Eph_2:3. And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
AMONG the many beautiful traits which mark the character of St. Paul, we cannot but notice particularly his readiness to place himself on a level with the least and lowest of mankind, and to confess his obligations to the sovereign grace of God for all the difference that had been made between him and others. In his Epistle to Titus he gives such a representation of himself and his fellow-Apostles in their unconverted state, as was most humiliating to them, whilst it afforded rich encouragement to all who felt the plague of their own hearts. In like manner, in the epistle before us, after shewing that the Gentile world had been altogether in a state of bondage to sin and Satan, he declares, that he himself, and all others without exception, had in fact been in a condition no less deplorable, both by nature and practice;—by practice having habitually fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and being “by nature children of wrath, even as others.”
That we may fully enter into the confession which he here makes, we shall,
Explain the terms here used—
We may notice them,
[As in the preceding verse the words “children of disobedience” mean “disobedient children,” so, in our text, “children of wrath” must be understood as importing “children doomed to wrath:” just as a similar expression of St. Peter is actually translated: what in the Greek is “sons of a curse,” is in our translation “cursed children [Note: 2Pe_2:14.].” It is a Hebraism, common throughout all the inspired writings.
Such, we are told, is the state of all “by nature.” Those who are adverse to the doctrine of original sin, would interpret these words as importing, that men were in this state “by habit or custom:” but the words cannot with any propriety be so construed: the only true and proper sense of them is that which our translators have here assigned to them [Note: See Guyse’s note on the text.].
The Apostle further says, that he and his fellow-Apostles were in this state, “even as others.” The Jews were ready enough to account the Gentiles accursed; but they thought that no curse could attach to them, because they were children of Abraham. This mistake St. Paul rectifies in our text, declaring, that whatever privileges the Jews might enjoy above the Gentiles, there was in this respect no difference between them; the Jews, yea the Apostles themselves, being, by nature, children of wrath, even as others.]
Taken in their collective sense—
[According to their plain and obvious and undeniable import, they declare, that every child of man, whatever be his privileges, or whatever his attainments, is by nature under the wrath of God.
All, as fallen in Adam, deserve God’s wrath. Adam was the covenant-head and representative of all his descendants. Had he stood, they would have stood in him: and as he fell, they fell in him. If it be thought strange, that his posterity should be responsible for his act, let it suffice to say, that, if he fell, there can be no doubt but that we, if subjected to the same trial, should have fallen also: yea, considering all the circumstances in which he was placed, (created in the fullest possession of all his faculties, having a perfect nature, and subjected only to one single trial, and having dependent on him the welfare, not of himself alone, but of all his posterity,) it was infinitely more probable that he would stand, than that we should, who come into the world in a state of infantine weakness. But, whether we approve of it or not, so the matter is; and so it was ordained of God: and, exactly as Levi is said to have paid tithes in Abraham, (though he was not born till one hundred and fifty years after the circumstance of paying tithes occurred,) merely because he was in the loins of Abraham at the time that he paid tithes to Melchizedec, so may we be justly said to have sinned in Adam, because we were in the loins of Adam when he sinned. Hence it is declared by God himself, that, “in Adam all have sinned [Note: Rom_5:12.],” and “in Adam all have died [Note: 1Co_15:22.].”
[Moreover, all, as partakers of Adam’s fallen nature, are fit for the wrath of God. Adam begat children in his own fallen likeness. Indeed, being corrupt himself, he could transmit nothing but corruption to his descendants; “for who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” Now in whomsoever iniquity be found, God cannot look upon it without abhorrence: and hence it is said, that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” “neither can corruption inherit incorruption.”
Further, all, both as fallen in Adam, and corrupt in themselves are actually under a sentence of wrath, and actually doomed to it. This is indeed an awful truth; but it is explicitly declared by an inspired Apostle, that, “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,” yea, that “by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation [Note: Rom_5:18-19.].”]
