What a mighty principle opens here on the saints! "Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children." (Ver. 1.) What limits can there be if we are exhorted to imitate God Himself! Nor is it in any way now an assertion of claim, as the law was, on man, standing on his own responsibility before God as a creature. God has revealed Himself in grace; still He is God and none other; and if He has communicated to us His own nature, a lesser, lower standard there could not be. It would dishonour Himself and the very grace He has shown us, and nowhere more fully than in the earlier parts of this epistle. It would be, too, the most grievous loss to His children beloved, whom He would train and bless yet more and more even in this scene of evil and sorrow, turning the most adverse circumstances into an occasion of teaching us what He is in the depths of His grace and filling ourselves with the sense of it so as to form our hearts and fashion our ways, as we forget ourselves and live above our own habits and the conventionalities of men in the truth of Christ.
Neither law nor even promise ever opened such a field as this. The very call so to imitate God supposes the perfect grace in which we stand: indeed it would be insupportable otherwise. No doubt, it is most humbling to reflect how little we have answered to His call; but even the sense of our previous shortcomings where it is deep, if we do not lose sight of His grace, is turned to precious account, and we are growing and going on with Him when we may little think it. The law demanded what man ought to render to God: to love Him and our neighbour is no more than our plain and bounden duty. The promise held out the hope of a Seed of blessing, not to Israel only, but to all families of the earth. But now, after promise was despised and law was broken, God has displayed Himself in Christ, and, while accomplishing all in Christ, has brought out higher counsels in infinite grace to us in such sort that His own character, thus displayed, becomes the only suitable pattern to which He would conform His children even here. "Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children; and walk in love as Christ also loved us, and delivered himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour." (Ver. 1, 2.)
To forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave, is blessed; but this, though after His own heart and ways, is not enough. It is surely divine in its source, and impossible in its full character and extent to flesh; but it is in view of man and man's failure, and of the outbreaks of an evil nature. He would cherish this in us. It is the fruit of His grace, and most needful, in such a world as this; most wholesome for His saints in their intercourse and dealing with each other. But it is far from being the expression of all He is and would have us enjoy and reflect. There is the outgoing of good according to His heart, where there is no question of evil to be forgiven, which is in a certain sense only negative, however real and sweet it may be. Here all is positive, flowing fresh as it were and above human thought. Hence the word is, "Walk in love, as Christ also loved us and delivered himself up for us," etc. To be forgiven was our abject, urgent need, if we were indeed to have the smallest comfort from God or hope of deliverance from wrath and of blessedness hereafter. It was grace, of course, the grace of God, but addressed to, if not bounded by, man's need. But now we stand on the new ground of the excellency of Christ and the exercise of that which is proper to God in the activity of His own nature. Hence it is not the sin-offering that is here alluded to, nor is it simply the blood or the sufferings of our blessed Lord, but His delivering Himself for us, in matchless love, "an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour."
One would not be mistaken on such a theme, nor weaken for a moment the certainty that in the Lord's sufferings on the cross there are depths found there only; but these are not and could not be put before us as a pattern, seeing that they pertain exclusively to Him who bore our sins in His own body and was made sin for us, meeting that judgment of God, which no man, nor angel, nor creature, nor new creature could share with Him, however blessed through it, and filled with thankful, adoring delight in Him who was thus alone, not only for us, but for God's glory, the object of the wrath of God felt and must execute against sin. But here it is a question of that which sets forth the admirable love of Christ in all its positive fragrance and beauty; and this in order to call out, in the energy of the Holy Ghost, the answering ways of the new nature in the saints; for indeed Christ is our life, and what bounds are there to the power of the Spirit who dwells in us? Love lends to service in self-abnegation, whether in Him perfectly, or in us according to our measure; but surely it gives and forms the spirit of service, as we see in our blessed Lord. (Phil. 2)
Nevertheless, the more sweet and blessed, the nearer it is to evil, unless it is maintained in divine power and self-judgment. It brings together; it awakens spiritual affections; but what is begun in the Spirit may end in fleshly corruption, as we see at Corinth, no less than it may seek fleshly perfection of a religious form, as we see in Galatia. Accordingly the apostle proceeds to warn the Ephesian saints against the dangers to which free familiar converse might expose, unless sustained by the Holy Ghost. "But fornication and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be even named among you, as becometh saints." (Ver. 3.) These lusts of the flesh were not only not to be allowed, but not even to be named. They were God's holy ones, saints; and the question now was of that which becomes (not mere men but) saints.
