Before entering upon the subject of ministerial gifts, which is brought before us later on in the chapter, the Holy Ghost dwells upon the unity that belongs to the saints of God in Christ now. It was necessary that this should be laid down as a grand platform upon and in connection with which ministry takes its course. For ministry rather brings into prominence individual members of Christ and not so much the entire body. For although it is a common statement that the Church teaches, it is really and entirely unfounded. Indeed the notion leads to the pretence of infallibility; and this finds its most open expression in Romanism. The truth is, the Church never teaches, but, on the contrary, is the body that is taught. There is no such thing as a body that teaches. The Church, no doubt, contains within itself the husbandmen that are employed of the Lord; but itself is God's husbandry, or the scene on which God labours to produce fruit unto Himself. This is an important truth practically; because it destroys all pretension on the Church's part to create or even define doctrines. The Church is called to be the pillar and ground of the truth; it is bound to take care by holy discipline that nothing contrary to the truth should be tolerated within it: God's assembly cannot relieve itself from this responsibility. But while this attaches to the entire christian community, that it should be that body which on earth holds out the truth before men and within which we must come if the truth, having been believed, is to be acted on at all; yet the way in which God has been pleased to work for the spread of His truth upon consciences is by individual members of His Church who are qualified for this particular purpose. Power to teach depends upon the gift conferred by sovereign grace. It is no question of an abstract right that any man can teach or preach if he likes. There is no such license in the Church of God. The Lord Jesus has a right to call and to communicate power in the Holy Ghost as He pleases. The Church is not a society of men who hold particular views on this or that: still less is it the gathering into one of the world. It is the assembly of God, of those He calls and wherein He dwells. And as this is true with regard to the whole - that it all belongs to God - that it is God who forms, and guards it, and maintains His own holiness and glory in it, so is it in respect of ministry, which is one very important function that is maintained in particular members of the Church. That is, there is the unity which the believers now have in Christ Jesus by virtue of which there is the assembly of God - the common unity of blessing in which all believers now stand and which is the groundwork, if I may so say, of everything. But in connection with it you have ministry at work, which pertains to particular members rather than to the whole Church. The gifts are in and of some for the good of all.
This divides the earlier portion into two parts. In the opening verses, to the end of verse 6, we find rather the unity of the Spirit; from verse 7 the diversity of the members of Christ. First of all, observe that the Holy Ghost has brought us now to the ground of exhortation. We have doctrine in the first three chapters; now we come to practice. "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." This vocation consists of two parts more particularly. First, the saints, all who know the Lord Jesus now, compose one body in Him; secondly, they are the habitation of God through the Spirit. Thus, although the assembly of God is a body existing upon earth, yet it is founded upon heavenly privileges, the body of Christ showing us our corporate blessedness, the habitation of God through the Spirit rather bringing before us our responsibility as having God dwelling in the midst of us. It is too clear that these two things are very feebly entered into even by true children of God. When they hear of the body of Christ, the idea is scarcely more than that they are forgiven, are children of God, and are going to heaven. How very little all this is a measure of what is implied in the body of Christ! Many true believers suppose it to mean the aggregate of those who are reconciled to God - the objects of His favour who are not left to die in their sins. But one might have all these privileges without any of the characteristic features of Christ's body, or God's habitation through the Spirit. It would have been quite possible, if God had been so pleased to order it, that Christians should have been children of God, conscious of their redemption, knowing their sonship, fully expecting to be glorified with Christ in heaven, and yet never have been joined together as one body in Christ, with God dwelling among them by a special presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. This was a superadded privilege over and above redemption through the blood of Christ. And this is so true, that if you search all the Old Testament through, you will find that never are the saints of God spoken of there as members of Christ's body, the habitation of God through the Spirit.
But more than that. The prophets are full of a glorious scene yet to be enacted on this earth, when the Lord will put down Satan's power. There is a time coming when evil will no longer be permitted to go unpunished, nor good to suffer here below; and when that day comes, Scripture is plain that although God will have a people for Himself upon earth, they will not be joined together as one body, nor will they form His habitation through the Spirit. It is between the two advents of Christ, between the grace which has appeared, and the glory which is going to appear (Tit_2:11-13,) that we hear of the special vocation wherewith we are called. For let us consider what the body of Christ is - His body, of course, I mean, not as predicated of Himself personally, but as composed of and applied to those who believe in Christ now, that spiritual corporation to which belong all true saints of God now found upon the earth and ever since Pentecost. What are the blessings which constitute it? What does the Holy Ghost mean by membership of this body? I answer, the cross, being the witness and expression of the guilt of the Jews more especially (the guilt, doubtless, of all men in general, but pre-eminently of the Jews), gave occasion for God to dissolve completely, for the time being, the peculiar place of favour which the Jewish people had previously possessed. God Himself blotted out the landmark which separated Israel from the Gentiles; and instead of making Israel to be the one channel of His promise, on the contrary, the tide of blessing turns decidedly and conspicuously towards the Gentiles. He gathers out of Jews and Gentiles a people for His name, and joins together this election out of them both, who believe in Christ, in order to the possession of new privileges that never had been tasted in like mode or measure before.