Having endeavoured to ascertain the precise import of the words, we proceed to,
Establish the truth contained in them—
In proof of what our text asserts, we appeal,
[Consult the declarations of Almighty God. In the Old Testament he has testified, that every human being, without exception, is corrupt, not in act only, but “in every imagination and thought of his heart [Note: Gen_6:5.].” And this testimony which the heart-searching God himself bore before the flood, as a reason for destroying the earth, he renewed after the flood, as a reason why he would deluge the earth no more; seeing that, if he should proceed to destroy it as soon as it should become universally corrupt, he would have to repeat his judgments continually, there being nothing but iniquity in every child of man [Note: Gen_8:21.]. In the New Testament we have a similar declaration from our blessed Lord. He, assigning a reason why no unregenerate man can possibly behold the kingdom of God, says, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh [Note: Joh_3:6.],” and therefore incapable of enjoying a spiritual kingdom.
With these declarations of God agree the confessions of his most eminent saints. To his original corruption David traced the sin which he had committed in the matter of Uriah; not intending thereby to extenuate, but rather to aggravate, its guilt: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin hath my mother conceived me [Note: Psa_51:5.].” St. Paul also, speaking of the conflicts which he yet had to maintain against the corruption that remained within him, says, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing [Note: Rom_7:18.]:” “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members [Note: Rom_7:23.].” Thus we see both these eminent saints confessing that their nature, as derived from their first parents, was altogether corrupt.
To these we may add the promises which God has made to his fallen creatures: “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh [Note: Eze_36:26.].” What can be the meaning of this? What need they a new heart, if the old heart be not corrupt? or why should he promise to take away the stony heart, if the heart be not by nature hard and obdurate?
Not to multiply passages, which yet might be multiplied to a great extent, we will further appeal,]
[Let any one make his observations on what passes all around him, or trace the records of his own heart, and say, whether children, as born into the world, be not partakers both of Adam’s corruption, and Adam’s punishment.
Is not every child full of evil tempers and dispositions? There is, it is true, more evil in some than in others: but who ever saw “a child in whose heart folly and iniquity were not bound up?” If a child be even tolerably free from fretfulness, and impatience, and selfishness, and falsehood, is it not admired as a prodigy? And when children grow up to the exercise of reason, do they improve that reason in seeking after God? Do they not invariably shew that their dispositions are altogether earthly, and that by nature they affect only the things of time and sense? Nor is this the case with children of one age or one nation only, but of every age, and every nation, yea, of the most godly parents too, as well as of the ungodly.
And, as they inherit the corruption of Adam, so do they also his guilt and punishment. Death, we know, was the penalty of Adam’s transgression; “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” But children who have never sinned in their own persons, are subjected to death: we see little new-born infants oppressed with sickness, and racked with pain, and cut off by an untimely stroke of death. For whose sin are they thus punished? Their own? They are not capable of actual sin. It is for Adam’s sin therefore that they are punished [Note: Rom_5:12; Rom_5:14.]: and that indisputably proves, that they are, as they are represented in our text, “children of wrath.”
We do not say that children, dying before they have committed actual sin, are consigned over to everlasting death: we hope, and believe, that God does, for Christ’s sake, extend his mercy to them: but this alters not the case at all: we consider only what they are in themselves, and what they deserve at God’s hands, and to what, as fallen creatures, they are doomed by God’s righteous law: the relief which may be afforded them by the Gospel is not the present subject of our consideration: our present position which we are to establish, and which we think we have fully established, is, that all, as born into the world, are “children of wrath.”]
