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227

CHAPTER XVII.

THE MEASURE OF THE GIFT OF CHRIST.

“But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore He saith: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.’ Now this, ‘He ascended,’ what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints for work of ministration, for the building up of the body of Christ.”—Eph. iv. 7–12.

In verse 7 the apostle passes from the unities of the Church to its diversities, from the common foundation of the Christian life to the variety presented in its superstructure. “To each single one of us was the grace given.” The great gift of God in Christ is manifold in its distribution. Its manifestations are as various and fresh as the idiosyncrasies of human personality. There is no capacity of our nature, no element of human society which the gospel of Christ cannot sanctify and turn to good account.

All this the apostle keeps in view and allows for in his doctrine of the Church. He does not merge man in humanity, nor sacrifice the individual to the community. He claims for each believer direct fellowship with Christ 228 and access to God. The earnestness with which in his earlier epistles St Paul insisted on the responsibilities of conscience and on the personal experience of salvation, leads him now to press the claims of the Church with equal vigour. He understands well that the person has no existence apart from the community, that our moral nature is essentially social and the religious life essentially fraternal. Its vital element is “the communion of the Holy Spirit.” Hence, to gather the real drift of this passage we must combine the first words of verse 7 with the last of verse 12: “To each single one of us was the grace given—in order to build up the body of Christ.” God’s grace is not bestowed upon us to diffuse and lose itself in our separate individualities; but that it may minister to one life and work towards one end and build up one great body in us all. The diversity subserves a higher unity. Through ten thousand channels, in ten thousand varied forms of personal influence and action, the stream of the grace of God flows on to the accomplishment of the eternal purpose.

Like a wise master in his household and sovereign in his kingdom, the Lord of the Church distributes His manifold gifts. His bestowments and appointments are made with an eye to the furtherance of the state and house that He has in charge. As God dispenses His wisdom, so Christ His gifts “according to plan” (iii. 11). The purpose of the ages, God’s great plan for mankind, determines “the measure of the gift of Christ.” Now, it is to illustrate this measure, to set forth the style and scale of Christ’s bestowments within His Church, that the apostle brings in evidence the words of Psalm lxviii. 18. He interprets this ancient verse as he cites it, and weaves it into 229 the texture of his argument. In the original it reads thus:

“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led Thy captivity captive,

Thou hast received gifts among men,—

Yea, among the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell with them.” (R.V.)

Let us go back for a moment to the occasion of the old Hebrew song. Psalm lxviii, is, as Ewald says, “the greatest, most splendid and artistic of the temple-songs of Restored Jerusalem.” It celebrates Jehovah’s entry into Zion. This culminating verse records, as the crowning event of Israel’s history, the capture of Zion from the rebel Jebusites and the Lord’s ascension in the person of His chosen to take His seat upon this holy hill. The previous verses, in which fragments of earlier songs are embedded, describe the course of the Divine Leader of Israel through former ages. In the beat and rhythm of the Hebrew lines one hears the footfall of the Conqueror’s march, as He “arises and His enemies are scattered” and “kings of armies flee apace,” while nature trembles at His step and bends her wild powers to serve His congregation. The sojourn in the wilderness, the scenes of Sinai, the occupancy of Canaan, the wars of the Judges were so many stages in the progress of Jehovah, which had Zion always for its goal. To Zion, the new and more glorious sanctuary, Sinai must now give place. Bashan and all mountains towering in their pride in vain “look askance at the hill which God has desired for His abode,” where “Jehovah will dwell for ever.” So the day of the Lord’s desire has come! From the Kidron valley David leads Jehovah’s triumph up the steep slopes of Mount Zion. A train of captives defiles before the Lord’s anointed, who 230 sits down on the throne that God gives him and receives in His name the submission of the heathen. The vanquished chiefs cast their spoil at his feet; it is laid up in treasure to build the future temple; while, upon this happy day of peace, “the rebellious also” share in Jehovah’s grace and become His subjects.