Nor does he confine his warning to unbridled licentiousness or the covetous desire of that which might gratify man, but extends it to unholiness of language too, whether openly shameful or under the veil of refinement - "and [no] filthiness, and foolish talking, and jesting, which are not convenient, but rather giving of thanks." (Ver. 4.) Here again, not merely the absence of what is indecorous in the Christian, but the positive side is brought in and the heart's reference to God's goodness, which breaks out in thanksgiving. "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, or unclean person, or covetous man, who is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." (Ver. 5.) It is most important to remember, that let sovereign grace do what it will let it go out to the vilest, let it cleanse the most defiled, the moral ways of God remain inflexible. His nature does not change. He hates and never can tolerate iniquity. His love may find and has found a glorious solution of the difficulty in the cross of Christ; but God and sin never call walk or dwell together.
The children of God have opposite dangers to this, and need to watch against their feelings. They may be quick to exclaim in some flagrant case that there can be no life there; they may be too precipitate in giving their confidence where there is a fair show in flesh. Some of the most solemn departures into the world have been where few, if any, doubted; as on the other hand, who has not known the comfort of seeing the painful appearances which repelled one fade away so as to let the grace of Christ shine out more and more, or flesh was judged by the truth in the sight of God? Thus those, of whom most doubted because of untoward looks, at last won the confidence of all. Sometimes it may have needed a serious dealing of God: severe sickness, reverses of fortune, domestic sorrow, before the soul was set right; still it was, though late in the day. Both these extremes teach us the need of waiting on God, instead of trusting our own impressions, that we may judge righteous judgment. The natural heart may take advantage of grace, but ere long will manifest its unremoved evil. Perverse men may rise up, wolves may enter, and sheep may for a while be deceived. But God abides, and the word of His grace: why should we be disquieted? Let us have faith in God, imitate Him as children beloved, and walk in love, not only because, but as Christ loved us; and, whatever the result, we shall have the comfort of pleasing God, meanwhile kept from haste one way or another. Watching for evil is very far from "giving of thanks," and indeed incompatible with it. But then let us never lower the standard of the ways which God looks for in His children. If no corrupt person have an inheritance in His kingdom, never treat such sin lightly now. "Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them." (Ver. 6, 7.) To be partners with such in any way is grave for a saint. Let us take heed.
The eighth verse of our chapter gives another ground of appeal. The exhortation to walk is neither in view of the calling wherewith we are called (Eph_4:1), nor specially in contrast with other Gentiles, alienated from the life of God (Eph_4:17-18), nor yet in love only (Eph_5:27), but "as children of light." "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord." The change being thus complete, the word is "walk as children of light." Be consistent with what you are, not merely with what you ought to be. We are light, yea, light in the Lord - at once the ground, and character, and measure of that which becomes our ways as Christians: let us walk accordingly. How comforting is the call of grace to holy ways! The most solemn appeal reminds us of our blessing, and its security, even when urging us on with ever such closeness. How holy is our standing in Christ that God Himself should be able to say of us, "Ye are light in the Lord." If He does; should we not say it of ourselves, both in privilege and responsibility? Let us look to Him that, thus set outside all taint (for there is nothing purer than light), we may go forward, showing that light which we are now in the Lord. It is in the light we walk, and by it we should judge all, for light we are. God would repudiate a lower standard or an atmosphere less pure. He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, if we are His children, we are children of light. We are never said to be love (which is God's nature and prerogative), though surely called to love as born of Him and knowing Him in Christ. How completely law disappears as the motive or the mould of our walk.
"For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." No doubt these are the characteristics of the gracious operation of the Spirit; and this may have led to the substitution of "the Spirit" for light in the common text. But there can be no reasonable question that the true thought and word in verse 9 is "the light," which is not more borne out by external evidence than by the scope of the context. In Galatians 5 it is the fruit, not of the light, but of the Spirit, because in contrast with the works of the flesh - ways of uncleanness, violence against God and man, tampering with and subjection to the deceits of the enemy; whereas the Spirit's fruit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against which, as the apostle emphatically says to the law-affecters, there is no law. Here it is in contrast, not with legal proclivities and the workings of flesh, which the law alike provokes and condemns, but with the darkness which we once were when without the Lord. But now we are called to walk as children of light, which is our very nature in Him, and we are reminded that its fruit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth. God's exceeding riches and grace in no way weakens, but rather confirms, the display of His moral principles, and makes them good even in us His children, whatever we may have been and are naturally. The new life He has given us in Christ answers to His own goodness and righteousness and truth. It could not be - it ought not to be - otherwise; nor would the renewed heart calmly bear that He should be dishonoured or even misrepresented in the objects of His favour. He implants in us the desire of pleasing Himself, and He watches over us that this desire should be neither vague nor uninfluential, but bear fruit - the fruit of the light, "proving," as it is added, "what is acceptable unto the Lord." (Ver. 10.)