One most remarkable feature of the blessing is, that the distinction between Jew and Gentile is gone. In the cross they united in wickedness before God. But what does God use it for? He says, as it were, I will take that very cross which man has made the scene of his outrageous rebellion against Me - which proved that My ancient people were grown violent in hostility against Me in the person of My Son; and I will make the cross to be the pivot on which will turn fuller, richer blessing than had even been hoped for by believing men in this world before. Thus, as the cross was the rallying point of Satan to gather men in an unholy union against God and His Son, so God makes it to be the precious centre where He forms the Jews and Gentiles that believe in His Son into a new body, where all such distinctions are blotted out for ever. And if God is pleased to call out a people for the purpose of giving a practical testimony to this new display of His love, who is to gainsay it? The law is righteous; and it would be an outrage upon God to put the smallest stigma upon the ten words. But while the commandment is holy, just, and good, grace brings in what is higher and better still. It is right, of course, if I do well, that I should be rewarded for it; but is it not more blessed, if I do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently? This is grace, acceptable with God, and the practical principle on which He is calling His children now to act. It was not the public rule of government in Old Testament times, but the contrast of it. Does God, then, contradict Himself? Far from it. God may have one way of dealing with the Jewish people; and then He may lay down another mode of action with Christians. Indeed, who can deny that He has? The Jew would have been guilty of a grievous sin if he had not been circumcised; and I believe that, as far as the earth is concerned, even in the bright day that is coming, the Jew will have his land, city, priest, and temple, etc. The will of God for the Jews will remain substantially unchanged. I find in the prophecies a state of things not yet accomplished, when all these outward ordinances of God will be fulfilled. Am I not to believe God till I see the prophecies thus realized? It is not thus we treat the word of a good man. But if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater. And for a man to receive Samuel and Kings, and not to believe Ezekiel or Hosea, is to treat God as you would not treat an ordinary man. But if I believe all that He has said, there are peculiar principles of God for the Jews which are still to be carried out by the Messiah reigning in power when the devil is bound. God will accomplish all that He has spoken of in the prophets in the days of heaven upon the earth. But meanwhile the Messiah that was promised to bring in the glory came, and has been rejected. Instead of having a throne, He had the cross; and far from taking the earth for His inheritance, He was cast out of it and went up to heaven. A new state of things consequently was opened; and for this order, altogether different from that contemplated generally in the prophecies, we have the New Testament revelation. Therein we find what meets little intimations here and there in the Old Testament, but at the same time introduces, as a whole, a scene without precedent or successor, where God unfolds privileges that were never tasted before, and looks for a walk that He did in no way demand even from saints of old.
There are, of course, certain plain, fixed principles always obligatory. God never sanctioned a lie, or covetousness, or malice: no dispensation can neutralize or weaken the grand moral distinctions between right and wrong. But the God who wrought in earthly power to protect His people, and would have protected them had they been faithful under the law, now, on the contrary, calls His people to suffer in grace. The same God who shielded them and brought them through the Red Sea, and who would not allow any power to gain universal supremacy in the earth till Israel had proved themselves unfaithful, then, when they did manifest themselves altogether unworthy, permitted Babylon, the very worst of the Gentile powers, to overthrow them; and then one empire succeeded another, till finally, under the Romans, both Jews and Gentiles united in crucifying the Lord of glory. Then the world's doom was sealed; the knell of its judgment sounded from the cross of Jesus. You might have expected, had God been then acting upon principles of righteousness, that at once the universe of God would have been convulsed, at least Jerusalem and Rome destroyed in His fiery indignation. Far otherwise. Heaven opens, but it is to receive the crucified Jesus, not to judge His murderers: it is furthermore to send down the Holy Ghost on earth, to form by grace this new body the Church of God; it is to bring those vile murderers of Jesus, if they only received Him, into a place of blessing, whose breadth, and length, and depth, and height never had been enjoyed or known before. And this is grace. "The law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The gospel of God's grace goes out; but it does not merely save souls - it gathers them, unites them to Christ, makes them members of Him and one of another. The Old Jewish vantage-ground has disappeared; the Levitical privileges are completely eclipsed as far as the Church is concerned. The Gentiles were sunk in idolatry, and the Jews self-complacent under God's law which they kept not; but both are brought through the Spirit, by faith in Christ, into this one body, and worship God on the same common ground of grace. They are "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." This is "the vocation wherewith we are called."
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord," etc. He again points to that honourable scar from the world's enmity, because he is bringing out in a practical way what the consequence was in this world even to the greatest servant of God that ever lived (next to Christ). After all, he was the Lord's prisoner. What a wonderful honour? There were no fiery chariots to surround him, as with Elijah; no power put forth to preserve him. He is suffering from the same empire that crucified the Lord of glory; and out of his prison he is cheering the saints to walk worthy of that same calling! Even now the world is overmatched: what will it be when Christ comes?
Nevertheless, the word is, "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love." There was a danger of the contrary: spiritual privilege might be misused to puff up the saints. He therefore meets this, and shows them the only proper tone that becomes the Christian. "With all lowliness and meekness." It is a blessed thing to find zeal; but what can redeem the walk of a Christian which fails in lowliness and meekness? There is a time to be firm and a time to be yielding, but neither gift nor position can justify those who seem to think that in their case the exhortation to meekness and lowliness has no place. We must take care, on the other hand, that it is not meekness in manner or lowliness in word only, for God looks in us for what is real. Too often, such humility but covers the deepest pride, as love and the spirit of Christ are most talked of where they least exist. Let us beware of this vain show.
But supposing there is that in others which you cannot overlook, as being contrary to the mind of God, how are we to act? No doubt there should be the fitly spoken word of reproof, if needful; but there is to be "long-suffering" also; and if in any place long-suffering be specially called for, it is where evil touches ourselves. We are not to tolerate evil against the Lord; but wherever it is that which injures us, long-suffering is the word, "forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Here it is not only the lowly grace and patience which the Christian has to cherish, but the spiritual diligence with which he is called to hold fast what is most precious and divine here below.
"Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." How perfect is Scripture! It does not say, "the unity of the body," although including it. But had it been said, "the unity of the body," people might have built up (as indeed they have) an outward institution and made it a point of life and death not to separate from that. But what the Holy Ghost lays upon those belonging to Christ is, "endeavouring" - showing all needed earnestness - not to make, but "to keep the unity of the Spirit." It is something already made by the Spirit which we have to maintain or observe. It is not merely that we are to have feelings of love towards our fellow-christians. This might be in a thousand different bodies; but if ever so well heeded, this would not be keeping "the unity of the Spirit." What is meant then? The unity of the Holy Ghost, which is already formed, embraces all the members of Christ. And where are the members of Christ to be found? In one sense, thank God, everywhere: in another, alas! anywhere. Wherever Christ is preached and souls have received Him, there are His members. And what have we to do? Diligently to maintain the unity that embraces everyone belonging to Christ - "in the bond of peace." Here we find peace spoken of, not so much for our own souls with God, but rather for enjoying and furthering practically union among saints of God. The flesh is anxious and restless: a peaceful spirit is the fruit of the Holy Ghost, and mightily contributes to the binding together of hearts in practice. God's Spirit is not occupied with merely giving right opinions about points: deeper purposes are His. He is bowing souls to Christ, and exalting Him in their eyes. But to bring one soul out of darkness into light, or out of a little into deeper light, is surely precious; and this is what God Himself is now engaged with. We do well, while holding fast our liberty for Christ, not to allow the barriers that men have brought in, but to treat them as null and void.
But, then, it will be, as is often, said that every man has a right of private judgment. I deny it totally. No man has a right to an opinion in divine things; God only and absolutely is entitled to communicate His mind. What one has to do is to get out of the way, that God's light may shine into the hearts of His children. Men, in their self-importance, only cause their dark shadows to pass over themselves and each other: they thus hinder instead of helping the communication of divine truth. Whereas, when the desire of Christ's servant is, that God may lead on and strengthen His children, is it in vain? Never. The moment you begin to gather people round a particular person, view, or system, you are only forming a sect. For this is a party, though it may contain many members of Christ, which forms its basis of union, not on Christ, but on points of difference, which thus become a special badge and means of separating between the children of God. The apostolic Church never challenged a convert's faith as to an establishment or dissent - never asked, Do you believe in episcopacy, voluntaryism, or even the Church of God? The true and God-glorifying enquiry ever was and is, Do you believe in the Christ of God? It is true that in early days, if a man confessed Christ, he was cast off by Jews and Gentiles, and became an object of enmity to all the world; and this was no slight a guard then against people confessing Christ, unless they really believed in Him. But if a man had received the Holy Ghost, through the hearing of faith, he was at once a member of the one body, and acknowledged as such.
Why should this not rule now? Am I not content with the wisdom of God? Would I then supplement His word, or do without or against it? It is no sect if you act upon the mind of God; it is a sect if you depart from it. The question, therefore, is, what is God's intention about His Church? How would He have us to meet? Am I willing to receive all real Christians - persons whom all believe to be converted? Doubtless there is such a thing as putting them out if they prove not to be so; for there is no possible case of evil but what the word of God applies to, so that there is not the smallest need for any rules or regulations of men. Unless men are spiritual, they will not keep the unity of the Spirit long; they will soon find abundant ground for fault-finding. But those who hold fast and firm to Christ as the centre of the Spirit's unity, as they are no sect, so they never can become one, whatever be the schisms, divisions, heresies, of their adversaries. It is very sorrowful that any souls should go away in self-condemnation, but it is the more blessed for those who, spite of all, have faith and patience and grace to stay. The apostle said, in writing to the Corinthians, "There must needs be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest." These were the men who in that day clave to the Lord with full purpose of heart. May the same thing be true of us now! I deny that the word of God is made of none effect, or that I am in any way bound to sin now more than then. The unity of the Spirit which the Ephesians had to keep, is the unity which God lays upon all His children. If the word has regenerated my soul through the Holy Ghost; if through it I know my Saviour and my Father; if to it I am indebted as the means God uses for cleansing my soul from day to day, am I to say that I need not follow His word as a member of Christ's body in the assembly of God, where He dwells in the Spirit? Surely, if my soul owns its divine authority, woe is me if I do not seek to follow it in all things. God calls on us to be diligent in maintaining "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." It is not the unity of our spirits, but the unity of the Spirit.
When we reflect that it is the Holy Ghost who forms this unity, is it not a solemn thought? Ought we not to guard against anything that would grieve Him? Our Lord attached special importance to what touched the Holy Ghost; and so should we, if wise. If the Holy Ghost is here for this purpose on earth, He becomes a divine test for souls, whether they are prepared to honour Him or not. But people might say, if you receive all Christians without requiring them to give a pledge for the future, tacitly, if not expressly, you may accept a Socinian or an Arian. But I do not acknowledge such to be Christians at all: do you? What is the Church founded on? "Whom say ye that I am," says our Lord in the very chapter in which He first notices that He was going to build the Church. "Thou art the Christ," said a disciple, "the Son of the living God." And what does our Lord reply? "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." Hence there ought to be the strongest, strictest dealing with souls, whether in deed and in truth they believe and confess the divine glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. The smallest compromise as to this allowed would be a reason for standing in doubt of any soul. You have no ground to receive as a Christian him who tampers with the purity, glory, or integrity of the person of Christ. The Church is founded on Christ the Son of God: if this rock be shaken, all is gone. "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" To touch Christ is to touch the very basis on which the Church of God rests.
But where a soul confesses Christ really and truly, confesses Him in such a way that it commends itself to your conscience as divine, receive him; for God has. He may be Baptist or Paedo-Baptist: never mind, receive him. If he is living in sin, need I say that Christ and drunkenness, etc., cannot go together? Faith in the Son of God is incompatible with walking in darkness. No matter how a man may talk about Christ, if he joins with that confession a disregard for the moral glory of God, he proves by this fact that he is not born of God. Simon Magus thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money. It was a mistake that he made, some will say. Yes, but that mistake was vital, and proved that he could not have life from God; and therefore, though baptized, he was not received as a member of the body of Christ. We have no reason to think that he broke bread at all. Baptism would be no reason, in the face of such circumstances, why the assembly should receive him whom they do not believe to be a saint.
