Eph_4:11-16. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
IT is a truth never to be forgotten, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the fountain of life, and that “all our fresh springs are in him,” Unless this be borne in mind, we shall never be able to do the will of God aright; nor will Christ ever be glorified by us as he ought to be. Hence the Apostle, after exhorting the Ephesian converts to walk worthy the vocation wherewith they had been called, reminds them, that, so far as they had been enabled to do this, they had done it through grace received from the Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to the predictions concerning him, had ascended up to heaven, and bestowed it upon them. One particular prediction to this effect he specifies; and then, commenting upon it, declares, that Jesus, having triumphed over all his enemies, had, after the manner of conquerors, who scattered gifts and largesses amongst their followers, conferred these and other blessings upon them. Of the other blessings he had bestowed upon his Church, the Apostle mentions some which were extraordinary and temporary, as apostles, prophets, and evangelists; and some which were ordinary and permanent, as pastors and teachers, whose office was to be continued for the benefit of the Church in all succeeding generations.
What the particular benefits were which the Church was to derive from these pastors and teachers, he then proceeds to notice, and sets them forth under a variety of most beautiful and instructive images. That we may enter more fully into the subject, we shall endeavour to shew,
The ends for which a stated ministry was ordained—
The perpetuating of a succession of duly qualified instructors in the Church—
[This seems to be the import of those words which first occur in our text, and which might perhaps have been more properly translated, “For the fitting of holy men for the work of the ministry for the edification of the body of Christ.” Amongst the Jews, especial care was taken that the knowledge of the true God should be transmitted to the latest generations: as David says; “God established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children [Note: Psa_78:5-6.].” So under the Christian dispensation, care is taken, that there never shall be wanting a, succession of persons duly qualified and authorized to transmit to every succeeding generation the knowledge of Christ, and of his Gospel. St. Paul says to Timothy, “The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also [Note: 2Ti_2:2.].” Were the ministerial office to cease, the Church itself would soon fall into decay: for though it is certain that the Scriptures are of themselves, when applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul, able to make men wise unto salvation, it is also certain, that the ministry of the word is, and ever has been, the chief instrument which God makes use of for the conversion of the world. A vision was given to Cornelius, and an angel sent to inform him where he might find an authorized instructor; and repeated visions were given to Peter, and not only given, but explained to him by the Holy Ghost, in order to remove his scruples, and prevail upon him to go to Cornelius, for the express purpose of honouring God’s instituted means of communicating the knowledge of his Gospel. For the very same end was Philip directed, by the Holy Ghost, to go to the Ethiopian eunuch, and to open to him the portion of Scripture which he was reading. The Spirit might as easily have opened the eyes of the eunuch, without the intervention of Philip: but he chose to put the honour on the means which he had instituted; and to effect that by his minister, which he would not effect by the word alone.
In all ages shall such ministers be raised up, through the operation of the preached word; nor shall the Church cease to be supplied with them, till there shall remain no more members to be added to her, nor any further work to be wrought in those of which she is composed.]
The edification of the Church itself—
[The Church of Christ is his body: those who believe in him are his members: and every member has a measure of growth which it is destined to attain: and it is the completeness of the members in number and proficiency, that constitutes the perfection of the whole body. Towards this perfection the Church is gradually advancing. To help forward this good work is the office of God’s servants, who are continually labouring for the good of the Church, and striving to edify her in faith and love. The ignorant they are to instruct; the weak they are to strengthen and establish; the wandering they are to bring back; and over every member are they so to watch, that all may be progressively fitted for the discharge of their respective offices, and that God may be glorified in all.]