We will now endeavour to,
Suggest a suitable improvement of the subject—
Surely we may see from hence—
In what a deplorable condition are all they who are yet in a state of nature—
[Children of wrath were they born, and children of wrath have they continued to the present hour. We know indeed how strenuously it is asserted by many, that baptism and regeneration are the same thing, and that to look for a new nature in conversion is unnecessary. But we would ask every parent here present, have you invariably found that your children, from the moment that they were baptized, put away their evil dispositions, and instantly became new creatures? Is it even generally found, that this change takes place at baptism? I might almost proceed to ask, did you ever see this change so wrought by baptism, that you could not do otherwise than refer it to baptism as the means which God made use of for that end? We do not presume to say, that God never does confer a new heart in baptism; but we say, that if that be the usual, and still more the constant, means of regeneration to the children of men, it is very extraordinary that the change wrought is so rarely visible, that, if it were undeniably to appear, it would be universally esteemed a miracle. The truth is, that they who are so strenuous for this opinion, have invariably but very low notions of original sin. It is their low sense of their disease that leads them to rest in such a remedy. But, as “the fault and corruption of their nature is such as deserves God’s wrath and damnation [Note: See the Ninth Article of our Church.],” they must have a new nature given to them by the operation of the Holy Ghost: they must be renewed, not externally, or partially, but inwardly, and in all the powers of their souls: they must “be renewed in the spirit of their minds [Note: Eph_4:23.],” their whole dispositions being changed from earthly and carnal to spiritual and heavenly: in a word, they must be created anew in Christ Jesus [Note: ver. 10.], and become altogether “new creatures, old things passing away, and all things becoming new [Note: 2Co_5:17.].” The change may not unfitly be compared with a river where the tide comes: one while it flows with great rapidity from the fountain-head to the ocean: a few hours afterwards it flows with equal rapidity back again towards the fountain-head: and this change is wrought by the invisible, yet undisputed, influence of the moon. In like manner does the soul of every truly regenerate man flow back towards God, from whom but lately, with all its faculties and powers, it receded: and this change is effected by the invisible, but real and undoubted, operation of the Spirit of God: and till this change is effected, we remain under the wrath of Almighty God. O consider the wrath of God: how terrible the thought! To all eternity it will be “the wrath to come.” May God stir us all up to flee from it, and, in newness of heart and life, to “lay hold on eternal life!”]
In what a happy condition are they who have been brought from a state of nature to a state of grace—
[Such, whilst they humbly acknowledge that they “were children of wrath,” may with adoring gratitude assure themselves, that they are so no longer. But let them never forget what they were, or what obligations they owe to that grace of God which has delivered them. Hear how strongly St. Paul inculcates this on those to whom our text was addressed: “We were by nature children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, of his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ”.
“Wherefore remember,” (O beloved brethren, remember,) “that at that time ye were without Christ, (O, think of that!) being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ [Note: ver. 4, 5, 11–13.].” Dear brethren, remember this transition; and let every syllable that records it fill your souls with gratitude to your almighty Saviour and Deliverer.]
What attention should be shewn to the welfare of the rising generation—
[They are “all by nature children of wrath.” And should they be left in that awful state? Should no means be used to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God?
O parents, look at your dear offspring; and whilst fondling them in your arms, or delighting in their progress, remember what they are, and cry mightily to God for them night and day. Be not contented with their advancement in bodily strength, or intellectual power, or temporal condition; but seek above all things to behold them turning to God, and growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let all your plans for them have respect to this one point, the changing of them from children of wrath to children of the living God.
Let those also who have the care of children [Note: If this be the subject of a Sermon for Sunday Schools or Charity Schools, the Instructors in particular may be here addressed.] endeavour to get their own minds impressed with the thought, that their office is not so much to convey instruction in worldly knowledge, as to lead the souls of the children to Christ, that they may be partakers of his salvation: and let them engage in their work with hearts full of tender compassion to their scholars, and of zeal for God.
And, my dear children, let me address also a few words to you. Think me not unkind if I remind you of what you are by nature. If I speak to you as children of wrath, it is not to wound your feelings, but to stir you up to improve the opportunities that are afforded you for attaining a better and a happier state. What would you do, my dear children, if you were shut up in a house that was on fire, and a number of benevolent persons were exerting themselves to rescue you from the devouring element? would you not strive which should first be partakers of the benefit? Know then, that this is a just representation of your state: you are children of wrath, and are in danger of dwelling with everlasting burnings: and the object of your instructors is, to shew you how you may flee from the wrath to come. O listen to their instructions with all possible care; treasure up in your minds all their exhortations and advice; and beg of God, that through those Scriptures which they explain to you, you may be made wise unto salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.]