show that their dispositions are altogether earthly, and that by nature they affect only the things of time and sense? Nor is this the case with children of one age or one nation only, but of every age, and every nation, yes, of the most godly parents too, as well as of the ungodly.
And, as they inherit the corruption of Adam, so do they also his guilt and punishment. Death, we know, was the penalty of Adam's transgression; "In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die." But children who have never sinned in their own persons, are subjected to death: we see little new-born infants oppressed with sickness, and racked with pain, and cut off by an untimely stroke of death. For whose sin are they thus punished? Their own? They are not capable of actual sin. It is for Adam's sin therefore that they are punished: and that indisputably proves, that they are, as they are represented in our text, "children of wrath."
We do not say that children, dying before they have committed actual sin, are consigned over to everlasting death: we hope, and believe, that God does, for Christ's sake, extend his mercy to them: but this alters not the case at all: we consider only what they are in themselves, and what they deserve at God's hands, and to what, as fallen creatures, they are doomed by God's righteous law: the relief which may be afforded them by the Gospel is not the present subject of our consideration: our present position which we are to establish, and which we think we have fully established, is, that all, as born into the world, are "children of wrath."
We will now endeavor to,
III. Suggest a suitable improvement of the subject.
Surely we may see from hence.
1. In what a deplorable condition are all they who are yet in a state of nature.
Children of wrath were they born, and children of wrath have they continued to the present hour. We know indeed how strenuously it is asserted by many, that baptism and regeneration are the same thing, and that to look for a new nature in conversion is unnecessary. But we would ask every parent here present, have you invariably found that your children, from the moment that they were baptized, put away their evil dispositions, and instantly became new creatures? Is it even generally found, that this change takes place at baptism? I might almost proceed to ask, did you ever see this change so wrought by baptism, that you could not do otherwise than refer it to baptism as the means which God made use of for that end? We do not presume to say, that God never does confer a new heart in baptism; but we say, that if that be the usual, and still more the constant, means of regeneration to the children of men, it is very extraordinary that the change wrought is so rarely visible, that, if it were undeniably to appear, it would be universally esteemed a miracle. The truth is, that they who are so strenuous for this opinion, have invariably but very low notions of original sin. It is their low sense of their disease that leads them to rest in such a remedy. But, as "the fault and corruption of their nature is such as deserves God's wrath and damnation," they must have a new nature given to them by the operation of the Holy Spirit: they must be renewed, not externally, or partially, but inwardly, and in all the powers of their souls: they must "be renewed in the spirit of their minds," their whole dispositions being changed from earthly and carnal to spiritual and heavenly: in a word, they must be created anew in Christ Jesus, and become altogether "new creatures, old things passing away, and all things becoming new." The change may not unfitly be compared with a river where the tide comes: one while it flows with great rapidity from the fountain-head to the ocean: a few hours afterwards it flows with equal rapidity back again towards the fountain-head: and this change is wrought by the invisible, yet undisputed, influence of the moon. In like manner does the soul of every truly regenerate man flow back towards God, from whom but lately, with all its faculties and powers, it receded: and this change is effected by the invisible, but real and undoubted, operation of the Spirit of God: and until this change is effected, we remain under the wrath of Almighty God. O consider the wrath of God: how terrible the thought! To all eternity it will be "the wrath to come." May God stir us all up to flee from it, and, in newness of heart and life, to "lay hold on eternal life!"
2. In what a happy condition are they who have been brought from a state of nature to a state of grace.
Such, while they humbly acknowledge that they "were children of wrath," may with adoring gratitude assure themselves, that they are so no longer. But let them never forget what they were, or what obligations they owe to that grace of God which has delivered them. Hear how strongly Paul inculcates this on those to whom our text was addressed: "We were by nature children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ".… "Wherefore remember," (O beloved brethren, remember,) "that at that time you were without Christ, (O, think of that!) being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were afar off are made near by the blood of Christ." Dear brethren, remember this transition; and let every syllable that records it fill your souls with gratitude to your almighty Savior and Deliverer.
3. What attention should be shown to the welfare of the rising generation.
They are "all by nature children of wrath." And should they be left in that awful state? Should no means be used to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God?
O parents, look at your dear offspring; and while fondling them in your arms, or delighting in their progress, remember what they are, and cry mightily to God for them night and day. Be not contented with their advancement in bodily strength, or intellectual power, or temporal condition; but seek above all things to behold them turning to God, and growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let all your plans for them have respect to this one point, the changing of them from children of wrath to children of the living God.
Let those also who have the care of children endeavor to get their own minds impressed with the thought, that their office is not so much to convey instruction in worldly knowledge, as to lead the souls of the children to Christ, that they may be partakers of his salvation: and let them engage in their work with hearts full of tender compassion to their scholars, and of zeal for God.
And, my dear children, let me address also a few words to you. Think me not unkind if I remind you of what you are by nature. If I speak to you as children of wrath, it is not to wound your feelings, but to stir you up to improve the opportunities that are afforded you for attaining a better and a happier state. What would you do, my dear children, if you were shut up in a house that was on fire, and a number of benevolent persons were exerting themselves to rescue you from the devouring element? would you not strive which should first be partakers of the benefit? Know then, that this is a just representation of your state: you are children of wrath, and are in danger of dwelling with everlasting burnings: and the object of your instructors is, to show you how you may flee from the wrath to come. O listen to their instructions with all possible care; treasure up in your minds all their exhortations and advice; and beg of God, that through those Scriptures which they explain to you, you may be made wise unto salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.
The Riches of Divine Grace Displayed
Ephesians 2:4–7. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ … and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
WHAT an accumulation of sublime ideas is here presented to our view! Well might the Psalmist say that the meditation of God was sweet to him. We scarcely know whether to admire more the grace of the Benefactor, or the felicity of those who participate his blessings. But the text requires us to fix our attention on that most delightful of all subjects, the riches of divine grace. The Apostle has in the preceding verses described the state of the unregenerate world. He now displays the grace of God towards the regenerate,
I. In its source.
God is "rich in mercy," and "abundant in love."
Mercy and love are, as it were, the favorite attributes of the Deity: and the exercise of these perfections is peculiarly grateful to him. There is an inexhaustible fountain of them in the heart of God: they have flowed down upon the most unworthy of the human race; and will flow undiminished to all eternity. While he retains his nature, he cannot but exercise these perfections.
These are the true sources of all the grace displayed towards fallen man.
Man had nothing in him whereby he could merit the attention of his Maker. He was fallen into the lowest state of guilt and misery: but the affections of his Creator yearned over him. God felt (if we may so speak) an irresistible impulse of compassion towards him. Hence was it that the Son of God was sent into the world: hence also were so many offers of mercy made to man; and to this alone is it owing that so much as one has ever found acceptance with God.
But, to judge how great the love was with which he loved us, we must trace it,
II. In its operations.
The grace of God has been displayed towards us in ten thousand ways; but we must confine our attention to its operations, as they are set forth in the text.
God has "quickened us even when we were dead in sins."
What is meant by "dead in sins," appears from the preceding verses. We were walking according to the course of this world; we were the willing servants of Satan; we were indulging all kinds of "filthiness, both of flesh and spirit;" we were demonstrating ourselves to be "by nature" as well as practice, "children of wrath;" and we were utterly destitute of all power to help and save ourselves. Yet even then did God look upon us in tender compassion: he quickened us by the same Spirit whereby he raised Christ from the dead. In so doing, he united us "together with Christ," and rendered us conformable to him as our Head. What an astonishing instance of divine grace was this!
He has also "raised us up, and enthroned us together with Christ in Heaven."
The Apostle had before expatiated on what God had wrought for Christ: he now draws a parallel between believers and Christ. What was done for Christ our head and representative, may be considered as done for all the members of his mystical body. In this view Christians may be considered figuratively as risen with Christ, and as already seated on his throne: their hearts, their conversation, their rest, is in Heaven. How has he thus verified the declaration of Hannah!—How has he thus discovered "the exceeding riches of his grace!"
How worthy of God such a stupendous display of grace is, we shall see if we consider it,
III. In its end.
God is not only the author, but also the end of all things; nor would it become him to do anything but with a view to his own glory. The manifestation of his own glory was the express end for which he revealed his grace, and this end is already in some measure attained.
All ages, to the end of time, must admire the grace of God towards both the Jewish and the Gentile world. Every one, who partakes of that grace, must of necessity admire it: the "exceeding riches of it" are unsearchable. God's "kindness" too is infinitely enhanced by flowing to us "through Christ Jesus." The price paid by Christ will to eternity endear to us the blessings purchased: at present, however, the design of God in revealing his grace is not fully answered.
But it will be completely answered in the day of judgment.
Then, how exceeding rich and glorious will this grace appear! Then the depth of misery, into which we were fallen, will be more fully known; the spring and source of that grace will be more clearly discovered; and all the operations will be seen in one view. Then Christ, the one channel in which it flows, will be more intimately revealed to us. How will every eye then admire, and every tongue then adore! Surely nothing but such an end could account for such operations of the Divine grace; let every one therefore seek to experience these operations in his own soul. Let those who have been favored with them glorify God with their whole hearts.
Salvation by Grace not Hostile in Good Works
Ephesians 2:8–10. By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
ALL God's works, of whatever kind they be, are designed to praise him. His works of creation proclaim his wisdom and his power: his works of providence display his goodness: his works of redemption magnify his grace. It is of these last that the Apostle is speaking in the preceding context, even of all that God has done for us in the Son of his love; and he declares that it was all done, "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus." The Gospel is too rarely viewed in this light: it is by many scarcely distinguished from the law; being considered rather as a code of laws enforced with penalties, than as an exhibition of mercies confirmed with promises. But it is as an exhibition of mercy only that we ought to view it; precisely as it is set forth in the words before us: from which we shall take occasion to show,
I. That salvation is altogether of grace.
By "salvation" I understand the whole work of grace, whether as revealed in the word, or as experienced in the soul: and it is altogether of grace:
1. It is so.
Trace it to its first origin, when the plan of it was fixed in the council of peace between the Father and the Son: Who devised it? who merited it? who desired it? It was the fruit of God's sovereign grace, and of grace alone. Trace it in all its parts—the gift of God's only-begotten Son to be our surety and our substitute; the acceptance of his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf; and the revelation of that mystery in the written word: who will arrogate to himself the honor of haying acquired these, or of having contributed to the acquisition of them in the smallest degree?
It may be thought perhaps, that, because an interest in these things is obtained by faith, we may claim some honor on account of the faith which apprehends them; which, being exercised by us, may be considered in some respects as giving us a ground of glorying before God. But this also is the gift of God, no less than the plan of salvation itself: it is not in any man by nature; nor is it to be wrought in man by any human power: it is not the effect of reasoning: for then the acutest reasoners would be the strongest believers; which is frequently far from being the case: it is solely the gift of God: and hence they who have believed, are said to "have believed through grace." It is expressly said to be given us: and when Peter declared his faith in Jesus as the true Messiah, Jesus said to him, "Flesh and blood had not revealed this truth unto you, but my Father which is in Heaven." This is the true reason why many believed the testimony of Christ and his Apostles, while others were hardened in unbelief: those "whose hearts God opened," as he did Lydia's, received the truth; while all others treated the word, either with open scorn, or secret indifference.
2. It must be so.
Salvation must either be of grace or of works: the two cannot be mixed together, or reconciled with each other: if it be of works in any degree, it is no more of grace; and in whatever degree it is of works, it so far affords us an occasion of boasting; seeing that it is then a debt paid, and not a gift bestowed.
To avoid this conclusion, some will say, that salvation may be of works, and still be also of grace; because the works being wrought in us by God, he is entitled to all the glory of them. But, granting that they are wrought in us by God, yet, inasmuch as they are our works, they afford us a ground of glorying: and, to say that they do not afford us a ground of glorying, is directly to contradict the Apostle in our text, where he says, "It is not of works, lest any man should boast." The same Apostle elsewhere says, "It is of faith, that it may be by grace," from both which passages it is evident, that, if it be of works, from whatever source those works proceed, it can no longer be by grace.
But here it may be asked, 'If works, notwithstanding they are wrought in us by God, afford us a ground of glorying in ourselves, does not faith afford us the same ground of glorying?' I answer, No, for it is of the very nature of faith to renounce all hope in ourselves, and to found our hopes solely on the merits of another: it disclaims all glorying in self, and gives all the glory to Him from whom it derives its blessings. In this it differs essentially from every other work: other works, though wrought in us by God, bring a glory to ourselves; but this, of necessity, transfers to God all the glory resulting from its exercise; and, consequently, neither does, nor can, nor desires to, arrogate anything to itself.
Thus we hope that the point is clear,—salvation is altogether of grace from first to last. The plan of salvation as originally devised, the Savior who wrought it out for us, the acceptance of his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf, and the faith whereby we are made partakers of his sacrifice, are all the gifts of free and sovereign grace: the foundation and the superstructure are wholly of grace: and, "when the headstone shall be brought forth, it must be with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it!"
If to this it be objected, that by such doctrines we subvert the very foundations of morality, we answer,
II. That, though good works are wholly excluded from all share in the office of justifying the soul, yet is the performance of them effectually secured.
Believers are "the workmanship of God" altogether, as much as the world itself is: and as the world was created by Christ Jesus, so are they "created anew in Christ Jesus." But we are "created unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them."
The concluding words of our text show us,
1. That God has ordained good works as the path wherein we are to walk.
This is an unquestionable truth: the whole of the moral law demonstrates it: every promise, every threatening in the whole Bible attests it. Not a word can be found in the whole sacred volume, that dispenses with the performance of good works: on the contrary, it is expressly said, that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." The least idea of reaching Heaven in any other path, is invariably reprobated as a most fatal delusion. The means and the end are indissolubly connected in the councils of Heaven: and to hope that they shall ever be separated, is to deceive and ruin our own souls. If we are not careful to maintain good works, we entirely counteract all the purposes of God in his Gospel, and cut ourselves off from all hope of salvation.
2. That God has prepared and fitted his people to walk in them.
He has given to his people a new nature, and infused into their souls a new and heavenly principle, by which they "have passed from death unto life." They have received from Christ "that living water, which is in them as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life." They can no more sin in the way they did before. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they move in a new direction, affecting the things of the Spirit, as formerly they affected the things of the flesh. They are created in Christ Jesus unto good works; and the impulse given them in this new creation they obey. The metaphor here used, may, if not pressed too far, illustrate the matter, and set it in a clear point of view. God, when he created the heavenly bodies, appointed them their respective paths in the regions of space. To each he gave its proper impulse, having previously fitted it for the performance of the revolutions assigned it: and in their respective orbits he has ever since upheld them, so that they all without exception fulfill the ends for which they were created. Thus in the new creation, God has appointed to all their destined course through the vast expanse of moral and religious duty. He has also, at the time of its new creation, given to each soul the impulse necessary for it, together with all the qualities and dispositions proper for the regulation of its motions according to his will: and he yet further, by his continual, though invisible, agency, preserves them in their appointed way. But further than this the metaphor must not be pressed: for the heavenly bodies have neither consciousness nor volition; but we have both: they too carry with them nothing that can cause an aberration from their destined course; whereas we have innumerable impediments, both within and without: hence they fulfill their destinies without the smallest intermission; while we, alas! deviate from the path assigned us in instances without number. Still however, in the event, the purposes of God are at last accomplished, as with them, so with us also: and, notwithstanding, in the estimation of a self-righteous Pharisee, the chief reason for performing good works is taken away, yet are they performed, and shall be performed by every one that has "received the grace of God in truth."
Observe then from hence,
1. What need we have of humility.
The pride of the human heart can never endure the doctrines of grace. So tenacious are men of everything that may give them a ground of glorying in themselves, that they will rather perish in their own righteousness, than submit to be saved by the righteousness of another? But, brethren, you must submit. God will not condescend to your terms. It is in vain to contest the matter with him: it is folly, it is madness, so to do. You know full well, that the fallen angels have no claim on God for mercy: and what have you more than they? But God, who has passed by the angels, has given a Savior to you, yes, and salvation too, if you will receive it as a gift of grace. Let it not be a hard matter with you to accept the offered benefit. Would the fallen angels, think you, refuse it, if a tender of it were made to them? O then, prostrate yourselves before your God, as deserving nothing but wrath; and let him glorify in you the unsearchable riches of his grace!
2. The vast importance of faith.
It is by faith alone that you can apprehend the Savior, or be made partakers of his benefits. You must "be saved by grace, through faith." Your whole life must be a life of faith, according to what Paul has said, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." But this faith you must receive from above. You can neither come to Christ, nor know Christ, except as you are taught and drawn by the Father. Pray to him, saying, "Lord, I believe; help you my unbelief." Pray also to him to "increase your faith" yet more and more: for it is only by being strong in faith that you will approve yourselves to God, or abound, as you ought, in all the fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory.
3. What obligations lie upon you to serve and glorify your God.
Be it so; you are not to be saved by good works: but is there no other motive that you can find for the performance of them? Do you feel no obligation to Him who sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that you might live through him? When you know that God has "ordained that you should walk in the daily exercise of good works," have you no desire to please him? And when you know that this is the only path in which it is possible for you ever to arrive at your Father's house, will you willfully turn aside from it? If gratitude will not constrain you, will you be insensible to fear? But further, it is by your works that men will judge of your principles: and, though they represent the doctrines of grace as leading to licentiousness, they will expect to see you more holy than others; and if they are disappointed in this, they will cast the blame upon your principles, and upon the Gospel itself. Will you then put a stumbling-block in the way of others, and cause "the name of your God and Savior to be blasphemed?" No; "you have not so learned Christ, if so be have heard him and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus." See then that you abound in every good word and work; and "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by well-doing."
The States of the Regenerate and the Unregenerate Contrasted
Ephesians 2:12, 13. You were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.
THERE is scarcely anything which has a greater tendency to impress our minds with exalted views of the grace of God, than to compare the guilt and misery of an unconverted state, with the purity and happiness into which we are brought by the Gospel of Christ. As a shipwrecked person, viewing the tempest from a rock on which he has been cast, feels a solemn and grateful sense of the mercy given unto him; so surely must every one, who "looks unto the rock whence he has been hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence he has been dug," stand amazed at the Divine goodness, and be quickened to pour out his soul in grateful adorations. To produce this frame, is the scope of the whole preceding part of this epistle, wherein the Apostle extols and magnifies the grace of God, as manifested to his redeemed people. Having shown what their state had been previous to conversion, and contrasted it with that to which they are introduced by the Gospel, he exhorts them to bear it in remembrance: "Wherefore remember;" remember what you were, that you may be thankful for what you are.
We propose to show,
I. The state of unregenerate men.
The state of the Jews and Gentiles represented in a very lively manner the conditions of persons under the Gospel: the external privileges of the Jews, typifying the internal and spiritual privileges of the regenerate; and the abhorred state of the Gentiles marking with equal clearness the ignorance and misery of the unregenerate. In this view, what the Apostle says of the Ephesians, previous to their conversion to Christianity, may be considered as applicable to all at this day, who are not truly and savingly converted:
1. They are "without Christ."
The Gentiles, of course, had no knowledge of, nor any interest in, the Lord Jesus Christ. And thus it is with the unregenerate among ourselves: they are without Christ; they are separated from him as branches cut off from the vine: they do not depend upon him, or receive sap and nutriment from him. They indeed call themselves Christians; but they have no union with Christ, nor any communications from him.
2. They are "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel."
Israel are called a commonwealth, because they were governed by laws different from all other people, and possessed privileges unknown to the rest of the world. Thus the true Israel at this day may be considered in the same light; because they, and they only, acknowledge Christ as their governor: they alone yield obedience to his laws, and they alone enjoy the privileges of his people. Now as the Gentiles were "aliens" from the commonwealth of the Jews, so are all unconverted men "aliens" from the commonwealth of the converted. They are governed by different laws; following the customs, fashions, and erroneous maxims of the world: they are separated from them in heart and affection; and though, from necessity, they must sometimes have fellowship with the godly, they never unite with them as one people, or desire to have one lot together with them.
3. They are "strangers from the covenants of promise."
There is, strictly speaking, but one covenant of grace: but the Apostle speaks of it in the plural number; because it was given at different times, and always with increasing fullness and perspicuity. Whether given to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, or to Moses, it was always the same: only the promises annexed to it were more copious and explicit. It is called "the covenant of promise," to distinguish it from the covenant of works, which consisted only in requirements; whereas this consists chiefly in promises: under the covenant of works, men were to do all; under the covenant of grace they were to receive all.
It is obvious that the Gentiles were "strangers" to this covenant: and though it is not alike obvious, it is equally true, that the unconverted are strangers to it also. We confess they are admitted into the external bond of it in their baptism: but they do not become partakers of the promised blessings until they sue for them in the exercise of faith and prayer. And we will venture to appeal to the generality of baptized persons, Whether they are not as much strangers to the covenant of promise, as if no such covenant existed? Do they rest upon the promises? Do they treasure them up in their minds? Do they plead them in prayer before God? Do they found all their hopes of happiness upon them? Alas! they have little acquaintance with the nature of the covenant, and no submission to its terms: and consequently they are utter strangers to the covenant, and to the promises contained in it.
4. They are without hope.
The Gentile world are always represented as in a hopeless state; and though we presume not to say, that God will not extend uncovenanted mercy to any, yet we have no warrant to affirm that he will. If indeed they perfectly fulfilled the law-written in their hearts, there is reason to think God would have mercy on them: but who among them does perfectly fulfill that law? But, waving this, there is an absolute certainty that the state of unconverted men under the Gospel is hopeless: no mercy can possibly be extended to them, if they continue unconverted: they must inevitably and eternally perish. For, how should they have any hope, when they are "without Christ" (who is the Head of all vital influence), and "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" (to which alone any saving blessings are communicated), and "strangers from the covenant of promise" (which is the only channel by which those blessings are conveyed to us)? From whence then can they derive any hope? or what foundation can they have for it?
5. They are "without God in the world."
The gods of the heathen were no gods: therefore they to whom the God of Israel was unknown, were "without God in the world." And thus it is with the unconverted among ourselves: for though they acknowledge the being of a God, they know not what a just and holy God he is; nor do they glorify him as God, by a conformity to his revealed will. They love not to hear of him: they endeavor to blot out the remembrance of him from their minds; their whole conduct accords with that of Pharaoh, when he said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." In a word, the language of their hearts is like that of the fool whom David speaks of, "No God;" there is no God to control or punish me; or, if there be, I wish there were none.
But that all do not continue in that deplorable condition, will appear by considering,
II. The state to which they are introduced by the Gospel.
Every living man once was in the state above described; but in conversion, men "who were sometimes afar off, are made near to God."
In what the nearness of converted men to God consists, will appear by the very same considerations as have already been used to illustrate their distance from him in their unconverted state. The Gentiles had no liberty of access to God among the Jews: they had an outer court assigned them; and it would have been at the peril of their lives, if they had presumed to enter the place appropriated to the Jews. But on conversion to Judaism, they were admitted to a participation of all the rights and privileges of the Jews themselves. Thus persons truly converted to God have liberty to approach, the Majesty of Heaven; yes, since the veil of the temple was rent in twain, a new and living way is opened for them into the holiest of all: they may go even to the throne of God, and draw near to him as their reconciled God and Father. As soon as ever they are "in Christ Jesus," united to him by faith, and interested in his merits, they have every privilege which the most eminent saints enjoy: their sins are pardoned; they have peace with God; and, though they may not be so full of joy as others, yet they have the same grounds of joy, inasmuch as "their Beloved is theirs, and they are his."
To this happy state they are brought "by the blood of Christ."
It was the blood of the sacrifice that availed for the restoration of sinners to the Divine favor under the law: and in the same manner it is the blood of Christ, and that only, that can avail for us. But as in the former case, so also in this, two things are necessary: the blood must be shed as an atonement for sin; and it must be sprinkled on the offender himself, to intimate his entire affiance in it. Now the shedding of Christ's blood was effected on Calvary, many hundred years ago: and that one offering is sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. Nothing more therefore is wanting to reconcile us to the Deity. But the sprinkling of his blood upon our hearts and consciences must be done by every one for himself: we must, as it were, dip the hyssop in the blood, and apply it to our own souls: or, in other words, we must exercise faith on the atonement of Christ as the only ground of our acceptance before God. In this way, and in this only, are we ever brought to a state of favor with God, and of fellowship with his people.
This subject being mentioned as that which was deserving of continual remembrance, we would call upon you to "remember" it.
1. As a criterion whereby to judge of your state.
It is evident, that, if once we were afar off from God, and now we are near to him, there must have been a transition from the one state to the other, or, as the Scripture expresses it, a "passing from death unto life." Has this transition then ever taken place in your souls? It is not necessary that you should be able to trace the precise time when it began, and the various steps by which it was accomplished: but there is an impossibility for it to have taken place, without your having sought it humbly, and labored for it diligently. Have you then this evidence at least that it has been accomplished? If not, you can have no reason to think that you have ever yet experienced the change, which characterizes all who are made heirs of salvation.
2. As a ground of humiliation.
If you were the most eminent saint that ever lived, it would be well to bear in mind what you once were, and what you would still have been, if Divine grace had not wrought a change within you. Look then at those who "are afar off;" and, when you see their alienation from God, their enmity against his people, their distance from even a hope of salvation, behold your own image, and be confounded on account of your past abominations: yes, "walk softly also before God all the days of your life," in the recollection, that, as that once was your state, so it would be again, if the grace that originally interposed to change you, do not continually maintain that change in your souls.
3. As a source of gratitude and joy.
It is scarcely needful to say, that they who have experienced a restoration to God's favor, should bless and magnify their Benefactor and Redeemer. But have not those also, who are at the greatest distance from God, reason to rejoice and sing? Yes surely; for they may look at those who are now in Heaven, and say, "The blood which availed to bring them near to God will also avail for me." O joyful thought! Ponder it in your hearts, you careless sinners: consider what the Lord Jesus Christ is both able and willing to do for you. Every saint, whether on earth or in Heaven, was once in your state; and if you will seek remission through the blood of Christ, you shall be partakers of their privileges, both in this world and in the world to come.
Access to God the Priesthood
Ephesians 2:18. Through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
AS there is no question more important, so there is none more beyond the reach of unassisted reason, than that which Balak put to Balaam, "With which shall I come before the Most High God?" Many are the expedients which have been devised for obtaining acceptance with God: but there has been only one true way from the beginning, namely, through the sacrifice of Christ. This has been gradually revealed to man with increasing clearness; but was never fully manifested until the days of the Apostles. The sacrifices of the Mosaic law threw considerable light upon this interesting subject: yet, while they revealed, they tended also to obscure, it: for the Gentiles were forbidden to enter into the sanctuary; and had a court assigned them, called the court of the Gentiles. If they became proselytes to the Jewish religion, they were, together with the Jews, received into the sanctuary, or outer court of the temple. The priests and Levites were admitted into the inner court; and the high-priest into the holy of holies; but that only on one day in the year. Now the Apostle tells us, that by these distinctions "the Holy Spirit signified, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest." But in due time Christ himself appeared; and by his death, both fulfilled and abrogated the ceremonial law: since which period the difference between Jew and Gentile has no longer subsisted; the partition wall was thrown down; and the veil of the temple was rent in twain, in token that all, whether Jews or Gentiles, were henceforth to have an equal access to God through Christ.
It is our present intention to show,
I. The way of access to the Father.
The text contains a brief summary of all that God has revealed upon this subject: it informs us that the way to the Father is,
1. Through the Son.
The high-priest under the law was the mediator through whom the people drew near to God: and by his typical mediation we see how we are to approach our God. He entered into the holy place with the blood of the sacrifices, and afterwards burnt incense before the mercy-seat; representing, by the former, the sacrifice of Christ; and, by the latter, his prevailing intercession. Without the blood of Christ offered in sacrifice for us, no man could ever have found acceptance with God. Nor would that have availed, if he had not also gone within the veil to be "our advocate with the Father, as well as the atoning sacrifice for our sins." Even if we had been pardoned in consideration of his death, our reconciliation with God would not have continued long; we should soon have renewed our transgressions, and have provoked God utterly to destroy us. But, by this twofold mediation of Christ, Divine justice is satisfied for the offences we have already committed, and the peace that has been effected is maintained inviolate. Now our Lord himself declares that there is no other way to the Father but this: and Paul assures us, that, in this way, we may all draw near to God with boldness and confidence.
2. By the Spirit.
We know not how to pray to God aright, unless the Holy Spirit help our infirmities and teach us. We have no will to approach him, unless the Holy Spirit incline our hearts. Even in the regenerate there still remains so strong a disinclination to prayer, that unless God draw them by the influences of his Spirit, they find an almost insuperable reluctance to that duty. Moreover, we have no power to exercise spiritual affections at a throne of grace, unless the Spirit, as "a Spirit of grace and of supplication," give us a broken and a contrite heart. Without his aid, we are only like a ship, whose sails are spread in vain, unless there be a wind to fill them. Even Paul, it should seem, had never prayed aright until his conversion; and then it was said, "Behold he prays." Lastly, without the Spirit, we have no confidence to address the Majesty of Heaven. We are deterred by a sense of guilt; and are ready to think that it would be presumption in us to ask anything at his hands. The Holy Spirit must be in us as "a Spirit of adoption, before we can cry, Abba, Father". Yes, to such a degree are the mouths of God's dearest children sometimes shut by a sense of guilt, that the Holy Spirit himself makes intercession in them no other way than by sighs and groans. Thus, as there is a necessity for the mediation of Christ to remove our guilt, so is there also of the Spirit's influence on account of our weakness; since, without his assistance, we have no knowledge of our wants, no will to seek a supply of them, no power to spread them before God, nor any confidence to plead with importunity and faith.
The path being thus clearly marked, let us consider,
II. The excellency of this way.
Waving many things whereby this topic might be illustrated, we shall content ourselves with observing, that this way of access to God,
1. Gives us a wonderful discovery of God himself.
What an astonishing view does this give us of the Divine nature! Here we see manifestly the existence of three persons in the Godhead. Here we see the Father, to whom we are to draw near, together with the Son, through whom, and the Spirit, by whom, we are to approach him. These are evidently distinct, though subsisting in one undivided essence. Moreover the offices of the Three Persons in the Trinity are so appropriate, that we cannot speak of them otherwise than they are here declared: we cannot say, that through the Spirit, and by the Father, we have access to Christ; or that through the Father, and by Christ, we have access to the Spirit: this would be to confound what the Scripture keeps perfectly distinct. The Father is the Original Fountain of the Deity: Christ is the Mediator, through whom we approach him: and the Spirit is the Agent, by whom we are enabled to approach him. That each of these divine Persons is God, is as plainly revealed, as that there is a God: and yet we are sure that there is but one God. It is not for us to unravel this mystery; but with humility and gratitude to adore that God, who has so mysteriously revealed his nature to us.
While we are led thus to view God as he exists in himself, we cannot but contemplate also his goodness to us. What greater mark of it can he conceived, than that the sacred Three should so interest themselves in our salvation? That the Father should devise such a way for our acceptance with him; that the Son should open the way by his meritorious death, and his prevailing intercession; and that the Holy Spirit should condescend to guide us into it, and to keep us in it, even to the end! That these offices should be sustained and executed for the salvation of such insignificant and worthless, yes, such guilty and rebellious creatures, may well excite our wonder, and furnish us with matter of endless praise and thanksgiving.
2. Is calculated to produce the most beneficial effects on the minds of men.
What consideration can be more awakening than that which necessarily arises from the subject before us? Was such a dispensation necessary in order to our restoration to the Divine favor? Must the Father send his only Son to die for us? Must the Son atone and intercede for us? Must the Holy Spirit descend and dwell in our hearts? Can none of us be saved in any other way than this? How deep then must have been our fall; how desperate our condition! And how inconceivably dreadful must our state be, if we neglect so great salvation!
On the other hand, what can be more encouraging than to see that such abundant provision has been made for us? What can a sinner desire more? What clearer evidence can he have of the Father's willingness to receive him? What firmer ground of confidence can he desire, than the sacrifice and intercession of the Lord Jesus? What further aid can he want, who has the Holy Spirit to instruct, assist, and sanctify him? Surely none can despond, however great their guilt may be, or however inveterate their corruptions.
1. Those who never seek access to God in prayer.
Our Lord told the Jews that "if he had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but that now they had no cloak for their sin." How truly may this be said to those, who refuse to come to God in the way pointed out for them! Surely they must be without excuse, and, if they continue in their sin, without hope also: for in no other way than this can we draw near to God; nor will God in any other way draw near to us.
2. Those who fear that they shall not find acceptance with God.
There can be no ground for such fears, provided we really desire to go to God in his appointed way. The more we consider the condescension and grace of God in providing such means for our recovery, the more must we be persuaded that God will cast out none that come unto him. Only let us "open our mouths wide, and he will fill them." We may "ask what we will in the name of Jesus, and it shall be done unto us."
3. Those who enjoy sweet communion with God.
This is the highest of all privileges, and the richest of all enjoyments. To have access to the Father with boldness and confidence is a foretaste even of Heaven itself. Let us then abound more and more in the duty of prayer; for when we can say with the Apostle, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ," we may also add with a full assurance, "And the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin."
The Exalted Privileges of True Christians
Ephesians 2:19–22. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
IT is well for Christians to contemplate their high privileges. But, in order to estimate them aright, it is necessary that they should bear in mind the state in which they were, previous to their embracing the Gospel. The difference between the Jews and Gentiles was great; yet scarcely greater than that between the nominal and the real Christian. The nominal Christian, though possessed of many external advantages, is, with respect to the spiritual enjoyment of them, on a level with the heathen; or rather, I should say, below the heathen, inasmuch as his abuse of those advantages has entailed upon him the deeper guilt. We may therefore apply to the unconverted Christians what Paul speaks of the Ephesians in their unconverted state; "They are without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." From this state however they are delivered, as soon as they truly believe in Christ. They are then, as my text expresses it, "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." The exalted state to which they are brought is represented by the Apostle under two distinct metaphors: they are made,
I. The people of God, among whom he dwells.
They are "fellow-citizens with the saints."
Bodies that are incorporated, whether in cities, boroughs, or societies of any kind, have their peculiar privileges, to which others who belong not to them are not entitled. Thus it is with the saints, who are formed into one body in Christ, and have the most distinguished privileges confirmed to them by a charter from the court of Heaven. That charter is the Gospel, in which all their immunities and all their claims are fully described. What externally belonged to the Jewish nation at large, is internally and spiritually made over to them: "to them belong the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God. and the promises," yes, all that God has revealed in his Gospel, all that he has promised to his believing people, all that he has engaged to them in his everlasting covenant, all that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob enjoyed on earth, and all that they now possess in Heaven, all without exception is theirs; "All things are theirs when they are Christ's." They are "citizens of no mean city," seeing that "they are come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God" and whatever pertains to that is the lot of their inheritance.
They are also "of the household of God."
As in the days of old there was an outer court for the Gentiles, and an inner court into which the native servants and children of Jehovah were privileged to enter, so now believers have access to God as his more immediate children and servants. They go in and out before him with a liberty unknown to the natural man; they hear his voice; they enjoy his protection; they exist from day to day by the provision which he assigns them: the family to which they belong comprehends "an innumerable company of angels, and the general assembly and Church of the first-born which are written in Heaven," together with myriads who are yet on their way to Zion: but all regard him as their common Head, their Lord, their Master, their Father and their Friend.
Exalted as this privilege is, it is far surpassed by that which is contained under that other metaphor,
II. The temple wherein he dwells.
The whole body of true believers is the temple of the living God.
Their foundation properly is Christ. But, in the text, the Church is said to be "built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets," because they with one voice testified of Christ; and on their testimony the Church is built. This is the import of what our Savior said to Peter; "You are Peter, and on this rock will I build my Church," he did not mean, that he would build it on the person of Peter, but on the testimony of Peter just before delivered, namely, that "Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God." Of the Church Christ is also "the chief corner-stone," which, while it supports the building, connects the parts of it together, and gives it stability through the whole remaining superstructure.
The building raised on this foundation consists of "living stones," all selected by sovereign grace, and with unerring wisdom "fitly framed together," so as mutually to confirm and strengthen one another, and collectively to constitute an edifice for the Lord. Various degrees of labor are bestowed on these, according to the situation they are to occupy. Some, which are designed for a more conspicuous place in that building, have many strokes: others, which have a less honorable place assigned them, are sooner and more easily brought to the measure of perfection which is necessary for them.
But, in all, this work is carried on silently, and in a way unnoticed by the world around them. As in the temple of Solomon, "every stone was made ready before it was brought thither, so that there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron, heard in the house while it was in building;" so it is in this spiritual building: every stone is fitted in secret: the work is carried on in each, without attracting the notice and observation of men: but all will at last be found so precisely fitted for their respective stations, as to demonstrate the infinite skill and unerring wisdom of the Divine Architect.
The end for which this structure is raised, is, the inhabitation of the Deity.
For this end fresh converts are "added to the Church daily, even such as shall be saved." For this end the work is carried on and perfected in the heart of every individual believer. For this end all the means of grace, like the scaffolding, are continued, until the whole shall have received its final completion. For this end the Holy Spirit is imparted to all, so that all are compacted together, standing firm on the one foundation, and united to each other by indissoluble bonds. And at last the Deity shall take possession of it, as he did in the days of Solomon, when by the bright cloud he filled the house, so that the priest could no longer stand to minister before him.
In all this honor every saint partakes. Every one, even in his individual capacity, is a temple of the Lord, and has the Spirit of God dwelling in him. "In his heart Christ dwells by faith," and, through the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit, "he grows continually, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Yes, this honor has the Church at large; and this honor have all the saints of every successive age.
1. How thankful should we be for such inestimable privileges!
Believers, whoever you are, you were once lying in the quarry, as insensible as any that are still there. It was not by any agency of yours, no, nor for any superior goodness in you, that you were taken thence; but purely by God's power, for the praise of the glory of his own grace. He it is that has made the difference between you and others, between you also and your former selves. O! "look unto the rock, whence you have been hewn, and to the hole of the pit, whence you have been dug." Never forget what you once were, or what you would still have continued to be, if God, of his own good pleasure, had not brought you thence, and made you what you now are.
Be thankful also for the means which God, of his own infinite mercy, is yet using with you, to carry on and perfect his work in your souls. If you have many strokes of the hammer, complain not of it: you have not one too many, not one that could be spared, if you are to occupy aright the place ordained for you. Lie meekly and submissively before your God; and let him perfect his work in his own way.
And contemplate the end for which you are destined, even "to be an habitation of God, through the Spirit," to all eternity! Shall not this prospect make you "joyful in all your tribulation?" Shall so much as an hour pass, and you not give praise and thanksgiving to your God? Look forward to the end, even to "this grace that shall be given you at the appearing of Jesus Christ;" and beg of your God and Savior not to intermit his work one single moment, until you are rendered completely meet for the station you are to hold, and the honor you are to enjoy in the eternal world.
2. How studious should we be to walk worthy of them!
This improvement of our privileges we should never overlook: it is the use which the inspired writers continually teach us to make of them. Are we the temples of the Holy Spirit? we must be far removed from all connection with ungodly men—and from all hateful and polluting passions. And in us must be offered up continually the sacrifices of prayer and praise; from which "God will smell a sweet odor," and by which he will eternally be glorified. Surely "holiness becomes God's house forever;" and "this is the law of the house," that every part of it, and its very precincts, even to "its utmost limits, should be holy." Labor then for this. Consider "what manner of persons you ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness," and, as every vessel of the sanctuary was holy, so let your every action, your every word, your every thought, be such as becomes your high calling and your heavenly destination.
See Sermons on 1 Timothy 1:11. where it forms the second Sermon of a series.
Angels Made Wiser by the Gospel
Ephesians 3:10. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.
CHRISTIANITY is altogether a deep stupendous mystery; such as could never have entered into the mind of man; such as never could have been devised by the highest archangel in Heaven. Even subordinate parts of it, such as, the calling of the Gentiles, and the uniting of them in one Church with the Jewish people, are spoken of under this character, even as a "mystery, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit; even that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel." Indeed, so mysterious was this particular appointment in the eyes of the Apostle Paul, that, in the contemplation of it, he exclaimed, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" It is upon that subject primarily that the Apostle is speaking in the whole preceding context. He declares himself to have been expressly ordained by God as "a preacher to the Gentiles," that, through him "all men," not Jews only, but Gentiles also, might "see what was the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, to the intent that now unto the angels also might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." Here the mystery which he refers to is the Gospel, in which are contained "the unsearchable riches of Christ," and in which also is pre-eminently displayed "the manifold wisdom of God."