Again, it is not enough for our souls to refuse to be partakers with the children of disobedience, as in verses 6, 7. We must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even expose them. (Ver. 11.) It is all a part of our marvellous place and responsibility as being children of light. It is not law, simply condemning as by an applied outward standard, but an inward and most searching divine capacity, which, whatever the love that is the source and end, spares evil even less, but brings in good by the Holy Ghost in Christ. "For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret [i.e., the doers of the fruitless works of darkness]; but all things when reproved [or exposed] are made manifest by the light; for whatsoever doth make [or is made] manifest is light." (Ver. 12, 13.) It is the property of light to manifest itself and all things else; and this is quite as true spiritually as in nature.
But there is more in the Lord's mind here concerning us. He would have us in the full enjoyment of the blessing, and not content to possess it only. There are dead things and persons around us, and their influence when allowed is most injurious. "Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead and Christ shall enlighten thee." (Ver. 14.) It is not giving us life as if we were dead, nor even light as if we were not light already, but rather shining upon us who are light in Him, yet slumbering carelessly in the midst of that which is dead and deadening. How vigilant His love which thus thinks of us, that our cup of blessing may run over and our souls may be delivered from that which degrades Him and even us in Him, that we may be full of that which we are as His own! How every word of His, how every circumstance of ours, calls us to see how carefully we walk (ver. 15), not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the fit opportunity because the days are evil! We are furnished indeed; but constant watching and dependence are needed. The due season must be, looked at and sought, let it be ever so costly, if, in these evil days, we would not be senseless, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. (Ver. 16, 17.) Worldly excitement must be avoided, and those incentives to nature which jaded man craves, wherein is excess. Yet we may and should be absorbed with a power above nature, which excludes not only what is evil, but the power of present things. "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 to him who is God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ." (Ver. 18-21.) Speaking "to yourselves" means, I suppose, and might be translated, to one another, as in Eph_4:32; speaking to one another in every form wherein the joy of the Church expressed itself. I understand them all to be the sacred metrical compositions of Christians, outpourings of worship and praise, or of holy feeling, the word "spiritual" being added to the last or lowest class of them to mark even their consecration to the Lord. This is true and holy joy. May we cultivate it in simplicity. In truth, we have a goodly portion. What can we not thank Him for, who is our God and Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus? What else makes us so happily submit to one another in His fear?
We now enter upon the special earthly relations. The general exhortations we have had, which concern the saints of God as such - children of God and members of Christ's body. But now the Holy Ghost shows that He is not indifferent to the relations which these saints may sustain, either towards one another, or towards others upon the earth. There might be, for instance, husbands and wives, both of them Christians; or there might be only one in this relationship converted, the other being still a Jew or a heathen; and so with the relation of fathers and children, masters and servants. For the present we have only to do with that which pertains to the nearest tie upon earth, that of husband and wife. And we shall find that the Holy Ghost most amply provides for the wants of the children of God bound thus together; so that whatever may be their difficulties, they may find gracious instruction and grave exhortation, and not merely commands in reference to the circumstances in which they stand before God - for this is not strictly the form in which christian regulation comes before us. Of course, there may be and are, precepts and commandments throughout the New Testament. Indeed the one who most brings out love presses commandments most; for it is in the Gospel and Epistles of St. John, where the greatest stress is laid upon such injunctions; and yet we all know that there is no part of Scripture which brings out God's love to us more strikingly and constantly. It is, therefore, the greatest possible mistake to suppose that there is any inconsistency between God's love, and the strictest injunction that His authority lays upon His children.
Still it is undeniable that as the general character of christian instruction does not take the shape of commandments of a legal shape, so we are not set under the Mosaic commandments to form our present thoughts and feelings and course as Christians. Nay, we have got nothing analogous to the law, but a decided and complete contrast, according to Scripture, for "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Commandments we have; but they suppose and regulate life, and are calculated to bring the obedience of Christ (1 Peter 1) into exercise; and there is nothing more beautiful to the soul, nor more glorifying to God. Ordinarily the way in which instruction comes in the New Testament is thus: there is a relationship formed, and according to its character, amply unfolded and enforced in the word, we have to glorify God. As this is true in natural things, so the Spirit of God uses an every-day relationship as the occasion of bringing out the spiritual one that answers to it. And our hearts being occupied with the exceeding grace that has formed the new and eternal tie, we may find not only a motive, but a pattern and power to glorify God in the natural as well as the spiritual one. There is one place where this comes out more strikingly than in the first of these relationships on which the Holy Ghost here expands peculiarly. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." The opening comparison which He uses, before entering into the spiritual relationship which is brought before us after the figure of marriage, the very first thought is to present the headship of the man, as having special force in married life. We all know that, apart from marriage, the man is the head of the woman. That is, if there were no such thing as marriage, man has a place which woman has not - a place entirely independent of character. We may find a man imbecile, and a woman with firmness and wisdom; but nothing can alter God's order. We may find a child endowed with great prudence, and the parents unwise and weak. Still the relationship is altogether apart from the peculiar character, and state, and condition of those either in the superior place or in the subordinate. And it is of great importance that we should have the thing settled in our souls, that no circumstances whatever warrant a breach of Gods arrangements. There are trying circumstances which make the difficulty immense in either relationship. But it is of deep consequence to remember that the rights of God's order always abide; that nothing ever justifies disobedience of His will. There may be cases where obedience of the natural order of God would be a sin: there are none where disobedience is a duty. You cannot be required to disobey under any circumstances. But there are crises where you must obey God rather than man. It is an exceeding mercy that the times are few indeed, where obeying God involves an apparent breach of natural order and moral duty. But it may be so. You will find, for instance, in the beginning of the Acts, Peter and John charged, by the powers of that day which governed in Israel, not to teach in the name of Jesus. What could they do but fall back upon the authority of God? They could put it to those very rulers that their consciences were bound to God before men. Thus the first great principle remains and is plain, before we enter upon particulars, that obedience is always the part of the Christian.