This will show in some degree the character or limits of the unity of the Spirit. For the Holy Spirit, while He calls souls and empowers them to confess Christ, never leaves them to walk in the mire of their own wickedness. If a believer falls into sin of a certain character, he ought to be put away. What is merely personal should be dealt with in a private way; it would be monstrous to put all failures on the same ground. The first and deep feeling of the soul ought to be, in vindicating God, to get the person right. The Church is a witness of divine grace, and has to seek the blessing of the unconverted and the restoration of Christians who have gone astray. Are we endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit? How is it that Christians are formed into different associations? If the word of God be that which they at all cost seek to carry out, why do they require human rules and modern inventions? If God gives a rule, I do not want another; I do want to have His in all its strength, so as to bring forth the truth to a man's conscience, and say, That is God's will. Is it well or wise to yield this up? God has written a word that bears upon everything moral, by which He intended His children to walk: are we doing so? Some may ask, Are you, then, perfect? I answer, We are endeavouring to hold fast and in peace the Spirit's unity, we are honestly seeking subjection to the will of God: are you doing the same? This is the main question for every child of God - Am I endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit? And am I doing it in God's way or out of my own head? Have I surrendered myself to do His will? Our business is to be dutiful to Him. We have our orders, and our responsibility is to carry them out, subject to Him whose we are, and whom we are bound to serve.
But further, this unity is to be kept in the bond of peace. God is forming His Church of all those who belong to Himself. It is not Christian persons holding particular views of this or that; but the Spirit holding to His own unity, or to what Christ is to them, not to the points in which they differ one from another. If I want to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, I must have my own soul settled upon this: the Holy Ghost isglorifying Christ alone. You cannot please the Father more than in exalting the Son; and you cannot touch Him more nearly than by slighting His Son. All is secured in maintaining Christ. This brings it to the simplest possible issue. What have we to do with forcing people to give up their views and adopt ours, let them be ever so correct? God's word furnishes a ground, in the name of Christ, on which you can embrace all saints, let them be ever so weak or prejudiced. Let us beware of being more careful of our own reputation or ease than of His will. Let us not be vain of our little knowledge, or of the point we have attained to in practice. Let us look up to the Lord for faith and patience to own every real member and servant of Christ, wherever found. Let us cleave to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and be diligent in maintaining it, whatever the difficulties may be, and surely they are great. Faith does not see many bodies and one Spirit - it knows but one body. Bearing with others who in this see dimly or double, let us be rigid in holding fast the name of Christ, and for ourselves be careful to accredit nothing contrary to it. "There is one body and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling." This is our most essential, vital blessing in Christ; "for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." "One Spirit" is added immediately, because it is the Holy Ghost who makes it good; and what we are now, by the power of the Holy Ghost, we hope to enjoy by-and-by with Christ. We shall have it fully and perfectly in the presence of God in heaven. This is the first unity.
There is a difference between this and the following verses. The fourth verse is one character of unity, the fifth another, and the sixth a third; and these concentric unities enlarge respectively. "There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." Nobody enters into this who is not born and baptized of the Holy Ghost. This one body is on earth, no doubt; but then it is a real thing and of God now, whatever may be the glory proper to it hereafter. But in verse 5 you have a more outside unity, an area of profession, larger than that of real spiritual power. Here "the Lord" is made prominent; and there are many who will say in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?"
Hence we hear next of "one faith," by which is meant the christian faith. If I talk about faith in the sense of its being the medium by which we lay hold of Christ, and are saved in the grace of God, it is never called one faith. By the phrase is meant the common faith that all Christians profess, in contradistinction to the religion or law of Jews and the idolatry of Gentiles. Accordingly, "one Lord, one faith," is followed by "one baptism;" because whoever professed to believe in Christ was baptized with water. Simon Magus received Christ nominally, and was baptized, though he soon proved to be no Christian. Thus, verse 5 gives us, not the unity which is real, and holy, and enduring, but that of the christian profession.
Last of all, we have "one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all." (Ver. 6.) Evidently in this we stand before a still vaster compass. There is an immense mass of mankind that does not profess Christ at all. The bulk of men have gone on with their idols, spite of law and gospel. Are there no claims there? We own "one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all." That is, it is a personal God: not at all the idea that everything is God, which is infidelity in its worst shape, or Pantheism. We own "one God," not a number of divinities, like the Gentiles, but "one God and Father of all." The Jew did not believe that He was the Father of all, nor even properly Father for the chosen nation, but rather their Governor, even Jehovah. The Christian revelation brings out God in an infinitely larger, as well as for us more intimate, character; but larger, too, as embracing all creaturehood - "One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all" (His supremacy and providence, but more than these), "and in you all." There is His near connection with some, and not with all. For it is not said, "in all," but "in you all." The Holy Ghost is speaking of the Father's peculiar relationship to the Christian. Thus nothing can be more full, and beautiful, and orderly than these unfoldings of unity in and around Christ our Lord.
We have now closed the statement which the apostle has given us of the unity of the Spirit, the common place which pertains to all the children of God who are being called through His grace by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. We enter now the special ways in which the Lord calls upon the various members of His body to serve Him - not so much the common position which all must have who belong to Him, but the peculiar privileges and responsibilities of each individual member of Christ. And thus the seventh verse opens: "but unto every (or each) one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." This is the basis. Christ, according to His own good pleasure, as Head and Lord, is giving certain gifts. It is important to observe that this is the point of view in which the Holy Ghost presents ministry in Ephesians. There is no one brought, I need hardly say, into such unequivocal prominence as Christ. In Corinthians, on the contrary, the Holy Ghost is more prominent than Christ. Both aspects are necessary to God's glory and equally perfect in their place; but they are not the same thing. There is the wisdom of God in each epistle suited to the special object that God Himself aims at.