In this conquest David “gave to men” rather than “received”—gave even to his stubborn enemies (witness his subsequent transaction with Araunah the Jebusite for the site of the temple); for that which he took from them served to build amongst them God’s habitation: “that,” as the Psalmist sings, “the Lord God might dwell with them.” St Paul’s adaptation of the verse is both bold and true. If he departs from the letter, he unfolds the spirit of the prophetic words. That David’s giving signified a higher receiving, Jewish interpreters themselves seem to have felt, for this paraphrase was current also amongst them.

The author of this Hebrew song has in no way exaggerated the importance of David’s victory. The summits of the elect nation’s history shine with a supernatural and prophetic light. The spirit of the Christ in the unknown singer “testified beforehand of the glory that should follow” His warfare and sufferings. From this victorious height, so hardly won, the Psalmist’s verse flashes the light of promise across the space of a thousand years; and St. Paul has caught the light, and sends it on to us shining with a new and more spiritual brightness. David’s “going up on high” was, to the apostle’s mind, a picture of the ascent of Christ, his Son and Lord. David rose from deep humiliation to a high dominion; his exaltation brought blessing and enrichment to his people; and the spoil that he won with it went to 231 build God’s house amongst rebellious men. All this was true in parable of the dispensation of grace to mankind through Jesus Christ; and His ascension disclosed the deeper import of the words of the ancient Scripture. “Wherefore God saith” (and St Paul takes the liberty of putting in his own words what He saith)—“wherefore He saith: He ascended on high; He led captivity captive; He gave gifts to men.”


The three short clauses of the citation supply, in effect, a threefold measure of the gifts of Christ to His Church. They are gifts of the ascended Saviour. They are gifts bestowed from the fruit of His victory. And they are gifts to men. Measure them, first, by the height to which He has risen—from what a depth! Measure them, again, by the spoils He has already won. Measure them, once more, by the wants of mankind, by the need He has undertaken to supply.—As He is, so He gives; as He has, so He gives; as He has given, so He will give till we are filled unto all the fulness of God.

I. Think first, then, of Him. Think of what, and where He is! Consider “what is the height” of His exaltation; and then say, if you can, “what is the breadth” of His munificence.

We know well how He gave as a poor and suffering man upon earth—gave, with what affluence, pity and delight, bread to the hungry thousands, wine to the wedding-feast, health to the sick, sight to the blind, pardon to the sinful, sometimes life to the dead! Has His elevation altered Him? Too often it is so with vain and weak men like ourselves. Their wealth increases, but their hearts contract. The more they have to give, the less they love to give. They go up 232 on high as men count it, and climb to places of power and eminence; and they forget the friends of youth and the ranks from which they sprang—low-minded men. Not so with our exalted Friend. “It is not one that went down, and another that went up,” says Theodoret. “He that descended, it is He also that ascended up far above all the heavens!” (ver. 10). Jesus of Nazareth is on the throne of God,—“the same yesterday and to-day!” But now the resources of the universe are at His disposal. Out of that treasure He can choose the best gifts for you and me.

Mere authority, even Omnipotence, could not suffice to save and bless moral beings like ourselves; nor even the best will joined to Omnipotence. Christ gained by His humiliation, in some sense, a new fulness added to the fulness of the Godhead. This gain of His sufferings is implied in what the apostle writes in Colossians i. 19 concerning the risen and exalted Redeemer: “It was well-pleasing that all the fulness should make its dwelling in Him.” His plenitude is that of the Ascended One who had descended. “If He ascended, what does it mean but that He also descended into the under regions of the earth?” (ver. 9). If He went up, why then He had been down!—down to the Virgin’s womb and the manger cradle, wrapping His Godhead within the frame and the brain of a little child; down to the home and the bench of the village carpenter; down to the contradiction of sinners and the level of their scorn; down to the death of the cross,—to the nether abyss, to that dim populous underworld into which we look shuddering over the grave’s edge! And from that lower gulf He mounted up again to the solid earth and the light of day and the world of breathing men; and up, and up again, 233 through the rent clouds and the ranks of shouting angels, and under the lifted heads of the everlasting doors, until He took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.