Hence, flowing out of the general call to submission in the fear of Christ (for Christ is the one brought before us with continual honour in this epistle), the Spirit takes up this first appropriate place for a christian woman, and lays down the word, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." Although this may appear extraordinarily strong language, when we remember what husbands are or may be, still it is a great thing to be always certain that God is right. To human prudence it may seem little guarded. Perhaps you have even to do with an unconverted husband! But only bring in the Lord, and at once you see the power that will make submission easy, and you learn the measure to which submission is to be carried. But more than that, you have the guard against the abuse of the principle; "Submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." The Lord is brought in, and this sets everything right. If it is a question of trial or suffering, still the word is the same. The Lord may put us through great difficulties and dangers. What is the proper place of the Christian under such circumstances? Unqualified submission. Because I ought to be sure that, whatever may be the breaking up and down which these trials may occasion to one's spirit, yet whatever the Lord does is the best and happiest and most strengthening in the end to my soul, the Lord being incapable of any one thing for me that is not for enduring good to the praise of His own name.
In this epistle it is not merely God's control that is brought out, but special relationship. Here it is the Lord loving His own, with a love that has sacrificed everything for their sake. How can I doubt the blessedness and value of submitting myself to the Lord? The Christian wife may have a husband; and it may be very painful and hard to bear all. Perhaps he makes nothing of you, and asks often what is unreasonable. But what will make the burden light, though felt? "Submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." I am to submit unto my husband as unto the Lord: let me only see the Lord in the matter, instead of his inconsiderateness and bad temper, and my path is plain. It is made a matter, not of mere duty, but of confidence in the Lord as above everything in His love, care, and government. This is what the Holy Ghost first starts with, and makes to be the basis of all the various instructions that He is about to bring forth. He begins with the grand truth, that the christian woman is entitled to submit to her husband as unto the Lord. So that it is not made a question simply of affection, which would be human: this is a most necessary thing as a natural element, but it would be true if a person were not a Christian at all. Neither is it a question of that which the husband expects, or of what I might think to be right. All these things belong to the region of proper feeling and morality. But the important thing is that God cannot be with a christian woman who walks in the habitual slighting of His ground for her in her relationship as a wife. He will not allow a Christian to walk merely on moral or conventional grounds. They may be right enough in their place, but, if I am a Christian, I have a higher calling; and then, no matter what may be the difficulty - even if the one to whom I owe my subjection be not a Christian - here comes in the blessed direction, "Submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." He entitles me to see Himself behind the person of the husband; and I have got to follow Him and to submit myself to Him. In this thought there would be great comfort for the christian wife who is ever so tried. But then the limit of the trial comes in - for there is a limit in every path - and it is this: that God never puts me in any circumstances where I am free to commit a sin. Therefore, supposing a husband were to command that which would be positively sinful, thence at once I learn that I am not bound, because I am told to submit to my husband, as unto the Lord. The Lord would never sanction what is sinful. He may put me through the sieve, and I may not at first understand the goodness or the need of it; but faith constantly finds its strength and guidance in the Lord's wisdom - in trusting Him, and not my wisdom in understanding Him. And you will find that we grow in wisdom by being content to take the place of having none. If my confidence is in His wisdom, I shall gather wisdom and grow in it. Our Lord was perfectly man; and although always perfect in every condition of life, yet the great mark of His perfectness lay in this - He was ever the dependent One who looked up to God, and who could say, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" There was at once for man the lowest, but in truth, the highest place. He understood the secret of His own relationship to God the Father. And although this was true of Christ as of none others, yet it is surely true of every believer in measure.