It is impossible for any spiritual mind to look back upon the Epistle to the Ephesians without perceiving that the great truth of it is the fulness of blessing which belongs to the Church in virtue of its union with Christ. This, accordingly, brings Christ into relief. On the other hand, we cannot study the Epistle to the Corinthians, and particularly that part of it where the subject of spiritual manifestations is treated of, without seeing that it is not so much a question of Christ exalted at the right hand of God, as of the Holy Ghost sent down here below. The consequence is that in Corinthians we have rather the assembly upon earth and the divine person who is pleased to dwell and work in it. Thus the Holy Ghost is brought there into view; whereas, in Ephesians, it is Christ as the Head of the Church, who is regarded still as the giver of these gifts. Indeed in no part of Scripture is the Holy Ghost represented as properly the giver; and I doubt much, with another, that the expression "gifts of the Spirit" is an accurate phrase. You may find, in Heb_2:4, a text which seems to imply as much; but it is the "distributions of the Spirit." Wherever giving is simply and distinctly spoken of, it is Christ who is regarded as the giver. So our Lord Himself says of that which lies at the source of all, "the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water," etc. The water here represents the Holy Ghost. Hence, He is viewed in this place as the gift and Christ is the giver. And as this is true of that great foundation-truth, namely, the presence of the Holy Ghost Himself, so is it of all the details. Christ, the Head of the Church, is dealing in the individual members according to His own gracious affection; for this is the blessed side of the truth which is held up here. "Unto each one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." He is speaking about ministerial gift; but it is called grace here because it is regarded not so much as a position of authority (though some of these gifts involve it) but of One who loves His Church and cares for each member of it; and He cannot fail to supply whatever is suitable and worthy of Himself and His love. "Unto each one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ."
And this leads to another remark of a general kind. The Epistle to the Corinthians gave you an ampler field in which the Holy Ghost is presented as working; you have miracles - tongues - healings - the remarkable ways in which the Holy Ghost acts in outward power. All this is left out here. To what principle are we to attribute it? For God does nothing arbitrarily; but always with a love and wisdom worthy of Himself, and surely intended for our profit. What He has not revealed, it becomes us not to inquire; but what He has made known in His word, we are clearly free, nay bound, to seek to learn simply and thankfully. Why then have we also the more eternal operations of the Spirit in Corinthians? And why, in writing to the Ephesians, are the outward manifestations left out and only those spoken of which pertain to the growth of the soul, the founding of the Church, and the carrying of it on, the keeping up holy growth and fellowship and godly order among the children of God? For to these alone the statements of this chapter apply. The key, I believe, is found in what we have already hinted. In Corinthians the prominent thought is the Holy Ghost present in the Church, and whatever He does comes before us. And as the Holy Ghost may work in an extraordinary manner and is the power of that which is sensibly supernatural as well as of that which meets the wants of the soul, hence all is brought before us there. But in Ephesians, where Christ is viewed in immediate relationship to His Church, and where it is His love and the care for the members of His body which flows out of that love, it is plain that whatever merely deals with the world and is a witness to unbelievers would be not needed but superfluous: only that which has to do with the members of Christ is in place and season. Oh that we only had more patience and confidence in God and His word! We should find the answer to every difficulty in due time. God owns the heart's reliance upon Him. By examining a particular part in the light of the whole book where it occurs, how often we discern that which gives us the right clue to its meaning.
But before looking at the gifts themselves, I would just draw attention to what is of still deeper interest and importance, the basis on which the giving of these gifts by Christ depends. For we have all suffered immensely from mere traditional views of ministry, regarding it as in general an honourable profession among men, or a certain position which has a status attached to it. These things entirely falsify the nature of ministry; and the consequence is that the full blessing and meaning of the word are so far lost for the soul. Do not mistake me. I deny not that God works where much is unscriptural. He is always right, and the failure of the Church, or of ourselves individually, cannot touch His sovereign goodness, who always watches over all and each member of Christ for blessing. But then He allows failure to show itself and permits that we should suffer the consequence of it to humble us and make us feel that all the good is from Him, that all the evil is on our part. Throughout the whole history of Christendom appear these two things: - man corrupting his way upon the earth, and God showing Himself above the evil that His light judges. This is true of ministry as it is of all else.
Hence if we turn to Scripture and see the ground on which ministry rests, we shall find that nothing can be more glorious; but, alas! nothing more contrary to that which ordinarily is its form among men. For its basis is not short of the redemption that Christ has accomplished by His blood, and of His ascension to heaven. Christian ministry flows from Christ at the right hand of God; it did not exist before. I do not deny that God had His ways of acting in Israel. But there His dealings partook more of the character of priesthood, from which ministry differs totally in character. Earthly priesthood is a caste of men who deal with God on behalf of those for whom they are priests: that is, they undertake the spiritual business of persons unable for one reason or another to transact it with God directly, and consequently dependent upon these mediators between God and them. The priest goes where the people cannot go, enters the holy place, presents the blood, burns the incense, deals with God in short for each spiritual want of those whom he represents. Ministry starts upon quite different ground, being an action, through man, from God toward men, and not from man toward God. The two are clean contrasts of each other. As to the servant of God, if truly one whom God raises up, who has a message from Him and a work to do for Him, that message or work is by God's authority for the blessing of men. Hence, if you take an evangelist, what is he? One who, himself taught of God for his own soul's need, not only knows the way to be saved, but has a power, which he did not possess before, given him of Christ, to act upon the souls of others. Every Christian ought to be able to confess truth, to confess Christ; yet this does not make one an evangelist, but so to state the gospel as to act powerfully on souls, specially of the unconverted, and thus awaken, clear, or establish in the grace of God. The spiritual action is by the Holy Ghost; but it is from God and His beloved Son, Christ our Lord, toward man. Thus, the gift, under the Lord's hand, is exercised in love of souls to seek their good, and implies or is rather power from above to act upon them.
Take again the gift of teaching. There you have another form of the power of God. Many understand the truth for their own souls' enjoyment, but they cannot help others: they are unable to put the truth so convincingly before believers, or so to deal with the affections, as to carry home the truth with energy to the soul. Where this is done, there is the gift of teaching. But I have only referred to it for the purpose of contrasting the nature of priesthood with ministry, and of showing that the confusion of the two things is a lamentable consequence of the state of the Church. If people go to hear a sermon, they say they go to worship. Men are so habituated to confound teaching with worship that the two things are supposed each to involve the other.
