Charles Simeon Commentary - Ephesians 4:20 - 4:21

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Ephesians 4:20 - 4:21

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Eph_4:20-21. But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.

WE shall do well ever to remember, that Christianity is not a mere speculative theory, that is to inform the mind; but a great practical lesson, to renew the heart, and to bring us back to the state from whence we are fallen. The means which it prescribes for the attainment of its end, are doubtless most mysterious: but still the end is that for which the means are ordained; and the restoration of our souls to the Divine image must be our one constant and uniform pursuit. St. Paul ever bears this in mind. He sets forth, in the clearest view, and the most glowing colours, the wonders of redeeming love: but he ever comes to this at last, that we are to “be sanctified by the truth,” and that “the truth must set us free” from all our spiritual enemies. He was, at the time he wrote this epistle, imprisoned at Rome: yet what did he desire of the Ephesian Church? Did he request them to interest themselves in his behalf, that he might be restored to liberty? No; the thought did not so much as enter into his mind: the welfare of their souls was all his concern: “I, therefore,” says he, “the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that ye walk worthy the vocation wherewith ye are called [Note: ver. 1.]:” and again, “This I say and testify in the Lord, that ye walk not as other Gentiles walk [Note: ver. 17.]:” ye are instructed better: ye can never conform to their practices: no; “ye have not so learned Christ, if so be ye have heard him, and been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.”

In these remarkable words, we see,

I.       The Christian’s education—

“He has been instructed by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.”

There is a teaching which proceeds from Christ himself—

[I readily grant, that, in learning from the inspired writings, we may properly be said to learn of Christ: for he himself said to his Apostles, “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me [Note: Luk_10:16.].” But it is evident that much more than this is contained in the words before us: in fact, here is a contrast drawn between those who learn by the word, or human teaching only, and those who learn of the Lord Jesus Christ himself: the former may find their instruction insufficient to regulate their life: the latter never can; because Christ instructs the heart, to which nothing but Omnipotence can gain access. This teaching is sometimes ascribed, in Scripture, to the Father: “Every man that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me [Note: Joh_6:45.].” Sometimes it is ascribed to the Son: “No man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him [Note: Mat_11:27.].” Sometimes it is ascribed to the Holy Ghost: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things [Note: Joh_14:26.].” But the truth is the same; since, whether it be the Father or the Son who instructs us, it is always by the agency of the Holy Spirit, To say exactly how Christ instructs us, is beyond our power: it is not by visions, or by voices, or by dreams, as in the days of old; but by opening to us the Scriptures, and giving us a spiritual perception of the truths contained in them. We know not how our own spirit operates on our body: yet we have no doubt but that it does; because the body obeys in all things the motions of the mind: so, though we cannot define the precise mode in which the Spirit of God operates on our spirit, we know, by the effects, that an influence is exerted by Him upon our minds, and that by that influence we are enabled to see and comprehend many things which to the natural man are utter foolishness [Note: 1Co_2:9-12; 1Co_2:14.].]

This teaching every true Christian receives—

[In matters of science, the Christian has no advantage above others: his progress will be regulated by laws that are common to every student. But in the concerns of the soul he has a decided superiority, above all his equals in age and learning. He has the Lord Jesus Christ for his instructor: his “heart has been opened by the Lord, as Lydia’s was, to attend to the things of God [Note: Act_16:14.];” and his understanding has been opened to understand them [Note: Luk_24:45.].” It was by this teaching that Peter, a poor fisherman, was enabled to declare the true character of Christ, which the Scribes and Pharisees, with all their advantages, were not able to discern: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven [Note: Mat_16:17.]” If it be thought that this privilege was confined to the Apostles, or to the apostolic age, I answer, that it is the portion of all God’s people to the end of time; according as it is written, “All thy children shall be taught of God, and great shall the peace be of thy children.”]