But we have most carefully to watch ourselves in this matter. Wherever there is the smallest tendency to slip out of the path of submission, we have to search and see, if we are wise according to God. Nature never likes to be subject. And wherever there is a danger of pleading the truth of God for any act that might seem to be a want of submission to the authority of another, I have need to watch myself with greater jealousy than in any other thing. When we are found in a path where submission is the word, let us leave room to bring in the Lord. In order to give power and faith to our obedience, and a holy character to it, I should see that it is the Lord I am obeying, even while there is an earthly authority to which I am subjected. The blessed truth that the Lord was about to introduce begins to open to us. "For a husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the Church: he is Saviour of the body." (Ver. 23.) In this we have an allusion to the near relationship, which is intended to show us how we ought to walk towards one another in this respect. Although He, and none but He, is the Saviour, there is no taking the Church or the saint out of the place of subjection, but expressly the reverse.
"Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands in everything." Such is the general principle. But then, you will observe, there is always a measure and a guard in every such word of Scripture. It is not simply said, "Therefore, let the wives be subject in everything to their own husbands," but "Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be," etc. There I find that Christ's own blessed way of caring for the assembly and dealing with it in its due subjection to the Lord, is brought in as the pattern of wives towards their own husbands. But it is when we come to the higher of the two relationships, that we have the Holy Ghost bringing out its character more clearly. "Husbands, love your wives." Here we find what the snare of the husband might be. First, the wife is to look to her temper, that she discipline her spirit in thorough submission to her husband. It is not said to her, to love her husband, but to submit herself to him. But Satan might take advantage, and (they being in the relationship) the husband might be wanting in tender care and affection. There is the ruling and guiding the wife; but what he is exhorted to here is that which his circumstances most need, and which would be most for his own soul's good and the comfort of his wife. So that the word is, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." What a holy standard! What a most unselfish, considerate, pure, and heavenly Exemplar is brought before us, in order that the relationship, which might be easily degraded, should have and keep its due elevation; and that even the poorest saints on earth, so bound together, might have the light and love of heaven shining upon them.
"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." Thus we have the love of Christ to the church set forth as the model according to which the christian husband is to seek that his own love to his wife should be conformed. Look at its source and character: "Christ also loved the assembly." All flows out of this. Need I, even as a man, say, that love, as it is what ought to precede a marriage, so is the only secret which, in nature, makes the marriage happy when it is formed? The love of Christ that is shown us here is taken in from first to last, as one unbroken whole. It is well to remember it in married life: the love that was true before the tie was formed, is a love that abides when it is formed, and that should grow unto the end.
Certainly it was so perfectly in our Lord. He loved the church. It is a question of a very special affection here on the part of Christ. It is not the general truth of God's love, who loved the world even; but no relationship was formed with the world. The important thing to look at here is that, although it is a love that exists before the relationship, it finds its proper exercise in it, and ever continues its real strength and joy. And if we turn aside from looking at the earthly thing to that which is set forth by it, how great the grace, and how rich the blessing! Once it was a joy for our hearts to realize that God could love sinners, and so love as to spend His Son upon us, sinners as we were. But there is another kind of love that we know now. God has taken the relationship of a Father to us; at any rate He has brought us into that of children by Jesus Christ to Himself. We are "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." Accordingly the Father loves us with a father's heart; it is not only that He loves the creature as God, but He loves us as a father - yea, as the Father of our Lord Jesus loved Him, and not only in the measure in which a human parent regards his children. In such a circle there might be complacency and delight; and when we think what and who we are, to think that such an one as God the Father could delight in us now in this world, is most wondrous! that He should infinitely more love us than an earthly father does the child that he loves best, and that this love should extend towards the weakest and most needy of His family! There is also a conditional love towards those that are walking faithfully, and St. John brings this out in John 14, 15. But now I am speaking of unfailing, personal love in the relationship in which God stands as Father to His children, as such; which does not only pity, but look with pleasure upon and take delight in them now, spite of everything that is calculated to turn aside or weaken His love. Ought I not, as in Christ, to be as sure of this, as I am of my own existence as a man? yea, to have a better knowledge and certainty of what His love is towards me, than of anything that affects me as one living on the earth? I have that in me which is not proof against the deceptions of the world outside. But in the things of God, where faith lives, it is not so. There is, there ought to be, divine certainty.
