Eph_4:1-3. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in lore; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
THE end of all true religion is practice: and the perfection of practice is a habit of mind suited to the relations which we bear to God and man, and to the circumstances in which from time to time we are placed. It is not by external acts only that we are to serve God: the passive virtues of meekness, and patience, and long-suffering, and forbearance, are quite as pleasing in his sight, as the most active virtues in which we can be engaged. Hence St. Paul, in entering on the practical part of this epistle, entreats the Ephesian converts to pay particular attention to these graces, and to consider them as the clearest evidences of their sincerity, and the brightest ornaments of their profession. He was at this time a prisoner at Rome: but no personal considerations occupied his mind. He had no request to make for himself; no wish for any exertions on their part to liberate him from his confinement: he was willing to suffer for his Lord’s sake; and sought only to make his sufferings a plea, whereby to enforce the more powerfully on their minds the great subject which he had at heart, their progressive advancement in real piety.
With a similar view we would now draw your attention to,
His general exhortation—
First, let us get a distinct idea of what the Christian’s “vocation” is—
[It is a vocation from death to life, from sin to holiness, from hell to heaven.
Every Christian was once dead in trespasses and sins [Note: Eph_2:1. Tit_3:3.] — — — But he has heard the voice of the Son of God speaking to him in the Gospel [Note: Joh_5:24-25. 1Th_1:5.] — — — and, through the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, he “has passed from death unto life [Note: 1Jn_3:14.];” so that, though once he was dead, lie is now alive again; and though once lost, he is found [Note: Luk_15:24.] — — —
From the time-that he is so quickened, he rises to newness of life [Note: Rom_6:4-5.]. Just as his Lord and Saviour “died unto sin once, but, in that he liveth, liveth unto God,” so the Christian is conformed to Christ in this respect, “reckoning himself dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ [Note: Rom_6:9-11.].” By his very calling he is “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Act_26:18.];” and engages to be “holy, even as God himself is holy [Note: 1Pe_1:15-16.]” — — —
Once the believer was a “child of wrath, even as others [Note: Eph_2:2.];” and, had he died in his unconverted state, must have perished for ever. But through the blood of Jesus he is delivered from the guilt of all his sins, and obtains a title to the heavenly inheritance — — — Hence he is said to be “called to the kingdom and glory of his God,” and “to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 1Th_2:12 and 2Th_2:13-14.].”
Thus is the Christian’s “a high,” “a holy,” and “a heavenly calling.”]
Such, believer, being thy vocation, thou mayest easily see what kind of a walk that is which is suited to it—
[Dost thou profess to have experienced such a call? “Walk worthy of the” profession which thou makest, the expectations thou hast formed, and the obligations which are laid upon thee.
It is not any common measure of holiness that befits a person professing such things as these. How unsuitable would it be for one who pretends to have been “born from above,” to be setting his affections on any thing here below; or for one who is “a partaker of the Divine nature,” to “walk in any other way than as Christ himself walked!” — — —
And, seeing that you “look for a better country, that is, an heavenly,” should you not aspire after it, and “press forward towards it, forgetting all the ground you have passed over, and mindful only of the way that lies before you? — — — Should not “your conversation be in heaven,” where your treasure now is, and where you hope in a little time to be, in the immediate presence of your God?
If you have indeed been so highly distinguished, should you not “live no longer to yourselves, but altogether unto Him who died for you and rose again?” Should any thing short of absolute perfection satisfy you? Should you not labour to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Col_4:12.]?”
This then is what I would earnestly entreat you all to seek after, even to walk worthy of your high calling, or rather, “worthy of the Lord himself,” who hath “called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”]
But that we may come more closely to the point, we will call your attention to,
The particular duties he inculcates—
In order to adorn our Christian profession, we must especially keep in view,
1. The cultivation of holy tempers in ourselves—
[Without this, nothing can ever prosper in our souls. “Lowliness and meekness” are unostentatious virtues; but they are of pre-eminent value in the sight of God [Note: 1Pe_3:4.]. They constitute the brightest ornament of “the hidden man of the heart,” which alone engages the regards of the heart-searching God. In the very first place, therefore, get your souls deeply impressed with a sense of your own unworthiness, and of your total destitution of wisdom, or righteousness, or strength, or any thing that is good. No man is so truly rich as he who is “poor in spirit;” no man so estimable in God’s eyes, as he who is most abased in his own. With humility must be associated meekness. These two qualities particularly characterized our blessed Lord [Note: 2Co_10:1.]: of whom we are on that account encouraged to learn [Note: Mat_11:29.]; and whom in these respects we are bound to imitate, “having the same mind as was in him [Note: Php_2:5.].” Let these dispositions then be cultivated with peculiar care, according as St. James has exhorted us; “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge amongst you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom [Note: Jam_3:13.].”