But as the ministry can be effectual only through the medium of our own exertions, it will be proper to shew,
The use we should make of it—
It finds us sinners: it brings us to the state of saints: and when formed by it into one great community, it leads us to a performance of the duties we owe to all the members of that body. In each of these states we have duties to perform—
As sinners, we should seek that faith which alone will save us—
[There is but “one faith;” and one “knowledge of the Son of God,” in which we must be all agreed. In matters of minor importance we may differ from each other: but “the Head we must all hold:” we must simply look to the Lord Jesus Christ, as dying for us, and as making reconciliation for us by the blood of his cross; our hope must be in him, and in him alone: and, if we place the smallest dependence on any thing of our own, we can have no part in his salvation. In relation to this matter, there must be no diversity: perfect “unity” is required: and to bring you to this unity, is the great scope of our labours. Brethren, consider this; and inquire whether our ministry has had a proper influence upon you in this respect? Have you been made to feel yourselves guilty and undone; and have you fled to Christ for refuge, as to the one hope that is set before you? — — — Have you renounced all dependence whatever on yourselves; and are you daily looking to him as “made of God unto you wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?” — — — We say again, that if our ministry be not effectual to bring you to this, it is not a savour of life unto you, but a savour of death to your more aggravated condemnation.]
As believers, we should seek to “grow up into Christ in all things”—
[Whilst we are yet weak in the faith, we are in constant danger of being turned aside from the truth of God. Both men and devils will labour incessantly to draw us from the one foundation of a sinner’s hope. But we are to be “growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” We are not to continue “as children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine:” we are to be aware of the devices of our enemies: we are to get a deeper insight into the great mystery of godliness: we are to become daily more and more established in the truth as it is in Jesus, so as to be proof against all “the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” On whatever side we are assaulted, our enemies should find us armed. Are we attacked by the specious reasonings of false philosophy, or the proud conceits of self-righteous moralists, we should reject the dogmas both of the one and the other, and “determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “To him we should cleave with full purpose of heart,” making daily more and more use of him in all his offices. As our Priest, we should confide more simply in the atonement he has offered for us, and in his continual intercession for us at the right hand of God. As our Prophet, we should rely on him more entirely to instruct us in the knowledge of God’s will, and to guide us into all truth. As our King, we should look to him to put down all our enemies, and to bring every thought of our hearts into captivity to his holy will. In a word, we should live more simply and entirely by faith in him, receiving daily out of his fulness all that we stand in need of, and improving it all for the glory of his name.
Thus to establish you in Christ, is a further intent of our ministry; even to bring you to live in the same communion with him, as the members have with the head. You must feel that you have nothing in yourselves, but all in him: and whatsoever communications you receive from him, must be employed in executing his will, and in promoting his glory.]
As members of Christ’s mystical body, we should seek to promote the welfare of the whole—
[In the natural body, all the members consult and act for the good of the whole: no one possesses any thing for itself only; but all being compacted together by joints and ligaments, and every joint, from the largest to the smallest, supplying a measure of unctuous and nutritious matter, each according to its ability, for the benefit of the member that is in contact with it, and for the good of the whole body, all grow together; and that from infancy to youth, from youth to manhood, till the whole has attained that measure of perfection which God has designed for it. Thus it must be in the mystical body of Christ’s Church. Believers are no more independent of each other, than they are of Christ: as they are united unto him by faith, so are they to be united to each other by love. None are to consider any thing which they possess as private property, but as a trust to be improved for the good of the whole. Nor are they to consider only that part of the body with which they are in more immediate contact, but the whole without exception; assured, that the happiness of the whole is bound up in the welfare of every part; and that all being connected by one common interest, all must labour together for one common end.
When this is attained, the intent of our ministry is fully answered. A life of faith, and a life of love, is that for which God has begotten us by his Gospel — — — But let me ask, Is this end answered upon us? Do we regard the whole Church of God, as well that part which is more remote, as that which is nearer to us, as members of our own body, entitled to all possible care and love? O that it were thus in every place under heaven! O that there were no schisms in this sacred body! But let there be no want of effort, on our part, to advance the temporal and spiritual welfare of all around us: let there be “an effectual working in the measure of every part, that so the body may be increased, and the whole be edified in love [Note: This may be easily improved for any subject connected with the ministry.].”]