Where God clearly reveals Himself, the soul should receive it in humbleness of mind; and the more humble, the more sure, because the ground of the assurance is that God has revealed it to us. It is a question of Himself and not of us at all. If this be so, what a wonderful place it is to be in Christ! It is quite true that Christ loved me, but here it is the Church - "the assembly;" and Christ has a special love for His assembly, which I am entitled to appropriate and count on. This makes the gathering together of the children of God as the assembly to be so precious, and shows the all-importance of not reducing it to a voluntary society, small or great. The moment you bring in the will of man, you virtually and at once destroy the divine ground which Scripture assumes. Whereas, if you see that God has formed a certain bond in the Holy Ghost for the glory of His Son among those who belong to Him on the earth now, and that Christ regards those who are within that bond with a perfect and most peculiar love; then it is the greatest possible joy that our own souls should enter into His love, and next that we should seek to act by His word upon the other members of the body of Christ, that they may believe and enjoy it also. It is not a part only, but He "loved the assembly." The reason why I use the word "assembly" is that people often have a very vague notion about the Church. The word is usually and completely misapplied in the present day. It is said of a religious building, or of a particular party, in particular of what may be dominant anywhere. But bring in "the assembly," and understand by it the whole body of those that God calls out from this world by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; and there you learn the special love that God has revealed in Christ, not merely to the soul, but to the assembly which is His body on earth.
Of course, the death of Christ was essential, in order that the gospel should now be preached to the world. This, too, is the ground on which the heavens and earth will be cleared of all that now pollutes and defiles. Everything for the justification of God in the past, and for the outflow of the love of God in the future, is founded upon the death of Christ. Hence the momentous value of His redemption, for earth and heaven, for Jew, Gentile, and Church of God, for time and eternity. But, besides, there is great force in the word, "He delivered himself up for it." There was nothing in Christ that He did not give. It is not what He did, nor only what He suffered, but He gave Himself. Of course, it implies all that was in Him and of Him, but it goes a great deal farther, because it is absolute self-renunciation in love for the sake of the object that He loved; the perfect pattern of the very fulness of love, which it is quite beyond any human relationship to emulate. Justly does the Spirit, in addressing the christian husband, show us that Christ in all things has the pre-eminence; "He delivered himself up for us." What is the consequence? The Church is without sin before God - sins are blotted out for ever - redemption is effected - Satan is defeated - divine wrath and judgment borne - ordinances, which were against those that were under them, are nailed to the cross - the enmity is gone - the new man is formed; and all this, and much more than this, founded upon Christ's surrender of Himself. The effect for us is that here we have, in unclouded light, without doubt or question, Himself in love, as the object of our souls to delight in and submit to and serve and worship evermore.
I have no more right to believe that Christ gave Himself for me, than I have to believe that my iniquities are completely purged out by His precious blood. If I believe the one, I owe it to God to believe the other; and the ground of my faith is God's testimony to the perfectness of what Christ has done according to the glory of His person. God sets such value upon His work of suffering on the cross, that He can perfectly love me. We are free. We have redemption through His blood. But it is in Him, not only through His blood, but in Him; as it is said in Ephesians 1, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." So that it is of great importance that, while we hold redemption, we should not hold it, if I may be allowed so to say, apart from but in Him. And what will enable me to estimate, and hold fast the preciousness of this work, is His person; we must remember not only what was done, but who He was that did it. If you in self-judgment, cleave to Him and to these two blessed truths in Him, there never can be a cloud upon your soul as to your own perfect deliverance from all charge before God.
But now comes another thought. If Christ has completed this, if it is a past thing, never requiring to be re-touched, we enter upon the second proof of His love "that he might sanctify it, having cleansed [it] by the washing of water by the word." I take it that the sanctifying the Church spoken of here, though connected closely with its being cleansed through the word, is a distinct thing. These are two operations and there is an important difference between sanctifying the Church and cleansing it. This sanctifying does not merely refer to our growth in grace, it is connected with Christ. It is not the Spirit of God merely working in the believer. Men talk as if it were the business of the Son to justify, and of the Spirit to sanctify. But we are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. All that by virtue of which we are washed, and sanctified, and justified, is Christ; and it is by the Spirit of our God. The Spirit of God is the active agent in the justification, no less than in the sanctifying; but it is always by using Christ. Hence there is a great danger in disconnecting Christ from sanctification. Christ gave Himself for the Church, "that he might sanctify and cleanse it." His blood is involved in His giving Himself, though this is more than that.
In fact, all that which flows into and from redemption, properly so called, is supposed in verse 25: "He loved the church, and gave himself for it." This is a past thing, followed by that which is going on all the time of the Church's existence upon the earth. As the fruit of His love comes the death of Christ for us - His giving Himself for the Church. And now you have, founded upon the cross, the sanctifying and cleansing that goes on continually. But how is it wrought? In both cases it is by the washing of water by the word. This shows us the immense importance of the word of God. Of what moment it is for every child of God to value that word and to seek to grow in acquaintance with God through it - to increase in the knowledge of God! So far from our belonging to the Church, or rather to Christ, being the sum and substance of all we have to learn, it is only the foundation; and it is after we know this, that there follows all the sanctifying and cleansing by the washing of water by the word. So that it is clear we have got three fruits of the love of Christ that are very distinct indeed. The first is, that He gave Himself (that is, unto death); the second is, the present work of His life. Since the cross, He is occupying Himself in heaven about the Church; He is taking care of His members, working by the Holy Ghost, and applying the word of God. And all is connected with Himself, because the whole starting-point is Christ's love to the Church. He is sanctifying and cleansing now by the washing of water by the word; but we know that our sins were put away by His blood.