In unfolding this great subject, I shall endeavor, as God may help me, to set forth,
I. The manifold wisdom of God, as exhibited in the Gospel.
Truly, it is wonderfully displayed,
1. In making salvation possible.
As far as any finite intelligence could see, it was impossible for man to be saved, when once he had transgressed the law of God: for the honor of God's law demanded the execution of its sanctions on those who had violated its commands. Divine justice must be satisfied; nor could it in any way relax its claims of vengeance. The truth of God, also, was pledged to inflict on man the penalty of death; nor could the decree, once passed, be in any wise rescinded. What then could be done? Shall mercy triumph at the expense of all the other perfections of God? Shall it be said, that God has no regard for the honor of his law, for the rights of justice, for the sacredness of truth? Shall the holy God be thus divested of the attribute of holiness, in order that unholy beings may escape the sentence which, by their iniquities, they have incurred? It cannot be: yet how shall man be saved without it? Here the wisdom of Almighty God found out an expedient, which should at once solve every difficulty, and open a way for the exercise of mercy, in perfect consistency with every other perfection of the Deity. A surety shall be found; a substitute for sinful man; one, by whose obedience the law should be honored; by whose sufferings, also, justice shall have its claims fully satisfied; by executing the penalty of transgression upon whom, as the representative of our fallen race, shall truth be kept inviolate; and the holiness of the Deity shall not be tarnished, even though the sinner be re-admitted to the bosom of his God. This one point of substitution clears the whole. But how can this be? To stand in man's place, he must be a man; and, to render his substitution available for the whole race of mankind, he must be possessed of infinite dignity and worth. Both these things combined in the substitute that Divine wisdom provided. God's co-equal, co-eternal Son was sent to take our nature upon him; and, in that nature, to obey the law which we had broken, and to endure the penalty which we had incurred. Thus was salvation brought within the reach of fallen man.
2. In devising a salvation suitable to man.
Desperate, beyond measure, was the state of man. Not the fallen angels themselves were more incapable of restoring themselves to the favor of their God, than he. But in the provision which Divine wisdom made for him was every want supplied. Was he laden with guilt? it shall be removed by a sacrifice. Was he King under a curse? he shall be delivered from the curse, by one "becoming a curse for him." Did he need a righteousness wherein to stand before God? a righteousness shall be wrought out for him, and imputed to him. Is he, by reason of his natural depravity, incapable of enjoying God's presence, or of doing his will? A new nature shall be given him, and, "through the strength of Christ, he shall be enabled to do all things." Is he unable to do anything whereby he shall merit any of these things? they shall all be given to him freely, "without money and without price." Is he, even when restored, unable to keep himself? the Lord Jesus Christ shall "carry on and perfect in him the work he has begun." May that enemy, who assaulted and ruined him in Paradise, yet prevail over him again? "his life shall he hid with Christ in God," beyond the reach of harm; so that when Christ, who is his life, shall appear, he "shall be secured to appear with him in glory." Nor is this salvation suited to man's necessities in its provisions only, or in the freeness with which it is bestowed: the means by which it shall be communicated are also precisely such as his necessities require: he has nothing to do, but simply to look to Christ by faith; and all these blessings shall flow down into his soul precisely as health did into the bodies of the dying Israelites, the very instant they looked to the brazen serpent. The only difference between them shall be, that, whereas the Israelites looked but once, and had their health completely restored, the sinner must look to Jesus continually, and derive from him such gradual and progressive communications as his necessities require. All "this, I say, is by faith, that it may be by grace, and that the promise may be sure to all the seed."
3. In appointing a salvation so conducive to his own glory.
By this wonderful device, the substitution of God's only dear Son in the place of sinners, God not only prevented any dishonor accruing to himself by the exercise of mercy, but actually secured more glory to himself than he ever could have derived from any other source. Justice would doubtless have been honored, if the whole human race had been consigned over to the curse which they had merited. But how much more was justice honored, when God's co-equal, co-eternal Son was subjected to its stroke; not because lie had committed sin himself, but because he had taken upon him the sins of others! How highly was it honored, when not the smallest measure of its claims could be set aside; but Jesus, as our representative, was constrained to pay the utmost farthing of our debt, before one single soul could be liberated from its obligations to punishment! And how was the law honored! It would have been honored, indeed, by the obedience of man: but how was it honored by having God himself, in an incarnate state, subjected to its dominion; and by the determination, that not any child of man should ever be saved, except by pleading Christ's obedience to the law, as his only ground of hope! Well does the prophet say, "He has magnified the law, and made it honorable." As for holiness, O how bright it shines, in this mysterious dispensation. Not a sinner shall be saved, that does not acknowledge his desert of everlasting perdition; and that has not a perfect righteousness wherein to appear before God; or that does not plead for mercy at the Savior's hands as much for the smallest defect in his best deeds, as for the most flagrant transgression that he ever committed. I may add, too, that truth is no less honored, seeing that, rather than there should be the smallest departure from it, God's only dear Son should have its utmost denunciations fulfilled in him, and not a sinner be saved, who did not plead this very execution of God's judgments as the reason for their being averted from himself.
May we not, in the review of these things, adopt the language of the Apostle, and say, "O the depths!" Truly this "wisdom is manifold;" and in this salvation are "hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
But my text, while it speaks of the wisdom contained in the Gospel, leads me particularly to declare,
II. The instruction which the angels themselves derive from the revelation of it to the Church.
The angels, from the first moment of their creation, saw much of God: but of him, as exhibited in the Gospel, they could have no conception, until that fuller revelation of him was given to the Church.
Then the angels began to see.
1. The extent of his perfections.
They had seen his wisdom, power, and goodness, in the works of creation. They themselves, indeed, were bright monuments of these perfections. The justice of God, too, they had beheld in very awful colors, in the judgments inflicted on myriads of their fellows, who were once as holy and as happy as themselves. They had seen in what profusion love had poured its blessings on the innocent. But could it extend to the guilty? Could it extend so far as to send his only-begotten Son to stand in the place of the guilty, and to bear their punishment? Impossible! Show love to the guilty, and anger to the innocent? yes, and show anger to the innocent, as the only way of showing love to the guilty? It could not be: it must be abhorrent from the very soul of a holy God so to act. Yet, behold, Divine Wisdom did so ordain to act. But how could Justice concur in this? Can that be brought to execute vengeance on one that is innocent, for the sake of sparing others that were guilty? Methinks that the sword, if seized for such an end, would fall from the very hands of Justice, and refuse to do its office. Yet did Justice proceed thus far, and not suffer Mercy to prevail in he-half of any child of man, until its claims were thus satisfied by the sinner's Surety. We may conceive, that, from what they had seen of the goodness of God, they would believe him ready to exercise mercy, on a supposition it were compatible with his honor in all other respects: but that he should devise such means for the exercise of mercy, and be capable of carrying those means into effect, they could never have imagined. Yet, in the provisions of the Gospel they beheld all this, not only contemplated, but carried into effect. We wonder not, that, on. attaining such views of the Deity, they sang, "Glory to God in the highest;" for, truly, "great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh."
2. The harmony of his perfections.
Of this there was not a trace in all the universe besides. But here "mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other." Here that was visible, which the prism of the philosopher discovers in the rays of light. There are, in light, rays of a more somber hue, as well as others that are more brilliant; and it is the perfect union and simultaneous motion of them all that constitutes perfect light. Such light is God himself. His perfections are various, and of a diversified, though not of an opposite, aspect. But they all combine in Christ, "in whose face is seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God." Yes, he is "the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person." In this mysterious dispensation, they saw not only every perfection of the Deity exercised so as not to interfere with each other, but every perfection of the Deity, that was most adverse to the sinner's welfare, made his most strenuous friend and advocate. Justice, which had demanded the execution of the penalty upon him, now demands his liberation from it; because everything that justice could require has been done by the sinner's Substitute and Surety. It, in human judicatures, justice require a debtor to be sent to prison, it pleads no less powerfully for his liberation from prison, the very instant that his debt is paid. And exactly thus is Justice itself now become the sinner's friend. In like manner, truth and holiness are also friendly to the happiness of man; because they demand for him the execution of every engagement that has been made in their behalf by God, with their great Head and Representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. How infinitely was this beyond the conception of the angelic powers, before it was revealed to the Church! But by the Gospel, into which they are continually searching, they have obtained the knowledge of it. Peter, speaking of this very salvation, says, "Which things the angels desire to look into." In the most holy place of the temple there were, the ark, which contained the law; and the mercy-seat upon the ark; and two cherubim upon the mercy-seat, bending down, in order to search into the mysteries contained in it. The great mystery there shadowed forth was, the Lord Jesus Christ (the true Ark), containing in himself, and having fulfilled for us, the law: and God the Father, extending mercy to all (for the mercy-seat was of exactly the same dimensions as the ark) who should come to him by Christ. This mystery they saw unraveled when Christ came into the world, and executed his high office for the salvation of man. But in it there are yet depths utterly unexplored, even by the highest archangel; and the wonders of wisdom and love contained in it will be more and more unfolded, as long as there shall continue any portion of that mystery unfulfilled.
3. The felicity arising from this exercise of his perfections.
When man fell, the angels could expect no other than that the fate of the fallen angels would be his. But, when a salvation was revealed, whereby millions, numerous as the sands upon the sea-shore, shall be restored to God, with what surprise and joy must those benevolent beings be penetrated! We are told, that even "one sinner turning" with penitential sorrow to his God causes joy throughout all the angelic hosts. What then must they have felt, when this mystery, whereby millions of millions shall be saved, was revealed! How must they be transported with joy at the continual increase of the Lord's people on earth, and the constant influx of perfected saints to the regions of bliss, and the consequent augmentation of the choir, by whom praise is continually ascribed to God and to the Lamb! Nor is their surprise a little heightened by this, that whereas, if men had continued upright, they would have possessed a glory commensurate only with a creature's righteousness, they are now clothed with the righteousness of their Creator himself, and put into possession of a glory and felicity proportioned to it. With what amazement must the whole of this dispensation fill them!
Besides, their own happiness is also greatly augmented by this: for though they have never sinned, and therefore derive not salvation from Christ, as we do, their views of the Deity are marvelously enlarged: and, as their happiness, from necessity, arises from beholding the glory of God, it must have been increased in proportion as their knowledge of this mystery has been enlarged. All this they had yet to learn, before that salvation was proclaimed to man: but, by the revelation of it to the Church, they have been instructed in it; and their views of it, and blessedness arising from it, will yet be more and more enlarged, until the "mystery itself be finished," and every redeemed soul be perfected in bliss.
From this wonderful subject we may see,
1. What guilt they contract who pervert the Gospel of Christ.
A blending of anything with the merits of Christ is, as Paul informs us, a substitution of "another Gospel" in the place of that which is revealed; or rather, it is "a perversion of the Gospel of Christ." And how many are there who are guilty of this? In fact, it is with the utmost difficulty that any one is kept from this sin. All are ready to lean to their own righteousness, and, in one way or other, to look to themselves for something to recommend them to God, and to entitle them to his favor. But, whoever does this, makes the cross of Christ of no effect. Shall this declaration be thought harsh? Look then, and see what this conduct does: see what contempt it pours on the wisdom of God, and on all that he has done for the salvation of man. See how it dishonors and denies every perfection of the Deity. In blending anything of our own with the work of Christ, we deny that justice was so inexorable, or holiness so immaculate, or truth so inviolate, or mercy itself so great, as the Gospel represents: and we assert, in opposition to it all, that man, with all his infirmities, can by his own good works lay a foundation for boasting before God. Brethren, this is, of all sins, most venial in the sight of man, but most hateful in the sight of God. Nor is this without reason: for other sins withstand only the authority of God; whereas this makes void all the counsels of his love, and all the purposes of his grace. I say then to you, as the Apostle does, that whoever he be that entertains in himself, or encourages in others, such a conceit as this, must be accursed; yes, "though he were an angel from Heaven, I repeat it, he must, and shall be, accursed."
2. What folly they commit who neglect it.
The angels are not interested in this mystery as we are: yet, behold, how earnest they are in searching into it! Yet, to the generality of those who call themselves Christians, it is little better than "a cunningly-devised fable." Methinks, if men were fond of science of any kind, they might be expected to find pleasure in this: for there is no mystery so deep, there is none so certain, there is none which will so richly repay the labor of investigation, as this. This observation I should make, if this mystery were merely a matter for speculation and research. But it is not to be regarded by any one in that light: it is not a subject to occupy the meditations of a theorist, but to engage the devoutest affections of the soul. It is our very life: it is that in which the eternal welfare of our souls is bound up. It prescribes the only possible way of acceptance with God: and he who will not walk in that way, not only renounces all hope of Heaven, but plunges himself infallibly into all the miseries of Hell. Dear brethren, awake to your duty: awake to your most urgent and important interests: and let the salvation of Christ become the one object of your pursuit. You perceive that Paul was sent to preach, that "all men" might know the fellowship of this mystery. Seek, then, to answer the ends for which it is transmitted to you in the written word, and the ends for which it is preached to you by every minister of Christ.
3. What happiness is reserved for the saints in Heaven.
The happiness of the holy angels consists mainly in this, in singing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing." And how much more must this be the ease, with those who can say, "He has loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood!" There can be no doubt but that our happiness will consist in contemplating all the wonders of Christ's love, and in beholding the glory of God's perfections as displayed in the great mystery of redemption. And if here, in this world, a little glimpse of Christ is sufficient to fill us "with joy unspeakable and glorified," what must a full discovery of his glory effect upon our souls? Here even Paul himself saw Christ only "as in a glass darkly," but in Heaven, the least and meanest of the saints shall behold him "face to face." Shall we not, then, long for the time when we shall be translated to that blissful place, where we shall have the full vision of his glory, and see him as we are seen, and "know him as we are known?" Let us, then, contemplate this blissful scene, until we have already obtained Pisgah views of its excellency, and foretastes of its blessedness. And, whatever hastens us to that land, or prepares us for it, let us welcome it from our inmost souls; "looking for, and hastening unto, the coming of the day of Christ;" that "when his glory shall be revealed, we may rejoice before him with exceeding joy."
Prayer the Means of the Richest Blessings
Ephesians 3:14–19. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in Heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.
MANY who espouse the cause of religion when it is in flourishing circumstances, are apt to decline from it when their profession exposes them to any great trouble. The Ephesians had heard of Paul's imprisonment at Rome, and were in danger of turning from the faith through the fear of persecution. Paul cautions them against being intimidated by the tribulations which he endured for their sakes; and assures them, that they ought rather to consider it as an honor, that their cause had been so vigorously maintained by him; and that he was suffering persecution for asserting their rights in opposition to the bigoted and blood-thirsty Jews. Precluded as he was from prosecuting his ministerial labors for their good, he spent the more time in prayer for them. This was a liberty of which none could deprive him: yes, rather, the more his body was confined, the more his spirit was enlarged on their behalf. He considered them as members of the same family with all the Church militant and Church triumphant, of which Christ is the Head; and, with the profoundest reverence and humility, he implored for them all those blessings which he desired for himself, and which were suited to their state:
I. The strengthening communications of the Spirit.
The first blessing which a child of God would desire, is strength; because he longs as much to execute his Father's will, as he does to enjoy his favor. The occasions on which he needs an increase of strength, are many and urgent. He has many trials to endure; many temptations to withstand; many duties to perform: and in himself he is insufficient for any one of these things. But "God will give his Holy Spirit unto them that ask him." He will "strengthen us in our inner man," so that our wills shall be active, our affections lively, our resolutions firm, our exertions effectual. It is no small measure of "might with which he will strengthen us," the greater our necessities, the more abundant will be his liberality towards us: he will bestow "according to the riches of his own glory," so that, if the utmost efforts of Omnipotence were necessary for us, they should be put forth in our behalf; and God's own ability should be the measure of his communications to us.
II. An abiding sense of Christ's presence.
"The believer longs to enjoy the presence of God in his soul, because he finds by experience that the "joy of the Lord is his strength." Nor shall he be disappointed of his hope, if he only spread his desires in prayer before God. There is no habitation, not even Heaven itself, in which Christ more delights to dwell, than in the heart of a believer. He has promised to "come and make his abode with his people," as he did of old in the tabernacle and temple, or as he did in the flesh that he assumed. In them he will exert his power; and to them he will reveal his glory: he will "manifest himself to them, as he does not unto the world."
But, in order to bring him into the soul, we must exercise faith. It is faith that apprehends, and pleads his promise: it is faith that brings him down from Heaven: it is faith which opens the door of the heart for his admission into it: it is faith which detains him there; and which gives us a realizing sense of his presence. It is by prayer that we must obtain this blessing, and by faith that we must enjoy it.
III. An enlarged discovery of his love.
The presence of Christ in the soul is desired, in order to a more lively sense of his love. Now "the love of Christ has a breadth and length, a depth and height," which are utterly unsearchable: it extends to the remotest corners of the earth: it reaches "from everlasting to everlasting," it descends to the very confines of Hell itself, and exalts to thrones of glory those who are its favored objects. In its full extent, it "passes the knowledge" of men or angels; but in a measure it is "comprehended by all the saints." Men's capacity to comprehend it, is proportioned to their growth and stature in the Church of Christ; those who are but infants, have only narrow and contracted views of it; while those who are advanced to manhood, stand amazed at its immeasurable dimensions.
But in order that we "may be able to comprehend it," we ourselves should be "rooted and grounded in love" to him. As a sense of his love is necessary to beget a holy affection in us towards him, so a love to him disposes our mind to contemplate, and enlarges our capacity to comprehend, his love to us. Each in its turn is subservient to the promotion of the other: but under circumstances of trial, which endanger the steadfastness of our profession, we are more especially called to have our love to him "rooted and grounded," so as to be immoveable amidst all the storms with which it may be assailed: and then, from every exercise of our own love, we shall acquire a greater enlargement of heart to admire and adore his love to us.
IV. A repletion with all the fullness of God.
The Apostle's prayer rises at every successive step, until he arrives at a height of expression, which, if it had not been dictated by inspiration, one should have been ready to condemn as blasphemy. Amazing thought! May we offer such a petition. as this? Yes: there is indeed in the Deity an essential fullness, which is incommunicable to his creatures: but there is also a fullness which he does and will communicate. In him are all the perfections of wisdom and goodness, of justice and mercy, of patience and love, of truth and faithfulness: and with these he will "fill" his people, according to the measure of their capacity; so that they shall be "holy as he is holy, and perfect as their Father which is in Heaven is perfect." If any possess but a small portion of his perfections, it is owing to their being "straitened in themselves; for none are straitened in him."
But how is this to be attained? Will repentance effect it? No. Will mortification procure it? No, that which alone will avail for this end, is an enlarged discovery of the love of Christ; and therefore the Apostle prays for the one in order to the other. Indeed, high thoughts of a creature's kindness to us have a natural tendency to produce in us a resemblance to him: but a sense of Christ's love has an irresistible influence to transform us into his image, and to "fill us with all his fullness."
1. How much do the saints in general live below their privileges!
Who that is conversant with the religious world, would imagine that such things as are mentioned in the text were ever to be attained? One is complaining of his weakness and insufficiency; another, of his darkness and distance from Christ: one is harassed with doubts and fears; another bewails his emptiness and the prevalence of sin. Alas!. alas!. how different would be their experience, if they were more constant and importunate in prayer! What strength and comfort, what light and holiness, might they not enjoy! Beloved brethren, do but contemplate the state to which the Ephesians were taught to aspire, and you will blush at your low attainments, and be confounded before God for your partial acquaintance with his mercies.
2. How rich is the benefit of prayer!
There is nothing for which "effectual and fervent prayer will not avail." However "wide we open our mouths, God will fill theme." We may search out all the promises in the Bible, and take them, like notes of hand, for payment: our God will never refuse what is good for us: his generosity is unwearied, his faithfulness inviolate, his treasury inexhaustible. O that there were in us such a heart, that we could go to him at all times, renewing our petitions, and taking occasion, from every fresh grant, to enlarge our desires, and be more importunate in our entreaties! Beyond the Apostle's request we cannot perhaps extend our conceptions: but short of them we would not stop. Ambition here is virtue. Let no strength but omnipotence, content us: no presence but the actual dwelling of Christ in our hearts, satisfy us: no view of his love but a comprehension of it in all its dimensions, limit our researches: nor any communication short of all the fullness of God, allay our appetite for his blessings.
EPHESIANS, 3:18, 19.
See Sermons on 1 Timothy 1:11. where it forms the fourth Sermon of a series.
God's Power to Bless His People
Ephesians 3:20, 21. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
MAN is a dependent creature, and therefore should be instant in prayer: but he is also a creature infinitely indebted to his God, and therefore he should abound also in thanksgiving. The Apostle's direction to us is, that "in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, we should make our requests known unto God." This rule he himself observed, as well in relation to those for whom he interceded, as for himself. He has been pouring out his heart before God on behalf of the Church at Ephesus; and he concludes the prayer with that animated doxology which we have just read.
It is our intention to consider,
I. His representation of the Deity.
God has given a wonderful display of his omnipotence in the visible creation: and he is ever ready to exert it in the behalf of those who call upon him. There is no limit to his power to bless his people.
We may ask what we will, and he will do it for us. We may "ask" for the pardon of all our sins, the supply of all our wants, and for support in all our conflicts; and he will grant our requests. We may then bring forth all the promises in the Bible, and "ask" for the fulfillment of them all to our souls: and they also shall be granted. We may then collect all the most comprehensive expressions that language can afford us, and offer them in prayer before him; and still his liberality will keep pace with our petitions.
After having exhausted all the powers of language, we may proceed to stretch our imaginations beyond the limits of distinct and accurate conception: and, provided the things be proper for him to give, and for us to receive, he can, and will, bestow them. He will do for us not only what we ask, but what we "think;" he will do it "all" and "above" all, and "abundantly" above all, yes, "exceeding" abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
What a glorious view does this give us of the power and goodness of our God!
The works which he has already wrought in us, are a specimen and pledge of what he will yet do for us.
Let us survey what he has done, and is doing, in every one of his saints. He has quickened a dead soul. This is as great a work as that which he performed in raising Christ from the dead, and setting him above all the principalities and powers of earth, of Hell, of Heaven; and, in that view, it displays the exceeding greatness of his power.
He has turned the tide of our affections back again to the fountain head. They were flowing with an irresistible current towards the creature; and God has arrested them in their course, and caused them to flow with rapidity and strength towards himself. We admire this phenomenon in rivers near the sea: but the spiritual change is an incomparably greater display of omnipotence than that; it is nothing less than a new creation.
He preserves a spark alive in the midst of the ocean. What is the principle of grace within us, but a spark of heavenly fire kindled in us by the Spirit of God? But, instead of finding anything in the heart to keep it alive, it meets with everything calculated to repress its ardor. Yet though immersed, as it were, in an ocean of corruption, it maintains its vigor, and burns brighter in proportion to the efforts made for its extinction.
He has taken "a brand out of the burning" and is fitting it for a conspicuous ornament in his temple. We are in ourselves only like branches of a vine, of which "no use can be made, not even a pin to hang any vessel thereon," moreover, we still bear the marks of the fire upon us: yet is God forming and polishing us that we may be an ornament to Heaven itself: so that, when we appear there, the Workman shall be both "admired in us, and glorified in us."
These things show "the power which now works in us, according to which" God will exert himself in future. What has done, and is yet doing, is an earnest of what he will do: it is the commencement of that work which will be perfected in glory.
On this delightful view of the Deity the Apostle grounds,
II. His doxology.
That we may have a just and comprehensive view of this, let us consider,
1. What is that "glory" which is due to God.
We certainly must not limit the word "glory" to the mere idea of praise. We must understand it as corresponding with the fore-mentioned character of God; and as importing admiration, entreaty, confidence, thanksgiving.
We cannot contemplate the power and goodness of God, without being filled with admiration and love. Instead of giving him glory, we should dishonor him in the highest degree, if we did not adopt the language of the Psalmist, "Who in the heavens can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? O Lord God of Hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto you?"
And to what purpose do we admire God's power to bless his people, if we do not present before him our entreaties? It is in vain that we confess him able to answer and exceed our petitions, if we do not carry to him our sins to be forgiven, and our wants to be supplied. If we believe that he will fill our mouths, we cannot but open them wide.
We must also, under the most trying circumstances, maintain an unshaken confidence in him, as able and willing to save. It was by this that Abraham "gave glory to God," "He staggered not at the promises through unbelief, but was strong in faith," believing, that if he should reduce his beloved Isaac to ashes, "God was able to raise him up again," and to accomplish all that he had spoken respecting him.
As for the offering of thanksgiving, that is the first and most obvious meaning of the Apostle in the text. We must not think of God merely as "able" to do such great things, but as willing also: and for the encouragement which this representation of the Deity affords us, we must bless, and praise, and magnify his name. The words of the Psalmist are exactly suited to the occasion; "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things: and blessed be his glorious name forever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen.
2. How, and by whom, it should be offered.
It is "by Jesus Christ" alone that any blessings descend from God to us: and it is by him that all our services must ascend to him. However devout and excellent the offering be, it cannot come to God but by Jesus Christ. It neither has, nor can have, any merit in itself: it must derive all its value from the merit of his death, and the virtue of his intercession. This is the uniform testimony of the inspired writers: and it is of infinite importance that we should be grounded in the knowledge of it.
But who are they that are to give him glory? The Apostle says, "To him be glory in the Church." He does not exclude the world, as though they had no reason to bless their God; but because he knew that they had no disposition to bless him. They do not pray to him: how then should they receive answers to prayer? and how should they discover his ability to exceed our highest thoughts? But the Church are "a people near unto God," they are in the habit of praying to him, and of receiving answers to their prayers: and they know, by sweet experience, his power and willingness to save. They therefore are disposed to give him glory: and they would gladly spend eternity itself in advancing his honor, and singing his praise.
And is there one among you that does not add, "Amen?" If there be one such ungrateful wretch, let him know, that God is as "able to destroy as he is to save." But let us hope rather that all of you are now like-minded with the Apostle, and that you will go from this place to "praise the Lord, who has dealt wondrously with your." Take then with you those delightful strains of David; "Among the gods there is none like unto you, O Lord; neither are any works like unto your works: for you are great, and do wondrous things: you are God alone."
A Consistent Walk Enjoined
Ephesians 4:1–3. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
THE end of all true religion is practice: and the perfection of practice is a habit of mind suited to the relations which we bear to God and man, and to the circumstances in which from time to time we are placed. It is not by external acts only that we are to serve God: the passive virtues of meekness, and patience, and long-suffering, and forbearance, are quite as pleasing in his sight, as the most active virtues in which we can be engaged. Hence Paul, in entering on the practical part of this epistle, entreats the Ephesian converts to pay particular attention to these graces, and to consider them as the clearest evidences of their sincerity, and the brightest ornaments of their profession. He was at this time a prisoner at Rome: but no personal considerations occupied his mind. He had no request to make for himself; no wish for any exertions on their part to liberate him from his confinement: he was willing to suffer for his Lord's sake; and sought only to make his sufferings a plea, whereby to enforce the more powerfully on their minds the great subject which he had at heart, their progressive advancement in real piety.
With a similar view we would now draw your attention to,
I. His general exhortation.
First, let us get a distinct idea of what the Christian's "vocation" is.
It is a vocation from death to life, from sin to holiness, from Hell to Heaven.
Every Christian was once dead in trespasses and sins—But he has heard the voice of the Son of God speaking to him in the Gospel—and, through the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, he "has passed from death unto life;" so that, though once he was dead, lie is now alive again; and though once lost, he is found.
From the time-that he is so quickened, he rises to newness of life. Just as his Lord and Savior "died unto sin once, but, in that he lives, lives unto God," so the Christian is conformed to Christ in this respect, "reckoning himself dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ." By his very calling he is "turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God;" and engages to be "holy, even as God himself is holy."
Once the believer was a "child of wrath, even as others;" and, had he died in his unconverted state, must have perished forever. But through the blood of Jesus he is delivered from the guilt of all his sins, and obtains a title to the heavenly inheritance—Hence he is said to be "called to the kingdom and glory of his God," and "to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Thus is the Christian's "a high," "a holy," and "a heavenly calling."
Such, believer, being your vocation, you may easily see what kind of a walk that is which is suited to it.
Do you profess to have experienced such a call? "Walk worthy of the" profession which you make, the expectations you have formed, and the obligations which are laid upon you.
It is not any common measure of holiness that befits a person professing such things as these. How unsuitable would it be for one who pretends to have been "born from above," to be setting his affections on anything here below; or for one who is "a partaker of the Divine nature," to "walk in any other way than as Christ himself walked!."
And, seeing that you "look for a better country, that is, an heavenly," should you not aspire after it, and "press forward towards it, forgetting all the ground you have passed over, and mindful only of the way that lies before you?—Should not "your conversation be in Heaven," where your treasure now is, and where you hope in a little time to be, in the immediate presence of your God?
If you have indeed been so highly distinguished, should you not "live no longer to yourselves, but altogether unto Him who died for you and rose again?" Should anything short of absolute perfection satisfy you? Should you not labor to "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God?"
This then is what I would earnestly entreat you all to seek after, even to walk worthy of your high calling, or rather, "worthy of the Lord himself," who has "called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
But that we may come more closely to the point, we will call your attention to,
II. The particular duties he inculcates.
In order to adorn our Christian profession, we must especially keep in view,
1. 1. The cultivation of holy tempers in ourselves.
Without this, nothing can ever prosper in our souls. "Lowliness and meekness" are unostentatious virtues; but they are of pre-eminent value in the sight of God. They constitute the brightest ornament of "the hidden man of the heart," which alone engages the regards of the heart-searching God. In the very first place, therefore, get your souls deeply impressed with a sense of your own unworthiness, and of your total destitution of wisdom, or righteousness, or strength, or anything that is good. No man is so truly rich as he who is "poor in spirit;" no man so estimable in God's eyes, as he who is most abased in his own. With humility must be associated meekness. These two qualities particularly characterized our blessed Lord: of whom we are on that account encouraged to learn; and whom in these respects we are bound to imitate, "having the same mind as was in him." Let these dispositions then be cultivated with peculiar care, according as James has exhorted us; "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom."
And while we maintain in exercise these graces, let us also be long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. However meek and lowly we are in ourselves, it cannot fail but that we must occasionally meet with things painful from others. The very graces which we manifest will often call forth the enmity of others, and cause them to act an injurious part towards us. But, if this should be the case, we must be long-suffering towards them, not retaliating the injury, nor harboring resentment in our hearts, but patiently submitting to it, as to a dispensation ordered by Infinite Wisdom for our good. But, where this is not the case, there will still be occasions of vexation, arising from the conduct of those around us: the ignorance of some, the misapprehensions and mistakes of others, the perverseness of others, the want of judgment in others, sometimes also pure accident, will place us in circumstances of difficulty and embarrassment. But from whatever cause these trials arise, we should show forbearance towards the offender, from a principle of love; not being offended with him, not imputing evil intention to him, not suffering our regards towards him to be diminished; but bearing with his infirmities, as we desire that God should bear with ours.
Now it is in preserving such a state of mind in ourselves, and manifesting it towards others, that we shall particularly adorn the Gospel of Christ: and therefore, in our endeavors to walk worthy of our high calling, we must particularly be on our guard, that no temper contrary to these break forth into act, or be harbored in the mind.
2. The promotion of peace and unity in all around us.
As belonging to the Church of Christ, we have duties towards all the members of his mystical body. There ought to be perfect union among them all: they should, if possible, be "all joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." But, constituted as men are, it is scarcely to be expected that all who believe in Christ should have precisely the same views of every doctrine, or even of every duty. But whatever points of difference there may be between them, there should be a perfect unity of spirit: and to preserve this should be the constant endeavor of them all. All should consider themselves as members of one family, living under the same roof: if the house be on fire, they all exert themselves in concert with each other, to extinguish the flames: they feel one common interest in the welfare of the whole, and gladly unite for the promotion of it. Thus it should be in the Church of Christ. Everything tending to disunion should be avoided by all; or if the bonds of peace be in any degree loosened, every possible effort should be made to counteract the evil, and re-establish the harmony that has been interrupted. A constant readiness to this good office is no low attainment; and, when joined with the graces before spoken of, it constitutes a most useful and ornamental part of the Christian character. Attend then to this with great care. Show that you "do not mind your own things only, but also, if not chiefly, the things of others." Show, that the welfare of the Church, and the honor of your Lord, lie near your heart: and let no effort be wanting on your part to promote so glorious an object. Be willing to sacrifice any interest or wish of your own for the attainment of it; even as Paul "became all things to all men," and "sought not his own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved."
And now, let me, like the Apostle, make this the subject of my most earnest and affectionate entreaty. Consider, "I beseech you,"
1. Its aspect on your own happiness.
It is the consistent Christian only that can be happy. If there be pride, anger, or any hateful passion indulged, "it will eat as does a canker," and destroy all the comfort of the soul; it will cause God to hide his face from us, and weaken the evidences of our acceptance with him. If then you consult nothing but your own happiness, I would say to you, "Walk worthy the vocation with which you are called; and especially in the constant exercise of humility and love."
2. Its aspect on the Church of which you are members.
It is impossible to benefit the Church, if these graces be not cultivated with the greatest care. In every Church there will be some, who, by unsubdued tempers, or erroneous notions, or a party-spirit, will be introducing divisions, and disturbing the harmony which ought to prevail. Against all such persons the humble Christian should be on his guard, and oppose a barrier. And it is scarcely to be conceived how much good one person of a humble and loving spirit may do. If "one sinner destroys much good," so truly one active and pious Christian effects much. Let each of you then consider the good of the whole: consider yourselves as soldiers fighting under one Head. Your regimental dress may differ from that of others; but the end, and aim, and labor of all, must be the same; and all must have but one object, the glory of their common Lord.
3. Its aspect on the world around you.
What will the world say, if they see Christians dishonoring their profession by unholy tempers and mutual animosities? What opinion will they have of principles which produce in their votaries no better effects? Will they not harden themselves and one another in their sins, and justify themselves in their rejection of the Gospel, which your inconsistencies have taught them to blaspheme? But if your deportment be such that they can find no evil thing to say of you, they will be constrained to acknowledge that God is with you of a truth, and to glorify him in your behalf. Especially, if they see you to be one with each other, as God and Christ are one, they will know that your principles are just, and will wish to have their portion with you in a better world.
4. Its aspect on your eternal welfare.
In all the most essential things, all the members of Christ's mystical body are of necessity united: there is "one body," of which you are members: "one Spirit," by which you are animated; one inheritance, which is the "one hope of your calling;" "one Lord," Jesus Christ, who died for you; "one faith," which you have all received; "one baptism," in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, of which you have all partaken; one God and Father of all, who "is above all," by his essential majesty, and "through all," by his universal providence, "and in you all" by his indwelling Spirit: and shall you, who are one in so many things, be separated from each other so as not to be one in Christian love? It cannot be: your love to each other is the most indispensable evidence of your union with him: and, if you are not united together in the bonds of love in the Church below, you never can be united in glory in the Church above. If ever then you would join with that choir of saints and angels which are around the throne of God, be consistent, be uniform, be humble; and let love have a complete and undisputed sway over your hearts and lives.
Ephesians 4:4–6. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
IT is often urged, as an objection against Christianity, that those who profess it are not agreed respecting the doctrines which it inculcates: and we are triumphantly urged to come to an agreement among ourselves, before we attempt to proselyte others to our religion. That persons calling themselves Christians differ widely from each other, is readily acknowledged. But it must be remembered, that Christianity is not a mere theory, which leaves men at liberty in relation to their practice: it is a religion which requires its votaries to have their whole souls brought into subjection to it, and cast, as it were, into its very mold: and those who affect not a conformity to its doctrines, will deny the doctrines themselves; having no alternative, but to set aside the requirements, or to condemn themselves for their disobedience to them. But between real Christians there is, on all the fundamental points of religion, a surprising agreement, even such an unity as does not exist on any other subject under Heaven. Every true believer, whether learned or unlearned, feels himself to be a sinner before God; dependent altogether on the blood of Christ to purge him from his guilt, and on the Spirit of Christ to renew and sanctify his soul. The necessity of universal holiness, too, is equally acknowledged by all; so that, whatever difference there may appear to be between the different members of Christ's mystical body, it is only such as exists in the countenances of different men; the main features being the same in all; and the diversity being discoverable only on a closer inspection.
That this truth may the more fully appear, I will take occasion, from the words before us, to show,
I. The foundation which the Gospel lays for unity.
The unity of the Gospel is carried to a great extent.
The whole Christian Church is brought by the Gospel into "one body," of which Christ is the head, and all true believers are the members. This body is inhabited by "one Spirit," even the Holy Spirit, who pervades the whole, and animates it in every part. It is his presence only that gives life; and were he withdrawn for a moment, the soul would be as incapable of all spiritual motion, as a dead corpse is of all the functions of the animal life. To "one hope are we all called, even to an inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in Heaven for us." The "one Lord" of all is the Lord Jesus Christ, who "purchased the Church with his own blood," and presides over it as "Lord of all," and will judge every member of it in the last day. To all of them there is but "one faith;" to which all, without exception, must adhere, and by which alone they can be saved. Into this new-covenant state they are all admitted by "one baptism," "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." And of all there is one God and Father, "who is above all," by his almighty power; "and through all," by his superintending providence; "and in all," by the constant operation of his Spirit and grace.
All this may well serve as a foundation for unity, among those who profess the Gospel.
The force of this observation is universally acknowledged, in reference to the corporeal frame. The whole human frame proceeds from one source, is subject to the same wants, nourished by the same supplies, and affected with the same lot. In reference to that, it is judged reasonable that every part should have the same care one for the other; and that every member should sympathize with the rest, whether in a way of joy or sorrow, according as circumstances may require. All idea of a separate interest is quite excluded; and the happiness of every individual part is bound up in the welfare of the whole. Much more, therefore, may all disunion be proscribed in so sacred a body as the Church, where not merely the prosperity of the different members is at stake, but the honor of Almighty God also, and the interests of the whole world.
Accordingly, we find universal harmony provided for, in,
II. The unity it enjoins.
It requires an unity,
1. Of sentiment.
This is not to be expected in everything: for, where the mind is so constituted as ours is, and possesses such different measures of information, and beholds subjects from such different points of view, it is not possible that there should be a perfect agreement of sentiment upon everything. But it may well be expected to prevail, so far at least as to prevent dissension and division in the Church of God. This the Apostle inculcated with all possible earnestness: "I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment." A departure from this rule is declared to be a proof of grievous carnality: and, if fostered in the soul, and promoted in the Church, it is judged a sufficient ground for the most marked disapprobation from every child of God: "Mark them who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them: for they that are such serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly" and corrupt appetites.
2. Of affection.
Love is the grace which most adorns the true Christian: it is properly his distinctive mark. It is not to be interrupted by party distinctions; which, instead of justifying an alienation from each other, should themselves, as far as possible, be buried in oblivion. In the body, no one member can say to another, "I have no need of you," the least and lowest has its appropriate office, as well as those whose powers are of a superior order: nor does its difference of form or office cause it to be overlooked, or its welfare to be despised. But herein the Christian world is doubtless very defective. Minor differences and distinctions are magnified among them into occasions of mutual aversion; insomuch, that a circumstantial difference, in relation to the mere externals of religion, often sets persons as far asunder as they are even from professed heathens. But let not Christianity be blamed for this. The evil arises solely from that corruption of the human heart which Christianity is intended to subdue and mortify. And I cannot but regard the change which has taken place in this respect, through the influence of the Bible Society, as a blessing of peculiar magnitude to the whole Church of God. The duty of all, to whatever denomination of Christians they may happen to belong, is, to "love as brethren;" yes, to "be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one to another." The true pattern is that which was set us on the day of Pentecost—To all, therefore, I would say, with the Apostle, "If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affections and mercies, fulfill you my joy, that you be like-minded; having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
3. Of conduct.
As immortal beings, we all have one great pursuit, which we ought to follow with our whole hearts, and in comparison of which all other things should be as dung and dross. We should all resemble the twelve tribes of Israel, in their journey through the wilderness. All kept their appointed places; those who led, not despising those who followed; nor those who moved in the rear envying those who led the van. All surrounded the tabernacle, as the first object of their unvaried solicitude; and all looked forward to Canaan, as the crown and recompense of all their labors. So should it be with us. To advance the cause of God in this world, and to reach the promised land, should be the objects nearest to all our hearts. In this, then, let us all unite: "forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, let us press forward for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Let us, I say, as many as be perfect, "be thus minded."
The Ascension of Christ
Ephesians 4:7, 8. Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he says, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
FROM the divisions which exist in the Christian Church, it has been said, by the enemies of Christianity, "First agree among yourselves, before you attempt to proselyte others to your religion." That divisions do exist, is undeniable: and that they are a disgrace to our holy religion, must be confessed. But still, while we mourn over these differences, we believe that there is no society under Heaven that is more agreed in all essential points than the Church of Christ. In the great essential points of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the necessity of obedience to all the commands of God, there is no difference among any true Christians, whether they be found among the most enlightened philosophers or the most uncivilized barbarians. In our bodily frame there are many members, which, though widely different from each other in their use and structure, are in perfect harmony with each other, as being all actuated by the same spirit, harmoniously employed for the good of the whole. And this is precisely what exists in the Church of Christ: "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit: and there are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord: and there are diversities of operations; but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal: for to one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge, by the same Spirit; to another, faith, by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing, by the same Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues: but all these works that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." This is exactly what the Apostle affirms in the passage before us: whatever differences there be among us, we should "forbear one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," for, amidst all those differences, "there is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." Whatever differences are made, either in respect of gifts or graces, they are all made by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, agreeably to what had been foretold concerning him; as the Apostle says in our text: "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ: wherefore he says, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men."