Think of the regions He has traversed, the range of being through which the Lord Jesus passed in descending and ascending, “that He might fill all things.” Heaven, earth, hades—hades, earth, heaven again are His; not in mere sovereignty of power, but in experience and communion of life. Each He has annexed to His dominion by inhabitation and the right of self-devoting love, as from sphere to sphere He “travelled in the greatness of His power, mighty to save.” He is Lord of angels; but still more of men,—Lord of the living, and of the dead. To them that sleep in the dust He has proclaimed His accomplished sacrifice and the right of universal judgement given Him by the Father.

Nor did Abraham alone and Moses and Elijah have the joy of “seeing His day,” but all the holy men of old, who had embraced its promise and “died in faith,” who looked forward through their imperfect sacrifices “which could never quite take away sins” to the better thing which God provided for us, and for their perfection along with us.9999   Comp. Hebrews x. 1, 2, 10–14 with xi. 13–16, 39, 40, xii. 23, 24; also vi. 12. On the two side-posts of the gate of death our great High Priest sprinkled His atoning blood. He turned the abode of corruption into a sweet and quiet sleeping chamber for His saints. Then at His touch those cruel doors swung back upon their hinges, and He issued forth the Prince of life, with the keys of death and hades hanging from His girdle. From the depths of the grave to the heaven of heavens His Mastership extends. With the perfume 234 of His presence and the rich incense of His sacrifice Jesus Christ has “filled all things.” The universe is made for us one realm of redeeming grace, the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.

“So there crowns Him the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown;

And His love fills infinitude wholly, nor leaves up nor down

One spot for the creature to stand in!”100100   The words of David in Browning’s Saul, turned from the future tense into the present.

So “Christ is all things, and in all.” And we are nothing; but we have everything in Him.

How, pray, will He give who has thus given Himself,—who has thus endured and achieved on our behalf? Let our hearts consider; let our faith and our need be bold to ask. One promise from His lips is enough: “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

II. A second estimate of the gifts to be looked for from Christ, we derive from His conquests already won. David as he entered Zion’s gates “led captivity captive,”—led, that is in Hebrew phrase, a great, a notable captivity. Out of the gifts thus received he enriched his people. The resources that victory placed at his disposal, furnished the store from which to build God’s house. In like fashion Christ builds His Church, and blesses the human race. With the spoils of His battle He adorns His bride. The prey taken from the mighty becomes the strength and beauty of His sanctuary. The prisoners of His love He makes the servants of mankind.

This “captivity” implies a warfare, even as the ascent of Christ a previous descending. The Son of God came not into His earthly kingdom as kings are said to have come sometimes disguised amongst their 235 subjects, that they might learn better of their state and hear their true mind; nor as the Greeks fabled of their gods, who wandered unknown on earth seeking adventure and wearied haply of the cloying felicities of heaven, suffering contempt and doing to men hard service. He came, the Good Shepherd, to seek lost sheep. He came, the Mighty One of God, to destroy the works of the devil, to drive out “the strong one armed” who held the fortress of man’s soul. He had a war to wage with the usurping prince of the world. In the temptations of the wilderness, in the strife with disease and demoniac powers, in the debate with Scribes and Pharisees, in the anguish of Gethsemane and Calvary that conflict was fought out; and by death He abolished him who holds the power of death, by His blood He “bought us for God.” But with the spoils of victory, He bears the scars of battle,—tokens glorious for Him, humbling indeed to us, which will tell for ever how they pierced His hands and feet!

