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I intend, if providence shall give me opportunity, to illustrate and improve this whole epistle; in doing which I shall lay before you a system of christian doc. trines and precepts in the order and connexion in which the Apostle has arranged them.
At pr sent I shall confine myself to the words which have been read.
Paul here calls himself an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
The word Apostle signifies a messenger sent on some particular business. Jesus Christ is called an Apostle, because he was sent of God to instruct and redeem mankind. Paul and others are called Apostles, because they were sent of Christ to teach the doctrines which they had received from him. To the eleven disciples, after his resurrection, he says, "As the Father hath sent me, so send I you. All power is given me in heaven and in earth. Go teach, or proselyte, all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Their commission did not confine them within any prescribed limits, as did the commission of those whom the Apostles ordained over particular churches; but it authorized them to go forth and spread the gospel in all parts of the world; and to confirm this extensive commission, as well as to give their ministry success. Christ, according to this promise, wrought with them, and established their word with signs following.
Paul says, He was an Apostle by the will of God. In his epistle to the Galatians he styles himself, an Apostle, not of man, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father. He received not his call or commission from man, nor was he, as Matthias was, chosen to his Apostleship by men; but he was called by Jesus Christ, who in person appeared to him for this end, that he might send him among the Gentiles; and by God the Father, who revealed his Son in him, and chose him that he should know his will, and be a witness of the truth unto all men,
But though he was called of God by revelation, yet it was not a secret revelation known only to himself, like the revelations on which enthusiasts and impostors ground their pretensions; but it was a revelation made in the most open and public manner, attended with a voice from heaven, and a light which outshone the sun at noonday, and exhibited in the midst of a number of people to whom he could appeal as witnesses of the extraordinary scene.
Notwithstanding this heavenly vision, Paul entered not on the execution of his apostolic office, nor once presumed to preach the gospel, till Ananias came to him, and, laying his hands on him, declared, that God had chosen him to bear Christ's name among the Gentiles. The truth of this declaration Ananias confirmed by a sudden and miraculous restoration of Paul to his sight. Nor was he received by the Apostles at Jerusalem, until he was recommended to them by the testimony of Barnabas, who had been intimately acquainted with these previous transactions. Nor did he, after all, go forth to execute his commission among the Gentiles, until the elders of the church at Antioch had solemnly separated him to this work by fasting, and prayer, and the imposition of their hands.
The great business of Paul and the other Apostles was to diffuse the knowledge of the gospel, and plant churches in various parts of the world. And when a competent number of believers were collected in a particular place, some meet person was usually ordained to reside among them as a stated teacher. Accordingly we find Timothy ordained over this church of Ephesus, by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, of which Paul himself was one. And the authority which Timothy had thus received, the same he was ordered to commit to faithful men, who should be able to teach others; and he was cautioned to lay hands suddenly
on no man.
Paul was an Apostle according to the will of God, as he was called to, and furnished for the work of an Apostle by revelation from God, and as he was introduced into the apostolic office in an open and solemn manner, according to the institution of God.
Paul directs this epistle to the saints and faithful. By the same, or similar appellations, he in most of his epistles, addresses the churches of Christians.
We cannot suppose that he intends by these terms to declare all the members of this, or any other particular church, to be godly persons; for this, in fact, was not the state of any church. In all the churches founded by the Apostles, there were many who, after some time, discovered the corruption and wickedness of their hearts. The phrases rather denote, that they had been called out of the world, and separated from others, that they might be a peculiar people unto God. The words, saints, faithful, brethren, disciples, christians, are often used in a general sense, to express men's visible, professed characters, rather than any certain judgment concerning the habitual temper of their hearts. The sabbath, the temple, its utensils, and the ground on which it stood, are called holy, because they were separated from a common, to a sacred use. The nation of the Jews, corrupt as it was, is called a holy nation, because it was separated from other nations for the service of the true God. So the Christian church is called a holy nation, a peculiar people, to shew forth the praises of him, who had called them out of darkness into his marvellous light. In many places the word saints stands opposed, not to unsound Christians, but to heathens.
However, though the Apostle does not, by these terms, declare, that the Ephesian professors were all pure in their hearts, yet he taught them, and he teaches us, that all ought to be so. We are called to be holy; we are brought to the enjoyment of gospel hopes and privileges, that we might serve God in new
ness of spirit-that we might not be conformed to this world, but, being transformed by the renewing of our mind, might prove what is the acceptable will of God. The religion which we profess, contains the highest motives to purity of heart and life. If content with a verbal profession of, and external compliance with, this religion, we regard iniquity in our hearts, we are guilty of the vilest prevarication; and our religion, instead of saving us, will but plunge us the deeper into infamy and misery. That which is the visible, ought to be the real character of Christians; saints and faithful in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle in the next place, expresses his fervent desire, that these Ephesians might receive grace_and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Under these general terms are comprehended. all the glorious blessings, which are revealed and offer. ed in the gospel.
Grace signifies free, undeserved favor. Such are all the blessings which we receive through Christ. If we deserved, or could claim them from the justice of God, on the foot of our own works, there would have been no need of the interposition of a Saviour. He came only to save them who are lost.
The pardon of sin is grace; for it is the remission of a deserved punishment. "The wages of sin is
Eternal life is grace, for it is a happiness of which we are utterly unworthy. "They who receive abundance of grace reign in life by Jesus Christ."
The influences of the divine spirit are grace; for they are first granted without any good dispositions on our part to invite them; they are continued even after repeated oppositions; they prepare us for that world of glory, for which we never should qualify ourselves.
These blessings come to us through Christ. They are the fruits of his atonement and mediation. But
still they are the fruits of God's grace, as much as if he had bestowed them absolutely, and without this wonderful purchase; for the gift of the Saviour is the consequence of the grace of God, "Who so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, that we might live through him."
The Apostle wishes to the Ephesians peace, as well as grace. By this we are to understand that peace of mind, which arises from a persuasion of our interest in the favor of God. Our peace with God is immediately connected with our faith in Christ. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." Our peace of mind is connected with our knowledge of the sincerity of faith. "If our heart condemn us not, wè have confidence toward God." The sincerity of our faith is proved by the fruits of it in our lives. The way to enjoy peace, is to increase in all holy dispositions, and to abound in every good work.
If the Apostle wished grace and peace to Christians, surely they should feel some solicitude to enjoy them. You think your minister should be concerned for the happiness of his people; but ought not every one rather to be concerned for his own? You censure the coldness which you observe in the teachers of religion; you wish they were more zealous and animated: And will you at the same time neglect the means of relig ion, which you enjoy? You would have others take more pains for your salvation: And will you take no pains for your own? Let every man give diligence for himself, that he may obtain grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Apostle, in the words which follow, expresses a strong and lively sense of gratitude for the rich and inestimable blessings granted through Christ to an unworthy race. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, or in heavenly things, in Christ.