In discoursing on these words, we shall be led to consider,
I. The obligations we owe to Christ.
On the primitive Church there were many special and miraculous gifts bestowed: in reference to which, the Apostle says of Christ, "He gave some, Apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." But, while a distinction was made among the members of the Church in reference to gifts, there were graces bestowed indiscriminately on all, though in different degrees, according to the will and pleasure of the Giver of them all, the Lord Jesus Christ. And thus it is at this time:
There is among men a great diversity both of gifts and graces.
Some are endowed with richer talents than others originally, at their first coming into the world. In early infancy, a distinction is visible, both in respect to corporeal and mental endowments; weakness and imbecility being the lot of some, while strength and energy are the happy portion of others. Wealth and poverty also place men far asunder, in reference to their station in society; insomuch that, to one who considers only the outward appearance, the most elevated and the most depressed of men seem almost to belong to different orders of creation, rather than to different ranks of the same order. Something of the same may be noticed in reference to the graces of men. I say, something of the same: for, where any portion of real grace is, there is such an elevation of character, that there is a far less distance between the extremes of those who are born of God, than there is of those who are yet in their natural and unregenerate state. But John speaks of "little children, young men, and fathers," in the Church; and consequently there must of necessity be so much of disparity in real saints as will justify the use of these appropriate and characteristic terms.
But, whatever be the measure of any man's gifts, he is altogether indebted to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the true source and giver of them.
We see the truth of this observation in reference to intellectual powers; which, even before any means have been used for the improvement of them, are found much stronger in some than in others. And, though I readily acknowledge that talent depends, in some measure, on the cultivation of the human mind, yet I must say, it is God alone who inclines or enables us to cultivate it with effect. In like manner it must be confessed, that much also may depend on our use of the means of grace; but still I must say, that it is "God alone who gives us either to will or to do;" and, consequently, whatever flows from our willing and doing must be his gift also. Remember then, I pray you, to whom you are indebted for every grace you possess. Have you any measure of repentance? it is conferred on you by the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you any measure of faith? "it has been given you by him to believe." Have you any measure of holiness? this also has come from Him, "who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working." Yet we must not suppose that no guilt attaches to us for the want of these graces: we are bound to repent, and believe the Gospel, and to obey the commands of God; and shall be justly doomed to punishment, if we abide in impenitence or unbelief. Yet, for all these graces, so far as we possess them, we must confess our obligation to the Lord Jesus Christ, who, in the distribution of them, acts according to his own sovereign will: so that we have no ground for glorying, if we possess a larger measure; nor for repining, if we possess a less. We may "covet earnestly, indeed, the best gifts;" but, whatever be the measure of them which has been conferred upon us, we must be thankful for them, and improve them diligently, for the benefit of man, and the honor of our God.
While we acknowledge our obligations to Christ, it will be proper to inquire,
II. Whence it is that he is empowered to confer them.
Respecting this we are informed by David, who prophesied concerning our blessed Lord, and foretold that he should be invested with the power which is here ascribed to him.
Let us first understand the prophecy itself.
The psalm, from whence it is taken, was written by David, on occasion of his carrying up the ark to Mount Zion. David, having subdued all his enemies, desired to honor God by bringing up the ark from Kirjath-jearim to Mount Zion, and placing it in the tabernacle there, as its permanent abode. In celebrating this event, he goes back to the days of Moses, when all the hosts of Egypt were destroyed in the Red Sea; and the Hebrews, enriched with the spoils of Egypt, formed with them a tabernacle for the service of their God. In both events, the triumphs of Israel's God were seen, and the work of their Messiah was prefigured: "You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive: you have received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them."
Now let us see the application of it to the Lord Jesus.
Our blessed Savior had now vanquished all his enemies upon the cross: "by death he had overcome death, and him that had the power of it, that is, the devil;" and "having spoiled principalities and powers, he triumphed over them openly upon the cross." In his ascension, like a mighty conqueror, he "led them captive," as it were, at his chariot-wheels: and as conquerors, in their triumphs, were accustomed to scatter gifts and largesses among the people, so he received from his heavenly Father the Holy Spirit, and poured him forth upon the Church, in all his gifts and graces, in order that "the most rebellious" of men might be converted to the Lord, and "the Lord God might dwell among them." The right to confer these gifts was founded on his previous conflicts and victories: and, when they were completed, the right was exercised, to the unspeakable benefit of the Church at that day; and not at that day only, but in all subsequent ages, even to the present hour.
Now, then, see,
1. What reason we have to bless God for the events which are this day commemorated among us.
The Apostle tells us, in the words following my text, that "Jesus ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things." This was the very end of his ascension. He had come down from Heaven, that he might procure for us these blessings: and now he ascended up to Heaven, that he might confer on us the fruits of his victories. The sun arises on the earth, that he may diffuse his benefits through the whole material creation: and in like manner the Sun of Righteousness is risen, to scatter forth his blessings upon fallen man. Does any one feel his need of grace, or mercy, or peace? let him remember, that the Lord Jesus Christ is ascended to Heaven on purpose to bestow them. Had he not ascended, the Holy Spirit would never have been sent down to us: but now that Jesus "has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit," no one needs to remain destitute of any spiritual blessing whatever. If it be said, we have been rebellious; I answer, our past rebellions will be no bar to the communication of his blessings to us, if only we be willing to lay down the weapons of our warfare, and to implore mercy at his hands. It is "for the rebellious" that he himself has received the gift; and on the rebellious he is willing to confer it. Let all then, without exception, rejoice in the evidence they have, that Christ has vanquished all their enemies; and in the certainty, that all who look to him shall be enriched "out of his fullness, receiving grace" upon grace, and grace corresponding with the grace which there was in him.
2. What rich measures of grace we are authorized to aspire after.
Though we all ought to be thankful for the smallest measure of grace, we should never be satisfied until we have attained the largest. We are told by the Apostle, that we should "grow up into Christ as our living Head," even "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ himself." What a glorious object for our ambition is here! O brethren, be not straitened in your own affections; for you are not straitened in your God! The lord Jesus, who first descended from Heaven, and became incarnate for you, is now ascended to Heaven in the very nature that he assumed for you: and well does he know all your wants and necessities, which he is as ready, as he is able, to supply. Open wide, therefore, your mouth, in supplication to him; and be assured, that he will give you a more abundant supply of his Spirit; nor will ever withhold his hand, until you are filled with all the fullness of God.
The Use of a Stated Ministry
Ephesians 4:11–16. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
IT is a truth never to be forgotten, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the fountain of life, and that "all our fresh springs are in him," Unless this be borne in mind, we shall never be able to do the will of God aright; nor will Christ ever be glorified by us as he ought to be. Hence the Apostle, after exhorting the Ephesian converts to walk worthy the vocation with which they had been called, reminds them, that, so far as they had been enabled to do this, they had done it through grace received from the Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to the predictions concerning him, had ascended up to Heaven, and bestowed it upon them. One particular prediction to this effect he specifies; and then, commenting upon it, declares, that Jesus, having triumphed over all his enemies, had, after the manner of conquerors, who scattered gifts and largesses among their followers, conferred these and other blessings upon them. Of the other blessings he had bestowed upon his Church, the Apostle mentions some which were extraordinary and temporary, as apostles, prophets, and evangelists; and some which were ordinary and permanent, as pastors and teachers, whose office was to be continued for the benefit of the Church in all succeeding generations.
What the particular benefits were which the Church was to derive from these pastors and teachers, he then proceeds to notice, and sets them forth under a variety of most beautiful and instructive images. That we may enter more fully into the subject, we shall endeavor to show,
I. The ends for which a stated ministry was ordained.
1. The perpetuating of a succession of duly qualified instructors in the Church.
This seems to be the import of those words which first occur in our text, and which might perhaps have been more properly translated, "For the fitting of holy men for the work of the ministry for the edification of the body of Christ." Among the Jews, especial care was taken that the knowledge of the true God should be transmitted to the latest generations: as David says; "God established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children." So under the Christian dispensation, care is taken, that there never shall be wanting a, succession of persons duly qualified and authorized to transmit to every succeeding generation the knowledge of Christ, and of his Gospel. Paul says to Timothy, "The things which you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit you to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." Were the ministerial office to cease, the Church itself would soon fall into decay: for though it is certain that the Scriptures are of themselves, when applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul, able to make men wise unto salvation, it is also certain, that the ministry of the word is, and ever has been, the chief instrument which God makes use of for the conversion of the world. A vision was given to Cornelius, and an angel sent to inform him where he might find an authorized instructor; and repeated visions were given to Peter, and not only given, but explained to him by the Holy Spirit, in order to remove his scruples, and prevail upon him to go to Cornelius, for the express purpose of honoring God's instituted means of communicating the knowledge of his Gospel. For the very same end was Philip directed, by the Holy Spirit, to go to the Ethiopian eunuch, and to open to him the portion of Scripture which he was reading. The Spirit might as easily have opened the eyes of the eunuch, without the intervention of Philip: but he chose to put the honor on the means which he had instituted; and to effect that by his minister, which he would not effect by the word alone.
In all ages shall such ministers be raised up, through the operation of the preached word; nor shall the Church cease to be supplied with them, until there shall remain no more members to be added to her, nor any further work to be wrought in those of which she is composed.
2. The edification of the Church itself.
The Church of Christ is his body: those who believe in him are his members: and every member has a measure of growth which it is destined to attain: and it is the completeness of the members in number and proficiency, that constitutes the perfection of the whole body. Towards this perfection the Church is gradually advancing. To help forward this good work is the office of God's servants, who are continually laboring for the good of the Church, and striving to edify her in faith and love. The ignorant they are to instruct; the weak they are to strengthen and establish; the wandering they are to bring back; and over every member are they so to watch, that all may be progressively fitted for the discharge of their respective offices, and that God may be glorified in all.
But as the ministry can be effectual only through the medium of our own exertions, it will be proper to show,
II. The use we should make of it.
It finds us sinners: it brings us to the state of saints: and when formed by it into one great community, it leads us to a performance of the duties we owe to all the members of that body. In each of these states we have duties to perform.
1. As sinners, we should seek that faith which alone will save us.
There is but "one faith;" and one "knowledge of the Son of God," in which we must be all agreed. In matters of minor importance we may differ from each other: but "the Head we must all hold," we must simply look to the Lord Jesus Christ, as dying for us, and as making reconciliation for us by the blood of his cross; our hope must be in him, and in him alone: and, if we place the smallest dependence on anything of our own, we can have no part in his salvation. In relation to this matter, there must be no diversity: perfect "unity" is required: and to bring you to this unity, is the great scope of our labors. Brethren, consider this; and inquire whether our ministry has had a proper influence upon you in this respect? Have you been made to feel yourselves guilty and undone; and have you fled to Christ for refuge, as to the one hope that is set before you?—Have you renounced all dependence whatever on yourselves; and are you daily looking to him as "made of God unto you wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?"—We say again, that if our ministry be not effectual to bring you to this, it is not a savor of life unto you, but a savor of death to your more aggravated condemnation.
2. As believers, we should seek to "grow up into Christ in all things."
While we are yet weak in the faith, we are in constant danger of being turned aside from the truth of God. Both men and devils will labor incessantly to draw us from the one foundation of a sinner's hope. But we are to be "growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." We are not to continue "as children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine," we are to be aware of the devices of our enemies: we are to get a deeper insight into the great mystery of godliness: we are to become daily more and more established in the truth as it is in Jesus, so as to be proof against all "the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive." On whatever side we are assaulted, our enemies should find us armed. Are we attacked by the specious reasonings of false philosophy, or the proud conceits of self-righteous moralists, we should reject the dogmas both of the one and the other, and "determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified." "To him we should cleave with full purpose of heart," making daily more and more use of him in all his offices. As our Priest, we should confide more simply in the atonement he has offered for us, and in his continual intercession for us at the right hand of God. As our Prophet, we should rely on him more entirely to instruct us in the knowledge of God's will, and to guide us into all truth. As our King, we should look to him to put down all our enemies, and to bring every thought of our hearts into captivity to his holy will. In a word, we should live more simply and entirely by faith in him, receiving daily out of his fullness all that we stand in need of, and improving it all for the glory of his name.
Thus to establish you in Christ, is a further intent of our ministry; even to bring you to live in the same communion with him, as the members have with the head. You must feel that you have nothing in yourselves, but all in him: and whatever communications you receive from him, must be employed in executing his will, and in promoting his glory.
3. As members of Christ's mystical body, we should seek to promote the welfare of the whole.
In the natural body, all the members consult and act for the good of the whole: no one possesses anything for itself only; but all being compacted together by joints and ligaments, and every joint, from the largest to the smallest, supplying a measure of unctuous and nutritious matter, each according to its ability, for the benefit of the member that is in contact with it, and for the good of the whole body, all grow together; and that from infancy to youth, from youth to manhood, until the whole has attained that measure of perfection which God has designed for it. Thus it must be in the mystical body of Christ's Church. Believers are no more independent of each other, than they are of Christ: as they are united unto him by faith, so are they to be united to each other by love. None are to consider anything which they possess as private property, but as a trust to be improved for the good of the whole. Nor are they to consider only that part of the body with which they are in more immediate contact, but the whole without exception; assured, that the happiness of the whole is bound up in the welfare of every part; and that all being connected by one common interest, all must labor together for one common end.
When this is attained, the intent of our ministry is fully answered. A life of faith, and a life of love, is that for which God has begotten us by his Gospel—But let me ask, Is this end answered upon us? Do we regard the whole Church of God, as well that part which is more remote, as that which is nearer to us, as members of our own body, entitled to all possible care and love? O that it were thus in every place under Heaven! O that there were no schisms in this sacred body! But let there be no want of effort, on our part, to advance the temporal and spiritual welfare of all around us: let there be "an effectual working in the measure of every part, that so the body may be increased, and the whole be edified in love."
Education and Walk of Christians
Ephesians 4:20, 21. But you have not so learned Christ; if so be that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.
WE shall do well ever to remember, that Christianity is not a mere speculative theory, that is to inform the mind; but a great practical lesson, to renew the heart, and to bring us back to the state from whence we are fallen. The means which it prescribes for the attainment of its end, are doubtless most mysterious: but still the end is that for which the means are ordained; and the restoration of our souls to the Divine image must be our one constant and uniform pursuit. Paul ever bears this in mind. He sets forth, in the clearest view, and the most glowing colors, the wonders of redeeming love: but he ever comes to this at last, that we are to "be sanctified by the truth," and that "the truth must set us free" from all our spiritual enemies. He was, at the time he wrote this epistle, imprisoned at Rome: yet what did he desire of the Ephesian Church? Did he request them to interest themselves in his behalf, that he might be restored to liberty? No; the thought did not so much as enter into his mind: the welfare of their souls was all his concern: "I, therefore," says he, "the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that you walk worthy the vocation with which you are called," and again, "This I say and testify in the Lord, that you walk not as other Gentiles walk," you are instructed better: you can never conform to their practices: no; "you have not so learned Christ, if so be have heard him, and been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus."
In these remarkable words, we see,
I. The Christian's education.
"He has been instructed by our Lord Jesus Christ himself."
There is a teaching which proceeds from Christ himself.
I readily grant, that, in learning from the inspired writings, we may properly be said to learn of Christ: for he himself said to his Apostles, "He who hears you, hears me; and he who despises you, despises me; and he who despises me, despises him that sent me." But it is evident that much more than this is contained in the words before us: in fact, here is a contrast drawn between those who learn by the word, or human teaching only, and those who learn of the Lord Jesus Christ himself: the former may find their instruction insufficient to regulate their life: the latter never can; because Christ instructs the heart, to which nothing but Omnipotence can gain access. This teaching is sometimes ascribed, in Scripture, to the Father: "Every man that has heard and learned of the Father, comes unto me." Sometimes it is ascribed to the Son: "No man knows the Father, but the Son, and he to whoever the Son will reveal him." Sometimes it is ascribed to the Holy Spirit: "The Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things." But the truth is the same; since, whether it be the Father or the Son who instructs us, it is always by the agency of the Holy Spirit, To say exactly how Christ instructs us, is beyond our power: it is not by visions, or by voices, or by dreams, as in the days of old; but by opening to us the Scriptures, and giving us a spiritual perception of the truths contained in them. We know not how our own spirit operates on our body: yet we have no doubt but that it does; because the body obeys in all things the motions of the mind: so, though we cannot define the precise mode in which the Spirit of God operates on our spirit, we know, by the effects, that an influence is exerted by Him upon our minds, and that by that influence we are enabled to see and comprehend many things which to the natural man are utter foolishness.
This teaching every true Christian receives.
In matters of science, the Christian has no advantage above others: his progress will be regulated by laws that are common to every student. But in the concerns of the soul he has a decided superiority, above all his equals in age and learning. He has the Lord Jesus Christ for his instructor: his "heart has been opened by the Lord, as Lydia's was, to attend to the things of God;" and his understanding has been opened to understand them." It was by this teaching that Peter, a poor fisherman, was enabled to declare the true character of Christ, which the Scribes and Pharisees, with all their advantages, were not able to discern: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in Heaven" If it be thought that this privilege was confined to the Apostles, or to the apostolic age, I answer, that it is the portion of all God's people to the end of time; according as it is written, "All your children shall be taught of God, and great shall the peace be of your children."
Suited to this education is,
II. The Christian's walk.
The Apostle tells us what this is: he tells us,
1. Negatively, what it is not.
The state of the Gentile world is awful in the extreme. Whatever may be the conduct of a few among them, the great mass are alienated from all good, and addicted to all evil. As for God, they know him not, nor have any desire to know him. Their minds are altogether alienated from everything which God would approve: they have no disposition but towards the vanities of this polluted world; nor, when they transgress what even their own consciences would dictate, do they feel that compunction of heart that would become them. The unenlightened among ourselves do not indeed resemble the Gentiles in some respects: they are free from open idolatry, and more limited perhaps in their sensual indulgences: but in an alienation from the life of God, and an addictedness to earthly vanities, they differ very little from the heathen world. But true Christians are of a very different mind: as the Apostle says, "You have not so learned Christ." No, indeed: the true Christian has not so learned Christ: he cannot "run to the same excess of riot" that ungodly men do; nor will he be conformed, in any of these vanities, to the world around him. He "comes out from the world, and is separate; and would not willingly touch the unclean thing;" much less revel in all manner of impurity: and this very separation from the world is that which chiefly incenses the world against him. He comes out from "the broad road which leads to destruction, and walks rather in that narrow path which leads unto life."
2. Positively, what it is.
The Christian, who has really heard Christ, and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus, will adhere to the truth as it is in Jesus: he will labor that the full end of Jesus' incarnation and life and death should be realized in him. He will see how the truth was exemplified in Jesus; and will endeavor "so to walk, even as he walked." Not that he will be satisfied with any change in his outward conduct: he will seek to become a new creature; to put off the whole body of sin, with which he is encompassed; and to put on the whole body of righteousness, whereby he may approve himself to God. The life of God, from which the unenlightened is alienated, is that which he will cultivate to the utmost of his power; and in maintaining it, he will labor with all earnestness, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before, if by any means he may attain so rich a prize.
1. Those who desire to understand the Gospel.
Remember what it is you have to learn: the Apostle calls it "learning Christ." This gives us the complete idea of all that a Christian needs to know. The Gospel is an exhibition of Jesus Christ: all that he is in himself, and all that he is to us, is there revealed: all the mysterious purposes of his grace; all the offices that he sustains in the work of redemption; all that he has done and suffered; all that he is now doing; all that he has engaged to do; all that can be known of him, is there set forth; and there may we behold all the glory of the Godhead shining in his face. This, then, is what we have to learn: the knowledge of Christ is all and in all. Come, then, and sit at the feet of Jesus: come, and learn of him with all docility of mind, as little children; entreat him to take away the veil from your hearts, and to "manifest himself unto you as he does not unto the world." Then shall you "behold his glory, even the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father;" and know Him, whom to know is life eternal. And let no one be discouraged because of his want of intellectual powers: for "what he has hid from the wise and prudent, he will reveal to babes and sucklings;" and "his strength shall be perfected in their weakness."
2. Those who desire to adorn the Gospel.
Take not the world's standard of duty as that which you should aim at: for I declare and "testify," that that will not suffice; nor can you ever please God by such a measure of sanctification as the best of unenlightened men affect. No; "you must not walk as other Gentiles walk;" nor as the merely nominal Christian walks. You must soar far above him: you must see how Christ himself walked, and follow him in all his ways; being "pure as he was pure," and "perfect as he was perfect." And never imagine that you have yet attained. To your latest hour there will be remnants of "the old man to be put off," and larger measures of "the new man to be put on." It is not in your life and conversation merely that you are to be "renewed," but in the entire "spirit of your mind," from being earthly, sensual, devilish, you must become heavenly, spiritual, divine; and never cease, until you have attained to the full measure of the stature of Christ himself. This is to walk worthy of your vocation; and in this shall your "learning of Christ" most surely issue. If you truly hear him, and are taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, you cannot so walk as the world around you walk; nor can you but "walk, as Christ himself walked."
The Old Man, and the New
Ephesians 4:22–24. That you put off concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and trice holiness.
CHRISTIANITY is universally professed among us: but many know little more of it than the name. They, who are in some measure acquainted with its principles, have, for the most part, learned it only from books and human instruction. But there are some who have learned it, as it were, from Christ himself. Their understandings have been opened, and their hearts instructed by his good Spirit. These are said to "have heard Christ, and to have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus." These may be distinguished from the others by the effects of their knowledge. While the speculative Christian remains willingly ignorant of true holiness, the truly enlightened man labors to attain the highest measure of it that he can. This Paul represents as the infallible consequence of divine teaching: and his declarations respecting it set forth the sum and substance of a Christian's duty.
I. Put off the old man.
There are many terms peculiar to the Holy Scriptures which need to be explained. Those in the text are of the greatest importance.
"The old man" is that principle of sin which actuates the unregenerate man.
It is a natural principle. As a man consists of a soul with many faculties, and a body with many members, so does this principle, though but one, consist of many parts: pride, unbelief, etc. etc. constitute that body of sin, which is here denominated "the old man;" and it is called "old," because it is coeval with our existence, and is derived from our first parents, after whose fallen image we were made. It is a corrupt, principle. It is expressly called so in my text. All its inward "lustings" and desires are vitiated, and invariably discover themselves by the external fruits of a vain "conversation." It is also a "deceitful" principle, continually representing good as evil, and evil as good: it constantly disappoints our expectations, making that to appear a source of happiness which never yet terminated in anything but misery.
This it is our duty to be "putting off."
It is indeed no easy matter to effect this work; yet in dependence on God's aid we may, and must, accomplish it. We must suppress its actings. It will break forth, if not resisted, into all manner of evil: but we must fight against it, and "bring it into subjection." Our eternal life and salvation depend on our "mortifying the deeds of the body." Not contented with a partial victory, we must check its desires. A weight that may be easily stopped when beginning to roll, will prove irresistible when it is running down a steep declivity. We must check evil in its first rising, if we would not be overpowered by it: none can tell how far he shall go when once he begins to fall. We must therefore "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts." To do this effectually, we must guard against its deceits. We should examine our motives and principles of action. Sin is deceitful; the heart also is deceitful; and Satan helps forward our deceptions. That which is very specious in its outward appearance is often most odious to the heart-searching God. We must therefore bring everything to the touchstone of God's word: we must "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good."
But we must not be satisfied with resisting sin. We must,
II. Put on the new man.
"The new man" is that principle which actuates the godly.
It consists of many parts, as well as the evil principle. Humility, faith, love, etc. are among its most characteristic features. It is divine in its origin. It belongs to no man naturally; but is "new." It is the gift of God, the work of his good Spirit. It is "created" within us, and is as truly the workmanship of God, as the universe itself is. All who possess it are said to be "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." it is moreover holy in its operations: all its motions and tendencies are holy. It works to transform us "after God's image." It leads to an unreserved obedience to both tables of the law. It directs to "righteousness" towards man, and "holiness" towards God. Nor will it be satisfied with any semblance of religion, however specious. It labors uniformly to bring us to the experience of "true" holiness both in heart and life.
This it is our duty to be putting on.
As the prodigal was not merely pardoned, but clothed in robes suitable to his new condition, so are the children of God to be adorned with virtues suited to the relation which they bear to their heavenly Father. We must be "renewed," not in our outward actions only, but, "in the spirit of our minds," the great spring of action within us must be changed, and "the new man" must reign in us now, as "the old man" did in our unregenerate state. Do we ask, How shall this great work be effected? We answer, Encourage its motions, and exert its powers. The new principle of life in us is as water, which seeks continually to extinguish the corrupt principle within us: and if, upon any temptation occurring, we watched carefully the motions of that principle, we should frequently, perhaps invariably, find it directing us to what is right. But it is "a still small voice" that cannot be heard without much attention, and it may be very soon silenced by the clamors of passion or interest: it is the voice of God within us; and, if duly regarded, would never suffer us to err in any great degree. It has also powers, which, like the members of the body, may be strengthened by exertion. Put forth its powers in the exercise of faith and love, and it will be found to grow as well as any other habit. Having indeed the tide of corrupt nature against it, its progress will not be so rapid, nor will it admit of any intermission of our labors: but the more we do for God, the more shall we be disposed, and enabled, to do for him. We must however remember not to address ourselves to this duty in our own strength: of ourselves we can do nothing; but if we rely on the promised grace of Christ, we shall be strengthened by his Spirit, and be "changed into his image from glory to glory."
We may improve this subject,
1. For conviction.
If this progressive change be the necessary evidence of our being true Christians, alas! how few true Christians are there to be found! Yet nothing less than this will suffice. If we be really "in Christ, we are new creatures; old things are passed away, and, behold, all things are become new." It is not an external reformation merely that we must experience, but a new creation. Let all reflect on this. Let all inquire what evidence they have of such a change having passed upon their souls. The voice of Christ to all of us is this; "You must be born again; except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven."
2. For consolation.
Many are ready to despond because of the severe conflicts which they experience between the spiritual and the carnal principle in their souls. They say, If I were a child of God, how could it be thus? We answer, This is rather an evidence that such persons are partakers of a divine nature: if they were not, they would be strangers to these conflicts. Though they might feel some struggles between corruption and conscience, yes, and between reason and conscience, the one attempting to vindicate what the other condemns, they would know nothing of those deeper conflicts between the flesh and spirit, especially in reference to the secret exercises of the soul in its daily converse with God. These evince the existence of a new principle, though they show that the old man still lives within them. Let not any then despond because they feel the remains of indwelling corruption, but rather be thankful if they hate it, and if they have grace in some good measure to subdue it. Let them trust in God to "perfect that which concerns them;" and look to him to "fulfill in them all the good pleasure of his goodness," then shall they in due time "put off their filthy garments" altogether, and "stand before their God without spot or blemish" to all eternity.
Grieving the Spirit
Ephesians 4:30. Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption.
THE Holy Scriptures are not written after the manner of human systems, but often blend warnings with promises, and duties with privileges, in a way that by some would be thought to involve them in inconsistency. The Apostle, cautioning the Ephesians against various evils which he had observed among them, adds, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God;" in which expression he seems eventually to refer to those who had "grieved the Lord in the wilderness," and had therefore been excluded from the promised land, and to those who "by rebelling against God had provoked his Holy Spirit, so that he was turned to be their enemy" Yet at the same time he informs them, that the Holy Spirit had sealed them, as the Lord's property, unto the day of redemption, when he would claim them as his own. The advocates of human systems love not such apparent contrarieties: they would rather say, if they be sealed unto the day of redemption, how can they be in any danger of so grieving the Lord, as to be finally excluded from the heavenly Canaan? or, if they be in danger of such a calamity, how can it be that they should ever have been sealed unto the day of redemption? But we may safely leave these matters to God, who will clear up all such difficulties in the last day. That we may grieve the Holy Spirit, and that believers are sealed by him unto the day of redemption, is equally certain: nor is there any great difficulty in reconciling the two, to a mind that is truly humble and contrite; because the liberty of man is not at all affected by the decrees of God: man never loses his proneness to fall, notwithstanding God's counsel shall ultimately stand: and therefore he needs at all times the caution in our text, while the encouragement afforded in it is at all times proper to animate his exertions.
But,—not to enter into nice disquisitions about difficulties, which, after all that can be said upon them, can never be entirely removed,—we shall proceed, with a view to practical improvement, to notice,
I. The inestimable benefit conferred upon believers.
Many are the offices which the Holy Spirit executes in the great work of redemption. He is the one Agent, by whom redemption is applied in all its parts. By him is life imparted to those who were dead in trespasses and sins: "he convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment;" and "glorifies Christ" in the sight of all who are so instructed. But there is one office in particular of which we are now called to speak, namely, his sealing of believers unto the day of redemption. This is more especially dwelt upon by the Apostle, in the first chapter of this epistle, where he says that the Ephesian converts, "after they had believed in Christ, had been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, as the earnest of their inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." This office he executes upon all true believers;
1. By an eternal designation of them to God's service.
Such a seal most assuredly exists, and was made use of by Almighty God from all eternity. It was made use of in the consecration of his only dear Son to his mediatorial office; "for him has God the Father sealed," it was made use of also in the setting apart his chosen people to be his own peculiar treasure above all the people upon the face of the earth," "The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his." In the appointment of Abraham and his posterity to be a holy nation and a peculiar people, we all see and acknowledge the exercise of sovereign grace; though we find it difficult to acquiesce in this idea in reference to the eternal states of men. But where shall we draw the line? or how shall we justify the dispensations of God towards the Jewish people, if we deny his right to exercise the same sovereignty towards all the sinners of mankind? The truth is, that fallen man has no claim upon his God: in that respect he is exactly on a footing with the fallen angels: and, it God be pleased to show mercy to any, he may do so in any way, and to any extent that he shall see fit: and if he select any as objects of his mercy in preference to others, he does no more injury to the rest, than he would to the great mass of the fallen angels, if he were at this moment, for the display of his own glorious perfections, to liberate any number of them from the chains of darkness in which they are bound. He "has a right to do what he will with his own: nor ought our eye to be evil because he is good." It is certain that the Lord has from eternity "set apart him that is godly for himself;" and not because he was godly, or would be so, but because God of his own sovereign will and pleasure ordained him unto life: as Paul expressly tells us; "Whom God did predestine, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified: their call in this world, and their glorification in the next, originating altogether in the predestination of God from all eternity.
2. By the sanctification of their hearts and lives.
This, if I may so speak, is the broad seal of Heaven: "By their fruits you shall know them," "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me." By this seal the Thessalonian converts were so distinguished, that Paul did not hesitate to infer, from what he saw in them, that they were God's chosen people: when he called to mind "their works of faith, and labors of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, he knew from it their election of God." And on all true believers this seal is found: God's "peculiar people are invariably found to be holy and zealous of good works."
Now this consideration may well reconcile us to the exercise of God's sovereign grace: for, if the idea of God's choice being altogether uninfluenced by holiness, either seen or foreseen in the objects of his choice, appear to militate against the interests of morality, the circumstance of God's having inseparably united this seal with the foregoing, sufficiently removes all fear on that head. In God's mind, our sanctification is as much ordained as our final salvation: "We are chosen, that we may be holy" and "elect unto obedience" and predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son: and in this way alone will any one finally attain the salvation of his soul; since it is only in, and by, and through the means, that God has ordained the end: "He has from the beginning chosen us to salvation; but it is through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth."
3. By the manifestation of God's love to their souls.
The Holy Spirit is a "Spirit of adoption" in the hearts of God's people: he is also a "Witness testifying of their adoption," yes, he is to them, and within them, an earnest of their everlasting inheritance; "shedding abroad in their hearts that love of God," which will constitute their happiness through eternal ages. In this also he operates as a seal, as Paul has said in reference to all true Christians: "Now he who established us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; who has also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts."
By the first of these seals we are known to God alone: by the second, we are discoverable to those around us: by the last, an assurance of our happiness is imparted to our own souls. And though the impression of the two last is not at all times equally clear and strong, yet is it the privilege of all to possess them; and in proportion only as these last exist, will the first be ascertained.
In connection with the privileges of believers, we may well consider,
II. Their duty towards their gracious Benefactor.
The Holy Spirit is here represented as a parent, who, from his tender solicitude for the welfare of his children, is deeply "grieved" when they defeat in any respect the purposes of his love towards them. Now we may grieve the Holy Spirit,
1. By departing from the truth in our principles.
The particular office assigned to the Holy Spirit in the economy of redemption, is, to "glorify Christ," by receiving of the things that are his, and "showing them unto us" Now in this office he delights: and when we duly appreciate the excellencies of Christ, and "behold his glory as the glory of the only—begotten of the Father," then is the Holy Spirit delighted to dwell with us, and to carry on the whole work of grace in our souls. But when we suffer the wily "serpent to beguile us, and to turn us from the simplicity that is in Christ," then is the Spirit grieved: for he is a jealous God, and especially jealous for the honor of that Savior, whose cause he has espoused. Against two things then in particular we have to guard, namely, against philosophical subtleties on the one hand, and Jewish superstitious on the other. By both the one and the other of these was the Church of God rent, in the very first ages of Christianity; and thousands of souls were subverted by them. By the same are we also endangered. Our natural pride and self-conceit are ever at work, to add something to what God has revealed or to detract somewhat from it. Perhaps the simplicity of the Gospel is that which most offends the carnal mind. A simple life of faith upon the Son of God, as having loved us and given himself for us, is most difficult to be maintained. We want to be something; or to do something, that so we may share the glory of Christ, and ascribe some part of his honor to ourselves: but he is all, and must be all; and "all who glory, must glory in him alone"—By retaining in constant exercise this humble and childlike spirit, we shall obtain frequent tokens of God's favorable acceptance: but by departing from it, we shall provoke him to hide his face from us.
2. By dishonoring it in our practice.
To this more especially does the Apostle refer, both in the preceding and following context. Unhallowed tempers and dispositions are most offensive to the Spirit of God. O that all the professors of religion throughout the world were made duly sensible of this truth! But, whether they consider it or not, God will not dwell where there is bitterness and wrath, and anger and clamor, and evil-speaking and malice, or an habitual want of a forbearing and forgiving spirit. Falsehood too in our words, and dishonesty in our dealings, and impurity in our hearts, will assuredly drive him from us, and bring down upon us the tokens of his displeasure: "If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy." It is no uncommon thing to find those who profess religion low and miserable in their minds. But we should not wonder at it, if we knew what abominations are harbored in their hearts: we should rather wonder that God bears so long with them, and that his wrath does not break forth to consume them in an instant. Let us never forget this, that as well may light have fellowship with darkness, and Christ with Belial, as the Spirit of God abide with those who yield not to his sanctifying operations. If, instead of conforming ourselves to the mind that was in Christ, we rebel against him, we shall "vex his Holy Spirit, and provoke him to become our enemy."
1. Those who comply not with the written word.
The word which is recorded in the Scriptures of truth is God's word: it is altogether given by inspiration from the Holy Spirit. If therefore we comply not with that, we resist the Holy Spirit, and "do despite to him." Consider this, you who receive not the word with all humility of mind, or labor not to conform to it in your life and conversation: think, whom it is that you resist and rebel against; even Him, who, if he depart from you, will leave you in a bondage from which you can never be delivered, and in misery from which you can never be redeemed. O learn to tremble at the word of God, and beg that your whole souls may be so melted and poured into its mold, as to assume its every feature, and be formed into the perfect image of your God.
2. Those who rest in a mere formal compliance with it.
You cannot deceive that blessed Spirit whose province it is to search the heart and try the reins. He requires "truth in our inward parts," he requires that your heart be right with him; that you "walk in the Spirit," and "pray in the Spirit," and "live in the Spirit," and give yourselves up altogether to his godly motions. Do not therefore dissemble with him, lest he give you up to your own delusions, and seal you up in utter impenitence to the day of final retribution. Of those who held the truth in unrighteousness, we are told that he gave them up to a reprobate mind. I pray you, bring not upon yourselves this heaviest of all judgments: but today, while it is called today, surrender up yourselves entirely to his guidance, that he may "make you perfect in every good work, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight through Christ Jesus."
3. Those who are endeavoring to please him in all things.
The day of redemption is near at hand. O blessed day, when all the remains of sin and sorrow shall be forever banished from the soul! Look forward to it; and order your every action, word, and thought, in reference to it. Pray to the Holy Spirit to work yet more and more powerfully upon you, in order to prepare you for your appearance before the judgment-seat of Christ. Guard against any sloth in the ways of God, lest, like the Church of old, you cause him to suspend the communications of his love. Pray to him to give you that white stone, which none but he who has it can appreciate, and which has on it the name written, which none but he who possesses it can read. Then shall you already even now enjoy a foretaste of your heavenly inheritance, and in due season "have an abundant entrance ministered unto you into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Forgiveness of Sins
Ephesians 4:32. God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you.
IF a minister of Christ is bound to preach the Gospel with all plainness and fidelity, he is no less bound to guard it against abuse, and to inculcate on the professors of it the strictest conformity to the commands of God. Paul was careful to insist upon even the minutest parts of practical piety; and to show, that the Gospel not only required, but had a direct tendency to produce, holiness, both in heart and life. In truth, if our religion do not prevail to regulate our tempers, and to correct every evil disposition of the soul, it is not sincere; nor will it ever be approved of God in the day of judgment. Yet, in enforcing practical duties, we should take care to urge them upon right principles; not as a forced obedience to the law, in order to obtain acceptance with God, but as a willing effort to adorn the Gospel, through which we have already been accepted of him. A sense of God's pardoning love should animate us, rather than a servile fear of his displeasure: and, while God's mercy to us should operate as a motive to obey him, it should also serve us as a pattern for our own conduct towards our offending brethren, whom we should "forgive, even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven us."
Now, it is a fact, that forgiveness is bestowed on men while they are yet in this world. And this truth I shall consider,
I. As revealed in Scripture.
The truth itself is fully declared.
God, in proclaiming his name to Moses, represented himself chiefly under the character of a sin-pardoning God: "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin." And the whole of his dealings with his people, in every age, have borne testimony to him in this view, as "a God delighting in mercy," and as accounting "judgment a strange act," to which he was utterly averse. The whole of the Scripture declarations may be comprised in that saying of the prophet, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." To cite the New Testament in confirmation of this truth is needless; seeing that, from one end of it to the other, it proclaims God as "rich in mercy unto all that call upon him."
The ground of all his mercies is also declared.
All the favor that God bears to man is "for Christ's sake." This was shown from the first moment that his designs of mercy were revealed to fallen man. There can be no doubt but that sacrifices were ordained of God, for the purpose of shadowing forth that great sacrifice which should, in due time, be offered for the sins of the whole world. For Abel offered his sacrifice in faith: but faith must have respect to the word of God; and, consequently, God must have previously made known to man the way in which alone a sinner should find acceptance with him. Indeed, though we are not expressly told that the animals, with the skins of which God clothed our first parents, were offered in sacrifice, I can scarcely doubt but that the whole mystery of the Gospel was revealed to them in that act; and they were taught, that through the sacrifice of Christ their iniquities should be forgiven, and that through the righteousness of Christ they should stand with acceptance before God. The whole of the Mosaic economy exhibited this truth in the most striking colors, in that no person could come to God but by sacrifice; and "without shedding of blood there was no remission of sins." On this subject the New Testament expatiates in every part; referring our reconciliation with God to the atoning blood of Christ, and declaring that "no man comes unto the Father but by Christ." The whole labor of the Apostles was to make this known: "Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses."
In my text, the Apostle not only asserts this truth, but speaks of it,
II. As experienced in the soul.
Many will not admit that any one can know his sins forgiven. And I readily acknowledge, that it is a point on which a man may easily deceive his own soul, especially if he judge of it by any other criterion than that which God himself has proposed. If the life and conversation bear witness to us that we are the Lord's, then may we safely indulge the hope that we are accepted of him.
God has, in former ages, given to men an assurance of his favor.
To Abel this was given by some visible sign, which excited the envy and wrath of his brother Cain. David, on the very first acknowledgment of his transgression, was informed by Nathan that his sin was pardoned; and he himself takes notice of it in a psalm of grateful acknowledgment: "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord: and you forgave the iniquity of my sin." To Hezekiah and Isaiah were similar assurances given. And our blessed Lord not only repeatedly given this blessing to those who waited on him, but maintained his right to do so against those who questioned his power and authority to pardon sin.
At present, also, is the same blessing still given to his faithful servants.