For Him pain and conflict are gone by. It remains to gather in the spoil of His victory of love, the harvest sown in His tears and His blood. And what are the trophies of the Captain of our salvation? what the fruit of His dread passion? For one, there was the dying thief, whom with His nailed hands the Lord Jesus snatched from a felon’s doom and bore from Calvary to Paradise. There was Mary the Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons, the first to greet Him risen. There were the three thousand whom on one day, in the might of His Spirit, the ascended Lord and Christ took captive in rebel Jerusalem, “lifted from the earth” that He might draw all men unto Him. And there was the writer of this letter, once His blasphemer and persecutor. By 236 a look, by a word, Jesus arrested Saul at the height of his murderous enmity, and changed him from a Pharisee into an apostle to the Gentiles, from the destroyer into the wise master-builder of His Church.

St Paul’s own case suggested, surely, the application he makes of this ancient text of the Psalter and lighted up its Messianic import. In the glory of His triumph Jesus Christ had appeared to make him captive, and put him at once to service. From that hour Paul was led along enthralled, the willing bond-slave of the Lord Jesus and celebrant of His victory. “Thanks be unto God,” he cries, “who ever triumphs over us in the Christ, and makes manifest through us the savour of His knowledge in every place.”101101   2 Cor. ii. 14; comp. Eph. ii. 6, 7.

Such, and of such sort are the prisoners of the war of Jesus; such the gifts that through sinners pardoned and subdued He bestows upon mankind,—“patterns to those who should hereafter believe.” Time would fail to follow the train of the captives of the love of Christ, which stretches unbroken and ever multiplying through the centuries to this day. We, too, in our turn have laid our rebel selves at His feet; and all that we surrender to Him, by right of conquest He gives over to the service of mankind.

“His love the conquest more than wins;

To all I shall proclaim:

Jesus the King, the Conqueror reigns;

Bow down to Jesu’s name!”

He gives out of the spoil of His war with evil,—gives what He receives. Yet He gives not as He receives. Everything laid in His hands is changed by their 237 touch. Publicans and Pharisees become apostles. Magdalenes are made queens and mothers in His Israel. From the dregs of our streets He raises up a host of sons to Abraham. From the ranks of scepticism and anti-Christian hate the Lord Christ wins new champions and captains for His cause. He coins earth’s basest metal into heaven’s fine gold. He takes weak things of the earth and foolish, to strike the mightiest blows of battle.

What may we not expect from Him who has led captive such a captivity! What surprises of blessing and miracles of grace there are awaiting us, that shall fill our mouth with laughter and our tongue with singing—gifts and succours coming to the Church from unlooked-for quarters and reinforcements from the ranks of the enemy. And what discomfitures and captivities are preparing for the haters of the Lord,—if, at least, the future is to be as the past; and if we may judge from the apostle’s word, and from his example, of the measure of the gift of Christ.

III. A third line of measurement is supplied in the last word of verse 8, and is drawn out in verses 11 and 12. “He gave gifts to men—He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, with a view to the full equipment of the saints for work of ministration, for building up of the body of Christ.” Yes, and some martyrs, some missionaries, some Church rulers and Christian statesmen, some poets, some deep thinkers and theologians, some leaders of philanthropy and helpers of the poor; all given for the same end—to minister to the life of His Church, to furnish it with the means for carrying on its mission, and to enable every saint to contribute his part to the commonwealth 238 of Christ according to the measure of Christ’s gift to each.

Comparison with verse 16 that follows and with verse 7 that precedes, seems to us to make it clear that we should read, without a comma, the second and third clauses of verse 12 as continuations of the first. The “work of ministering” and the “building up of the body of Christ” are not assigned to special orders of ministry as their exclusive calling. Such honour have all His saints. It is the office of the clergy to see that the laity do their duty, of “the ministry” to make each saint a minister of Christ, to guide, instruct and animate the entire membership of Christ’s body in the work He has laid upon it. Upon this plan the Christian fellowship was organized and officered in the apostolic times. Church government is a means to an end. Its primitive form was that best suited to the age; and even then varied under different circumstances. It was not precisely the same at Jerusalem and at Corinth; at Corinth in 58, and at Ephesus in 66 A.D. That is the best Church system, under any given conditions, which serves best to conserve and develope the spiritual energy of the body of Christ.