Before we turn to the third effect of His love, allow me to say here that a fresh application of the blood of Christ is unknown to Christianity. There are Christians, no doubt, who tell you that you must have fresh recourse to the blood; but they have no Scripture for their thought. On the contrary, it weakens the fundamental truth of the efficacy of Christ's own sacrifice, which it is intended, after a human fashion, to commend and exalt. Such is the effect of forming our own thoughts of the use that is to be made of any truth, instead of simply bowing to the word of God. The moment we take a truth out of His connection for us, it is like rooting up that which has its own due place in the garden of God, where it produces its proper, abundant, and precious fruit, but which becomes a withered thing when man takes it into his own hands. Repetition as to this would prove imperfectness. This foundation has been laid so completely in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that it never requires to be laid again. There is no more the possibility of a fresh sprinkling of Christ's blood, than there is room left for His dying once more to shed His blood. When a soul has found Him and been washed from sin in His blood, there it abides for ever. This is what makes the sin of a Christian to be so serious. If you could begin again, what is the effect? Not very different from that which his confession before a priest has upon the Romanist. People soon learn to trifle with sin, and to get hardened by its deceitfulness. Although it is a different thing where Christ is looked to, still the moral effect is much the same, as far as the making light of sin is concerned. If a person can again and again start afresh, as if a trifle had happened, and begin over and over again for every new downfall, sin is never felt nearly so deeply. For on one side we are bound to bring no stain upon that which is washed in the blood of Christ, yet, on the other, we are conscious of constant failure.
Is there, then, no resource? Is there no renewal of access to the cross? It would be a tremendous thing if there were no provision against our failings and falls, no means of dealing with these departures: but there is a resource, and we have it here - "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." You have similar truth set forth in its individual application to John 13. There it was on the ground that the disciples were His own; that He loved them, and that whom He loved He loved unto the end: and then we find that, being exposed to defile themselves in the world, the Lord would guard them against two things; first, the anxiety lest He should cease to love them because they were unfaithful; secondly, the danger of their using His faithfulness as a reason for trifling with sin. Christ will never cease to love, nor will He trifle with sin or allow us to trifle with it. He keeps us always resting on His blood. But, then, supposing one is guilty of sin after receiving remission of sins, what is to be done? Let us go and spread it out before God. The veil is not set up again because you have acted foolishly outside it. You are entitled to draw near and spread out your failure before God - to come to Him on the very ground that you are washed in the blood of Christ. What is the effect of this? and what is this the effect of? It is because Christ is sanctifying and cleansing, keeping up the washing of water by the word. There may be this corporate aspect of it, as well as the individual - both are true. It is true for every soul and for the Church at large. Christ is always acting in the presence of God on behalf of the Church; and the consequence is the needed reproof and chastening. A man is brought to feel what he has done. Some word ofGod, either in his own meditation, or through others, flashes upon his soul. He is convinced of his folly; the will has ceased to act; the word of God is brought home with power by the Holy Ghost; the man bows under it to the Lord.
This is the washing of water by the word. It is the effect ofChrist's priesthood at the right hand of God. The application of the word of God to the soul is the effect of the intercession of Christ to put away failure wherever it has been. The work that He is doing at the right hand ofGod has an intercessional character. A great deal of that which goes on in the soul is not provision for failure, but to guard against failure. God does not count upon sin - He does not look for failure in His child. On the contrary, there is a most solemn injunction against sin. "My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not." He had been telling them, that ifany man say he has no sin, he deceives himself, and the truth is not in him. Then the effect of that on the corrupt heart of man would be, that some would infer sin to be not so much matter after all. "My little children," he says, "these things write I unto you that ye sin not." We are never free to sin. We are always inexcusable when we do sin. "But," it is added, "if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." There you have what answers to the Scripture before us. It is not that the position of Christ is the same, but the effect, as far as regards the soul, is similar. Christ is carrying on His blessed action of love, and the effect is that there is that in the word of God which applies itself, by the grace of God, to our fault; so that the sanctifying spoken of here is the practical setting us apart according to our proper calling as God's assembly - the making it good in our souls by the word of God. This is done by the revelation of Christ, and of Christ as He now is in the presence of God. And this is what is referred to in 2 Corinthians 3, where it is said, "We all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." We find that the Holy Ghost, revealing Christ as He is glorified now before God, separates us from the world which knows nothing of His glory, but is bent upon its own glory connected with present things. God reveals to us Christ on high, and the effect is that we are weaned from the false glitter of this evil age.