I admit there is such a thing as Christian priesthood: still ministry is wholly distinct. All Christians, without exception, men, women, and children, are priests; for the priest is one who has a divine call and qualification, which gives him access to the presence of God. Priesthood, in a word, gives the title of the soul to draw near to God. This is always its distinguishing character. On the other hand, ministry in the word is a varied service; but it is only by particular members of the body that Christ thus acts for the good of all. Hence while priesthood is universal, and no person can be a Christian without being a priest, it is only a few among the many who are what Scripture calls ministers of the word or public servants of Christ. I am not speaking of the vague sense in which all ought to be serving Christ every day of their lives; but the question now is of proper ministry in the word; and it is plain that all have not the power to preach the word of God profitably for the souls of others. The great mass of God's children require to have the path of God pointed out and difficulties removed, the right handling of which things depends upon, or constitutes, ministry in one form or another.
Ministry, then, as said before, is from God to man; priesthood is from man to God. When we meet to worship God, it is an exercise not of ministry, but of priesthood. Perhaps one or more of the persons who take part in it might be ministers; but for the moment they are not ministering, but worshipping. Worship is the exercise of christian priesthood, the offering up of praise and thanksgiving. This is from man towards God - it is the direction of priesthood. Hence where there is an outflow of praise and thanksgiving, you have the highest character of priesthood. Intercession and prayer are a lower form, though intercession be blessed indeed, because it takes up the wants of others. But, strictly speaking, worship rather consists of praise and thanksgiving. Hence it is that the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, forms so central a part of christian worship. It is that which most powerfully, and in solemn joy, calls out our souls in the remembrance of Jesus and thanksgiving to God. And hence, though, of course, the taking the bread and wine cannot be regarded as in itself worship, yet it is that which acts upon the soul and draws out the heart, by the Holy Ghost, in the worship of God. Where the Lord's Supper is regarded as a means of grace, persons repair to it for comfort, or at least the hope of it. It is never so presented in the word of God. On the contrary, if the communicants did not enter into the mind of God in the Supper (i.e., did not discern the Lord's body), it became a means of judgment to them. "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." By this were meant not spurious Christians, but Christians ever so real, who were taking the Lord's Supper in a light spirit and without self-judgment. Where a soul, therefore, is walking in known sin, and comes to the table of the Lord, the effect is that the hand of the Lord is stretched out in one way or another, and it is impossible to escape when thus trifling with God. Again, if one put himself outside to avoid this, he is proclaiming his own sin and practically excommunicating himself. Thus, there is nothing for a soul but to go straight forward and to look up to God for grace to watch against sin, yea, the least risings of it, and in self-judgment to lean on the Lord who alone can strengthen us to walk worthily of Him. To such an one the word is, "So let him eat;" it is not, Let him stay away; but let him judge himself and come.
These two things, then, worship and ministry, ought never to be jumbled together. There may be a word spoken at the table of the Lord, helping on communion; but this can scarcely be called the ordinary exercise of ministry. A regular discourse there would be, I conceive, most irregular: it would distract from the prime object which the Lord intends. There may be the unfolding of the affections of Christ, or in particular circumstances there might be even more, such as one visiting for a limited time, as when Paul continued his discourse till midnight. But the Lord's Supper having no connection with ministry, but rather with the members of Christ remembering their Lord, and with their worship coming together to praise Him, it is plain that the formal exercise of ministry, properly speaking, finds its place elsewhere, not at the table of the Lord. A brief word that would awaken the soul's affections and gather them up to Christ whom we are remembering, is most comely and seasonable, if the Lord so give; but it is important to see the scriptural place, and order, and aim of the two things. In ministry you have the Lord providing for the spiritual supply of His people's wants. And on what is this founded? Upon the fact that Christ has gone on high as Head, having first put away sin and glorified God on earth; and from His present seat of heavenly glory He is communicating the needed gifts. By what title has Christ taken His place? Not as God, nor simply as man. Neither did Christ enter into the presence of God, because Satan had not been able to touch Him, when tempted in all points. There was a still more solemn scene - the great hour for which He came - the bearing of sin - the cross, where He made Himself chargeable with every failure, with my sins and with your sins. He has done so. Christ has only taken His place at the right hand of God on the ground of His having put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Upon this basis ministry is founded. God's righteous judgment has been borne and vindicated; sin and Satan are completely vanquished for us by Christ. The testimony of divine grace, yea, the fulness of it, can be the portion of the believer now without hindrance. The victory for God in behalf of the most guilty sinners is won. And Christ has taken His place in the highest seat of heaven as the victorious man. As such He has carried humanity to the throne of God, and is there, as man, set down far above all angels, principalities, and powers. From thence it is that He gives these gifts.
Christian ministry, therefore, owes its very origin to this - the full remission of sins on God's part and the heavenly glorification of man in Christ's person. They are fruits and witnesses of complete victory. Yet is it all and only made known to faith, save so far as miracles once were a sign to unbelievers. What is the consequence? Man goes on in sin. Satan still roams about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. The judgment of God is hanging over the world. What then is the value of the death of Christ, and of His victory? Immense, but immense only for those who believe in Christ; and, therefore, in the midst of this ruined world, and while sin and Satan are there, the judgment of God impending, there is this wonderful link between Him who is at the right hand of God and those who were once poor, lost sinners in the sight of God. He sends down gifts; He calls out this one and that one, and makes them to be the witnesses of His power, who has won all this and more; who has, in short, left nothing undone that is needed for the glory of God and the blessing of man. The world hears the sound only to slight the good news, and even the child of God sees it dimly if he reasons about it; but if I believe what God tells me His beloved Son has done, I ought to know that all these things are gone as between my soul and God with as simple a certainty as if they had never existed at all. I ought to be as sure that sin is blotted out, as if I had been guilty of none - that Satan is as thoroughly judged as if he were in the lake of fire - that God's righteous judgment is completely stayed, and that nothing but His grace remains for me. It is true of all His children. It is the only thing that becomes a Christian, because it is what God provides for him. God does not own christian people in their trouble or hesitation whether all is finished for them. To doubt that all which Christ undertook is settled in their favour, is practically to deny redemption; and if all this is done and accepted, what more can I want? Did not Christ know better than myself what was needed? Did not God feel what was due to His holiness more than you or I? And yet He who was and is God said, "It is finished." Who or what am I to doubt it? To Christ, therefore, I owe it to bear this witness.