And whilst we maintain in exercise these graces, let us also be long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. However meek and lowly we are in ourselves, it cannot fail but that we must occasionally meet with things painful from others. The very graces which we manifest will often call forth the enmity of others, and cause them to act an injurious part towards us. But, if this should be the case, we must be long-suffering towards them, not retaliating the injury, nor harbouring resentment in our hearts, but patiently submitting to it, as to a dispensation ordered by Infinite Wisdom for our good. But, where this is not the case, there will still be occasions of vexation, arising from the conduct of those around us: the ignorance of some, the misapprehensions and mistakes of others, the perverseness of others, the want of judgment in others, sometimes also pure accident, will place us in circumstances of difficulty and embarrassment. But from whatever cause these trials arise, we should shew forbearance towards the offender, from a principle of love; not being offended with him, not imputing evil intention to him, not suffering our regards towards him to be diminished; but bearing with his infirmities, as we desire that God should bear with ours.
Now it is in preserving such a state of mind in ourselves, and manifesting it towards others, that we shall particularly adorn the Gospel of Christ: and therefore, in our endeavours to walk worthy of our high calling, we must particularly be on our guard, that no temper contrary to these break forth into act, or be harboured in the mind.]
The promotion of peace and unity in all around us—
[As belonging to the Church of Christ, we have duties towards all the members of his mystical body. There ought to be perfect union amongst them all: they should, if possible, be “all joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment [Note: 1Co_1:10.].” But, constituted as men are, it is scarcely to be expected that all who believe in Christ should have precisely the same views of every doctrine, or even of every duty. But whatever points of difference there may be between them, there should be a perfect unity of spirit: and to preserve this should be the constant endeavour of them all. All should consider themselves as members of one family, living under the same roof: if the house be on fire, they all exert themselves in concert with each other, to extinguish the flames: they feel one common interest in the welfare of the whole, and gladly unite for the promotion of it. Thus it should be in the Church of Christ. Every thing tending to disunion should be avoided by all; or if the bonds of peace be in any degree loosened, every possible effort should be made to counteract the evil, and re-establish the harmony that has been interrupted. A constant readiness to this good office is no low attainment; and, when joined with the graces before spoken of, it constitutes a most useful and ornamental part of the Christian character. Attend then to this with great care. Shew that you “do not mind your own things only, but also, if not chiefly, the things of others.” Shew, that the welfare of the Church, and the honour of your Lord, lie near your heart: and let no effort be wanting on your part to promote so glorious an object. Be willing to sacrifice any interest or wish of your own for the attainment of it; even as Paul “became all things to all men,” and “sought not his own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved.”]
And now, let me, like the Apostle, make this the subject of my most earnest and affectionate entreaty. Consider, “I beseech you,”
Its aspect on your own happiness—
[It is the consistent Christian only that can be happy. If there be pride, anger, or any hateful passion indulged, “it will eat as doth a canker,” and destroy all the comfort of the soul; it will cause God to hide his face from us, and weaken the evidences of our acceptance with him. If then you consult nothing but your own happiness, I would say to you, “Walk worthy the vocation wherewith ye are called; and especially in the constant exercise of humility and love.”]
Its aspect on the Church of which you are members—
[It is impossible to benefit the Church, if these graces be not cultivated with the greatest care. In every Church there will be some, who, by unsubdued tempers, or erroneous notions, or a party-spirit, will be introducing divisions, and disturbing the harmony which ought to prevail. Against all such persons the humble Christian should be on his guard, and oppose a barrier. And it is scarcely to be conceived how much good one person of a humble and loving spirit may do. If “one sinner destroyeth much good,” so verily one active and pious Christian effects much. Let each of you then consider the good of the whole: consider yourselves as soldiers fighting under one Head. Your regimental dress may differ from that of others; but the end, and aim, and labour of all, must be the same; and all must have but one object, the glory of their common Lord.]
Its aspect on the world around you—
[What will the world say, if they see Christians dishonouring their profession by unholy tempers and mutual animosities? What opinion will they have of principles which produce in their votaries no better effects? Will they not harden themselves and one another in their sins, and justify themselves in their rejection of the Gospel, which your inconsistencies have taught them to blaspheme? But if your deportment be such that they can find no evil thing to say of you, they will be constrained to acknowledge that God is with you of a truth, and to glorify him in your behalf. Especially, if they see you to be one with each other, as God and Christ are one, they will know that your principles are just, and will wish to have their portion with you in a better world [Note: Joh_17:21-23.].]
Its aspect on your eternal welfare—
[In all the most essential things, all the members of Christ’s mystical body are of necessity united: there is “one body,” of which you are members: “one Spirit,” by which you are animated; one inheritance, which is the “one hope of your calling;” “one Lord,” Jesus Christ, who died for you; “one faith,” which you have all received; “one baptism,” in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, of which you have all partaken; one God and Father of all, who “is above all,” by his essential majesty, and “through all,” by his universal providence, “and in you all” by his indwelling Spirit [Note: ver. 4–6.]: and shall you, who are one in so many things, be separated from each other so as not to be one in Christian love? It cannot be: your love to each other is the most indispensable evidence of your union with him: and, if you are not united together in the bonds of love in the Church below, you never can be united in glory in the Church above. If ever then you would join with that choir of saints and angels which are around the throne of God, be consistent, be uniform, be humble; and let love have a complete and undisputed sway over your hearts and lives.]