What can be meant by the Spirit of adoption that is given to the believing soul? "What can be meant by the witness of the Spirito, the sealing of the Spirit, the earnest of the Spirit? What can be meant by "the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit," if God never imparts to his people a sense of his pardoning love? I grant that if these divine sensations be not accompanied with a holy life, they are a mere illusion; but if the whole of our character and deportment be such as becomes the Gospel, then may we assure ourselves that these testimonies are from God, and that "our names are indeed written in the book of life's." We may "know that we have passed from death unto life." Nor is this the privilege of the adult Christian only: for even the least in the family of Christ may possess it: as John says, "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for the sake of Christ." And to the whole Ephesian Church it was proclaimed, "God, for Christ"s sake, has forgiven you."
But it is not merely as comforting the soul that I insist on this, but chiefly and principally,
III. As operating in the life.
A sense of God's pardoning love should operate on us generally.
Nothing but this will ever call forth our energies fully in the service of our God. It is "the love of Christ that must constrain us," and that, duly apprehended, will cause us to live altogether unto Him who died for us, and rose again.
More particularly should it produce in us a forgiving temper against our offending brethren.
A spirit of forbearance and forgiveness is insisted on by the inspired writers, as indispensable to the Christian character; insomuch, that a person who is not under its influence has no hope of obtaining mercy at the hands of God. The mercy which we ourselves have received for Christ's sake, is proposed in my text as a powerful motive for the exercise of a forgiving disposition on our part, and as a pattern which, in the exercise of it, we should resemble. The same important truth is taught us in the parable of the unforgiving servant; who, when forgiven by his master ten thousand talents, seized a fellow-servant by the throat, and cast him into prison for the trifling debt of one hundred pence. For such merciless conduct his lord was justly incensed against him; as he will be against all who know not how to imitate the goodness of their God. It is on this principle that our Lord requires us to "forgive an offending brother, not seven times in a day, but seventy times seven." For, if we call to remembrance our own offences, and consider for a moment how great and multiplied they have been, we shall see, that no injury which a fellow-creature can do to us can bear any proportion to the offences which we have committed against God: and, consequently, that there should be no disposition in us but to render to our fellow-creatures according to what we ourselves have received at the hands of God.
1. Be sensible of your obligations to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not for your own sake that God has forgiven you, but for his dear Son's sake. And if Christ had not interposed for you, to reconcile you unto God by his own death upon the cross, you would to all eternity have been in the condition of the fallen angels, who are receiving in Hell the due recompense for their sins. Reflect, then, on your desert before God, and on the mercy you are receiving at his hands; and then direct your eyes to the Savior, and give him the glory due unto his name. Of course, it is here supposed that you have deeply repented of your sins, and "fled for refuge to Christ, as to the hope set before you," for, if you have not thus come to Christ, you are yet "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, and without any scriptural hope of salvation"—But if, indeed, you have believed in Christ, then should every faculty of your soul be called forth in grateful and continual praises for all that you now enjoy, and all that you hope for in a better world.
2. Endeavor to requite them in the way that he himself has enjoined.
Look, not to your conduct merely, but to the inmost dispositions of your souls. His love to you should be the model of your love to others. Let his image, then, be seen upon you. And, as men are known by the very form of the characters they write, so "be you epistles of Christ, known and read of all men." "Let the same mind be in you as was in him;" and, "as he has loved you, see that you also love one another."
Christ's Love a Pattern for Ours
Ephesians 5:2. Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.
TO restore us to the Divine image is one great end of all that the Lord Jesus Christ has done and suffered for us. There are indeed perfections in the Deity which are incommunicable to any creature; but his moral perfections admit of imitation and resemblance: and therefore we are exhorted to "be followers, or imitators, of God, as dear children." But in the person of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jehovah is brought nearer to us, so that we may trace his very steps, and learn to follow him in every disposition of the mind, and every action of the life. Hence in the passage before us, while we are particularly informed of the manner in which he has displayed his love to man, we are exhorted to "walk in love, as he has loved us."
In our further elucidation of these words, we shall be led to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ in a twofold view;
I. As a sacrifice to God.
It was not merely as a martyr that Jesus died, but as a sacrifice for sin. This appears,
1. From all the sacrifices of the Mosaic law.
For what end were these instituted, but to prefigure him? These beyond a doubt were offerings for sin, the victims dying in the place of the offerer, and making an atonement for him by their blood: and if the Lord Jesus Christ did not correspond with them in this particular, and actually fulfill what those prefigured, they were all instituted in vain, and were shadows without any substance at all.
2. From the declarations of the prophets.
The prophet thus plainly speaks of Christ as dying for the sins of men; "He made his soul an offering for sin," "He bare the sins of many," "On him were laid the iniquity of us all." What is the import of these testimonies, if Christ did not offer himself a sacrifice for sin?
3. From the testimony of John the Baptist.
It was in reference to the lambs that were offered every morning and evening for the sins of all Israel, that the Baptist spoke, when he pointed out the Lord Jesus as "the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." If Christ were not a sacrifice for sin, this testimony was not founded in truth.
4. From the declarations of Christ himself.
He constantly affirmed, that "he came to give his life a ransom for many," that his blood should be shed for the remission of sins; and that by being "lifted up upon the cross, he would draw all men. unto him."
5. From the united testimony of all the Apostles.
All with one voice represent him as redeeming us to God by his blood, and offering himself as "a atoning sacrifice , not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world." In a word, the whole tenor of the sacred writings proves, that "he bare our sins in his own body on the tree," and "died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God."
But in all this he was further designed,
II. As an example to us.
In the circumstance before noticed, we cannot resemble him; for "no man can redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him." Nevertheless in the love which instigated him to this we may resemble him. Our love, like his, should be,
It is not possible for us to add anything to him: we cannot make him more happy or more glorious by anything that we can do: "our goodness extends not to him;" "nor can we by any means profit him," yet did he in this astonishing manner display his love to us. Thus in the exercise of our love we should not consider whether the objects of it will ever be able to make us any suitable return: we should show love in every possible way, without so much as desiring any return from man, or even desiring that our exercise of it should be known; yes, even though we knew that it would only be requited with evil. We should love our very enemies; and, "instead of being overcome of evil, should strive incessantly to overcome their evil with good."
What unsearchable riches has he purchased even for his bitterest enemies? He would not that any one of them should fall short of the glory of Heaven. True it is, that we cannot thus enrich the objects of our love: yet we should do all we can towards it, by providing for them not only the things needful for the body, but, above all, the things that may promote the welfare of the soul. Here the poor may be on a par with those who are able to give out of their abundance: for if they are constrained to say, "Silver and gold have I none," they may add, "but such as I have, give I unto you;" and then may proceed to speak to them of the Savior, through whom they may obtain all the blessings of salvation. Thus, "though poor, we may make many rich."
Our blessed Lord "emptied himself of all the glory of Heaven," and endured all the wrath of an offended God; and became a curse himself, in order to deliver us from the curse which our iniquities had deserved. And shall we decline exercising our love, because it may be attended with some pain or difficulty on our part? No, we should not hesitate even to lay down life itself, if by so doing we may promote the eternal welfare of our brethren.
"Whom our Lord loved, he loved to the end." There were many occasions whereon his immediate disciples displeased him: but he did not therefore "withdraw his mercy from them, or shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure." There are occasions also whereon we shall be called to exercise forbearance and forgiveness one towards another; and we ought to meet those occasions with love proportioned to them. We should strive with all our might to "follow peace with all men," and to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
1. Be thankful to Christ for all the wonders of his love.
Think how unworthy you were of all his love: for, it was "when you were yet enemies, that he died for you," Think too what must have been your state to all eternity, if He had not so "undertaken for you," his sufferings under the hidings of his Father's fare, and under the strokes of Divine justice, show what miseries awaited you in Hell forever, if He had not become your substitute and surety to discharge your debt. O! never for a moment lose sight of the obligations you owe to him for that "love of his, which passes knowledge."
2. Present yourselves as living sacrifices to him.
This may be done; and it is the very end for which such astonishing mercies have been given to you. Consider all that you are, and all that you have, as his: and let it all be devoted henceforth to the glory of his name.
3. Endeavor to resemble him more and more.
Whatever attainments you may have made, you must still be aspiring after higher degrees of love. Look at him then, not only as the ground of your hopes, but as the pattern for your imitation. Trace him in all the labors of his love: trace him from Heaven to earth, and from earth to Heaven: trace him in all that he either did or suffered: and study to resemble him in the whole of his spirit and deportment. In all his labors "God smelled a sweet savor;" even as he had done in those offerings and sacrifices by which Christ had been shadowed forth: and though your labors of love can never resemble his, as making an atonement for sin, they shall, like his, come up for a memorial before God, and be accepted as well-pleasing in his sight.
Fatal Consequences of Indulged Sin
Ephesians 5:5–7. This you know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things comes the wrath of God upon lite children of disobedience. Be not you therefore partakers with them.
NEVER can we be wrong in bearing our testimony against sin. As for those who, from a zeal for the Gospel, pass over subjects of this kind as legal, we cannot but think them grievously mistaken: for Paul, whose love to the Gospel was so ardent, that "he counted all things but dung and dross for the knowledge of it," was inferior to no man in inculcating the necessity of holiness, or in denouncing the judgments of God against indulged sin. The words before us amply illustrate this: for, specifying particular sins, which would surely prove fatal to all who lived in them, he made them the subject of a faithful appeal, and of a most solemn warning to the Church of God in all ages.
Were we to speak of this subject under distinct heads, those which we have just mentioned would afford an easy arrangement: but on such a subject as this, I think that the mention of distinct heads would he an interruption to us, and weaken the impression which the text itself is calculated to convey.
We declare then to you, brethren, that sin indulged will destroy your souls.
The Scriptures speak of sin under the twofold character, of the "filthiness of the flesh, and the filthiness of the spirit." Both these kinds of sin are mentioned in my text: "fornication and impurity" belonging to "the flesh," and "covetousness" having its seat rather in "the spirit." Now these, whether more open and flagrant, or more secret and refined, are alike fatal to the soul, if they be harbored and indulged. They alike exclude us from Heaven: for it is impossible that a person who lives in the commission of them should "have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."
And "this," if you know anything of Christianity, "you know."
The whole voice of Scripture declares it. Even reason itself may be considered as bearing testimony to it: for what delight can a holy God take in an unholy being? or how can the Lord Jesus Christ, "who died to destroy the works of the devil, exalt lo a participation of his kingdom one who is fulfilling the works of the devil? We may as well conceive that "Christ and Belial should have communion with each other," as that a man who regards and retains iniquity in his heart should enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
Let nothing, therefore, weaken the impression of this upon your minds.
There are those who will dispute against this. They will speak of "impurity," especially if the marriage-bed be not invaded, as, at most, a venial fault, necessarily arising from the ardor of youth, and undeserving of any serious regard. And as to "covetousness," there is no such thing existing in the world, if every person's estimate of himself may be relied on. Men will, indeed, impute it to others; but no one acknowledges it in himself. Every one covers it with some specious name: 'It is prudence, economy, diligence, a proper regard for one's family; and surely there can be no blame attached to habits like these.' But let it be remembered what "covetousness" is: it is a desiring of anything for its own sake, that we may find our happiness in it, rather than in God; and place our dependence on it, rather than on God: and that whether it be in a man of opulence, or in a person of low degree, is equally "idolatry," and will infallibly exclude a man from the kingdom of God. As for all the pretexts that may be urged either for this or for impurity, they are but "vain words," that will "deceive you," to your eternal ruin. Look and see what fornication brought upon the whole nation of Israel: or what coveting did in the case of Achan; who, among two millions of people was singled out by lot: and be assured, that however secret your sin be, or however sanctioned by the habits of those around you, "the wrath of God will, sooner or later, come on all the children of disobedience"—Full well I know, how pleasing it is to be told that we have nothing to fear, and how ready we are to credit such unfounded assertions: but to what purpose will it be to "speak peace to ourselves, when God has said that there is no peace?" I warn you then, beloved, not to listen to any such delusive suggestions, by whoever they may be offered: but "let God be true, and every man a liar."
And let nothing under Heaven induce you to comply with the solicitations of others, or to imitate their sins.
Though you are united in a Christian society, and profess all the doctrines of Christianity, you still are liable to be seduced by the arguments and examples of those around you. But remember, that, if you are partakers with others in their sins, you shall be "partakers also with them in their plagues." And it will be little consolation to you, in the eternal world, that you have partners in misery: nor will it be any excuse for you, that you have been deceived. God cautions you against deceit, whether it originate in yourselves or others. His word is plain: his warnings are solemn: and if you will not obey his voice, you must reap the fruits of your folly. Unite not, then, with any in a course of sin. Partake not with any, either in following their evil ways, or in giving your sanction to them. Your duty is, to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove theme." If you profess to be children of light, then must you walk worthy of your holy profession, "shining, before all, as lights in the world."
If, however, you have been drawn aside to sin, then humble yourselves for it without delay, and turn unto your God in newness of life.
Blessed be God! your state is not hopeless, though you may have fallen into sin. For at Corinth there were some who had been guilty of the very transgressions here referred to, and yet had obtained mercy through Christ: "Such were some of you," says Paul; "but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." So, then, may you be washed, and justified, and sanctified, if you turn unto God through Christ. The blood of Christ shall be sufficient for you, as it was for them; and the Spirit of Christ shall operate as effectually in you as in them. "Only acknowledge your transgressions," and "flee for refuge to the hope that is set before you;" so shall you find mercy of the Lord, and "your iniquity shall not be your ruing."
A Consistent Walk Enjoined
Ephesians 5:8. You were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light.
MANY imagine, that when they have believed in Christ, the work in them is complete: and, if they were then to die, it is true that they would be complete; because it is said of all believers, "You are complete in Christ, who is the Head of all principality and power." But no man in this world is so complete, but that he still needs to be urged forward, by warnings and exhortations, and promises and examples. This is clearly manifest from all the apostolic writings, in which the saints are cautioned against every species of sin, and stimulated to every species of duty. The latter half of this epistle is altogether addressed to believers, in this precise point of view, exhorting them to "walk worthy the vocation with which they are called." The truth is, that saints are yet only as "brands plucked out of the burning," they still bear the marks of the tire strong upon them, and are still in danger of being consumed by the influence of fiery temptations, if God in his mercy do not preserve them. Their safety is in watchfulness and prayer: in watchfulness, that they give not occasion to Satan to inflame their souls with evil: and in prayer, that, as soon as any spark shall light upon them, it may be extinguished. To all, without exception, of whom it may be said, "You were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord," the exhortation that is added must be addressed; "Walk as children of light."
In discoursing on these words, we shall be led to show,
1. The change which all true Christians have experienced.
"They once were darkness."
The term, "darkness," in Scripture language, imports ignorance, sin, and misery: and therefore most fitly expresses the state of unconverted men. The mind of the natural man is blind to the things of God: they are spiritual, and he cannot comprehend them for want of a spiritual discernment. He knows not the spirituality of God's law, or the total alienation of his heart from God. He has no just views of the Divine perfections, no adequate sense of his need of a Redeemer; no true perception of the beauty of holiness, or of the excellency of a life entirely devoted unto God. To himself he lives, and not to God: he is a law unto himself, and does nothing but with a view to the gratification of his own feelings. Pleasure, interest, and honor, are the gods whom he serves: and beyond the things of time and sense he has no object of ambition or pursuit. In this state he may find what the world calls happiness; but to real happiness he is a stranger. Whatever satisfaction he feels, it is in a forgetfulness of eternal things that he feels it, and not in the contemplation of them. The thought of death and judgment is appalling to him; and is sufficient to make him, like Belshazzar, tremble in the midst of all his mirth; so that "his countenance shall change, and his knees smite one against the other." It is the heart-searching God who says, that there is "no real peace to such persons," but that "destruction and misery are in their ways."
Nor let it be thought that this is the character of some only whose wickedness has been of a more flagrant nature: for Paul assures us, that it was once his own state, no less than that of others—and therefore we may be sure that it is common to all. Indeed a very little knowledge of mankind will convince us, that "the whole world lies in wickedness," and unconverted men are not only dark, but "darkness" itself, even darkness visible.
But "they are now light in the Lord."
In their conversion they are "turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God." Their views of self, of sin, of God, of Christ, of everything around them, are changed—In consequence of "the eyes of their understanding being enlightened," they come forth from the broad road in which they have been walking, and begin to tread the narrow, and less frequented paths, of holiness and life. Their whole labor now is to "put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness"—Now they are no longer under bondage to the fear of death, or bowed down with the apprehensions of God's eternal wrath: they see that he is reconciled towards them in the Son of his love; and with "a spirit of adoption they come before him, crying, Abba, Father." In a word, they now enjoy peace in their souls, even that "peace of God which passes all understanding."
All this they have "in the Lord," that is, by virtue of union with him, and by grace derived from him. Being now members of Christ's mystical body, they possess all that is in him their living Head, according to the measure of the grace they have received from him. "With Christ is the fountain of life; and in his light they see light."
While we contemplate this blessed change, we must not overlook,
II. The obligations it entails upon them.
Consistency is required of all: of course, if we have been made "light in the Lord," it becomes us to "walk as children of light." By this expression we are taught.
1. What line we are to pursue.
The commandment of the Lord is a lamp, and his "law is light," and by his law are we to direct our steps. That Holy Spirit who has opened our eyes, and renewed our hearts, marks out for us our path, in direct opposition to that which the unconverted world pursue; as the Apostle tells us in the words following our text: "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth." While the ungodly indulge in all the fore-mentioned iniquities, our conduct is to be the very reverse of theirs. In opposition to all unholy tempers, we are to abound in everything that is "lovely and of good report"—In opposition to all that may interfere with the welfare of others, we are to do in all things precisely as, in a change of circumstances, we should think it right for our neighbor to do unto us—And in the whole of our deportment towards both God and man, there should be the most inviolable "truth," even a perfect integrity of mind, a spirit that is without guile—Perhaps we may get somewhat of an idea of our duty from what we behold among the heavenly bodies. The stars are all irradiated by the sun; and in respect of that great luminary, may be called children of light. These, according to their capacity, reflect the brightness of the sun, and impart to others the light they have received. So it should be with us: we should make our light to shine before men, that so those who behold us may know how to walk, at the same time that they are constrained to glorify that Sun of Righteousness whose beams we reflect. This is the idea inculcated by the Apostle himself, who tells us, that we must "shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life," and "proving" in our own persons "what is acceptable unto the Lord."
But there is yet another idea, and a very important one, suggested in this expression, "children of light." It is the property of light to make things manifest; and consequently, we are to bear our testimony against all the deeds of darkness, not only "having no fellowship with them, (for "what fellowship can light have with darkness?") but reproving them," and bearing our testimony for God against all who commit them.
Such then must our conduct be, holy and exemplary, decided and firm.
2. In what spirit we should walk in it.
"Children of disobedience" are such as, from the propensity of their nature, live in willful and habitual disobedience to God's commands. So "children of light," from the impulse of the Holy Spirit, walk cheerfully and habitually in the ways of God. They are not compelled, like slaves, to serve him against their will; but, like dear children, they love their Father's will, and find his ways to be ways of pleasantness and peace. Nor is it merely on some particular occasions that they obey his voice: they do it constantly, and without reserve: "they delight to do his will;" and "run the way of his commandments with enlarged hearts." This characterizes the angels around the throne: and it distinguishes also the children of the living God: they "do his will, hearkening to the voice of his word," and making every succeeding act a prelude to yet further services.
1. Those who have never yet experienced this change.
Be assured, it must be experienced before you can ever enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Whether your lives have been more or less polluted with outward sin, you have all equally lived to yourselves, instead of unto God: and your consciences bear testimony against you, that to secure an interest in Christ, and to grow up into his image, and to live for his glory, have not been the great objects of your ambition, nor has your departure from this path been any source of humiliation to your souls. What is darkness, if this be not? It is, in fact, a living "without God in the world," and this path, if persisted in, will bring you to "the blackness of darkness forever." But I thank God, there is no room for despondency. The Lord Jesus Christ has "come a light into the world, that whoever follows him should not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." For this very end was he given, that "he should be a light to the Gentiles, and say to the prisoners, Go forth; and to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves." Despair not therefore; but entreat, that, as the Sun of Righteousness, he would "arise upon you with healing in his wings." And hear, for your encouragement, his gracious promise: "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight: these things will I do unto them, and not forsake them." But delay not to seek these blessings at his hands. Seek them "before he cause your darkness to increase, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and, while you are looking for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness." To this effect our Savior himself charges you: "Yet a little while is the light with you: walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you. While you have light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light."
2. Those who have an evidence in themselves that it has been wrought in them.
However the world may despise it as enthusiasm, there are many who have "passed from death unto life," and "been brought out of darkness into marvelous light." O rejoice in the Lord, who has done such great things for you! And now set yourselves to walk worthy of this high calling. Think what manner of persons you ought to be, and what a holy heavenly conversation becomes you. Guard against every degree of return to your former state. Guard against those who would draw you back, or impede your progress in the heavenly life. It is your privilege "to walk in the light, as God is in the light;" and to have your path like "the shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day." And, while this is really the desire and labor of your souls, fear not: your God will be with you, "causing your light to rise in obscurity, and your darkness to be as the noon-day." Then may you look forward with confidence to that day, when your present light, like that of a taper, shall be eclipsed by the infinitely brighter splendor of the sun; even to that day, when "the sun shall be no more your light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto you; but the Lord shall be unto you an everlasting light, and your God your glory."
Ephesians 5:9. The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.
THERE is in the minds of many a prejudice against the writings of Paul, as though they contained nothing but dissertations about predestination and election, and were calculated rather to drive people to despondence than to improve their morals. But there are no writings in the whole sacred volume more practical than his. True it is, that he unfolds the whole mystery of godliness more fully and more deeply than others: and he seems to have been raised up of God for that very end, that the theory of religion might be more distinctly known: but, in all his epistles, he has an especial respect to the interests of morality; the standard of which he elevates to an extent unknown before, and for the practice of which he adduces motives which never until that time were duly appreciated. In no one of his epistles does he maintain more strongly those doctrines which are thought so objectionable, than in this: yet is one half of the epistle occupied with exhortations to holiness, in all its different bearings and relations.
In the words before us we have, what I may call, a compendium, or summary, of Christian morals.
And, that we may know what practical Christianity really is, I will,
I. Mark it in its offices.
Sanctification, both in heart and life, is the great end of the Gospel, and a most essential part of that redemption which is there revealed to us. It is here set forth as including,
Goodness is the one all-comprehensive character of the Deity, it shines forth in all his works: it meets us wherever we turn our eyes: "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord." The effect of the Gospel is, to transform us into his image: and this it does; creating it in our hearts, and calling it forth in our lives. Under the influence of this divine principle, we shall seek to promote the happiness of all around us. Whatever is amiable, and lovely, and of good report, in the spirit and temper of the mind, we shall cultivate it to the uttermost, and exercise it on all occasions. There will be no trouble which we shall not labor to alleviate; no want which we shall not endeavor to supply. To "be good, and do good," even like God himself, will be the summit of our ambition, and the very end of our lives.
While goodness is spontaneous, and acts irrespective of any particular claim which men may have upon us, "righteousness" has respect to the obligations which we lie under to "render unto all their dues." This, also, the Gospel forms within us; stirring us up, both in word and deed, to act towards others as we, In a change of circumstances, should think it right for them to do unto us. There is in the heart of man a selfishness, which disposes him to see everything with partial eyes; magnifying his own rights, and overlooking the rights of others. This disposition the Gospel will subdue and mortify; and, in its place, it will establish a principle of universal equity, that will weigh the claims of others with exactness, and prompt us, under all circumstances, rather to "suffer wrong than to do wrong."
This is the perfection of Christian morals, or the bond which keeps all the other graces in their place. Where the Gospel has had its perfect work, there will be "a spirit that is without deceit." The Christian is a pellucid character: he appears as he is, and is what he appears.
You will perceive, that, in immediate connection with our text, the Apostle says, "Walk as children of the light: for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." Now, here the three graces mentioned in the text are represented as constituting light, or, at least, as comprehending all that is contained in that image. Now, of all things in the whole creation, light is the most pure (for it is incapable of defilement); the most innocent (for it injures nothing, which has not, through its own weakness, an aversion to its rays); and the most beneficial (for there is not a thing in the universe, possessed of animal or vegetable life, which is not nourished and refreshed by it). Invert the order of these words, and you behold how light beams forth in our text; embodying all the purity of truth, the innocence of righteousness, and the beneficence of active goodness.
But, to understand practical Christianity aright, we must,
II. Trace it to its source.
It springs not from nature's stock: the natural man cannot attain unto it. It is "the fruit of the Spirit," even of that very Spirit who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ himself from the dead.
1. It is the Spirit who alone infuses life into us.
We are by nature "dead in trespasses and sins," and it is the Spirit who quickens us, that we may live unto our God. True indeed, having been "baptized into Christ," we are become, by profession, branches of the living vine. But then we are only as dead and withered branches, that can produce no fruit; and will shortly be broken off, and cast into the fire. It is the Spirit alone who engrafts us into Christ, as living branches; and causes us to receive from Christ that divine energy, whereby we are enabled to bring forth fruit to his glory. "Christ came that we might have life, and might have it more abundantly," but it is by the operation of his Spirit that we receive it; and by the mighty working of that Spirit in our souls that we display its energies.
2. It is the Spirit who suggests to our minds those motives which alone can stimulate us to exertion.
He "reveals the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts." "He glorifies Christ within us; taking of the things that are his, and showing them unto us" "He sheds abroad in our hearts that love of Christ," which alone can constrain us to devote ourselves unreservedly to him. Until we receive this impulse, we are satisfied with formal services, and a partial obedience: but, when we are enabled thus "to comprehend somewhat of the unbounded love of Christ, we can rest in nothing, until we are filled with all the fullness of God."
3. It is the Spirit who assists us in all our endeavors.
Whatever we may have attained, we still have no sufficiency in ourselves. We shall indeed put our hands to the work: but we shall accomplish nothing, until the Holy Spirit "strengthens us with might in our inward man;" and, taking hold, as it were, of one end of our burden, to bear it with us, "helps our infirmities," and lends us his own effectual aid. Hence these graces are properly called "the fruit of the Spirit;" since they cannot be produced without him, and are invariably the result of his agency in our souls. It is he who, as our Church well expresses it, "works in us, that we may have a good will; and works with us when we have that good will."
Yet, as it must be confessed that there is a semblance of this holiness found in those who have not the Holy Spirit, it will be proper to,
III. Distinguish it from all counterfeits.
It must be confessed, that in many natural men there are found virtues very nearly resembling the graces before spoken of. There is in many a very diffusive benevolence, a strict regard to equity, and a high sense of integrity: and you will reasonably ask, How are these to be distinguished from those things which we have described as "the fruit of the Spirit?" I answer: To us, who can only see the outward act, it may frequently be difficult to discern the difference between them; but to God, who sees the heart, they are as different from each other as light from darkness. For of these counterfeits I must say,
1. They proceed from man, and from man alone.
Man needs no particular communication of the Spirit to enable him to perform them. The light of reason points out those virtues as commendable; and the strength of a man's own resolution is sufficient for the performance of them. Hence the persons of whom we speak never pray to God for his Spirit, nor feel any desire after supernatural aid. But the graces mentioned in our text are "the fruits of the Spirit;" and never were, nor ever can be, produced, but by his Almighty agency.
2. They have respect to man, and to man alone.
The worldling, however virtuous, acts not to God, nor has any distinct desire to fulfill the will of God. He considers, that, as a member of society, he has duties to perform; and therefore he performs them, as far as he sees occasion for them, in the relation in which he stands. He has no other view of them than what an intelligent heathen might have. But the Christian aims at "all goodness, righteousness, and truth." He views these duties in reference to the eternal, as well as the temporal, interests of men. He views them as the Lord Jesus Christ did; and makes the outward discharge of them subservient to higher and nobler ends. As a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, he has to advance his interests in the salvation of men: and he will account it a small matter to exercise kindness to men in a temporal view, if he may not also, according to his ability, promote their spiritual and eternal welfare.
3. They are done for man, and for man alone.
A worldling seeks only to please man and to establish a good character among his fellow-creatures. If he attain this object, he is satisfied. To stand high in his own esteem, and in the esteem of others, is the height of his ambition. But the Christian desires that God, and God only, may be glorified. He seeks not applause from man: he cherishes no fond conceits of his own superior excellence: much less does he go about to establish a righteousness of his own, wherein to stand before God. Instead of admiring himself for his own attainments, he will trace them all to their proper source, and give God the glory of them: yes, the more he is enabled to do for God, the more he feels himself indebted to God. He dares not "to sacrifice to his own net, or to burn incense to his own drag;" but accounts himself, after all, an unprofitable servant; and says, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto your name be the praise."
Now, whether we can discern the difference, or not, in others, we may easily detect it in ourselves; and, consequently, may easily discern "whose we are, and whom we serve." And I cannot but recommend it to all, to be jealous over themselves, lest they mistake the virtues of the flesh for the graces of the Spirit; and lest, "having a name to live, they prove really dead."
For an improvement of this subject, observe,
1. How excellent a religion is ours!
They form a very erroneous idea of Christianity, who view it as a system of doctrines merely, irrespective of the effects to be produced by them. I will readily grant, that mysteries, however grand, are of little value, if they operate no sanctifying change within us. But let any person contemplate the change wrought by the Spirit on the heart and life of a believer; let him see poor selfish creatures transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus, and walking in the world as he walked; let him go into the world, the family, the closet, and see the dispositions and habits of the true Christian; will any one obtain even a glance of this, and not admire the religion from whence it flows? I charge you, brethren, rest not in partial views of Christianity: satisfy not yourselves with looking at it as a system of mysterious doctrines, propounded for speculation only. No; view it in all its practical efficiency; and then you will acknowledge that it is worthy of all possible honor, respect, and love.
2. How easily may we ascertain our state before God!
We may surely, without any great difficulty, find what our tempers and dispositions are; and whether we are in the daily habit of imploring help from God for the improvement of them. There is a great difference in the natural constitutions of men; so that we cannot absolutely say, that a person, comparatively moral, is therefore a spiritual man. This must be learned rather from the conflicts he maintains, and the victories he achieves, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And, at all events, we may be sure, that where there is no delight in doing good to the souls of men; where, in our conduct towards others, there is any willful deviation from the line which we should think right to be observed towards us; and where there is any want of simplicity and godly sincerity in our motives and principles; whatever we may imagine, we are not Christians indeed. I pray you to take this touchstone, whereby to try yourselves; and beg of God also to search and try you, that there may be nothing found at last to disappoint your hopes.
3. How delightful is the path assigned us!
I say not that there are no seasons for humiliation: for no doubt there are, even for the best of men. But, for the daily course of your lives, yon need only look to my text. See the Christian in his daily walk: "goodness, righteousness, and truth," are embodied in him; and, like the combined action of the solar rays, he diffuses light and happiness around him. This is to "walk in the light, as God is in the light," this is to honor God; this is to adorn the Gospel: this is to fulfill the ends for which Christ himself came into the world: this is to possess a fitness for the heavenly inheritance. Let those who know not what religion is, condemn it, if they will: but sure I am, that, if viewed aright, "its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace."
An Exhortation to Careless Sinners
Ephesians 5:14, Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
THERE is a harmony in the Scriptures which many overlook and destroy: detached passages are often wrested to establish a favorite system. But the various truths of God should be viewed as they stand connected with each other; there would then be diversity indeed, but no contrariety between them. This observation will throw light, as on many other parts of Scripture, so on that before us in particular; in which we have,
I. A command.
The Scripture abounds with useful and instructive metaphors. Our state is here represented under the images of sleep and death.
Sleep implies a state of inactivity and security.
Men are busily employed about their worldly concerns; but a lamentable supineness prevails with respect to spiritual things. The generality do not apprehend their souls to be in any danger: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell, do not seem worthy their notice: God's threatenings against them are denounced without effect: they are like Jonah, sleeping in the midst of a storm: hence they are described as "at ease from their youth." To the same effect is the testimony of Him who searches the heart.
Death includes the ideas of impotence and corruption.
An inanimate body cannot perform any of the functions of life: it has within itself the seeds and principles of corruption. The soul also, until quickened from the dead, is in a state of impotence: it is incapable of spiritual action or discernment; its powers and faculties are altogether vitiated; whatever is loathsome and offensive to God proceeds from it. So true is that humiliating declaration!
Yet, notwithstanding this state appears so desperate, we must address, to every one that is under it, the command, "Awake," etc.
Your inactivity and security involve you in the deepest guilt: your corruption of heart and life provokes the majesty of God: nor is your impotence any excuse for your disobedience. It is your love of sin that disables you for duty: nor is God deprived of his right to command, because you have lost your power to obey. Let every one then strive to comply with his heavenly call. They who exert their feeble powers may expect divine assistance.
To convince us that none shall fail who use the appointed means, God enforces his command with,
II. A promise.
Sleep and death are states of intellectual darkness. Hence light is promised to those who obey the Divine mandate. Light in Scripture imports knowledge, holiness, comfort, and glory; and all these blessings shall they receive from Christ, the fountain of light.
Spiritual knowledge every natural man stands in need of: nor is it attainable by the teaching of men, or the efforts of genius: we can receive it from none but Christ. Hence Christ invites us to come to him for it: nor shall an application to him ever fail of success.
A despair of attaining this deters many from seeking it. They think their inveterate habits cannot be rooted out; but Christ is our "sanctification" as well as our wisdom. His very name encourages us to expect deliverance from him, and he will fulfill the promises which he has made to this effect.
A sense of guilt shall yield to holy joy: deplored weakness shall be succeeded by divine energy. Our delight in him shall be spiritual and exalted: it shall far transcend all earthly pleasures.
Our Lord will not confine his blessings to this world. He will raise his people to thrones of glory: he will cause them to participate his own inheritance: he will be the ground and object of their joy forever.
What greater encouragement can any one desire? What richer promises can any one conceive? How suited are they to our necessities! Let every one consider the command as addressed to himself; "Awake, you;" let all our powers and faculties be called forth to action. In exerting ourselves let us expect the promised aid. Thus shall we be eternal monuments of Christ's power and grace.
Redeeming the Time
Ephesians 5:15, 16. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
WHILE the Christian has so many corruptions within, and temptations without, he needs to be continually urged to vigilance and activity in the concerns of his soul. It was to the saints at Ephesus, even to the most eminent among them, that Paul addressed the exhortation before us: in which we may notice,
I. The duty of maintaining a circumspect walk.
We are evidently referred in the text to what had been spoken in the preceding context: from whence we are to gather the precise ideas which the Apostle comprehended in the terms, "Walk circumspectly."
We should walk,
1. As persons who enjoy the light.
Those who walk in the dark, know not how to order their steps: but they who walk in the noon-day, can see how and where to place their feet with accuracy and exactness. Now we have the light of God's word; and should therefore carefully avoid setting our foot in a place where we are liable to slip, or contact defilement.
2. As persons that are afraid of erring.
We are ever is danger of being led astray by the example of those around us. But we should "call no man master;" we should not follow Paul himself, any further than he followed Christ. If any should presume to vindicate what is contrary to the word of God, we should "take care not to be deceived" by their specious reasonings; and instead of being "partakers with them," we should "avoid all fellowship with their unfruitful works;" yes, instead of conforming to them, we should "reprove them."
3. As persons that are anxious to please their God.
Neither the opinions of others, nor selfish interests, are to regulate our conduct. We have but one inquiry to make, "What will please my God?" That view, that desire, that purpose, must be the spring of our actions, whether in public or in private. With a view to approve ourselves to him, we should as carefully inspect our motives and principles, our dispositions and frames, as if we saw him immediately present, and observed his eye fixed upon our hearts.
From this general view of the subject, we descend to notice,
II. An important instance, wherein, more especially, circumspection should be mentioned.
There is nothing wherein circumspection is more needful, than in the improvement of our time.
It is lamentable to think how much time is lost for want of a due solicitude to "redeem" it. Even in relation to temporal concerns, there are very few who are good economists of their time. But, in reference to their eternal interests, men let ten thousand opportunities pass them unheeded, and unimproved. Many have passed through half their lives, and not vet begun to seek the salvation of their souls. And of those who have not been altogether so careless, how many are there whose spiritual interests are at a very low ebb! They have not sufficiently watched the lapse of time, or been duly impressed with a sense of its value: and hence, "when for the time they ought to be qualified for teachers, they still need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God."
We should therefore set ourselves instantly to "redeem the time."
We should consider what it is that has robbed us of our precious hours, and guard particularly against it. Has pleasure allured us by its charms? We should renounce its gratifications, as far as they interfere with our spiritual welfare. Has business too much occupied our time? We should apportion to it what is necessary in our respective situations; but not suffer it to supersede our religious exercises. And, if the duties of our calling are such as to leave but a contracted space for reading and prayer, we should be the more earnest in consecrating the whole of the Sabbath to the service of our God. Visiting and company are found in general to be among the chief destroyers of our time: against these we should resolutely set ourselves; that, if we cannot recover what is passed, we may at least prevent the depredations which we are but too likely to experience in future. From sleep too we should redeem all that has been allotted to mere indulgence, and all that nature docs not require for the renovation of her strength. Our whole time is little enough for the concerns of our souls; and therefore we should suffer as little of it as possible to run to waste, or to pass off in unproductive channels.
To enforce the observance of this circumspection, the Apostle suggests,
III. Motives and inducements to maintain it.
He recommends it,
1. As a proof of wisdom.
No greater folly can be conceived than for persons to be regardless of their eternal interests, and to trifle away that time which they ought to be employing in the concerns of their souls. It is true, that a circumspect walk, and a due improvement of time, are often called preciseness or enthusiasm: but let those who know not the value of the soul, deride these things: still, in the judgment of every discerning person, to walk with the greatest possible care and exactness, is to "walk, not as fools, but as wise," for "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding."
2. As a mean of safety.
"The days" of the Apostles were "evil," on account of the persecutions that raged: for every person felt that all his comforts might be speedily withdrawn, and that he might soon fall a sacrifice to his profession. This therefore was urged as a reason for vigilance and circumspection: for if they might so quickly be called to give up their account to God, it became them to be ever on their guard, and ever ready. Our lot, through the tender mercy of our God, is cast on happier days: we are not exposed to the fury of persecutors: the utmost that we suffer, is, for the most part, a little contempt, and the loss of some temporal interests. Still however our "days" may justly be called "evil," because of the general prevalence of infidelity and profaneness. We are as liable to be ensnared by evil examples, as those at Ephesus were to be turned aside by the fear of man. "Iniquity abounds; and therefore there is danger lest the love of many should wax cold." If then we would not be drawn into the vortex of corruption, we should keep at a distance from it; and if we would stand in the day of trial, we should improve each passing hour in preparation for it.
The Believer Filled with the Holy Spirit
Ephesians 5:18–20. Be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
THAT Christianity has raised the tone of morals in the world, will appear from the admonitions which the Apostles judged it necessary to give to the Churches in their day. It would appear almost superfluous, at this time, to expatiate upon the evil of fornication, in a letter addressed to true believers; or to guard them against yielding to intoxication; there being, in the minds of all, a consciousness of the inconsistency of such evils with the Christian profession. But the Corinthians had, in their unconverted state, been proverbially dissolute; and the Ephesians, even in their religious rites on some occasions, had addicted themselves to intemperance: and both the one and the other brought with them into the Church their former sentiments and habits, against which they needed the most explicit warnings.
On the other hand, the standard of Christian privilege and attainment is sadly lowered in the present day; so that an exhortation to be filled with the Spirit, and to be living under the continual influence of the Spirit, seems to breathe nothing but enthusiasm. But, being well assured that Christian duties and privileges are precisely the same now as they were in the Apostle's days, I proceed to set before you,
I. The exalted privilege of believers.
The Spirit of God will dwell in the heart of every true Christian.
As the Church at large, so every individual in it, is "the temple of God," and "the habitation of God through the Spirit." Our blessed Lord promised to send down the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to abide within his people, to guide them into all truth, to support them under their respective trials, and to "sanctify them throughout, in body, soul, and spirit." We are not. indeed, to expect at this time his miraculous operations: but his spiritual influences are continued to his Church; and shall be, even to the end of the world: and to experience them, is the undoubted privilege of all true believers. Indeed, without them, we can never mortify sin, nor ever fulfill the will of God: and, if we experience them not, we are not true Christians: for it is expressly said, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
Nor need there be any limit to our expectations of his gracious influences.
It is our privilege to "be filled with the Spirit," every one of us according to our respective capacities; and to have all our faculties and powers subjected to his control. By him our understandings may be enlightened; so that we shall view every thing, in a measure, as God himself views it. By him, too, our will may be regulated; so that it shall be conformed to the mind and will of God. By him, also, our affections may be so inflamed, that the whole soul, as it were, shall be melted, and cast into the very mold of the Gospel.