Ministry is founded upon Christ's work and exaltation. There were the twelve and the seventy sent out, no doubt, before Christ went up to the right hand of God, but their mission during the days of Christ's flesh is excluded from Ephesians 4. Apostles are mentioned of course, but not in virtue of their call while He was the Messiah on earth. On the contrary, "when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Not that those who had been appointed apostles when Christ was here below, were not also brought into this new place, Judas excepted; but that their being apostles of the Church is founded upon their having this gift of Christ after He had ascended on high. Therefore it is here said, "He gave some apostles." Why had there been twelve? In relation to the twelve tribes of Israel; and so, when our Lord sent them out, He forbade them to go into any city of the Gentiles. But the apostles of the Church, are they sent only to the Jews? Every one knows that it is not so. After Christ was crucified, the links with Israel were broken. The rejected, suffering Son of man ascends to heaven, and from His heavenly glory He sends down the Holy Ghost, and calls out from the world in sovereign grace, constitutes members of His body, and endows with power to serve Him in whatever way seems good to Himself.
Hence what is called succession, is completely disposed of. In Jewish priesthood there was successional order, and all earthly ministry forms itself on this model. But christian ministry is not of human appointment, but divine in the fullest sense; and therefore the whole source of man's thoughts on the subject is a manifest and total fallacy. Are we to abandon the clear word of God for the passing opinions of men? If so, I shall never know any certainty at all. The Dissenter will say a church must call a man to be their minister. He may have and be a ministerial gift from Christ; but what makes a man to be their minister is their own call. Thus, it is founded on a particular church electing whom they please to be their particular minister. He is their choice and therefore their minister. But what if there be no such thing in Scripture? What if such an idea be foreign to the word of God? There is not even a hint of it to be found there. We have the appointment of men to take care of the funds and of the poor, and this with the concurrence of the assembly. No person ought to undertake such a work unless he have the just feeling of satisfaction in the whole christian assembly. The Church gives what she can, and therefore is entitled by God to say who shall take care of their trust; that is, who shall transact the outward business of the Church. But in spiritual gifts, in teaching, preaching, exhorting, ruling, can the Church give? Clearly not. The word of God contains nowhere such a notion as the Church choosing or appointing, except in such gifts as the Church can confer. The Church gives money, and can appoint persons to administer it. The Church does not give ministerial gifts, and has no title nor room to interfere. Who has? It is Christ alone who gives, as we find here: "According to the measure of the gift of Christ." "When he ascended up on high, he gave gifts unto men: some apostles, some prophets." This excludes even the true Church of God from any claim of power to appoint; and if it be examined, you will see how the scriptural history agrees with and confirms the principle. Who but the Lord chose Matthias? Who appointed Peter or the rest? Who addressed the multitude on the day of Pentecost? It could not be the Church, for the Church was only formed on that day. Peter preached, and by his preaching the Church was gathered. It was the Lord thus brought such as should be saved; so that ministry precedes the Church, as the atonement and ascension of Christ precede ministry. The Lord from on high calls the vessels of His grace, communicates power, leads forward by His Spirit's guidance, working by and controlling all circumstances, so that His servants shall be more or less faithfully doing His work. The consequence is, souls are gathered and the Church is formed. Thus ministry in the word never flows from the Church, but from Christ, and the Church is the result. Ministry is therefore antecedent to the Church, instead of being founded on its authority. Hence it is that you have not only the dissenting principle of popular election entirely put aside, but every other human device. It was not the apostles, but Christ who gave gifts. And has He ceased to give them? Is He at the right hand of God still? Then, I ask, is He there as the Head of the Church? Does He not remain now as perfectly and efficaciously the Head of the Church as before the day of Pentecost? Then He was there, bringing the Church into being; and now He is there, to perpetuate the Church and supply all its need. It is as impossible, therefore, for ministry to fail as for Christ to leave the right hand of God before the body is complete. But He is there as the giver of all needful gifts; and the exercise of these gifts is what we call ministry.
But if we look further, there is a most magnificent parenthesis of the apostle on this subject. "Therefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men." That is, He led those captive who had led the Church captive. We were led captive of the devil, and Christ going up on high passed triumphantly above the power of Satan. The fallen spirits were completely defeated and by Christ as man. Man has conquered Satan in the person of Christ, and we can look up as those that are one with Him who has defeated Satan. We ought never to treat with Satan as if he had power against us. We are entitled always to bid a detected Satan depart from us. We may and should always resist him: and we are told that, if so, he will depart from us; not because we are strong, but because He to whom we belong has gotten Him the victory by death and has given it to us. "Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth." This supposes the glory of His person. He that is gone up is the One that first came down.