Suited to this education is,

II.      The Christian’s walk—

The Apostle tells us what this is: he tells us,

1.       Negatively, what it is not—

[The state of the Gentile world is awful in the extreme. Whatever may be the conduct of a few amongst them, the great mass are alienated from all good, and addicted to all evil. As for God, they know him not, nor have any desire to know him. Their minds are altogether alienated from every thing which God would approve: they have no disposition but towards the vanities of this polluted world; nor, when they transgress what even their own consciences would dictate, do they feel that compunction of heart that would become them. The unenlightened amongst ourselves do not indeed resemble the Gentiles in some respects: they are free from open idolatry, and more limited perhaps in their sensual indulgences: but in an alienation from the life of God, and an addictedness to earthly vanities, they differ very little from the heathen world. But true Christians are of a very different mind: as the Apostle says, “Ye have not so learned Christ.” No, indeed: the true Christian has not so learned Christ: he cannot “run to the same excess of riot” that ungodly men do; nor will he be conformed, in any of these vanities, to the world around him. He “comes out from the world, and is separate; and would not willingly touch the unclean thing;” much less revel in all manner of uncleanness: and this very separation from the world is that which chiefly incenses the world against him. He comes out from “the broad road which leadeth to destruction, and walks rather in that narrow path which leadeth unto life.”]

2.       Positively, what it is—

[The Christian, who has really heard Christ, and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus, will adhere to the truth as it is in Jesus: he will labour that the full end of Jesus’s incarnation and life and death should be realized in him. He will see how the truth was exemplified in Jesus; and will endeavour “so to walk, even as he walked.” Not that he will be satisfied with any change in his outward conduct: he will seek to become a new creature; to put off the whole body of sin, with which he is encompassed; and to put on the whole body of righteousness, whereby he may approve himself to God. The life of God, from which the unenlightened is alienated, is that which he will cultivate to the utmost of his power; and in maintaining it, he will labour with all earnestness, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before, if by any means he may attain so rich a prize.]


1.       Those who desire to understand the Gospel—

[Remember what it is you have to learn: the Apostle calls it “learning Christ.” This gives us the complete idea of all that a Christian needs to know. The Gospel is an exhibition of Jesus Christ: all that he is in himself, and all that he is to us, is there revealed: all the mysterious purposes of his grace; all the offices that he sustains in the work of redemption; all that he has done and suffered; all that he is now doing; all that he has engaged to do; all that can be known of him, is there set forth; and there may we behold all the glory of the Godhead shining in his face. This, then, is what we have to learn: the knowledge of Christ is all and in all. Come, then, and sit at the feet of Jesus: come, and learn of him with all docility of mind, as little children; entreat him to take away the veil from your hearts, and to “manifest himself unto you as he does not unto the world.” Then shall you “behold his glory, even the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father;” and know Him, whom to know is life eternal. And let no one be discouraged because of his want of intellectual powers: for “what he has hid from the wise and prudent, he will reveal to babes and sucklings;” and “his strength shall be perfected in their weakness.”]

2.       Those who desire to adorn the Gospel—

[Take not the world’s standard of duty as that which you should aim at: for I declare and “testify,” that that will not suffice; nor can you ever please God by such a measure of sanctification as the best of unenlightened men affect. No; “you must not walk as other Gentiles walk;” nor as the merely nominal Christian walks. You must soar far above him: you must see how Christ himself walked, and follow him in all his ways; being “pure as he was pure,” and “perfect as he was perfect.” And never imagine that you have yet attained. To your latest hour there will be remnants of “the old man to be put off,” and larger measures of “the new man to be put on.” It is not in your life and conversation merely that you are to be “renewed,” but in the entire “spirit of your mind:” from being earthly, sensual, devilish, you must become heavenly, spiritual, divine; and never cease, till you have attained to the full measure of the stature of Christ himself. This is to walk worthy of your vocation; and in this shall your “learning of Christ” most surely issue. If you truly hear him, and are taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, you cannot so walk as the world around you walk; nor can you but “walk, as Christ himself walked.”]