In relation to this matter we need fear no excess. In the use of strong drink we may easily exceed; and excess will lead to the most pernicious consequences. By intoxication, we may be unfitted for the common offices of life; yes, and be precipitated into the commission of the foulest sins. But the more we have of the Holy Spirit, the more will sobriety and self-government characterize our whole conduct. We need, indeed, to guard against delusions respecting this matter: for there are many in the world who speak of dreams, and visions, and internal suggestions, and numberless other conceits, whereby they deceive both themselves and others. But on these no confidence whatever can be placed: they are, for the most part, the fruits of a heated imagination, and are as likely to come from Satan as from God. I do not mean to say that God may not reveal himself to persons in these ways; for what he has done in times past, he may do again: but I say, that whatever is not founded upon the word of God, and leads not to a holy and consistent life, is a mere delusion. Whatever betrays men into extravagances of any kind, is not of God: for "the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets," and it becomes you to be on your guard against everything which, in the mode of its access to your mind, is suspicious, or in its operation upon your mind is disorderly. I say again, therefore, that against delusion you must guard: but from excess in what is really from God, you are in no danger: for the more you are filled with the Spirit of Christ, the more you will resemble Christ in the whole of his character and deportment.
Suited to this exalted privilege of believers, will be,
II. Their delightful employment.
Here you see how they are to act,
1. In their fellowship with each other.
In the parallel passage in the Epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle's meaning is somewhat more clearly expressed: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." We should have a happy and peaceful frame of mind, whether alone or in company; and should be expressing our joy in songs of praise. Not that we should resemble those, whose spirits, being raised with wine, entertain themselves, and each other, with vocal and carnal songs: no; we should "make melody in our hearts to the Lord," and have all our joys an emblem, an foretaste, of Heaven. Such expressions of earthly happiness we observe without any mixture of disapprobation or surprise: they are the natural effusions of a happy and buoyant spirit. How much more, then, should they be put forth in spiritual exercises, to the honor of our God, whose service is perfect freedom!
2. In their more immediate fellowship with God.
Everything should be viewed by them as proceeding from a God of love: not even chastisement itself should be regarded as a token of his wrath, but rather as a mark of paternal tenderness, whereby he both intimates our relation to him, and seeks to establish and confirm it. Nothing, however penal in its aspect, should be viewed in any other light. We should taste his love in everything, and "give him thanks always for all things." And this we should do "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," for, as all God's blessings come to us through him, so all our thanksgivings for them should return to God through him also. It is this which makes them acceptable to God the Father. If these were offered in our own name, they would never enter into the ears of the Lord of Hosts: but, being presented in the name of Jesus, they come up with acceptance before him, and are sure to return in blessings on our own souls."
1. Those who have never yet experienced these blessings in their souls.
By the greater part of those who call themselves Christians, the whole of this subject is accounted visionary and absurd. They have no idea of one person being filled with the Spirit any more than others: and all the joyous frames arising from his presence in the soul, they deem the very essence of enthusiasm. But what, then, can be meant by all those directions which are given us, to "live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit," and "pray in the Spirit," and to "bring forth the fruits of the Spirit?" And why has our blessed Lord so encouraged us to pray for the gift of his Spirit, if no such communication is to be expected by us? Do not, I beseech you, brethren, take your own experience as the standard of truth, or imagine that no one else can possess what you have never received: but look to God for the accomplishment of his gracious promises to your souls; and never rest, until you have obtained those supplies of his Spirit, whereby alone you can attain the Christian character, or be ever fitted for the realms of bliss."
2. Those who profess to live in the enjoyment of them.
Regard not the contempt with which ungodly men may treat you: but let the Apostle's direction be followed by you daily, with increasing earnestness. Be careful, however, not to give any just occasion for reproach. Let there be nothing extravagant, either in your profession or your practice. Religion, if it have its just influence upon your soul, will render you patterns of sobriety, of prudence, and of true wisdom: it will cause you to "walk wisely before God, in a perfect way." At the same time, it will bring into your soul a peace that passes all understanding and a joy that is unspeakable and glorified. There will be, indeed, occasional changes in your frame, even as there are in the natural world: there will be times for the tears of penitential sorrow to flow down, as well as for the radiance of the noon-day sun. But the more you live on Tabor, the more will you behold the Savior's glory: and the more you survey the promised land from Pisgah's top, the more will you be fitted for the everlasting enjoyment of it.
The Marriage Union
Ephesians 5:21–33. Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall he joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
AMONG those who are attached to the peculiarities of the Gospel, it is often a subject of regret, that the great mass of nominal Christians are not acquainted with its principles. But I am inclined to think, that there is nearly the same occasion for regret, that many who profess, and actually have attained, somewhat of vital godliness, are but very imperfectly instructed in its duties. The sublimer parts of morality are really almost as little known as the deeper mysteries of our holy religion. Take, for instance, the conduct enjoined in the fourteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: I doubt whether there be many who would have written such a piece of casuistry: and few, I fear, would have approved of it when written, if it had not come forth with the authority of a divine revelation. What a paradox would it appear to the generality, if I were to tell them, that the very same act, under different circumstances, might be an acceptable service and a damning sin; and the whole difference consisting in its being done in the presence of one who approved of it, or of one who doubted its lawfulness! Yet such is the Apostle's determination respecting the practice of things indifferent in themselves; and which become bounden duties, or fatal sins, according to the views which they have who do them. I could, if there were time, illustrate the sublimity of the Christian code, in reference to all our most acknowledged duties: but I shall confine myself to the subject more appropriate to the present occasion. Paul, in this passage, places the duties of man and wife in a light peculiarly simple and beautiful. He comprehends both under one single term: "Wives, submit: Husbands, love." Thus far we are prepared to approve of his requisitions; the duties respectively belonging to the two parties being generally acknowledged. But, if I should proceed to place these requisitions in their true light, and insist upon them in their full extent, I am not sure that I should not excite, among the less-instructed part of us at least, a measure of surprise. Yet I am not afraid, but that, if in the former part of my observations I should appear to bear somewhat hard upon the female gender, I shall, before I close the subject, find a perfect acquiescence on their part, when they shall see what provision God has made for their happiness in wedded life. But I shall be careful to speak nothing myself: I shall only bring before you what the Apostle has spoken: and if his demands appear to be too severe, I shall shelter myself under his wing; being well assured that you will all yield to his authority, without gainsaying.
You must have observed, that in all the passages of Scripture where the relative duties are insisted on, those of the inferior are always stated first. Nor is this without reason: for they are all enjoined by God: and, however difficult they may appear, especially where the superior neglects to perform the duties assigned to him, they must all be observed from a regard to the authority of that God who has imposed them; nor must any one imagine, that his duties are a whit the less incumbent on him because the superior neglects his. Power, in whoever it is vested, is God's: and the person bearing it, so far as it is truly committed to him, is God's representative and viceregent. And I conceive, that this is the reason of that order, which, from being uniformly observed in the Scriptures, we may well suppose to have been wittingly and wisely fixed.
The submission of the wife to her husband must be entire, cheerful, uniform, "as unto the Lord," because the husband is as truly the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church. And I hope I shall not appear to speak too strongly, if I say, that there is no other limit to her submission to her earthly lord, than to her heavenly; unless he require anything that is contrary to the will of God: for then she must yield to that authority which is paramount, and obey God rather than man. I certainly feel, that, in speaking thus, I may appear to require too much of the wife, and to place her almost on the footing of a slave. But you yourselves shall judge. Tell me what is the meaning of those words, "As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands, in everything?" I confess to you that this appears somewhat harsh; and I should not have dared to utter it myself. But I am not at liberty to soften it, or to introduce into God's word any qualifying expressions, to lower the standard he has given us. You yourselves see the comparison which is instituted by God himself, and the extent of the requisition that is made. Had the comparison been omitted, we might possibly have thought that the expression, "everything," was, what is confessedly common in the Scriptures, an universal term put for a general; and that, consequently, it did admit of some modifications and exceptions. But who will so construe the obedience which the Church owes to Christ? If, then, we cannot so limit the requisition in the one case, neither can we in the other: and, consequently, in our statement of the duties of a wife, we must take the ground which is laid in Scripture, and set forth the will of God as it is plainly declared in the inspired volume.
But, though so much is required of the wife, that I could not have ventured to state it in any terms but those of Scripture itself, I must candidly acknowledge that I account it a rich mercy to the wife that her duty is thus highly stated and plainly declared. For it must of necessity happen, in a married state, that some differences of opinion should occasionally arise, and a contrariety of inclination also occur, in reference to some points: and if God had not determined beforehand whose judgment should preponderate, and whose will should stand, there might be collisions, which might painfully interrupt domestic harmony. But God, having required unqualified submission on the part of the wife, has cut off all occasion for discord; I may almost say, all possibility of it, where the wife understands her duty, and is ready to perform it. Of course, a modest statement, both of her sentiments and wishes, may be given: but where her husband cannot by these means be persuaded, she has no alternative left: obedience is the course which God has ordained for her; and she should pay it cheerfully, "as unto the Lord."
If this appear, as I fear it will, "an hard saying," I am happy to say, that that impression will soon be removed, by stating, in the next place, the duties of the husband. "Husbands, love your wives." And what difficulty is there in obeying the commands of love, or in submitting to its dictates?
But here we observe, in relation to him, the counterpart of the comparison which has been before made in relation to the wife. Is the wife to submit to her husband as unreservedly as the Church submits to Christ? Know you, that the husband is to love his wife as truly and tenderly, yes, and, as far as it is possible, to the very same extent too, "as Christ has loved the Church." Let us contemplate this a little; and we shall subscribe heartily to all that has been before spoken. Consider how the Lord Jesus Christ has loved the Church. She was altogether alienated from him, and incapable of adding to his happiness; yet did he disrobe himself of all the glory and blessedness of Heaven, yes, and assume our nature, and "bear our sins in his own body on the tree," on purpose to bring his Church into a full and everlasting participation of his kingdom and glory. And now that he has done this, he imposes no one command on her but what conduces to her happiness: and if in anything he thwart her inclinations, he does it for her good; consulting, in everything, not his own sovereign will, but her present and eternal welfare. Now, let us suppose a husband to act on this principle: let us suppose him ready to exercise self-denial, to the utmost possible extent, for the good of his wife: let us suppose him so to pant after her happiness, as to be willing to do anything, or suffer anything, in order to promote it: let us suppose him never to propose anything to her, but for her good; and never, in any instance, to thwart her, but with a view to her truest happiness: methinks she would never complain of the extent of her duty to him; it would be all easy, all delightful. Let it be remembered, then, that this is the husband's duty to his wife. But as, in the former case, I confined myself to the very words of Scripture, so will I do in this; lest I appear to over-state the duty on the husband's part. "Husbands, love your wives; even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such tiling, but that it should be holy, and without blemish." Let there be such tender, affectionate, self-denying exertions on the husband's part, to promote the welfare and happiness of his wife; and what returns will not she readily make to him? Truly, submission to his will, will be not so much her duty as her delight.
As for the other comparison contained in this passage, namely, of the man loving his wife as his own flesh, I forbear to make any observations upon it, wishing to detain you as short a time as possible.
There is one thing only that I will add, which will be applicable to us all. Hitherto I have dwelt chiefly on those points which the occasion has suggested: but let us not forget, that the whole Church of Christ is his bride; and that the duty of a wife towards her husband, as set forth in this passage, may serve to show us, in some measure, our duty towards our heavenly Lord. Does a wife leave her father and mother, and cleave to her husband? so must we forsake all that is dear to us in this world, to cleave unto Christ: for he has expressly warned us, that "if, in coming to him, we forsake not all that we have, we cannot be his disciples." We must also fulfill his will in everything, without hesitation and without reserve. Obedience to him must be our delight: and if, for a moment, a wish arise in our minds that is contrary to his will, we must sacrifice it instantly; and say, "Not my will, but your be done." Thus, while "the mystery concerning Christ and his Church" is mystically fulfilled in our dear friends who are about to be joined together in the bonds of matrimony, it will be literally and spiritually fulfilled in us.
The Perfecting of the Church is the End of All that Christ has Done for It
Ephesians 5:25–27. Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
THE morality of the Gospel, though not more extensive than that of the law, is yet more clearly revealed, and exhibited in a more endearing light. Its obligations are not set forth amidst denunciations of wrath, as those of the law were upon Mount Sinai; but models of perfection are set before us, and we are invited by considerations of love and gratitude to make them the objects of our imitation. Not only our duty to God, but even our relative duties are set before us in this manner. Paul, instructing wives in their duty to their husbands, tells them, that the Church's obedience to Christ is the fittest pattern of their obedience to them. Then instructing husbands how to conduct themselves toward their wives, he proposes to them Christ's love to his Church as the model for their love to their wives. It is in this connection that the words of our text are introduced. But the Apostle can never touch upon so glorious a topic as the love of Christ, without expatiating upon it, and being transported, as it were, to a forgetfulness of his proper argument. The view which he here gives us of it, is deserving of peculiar attention. It will lead us to consider,
I. The demonstrations which Christ has given us of his love.
He loved his Church from before the foundation of the world: and he has displayed his love to it in a manner that must fill both men and angels with everlasting astonishment. Every member of it was dearer to him than his own happiness; more desirable to him, if we may so speak, than his own glory. He loved us to such a degree, that for our sakes he gave up the happiness which he enjoyed in his Father's bosom, and the glory which he possessed upon his Father's throne: he gave himself for us, that he might be,
1. A surety for our persons.
The debt which we owed to divine justice could never be discharged by mortal man: nor was there any superior being able or willing to take upon himself our awful responsibility. Our case was desperate, as much so as that of the fallen angels. But the Son of God, of his own infinitely rich grace and mercy, was pleased to undertake for us. What Paul said to Philemon respecting Onesimus, he said to his Father respecting us; "What do they owe you? put it all to my account: I will repay you. Whatever shall be necessary to ransom them from the hands of incensed justice, let it be exacted of me: I will be answerable for it; I will pay it, to the uttermost farthing."
2. A sacrifice for our sins.
It was not by corruptible things, as silver and gold, that we could be redeemed. Satisfaction must be made for all our violations of God's holy law. Death was the desert of man; and death must be endured by the Son of God himself, if he should put himself in the place of sinful man. This was fully known to our adorable Savior; and yet he would not shrink from the conditions. He had set his heart upon his chosen people, and he was prepared to pay the price, even though it were his own life. Accordingly he took our nature for the express purpose of offering it up a sacrifice for sin. In that nature he made a full atonement for all our transgressions, and satisfied the utmost demands of law and justice. In short, he so gave himself to be an offering and sacrifice to God, that God smelled a sweet savor, and became instantly reconciled to his offending creatures.
What manner of love was this! Who can ever explore "its heights and depths, its length and breadth?" Well may "God commend his love to us" by this particular instance; for it is, and ever must be, without a parallel: it as far exceeds our conceptions as it does our deserts.
To assign any adequate reasons for such love is impossible: but the riches of it will appear in a striking point of view, if we consider,
II. The ends for which it has been so demonstrated.
The design of Jesus in the whole of his mediatory work has been, to bring back our fallen race to the enjoyment of all that they had lost by sin. He gave himself for us, that we might enjoy,
1. A restoration to his image.
It was not merely a salvation from misery that Christ came to impart, but a salvation from sin, which is the cause of misery. He came to set us apart for God as a holy and peculiar people; and to cleanse us not only in "the laver of regeneration in baptism, but by the renewing of the Holy Spirit." The washing of water in baptism was only the external sign of that spiritual grace which it is the delight of his soul to bestow. "He will sprinkle clean water upon us, and cleanse us from all our filthiness, and from all our idols." Without this spiritual renovation, all his other mercies would be in vain. Man could not be happy, if he were not first made holy.
The instrument by which this grace is conveyed to the soul, is the word of God. The word, both written and preached, is that whereby we are begotten of him; by which also, as newborn babes, we are nourished; and by which the whole work of sanctification is carried on. The Holy Spirit indeed is the agent, who renders the word effectual: but the Gospel is "the rod of his strength," and it is by that he renovates and saves the world.
2. A participation of his glory.
When sinners are in a measure cleansed with the washing of water by the word, the ministers who have been instrumental to that change, "espouse them to one husband, and present them as a chaste virgin to Christ." And while the work of sanctification is advancing in them, they are like those virgins who were destined for the embrace of eastern monarchs, who were purified during several months for that end, until they were judged meet for the dignity to which they were to be exalted. The time for their complete honor and felicity is the day of judgment; when the Bridegroom himself shall come to take them home to himself, and to fix them in the mansions prepared for them. Then they will be "without spot or wrinkle; they will be perfectly holy and without blemish." They will be "presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." What "a glorious Church" will they then be! Here their glory is obscured by spots and blemishes: but there they will not have "any such thing," they will be "pure as God is pure," and "perfect as God is perfect."
If anything can account for the stupendous efforts of Christ's love, it must be this. This is an end worthy of the Supreme Being. This will be such a display of his power and grace as will forever fill all Heaven with wonder and admiration.
Suffer you now "a word of exhortation," grounded on the foregoing subject.
1. Desire holiness.
This is what the Lord Jesus Christ has desired for you. To obtain this for you, he divested himself of all his glory, and endured the accursed death of the cross. He desired this for you, because it was the only medium through which you could arrive at happiness, and because it could not fail of rendering you completely happy. Ah! do not despise it. Do not turn away from it, as inimical to your welfare. Do not consider it as a mere system of restraints, a burden that is intolerable. It is in truth the perfection of your nature, and the completest liberty: it is a liberty from the thraldom of corruption, and from the tyranny of Satan. Desire it therefore, even as Christ has desired it for you; and never think any sacrifice too great for the attainment of it.
2. Use the means of attaining it.
The word is the means which God in every age has made use of for the recovery of fallen man. By that he converted thousands in the primitive ages of the Church: and by that he is still carrying on his work in the souls of men. Let the Scriptures then be searched by you, not to gratify curiosity merely, or to exercise a critical acumen, but to obtain the knowledge of God's will, and an increasing conformity to his image. Read the sacred volume as a book that is to make you holy. When you hear the word preached to you, hear it with a desire to get a deeper discovery of your sins, and a more perfect victory over them. Whether you read, or hear, or meditate, or pray, let it be with an immediate view to grow in holiness and a fitness for glory.
3. Look forward to the perfection of holiness as the consummation and completion of all your wishes.
Higher than this you cannot look; and lower you ought not. This was the ultimate design of all that Christ undertook for you, and of all that he did and suffered for you. Do but consider how happy you will be when not a spot or blemish can be found in you, even by God himself; when you shall be perfectly like your God; and when you shall enjoy the most intimate and endearing fellowship with your Lord, without any alloy, or intermission, or end. Do not rest in anything short of this. Suffer not any of the pleasures of time and sense to rob you of it. Surely the very prospect of such glory is enough to kindle in your souls the devoutest rapture, and to stimulate you to incessant activity in your Christian course. Yield yourselves now sincerely to the Lord, and he will, in the last day, present you to himself, and acknowledge you as his for evermore.
Union with Christ
Ephesians 5:30. We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
THAT the eternal Son of God assumed our nature, and lived and died for the salvation of men, is doubtless the fundamental truth on which we are to build our hopes. But we shall have a very partial view of that truth, if we consider it merely in reference to our acceptance with God. The Apostles state it as the strongest of all motives to obedience, and as the pattern which, as far as circumstances will admit of it, we are bound to imitate. To go no further than the context; Paul is stating the duties of husbands and wives: and, having observed that wives are to be as obedient to their husbands, in all lawful things, as the Church is to Christ, he shows, that husbands are not, however, at liberty to act the tyrant; but that they should at all times be influenced by love, and consult the good and happiness of their wives, as much as Christ himself does of the Church, to whom he stands in a similar relation.
The words before us are, in this view, deserving of the deepest attention; since they not only unfold a most mysterious and important truth, but tend in the highest degree to meliorate our tempers, and to diffuse universal happiness. Let us consider then,
I. The union which exists between Christ and his Church.
There is a personal union which Christ has with our nature, by means of his incarnation, and which was necessary for the executing of the great work which he had undertaken. But in this the whole human race participate, without any distinction. The union which Christ has with the Church is distinct from that, and is,
There is, among men, an union between a debtor and his surety; insomuch that, if a debt be not discharged, the surety is as much answerable for it as if he had contracted it himself: and if, on the contrary, it be discharged by the surety, the creditor has no further claim on him that contracted it. Thus it is with respect to Christ and his Church. He is the surety of the new covenant: having undertaken for us, he was charged with our debt; "it was exacted of him, and he was made answerable." Having paid the debt, his payment is put to our account; "By his obedience we are made righteous." In a word, "He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we (who had no righteousness) might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Very much is spoken in Scripture respecting the spiritual union which exists between Christ and his people. To mark that they stand by him alone, it is compared to a foundation and the superstructure. To show that he is the one source of vital influence to them all, it is illustrated by a root and the branches. To intimate that one Spirit pervades both him and them, it is set forth under the image of a body; he being the Head, and they the members. To convey some idea of the tender endearments with which it is accompanied, it is shadowed forth by a marriage union. This is the representation given in the text. He is our husband; and we are his bride: and, as Adam said of Eve when she was brought to him, "She is flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bones," so may we say respecting the Lord Jesus Christ, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones."
Whatever beauty there is in all the other figures, methinks there is a peculiar propriety in that which is now under our consideration, because it marks that volition, yes, and those means also, whereby the union is effected. The Lord Jesus Christ displays before our eyes his excellency and glory, his suitableness and sufficiency; and, by the constraining influence of his love, inclines us to leave all that has hitherto been esteemed by us, in order to connect ourselves with him, and enjoy his presence. We accept that gracious proposal, "You shall not be for another man; so will I also be for you." and being thus engaged by a solemn covenant, we surrender up ourselves to him, whether it be for better or for worse in this world, determining through grace to "be faithful unto him, even until death."
We prosecute the idea of a marriage union no further at present, because it will be more fully opened, while we show,
II. The blessings resulting from it.
It is needless to expatiate upon the comforts and benefits of that relation among men: but we cannot be too minute in specifying the blessings that result from an union with Christ. The chief of them will come under our review, while we observe, that,
1. He has communion with us in all our trials.
One who understands the duties of a husband, and labors faithfully to discharge them, is ever ready to sympathize with his partner in her afflictions of whatever kind, and solicitous to the utmost to relieve them. What is done to her, whether it be good or evil, he considers it as done to himself. Thus it is with our blessed Lord. Are we tempted?—a consciousness of his relation to us calls forth his sympathy, and engages his utmost exertions on our behalf—Are we persecuted? He feels in his inmost soul the dagger that pierces us. Do we labor under distresses of any kind? "In all our afflictions he is afflicted;" and every attempt made to mitigate our trouble, he accepts, as if he himself were personally relieved.
2. We have communion with him in all his benefits.
A woman, from whatever rank she be taken, is no sooner united in the marriage-bond, than she is exalted to a participation of all the honors and possessions of her husband. Thus it is with the Church when united unto Christ. Is he possessed of a perfect righteousness, commensurate with the highest demands of law and justice? They who are joined to him by faith, are partakers of it all, and may boldly call him, "The Lord our Righteousness." However sinful they may have been in former times, "in him shall they be justified, and in him may they glory"—Has he within himself an inexhaustible fountain of grace? They may receive it out of his fullness: and having had a measure of it communicated to them, they may go to him for more: yes, whatever supplies they may need, they shall have sufficient for them; sufficient to mortify every sin, to fulfill every duty, to triumph over every enemy—Is he enthroned on high, the heir and Lord of all things? Let not his people think that even these things are too great for them: for they shall have a throne like unto his throne, a kingdom like unto his kingdom, a glory like unto his glory.
1. Those who have reason to believe that they are "married to Christ."
If we congratulate our friends when they are settled in life with a fair prospect of happiness, shall we not much more congratulate you; you, who by your connection with Christ are become children of the living God? What earthly advancement can be compared with this? Who among the children of men is so wise to discern, so tender to regard, so able to relieve, your every want? We hope that you know your union with him. It is certainly your privilege to know it, and to rejoice in it. "Rejoice then in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice"—But together with your privileges, remember also the duties which this high relation brings with it. Would you be unfaithful to him, or grieve him in anything? God forbid. Remember the fervent attachment, the humble reverence, the unreserved submission, which a dutiful wife feels towards her husband: and let these feelings be transferred in the highest possible degree to your august "Head" and be exercised towards him without any intermission or alloy.
2. Those who have no evidence that such an union has been formed.
They who have felt no need of an union with Christ, will be ready to say, like Ezekiel's hearers, "Ah! Lord God, does he not speak parables?" But indeed "we speak forth the words of truth and soberness." You hope to bring forth fruit to God in some other way than by an union with Christ: but you may as well expect a branch to be fruitful, when separated from the vine. The image in the text is applied by Paul in reference to this very thing: he tells us, that "we must be married unto Christ, that we may bring forth fruit unto God." Moreover, if you be not united to Christ in this world, you will in vain hope for an union with him in the world to come. This is the time wherein you are to be betrothed to him. Seek then to know him: seek to become an object of his regard: seek to be united to him as intimately as he is to his Heavenly Father. Be not contented with seeking, but strive; strive to obtain an interest in his favor; nor cease from your labor until you can say, "My beloved is mine, and I am his." Then shall you have the most delightful fellowship with him: you shall have such manifestations of his regard, as the world can neither know nor receive: and, when all earthly connections shall cease, your happiness shall be consummated in the everlasting fruition of his love.
Union Between Christ and His People
Ephesians 5:32. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.
CHRISTIANITY is a mystery altogether—a great mystery: as it is written, "Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." Every part of it is mysterious: its plan, as concerted between the Father and the Son; its propagation, so as to incorporate in one body the whole world both of Jews and Gentiles; the representations given of it in emblematic types from the foundation of the world. Among these, the marriage of our first parents is worthy of particular attention. It is that to which the Apostle especially refers in the passage before us. The very words spoken by Adam on that occasion are quoted by him. They appear, indeed, at first sight, to be spoken only in reference to marriage generally: but he declares, and pronounces it "a great mystery," that "he spoke concerning Christ and the Church."
Here it is evident that there was one thing spoken, and another intended; and, consequently, if we would fully enter into the Apostle's mind, we must consider,
I. The subject ostensibly proposed.
He is speaking of the duties which men owe to each other, in the relation of husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants. That of husband and wife, as existing before all others, is introduced first.
He specifies their duties.
He specifies hers to him, and his to her. Her duty to him is comprised in reverence and subjection; in reverence to him as her head; in subjection to him as her lord. His duty to her comprehends unrivaled affection, and unbounded care. These were their respective duties, while yet they remained in innocence: for they arose out of the manner in which their union was formed. The man was first formed, the lord and governor of the whole earth. The woman was made afterwards, and taken out of the side of man as a part of his substance; and therefore was properly subject to him. She, too, was made for man, and not man for her: and, consequently, this put her still further under his control. These duties, however, were still further extended after man had fallen: for the woman, having been first in the transgression, was doomed to weaknesses and pains which she would never otherwise have experienced, and was still more entirely subjected to her husband's rule. But, in proportion as she needed his protection, his obligation to extend it to her was increased, together with all its attendant sympathy and assiduities.
He at the same time illustrates them by a comparison.
The Apostle institutes a comparison between the marriage union and that which exists between Christ and his Church; and again and again reverts to it, in order to mark the correspondence between them in every particular. In speaking of the wife's duties to her husband, he says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord: for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church; and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." Now, here the Apostle states, in the clearest and fullest manner, both the extent of her duties and the ground of them. All the subjection which the Church owes to Christ, she owes to her husband; subordinate only to the paramount obligations which she owes to Christ himself: and she owes them to him for the very same reason; namely, because her husband is her head and protector, just as the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head and Savior of his whole mystical body, the Church.
Next, in speaking of the husband's duty to his wife, he draws a similar comparison between Christ's love and tenderness to his Church, and that which a man should exercise towards his wife. The object he should have in view also, in all the control which he exercises over her, should be precisely such as Christ has manifested towards his Church; namely, the advancement of her real welfare. To a similar extent, also, should he carry this into effect; willingly denying himself, and submitting gladly to the greatest privations, if only he may attain his end, and promote her best interests. Hear the Apostle's own words; and mark especially how minutely the Apostle enters into the objects which Christ has accomplished in behalf of his Church, in order the more clearly to show what the husband should aim at in reference to his wife: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Then, going on with a special reference to Eve, who was a part of Adams own body, he adds, "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife, loves himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh." All this shows us with what intensity of affection a man should regard his wife; and with what tender care he should labor for her temporal, spiritual, and eternal good.
Now, here we should have stopped, as having brought into view all that the Apostle designed. But, what the Apostle has spoken in our text necessarily leads us to the contemplation of another subject, even,
II. The subject covertly intended.
We are perfectly surprised when we hear the Apostle unexpectedly declaring, "I speak all this concerning Christ and his Church." Truly, "this is a mystery." Let us consider,
1. The mystery itself.
Under the image of a marriage union, the Apostle has been speaking of Christ and his Church, between whom there exists the same relation as between a man and his wife. The Lord Jesus Christ is "a Bridegroom, and the Church is his bride," This is the language both of the Old Testament and the New: and between them exists a closer union than ever existed between a man and his wife: for they are, by their union, made "one flesh;" but Christ and his Church are "one spirit." They too, inasmuch as Christ has taken upon him our nature, may be called one body; so that, in reference to Christ, it may be said of us, "We are members of his body, even of his flesh and of his bones." But I say again, that, inasmuch as we have a spiritual union with Christ, our connection with him is closer than any that can exist between persons joined in the marriage bond; who, though one flesh, may be, and too often are, far from being united in spirit.
By virtue of the union of Christ with his Church, she partakes of all the privileges which a marriage union can convey. He is entitled to the entire possession of our whole hearts: and we become partakers of all his honors, and all his wealth, and all his influence, and all his love. Nothing can be conceived as enjoyed by a woman in virtue of the marriage relation which she has entered into, that is not imparted to us in the richest possible abundance, as soon as we believe in Christ. On the other hand, there are the same obligations entailed upon us. The Lord Jesus Christ, if I may so speak, as bound in covenant to us, will order everything for our good: and we, as given up to him in covenant, are bound to "forsake all for him," and "to live for him, and not for another." To serve him, and honor him, and glorify him, must from henceforth be our supreme happiness, our only care. This its plainly set forth by the Psalmist, who says, "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget also your own people, and your father's house; so shall the King greatly desire your beauty: for He is your Lord; and worship you him."
2. The greatness of this mystery.
It is indeed "great," whether we consider it as a speculative truth, or whether we regard it in its practical importance. As a speculative truth, how wonderful is it that the God of Heaven and earth should become a man, and take into union with himself such worthless and corrupt creatures as we; submitting to the lowest depths of misery, in order to raise us to the highest throne of his glory! That he should acknowledge such a relation between himself and us, and make that relation the means of communicating to us all that felicity, is a mystery too big for utterance, too deep for any finite intelligence to explore.
In its practical importance, too, it far surpasses all human comprehension. For to effect this union, is the very end for which the Gospel itself is ministered to man. Paul preached through immense regions, from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum. And what did he labor to accomplish? What was the effect of his ministrations? He says to his Corinthian converts, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." Now this is our object also, even to solicit, in the behalf of Christ, that you will consent to an union with him, and surrender up yourselves altogether unto him. This union, also, is the one only means by which you can ever bring forth fruit unto God. "Separate from Christ," you can no more bear the fruits of holiness, than a branch can bear grapes when separate from the vine. Paul speaks of this, under the very image contained in our text. He represents us as married, in our unconverted state, to the law: but, on our conversion, the law, as far as respects its power over us, becomes dead; so that we are at liberty to be married unto Christ, and to bear fruit to him: "My brethren," says he, "you are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that you should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto Gods." In no way whatever can the fruits of righteousness be produced by us, except by virtue of union with him: for they are the fruits of his Spirit, communicated to us, and abiding in us. I may further add, that this union, begun on earth, will be perpetuated in Heaven for evermore. Earthly connections are dissolved by death: this is cemented and confirmed. In this world we are rather betrothed, than actually united; rather presented for approbation, than brought to a full enjoyment of the nuptial bonds. The consummation of the marriage, with the feast attendant on it, is reserved for a better world; and shall take place as soon as the bride is fully prepared for the honors to be conferred upon her. So says John, respecting a period yet future, when this glorious ceremony is to be completed: "I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he says unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he says unto me, These are the true sayings of God."
Say now, whether anything can exceed the importance of this mystery? You perceive, that to accomplish it is the end of all our ministrations; the actual completion of it is the only means of sanctification to your souls; and the full enjoyment of it in all its inconceivable benefits, is Heaven. Truly, "this is a great mystery;" nor will eternity suffice for its full development.
Let me now, in conclusion, entreat of you these two things:
1. Seek by faith to realize this mystery.
It must be realized by all: and the only way in which it can be realized, is, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is faith which unites us to him: it is faith which interests us in him, and which brings down from him all that our souls can stand in need of. Though the mystery which we have been contemplating is great, yet the means by which we are to have it realized are simple. Only believe in Christ, as becoming man for you, as dying on the cross for you, as giving himself to you in an everlasting covenant; believe in him, I say, as willing to confer on you all the blessings of salvation; and you shall find that you have not believed in vain: for "out of his fullness shall you assuredly receive" all that you can require, and all that he has undertaken to bestow upon you.
And let not the thought of your own unworthiness discourage you: for there are none, however unworthy, whom he will not receive into that relation, if only they will believe in him. See the description given of the Jewish Church previous to her union with him: "When I passed by you, and saw you polluted in your own blood, I said unto you when you were in your blood, Live; yes, I said unto you when you were in your blood, Live. When I passed by you, and looked upon you, behold, your time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yes, I swore unto you, and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine." What more humiliating condition can you well conceive, than that of a new-born infant, which is here thrice repeated, "polluted in its own blood?" Yet out of that state did he select them, and from that condition did he take them for his Church and people. Know then, that no unworthiness whatever is, or can be, a bar to your union with Christ, if only you will accept his overtures of love and mercy. Nay, if, after having been by profession united to him, you have dishonored him by the basest unfaithfulness, still he says to you, "Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God, and have scattered your ways to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed my voice, says the Lord. Turn, O backsliding children, says the Lord, for I am married unto you." Thus you see, that neither unworthiness before your union to him, nor unfaithfulness after it, need cause you to despair: for "where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound;" and "those who come unto him, he will in no wise cast out."
2. Endeavor, by works, to recommend and adorn it.
Persons who hear of your high pretensions, will naturally ask, "What do you more than others?" They have a right to ask this question: and we ought to be able to answer it. If we are brought into so near a relation to the Lord Jesus Christ, we ought to show the effect which it produces on us. We ought to walk worthy of the new condition into which we are brought, and worthy of Him who has raised us to it. The King's daughter ought to be "all glorious within; and her clothing should be of wrought gold." There should be in us universal holiness, both in heart and life. The whole "spirit of our minds should be renewed;" and we should be altogether "new creatures in Christ Jesus; old things haying passed away, and all things having become new." Beloved brethren, see that you answer to this character: see that you "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work," and "filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God." This will honor your divine Husband: this will answer the end for which he has chosen you to himself, and will best prove the truth and excellence of the communications you have received from him. Then will another mystery be seen. Men will wonder how it is that you have been enabled so to "put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and so to put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." But they will have the true solution of the phenomenon, when they know into what close connection you have been brought to the Lord Jesus Christ, and how "mightily his Spirit has wrought within you," and they will readily receive the mystery which they cannot see, when they are constrained to acknowledge the mystery which they do see. They will be forced to confess that you are a people whom the Lord has blessed, and that he is with you of a truth.
The Christian's Strength
Ephesians 6:10. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
THE Christian's life is frequently represented in the Scriptures under the metaphor of a warfare. Christ is called "the Captain of his salvation;" and they who have enlisted under his banners, and "quit themselves like men," "fighting the good fight of faith," and enduring cheerfully all the hardships of the campaign, are called "good soldiers of Jesus Christ." "Like warriors, they do not entangle themselves with the affairs of this life, that they may please him who has chosen them to be soldiers;" but they set themselves to "war a good warfare," and they look for the rewards of victory, when they shall have subdued all their enemies.
In the chapter before us, this subject is not slightly touched, as in the detached passages above referred to, but is treated at large; and that which in other places is only a metaphor, is here a professed simile. Paul, standing, as it were, in the midst of the camp, harangues the soldiers, telling them what enemies they have to combat, and how they may guard effectually against all their stratagems, and secure to themselves the victory. He begins with an animating exhortation, wherein he reminds them of the wonderful talents of their General, and urges them to place the most unlimited confidence in his skill and power.
The exhortation being contracted into a very small space, and conveying far more than appears at first sight, we shall consider, first, What is implied in it; and afterwards, What is expressed.
I. What is implied in the exhortation.
The first thing that would naturally occur to any one to whom this exhortation was addressed, is, that the Christian has need of strength; for on any other supposition than this, the words would be altogether absurd.
But the Christian will indeed appear to require strength, whether we consider the work he has to perform, or the difficulties he has to cope with. It is no easy matter to stem the tide of corrupt nature, to control the impetuous passions, to root out inveterate habits, to turn the current of our affections from the things of time and sense to things invisible and eternal. To renew and sanctify our hearts, and to transform them into the Divine image, is a work far beyond the power of feeble man; yet is it indispensably necessary to his salvation.
But as though this were not of itself sufficient to call forth the Christian's exertions, he has hosts of enemies to contend with, as soon as ever he addresses himself in earnest to the work assigned him. Not to mention all the propensities of his nature, which will instantly rise up in rebellion against him, and exert all their power for the mastery, the world will immediately begin to cry out against him; they will direct all their artillery against him, their scoffs, their ridicule, their threats: his very friends will turn against him; and "those of his own household will become his greatest foes." They would let him go on in the broad road year after year, and not one among them would ever exhort him to love and serve his God: but the very moment that he enters on the narrow path that leads unto life, they will all, with one heart and one soul, unite their endeavors to obstruct his course; and when they cannot prevail, they will turn their back upon him, and give him up as an irreclaimable enthusiast.
In conjunction with these will Satan (as we shall hereafter have occasion to show) combine his forces: yes, he will put himself at their head, and direct their motions, and stimulate their exertions, and concur with them to the uttermost to captivate and destroy the heaven-born soul.
And can such work be performed, such difficulties be surmounted, without the greatest efforts? Surely they who are called to such things, had need "be strong."
A second thing implied in the exhortation is, that the Christian has no strength in himself; for, if he had, why should he be exhorted to be strong in another?
Little do men imagine how extremely impotent they are, in themselves, to that which is good. It must be easy, one would suppose, to read and understand the word of God, or, at least, to profit by a clear and faithful ministration of it. But these are far beyond the power of the natural man. The word is "a sealed book" to him, which, for want of a spiritual discernment, appears a mass of foolishness, a "cunningly devised fable." When it was even explained by our Lord, the Apostles, for the space of more than three years, were not able to comprehend its import, until he opened their understandings to understand it; and Lydia, like thousands of others, would have been unmoved by the preaching of Paul, if "the Lord had not opened her heart" to apprehend and embrace his word. It should seem, however, that if these things be beyond the power of man, he can at least pray to God to instruct him. But neither can he do this, unless the Spirit of God "help his infirmities," teaching him what to pray for, and assisting him in offering the petitions." If he be insufficient for this work, it may be hoped he is able to do something. But our Lord tells us, that, without the special aid of his grace, he "can do nothing." Can he not then speak what is good? No; "How can you, being evil, speak good things?" says our Lord: and Paul says, "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit." Still may he not will, or at least think, what is good? We must answer this also in the negative: "It is God alone who works in us both to will and to do, of his good pleasure." Nor had Paul himself, no, not even after his conversion, an ability, of himself, to "think anything good; his sufficiency was of God, and of God alone." Our impotence cannot be more fitly expressed by any words whatever, than by that expression of the Apostle, "You are dead in trespasses and sins," for, until God quicken us from the dead, we are as incapable of all the exercises of the spiritual life, as a breathless corpse is of all the functions of the animal life.
There is yet a third thing implied in this exhortation, namely, that there is a sufficiency for us in Christ; for otherwise the Apostle would not have urged us in this manner to be strong in him.
Well does the Apostle speak of Christ's "mighty power;" for indeed he is almighty, "he has all power committed to him both in Heaven and in earth." We may judge of his all-sufficiency by what he wrought when he was on earth: the most inveterate diseases vanished at his touch, at his word, at a mere act of volition, when he was at a distance from the patient. The fishes of the sea were constrained to minister unto him: yes, the devils themselves yielded to his authority, and were instantly forced to liberate their captives at his command: they could not even enter into the swine without his permission. The very elements also were obedient to his word; the winds were still; the waves forbore to roll; the storm that threatened to overwhelm him, became a perfect calm. What then can he not do for those who trust in him? "Is his hand now shortened, that he cannot save? or is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear?" Can he not heal the diseases of our souls, and calm our troubled spirits, and supply our every want? Cannot he who "triumphed over principalities and powers upon the cross, and spoiled them, and led them captive in his ascension," fulfill his promise, that "sin shall not have dominion over us," and that "Satan shall be bruised under our feet shortly?" Doubtless he is "the Lord Jehovah, with whom is everlasting strength," and who is therefore "able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him."