It is indeed the constant principle of God; He is always the first to come down. We require to be lifted up and have nothing of our own to come down from. Christ, being God, was the only man who had glory proper to Himself and above all creaturehood. He descended first into the lower parts of the earth. His very humiliation is the proof of His own personal dignity. From His natural supremacy, so to speak, He descends first to do His work here below. "He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things." Thus we have here a most magnificent sight of our Saviour. The Holy Ghost gives us in two short verses the grand sweep of His glory and triumph, who condescended to be a man and a servant. He that is gone up now is the same that first came down, and who only would go up again into glory when He had completely put away all that must have for ever kept us from Him. But He came down to put it away and would not return on high till it was done. He so loved us, with a love according to the glorious counsels of God, that our sins, gross and fatal as they were, only gave Him the opportunity to show what God is, and is to us, in His own person. And now it is a question of God's righteousness, not only to Him but to us, because of Him. What a difference" He might come down in love, but that of itself would not give us a place in the presence of God; but He is gone up in righteousness; and this is the reason why our Lord says that, when the Spirit was come, He should convince the world of righteousness, "because I go to the Father." You have the full display of righteousness now in Christ seated at the right hand of God. Righteousness toward Him in this world was nowhere found, but the foulest wrong and indignity. Where must I look for it? At the right hand of God. I see One there to whom God, with reverence be it spoken, is indebted for the display and vindication of His moral glory, to whom He owes the only adequate exhibition of all that which manifested and maintained His character before men, even in the man Christ Jesus. God never had His character at all fully retrieved since sin came into the world till Christ died on the cross. When His blood was shed for the glory of God and the deliverance of man, God shone out in a new light before this world. God was no longer regarded as the hard master that Satan's lie misrepresented Him to be. The veil was rent; the truth could no longer be hid that there was no proof of love the creature could have asked of God but what God had surpassed it in His Son, dead, risen, and glorified above. Up to the death of Christ God's righteousness must have destroyed every creature that had a sin upon it. Now, on the contrary, it is the righteousness of God to justify me, a believer, though I have been a vile sinner; and for this reason, that, although my sins in the one scale must have sunk myself alone down to hell, yet there was, in the other scale, Christ and His blood far outweighing all and raising me up to heaven. What is the consequence? My sins are clean vanished before that precious blood, and the scale of Christ proves itself to be the only one that keeps its weight before God. Upon this now hangs the very righteousness of God. It is no longer a question of legal righteousness; but now He has Christ, and this is what God owes to Christ's obedience unto death, even the death of the cross; by virtue of which God righteously clears the guilty, which, as dealing according to the law, He could by no means do. "By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses." What was known of God in creation contained no provision for sin; what was known of Him under the law would have only blasted the smallest hope of the sinner. Whereas now, the more I see what God is in Christ's cross, the more confidence and peace I have. "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."
We see, then, in these verses, the heavenly source of ministry. It is not a position which, according to God, gives importance in the world. The labourer, we all know, is worthy of his hire. But do you not see that the Apostle Paul would not use the title to support that the gospel gave him? He would not have what he calls his confident boasting made nothing of; for though he had power, he preferred to work with his own hands rather than be burdensome. And this is the wonderful liberty of grace: under it there is nothing we cannot do, except sin. But though all things are lawful, they are not all expedient; and, no doubt, it was in the wisdom of God that the great apostle did what many servants of Christ would be ashamed to do. What a fearful declension there is from the whole spirit as well as letter of Christianity! How complete the change from the character of the gospel, that men - Protestants or Catholics, Churchmen or Dissenters, Presbyterians or Methodists - should alike consider as a blot and matter of censure that which was the boast of the apostle? There was a weighty principle involved in his conduct. He received a gift from the Philippians; help was sent to him in prison as well as out. He desired fruit that might abound to the account of the saints. If the apostle had not occasionally received from them, it would have been loss to their souls. Christianity does not mean that saints should use for themselves what they owe to God, and what grace loves to do for all and any one. But the apostle never acted either so that it could be said that he served himself by the gospel, or that he was indifferent to the saints. God took care that it should be so in Paul's case. The smaller gifts there would have been the danger of despising. But the gracious effort of the apostle was to maintain the less; the greater less needed his ample shield. But where any gave themselves up to gospel service, the apostle takes the utmost care to affirm their title to live of the gospel. Let those who so live take care that in this they serve the Lord Christ.
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets." I apprehend that the apostles and prophets are clearly what might be called the foundation gifts, such as God used for the purpose of laying a broad and deep platform on which the Church was to be built. This was done by those whom God empowered in a special manner. The apostles and prophets were the two classes that first of all entered as instruments into the calling of the Church of God. Evangelists were at work from early days, also pastors soon after. But the first two, apostles and prophets, were peculiar in their full force to the original laying down of the Church of God. There is no ground to suppose that, in the strict sense, apostles and prophets were meant to continue, or do so in fact, though something analogous to an apostle may be raised up at fitting times. Take Luther, for instance. There was a partial recall of the saints of God generally to fundamental truth, which had been long lost sight of. This answers, in a little measure, to what an apostle did. A prophet, again, was one who not merely expounded the Scriptures, but who so brought home the truth as immediately to connect the soul with God.
At the very beginning, men of God appeared who were not apostles, nor necessarily inspired communicators of truth, such as Mark and Luke; but prophets, like Judas and Silas. (Act_15:32.) The Scriptures were not all written when the Church began, nor were the apostles everywhere. God, therefore, raised up prophets, who, in certain cases at least, were the means of revelation. And why is it that we have not such channels now? Because revelation is complete: we have the word of God, and want no word more. To suppose another revelation now, would be to impair what we have; so that the need for these prophets in the highest sense is closed with the canon of Scripture. In a subordinate sense, what would answer to the prophetic work in question is the revival of truth and powerful action on saints at large by recalling what was once revealed, but completely evaporated. Take, for instance, the capital point of the coming of the Lord as the hope of the Church. This truth has suffered a long and almost total eclipse. Within our own day it has again shone out with a certain measure of power from God. In what writing, since the days of the apostles, do you find the nature and calling of the Church set forth? where the unfolding of the Church's hope - the Lord's coming to receive the Church and to give it a heavenly place? These truths had slipped away from the minds of men, until recovered within the last thirty or forty years. Justification by faith had been partially known by Augustine and Bernard. The Waldenses possessed great faithfulness but not clear doctrine. But the nature of the Church as the body of Christ, and the character of the Christian's hope, were most completely lost sight of, as far as I am aware. They had vanished from the Church. And it seems to me that the recovery of these truths resembles prophetic work in this particular, though one might hesitate to call any used in the work either an apostle or a prophet.
When we come to the next classes of gifts, namely, "evangelists, pastors, and teachers," it is plain that we have these still at work, more or less, in the present broken state; and not confined to these believers or those, but distributed throughout, as the Lord pleases. Men confound mi