The distribution of Church office indicated in verse 11 corresponds closely to what we find in the Pastoral epistles. The apostle does not profess to enumerate all grades of ministry. The “deacons” are wanting; although we know from Philippians i. 1 that this order already existed in Pauline Churches. Pastors (shepherds)—a title only employed here by the apostle—is a fitting synonym for the “bishops” (i.e., overseers) of whom he speaks in Acts xx. 28, Philippians i. 1, and largely in the epistles to Timothy and Titus, whose functions were spiritual and disciplinary as well as 239 administrative. Addressing the Ephesian elders at Miletus four years before, St Paul bade them “shepherd the Church of God.”

In 1 Peter v. 1, 2 the same charge is laid by the Jewish apostle upon his “fellow-elders,” that they should “shepherd the flock of God, making themselves examples” to it; Christ Himself he has previously called “Shepherd and Bishop of souls” (1 Pet. ii. 25). The expression is derived from the words of Jesus recorded in John x., concerning the true and false shepherd of God’s flock, and Himself the Good Shepherd,—words familiar and dear to His disciples.

The office of teaching, as in 1 Timothy v. 17, is conjoined with that of shepherding. From that passage we infer that the freedom of teaching so conspicuous in the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. xiv. 26, etc.) was still recognized. Teaching and ruling are not made identical, nor inseparable functions, any more than in Romans xii. 7, 8; but they were frequently associated, and hence are coupled together here.—Of apostolic evangelists we have examples in Timothy and the second Philip;102102   2 Tim. iv. 5; Acts viii. 26–40, xxi. 8. men outside the rank of the apostles, but who, like them, preached the gospel from place to place. The name apostles (equivalent to our missionaries) served, in its wider sense, to include ministers of this class along with those directly commissioned by the Lord Jesus.103103   In Acts xiv. 4, 14, Barnabas and Paul are “apostles”; 1 Thess. ii. 6, Paul and Silas and Timothy. Comp. Rom. xvi. 7; 2 Cor. viii. 23, xi. 13; Phil. ii. 25; Rev. ii. 2.

The prophets,104104   Comp. ch. ii. 20, iii. 5 for the association of prophets with apostles. like the apostles and evangelists, belonged to the Church at large, rather than to one 240 locality. But their gift of inspiration did not carry with it the claim to rule in the Church. This was the function of the apostles generally, and of the pastor-bishops, or elders, locally appointed.

The first three orders (apostles, prophets, evangelists) linked Church to Church and served the entire body; the last two (pastors and teachers) had charge of local and congregational affairs. The apostles (the Twelve and Paul), with the prophets, were the founders of the Church. Their distinctive functions ceased when the foundation was laid and the deposit of revealed truth was complete. The evangelistic and pastoral callings remain; and out of them have sprung all the variety of Christian ministries since exercised. Evangelists, with apostles or missionaries, bring new souls to Christ and carry His message into new lands. Pastors and teachers follow in their train, tending the ingathered sheep, and labouring to make each flock that they shepherd and every single man perfect in Christ Jesus.

Marvellous were Christ’s “gifts for men” bestowed in the apostolic ministry. What a gift to the Christian community, for example, was Paul himself! In his natural endowments, so rich and finely blended, in his training and early experience, in the supernatural mode of his conversion, everything wrought together to give to men in the apostle Paul a man supremely fitted to be Christ’s ambassador to the Pagan world, and for all ages the “teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” “A chosen vessel unto me,” said the Lord Jesus, “to bear my name.”