These things being understood as implied in the exhortation, we may more fully comprehend in the second place, what is expressed in it.
It is evident that there are two points to which the Apostle designs to lead us: the one is, to rely on Christ for strength, the other is, to "be strong in him", with an assured confidence of success.
In relation to the first of these we observe, that a general must confide in his army full as much as his army confides in him; for as they cannot move to advantage without an experienced head to guide them, so neither can he succeed in his plans, unless he have a brave and well-appointed army to carry them into execution. It is not thus in the Christian army; there all the confidence is in the General alone. He must not only train his soldiers, and direct them in the day of battle, but he must be with them in the battle, shielding their heads, and strengthening their arms, and animating their courage, and reviving them when faint, and raising them when fallen, and healing them when wounded, and finally, beating down their enemies that they may trample them under their feet.
The fullness that is in Christ is treasured up in him for us, that we may receive out of it according to our necessities. As he came down from Heaven to purchase for us all the gifts of the Spirit, so he has ascended up to Heaven that he might bestow them upon us, and fill us, each according to his measure, with all the fullness of God. Hence previous to his death he said, "You believe in God; believe also in me," let that same faith which you repose in God the Father as your Creator, he reposed in me as your Redeemer: let it be full, and implicit: let it extend to every want: let it be firm and unshaken, under all circumstances however difficult, however adverse.
Such was our Lord's direction: and agreeable to it was the experience of the great Apostle, who says, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
It is characteristic of every Christian soldier to receive thus out of Christ's fullness; and to say, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength."
But the principal point which the Apostle aims at in the text, is, to inspire us with a holy confidence in Christ, so that we may be as much assured of victory as if we saw all our enemies fleeing before us, or already prostrate at our feet. We cannot have a more striking illustration of our duty in this respect than the history of David's combat with Goliath. He would not go against his adversary with armor suited to the occasion: he went forth in the name of the God of Israel; and therefore he did not doubt one moment the issue of the contest: he well knew that God could direct his aim; and that he was as sure of victory without any other arms than a sling and a stone from his shepherd's bag, as he could be with the completest armor that Saul himself could give him. What David thus illustrated, we may see exemplified in the conduct of Paul: "If God be for us," says he, "who can be against us?" Who is he who shall condemn me? (shall the law curse me? or Satan overcome me?) I fear none of them; since Christ has died, yes rather, is risen again, and makes intercession for me. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us: for I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Thus it is that we must, go forth against all the enemies of our salvation: we must "have no confidence in the flesh;" neither must we have any doubt respecting the all-sufficiency of our God: the weakest among us should boldly say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what men or devils can do against me," "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
In applying this subject to the different classes of professing Christians, we should first address ourselves to the self-confident.
It is the solemn declaration of God, that "by strength shall no man prevail." We might hope that men would be convinced of this truth by their own experience. Who among us has not made vows and resolutions without number, and broken them again almost as soon as they were made? Who ever resolved to devote himself sincerely to God, and did not find, that he was unable steadfastly to pursue his purpose? What folly is it then to be renewing these vain attempts, when we have the evidence both of Scripture and experience that we cannot succeed! How much better would it be to trust in that "mighty One, on whom help is laid!" Learn, brethren, before it be too late, that "without Christ you can do nothing," that "all your fresh springs are in him," and "of him must your fruit be found," "in him alone shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory." If you will not "be strong in him," you will continue "without strength," but if once you truly "know him, you shall be strong, and do exploits."
We would next claim the attention of the timid. It is but too common for the Lord's people to be indulging needless fears, like David, when he said, "I shall one day perish by the hands of Saul." But surely such deserve the rebuke which our Lord gave to Peter, "O you of little faith, wherefore do you doubt?" If you doubt the Lord's willingness to save you, say, wherefore did he die for you, even for the chief of sinners? If you call in question his power, what is there in your case that can baffle Omnipotence? If you are discouraged on account of your own weakness, know that the weaker you are in yourself, the stronger you shall be in him; and that "he will perfect his own strength in your weakness." If you fear on account of the strength and number of your enemies, he meets your fears with this beneficial admonition; "Say you not, A confederacy, a confederacy; but sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread." Only trust in him; and though weak, he will strengthen you; though faint, he will revive you; though wounded, he will heal you; though captive, he will liberate you; though slain, he will raise you up again, and give you the victory over all your enemies. "Be strong then and very courageous," abhor the thought of indulging a cowardly spirit, as long as "God's throne is in Heaven;" and assure yourselves, with David, that though your "enemies encompass you as bees, in the name of the Lord you shall destroy them."
Lastly, let the victorious Christian listen to a word of counsel. We are apt to be elated in the time of victory, and to arrogate to ourselves some portion of the glory. But God solemnly cautions us against this: and if, with Nebuchadnezzar or Sennacherib, we take the glory to ourselves, the time is near at hand when God will fearfully abase us. We cannot do better than take the Psalmist for our pattern: he was enabled to perform the most astonishing feats, and was honored with the most signal victories: yet so careful is he to give the glory to God, that he repeats again and again, the same grateful acknowledgments, confessing God to be the sole author of his success, and ascribing to him the honor due unto his name. Let it be remembered, that "our enemies still live and are mighty," and therefore we must not boast as if the time were come for us to put off our armor. We need the same power to keep down our enemies, as to bring them down at first: we should soon fall a prey to the tempter, if left one moment to ourselves. Let our eyes therefore still be to Jesus, "the Author and the Finisher of our faith;" depending on his mighty power for "strength according to our day," and for the accomplishment of the promise which he has given us, that "no weapon formed against us shall ever prosper."
The Means of Withstanding Satan's Wiles
Ephesians 6:11. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
TO be possessed of courage is not the only requisite for a good soldier; he must be skilled in the use of arms; he must be acquainted with those stratagems which his adversaries will use for his destruction; he must know how to repel an assault, and how in his turn to assault his enemy: in short, he must be trained to war. Nor will his knowledge avail him anything, unless he stand armed for the combat. Hence the Apostle, having encouraged the Christian soldier, and inspired him with confidence in "the Captain of his salvation," now calls him to put on his armor, and by a skillful use of it, to prepare for the day of battle.
To open fully the direction before us, we must show you, first, the wiles of the devil; and next, the means of defeating them.
I. We shall endeavor to lay before you "the wiles of the devil."
Satan is the great adversary of God and man; and labors to the uttermost to destroy the interests of both. In prosecuting his purpose, he has two grand objects in view, namely, to lead men into sin, and to keep them from God. We must consider these distinctly; and point out the stratagems he uses for the attainment of his ends.
1. To lead men into sin.
To effect this, he presents to them such temptations as are best suited to their natural dispositions. As a skillful general will not attempt to storm a fort on the side that it is impregnable, but will rather direct his efforts against the weaker parts, where he has a better prospect of success; so Satan considers the weak part of every man, and directs his artillery where he may most easily make a breach. He well knew the covetous dispositions of Judas, and of Ananias and Sapphira: when therefore he wanted the one to betray his Master, and the others to bring discredit on the Christian name, he wrought upon their natural propensities, and instigated them with ease to the execution of his will. Thus he stimulates the proud or passionate, the lewd or covetous, the timid or melancholy, to such acts as are most congenial with their feelings, to the intent that his agency may be least discovered, and his purposes most effectually secured.
Much craft is also discoverable in the seasons which he chooses for making his assaults. If a general knew that his adversaries were harassed with fatigue, or reveling and intoxicated amidst the spoils of victory, or separated from the main body of their army, so that they could have no support, he would not fail to take advantage of such circumstances, rather than attack them when they were in full force, and in a state of readiness for the combat. Such a general is Satan. If he finds us in a stale of great trouble and perplexity, when the spirits are exhausted, the mind clouded, the strength enervated, then he will seek to draw us to murmuring or despair. Thus he acted towards Christ himself when he had been fasting forty days and forty nights; and again, on the eve of his crucifixion. The former of these occasions afforded him a favorable opportunity for tempting our blessed Lord to despondency, to presumption, to a total alienation of his heart from God: the latter inspired him with a hope of drawing our Lord to some act unworthy of his high character, and subversive of the ends for which he came into the world. Again, if we have been elevated with peculiar joy, he well knows how apt we are to relax our vigilance, and to indulge a carnal security. Hence, immediately on Paul's descent from the third heavens, the paradise of God, Satan strove to puff him up with pride, that so he might bring him into the condemnation of the devil. And with more success did he assault Peter immediately after the most exalted honor had been conferred upon him; whereby he brought upon the unguarded saint that just rebuke, "Get you behind me, Satan; for you savor not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." Above all, Satan is sure to embrace an opportunity when we are alone, withdrawn from those whose eye would intimidate, or whose counsel would restrain, us. He could not prevail on Lot, when in the midst of Sodom, to violate the rights of hospitality; but when he was in a retired cave, he too successfully tempted him to repeated acts of drunkenness and incest. And who among us has not found that seasons of privacy, or, at least, of seclusion from those who knew us, have been seasons of more than ordinary temptation?
The means which Satan uses in order to accomplish his purpose, will afford us a yet further insight into his wiles. Whom will a general so soon employ to betray the enemy into his hands, as one who by his power can command them, or by his professions can deceive them! And is it not thus with Satan? If he want to draw down the judgments of God upon the whole nation of the Jews, he will stir up David, in spite of all the expostulations of his courtiers, to number the people. If he would destroy Ahab, he becomes a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab's prophets, to persuade him, and by him to lead Jehoshaphat also and the combined armies into the most imminent peril. Would he have Job to curse his God? no fitter person to employ on this service than Job's own wife, whom he taught to give this counsel, "Curse God, and die." Would he prevail on Jesus to lay aside the thoughts of suffering for the sins of men? his friend Peter must offer him this advice, "Master, spare yourself." Thus in leading us to the commission of sin, he will use sometimes the authority of magistrates, of masters, or of parents, and sometimes the influence of our dearest friends or relatives. No instruments so fit for him, as those of a man's own household.
There is also something further observable in the manner in which Satan tempts the soul. An able general will study to conceal the main object of his attack, and by feints to deceive his enemy. Thus does Satan form his attack with all imaginable cunning. His mode of beguiling Eve will serve as a specimen of his artifices in every age. He first only inquired whether any prohibition had been given her and her husband respecting the eating of the fruit of a particular tree; insinuating at the same time, that it was very improbable that God should impose upon them such an unnecessary restraint. Then, on being informed that the tasting of that fruit was forbidden. and that the penalty of death was to be inflicted on them in the event of their disobedience, he intimated, that such a consequence could never follow: that, on the contrary, the benefits which should arise to them from eating of that fruit, were incalculable. In this manner he led her on, from parleying with him, to give him credit; and, from believing him, to comply with his solicitations. And thus it is that he acts towards us: he for a time conceals his full purpose: he pleads at first for nothing more than the gratification of the eye, the ear, the imagination; but is no sooner master of one fort, or station, than he plants his artillery there, and renews his assaults, until the whole soul has surrendered to his dominion.
2. The other grand device of Satan is, to keep men from God. If, after having yielded to his suggestions, the soul were to return to God with penitence and contrition, all Satan's wiles, how successful soever they had before been, would be frustrated at once. The next labor therefore of our great adversary is, to secure his captive, that he may not escape out of his hands. The wiles he makes use of to accomplish this, come next under our consideration.
He will begin with misrepresenting to his captives their own character. One while he will insinuate that, though they may have transgressed in some smaller matters, yet they have never committed any great sin, and therefore have no need to disquiet themselves with apprehensions of God's wrath. If he cannot compose their minds in that way, he will suggest, that their iniquities have been so numerous, and so heinous, as to preclude all hope of forgiveness. He will endeavor to make them believe that they have been guilty of the unpardonable sin, or that their day of grace is passed; so that they may as well take their fill of present delights, since all attempts to secure eternal happiness will be fruitless. To such artifices as these our Lord refers, when he tells us, that the strong man armed keeps his palace and his goods in peace.
Next he will misrepresent to his captives the character of God. He will impress them with the idea that God is too merciful to punish any one eternally for such trifling faults as theirs. Or, if that fail to lull them asleep, he will intimate, that the insulted Majesty of Heaven demands vengeance: that the justice and holiness of the Deity would be dishonored, if pardon were given to such offenders as they. Probably too, he will suggest that God has not elected them; and that therefore they must perish, since they cannot alter his decrees, or save themselves without his aid. He will, as in his assaults upon our blessed Lord, bring the Scriptures themselves to countenance his lies; and, by a misapplication of difficult and detached passages, endeavor to hide from us the perfections of our God, as harmonizing and glorified in our redemptions. It was in this manner that he strove to discourage Joshua, and to detain David in his bonds: such advantage too he sought to take of the incestuous Corinthian: and, if this stratagem be not defeated, he will prevail over us to our eternal ruin.
But there is another stratagem which, for the subtlety of its texture, the frequency of its use, and its successfulness in destroying souls, deserves more especial notice. When effectual resistance has been made to the foregoing temptations, and in spite of all these misrepresentations, the sinner has attained a just view both of his own character, and of God's, then Satan has recourse to another wile, that promises indeed to the believer a speedy growth in the divine life, but is intended really to divert him from all proper thoughts both of himself and of God. He will "transform himself into an angel of light," and make use of some popular minister, or some talkative professor, as his agent in this business. He will by means of his emissaries draw the young convert to matters of doubtful disputation: he will perplex his mind with some intricate questions respecting matters of doctrine, or of discipline in the Church. He will either controvert, and explode acknowledged truths, or carry them to an extreme, turning spirituality to mysticism, or liberty to licentiousness. Having entangled him in this snare, he will puff him up with a conceit of his own superior attainments, and speedily turn him from the simplicity that is in Christ. Little do his agents, who appear to be "ministers of righteousness," imagine that they are really "ministers of the devil;" and little do they who are inveigled by them, consider "in what a snare they are taken;" but God himself, who sees all these secret transactions, and discerns their fatal tendency, has given us this very account, and thereby guarded us against this dangerous device.
Thus have we seen the temptations by which Satan leads men into sin, together with the seasons, the means, and the manner, of his assaults. We have seen also how he keeps them from God, even by misrepresenting to them their own character, and God's, or by diverting them from a due attention either to themselves or God.
II. Let us now proceed in the second place to point out the means by which these wiles may be defeated.
This part of our subject will come again into discussion, both generally, in the next discourse, and particularly, when we treat of the various pieces of armor provided for us. Nevertheless we must distinctly, though briefly, show in this place, What we are to understand by the whole armor of God; and, How we are to put it on; and, In what way it will enable us to withstand the devil's wiles.
Armor is of two kinds, defensive and offensive: the one to protect ourselves, the other to assail our enemy. Now God has provided for us everything that is necessary for a successful maintenance of the Christian warfare. Is our head exposed to the assaults of Satan? there is "a helmet" to guard it. Is our heart liable to be pierced? there is a "breastplate" to defend it. Are our feet subject to such wounds as may cause us to fall? there are "shoes," or greaves, for their protection. Is our armor likely to be loosened? there is a "belt" to keep it fast. Are there apertures, by which a well-aimed dart may find admission? there is a "shield," which may be moved for the defense of every part, as occasion may require. Lastly, the Christian soldier is furnished with a sword also, by the skillful use of which he may inflict deadly wounds on his adversary.
But here it will be asked, How shall we get this armor? and, how shall we put it on? To obtain it, we must go to the armory of Heaven, and receive it from the hands of the Captain of our salvation. No creature in the universe can give it us. He, and he only, who formed it, can impart it to us. As, when God had decreed the destruction of Babylon, we are told, that "the Lord opened his armory, and brought forth the weapons of his indignation;" so, when he has commissioned us to go forth against sin and Satan, he must supply us with the arms, whereby alone we can execute his will: and we must be daily going to him in prayer, that he would furnish us from head to foot, or rather, that he himself would be "our shield and buckler," our almighty protector and deliverer.
When we have received our armor, then we are to "put it on." It is not given us to look at, but to use: not to wear for amusement, but to gird on for actual service. We must examine it, to see that it is indeed of celestial temper, and that none is wanting. We must adjust it carefully in all its parts, that it may not be cumbersome and useless in the hour of need: and when we have clothed ourselves with it, then we must put forth our strength, and use it for the purposes for which it is designed.
Our more particular directions must be reserved, until we consider the use of each distinct part of this armor. We shall only add at present, that, if we thus go forth to the combat, we shall surely vanquish our subtle enemy. We say not, that he shall never wound us; for the most watchful of us are sometimes off our guard; and the most experienced of us sometimes deceived. But we can assure the whole army of Christians, that Satan shall never finally prevail against them. Their head shall be preserved from error; their heart, from iniquity; their feet, from falling.
What remains then but that we call on all of you to put on this armor? Let not any imagine that they can stand without it: for, if Adam was vanquished even in Paradise, how much more shall we be overpowered? If the perfect armor with which he was clad by nature, proved insufficient for the combat, how shall we stand, who are altogether stripped of every defense! If Satan, while yet a novice in the are of tempting, "beguiled our first parents by his subtlety," how much more will he beguile and ruin us, after so many thousand years of additional experience! Arise then, all of you, and gird yourselves for the combat. You careless ones, know that you are already "led captive by the devil at his will;" and the more you think yourselves secure, the more you show that you are the dupes of Satan's wiles. You weak and timid, "be strong, fear not; has not God commanded you? Be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go." Only go forth in dependence upon God, and "no weapon that is formed against you shall ever prosper." But take care that you have on the whole armor of God. In vain will be the use of any, if the whole be not used. One part left unprotected will prove as fatal, as if you were exposed in every part. But if you follow this counsel, you may defy all the hosts of Hell: for "the weakest of you shall be as David, and the house of David shall be as God."
To Withstand the Power of Satan
Ephesians 6:12, 13. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you way be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
IN persuading men to undertake any arduous office, and more especially to enlist into the army, it is customary to keep out of view, as much as possible, the difficulties and dangers they will be exposed to, and to allure them by prospects of pleasure, honor. or emolument. It was far otherwise with Christ and his Apostles. When our Lord invited men to enlist under his banners, he told them that they would have to enter on a course of pain and self-denial; "If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." Thus Paul, at the very time that he is endeavoring to recruit the Christian army, tells us plainly, that the enemies we shall have to combat, are the most subtle and powerful of any in the universe. Deceit and violence, the two great engines of cruelty and oppression, are their daily practice and delight.
In conformity with the Apostle's plan, we have opened to you, in some measure, the wiles of that adversary, whom we are exhorting you to oppose: and we shall now proceed to set before you somewhat of his power; still however encouraging you not to be dismayed, but to go forth against him with an assurance of victory.
We shall show you,
I. What a powerful adversary we have to contend with.
As soon as any man enlists under the banners of Christ, the world will turn against him, even as the kings of Canaan did against the Gibeonites, the very instant they had made a league with Joshua. "Those of his own household will most probably be his greatest foes." To oppose these manfully is no easy task: but yet these are of no consideration in comparison of our other enemies; "We wrestle not against flesh and blood," says the Apostle, but "against all the principalities and powers" of Hell. It is not merely in a rhetorical way that the Apostle accumulates so many expressions, to designate our enemies: the different terms he uses are well calculated to exhibit their power; which will appear to us great indeed, if we consider what he intimates respecting their nature, their number, and their office.
With respect to their nature, they are "wicked spirits." Once they were bright angels around the throne of God: but "they kept not their first estate;" and therefore they were "cast down to Hell." But though they have lost the holiness, they still retain, the power, of angels. As "angels, they excel in strength," and are far "greater in power and might" than any human being. They have, moreover, an immense advantage over us, in that they are spirits. Were they flesh and blood like ourselves, we might see them approaching, and either flee from them, or fortify ourselves against them: at least, there would be some time when, through weariness, they must intermit their efforts: but being spirits their approaches to us are invisible, irresistible, incessant.
Their number is also intimated, in that they are represented as "principalities and powers," consisting of multitudes who hold, like men on earth and angels in Heaven, various degrees of honor and authority under one head. To form a conjecture respecting their numbers, would be absurd; since we are totally in the dark on that subject. This however we know, that they are exceeding many; because our Lord cast no less than seven out of one woman; and one man was possessed by a whole troop or "legion" at once. We have reason there fore to think that their number far exceeds that of the human species; because there is no human being beyond the reach of their assaults, no, not for a single hour. Nor are they formidable merely on account of their number, but principally on account of their union, and subordination under one leader. We read of "the devil and his angels," as of a king and his subjects: and though we know not what precise ranks and orders there may be among them, we know the name of their chief, even "Beelzebub, the prince of the devils." It is because of their acting thus in concert with each other, that they are so often spoken of as one: and well they may be; for, the whole multitude of them are so perfectly one in operation and design, that, if one spy out an advantage, he may in an instant have a legion more to second his endeavors: and as this constitutes the strength of armies on earth, so does it give tenfold power to our spiritual enemies.
The office which they execute as "the rulers of this dark world," may serve yet further to give us an idea of their strength. It is true, this office was not delegated to them, but usurped by them: still however, they retain it by God's permission, and exercise it to our cost. Satan is expressly called, "the prince of this world," "the God of this world," "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in all the children of disobedience." He "blinds them" that they may not see, and then, as the prophet led the Syrians, he leads them wherever he will; he takes them captive altogether. A few indeed who are brought out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Gospel, have cast off his yoke: but except them, the whole world, enveloped in worse than Egyptian darkness, lies under him as its universal monarch. The very elements are under his control, and concur with men and devils to fulfill his will. Would he deprive Job of his substance? hosts of Sabeans and Chaldeans come at his call, to plunder him. Would he destroy all his family? the wind rises at his command to smite their house, and overwhelm them in its ruins.
Such are the enemies with whom we have to contend. If we desire to prosecute earthly things, we can go on with ease; we can follow them without interruption from day to day, and from year to year: with respect to these things, the devils would rather help us forward, than obstruct our way. But the very instant we begin to seek "heavenly things," all Hell is in alarm, just as all the Canaanites were, when they understood that Joshua's spies had been seen in their land. If we begin to listen to the word of God, he will send some emissary, some child of his, whom he has endued with peculiar subtlety, to turn us from the faith. If the word, like good seed, be sown upon our hearts, he will send a host of devils, like birds of the air, to pick up the seed. If any, in spite of his efforts, take root in our hearts, he will instantly sow tares to grow up with the wheat, and thorns to choke it. We cannot go into the presence of God to pray, but "Satan will be at our right hand to resist us." The conflict we have to maintain with him, is not like that which is common to our armies, where a part bear the brunt of the battle, and the rest are reserved for exigencies: in this view it is more properly compared to "a wrestling," where every man meets his antagonist, and must continue the contest, until the fall of one party decides the victory. Such the Scripture describes our contest to be; and such it is proved to be by every man's experience: there is no man who, if he will only observe the ease with which he enters upon his worldly calling, and keeps up his attention to it, and the comparative difficulty he finds, as soon as ever he addresses himself to the concerns of his soul, shall not see, that there is in him an impotence and reluctance, for which he cannot account, unless he acknowledge, what the Scripture so fully warns him of, a satanic agency.
But shall we be intimidated by this account, and induced to surrender ourselves to Satan without a conflict? No. Formidable as he is, there is One above him, who circumscribes his powers, and limits his operations. He did, by God's permission, "cast some of the Ephesian church into prison, that they might be tried, for ten days," but, if he could have accomplished all that was in his heart, he would have cast them all into Hell that they might perish forever. So far from being irresistible, he may be resisted, yes, and vanquished too, by the weakest of God's saints.
To encourage you therefore to fight against him, we will show,
II. How we may effectually withstand him.
The Apostle renews, though with some variation, the directions he gave before; "not thinking it grievous to himself to repeat anything that may conduce to our safety." Peter also was "careful to put Christians frequently in remembrance of many things, notwithstanding they knew them, and were established in the present truth." Well therefore may we call your attention once more to the exhortation in the text. Indeed, if the putting on the whole armor of God was necessary to guard against the wiles of the devil, it can be no less necessary as a preservative against his power: and the exhortation enforced by this new consideration, cannot reasonably be thought an uninteresting repetition.
But we shall have no need to repeat any former observations, seeing that what is new in the exhortation, will afford abundant matter for profitable, and seasonable, remark.
The time mentioned in the text as "the evil day," refers to those particular periods when Satan makes his most desperate attacks. Sometimes he retires from us for a season, as he did from our Lord; or, at least, gives us somewhat of a respite from any violent assaults. But he watches his opportunity to renew his efforts, when by bringing a host of devils to his aid, or finding us off our guard, he may exert his power to more effect. Such a season was that wherein David complained, that "his enemies, compassing him like bees, thrust sore at him that he might fall," and especially that wherein the Lord Jesus Christ himself was so weakened by him, as to need an angel from Heaven to administer strength and consolation. All who know anything of "Satan's devices," must have noticed this in their own experience: there have been times when the enemy appeared unmindful of his work, and other times when "he has come in like a flood; so that if the Spirit of the Lord had not lifted up a standard against him," he must have utterly overwhelmed them. The hour of death is a season when he usually puts forth all his power, "having great wrath because his time is short."
Now what shall we do in such seasons, if not clad in the whole armor of God? What hope can we have of withstanding such an enemy? If he should find us unarmed, would he not sift us as wheat, and reduce us to mere chaff? Would he not scatter us as smoke out of the chimney, or chaff driven by a whirlwind? Would he not precipitate thousands of us, as he did the swine, into instantaneous destruction, and into the bottomless abyss of Hell?
But if we be armed with the divine panoply, we need not fear; he can have no power against us any further than it is given him from above: and, "howbeit he means not so, neither does his heart think so," his efforts against us shall ultimately conduce to our good, to make us more humble, more vigilant, more expert.
This is particularly intimated in the text; and in this the encouragement given us exceeds what was contained in the former exhortation. There we were taught to expect that we should not be vanquished by our subtle enemy: here we are encouraged with an assurance, that we shall not only effectually withstand his efforts, even when they are most desperate, but shall "stand" as victors on the field of battle, after having put our enemies to flight. To this also agree the words of James; "resist the devil, and he shall flee from you;" he shall not only not overcome you, but shall be so intimidated by your prowess as to flee from you with the greatest precipitation. Blessed truth! This mighty fiend, who dared to enter the lists with an archangel, and to contend even with the Son of God himself, shall be so terrified at the sight of a Christian champion, as not only to "forbear touching him," but even to flee from his presence as for his very life.
It is true, he will never finally give over the contest, until we are got entirely beyond his reach: nor is he at any time so vanquished or intimidated but that he will number another host, like unto that which has been defeated, and renew his attack upon us: but his malice shall terminate in his own confusion: he may succeed to bruise our heel, but we shall ultimately bruise his head. "Our weapons, through God, shall be mighty, though wielded by the feeblest arm." We shall "go on conquering and to conquer" until we set our feet upon his neck, and return with triumphant exultation from the combat, saying, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through your name."
Nor is this your greatest encouragement: for as soon as you have "done all" that God has designed for you in this state of warfare, you shall "stand" before God, united to that noble army that are now enjoying their triumphs in his presence. Having "fought the good fight and finished your course, there shall be given to you a crown of righteousness" and glory; and you shall bear the palm of victory in the courts of Heaven. Then shall be fulfilled to you what was spoken by our Lord, "To him that overcomes will I give to sit down with me upon my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father upon his throne." Only "be faithful unto death; and God will give you a crown of life."
Before we dismiss this subject, we would address a few words,
1. To those who have never yet wrestled with this great adversary.
We hope you are now convinced, that it is not a needless labor to engage in this contest. But you may still be induced to decline it, from the idea that it is a hopeless work. But know this, that you have undertaken a task which is infinitely more difficult than this; for, while you refuse to wrestle with Satan, you are actually wrestling with God himself. He who infallibly discerns, and rightly estimates, your conduct, says, that you "resist the Holy Spirit" and "contend with your Maker," and your own consciences will inform you, that you have often "fought against God," by resisting the influence of his word and Spirit. Suppose then you gain the victory (which is but too probable), suppose God give up the contest, and say, "My Spirit shall strive with him no longer;" what will you have to boast of? what cause will you have for joy? Awful will be that day wherein God shall say, "Let him alone," from that hour your condemnation will be sure, and Satan will have perfectly gained his point. Judge then whether it be not better to contend with Satan, than with God? with him whom you are sure to conquer, to your eternal happiness, than with him, by whose avenging arm you must be crushed for ever? Consider well which of the two you choose for your enemy, God or Satan: and may God incline you to enlist under the Redeemer's banner, and in his strength to combat all the enemies of your salvation!
2. Let us speak to those who have begun the arduous contest.
Be not afraid of your great adversary. Do not be like the unbelieving Israelites, who, because the Anakim were of such extraordinary stature, and dwelt in cities that were walled up to Heaven, dreaded to go up against them; but rather say, with Caleb, "They shall be bread for us," instead of destroying, they shall be an occasion of good to, our souls: their spoils shall enrich us; and the opposition that they make shall only be the means of displaying more abundantly the love and faithfulness of our God. "Take unto you" again and again "the whole armor of God;" and "fight, not as one that beats the air," but as one that is determined to conquer or die: and if at any time you be tempted to give up the contest, think of "those who now through faith and patience inherit the promises." Once they were conflicting like you; but now they rest from their labors, and are anxious spectators of your conflicts. It is but a little time, and you also shall be numbered with them. "Greater is he who is in you, than he who is in the worldy." Only go forth therefore in the name of Christ; and his triumphs shall be the pattern, the pledge, the earnest of your own.
The Christian's Belt
Ephesians 6:14. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about, with truth.
IT is not possible to exceed in magnifying the grace of God: to it must every part of our salvation be ascribed: grace begins the work in our hearts; grace carries it on; grace completes it. No ground of glorying is left for man: his own wisdom, goodness, strength, weigh no more than the small dust upon the balance. All is the work of God; he lays the foundation; and when "the head-stone shall be brought forth with shoutings, we must cry, Grace, grace unto it" But while we are jealous of God's honor, and desirous of magnifying the riches of his grace, we must be careful not to undervalue the work wrought in our hearts. In point of merit, there is nothing in us that is worthy of the smallest consideration: but in a variety of other views, the work of God's Spirit in our hearts can scarcely be appreciated too highly. This is manifest from the description which the Apostle gives of the Christian's armor. He is careful in the first place to show us, that we have not in ourselves any inherent strength; and that, consequently, we must depend entirely on God: but in entering more minutely into his subject, he declares, that those graces, which the Spirit of God forms in our hearts, are means of defense against our spiritual adversaries: for though as being our graces, they are weak and worthless, yet as being the work of God's hands, they are of great strength and value: they even constitute that armor, in which we are to go forth against the enemies of our salvation, and by which we shall be enabled to defeat all their wiles, and all their power.
The first grace that he mentions, is "truth," in elucidating which we shall show,
I. What we are to understand by truth.
II. Its use and office in the Christian warfare.
I. What are we to understand by "truth?"
It is a term of extensive signification. It is sometimes put for the Gospel; in which sense the Apostle speaks of "obeying the truth." But in this place, it rather means sincerity. The two terms are often used together as synonymous expressions; "Serve the Lord," says Joshua in his farewell discourse, "in sincerity and truth," and Paul exhorts us to "keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
But sincerity, Christian sincerity, is very little understood. For the most part, it is considered as importing nothing more than a good intention, without any reference to the manner in which that good intention operates. But the sincerity, of which the text speaks, is a Christian grace; and consequently it must include something widely different from that which may be exercised by superstitious bigots, or blood-thirsty persecutors.
To mark it as distinctly as possible, we shall notice four things that are implied in it:
First, it implies a desire and intention to please God. There is one canon, one universal rule of action, prescribed to us in the Scriptures; namely, that "whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God." Whatever therefore springs from other motives and principles, must argue a want of sincerity, in proportion as God's honor is superseded by any selfish considerations. When Jehu, in compliance with God's command, extirpated the family of Ahab, his obedience was not considered as sincere, because he was actuated rather by vainglory, than by a real desire to please God; and the blood that he shed in executing the divine command, was on that very account avenged by God himself upon his posterity.
The Jews also complied with the institutions of Moses in observing their religious fasts and feasts: but because "they did fast and feast unto themselves rather than unto God," and sought rather to cover their own enormities by such observances, than really to honor God, their services were deemed hypocritical, and were rejected with abhorrence. Thus must all our duties, civil or religious, have respect to God: we must have "a single eye," if we would please him. If we bring forth fruit to ourselves only, "we are empty vines," we are unprofitable servants.
Sincerity implies in the next place, a serving of God according to the light we enjoy. Sincerity will doubtless consist with defective views both of Christian duty, and Christian liberty: but it will not consist with allowed deviations from an acknowledged duty, either in a way of omission, or of commission. "The wisdom that is from above, is without partiality, and without hypocrisy." To be "partial in the law" is to dissemble with God: and whether we make outward duties a cloak for inward lusts, or present to God a mere "form of godliness without the power of it," we are really "hypocrites in heart," and therefore can have no pretensions to sincerity.
But there is yet a third thing, which is absolutely essential to sincerity, namely, a desire to know the will of God more perfectly. Here it is that many, who have appeared most sincere, have failed. Paul before his conversion "thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus," and truly he did them with a zeal suited to his persuasion. But can it be said, that at that time he possessed the Christian virtue of sincerity? By no means: for he bad opportunities enough of information: the writings of Moses and the prophets were plain enough to convince any man that was not blinded by prejudice, and carried away by his own impetuous passions. Besides, he might have gone to the fountain head, and inquired of Jesus himself, what grounds there were for believing him to be the Messiah. Above all, he lived when the Gospel was preached in all its purity, and attested from Heaven by miracles without number. Why then did he not set himself to inquire more candidly? Why did he not, like the Bereans, search the Scriptures, to see if things were as the Apostles declared them to her? But this would not agree with his infuriated zeal: he hated the light, and therefore sought to the uttermost to extinguish it. How different was the conduct of Nathanael! He participated in the prejudices of his countrymen; and hastily concluded that "no good thing could come out of Galilee." But when he was desired to "come and see" for himself, he availed himself of the opportunity to form his judgment on surer grounds; and, on the very first demonstration which our Lord gave of his Messiahship, he believed in Jesus; and thereby evidenced his right to that title which our Lord had given him, "an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit."
There is one thing more implied in sincerity, namely, a determination to serve God without any regard to consequences. Our duty to God is paramount to every other consideration. When we know what he requires of us, we are not to be diverted from it by any losses or any sufferings. Who does not see the insincerity of those who believed in Christ, but were afraid to confess him; and of that amiable youth who turned back from Christ rather than part with his possessions? If we be truly upright in heart, we shall say as Paul when he was solicited to shun the trials and afflictions which, as the Spirit testified, awaited him in every city; "I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And if the trials be ever so severe, we shall still "hold fast our integrity," and adopt the language of the same Apostle; "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and fulfill my duty to my God."
This representation of "truth" is both illustrated and confirmed by the conduct of Paul on his first conversion to God. Until that hour, he had been walking blindly "after the course of this world," and "in the way of his own heart," but as soon as his eyes were opened, even before he had any clear knowledge of Christianity, he desired to know, and determined to execute, the whole will of God: "Lord, what will you have me to do?" 'You need only to show me wherein I am wrong, and to teach me your way, and I will instantly, through your assistance, change my conduct, and devote myself to your service: nor shall any considerations of hope or fear, ever turn me from the path prescribed by you.' Nor was this a vain boast; for "he conferred not with flesh and blood," but set himself without delay to "preach the faith which he had labored to destroy," and persisted in preaching it even unto death.
The nature of "truth" being thus ascertained, let us proceed to show,
II. Its use and office in the Christian warfare.
Among the various parts of a soldier's armor, a "belt" was of very principal importance; and in this view it is frequently mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. The prophet, describing the irresistible fury with which the Chaldeans should overrun Palestine, says, none shall be weary or stumble among them, none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the belt of their loins be loosed." And our blessed Lord, who, as the Captain of our salvation, was arrayed like all the soldiers of his army, is represented by the same prophet as habited in this manner; "Righteousness shall be the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his reins."
The use of the belt was to keep the armor compact, and to strengthen the loins. And these are the offices which "truth" performs for the Christian soldier.
In the first place, it compacts all the graces with which his soul is armed. As the different parts of armor with which the body is fortified, would hang loose, and leave many apertures through which a wound might be inflicted, if they were not fastened together by a belt or belt, so would the Christian's graces prove insufficient for his defense, if they were not all compacted together by the belt of sincerity. Let us look at persons that seemed armed from head to foot, and prepared to defy all the powers of darkness. See Johanan, and the remnant of the Jews whom the Chaldeans had not taken into captivity, coming to the prophet, entreating him to ask counsel for them from God; and vowing in the most solemn manner to comply with any direction which the Lord should give them by his mouth. We have not a more hopeful appearance in all the sacred records. But they dissembled with God: no sooner was the answer given them, than they showed by their conduct, that they were not sincere in their overtures; and they speedily became the victims of their own hypocrisy. And how often are similar failures found among ourselves, from the very same cause! How many appear penitent and determined to serve their God, while they are under some heavy calamity, or in the near prospect of death; and yet discover their hypocrisy, as soon as ever their professions are brought to the test! Yet daily is that account of the Jews realized among ourselves; "When he slew them, then they sought him, and inquired early after God, and remembered that God was their Rock, the high God their Redeemer; nevertheless they did but flatter him with their mouth, and lie unto him with their tongues; for their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant."
On the other hand, how impenetrable to the darts of the adversary were the graces of those who were sincere before God! Daniel not only would not relinquish, but would not so much as abate, or conceal, his devotions, though menaced with a cruel and speedy death. Nor would the Hebrew Youths comply with the edict of a haughty monarch, though they saw a furnace heated for their destruction, and might have pleaded in their defense the example of a whole nation. Thus shall we also be enabled to brave every danger, and to endure death in its most awful forms, if our hearts be upright before God. As all our graces will be compacted together by sincerity, so every distinct grace will derive from it tenfold solidity, and strength: let our "faith be sincere," our "love without dissimulation," and our "spirit altogether without deceit," and we need fear no assaults, however artful, however violent.
The other office of truth is, to strengthen our souls under great and long-continued conflicts. This particular use of the belt is repeatedly mentioned by the Psalmist. In reference to himself, he says, "You have girded me with strength unto the battle." In reference to the Messiah also he uses a similar expression: "The Lord reigns; he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, with which he has girded himself."
"Those who have a divided heart, will assuredly be found faulty at the last." Numberless are the instances wherein persons who have fought well for a season, have fainted at last through this sad defect. But we will mention only two; one, wherein the failure had nearly terminated in the destruction of many; and the other, wherein it involved one of the most eminent professors in utter and everlasting ruin. For the former instance we will refer you, not to a man professedly ungodly, no, nor to a mere novice in religion, but to the most distinguished of all the Apostles. With the name of Peter we associate the idea of courage undaunted, and of piety irreproachable. But behold him on one occasion, when his loins were loosed, and the belt was wanting to complete his armor. This valiant hero, who had acquitted himself so nobly in many battles, was at last, through fear of offending the Judaizing Christians, guilty of the basest dissimulation; undermining by his influence the most essential doctrine of that Gospel which he was sent to preach; and, by his example, drawing Barnabas also, and a multitude of others, into the most fatal error. And, if Paul had not openly rebuked him before all the Church, and thereby counteracted the effect of his misconduct, it is not possible to say, how far his error might have affected the eternal interests of millions.
In the other instance, we must turn our eyes to one, whose eminence drew from Paul himself repeated commendations, even such as were bestowed on the Evangelist, Luke. After years of manly toil, and continued danger, Demas was left to prove how weak the strongest are without sincerity. Wearied with his conflicts, he sought repose in the bosom of the world; when, if he had fought with more sincerity, he might have endured to the end, and triumphed over all his adversaries. Unhappy man, to retain one secret lust, which, like a canker, ate out his vitals, or, like a leak unnoticed, sank the vessel wherein he was embarked! But thus it will be with all whose loins are not girt about with truth: "a double-minded man will be unstable in all his ways."
But if we have melancholy instances of failure through the want of this virtue, we have many noble instances of persevering zeal in others, whose hearts were right with God. Behold the patriarchs sojourning for years in a strange land, when "they had opportunities enough of returning to their native country," if they had been so minded: but they were sincere in "seeking a better country, that is, an heavenly;" and therefore they willingly lived as "strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Behold also the noble army of martyrs, who "out of weakness were make strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens;" yes, and women also, who, notwithstanding their natural weakness and timidity, would "not accept deliverance from their tortures, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Indeed, where is there one who is truly upright before God, who has not frequently evinced a strength and steadfastness superior to the efforts of unassisted nature? Who has not been called to make many sacrifices of pleasure, honor, interest; and to lead a life of continual self-denial, both in the mortifying of inward lusts, and the enduring of outward persecutions? But, "having set his hand to the plough, the Christian will not look back," and having put on his armor, he will not put it off but with his life.
