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Ephesians 4:17-19

17. This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind;

17. Hoc ergo dico et testificor in Domino, ne ambuletis amplius, quemadmodum et gentes reliquae ambulant,

18. Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:

18. In vanitate mentis suae, excaecatae in intelligentia, alienatae a vita Dei propter ignorantiam, quae in illis est, propter caecitatem cordis earum;

19. Who, being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

19. Quae postquam dolore tangi desierunt, seipsas tradiderunt lasciviae, ad perpetrandam omnem immunditiam cum aviditate.

 

17. This I say therefore. That government which Christ has appointed for the edification of his church has now been considered. He next inquires what fruits the doctrine of the gospel ought to yield in the lives of Christians; or, if you prefer it, he begins to explain minutely the nature of that edification by which doctrine ought to be followed.

That ye henceforth walk not in vanity. He first exhorts them to renounce the vanity of unbelievers, arguing from its inconsistency with their present views. That those who have been taught in the school of Christ, and enlightened by the doctrine of salvation, should follow vanity, and in no respect differ from those unbelieving and blind nations on whom no light of truth has ever shone, would be singularly foolish. On this ground he very properly calls upon them to demonstrate, by their life, that they had gained some advantage by becoming the disciples of Christ. To impart to his exhortation the greater earnestness, he beseeches them by the name of God, — this I say and testify in the Lord, 147147     “Μαρτύρομαι ἐν κυρίῳ — In this sense μαρτύρομαι is obviously used by Polybius: συνδαραμόντων δὲ τῶν ἐγχωρίων καὶ μαρτυρομένων τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐπανάγειν ἐπὶ τὴν ἀρχήν, when the inhabitants had run together and besought to bring the men to the magistrates. It is more customary to use διαμαρτύρομαι in this sense. Πολλὰ γὰρ τῶν κυβερνητῶν διαμαρτυρομένων μὴ πλεῖν παρὰ τὴν ἔξω πλευρὰν τὢς Σικελίας, because the pilots earnestly implored them not to sail along the opposite coast of Sicily.” — Raphelius. — reminding them, that, if they despised this instruction, they must one day give an account.

As other Gentiles walk. He means those who had not yet been converted to Christ. But, at the same time, he reminds the Ephesians how necessary it was that they should repent, since by nature they resembled lost and condemned men. The miserable and shocking condition of other nations is held out as the motive to a change of disposition. He asserts that believers differ from unbelievers; and points out, as we shall see, the causes of this difference. With regard to the former, he accuses their mind of vanity: and let us remember, that he speaks generally of all who have not been renewed by the Spirit of Christ.

In the vanity of their mind. Now, the mind holds the highest rank in the human constitution, is the seat of reason, presides over the will, and restrains sinful desires; so that our theologians of the Sorbonne are in the habit of calling her the Queen. But, Paul makes the mind to consist of nothing else than vanity; and, as if he had not expressed his meaning strongly enough, he gives no better title to her daughter, the understanding. Such is my interpretation of the word διανοία; for, though it signifies the thought, yet, as it is in the singular number, it refers to the thinking faculty. Plato, about the close of his Sixth Book on a Republic, assigns to διανοία an intermediate place between νόησις and πίστις but his observations are so entirely confined to geometrical subjects, as not to admit of application to this passage. Having formerly asserted that men see nothing, Paul now adds, that they are blind in reasoning, even on the most important subjects.

Let men now go and be proud of free-will, whose guidance is here marked by so deep disgrace. But experience, we shall be told, is openly at variance with this opinion; for men are not so blind as to be incapable of seeing anything, nor so vain as to be incapable of forming any judgment. I answer, with respect to the kingdom of God, and all that relates to the spiritual life, the light of human reason differs little from darkness; for, before it has pointed out the road, it is extinguished; and its power of perception is little else than blindness, for ere it has reached the fruit, it is gone. The true principles held by the human mind resemble sparks; 148148     “Il y a bien en l’esprit de l’homme des principes et maximes veritables, qui sont commes estincelles.” “There are, in the mind of man, many true principles and maxims, which resemble sparks.” but these are choked by the depravity of our nature, before they have been applied to their proper use. All men know, for instance, that there is a God, and that it is our duty to worship him; but such is the power of sin and ignorance, that from this confused knowledge we pass all at once to an idol, and worship it in the place of God. And even in the worship of God, it leads to great errors, particularly in the first table of the law.