Such a gift to the world was St Augustine: a man of the most powerful intellect and will, master of the thought and life of his time. Long an alien from the household of faith, he was saved at last as by miracle, 241 and utterly subdued to the will of Christ. In the awful crisis of the fifth century, when the Roman empire was breaking up and the very foundations of life seemed to be dissolved, it was the work of this heroic man to reassert the sovereignty of grace and to re-establish faith in the Divine order of the world.

Such another gift to men was Martin Luther, the captive of justifying grace, won from the monastery and the bondage of Rome to set Germany and Europe free. What a soul of fire, what a voice of power was his! to whose lips our Lord Christ set the great trumpet of the Reformation; and he blew a blast that waked the sleeping peoples of the North, and made the walls of Babylon rock again to their foundation. Such a gift to Scotland was John Knox, who from his own soul breathed the spirit of religion into the life of a nation, and gave it a body and organic form in which to dwell and work for centuries.

Such a gift to England was John Wesley. Can we conceive a richer boon conferred by the Head of the Church upon the English race than the raising up of this great evangelist and pastor and teacher, at such a time as that of his appearance? Standing at the distance of a hundred years, we are able to measure in some degree the magnitude of this bestowment. In none of the leaders and commanders whom Christ has given to His people was there more signally manifest that combination of faculties, that concurrence of providences and adjustment to circumstances, and that transforming and attempering influence of grace in all—the “effectual working in the measure of each single part” of the man and his history, which marks those special gifts that Christ is wont to bestow upon His people in seasons of special emergency and need.

242 We are passing into a new age, such as none of these great men dreamed of, an age as exigent and perilous as any that have gone before it. The ascendency of physical science, the political enfranchisement of the masses, the universal spread of education, the emancipation of critical thought, the gigantic growth of the press, the enormous increase and aggregation of wealth, the multiplication of large cities, the world-wide facilities of intercourse,—these and other causes more subtle are rapidly transforming human society. Old barriers have disappeared; while new difficulties are being created, of a magnitude to overtask the faith of the strongest. The Church is confronted with problems larger far in their dimensions than those our fathers knew. Demands are being made on her resources such as she has never had to meet before. Shall we be equal to the needs of the coming times?—Nay, that is not the question; but will He?

There is nothing new or surprising to the Lord Jesus in the progress of our times and the developments of modern thought, nothing for which He is not perfectly prepared. He has taken their measure long ere this, and holds them within His grasp. The government is upon His shoulders—“the weight of all this unintelligible world”—and He can bear it well. He has gifts in store for the twentieth century, when it arrives, as adequate as those He bestowed upon the first or fifth, upon the sixteenth or the eighteenth of our era. There are Augustines and Wesleys yet to come. Hidden in the Almighty’s quiver are shafts as polished and as keen as any He has used, which He will launch forth in the war of the ages at the appointed hour. The need, the peril, the greatness of the time will be the measure of the gift of Christ.

243 There is a danger, however, in waiting for great leaders and in looking for signal displays of Christ’s power amongst men. His “kingdom comes not with observation,” so that men should say, Lo here! or Lo there! It steals upon us unforeseen; it is amongst us before we know. “We looked,” says Rutherford, “that He should take the higher way along the mountains; and lo, He came by the lower way of the valleys!” While men listen to the earthquake and the wind rending the mountains, a still, small voice speaks the message of God to prepared hearts. Rarely can we measure at the first the worth of Christ’s best gifts. When the fruit appears, after long patience, the world will haply discover when and how the seed was sown. But not always then.

“The sower, passing onward, was not known;

And all men reaped the harvest as their own.”

Those who are most ready to appraise their fellows are constantly at fault. Our last may prove Christ’s first; our first His last! “Each of us shall give account of himself to God”: each must answer for his own stewardship, and the grace that was given to each. “Let us not therefore judge one another any more.” But let every man see to it that his part in the building of God’s temple is well and faithfully done. Soon the fire will try every man’s work, of what sort it is.


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