The vast importance of truth and sincerity being made apparent, let the following advice be duly weighed:
1. Let us inquire whether we possess this part of Christian armor.
Perhaps there is scarcely any one who does not fancy himself sincere. But can we appeal to God that our daily aim is to please him, yes, to please him, not only in preference to ourselves or others, but in direct opposition to the whole world? Do we labor to approve ourselves to him, forbearing every sinful thing, and doing everything we know to be right? Do we search the Scriptures daily, and attend on the ministration of God's word, on purpose that we may have our sentiments and conduct more entirely conformed to the will of God? And finally, do we disregard the scoffs of an ungodly world, and determine to sacrifice even life itself, rather than violate the dictates of our conscience? This is sincerity, this is truth. Doubtless there are infirmities in the best of men; and consequently there will be occasional deviations from the path of duty: but if we be sincere, we shall not allow any sin whatever: we shall endeavor to be "pure as God is pure, and perfect as God is perfect." O that there were in all of us such a heart as this!
2. Let us be on our guard against those devices, whereby Satan would weaken our sincerity, or rob us of the comfort of it.
Satan will put forth all his wiles, and exert all his power, to loosen this belt. He well knows, that, if he succeed in this point, all the rest will be easy: but that until this be effected, we are invulnerable. He will therefore try on all occasions to get advantage against us. He will cover his endeavors with the most specious pretexts, and present his temptations in the most alluring shapes. But let us watch against him: let not the example of an Apostle, or the preaching of an angel, lead us to renounce one single truth, or to transgress one single precept. If we be not continually on our guard, that "serpent will beguile us," yes, in spite of all our watchfulness will he deceive us, if we be not preserved by God himself. Let us therefore "watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation."
But, if Satan cannot entice us to lay aside our belt, he will endeavor to deprive us of the comfort of it. He will take occasion from our remaining infirmities to make us think ourselves hypocrites: and thus he will seek to effect that through despondency, which he could not effect through any other temptations. Let it then be our daily care so to fasten this belt round our loins, that we may have in ourselves, and give to all around us, an indisputable evidence that we both possess and improve it. Then shall we have a consolation arising from it, and "rejoice in the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have our conversation in the world."
Lastly, let us "stand" thus armed, and be in constant readiness to oppose our enemy. Let us not fear him, but resist him manfully. If we fight, we have nothing to fear: it is only when we turn our back, that we are left exposed to any mortal injury: in every other part we are armed sufficiently for our defense. Let us then beg of God to "put truth in our inward parts." Let us "add to our faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly-kindness and charity, and keep them all compact with the belt of truth; then have we God's promise, that we shall never fall." Through his grace, our "integrity and uprightness shall preserve us." Let us therefore "gird up the loins of our mind, and be sober, and hope to the end." Only let us "be sincere; and we shall be without offence until the day of Christ."
The Christian's Breast-Plate
Ephesians 6:14. Stand … having on the breast-plate of righteousness.
AS various parts of armor, however differing in shape, may be formed of the same materials, so among the Christian graces, there may exist a considerable resemblance, while yet there remains between them a manifest distinction. Righteousness is that particular grace which comes under our consideration at this time. By "righteousness" we understand, that true and universal holiness, which is characteristic of conversion, and constitutes that divine image, after which we are renewed. Now this, though nearly allied to sincerity, differs materially from it: sincerity relates to the aims and motives of a person; but righteousness to his actions and habits. Righteousness is that in actual attainment, which sincerity is in desire and purpose. Righteousness cannot exist without sincerity; but sincerity may, and often does, exist without righteousness; because (as was shown in the preceding discourse) it may be found in blind zealots, and bloody persecutors.
The piece of armor to which righteousness is compared, is "the breast-plate;" which was of use to defend the vitals from the assaults of an enemy. Of such importance was it to every one in the time of battle, that all, from the general to the soldier, were clad with it: nor can its importance to us more strongly appear, than from the consideration, that the Captain of our salvation, even the Lord Jesus Christ himself, was thus arrayed. The Prophet Isaiah, speaking expressly of him, says, "He put on righteousness as a breast-plate."
In the metaphor before us, the Apostle intimates, that without righteousness we should be exposed to imminent peril, yes, to certain death: but that, if we be clad with righteousness, our adversaries will never be able to prevail against us. It is evident therefore that there are two points to be considered by us; namely, the necessity of righteousness for our defense, and its sufficiency to protect us:
I. The necessity of righteousness.
In order to destroy us, our great adversary uses both deceit and violence; against both of which it becomes us to be armed, in order that we may discover the one, and repel the other.
Righteousness then is necessary in the first place, that we may discover his wiles.
It is said with truth by an inspired writer, that "the God of this world blinds the eyes of them that believe not," and it is astonishing to what a degree he deludes their souls. He instigates them to the commission of sin under the idea that it is at least excusable, if not altogether justifiable and right. He teaches them to "call evil good and good evil; to put darkness for light, and light for darkness, bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." We may see one man carried on by ostentation and vanity, while he thinks himself actuated by zeal for God. Another yields to a vindictive spirit, yet supposes that he is only maintaining a just regard for his own character, or perhaps for the rights of the community. Through the agency of that subtle fiend, covetousness assumes the name of prudence; prodigality is nothing but a commendable excess of generosity: yes, the most cruel machinations of bigotry, are deemed a service well-pleasing to God. Who has not noticed in others this sad infatuation? Who has not seen his neighbors acting under the influence of a bad principle, while they were at the same time as strongly persuaded that they were right, as if there were no room for doubt? Thus it is more or less with every unrenewed person; and too often with those also who are yet weak in the faith; they go on, "not knowing what spirit they are of." In vain do ministers set forth the evil of such a state: in vain do they discriminate, and mark the difference between truth and error: in vain do they endeavor to persuade men in private, as well as in their public ministrations: in vain do they confirm every word with the infallible dictates of inspiration: for while men continue destitute of righteousness, "they have eyes, and see not, ears, and hear not, neither do they understand". Nothing will effectually show men their error, until they are "renewed in the spirit of their minds." Then they have the film removed from the organs of vision. Then they have a spiritual discernment: they are no longer deceived by specious appearances; they taste and see the real qualities of things: being "brought out of darkness into marvelous light," they view everything, in a measure, as God himself views it: and the greater their proficiency is in the divine life, the clearer is their perception of the good or evil that exists, not in their actions only, but in their motives and principles of action. And hence it is that the Apostle exhorts us to "be transformed in the renewing of our minds, that we may prove (and discern, not by theory only, but by actual experiment) what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
Righteousness is further necessary, that we may repel the assaults of our enemy.
Sin not only blinds, but debilitates the soul. It is scarcely to be conceived how impotent the natural man is to resist the temptations of Satan. For the most part he makes no resistance at all, but follows the dictates of his imperious master, and yields a willing obedience to his most fatal suggestions. To the ungodly Jews our Lord justly observed, "You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do." Sometimes conscience will make a stand against the wicked one; but it is soon overpowered, and either bribed into consent, or stunned to silence, or forced, in spite of all its efforts, to give way. It may cause one to tremble; another to reform in many things; another to become almost a Christian; another to make a profession of religion, and openly to join himself to the Church of Christ: but Satan has nothing to fear from its exertions, unless it stimulate a man to seek a thorough change of heart: he laughs at the fears of Felix, the reformation of Herod, the acknowledgments of Agrippa, and the professions of Simon Magus: he well knows that, as long as they are unrenewed, they are fast in his chains, and incapable of any effectual exertion: "Ephraim, though armed, and carrying bows, were so enfeebled by sin, that they turned back in the day of battle," nor could Israel stand before their enemies while an Achan was in their camp. So neither can he resist Satan, who yields in anything to the dominion of sin. If once we "put away a good conscience, we shall speedily make shipwreck of our faith" also. But let once the tamest of his vassals feel the influence of divine grace, and instantly he casts off the yoke under which he had groaned, and asserts his liberty. From that moment Satan is constrained to yield to that "stronger power that is come against him," and to, relinquish the prey which he can no longer retain.
The necessity of righteousness being thus established, let us proceed to consider,
II. Its sufficiency.
The Apostle would not have been so urgent in exhorting us to put on the breast-plate of righteousness, if he had not believed that it would answer all the purposes for which it was designed. That it will protect us, we are well assured: that it will secure to us the victory, there can be no doubt: for it will turn depravity to sanctity, cowardice to courage, and weakness to strength.
First, it turns depravity to sanctity. It is by our inward corruptions that Satan works. He cannot force us to commit sin: he can only present to us such temptations as are suited to our natural desires; and suggest such considerations to our minds, as are likely to procure our compliance with his will. When he came to assault our Lord, he could not prevail; because "he found nothing in him," that in the smallest degree closed with his suggestions. But when he comes to us, he finds in us a predisposition to receive him. If he assault our heart, there are many secret lusts that are ready to betray us into his hands: he has but to strike a spark, and there is within us combustible matter in abundance, that instantly catches fire, and that, if not extinguished by grace, will burn to the lowest Hell. But when the soul is endued with righteousness, its dispositions are altogether changed: "old things are passed away, and all things are become new." We say not indeed that there are no remains of corruption in the soul; for the old nature still continues, and counteracts in a measure the operations of the new nature: but if "the flesh lusts against the spirit, the spirit also lusts against the flesh, and gains (not indeed without many conflicts) an ascendant over it," and hence the temptations, which would once have been irresistible, are repelled with indignant firmness; as we see in Joseph, who, when repeatedly solicited to commit adultery, replied with horror, "How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?"
This then is one way in which righteousness defends the soul: it makes "sin appear exceeding sinful;" and holiness to be esteemed as the perfection of bliss: and thus, by weakening the force of temptation, it enables us with success to resist the tempter.
In the next place, it turns cowardice into courage. Satan gets peculiar advantage over men by means of their carnal fears. In whatever degree men are endued with natural fortitude, their courage fails them when they are called to bear the cross of Christ. When our blessed Lord ministered on earth, Nicodemus, though a ruler and governor, was afraid to come in open day, lest he should be thought to favor his cause: nor did "the Pharisees who believed in him, dare to confess him, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." In instances without number have men who were able to brave death itself on the field of battle, shown themselves unable to endure the scorn and contempt that universally attach to religious characters: so true is that declaration of Solomon, "The fear of man brings a snare." But righteousness emboldens the soul; and enables it to meet the hatred and menaces, or (what is still worse) the sneers and ridicule, of an ungodly world with a holy indifference; yes, it causes the soul to rejoice in these things as tokens for good, and as testimonies of the Divine favor. Behold the astonishing change that was wrought on Peter! When he had inconsiderately laid aside his armor, he was intimidated by the voice of a maid—servant, and induced to deny his Lord with oaths and curses. But when he had put on his breast—plate, he was undismayed in the presence of the whole council of the Jews: he boldly charged upon the rulers that were before him, the guilt of murdering their Messiah: and when they endeavored to silence him with threats, he undauntedly replied, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Such was the courage also of the Hebrew Youths, who, unawed by the fiery furnace, and unmoved by the example of a whole nation, disdained to comply with the royal edict; and resolutely exposed themselves to a cruel death, rather than violate the dictates of their conscience.
Thus wherever the soul is clad with righteousness, it is emboldened both to do and suffer the will of God: and, consequently, Satan's engine of persecution, whereby he has destroyed myriads, being divested of its power to intimidate the righteous, his dominion over them must forever cease.
Lastly, righteousness will turn our weakness to strength. The powers of man, independent of divine grace, remain the same after conversion as before: of himself he can do nothing. But that divine principle which actuates the godly, is mighty in operation: however numerous or powerful their enemies may be, the "grace of Christ is sufficient for them;" and the weakest in the universe may say, "Through Christ strengthening me I can do all things." Their inherent weakness does not at all militate against this assertion; for when they are weakest in themselves their strength is at the height: and when they look unto their Lord for help, "he will perfect his strength in their weakness." Survey for a moment the Christian's conquests: his lusts are subdued, condemned, crucified: the world is overcome, and put under his feet: the powers of darkness are put to flight: and he is triumphing daily in the God of his salvation: so "strengthened is he with might in his inward man," and so "mighty are his weapons to destroy the strong holds of sin and Satan, and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
What shall we now say to you who are destitute of this armor? Shall we congratulate you on your prospects of victory? Shall we even flatter you with hopes of escaping with life? We cannot; we dare not. There is a possibility, that you might vanquish an armed host with a broken pitcher; or make the walls of an impregnable fortress to fall with the sound of rams' horns: but to succeed without righteousness in your spiritual warfare is impossible: for the truth of God is pledged that you shall perish, if you continue in your unrighteous state. "Awake then to righteousness, and sin not." Let your earnest prayer ascend up before God, that you may be made new creatures in Christ Jesus, and be turned effectually from the power of Satan unto God. But do not mistake: do not imagine, that any righteousness which you can attain in your own strength, will thus protect you; or that even that which is wrought in you by the Holy Spirit, has in itself such mighty efficacy: that to which such glorious powers are ascribed, is wrought in you by the Spirit of God: and after all, it is not your inherent goodness, but the grace of God, that must preserve you from your enemies. Your inherent righteousness will indeed be made use of by him; but still God must be acknowledged as the only Author of all that is done either in, or by you; and the glory must be given to him alone.
To you who have "the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left," we say, "Stand fast in the Lord." Let nothing prevail upon you to lay aside your breast-plate for one moment: the instant you part with it, you are shorn of your strength, and are become weak as other men. "Hold fast then that you have, that no man take your crown." Thus shall your subtle adversary be foiled in all his attacks: he shall never be able to inflict on you any deadly wound. "Then shall you not be ashamed, when you have respect unto all God's commandments." As "the righteousness of Christ sustained him" amidst the fiercest assaults of his enemies, so shall you be preserved while fighting under his banners, and following his commands. His express promise to you is, "He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, shall never be moved." And again, "The Lord God is a sun and a shield; he will give grace and glory; and no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
The Christian's Greaves
Ephesians 6:14, 15. Stand … having … your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.
THERE are many things which the are of war has rendered necessary for the success of an army, besides those rude weapons which an untaught savage would employ: and though they may be of inferior and subordinate use, still the want of them may prove as fatal as the want of things that are of primary importance. It would have been to little purpose, in some situations, for soldiers to have their vital parts covered with armor, if they had not also shoes, or greaves, to protect their legs and feet against the sharp stakes, that were fixed in the ground to obstruct their progress. That this was a part of armor in the days of old, the sacred history informs us. Goliath had "greaves of brass upon his legs, as well as a target of brass between his shoulders." And, when the irresistible success of the Chaldeans was foretold, it was particularly said, that "the latchet of their shoes should not be broken." In reference to this part of a soldier's accouterments, the Apostle exhorts us to have our feet guarded; and intimates, that as the military shoes gave to him who wore them a readiness to march over any obstacles that might lie in his way, so "the Gospel of peace" gives to the Christian soldier a "preparation," or readiness, to prosecute his warfare without halting. This it does,
I. As bringing peace into the conscience; and
II. As producing a peaceful disposition in the soul.
I. The Gospel of peace gives us a readiness to march, in that it brings peace into the conscience.
The Gospel is the one source of peace to sinful man. If he obtain peace from any other source, he "heals his wounds slightly, and says, Peace, peace, when there is no peace." It is in the Gospel only that a Savior is revealed. But there we are informed, that God's only dear Son became our surety, and our substitute. There we behold our adorable Emmanuel bearing our sins in his own sacred body upon the tree, and effecting by the blood of his cross our reconciliation with God. Through him peace is proclaimed to a guilty world: and all who receive into their hearts the record concerning him, have their iniquities blotted out as a morning cloud: their burdens are from that time removed; they have "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Without a measure of this peace, a person finds but little ability to exert himself in his Christian calling. The more difficult duties will be considered as irksome, and impracticable. And this arises from the natural constitution of the human mind: for, what readiness can he have to forego the pleasures of time, who cannot look forward with a comfortable hope to the eternal world? Will not his "hands hang down, his knees be feeble, and his heart be faint?" Yes, will not Satan take advantage of his weak state to make him weary of well-doing; and to "turn him utterly out of the way;" and to make him say in despondency, "There is no hope: I have loved idols; and after them will I gog?" To what a degree the boldest champion may be enervated by apprehensions of God's displeasure, we may see in the conduct of Joshua. There was but one found in all the thousands of Israel so intrepid as he: yet when he had reason to think that God had withdrawn his favor from him, "he rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark, and put dust upon his head, and said, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore have you at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us? Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of Jordan. Thus will "our spirit fail," and our progress be stopped, if "the peace of God keep not our hearts and minds."
But let "the love of God be shed abroad in the heart," and instantly "the rough places become plain, and the crooked, straight," the "paths of religion become paths of pleasantness and peace." The most self-denying precepts are not then regarded as "hard sayings;" "nor are any of the commandments grievous." And though affliction cannot, in itself, be joyous, yet, as endured for the sake of Christ, it becomes a ground of joy: "having peace with God," says the Apostle, "we glory in tribulations also."
Let us look into the Scriptures and see how prompt for obedience the saints were made by a sense of God's pardoning love. No sooner had a live coal from off the altar been applied to the lips of the Prophet Isaiah, in token of his acceptance with God, than he was willing, yes desirous, to undertake the most difficult and self-denying services. The Thessalonian converts were inferior to none in their attachment to Christ; and, if we inquire what was the source of their distinguished zeal, we shall find that "the Gospel had come to them, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance;" and from that moment they became the most eminent followers of Christ, and his Apostle. It was no easy service which Mary Magdalen performed in washing the Savior's feet with her tears; especially in the presence of such a company: yet, "much having been forgiven her, she loved much;" and therefore testified her love in the best manner she was able, notwithstanding she was likely to meet with nothing but derision and contempt from the proud Pharisee, in whose house she was. But on this subject we naturally turn our eyes to the Apostle Paul, who "labored more abundantly than all the Apostles." What the main-spring was of his activity, we are at no loss to determine: it was "the love of Christ that constrained him," he had been redeemed from death by the death of Christ; and therefore to Christ he consecrated all his time, and all his powers.
A readiness for suffering also arises from the same source. The "peace" which Moses enjoyed "through believing," rendered him so superior to all the pleasures of sense, that "he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt; and chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." Paul is yet a more illustrious example, as indeed might well be expected, considering how exceeding abundant had been the mercy shown towards him." He had already endured far more than any other Apostle for the sake of Christ; yet when the Spirit testified that bonds and afflictions still awaited him where he was going, and the Christians besought him not to proceed on his intended journey to Jerusalem; he replied, "What mean you to weep and to break my heart? for I am willing not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And is it not thus also with ourselves? If our souls be animated with faith and love, we shall "count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations;" yes, we shall "rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Christ," and the very things which were intended by our enemies for the destruction of the spiritual life, will tend rather to its furtherance and establishment.
The same preparation for prosecuting our warfare is imparted to us by the Gospel,
II. In that it produces a peaceful disposition in the soul.
The soul of man is naturally proud, irritable, vindictive. An injurious act, or an insulting word, is sufficient to call forth all our angry passions, and, in many instances, creates within us a resentment, that can be pacified with nothing less than the blood of the delinquent. Behold David, when Nabal refused to administer to his wants! This one act of churlish ingratitude must be expiated by the life of the offender, and not of the offender only, but of all the males belonging to him; and David himself goes forth to execute the murderous sentence. What an awful picture of human nature does this exhibit! But the Gospel lays the axe to this "root of bitterness," and, by showing us how much we have been forgiven, inclines us to exercise forgiveness. It teaches us to "turn the left cheek to him who has smitten us on the right," and "in no wise to render evil for evil." It enjoins us rather to love our enemies; and, instead of retaliating their injuries, to relieve their wants.
Without this disposition we are but ill prepared to surmount the obstacles which our subtle adversary will place in our way. The scorn and contempt that we shall meet with, will dismay us. Our feelings will be wounded every step we take: and we shall soon be weary of well-doing. In order to judge of the consequences that will ensue, if we be destitute of this part of Christian armor, let us only look at the most eminent saints, when, through haste and inadvertence, they had neglected to fasten on their greaves aright: Moses, the meekest of mankind, was inflamed with wrath; and, by his angry, unadvised words, provoked God to exclude him from the earthly Canaan. Peter, when he beheld his Lord apprehended in the garden, began to fight after the manner of ungodly men; and brought on himself that just rebuke; "Put up your sword; for all who take the sword shall perish with the sword." Paul himself too, on one occasion, was so irritated with the injustice of his judge, that he brake forth into passionate revilings against his ruler and governor, and was constrained to apologize for his conduct in the presence of his enemies. If then these holiest of men were thus sorely wounded through their occasional impatience, what advantage will not Satan gain over those, whose spirit is altogether lofty and unsubdued? Doubtless he will harass them in their march, until they turn back, and recede from the field of battle.
But let the Gospel have its due effect; let it render us meek, patient, forbearing, and forgiving; let it transform us into the image of the meek and lowly Jesus, who when he was reviled, reviled not again; and when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself to him who judges righteously; and the stumbling-blocks that offended us before, will appear unworthy of any serious regard. When our enemies persecute us, we shall be ready to weep over them for the evil which they bring upon themselves, rather than be incensed against them for the evil which they do to us. We shall use no other weapons against them than "faith and patience," "being defamed, we shall entreat; being persecuted, we shall suffer." Instead of being "overcome of evil, we shall endeavor to overcome evil with good," and by "letting patience have its perfect work, we shall be perfect and entire, lacking nothing."
It may be objected, perhaps, that, while we conduct ourselves in this way, we shall be trampled under foot of all, and be vanquished by all. But to this we answer, that, though we should be trampled under foot, we should not be vanquished: on the contrary, though "we be killed all the day long, and are as sheep appointed for the slaughter, yet in all these things shall we be more than conquerors. We may, like Stephen, be stoned to death: yet, if like him, we can pray for our murderers, we have the noblest of all victories, that of overcoming a vindictive spirit: and, though we fall in the conflict, we maintain the field against all our enemies. Who, do we suppose, was victor, the Jews, who, at Satan's instigation, put our Lord to death; or Jesus, who expired a victim on the cross We cannot doubt; for we are told in the Scriptures, that, "through death, Jesus overcame death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil: yes; "on his very cross he spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." Nor can we more effectually manifest our superiority to all the powers of darkness, than by "resisting unto blood in our strife against sin." Were we to become our own avengers, we should "give place to the devil;" but by suffering with our Lord, we become partners of his victory, and partakers of his glory.
What remains now but earnestly to exhort you to get "your feet shod with" this blessed Gospel? Consider how many devices Satan has to wound your feet, and to cast you down. We have already noticed persecution, as a very principal engine used by him to obstruct your progress. But there are other means whereby he frequently effects his deadly purpose: many whom he could not stop by persecution, he has turned out of the way by error. Look into the epistles of Paul, and see how many he has "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." He has his ministers, as well as Christ; and in outward appearance they are "ministers of righteousness;" nor are they themselves conscious that they are his agents. They propagate what they themselves believe, and oftentimes with a zeal worthy of a better cause. But they themselves are blinded by him; and then are used as his instruments to overthrow the faith of others. Which of the Churches, planted in the apostolic age, was free from their influence? In which were there not "some who perverted the Gospel of Christ," and some who, by their means, were "turned aside after Satan?" At Rome there were those who made it their business to "cause divisions; and by good words and fair speeches to deceive the hearts of the simple." At Corinth, the Church was so distracted by them, that Christian love was almost banished; and nothing but "debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults," obtained among them, insomuch that the Apostle threatened to exert his apostolic authority, and to inflict on them some signal judgments, if they did not reform their conduct before he visited them again. As for the Galatian Church, such an ascendency had the false teachers gained over them, that there was scarcely one who retained his integrity: almost all of them had embraced, what Paul calls, "another Gospel;" and, so entirely had they transferred their regards from him to their new teachers, that notwithstanding "they would, not long before, have plucked out their own eyes, and have given them unto him," they now considered him in no other light than "an enemy." At Ephesus also there were some who, like "children, were tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, while others, by sleight and cunning craftiness, were lying in wait to deceive them." At Philippi too, there were "dogs and evil workers, of whom it was needful for them to beware." But time would fail us to enumerate the heresies that were propagated, and the apostasies that were occasioned by them, even in the purest ages of the Church. The epistles to Timothy and Titus are full of complaints respecting these deceivers, and of cautions to avoid all fellowship, either with them, or with their followers.
Now let any one say, whether, after so many sad examples, he himself needs not to be well established in the true Gospel, lest he be "led aside by the error of the wicked, and fall from his own steadfastness?"
But it will be asked, How shall I know the true Gospel from those counterfeits which are proposed for my acceptance? To this we answer, The true Gospel is a "Gospel of peace." It is a Gospel which sets forth Jesus as our hope, "our peace," and our all. It is a Gospel which leads us to "show all meekness," and, "as much as lies in us, to live peaceably with all men." Particularly also will it prompt us to seek the welfare of the Church, and to "follow the things which make for peace, and things with which one may edify another." Whoever therefore would turn us from Christ as the foundation of our hope; or would "cause divisions and offences in the Church," in order to "scatter the flock of Christ, and to draw them" from their proper fold; we have reason to think him no other than a "wolf in sheep's clothing;" a minister of Satan in the garb of a "minister of righteousness," and we should beware, lest, by listening to such an one, our "unstable souls be beguiled," and we "fall so as never to be renewed unto repentance." We must not only take heed how we hear, but what we hear: for if "whole houses were subverted" in the days of the Apostles, and "all the Christians in Asia were turned away from" the ministry of Paul, there is no minister whom we may not be induced to forsake, nor is there any one so established in the truth but he has need to pray that he may be kept from error.
Surely we need no stronger arguments to enforce the exhortation of the text. Let us get the knowledge of the Gospel: let us receive it, not as a theory merely, but as a practical and living principle, that shall influence our hearts and lives. And when we have received it, let us be tenacious of it; let us "hold fast the form of sound doctrine that we have received." Let us make use of it to keep us firm in the midst of difficulties, and steadfast in the midst of errors. Let us "be ever on our guard, lest any root of bitterness springing up, trouble us, and thereby many be defiled." Finally, let us "stand fast in the Lord," so we shall, like our Lord himself, "endure the cross, and despise the shame, and sit down as victors on the right hand of the throne of God."
The Christian's Shield
Ephesians 6:16. Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the tricked.
NOTWITHSTANDING the armor of the ancients was generally so constructed, that it could repel any weapon that might come against it, the warrior did not conceive himself to be completely armed without a shield. In reference to the Christian soldier, this observation may be applied with still greater propriety; because, however excellent the different pieces of his armor may be, not one of them will suffice for his protection, unless it be itself also covered with the shield of faith. As "without faith it is impossible to please God," so without faith it is impossible to withstand Satan. That powerful adversary will soon pierce through our "truth" and "righteousness," if they be exposed to his assault without any additional defense. On this account the Apostle directs, that "above all," and in addition to all, we should "take the shield of faith."
In illustrating this divine injunction we propose to show,
I. The office of faith in the Christian's armor.
II. Its transcendent excellence.
I. The office of faith in the Christian's armor.
The particular use of a shield is to ward off a blow from any part of the body that may be menaced; and for that end it is to be applied in every direction, as occasion may require.
Now Satan strikes sometimes at one part, and sometimes at another, according as the different parts may seem most open to his attack. And the temptations with which he makes his assault, are as "fiery darts," which fly with incredible velocity, and are calculated to inflame the soul with their deadly poison.
The office of faith, and its power to repel these darts, will distinctly appear, while we show how it enables the Christian to foil Satan in all his attempts to wound either his head, or heart.
Satan has many fierce and fiery temptations, whereby he endeavors to wound the head. There is not anything so horrid or blasphemous, which he will not suggest to the mind. Even atheism itself is not so shocking, but he is capable of impressing the idea of it upon the soul, and of leading men to an adoption of it in practice, at least, if not also in theory and judgment. From the apparent inequality that there is in the dispensations of Providence, Satan raises a doubt whether there be a God; or, at least, whether he interfere at all in the concerns of men, or will judge the world in righteousness at the last day. He will take occasion also from the difficulties that there are in Scripture to draw men to infidelity. "How can that be the word of God which is so full of contradictions? And who can know with any certainty what it declares to us, when those who profess to believe it, are of such opposite sentiments?" By such temptations as these he assaults chiefly the avowed enemies of God. But there are other temptations whereby he labors (and with too much success) to turn from the faith those who confess the divine authority of the Scriptures. He will draw them into errors of various kinds, and thus undermine the principles which he could not destroy by open assault. Time would not suffice to point out the innumerable errors to which he has given birth, and by which he has destroyed the souls of men: but there is one way in which almost all of them have been produced and propagated: he induces men to take someone truth of Scripture, and to magnify its importance beyond all due bounds, and to exalt it, not only above all other truths, but to the utter exclusion of them; and thus he founds error upon truth, and the most "damnable heresies" upon the sacred records. Mark the different heresies, and examine them by this test; and the truth of the observation will immediately appear. Because our blessed Savior was a man, and both lived and died as an example to his followers, therefore the Socinians affirm that he was only a man, and that he died only as an example; and thus they set aside both his divinity and atonement. Because the Spirit of God is represented as dwelling in believers, therefore the Mystics reduce all religion to a vain conceit about the light within them; from a regard to which, they overlook the work of Christ for them, yes, and supersede the plainest institutions of religion, and, in a very great degree, the Scriptures themselves. In the same manner the Antinomian advocate for faith excludes good works from his system; while the Moralist, from an ignorant zeal for good works, discards all concern about the faith of Christ. The rigid Predestinarian asserts the sovereignty of God to the subversion of man's freedom and responsibility; while the contender for the freedom and sufficiency of man's will, obliterates the decrees of Heaven, and denies his dependence on God.
To enter more minutely into these various heresies would lead us too far from our subject. The point to be illustrated is, How does faith enable us to avoid them? But previous to this inquiry, it will be proper to show briefly, that these errors do indeed proceed from Satan as their author; and that they are not unfitly compared to fiery darts.
Nothing can be plainer in the Scriptures than that Satan is the great author of error, not only because he is "the father of lies," and "the deceiver of the world," but because the propagators of error are expressly called his children, and his ministers; and they who have embraced error, are said to have been "tempted of the tempter," and to have "turned aside after Satan;" and to be "of the synagogue of Satan."
This point will receive additional confirmation, by observing with what propriety his temptations are compared to "fiery darts;" for how suddenly do they strike the mind! how deeply also do they penetrate! and with what venom do they inflame the soul! Truly "they set on fire the whole course of nature; and themselves are set on fire of Hell." Paul speaks of those who are turned from the truth as being "bewitched," and indeed, when we see what infatuation seizes them, how their understandings are blinded, their judgments warped, their conscience perverted, and how they are carried away by their own pride and self-sufficiency, without ever considering what spirit they are of, or conceiving it possible that they should be misled; we cannot but confess that they are the unhappy victims of Satanic agency.
Now we come to the point proposed, to consider how faith repels these fiery darts.
Faith, provided it be a true and living faith, receives the word of God simply on the authority of him that revealed it. It staggers not at any difficulties either in the dispensations of his providence, or the declarations of his grace. Conscious of man's inability to comprehend even the most common matters in their full extent, the believer submits his reason to God, and receives without gainsaying whatever divine wisdom has revealed. Now the interference of God in the government of the world, even in the falling of a sparrow, or of the hairs of our head, is most clearly asserted in the inspired volume; and, on that account, no occurrence whatever is suffered to weaken the conviction, that all things are under his immediate and entire control. Nor do the difficulties that are in Scripture at all lessen its authority in the believer's eyes: whatever he cannot account for as arising from the circumstances under which the Scriptures have been handed down to us, he puts to the score of his own ignorance, and contentedly says, "What I know not now, I shall know hereafter." And, as to all the heresies that have been broached in the Christian Church, he has one way of repelling all: he "compares spiritual things with spiritual;" not hastily rejecting any plain declaration of God, because he cannot discern its harmony and agreement with some other declaration: he rather looks to God for the teachings of his Spirit; and keeps his mind ready to embrace whatever may tend to his own humiliation, or to the glory of God. If it be thought that still he will be as open to receive error as truth, we answer, that God has promised to "guide him into all truth;" and that every believer has within himself the witness of all the fundamental doctrines of our religion; so that, "though he be a mere fool" in all other matters, "he shall surely be kept from error" in the concerns of his soul.
We must next call your attention to the temptations with which Satan assaults the heart. Under this term we include both the will and the affections; the former of which he endeavors to weaken by terrors, while he corrupts the latter by the allurements of sense.
As soon as that wicked fiend beholds any turning unto God, he will suggest to their minds the comforts they must sacrifice, the reproaches they must incur, the losses they must sustain, and the insuperable difficulties they must encounter; that so he may shake their resolution, and divert them from their purpose. It was thus that he prevented the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan. It was thus also that he succeeded in damping the ardor of that wealthy youth, who, from love to his great possessions, relinquished all hope of a saving interest in Christ. And in the same manner does he prevail with thousands of the present day, who would gladly participate his blessings, if they could retain together with them their carnal attachments.
If he cannot succeed by these means, he will represent their case as hopeless; and dissuade them from prosecuting their course by the consideration, that their efforts will be in vain.
To others he will propose the pleasures of sense. He will set before them, as he did before our Lord, the glory of the world; he will draw their attention to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." He will represent these things in the most fascinating view; well knowing, that if he can but induce them to love either the pleasures, or the riches, or the honors of the world, he has accomplished his purpose, and effectually alienated their hearts from God.
Now these also are as "fiery darts," which, if they once enter into the soul, will burn up all the good that is within it, and destroy it utterly.
But faith is as useful to protect the heart, as to defend the head. As it obviates every difficulty that may perplex the understanding, so it wards off everything that may intimidate or defile the soul.
To the temptations that assault the will, faith opposes the importance of eternal things: 'Be it so; I must endure much if I will adhere to my purpose of serving God: but what shall I have to endure if I do not serve him? It is not a matter of mere choice, but of absolute necessity; for "what shall it profit me if I gain the whole world, and lose my own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Let me not then hear of difficulties; for if Nebuchadnezzar's furnace were before me, it were better to suffer martyrdom at once with the Hebrew Youths, than to renounce my allegiance to God. With respect to the hopelessness of my case, nothing but destruction can result from despair: for "to whom can I go, if not to Him who has the words of eternal life.?" God helping me therefore I will go forward; and if I perish, I will perish at the foot of my Redeemer's cross, crying for mercy as the chief of sinners.'
Then to the temptations that assault the affections, faith opposes the excellency of eternal things: 'True; I might enjoy the pleasures of sin; but would they equal the pleasure of serving God, and especially those "pleasures which are at his right hand for evermore?" Are not "the unsearchable riches of Christ," together with "the honor that comes of God," sufficient to counterbalance any riches or honors that I may forego for Christ's sake? Avaunt, Satan, for what you offers me is poor, transient, delusive: whereas the blessedness of the saints, both in this world and the next, is substantial, exquisite, everlasting.' Thus it was that Moses argued, when he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season," and the principle that dictated the argument, was "faith." This was his "shield;" and the same will enable us also to repel the darts of Satan, however fiercely they be hurled, and however formidably they may come against us.
Having thus illustrated the office of faith, we proceed to point out,
II. Its transcendent excellence.
Somewhat of this has already appeared: but the high encomium which the Apostle bestows on this piece of armor in particular above all others, manifestly demands a more distinct consideration.
We may observe then in commendation of faith, considered as the Christian's shield, that its use is universal; its application is easy; its success is sure.
First, its use is universal.
All the other parts of armor have their distinct province, to which they are confined. "Truth" and "righteousness" defend the heart; but they are of no use at all to protect the head. But faith is universally applicable to every species of temptation. Faith discerns the truth of the Gospel, and thereby is fitted to preserve the head from error: it discerns also the importance and excellence of the Gospel, and is therefore proper to preserve the heart from sin. It is no less useful to the feet; for we "stand by faith," and "walk by faith." Every step we take is safest under the guidance of faith, because it both affords us the best light, and enables us to walk without stumbling even in the dark.
Let this consideration then operate on all, and stir us all up to seek faith. Let us not hastily conclude that we possess this principle; for "all men have not faith." "Faith is the gift of God," nor can we have it, unless it have been given us from above. O that all would seek it at the hands of a reconciled God! Beloved brethren, be not satisfied with "the belt of sincerity," or "the breast-plate of righteousness," or "the greaves of Gospel peace," they are all good and useful in their place; but it is faith, that gives even to them their chief strength; and it is faith, by which alone you can ever be victorious. Does the world tempt you? "this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." Does corruption harass you? you must "purify your heart by faiths." Do your graces languish? It is faith alone that will set them to work in a way of love. And lastly, does the devil as a roaring lion threaten to devour you? It is by being steadfast in the faith that you must resist and vanquish him. Think then of the use and efficacy of faith; and pray to our adorable Savior in the words of his Apostles, "Lord increase our faith."
In the next place we observe, that its application is easy.
A shield is easily transferred from one position to another as occasion may require: and faith also quickly moves to the protection of any part that is attacked. We do not say, that it is an easy thing to produce faith; for it requires no less power than that which was exerted in raising Christ from the dead, to create faith in the heart. But when a person has faith, then, we say, it is easy for him to apply it for his defense. Suppose that our head were attacked with subtle heresies, and we had nothing but reason to counteract the temptation; how weak, how tardy, how uncertain would be its operation! The greater part of mankind would not have either time or ability to follow Satan in all his arguments; nor would those of the strongest intellect ever arrive at certainty; they could rise no higher than opinion at the last; while those of inferior talents would be lost in endless perplexity. Suppose again that our heart were attacked with some fiery lust, and we had no better defense than that which reason could afford; would passion listen to the voice of reason? As well might we attempt to extinguish flames that were consuming our house, by a slight sprinkling of water with the hand, as to stop the course of our passions by the efforts of unassisted reason. But in either of these cases, one single word from Scripture will suffice. How was it that our great Captain repelled the fiery darts that were cast at him? "It is written;" "It is written;" "It is written." Thus he fought; and his vanquished enemy fled from before him. Thus also must we fight; and by opposing to our enemy this shield, the weakest and most ignorant is as sure of victory, as the strongest and most intelligent. In some respects the poor and ignorant have an advantage over the rich and learned; because they exercise faith, for the most part, in a more simple manner; whereas the others are ever trusting, more or less, to their own reason: and it is expressly with a view to confound the pride of reason, that God has given this superiority to the poor, and "chosen them, in preference to others, to be rich in faith."
Let this then operate as a further inducement with us to seek faith, since none of us can get the victory without it; and by it the very weakest on earth shall be able to remove mountains.
Lastly, we may affirm, that its success is sure.
But for their faith, the most eminent of God's saints would have been destroyed. "I had fainted," says David, "if I had not believed," and Peter would have been driven away as the chaff, if our Lord had not secured his faith from failing. On the other hand, we have a host of saints upon record, who, "through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens: women received their dead to life again; and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes moreover, of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. These all obtained a good report through faith." Further, if we search the annals of the world, we shall not find one single instance wherein believers were ultimately vanquished. On many occasions they have been wounded, and sorely too: even the father of the faithful himself was not so expert in the use of his shield as to ward off every blow: but believers are secured from any fatal stroke. Our Lord himself has pledged his word that they shall never perish; that, if they fall, they shall be raised up again to renew the contest; and, that "Satan shall finally be bruised under their feet."
Remarkable in this view are the expressions of the text. The idea of "quenching" the fiery darts of the wicked one, may perhaps refer to the custom of making shields sometimes of raw hides, that, in case a poisoned arrow should perforate them, the wound, which on account of the poison must otherwise have been fatal, might be healed. But perhaps the true meaning may be, that by faith we shall as completely defeat the malignant efforts of Satan, as by the extinguishing of fire we shall be delivered from its fury. Nor is this true of some temptations only; it extends to "all" without exception. Nor can it be said of some believers only, who are of the highest class; for all who are armed with the shield of faith, whether they be old or young, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, "shall be able" perfectly, and forever, to subdue their adversary.
To all then we say, "Have faith in God," if "you have believed in the Father, believe also in Christ." "Believe in the Lord, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall you prosper."
The Christian's Helmet
Ephesians 6:17. And take the helmet of salvation.
THE generality of mankind have very inadequate ideas of the Christian warfare. They know but little of the enemies with whom we have to contend, or of the imminent danger to which we are exposed through their continual assaults. But, as some conception might be formed of the power of an enemy, by viewing the extensive preparations that were made to oppose him, so may we learn to estimate the difficulties of the spiritual warfare, by surveying the various parts of armor which God has prepared for our defense. We have already noticed the belt and breast-plate, for the body; the greaves, for the legs and feet; the shield, for the head, in common with the rest of the body: but yet the head is not sufficiently protected; it must have a peace of armor more appropriate; a piece suited to its necessities, and fitted for its use. In the account given us of Goliath, we read that "he had a helmet of brass upon his head," and such a piece of armor is provided for us also; we are required to "take the helmet of salvation."