As to the second objection, our judgment does indeed agree with the law of God in regard to the mere outward actions; but sinful desire, which is the source of everything evil, escapes our notice. Besides, Paul does not speak merely of the natural blindness which we brought with us from the womb, but refers also to a still grosser blindness, by which, as we shall afterwards see, God punishes former transgressions. We conclude with observing, that the reason and understanding which men naturally possess, make them in the sight of God without excuse; but, so long as they allow themselves to live according to their natural disposition, they can only wander, and fall, and stumble in their purposes and actions. Hence it appears in what estimation and value false worship must appear in the sight of God, when it proceeds from the gulf of vanity and the maze of ignorance.

18. Being alienated from the life of God. The life of God may either mean what is accounted life in the sight of God, as in that passage,

“they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,”
(John 12:43,)

or, that life which God bestows on his elect by the Spirit of regeneration. In both cases the meaning is the same. Our ordinary life, as men, is nothing more than an empty image of life, not only because it quickly passes, but also because, while we live, our souls, not keeping close to God, are dead. There are three kinds of life in this world. The first is animal life, which consists only of motion and the bodily senses, and which we have in common with the brutes; the second is human life, which we have as the children of Adam; and the third is that supernatural life, which believers alone obtain. And all of them are from God, so that each of them may be called the life of God. As to the first, Paul, in his sermon at Athens, says, (Acts 17:28,) “In him we live, and move, and have our being;” and the Psalmist says,

“Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created; and thou wilt renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30.)

Of the second Job says,

“Thou hast granted me life, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” (Job 10:12.)

But the regeneration of believers is here called, by way of eminence, the life of God, because then does God truly live in us, and we enjoy his life, when he governs us by his Spirit. Of this life all men who are not new creatures in Christ are declared by Paul to be destitute. So long, then, as we remain in the flesh, that is, in ourselves, how wretched must be our condition! We may now form a judgment of all the moral virtues, as they are called; for what sort of actions will that life produce which, Paul affirms, is not the life of God? Before anything good can begin to proceed from us, we must first be renewed by the grace of Christ. This will be the commencement of a true, and, as the phrase is, a vital life.

On account of the ignorance that is in them. We ought to attend to the reason which is here assigned; for, as the knowledge of God is the true life of the soul, so, on the contrary, ignorance is the death of it. And lest we should adopt the opinion of philosophers, that ignorance, which leads us into mistakes, is only an incidental evil, Paul shews that it has its root in the blindness of their heart, by which he intimates that it dwells in their very nature. The first blindness, therefore, which covers the minds of men, is the punishment of original sin; because Adam, after his revolt, was deprived of the true light of God, in the absence of which there is nothing but fearful darkness.

19. Who being past feeling. The account which had been given of natural depravity is followed by a description of the worst of all evils, brought upon men by their own sinful conduct. Having destroyed the sensibilities of the heart, and allayed the stings of remorse, they abandon themselves to all manner of iniquity. We are by nature corrupt and prone to evil; nay, we are wholly inclined to evil. Those who are destitute of the Spirit of Christ give loose reins to self-indulgence, till fresh offenses, producing others in constant succession, bring down upon them the wrath of God. The voice of God, proclaimed by an accusing conscience, still continues to be heard; but, instead of producing its proper effects, appears rather to harden them against all admonition. On account of such obstinacy, they deserve to be altogether forsaken by God.

The usual symptom of their having been thus forsaken is — the insensibility to pain, which is here described — being past feeling. Unmoved by the approaching judgment of God, whom they offend, they go on at their ease, and fearlessly indulge without restraint in the pleasures of sin. No shame is felt, no regard to character is maintained. The gnawing of a guilty conscience, tormented by the dread of the Divine judgment, may be compared to the porch of hell; but such hardened security as this — is a whirlpool which swallows up and destroys. As Solomon says,

“When the wicked is come to the deep, he despiseth it.”
(Proverbs 18:3.)

Most properly, therefore, does Paul exhibit that dreadful example of Divine vengeance, in which men forsaken by God — having laid conscience to sleep, and destroyed all fear of the Divine judgment, — in a word, being past feeling, — surrender themselves with brutal violence to all wickedness. This is not universally the case. Many even of the reprobate are restrained by God, whose infinite goodness prevents the absolute confusion in which the world would otherwise be involved. The consequence is, that such open lust, such unrestrained intemperance, does not appear in all. It is enough that the lives of some present such a mirror, fitted to awaken our alarm lest anything similar should happen to ourselves.

Lasciviousness (ἀσελγείᾳ) appears to me to denote that wantonness with which the flesh indulges in intemperance and licentiousness, when not restrained by the Spirit of God. Uncleanness is put for scandalous enormities of every description. It is added, with greediness. The Greek word πλεονεξία, which is so translated, often signifies covetousness, (Luke 12:15; 2 Peter 2:14,) and is so explained by some in this passage; but I cannot adopt that view. Depraved and wicked desires being insatiable, Paul represents them as attended and followed by greediness, which is the contrary of moderation.


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