But this being the complete account of what Christ does, there is the cleansing, as well as the sanctifying, the Church. All defilement requires to be removed; and in both cases it is the washing of water by the word which God uses. But there is a third and future fruit of His love - "that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing." There we have clearly the complete blessing of the Church, when there will be no question of cleansing it any more; when all the love of Christ will have its perfect effect, and when the Church will be glorious according to His own likeness, "That he might present the church to himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Thus we have the full, divine account of the love of Christ. But mark, it is not introduced merely in a doctrinal form, but in a most practical way, for the purpose of illustrating the place of the christian husband towards his wife. The husband can only act properly towards his wife when the relationship is regarded on higher ground than a natural one. A Christian must act upon heavenly principles, in order to act well in a natural relationship. You might have a husband attached to his wife, and a wife ever so much attached to him; but if this is their whole ground in married life, it will never have the power, blessing, and honour of God. Though it is all quite right, yet more than this is needed; and the something more that is needed is just the constant reminding of our souls how Christ feels and carries Himself toward the Church. There is always blessing and power in believing the word ofGod. If not using the word, we shall not have Hisstrength in the natural relationship ofthis life; yet we ought to have it. If we have it not thus, are we not so far doing without that which would give power, and which God would own and honour?
The Spirit applies it, "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself." He is now taking up the common instinct that men naturally avoid pain and take care of themselves. He is speaking only of the fact, and says, Look upon your wife as a part of yourself; and that anything that would wrong her is so much wrong done to your own body. It would teach you affectionate care, "for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:" a beautiful and sweet addition to the truth that was already brought out. All the rest had shown redemption, the present practical cleansing, the future glorification of the Church. But now he adds, that Christ "nourisheth and cherisheth it." There is the special entrance of His mind, His careful interest in those that belong to Him. It is a great comfort that we know this to be true in the present state of the Church, when we think of the ruin of all around. Does Christ ever cease to nourish that which belongs to Him? Impossible. Spite of all the ruin, He has the same care for His people. We never can pray too much for the Church; but it is another thing to be troubling our minds as if the Lord forgot her, and were not taking adequate care of the saints in their need and sorrow. The Lord has never failed; and what He here tells us to do in our earthly relationship is no more than what He perfectly does towards His Church. He loves the Church; He nourishes and cherishes it, and He does this because "we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." Just as Eve was a part of Adam, so the Church is of Christ. The Lord took out of Adam's side that which He built into his wife. So we stand in this nearness of relationship to Christ.
The verse is sometimes applied to Christ's becoming man; but it is the converse of this. It does not mean Christ taking our flesh and bone, but our being made members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. It is our relationship to Christ risen from the dead, and not Christ's relationship to us as a man upon the earth. I only refer to it to guard souls. There is no allusion to our Lord's taking flesh and blood, which we know He did: this is taught in Hebrews, but not here. We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. We are really a part of Himself, united to Him as He now is in the presence of God. It is our union to Him, not His incarnation.
The case of Adam is then quoted, and of Eve, in language of allusion to Genesis 2. "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. 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." Thus we have the subject summed up with this practical word. I need not say that everything contrary to the most entire confidence in such a relationship is excluded by this verse. The husband, if acting in the spirit of it, has no secret from the one that is part of himself: but as to the wife, let her see that she reverence or (literally) fear her husband. It would not be the mere familiarity of love, which is wrong in a heavenly point of view. Whatever the confidence of a wife in her husband, it is surely a becoming thing for a wife to fear him. Nor is this the least incompatible with love. We are told to hold fast grace; and what is the effect? That we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. There is an immense difference, of course, between God and man; but it may serve to illustrate. Here it is the fear that dreads to offend, and seeks earnestly the husband's honour. This holds true in every case. Supposing you take the case of a stupid husband who has a clever wife; if he shows what he is from day to day, so much the more has the wife to guard her own spirit, that she should use what she has for her husband without seeming to do so. And now comes in the very important thing, that in these circumstances she should honour God and her husband, instead of a word to himself or to others that would wound or show a want of care. It is in such circumstances that the wisdom and spiritual feeling of a godly woman should shine, and shine by not shining: for the blessing of the married pair supposes that the man should appear and not the woman. Where the heart is simply looking to the Lord, there would be this result: and although it might look unseemly that such should be linked together and it would make their path more difficult, still there is nothing impossible to God. And if the christian woman sought the mind of God, honouring Him in the circumstances, God would use her in a very blessed and happy way for the helping of her husband, and for the covering of that which would be mortifying to him. But the principle always abides. As nothing justifies a husband in not loving his wife, so nothing justifies a wife in not reverencing her husband. The Lord grant that we may bear in mind His holy and gracious admonition.