In opening this subject we shall show,
I. What we are to understand by "salvation."
II. Its use and importance in the Christian warfare.
I. What are we to understand by the term "salvation?"
It is evident that the expression is elliptical; nor should we know how, with any certainty, to complete the sense, if the Apostle himself had not supplied the defect in a parallel passage: but all doubt is removed by that exhortation in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, "Let us who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation." From hence we see that Hope is the Christian's helmet. Yet, because there are various kinds of hope, and only one that will afford the Christian any effectual protection, we must enter more particularly into the subject, and distinguish the scriptural hope from every other that may be mistaken for it.
In the first place then, true hope has salvation for its object. This is very strongly marked in different parts of Scripture: for we are said to be "saved by hope," and salvation itself is sometimes called hope; they who look for salvation, are said to be "looking for that blessed hoped," at other times, hope is called salvation: we are exhorted in the text to take the helmet of salvation. There are many, whose hopes have respect indeed to eternal life; but they are unmindful of their lost estate; they are regardless of that way of deliverance, which God has provided for them through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus; they expect Heaven, because they have done nothing to forfeit it: if they have sinned, they have not sinned in such a degree as to deserve the wrath of God; they have committed only common and venial faults; they have, moreover, done many things to counterbalance their evil deeds; and therefore they hope for Heaven as the award of justice, rather than as a gift of unbounded mercy. This, for distinction sake, we may call a self-righteous hope: whereas the hope of every true Christian is founded altogether on the merits of Christ, and has respect to salvation, as purchased for us by his obedience unto death.
Further, true hope has God for its author. There is scarcely a person to be found in the world, who, if the question were put to him, Do you hope to go to Heaven if you die in your present state? would not answer in the affirmative. If we should proceed to inquire, Whence got you that hope? they would tell us, that they had always had it. But this is a presumptuous hope, the offspring of ignorance and conceit. Widely different from this is the Christian's hope. He has trembled for his state: he has seen his guilt and danger: he has "fled for refuge to the hope set before him." God has revealed to him the riches of his grace; and has shown him that "where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound." The Holy Spirit has "taken of the things of Christ, and shown them unto him," yes, he has convinced him, that "the blood of Jesus Christ is able to cleanse him from all sin;" and that "all who believe in Christ, are justified from all things." In this way God has inspired him with hope, that, notwithstanding all his past iniquities, he shall obtain salvation: and though there may be a considerable difference as to the degree of fear or terror that may precede this hope, yet this is the way in which it is invariably wrought in the soul. Hence it is said, that "God begets us unto a lively hope;" and "gives us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace;" and that "he fills us with joy and peace in believing, that we may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."
Once more; true hope has holiness for its inseparable companion. Whatever may be imagined to the contrary, there is no salvation to those who live in sin. Christ came to "save us from our sins," but not in them. We are expressly told that "the grace of God which brings salvation, teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." There is a kind of hope that will consist with the indulgence of secret lust, and with a total want of holy dispositions: but that is "the hope of the hypocrite which perishes, and shall be swept away with the broom of destruction. But the hope of the upright is far different from this: it will admit of no allowed sin, whether of omission or of commission: on the contrary, we are told, that "he who has this hope in him, purifies himself even as God is pure," he will retain no bosom lusts; he will not so much as wish for any exceptions and reserves in his obedience to God: he will desire, and endeavor, to be "holy as God is holy, and perfect even as his Father that is in Heaven is perfect."
This then may serve to distinguish the Christian's hope from that which is self-righteous, presumptuous, or hypocritical; and consequently to determine with considerable accuracy, what that hope is, that is connected with salvation. And though the text itself does not so much as mention hope, and much less discriminate between its different kinds, yet the very omission of these things points out the evident propriety of marking clearly what the import of salvation is, and what that is which alone deserves the name.
We may now, with much greater advantage, proceed to show,
II. The use and importance of salvation in the Christian warfare.
The importance of this helmet is not obscurely intimated in that prophecy respecting Christ, wherein it is said "He put on righteousness as a breast-plate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head."
But, to mark it more distinctly, we may observe, that it prepares us for conflicts, sustains us in them, and brings us victorious through them.
Hope prepares us for conflicts. A man armed with a helmet, feels himself ready to battle: he fears not to meet his adversary, because he has a defense, which, he trusts, will prove sufficient for his preservation. Thus a man that has a hope of salvation, enters into the combat with holy confidence. He is not intimidated by the frowns of an ungodly world, because he "knows in whom he has believed, and that God is able to keep that which he has committed to him." He says with David, "Though a host should encamp against roe, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in him will I be confident." This subject cannot be more strongly illustrated than in Caleb and the whole nation of the Israelites. The nation were terrified at the report of the spies, and, instead of proceeding to fight against the Canaanites, proposed to appoint a captain, and go back again into Egypt; but Caleb, whose hope was lively, stood unmoved, and strove to animate his countrymen with an assurance of easy victory. And thus, while the hearts of others are failing them for fear, and they "turn back unto perdition," rather than contend with their adversaries, the true Christian, "encourages himself in his God," and makes up his mind to die or conquer.
Further, a true hope will sustain us in conflicts. Many who have shown intrepidity at first, have yet fainted when their trials were severe and of long continuance. But he who has a hope full of immortality, will never yield, however painful the conflict may be, and however heavy the pressure. "The patriarchs continued to sojourn in the land of promise as mere pilgrims, notwithstanding they had frequent opportunity to return" to their own country and kindred: but they accounted the trial as nothing, because "they looked for a better country, that is, an heavenly;" and expected in due time to arrive at "a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Many women also who were tortured by the most ingenious cruelty even unto death, yet declined accepting deliverance upon dishonorable terms, that they might be accounted worthy to obtain a better resurrection. Paul too, that bright pattern of all virtues, assigns this as the reason why he did not faint under his unparalleled afflictions: "his outward man decayed; but his inward man was renewed day by day," and his afflictions appeared to him light and momentary, because he looked from the vanities of time and sense to the invisible realities of eternity.
Thus shall our trials rather confirm, than weaken, our hope, provided it be scriptural and genuine: "our tribulation shall work patience; our patience, experience; and our experience, hope."
Once more: true faith will bring us victorious through our conflicts. The Lord Jesus Christ himself in this respect fully verified the prophecies respecting him; and set us an example, which it is our privilege to follow. The Prophet Isaiah represents Jesus as speaking in these triumphant strains: "The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifies me; who shall contend with me? let us stand together; who is my adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he who shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall cat them up." Thus will hope enable us also to anticipate the victory, while yet we are fighting on the field of battle: through it, we may defy all the powers of earth or Hell ever to "separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus," Yes, such "an anchor shall it be to our souls," that we shall be steadfast in the midst of this tempestuous world, and be enabled to outride the storm, which causes many to "make shipwreck of their faith," and ultimately sinks them to everlasting perdition.
Let me then entreat you, first, to get this helmet. Be not satisfied with a delusive hope that will fail you in the day of necessity; but bring it to the trial: see whether it be able to endure the assaults of your adversary: compare it with the description which God himself gives of that which is true and saving. Look well to it that it be not self-righteous, presumptuous, or hypocritical. Be well assured that it is of heavenly temper: and let daily experience show, that it enables you to "lift up your head above all your enemies," whether outward or inward, terrestrial or infernal. Think with yourselves, how awful it would be to find, either in the hour of death or in the day of judgment, that you had deceived yourselves with some phantom of your own imagination, and formed expectations of happiness that cannot be realized. O do not expose yourselves to such a dreadful disappointment. Remember the fate of the foolish virgins: they hoped that their lamp of profession would suffice, though they were destitute of the oil whereby alone they could make their light to shine. Through this they perished, as thousands of others have done, by resting in their religious privileges, or their outward conformity to the Divine will, when they had not the inward principle of renewing, sanctifying grace. But let it not be so with you. "Judge yourselves, that you may not be judged of the Lord." And beg of God to give you that "hope that shall never make yon ashamed."
Next, we would urge you to keep on this helmet in all your conflicts. Constant will be Satan's endeavors to deprive you of it; and great his triumph if he succeed. Above all things, be careful that you "cast not away your confidence, but hold fast the rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end." If at any time you begin to be distracted with doubts and fears, instantly check yourselves as David did; "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? hope you in God."
Though you are to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," you must "not run as uncertainly, or fight as one that beats the air," you must remember who is engaged for your support; and that "he is faithful who has promised." It is true, "you have need of patience, that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise," but "if you hope for that you see not, such a hope implies, that you will with patience wait for it." James proposes to you the examples of the gardener: "Behold," says he, "the gardener waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain. Be also patient: establish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draws near;" and then shall your confidence be richly rewarded. "Gird up then the loins of your mind; be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that shall be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." This is the way, the sure way, to conquer. "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; knowing assuredly, that your labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."
Lastly, let that which is your defense, be also your ornament. There is not a more ornamental part of the soldier's armor, than the helmet. Nor is there anything that more adorns the Christian, than a lively, steadfast, and consistent hope. In the exercise of hope, he stands, as it were, on the top of Pisgah, and surveys the land of promise, the land that flows with milk and honey. He longs to leave this dreary wilderness, and to "enter into the joy of his Lord." Knowing that "when his earthly tabernacle shall be dissolved, he has a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, he groans, earnestly desiring that mortality may be swallowed up of life's." If he had crowns and kingdoms in his possession, still he would account it "far better to depart and to be with Christ." He is "looking for, and hastening to, the coming of the day of Christ;" and thus has "his conversation in Heaven," while yet he remains a sojourner upon earth. View the Christian in this frame, and confess, that the sun shining in his meridian strength, glorious as it is, "has no glory, by reason of the Christian's glory that excels." This, this, Christians, is the state in which you ought to live. Were you more habitually in this frame, your years of warfare would seem as nothing, for the greatness of the prize for which you contend. You can scarcely conceive what an energy such a frame would give to your souls. You would soon come to Jesus with joy and wonder, like his Disciples of old, saying, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through your name," and he in return would increase your confidence by saying, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven. Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." Do but consider, how weak will Satan's temptations be, when you thus abound in hope! how little will anything be able to move you, when you are thus, by joyful anticipation, "sitting already with Christ in heavenly places!" Beloved brethren, this is your perfection: "you will come behind in no gift, when you are thus waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus." Whatever you have to do, you will do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance." May God enable you thus to live, until faith shall be lost in sight, and hope be consummated in enjoyment!
The Christian's Sword
Ephesians 6:17. Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
THE Christian's warfare is principally of the defensive kind; yet not so entirely, but that he must follow up the advantages which he has at any time gained, and seek the utter destruction of those enemies which infest his soul: after sustaining their assaults, he must himself become the assailant; having resisted the world and sin, he must proceed to overcome, condemn, and crucify them; and having withstood Satan, he must go on to "bruise him under his feet." That he may be enabled to carry this into effect, God has provided for him an offensive weapon, which, if skillfully used, shall accomplish the ruin of all his enemies. To the consideration of this we are led by the text; in elucidating which we shall notice,
I. The description given of the Christian's sword.
II. Its usefulness to him in all his combats.
I. Let us notice the description given of the Christian's sword.
What the sword is to a warrior, that the Scriptures are to a child of God; they enable him to inflict a deadly wound on his adversaries, and to subdue them before him.
Now the appellation here given to the Scriptures is deserving of particular attention. They are called, "the word of God," and "the sword of the Spirit."
They are called with great propriety, "the word of God;" first, because they were inspired by him. They were indeed written by men; but men were only the agents and instruments that God made use of: they wrote only what God by his Spirit dictated to them: so that, in reality, the whole Scripture was as much written by the finger of God, as the laws were, which he inscribed on two tables of stone, and delivered to his servant Moses. And to this the Scriptures themselves bear witness; for in them it is said, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;" and again, "Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
But they are called the word of God, not merely as being inspired by him, but also as being a revelation of his mind and will to man. In them his eternal counsels are opened to the world. In them he has declared in what way he will be reconciled to his offending creatures. In them he has displayed all the riches of his grace; and exhibited all his perfections as united and glorified in the person of Christ. In short, whatever could lead to the establishment of truth, or the refutation of error, to the correction of sin, or the promotion of righteousness, all is contained in that inspired volume, in which there is nothing superfluous, nothing defective: which therefore may be wholly, and exclusively, called, "the word of God."
But there is yet another, and a very important, ground of this appellation, namely, that the Scriptures are the voice of God to every individual of mankind. It is thought by some, that the Scriptures are a mere record of transactions that passed many hundred years ago; and that, however true and authentic they may be, they are no otherwise interesting to us, than as matters of curiosity and pleasing instruction. Even the epistles are supposed to relate only to the particular Churches to which they were written: and thus the use of the Scriptures with respect to ourselves is wholly superseded. But we are abundantly guarded against this fatal error by the application which the inspired writers themselves make of numerous passages, which at first sight appear to be as remote from us as any in the Bible. Let us select a few, that will place this matter in its true light. First, take an historical fact. A contention arose in Abraham's family. His child by Hagar mocked and insulted the child which he had by Sarah. Sarah took part with her son; and desired that Hagar, with her son Ishmael, should be cast out, and no longer be suffered to dwell in Abraham's house. Now what could the children's quarrels, and the mother's revenge, have to do with us? The Apostle tells us, that the casting out of the bond-woman and her son was intended to show, that they who were yet in bondage to the law, should not have any part in the inheritance of those who were made free by the Gospel. Next, take an occasional declaration. Abraham had exercised faith in God; and God declared, that his faith should be counted to him for righteousness. In what respect, it may be asked, can this apply to us? We answer with Paul, that this declaration was recorded, not for Abraham's sake alone, but for ours; to inform us, that the way of justification before God was, not by works, but by faith only. Next, take a personal promise. God, who had commissioned Joshua to destroy the Canaanites, told him that he would not leave him, nor forsake him in this arduous attempt. Would any one conceive, that that promise had any respect to us? Yet it had; and, in dependence upon it, every believer may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me." Lastly, take as insignificant an ordinance as any that is to be found in all the Mosaic ritual; "You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn." Now the utmost that this might be supposed to teach us, is, mercy to our beasts. But it had a further reference: God's concern was, not for oxen, but for us; and this ordinance was intended to declare, that all who serve at the altar, should live of the altar.
Let this suffice to illustrate the point in hand. You see from an historical fact, an occasional declaration, a personal promise, and an insignificant ordinance, that whatever the Scripture speaks, it speaks to us. There is not a precept which is not as binding upon us as on those to whom it was delivered: there is not a threatening, at which we have not cause to tremble; nor a promise, on which we are not warranted to rely, if only we believe in Jesus Christ.
We come now to notice that other appellation given to the Scriptures, "the sword of the Spirit." In a variety of views this description of them is just and appropriate.
It is by the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit speaks to men. He did indeed in the early ages of the world enlighten men by dreams and visions; but since the publication of the written word, and especially since the completion of the sacred canon, he has called men to the law and to the testimony; "they have Moses and the prophets," says our Lord, "let them hear them," and again, "Search the Scriptures; for in them you have eternal life." We do not say indeed, that the Holy Spirit never uses any other means of quickening or comforting the souls of men: but the Scriptures are the means by which he usually works; nor does he ever work at all, but in a perfect conformity to them.
The Scriptures are further called the sword of the Spirit, because they derive all their power from, the Spirit. In themselves, they are like a sword sheathed, and lying upon the ground: they are a dead letter: they convey no spiritual light: they impart no spiritual energy: they carry with them neither conviction, nor consolation: whether read or preached, they are equally without effect. Paul was conversant with the Scriptures before his conversion; but could not see in them that Jesus was the Christ; nor could he learn from them the temper and disposition of a child of God. The ministry of Christ was attended with but small success: nor did the number of those who were converted by the Apostles, bear any proportion to that of those who rejected their message: and, in the instances wherein they did succeed, the success was "not owing to Paul who planted, or to Apollos who watered, but to God who gave the increase." The word then only came with any beneficial influence, when it came, not in word only, "but in the Holy Spirit," and "in demonstration of the Spirit's power," and Lydia would have remained as unconcerned as others, if "the Lord had not opened her heart to attend to the things that were spoken."
But there is yet another reason why the Scriptures are called the sword of the Spirit; namely, that by them he has wrought the most stupendous miracles in the conversion of men. They are indeed, "the rod of his strength;" and have effected far greater miracles than ever the rod of Moses did. By them he has changed the hearts of men instantaneously, thoroughly, abidingly. By them, in the space of one hour, he transformed three thousand murderers into the very image of their God. In his hands, "the word was quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword: it pierced even to the dividing of the joints and marrow: it laid open the inmost thoughts of men," and "through God it is still mighty to destroy the strong-holds" of sin and Satan: and when "it shall have free course and be glorified in the world," when he shall "gird it on his thigh, and ride on prosperously" in his career, it shall be "very sharp in the heart of the king's enemies," and all nations shall be subdued unto the obedience of faith.
This is the weapon with which the Christian is armed; and with which he shall conquer. To the eye of sense, indeed, he goes forth only like David, with his sling and a stone against Goliath: but, like him, "he shall be strong, and do exploits." With this he is "thoroughly furnished unto all good works;" "nor shall any of his enemies be able to stand before him."
To illustrate the virtues of this sword, we shall proceed to show,
II. Its usefulness to him in all his combats.
It is needless to make any remarks on the utility of a sword in general, since every one must of necessity be well acquainted with it. But the particular manner in which the Scriptures answer the end of a sword to the Christian, is not so obvious. We may well therefore examine this point with care and accuracy, in order that we ourselves may be enabled to "handle the weapon"provided for us, and use it with dexterity and success.
The Christian's enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil. And the Scripture enables him to defeat them: first, by its clear directions. Does the flesh plead for any unhallowed indulgence? the Scripture says, "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." Does the world solicit his embrace? the Scripture says again, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." Does Satan exert his wiles in order to deceive? the Scripture says, "Him resist." And it is worthy of remark, that it was by means of the directions of Scripture that our Savior himself vanquished his wicked adversary. Did Satan recommend him to turn stones into bread for his support? he answered, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." Did Satan then urge him to cast himself down from a pinnacle of the temple with an assurance of miraculous preservation? he replied again, "It is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God." Did Satan once more assault him with solicitations to fall down and worship him? he smote the fiend yet a third time with the same irresistible weapon: "It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve." Thus Jesus conquered: and thus his people in all ages have subdued their enemies. David tells us whence his success arose: "I have hid your word within me, that I might not sin against you," and, "By the word of your lips, I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer." To us also be recommends an adoption of the same plan; "With which shall a young man cleanse his way? even by taking heed thereto according to your word."
The Scripture aids us, in the next place, by its powerful motives. As for all the motives that reason can suggest, the experience of all ages has proved them weak and inefficient. But the Scripture sets before us the happiness of Heaven and the misery of Hell: and thus with irresistible efficacy addresses itself to our hopes and fears. "He who overcomes shall inherit all things," says the Lord; "but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him: he draws back unto perdition." When an enemy would allure us by the prospect of pleasure, or alarm us by the apprehension of suffering, with what indignation shall we spurn him from us, if we advert for one moment to the concerns of eternity! Shall I forego the blessedness of Heaven for a momentary gratification? Shall I consign myself over to all the torments of Hell rather than endure some momentary evil? What if the acquisition be ever so precious; or the loss be ever so severe? had I not better pluck out a right eye, or cut off a right hand, than be cast into hell-fire for retaining them? "Depart then from me, all you wicked; I will keep the commandments of my God."
There is yet another motive that operates more strongly on an sincere soul than either the hope of Heaven, or the fear of Hell: I mean, a concern for the Divine glory. 'Has God committed to me such a sacred trust? Is the honor of God himself dependent upon my conduct? Will my fall occasion "his name to be blasphemed;" and my stability be the means of exalting his glory? How then shall I give way to the tempter? how shall I so violate my obligations to God, and bring dishonor upon him, whom I ought to love and serve with my whole heart?' Many of God's saints have found this a counterpoise to the strongest temptations: and it is obvious that these considerations united together, are well calculated to defeat our enemies, and to secure us a decisive victory over all.
The Scripture gives us a further advantage over our enemies by means of its rich encouragements. Not to mention the eternal rewards that have been just adverted to, the Scripture promises that God will be with us in every conflict, and beat down our adversaries before our face. "Fear not," says he, "for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you by the right hand of my righteousness." "Fear not, you worm Jacob, for you shall thresh the mountains." Now what can withstand a man that is armed with such promises as these? What can oppose any effectual obstacle in his way? Are his enemies numerous? He says, "They are more that are with me, than they that are against me." Does he feel himself weak? he says, "God will perfect his own strength in my weakness." Under these circumstances he is like to Gideon, when going against the confederate hosts of Midian and Amalek. God had promised him the victory even without the intervention of a human arm: this promise he had confirmed by repeated signs, and even by an attestation from the enemy themselves. In dependence on God, he surrounded their camp with his little band of three hundred men; and, with no other weapons than a pitcher, a lamp, and a trumpet, gained the most signal victory. So the Christian, "encouraging himself in his God," and depending on his promised aid, goes forth with power and effect. The very end for which such "great and precious promises were given him was, that by them he might be a partaker of the divine natured;" and he does improve them to this end; and finds that by means of them he is enabled to "cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God."
The last advantage which we shall mention as derived from the Scripture, is that which it affords us by means of its instructive examples. How can any one relax his determination to destroy sin, when he contemplates the destruction which sin has brought on those who yielded to its baneful influence? When he reflects on the doom of the apostate angels, or on the deluge that overwhelmed the world, or on the fire and brimstone that consumed the cities of the plain, can he trifle with that which has so greatly provoked the Majesty of Heaven? If it be to despondency that he is urged by Satan, will he not repel the tempter instantly, as soon as he recollects the character of thousands who have found acceptance with God? Can he despair, that considers for one moment the case of David, of Manasseh, of the dying thief? Can he despair, who sees the persecuting Saul arrested in his career; or who reads the catalogue of crimes of which the Corinthian converts had been guilty? It may be that he is induced to think there is something peculiar in his case, which justifies in an extra-ordinary degree his desponding fears. But when he hears, that "no temptation can take him but that which is common to man," and then surveys that cloud of witnesses who were once conflicting like himself, but are now in Heaven attesting the power and faithfulness of a redeeming God, he cannot but say, "Get you behind me, Satan," "you were a liar, and a murderer, from the beginning," and shall I credit your lies to the disparagement of my God?
In this way it was that the saints of old triumphed: "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Are you not it that has cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Are you not it which has dried the sea, the waters of the great deep, that has made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? (Now mark the inference)—Therefore the redeemed of the Lord (and we among them) shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away." A completer triumph than this cannot possibly be conceived. Yet thus will the Scripture enable us to triumph, if we duly mark the examples which it sets before us.
In concluding this subject, we would impress upon your mind two important reflections.
First, How thankful should we be for the Holy Scriptures! One of the greatest advantages that the Jews possessed above the Gentile world, was, that to them had been committed the oracles of God. This advantage we enjoy in a still higher degree; inasmuch as we have the light of the New Testament in addition to that of the Old. To judge properly respecting this, we should put ourselves in the situation of unenlightened heathens. They are all "led captive by the devil at his will," and no wonder, since they see no means of escape from his assaults, or of resistance to his power. But we, if it be not utterly our own fault, are asserting our liberty, and victoriously contending with him. Even those who are far from having attained their full growth, if only they are skilled in exercising this potent weapon, "have overcome the wicked one." Let then the Scriptures be precious to us, "sweeter than honey, and the honeycomb," and "dearer than our necessary food." Let "our meditation be in them day and nights," let them be "a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths." Let them on all occasions be "our delight and our counselors." Then may we be assured that they shall be "the power of God to our salvation," for God's promise to Joshua is, in fact, addressed to every one of us; "This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do all that is written therein; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success."
Next it may be observed, How earnestly should we seek the influences of the Holy Spirit! Many, instead of handling the sword for the subjugating of their enemies, are really using it in their defense: they draw from the Scriptures only what shall appear to countenance their lusts and errors; and thus "wrest them," as the Apostle says, "to their own destruction." And if "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation be not given to us," to guide us into all truth, we shall derive no greater benefit from the sacred volume than they. We may perhaps adopt the sentiments contained in it; but we shall never experience its power to transform the soul, until "the Spirit of God write it on the fleshly tables of our hearts." It is "the Lord alone that gives wisdom; and therefore, while we search the Scriptures as for hid treasures, we must also lift up our voice to him in prayer for knowledge and understanding." Let us look then to the Savior, "out of whose mouth goes a two-edged sword," even to him who is "the Captain of the Lord's host;" and beg, that he would both use that sword to slay the enmity of our hearts, and enable us also to wield the same for the destruction of our enemies. Let us pray that "the arms of our hands may be made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob." And let us go forth, like David, "not with carnal weapons, as a sword, and a spear, and a shield, but in the name of the Lord God of hosts." Then shall we "smite our enemies until the sword even cleave to our hands;" and we shall experience, in its fullest extent, the import of that significant question, "Do not my words do good to him that walks uprightly?"
The Importance of Prayer
Ephesians 6:18. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance, and supplication for all saints.
IT is graciously ordained of God that none of his creatures should be independent of him: however richly they may be furnished with either gifts or graces, they are under the necessity of receiving continual supplies from him, and of acknowledging him, from day to day, as the one source of all their benefits. Hence, in addition to the armor with which the Christian is arrayed from head to foot, it is necessary that he wait upon God in prayer, agreeably to the direction given him in the text.
To enter into the full meaning of the Apostle's words, as connected with the foregoing context, it will be proper to show,
I. The aspect which prayer in general bears on the Christian warfare.
II. The particular kind of prayer that will ensure to us the victory.
I. In considering the aspect which prayer in general bears on the Christian warfare, it should be noticed, that prayer is the medium of communication between God and man: it is that whereby man ascends to God, and makes known to him his wants, and gains from him whatever he stands in need of.
It is by prayer that we must obtain the armor provided for us. No one part of the divine panoply can be formed by an arm of flesh: from the first infusion of faith and hope into the soul, to the perfect transformation of the soul into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness, all is of God. He is the only "giver of every good and perfect gift," and all his children in all ages have acknowledged their obligations to him in this view. The evangelical prophet confesses, "You have wrought all our works in us;" and to the same effect the great Apostle of the Gentiles speaks; "He who has wrought us to the self-same thing is God." But how must this armor be obtained from God? Hear his own direction: "Ask, and you shall have; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Desirous as he is to impart to us all spiritual blessings, "he yet will be inquired of by us," that he may bestow them on us as the reward of importunity. Not that he needs to be informed of our wants, for "he knows what things we have need of before we ask;" nor needs he to be prevailed upon by the urgency of our requests; for he is far more ready to give than we are to ask, and he stirs us up to ask, because he had before determined to give: but there is a propriety in this divine appointment: it necessitates us not only to feel our wants, but to confess our inability to relieve ourselves: it compels us to acknowledge God as the one source of blessedness to man, and to adore him for everything we receive at his hands. It cuts off from us all possible occasion of glorying; and obliges us, when most completely armed, to say, "By the grace of God I am what I am."
Again; It is by prayer that We must learn how to use this armor aright. Men are disciplined to the use of arms: it is not deemed sufficient to clothe them with armor; they must also be taught how to guard themselves against the assaults of their adversary, and at the same time to inflict on him a deadly wound. Such instruction must the Christian receive from God. If he "lean to his own understanding," he will as surely be foiled, as if he trust in his own strength, or go unarmed to the field of battle. Many are the devices of the wicked one, of which the uninstructed Christian cannot be aware. He alone, "to whom all things are naked and open," knows his plots, or can put us sufficiently on our guard against them. He alone can tell us when, and where, and how to strike. With him alone is that "wisdom that is profitable to direct." But if we call upon him, "he will guide us by his counsel," he will "give us a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of might, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and will make us quick of understanding in the fear of the Lord." He will inform us of the designs of our enemy, and show us how to counteract them. And though in ourselves we be "unskillful in the word of righteousness," yet will he "give us the tongue of the learned," and the arm of the mighty: he will fight in us, as well as for us;" and will give us reason to adopt the grateful acknowledgments of that renowned warrior, "Blessed be the Lord, my strength, who teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight." Still, however, must this be sought of him in prayer. His promise is suspended on this condition, that we pray to him for the performance of it: on our fulfilling this duty, he will interpose; "he will be very gracious unto us at the voice of our cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer us," and then it is that "our ears shall hear a voice behind us, saying, This is the way, walk you in it." We must first "acknowledge him, and then he will direct our paths."
Once more—It is by prayer that we must bring down the Divine blessing on our endeavors. Many noble purposes are formed in the minds of unregenerate men, which yet are "as the grass that grows on the house-tops, with which the mower fills not his arms, neither he who binds up the sheaves, his bosom." Nor is it any wonder that those efforts should be blasted, which are undertaken without a reference to God, and which, if they succeeded, would confirm men in a conceit of their own sufficiency. God is a jealous God: and "his glory will he not give to another." Hence he is interested, as it were, in disconcerting the plans of those who disregard him, and in prospering the concerns of those who humbly implore his aid. Agreeably to this, we find in the sacred records that the most powerful armaments, and best concerted projects, have been defeated, when God was not acknowledged; and that the weaker have triumphed gloriously, when they sought the Divine favor and protection. In one instance more particularly we see the prayer of faith blended with human exertions: and it was made manifest, for the instruction of that and all future generations, that, whatever means God himself might use, prayer was the most powerful of all weapons. When the hands of Moses hanged down through weariness, Amalek prevailed over Israel; but when he held up his hands, Israel prevailed over Amalek; so that, in fact, it was the prayer of Moses, rather than the sword of Joshua, that gained the victory. It is in this way also that we must vanquish our spiritual enemies. We must fight against them indeed, and seek their utter destruction; but our reliance must be altogether upon God, whose blessing we must obtain in a way of prayer. In vain shall we attempt to combat Satan in any other way. He laughs at an arm of flesh; and yields to Omnipotence alone. To him may be justly applied that lofty description of Leviathan; "Can you fill his skin with barbed irons, or his head with fish-spears? Behold, the hope of him is vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. His heart is as firm as a stone, yes, as hard as a piece of the nether mill-stone. The sword of him that lays at him cannot hold, the spear, nor the dart. He esteems iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. Darts are counted by him as stubble; he laughs at the shaking of the spear. He is king over all the children of pride." But prayer he cannot withstand; the man who fights upon his knees is sure to vanquish him: and the weakest Christian in the universe, if he has but a heart to pray, may say with David, "I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and so shall I be saved from my enemies."
To prevent mistakes, however, it will be proper to show,
II. What kind of prayer that is that will secure to us the victory.
Much that is called prayer is utterly unworthy of that sacred name. That which alone will prevail to the extent of our necessities, must be comprehensive, spiritual, persevering.
It must, in the first place, be comprehensive. In the text, mention is made of supplication, and of intercession: both of which are necessary in their season. Of supplications, there are some stated, such as those which we offer regularly in the Church, the family, and the closet; others are occasional; and are presented to God at those intervals, when any particular occurrence, whether prosperous or adverse, renders it necessary to obtain some special interposition of the Deity. Intercessions are those prayers which we offer for others; and which are intended to bring down blessings either on the world at large (for God commands "intercession to be made for all men, and more especially for kings, and all that are in authority") or on the saints in particular, with whom we have a common interest; and among whom, as among soldiers in the same army, there should exist a solicitude to promote to the uttermost each other's safety and welfare.
Now it is by a regular application to God, in all these ways, that we are to procure from Heaven those seasonable supplies which we stand in need of. Respecting the customary devotions of the closet, both in the morning and the evening, corresponding to the sacrifices that were daily offered to God under the Mosaic law, there can be no doubt. A man who neglects them has no pretension to the Christian name. Instead of being in a state of friendship with God, he must rather be numbered among his enemies; for the very description given of his enemies is, that they call not upon God; whereas the character of his friends is, that "they are a people near unto him." Nor is it less necessary that we should worship God in our families: for, as we have family wants, and family mercies, it is proper that we should "offer the sacrifices of prayer and praise" in conceit with our families. Abraham is commended for his attention to the religious concerns of his family: and Joshua's noble resolution to maintain, both in his own soul and in his family, the worship of the true God, clearly shows, how important this part of a Christian's duty was considered among the saints of old. Nor can any expect the blessing of God upon their families, who will not unite with them in acknowledging the mercies they have already received. As for the public worship of God, none who have any regard for God's honor in the world can possibly neglect it.
The importance of occasional prayer may perhaps be not so clearly seen. But are there not frequent occasions when we need in a more especial manner the assistance of God? If anything have occurred that is gratifying to flesh and blood, do we not need to call upon God for grace, that we may not, Jeshurun like, "wax fat, and kick" against our heavenly Benefactor? If, on the contrary, we are suddenly involved in any afflictive circumstances, do we not need to implore help from God, in order that we may bear with patience his paternal chastisements, and that the trial may be sanctified to our eternal good? Sometimes indeed the seasons occur so instantaneously, that we have no time or opportunity for a long address to God: but then we might lift up our hearts in an ejaculatory petition; and in one short moment obtain from God the support we require. Look at the saints of old, and see how they prospered by a sudden elevation of their souls to God: David, by one short prayer, "Lord, turn the counsels of Ahithophel into foolishness," defeated the crafty advice he gave to Absalom: and caused him, through chagrin, to put a period to his own existence. Jehoshaphat, by a single cry, turned back his pursuers, who, if God had not instantly interposed on his behalf, would have overtaken and destroyed him. Nehemiah, by a silent lifting up of his soul to God, obtained success to the petition which he was about to offer to his royal master. Thus we should blunt the edge of many temptations, and defeat innumerable machinations of Satan, if we habituated ourselves on all occasions to make known our requests to God. Nor would prayer be less successful, if offered for others. Who can behold Moses repeatedly arresting the hand of justice, and averting the wrath of God from the whole Jewish nation; or contemplate Peter's deliverance from prison on the night preceding his intended execution, effected as it was in a way that appeared incredible even to the very people who had been praying for it, and not confess the efficacy of intercession, whether of people for their minister, or of ministers for their people? Indeed we need no other instance than that of Abraham's intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah, to convince us, that it is our most glorious privilege to "pray one for another;" and that in neglecting this duty, we "sin against God," and against our brethren, and against our own souls.
Such then must be our prayers, if we would be "good soldiers of Jesus Christ," or exert ourselves with effect against our great adversary.
In the next place, our prayer must be spiritual. Were our devotions multiplied in ever so great a degree, they would be of no avail, unless they came from the heart, and were offered up "through the power of the Holy Spirit." God has warned us, that "they who draw near to him with their lips while their hearts are far from him, worship him in vain." Indeed how can we imagine that God should regard a mere repetition of words, when we ourselves should reject with indignation a petition offered to ourselves in a similar manner? Our "supplications must be in the Spirit," or, as Jude expresses it, "in the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit must teach us what to pray for, and must assist our infirmities in praying for it, quickening our desires after God, emboldening us to draw near to him with filial confidence, and enabling us to expect at his hands an answer of peace. As there is but one Mediator through whom we can have access to God, so there is only one Spirit by whom we can approach him. But we need not on this account be discouraged: for the Spirit is promised to us for these ends; and in whoever he is "a Spirit of grace, he will be also a Spirit of supplication."
Lastly, our prayer must also be persevering: we must pray "always, watching thereunto with all perseverance." It is by no means sufficient that we pray to God, as too many do, just under the pressure of some heavy affliction, or be fervent for a time, and then relapse again into our former coldness and formality. We must be "instant in prayer," "stirring up our souls to lay hold on God," and "wrestling with him," like Jacob, until we obtain his blessing. There is a holy importunity which we are to use, like that of the Canaanite woman, or that of the two blind men, who became more urgent in proportion as others strove to repress their ardor. And because Satan will do all in his power to divert us from this course, we must watch against his devices with all possible care, and persevere in it without fainting, even to the end. If we notice our frames at the returning seasons of prayer, we shall perceive that there is often a most unaccountable backwardness to this duty. Any concern, however trifling, will appear a sufficient reason for delaying it, until, from weariness of body or indisposition of mind, we are induced to omit it altogether, or perhaps we fall asleep in the midst of it. We sometimes think in the evening, that we shall be fitter for it in the morning; and then in the morning we expect a more convenient season at noon-day; and at noon-day we look forward with a hope of performing our duty to more advantage in the evening; and thus we deceive ourselves with delays, and rob our souls of the benefits which God would bestow upon them. But who ever found himself the more ready for prayer on account of his having neglected it the preceding day? Do not such neglects "grieve the Holy Spirit," and increase, rather than diminish, our indisposition for prayer? Most assuredly they do: and therefore we should "watch" against all excuses, all neglects, all formality; and "persevere" in a steady, uniform, and conscientious performance of this duty. It is not necessary indeed that we should at all times occupy the same space of time in our devotions; for "we shall not be heard for our much speaking;" but we should endeavor at all times to maintain a spirituality of mind in this duty, and improve in a more particular manner those seasons, when God stretches out to us, as it were, his golden scepter, and admits us to a more than ordinary "fellowship with himself and with his Son Jesus Christ."
We shall conclude this interesting subject with an address,
1. To those who neglect prayer.
What easier terms could God have prescribed, than those on which he has suspended the communication of his blessings? or what could you yourselves have dictated to him more favorable than that condition, "Ask, and you shall have?" Do but consider, what will be your reflections as soon as ever you enter into the invisible world! When you see the door of mercy forever shut, and begin to feel the judgments which you would not deprecate, how will you lament, and even curse, your folly in neglecting prayer! When you call to mind, that Heaven with all its glory was open to you, and you had nothing to do but to ask for it at the hands of God, you would not give yourselves the trouble to call upon him! what can you expect, but that the threatening, already recorded for your instruction, shall be executed upon you; "Because I called, and you refused, I stretched out my hand, and you regarded me not; but you set at nothing all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear comes: when your fear comes as a desolation, and your destruction comes as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish comes upon you. Then shall you call upon me, but I will not answer; you shall seek me early, but you shall not find me; for that you hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: therefore shall you eat of the fruit of your own way, and be filled with your own devices." O let not this awful period arrive! "Arise, you sleepers, and call upon your God." Is not Heaven worth asking for? Is it not worth your while to escape the miseries of Hell? What if diligence and self-denial be necessary; will not the prize repay the labors of the contest? Perhaps you are saying in your hearts, that you will begin to pray at some future, and more convenient, season: but dream not of a more convenient season, lest that season never arrive. Procrastination is the ruin of thousands, and of millions. It is Satan's grand device for keeping you from God. Should he tempt you to say, "I will never pray at all," he knows you would revolt at the idea; and therefore he prompts you only to defer it in hopes of finding your mind better disposed to the employment on some future day. But let him not deceive you. Delay not a single hour. Yes, at this very moment lift up that ejaculatory petition, "Lord, teach us to pray," and embrace the first moment to begin that work, which if prosecuted with fervor and perseverance, shall issue in present peace, and everlasting triumphs.
2. To those who are daily waiting upon their God, we would also address a few words.
That you find much cause for humiliation in your secret walk with God, is highly probable: for though nothing would be easier than prayer, if you were altogether spiritual, the remaining carnality of your hearts renders it inexpressibly difficult. Nor can we doubt but that Satan labors to the uttermost to increase your discouragements, both by distracting your minds in prayer, and by insinuating, that your labor will be in vain. And too often are you inclined perhaps to credit his suggestions, and to say, like the unbelieving Jews, "What profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" he will not hear: "he has shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure." But rest assured that he will not suffer you to seek his face in vain. His answers may be delayed; but they shall come in the best time. You have only to wait; and the vision, though it may tarry for a season, will not ultimately disappoint you. Sooner or later, "God will assuredly avenge his own elect." There is no situation so desperate but prayer will relieve us from it: no object is so far beyond the reach of human influence, but prayer will attain if. The efficacy of prayer is as unlimited as Omnipotence itself, because it will bring Omnipotence to our aid.
But some are ready to say, "I have prayed, and earnestly too; and yet have obtained no answer to my prayer." It may be so; because you have "asked amiss;" or because the time for answering it is not yet arrived. But it often happens, that persons think their prayers are cast out, when they have indeed received an answer to them, yes, the best answer that could have been given to them. Perhaps, like Paul, they have prayed against a thorn in their flesh; and, instead of having it removed, have received strength to bear it, and grace to improve it to their spiritual good. But is this no answer to their prayer? Is it not the best that could possibly be given? A trial may be removed in wrath; but it cannot be sanctified from any other principle than love. The removal of it may produce present ease; but its sanctified operations will ensure and enhance our everlasting felicity.
Let us then "tarry the Lord's leisure, and be strong," knowing that the prayer of faith can never go forth in vain; nor can a praying soul ever perish. Let us "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make our requests known unto God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."