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“But ye did not so learn the Christ; if so be that ye heard Him, and were taught in Him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”—Eph. iv. 20–24.

But as for you!—The apostle points us from heathendom to Christendom. From the men of blinded understanding and impure life he turns to the cleansed and instructed. “Not thus did you learn the Christ”—not to remain in the darkness and filth of your Gentile state.

The phrase is highly condensed. The apostle, in this letter so exuberant in expression, yet on occasion is as concise as in Galatians. One is tempted, as Beza suggested118118   Quid si post οὕτως distinctionem ascribas? Vos autem non ita (subaudi facere convenit), qui didicistis, etc. and Hofmann insists, to put a stop at this point and to read: “But with you it is not so:119119   Comp. Numb. xii. 7; Ps. i. 4; Luke xxii. 26, for this Hebraistic turn of expression. you learned the Christ!” In spite of its abruptness, this construction would be necessary, if it were only “the Gentiles” of verse 17 with whose “walk” St Paul means to contrast that of his readers. But, as we 276 have seen, he has before his eye a third class of men, unprincipled Christian teachers (ver. 14), men who had in some sense learnt of Christ and yet walked in Gentile ways and were leading others back to them.120120   Comp. Phil. iii. 2, 18; Titus i. 16. Verse 20, after all, forms a coherent clause. It points an antithesis of solemn import. There are genuine, and there are supposed conversions; there are true and false ways of learning Christ.

Strictly speaking, it is not Christ, but the Christ whom St Paul presumes his readers to have duly learnt.121121   See pp. 47, 83, 169, 189. The words imply a comprehending faith, that knows who and what Christ is and what believing in Him means, that has mastered His great lessons. To such a faith, which views Christ in the scope and breadth of His redemption, this epistle throughout appeals; for its impartation and increase St Paul prayed the wonderful prayer of the third chapter. When he writes not simply, “You have believed in Christ,” but “You have learned the Christ,” he puts their faith upon a high level; it is the faith of approved disciples in Christ’s school. For such men the “philosophy and vain deceit” of Colossæ and the plausibilities of the new “scheme of error” will have no charm. They have found the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hidden in Christ.

The apostle’s confidence in the Christian knowledge of his readers is, however, qualified in verse 21 in a somewhat remarkable way: “If verily it is He whom you heard, and in Him that you were taught, as truth is in Jesus.” We noted at the outset the bearing of this sentence on the destination of the letter. It would never occur to St Paul to question whether the Ephesian 277 Christians were taught Christ’s true doctrine. If there were any believers in the world who, beyond a doubt, had heard the truth as in Jesus in its certainty and fulness, it was those amongst whom the apostle had “taught publicly and from house to house,” “not shunning to declare all the counsel of God” and “for three years night and day unceasingly with tears admonishing each single one” (Acts xx. 18–35). To suppose these words written in irony, or in a modest affectation, is to credit St Paul with something like an ineptitude. Doubt was really possible as to whether all his readers had heard of Christ aright, and understood the obligations of their faith. Supposing, as we have done, that the epistle was designed for the Christians of the province of Asia generally, this qualification is natural and intelligible.

There are several considerations which help to account for it. When St Paul first arrived at Ephesus, eight years before this time, he “found certain disciples” there who had been “baptized into John’s baptism,” but had not “received the Holy Spirit” nor even heard of such a thing (Acts xix. 1–7). Apollos formerly belonged to this company, having preached and “taught carefully the things about Jesus,” while he “knew only the baptism of John” (Acts xviii. 25). One very much desires to know more about this Church of the Baptist’s disciples in Asia Minor. Its existence so far away from Palestine testifies to the power of John’s ministry and the deep impression that his witness to the Messiahship of Jesus made on his disciples. The ready reception of Paul’s fuller gospel by this little circle indicates that their knowledge of Jesus Christ erred only by defect; they had received it from Judæa by a source dating earlier than the day of Pentecost. The partial knowledge of Jesus current for so long at 278 Ephesus, may have extended to other parts of the province, where St Paul had not been able to correct it as he had done in the metropolis.

Judaistic Christians, such as those who at Rome “preached Christ of envy and strife,” were also disseminating an imperfect Christian doctrine. They limited the rights of uncircumcised believers; they misrepresented the Gentile apostle and undermined his influence. A third and still more lamentable cause of uncertainty in regard to the Christian belief of Asian Churches, was introduced by the rise of Gnosticizing error in this quarter. Some who read the epistle had, it might be, received their first knowledge of Christ through channels tainted with error similar to that which was propagated at Colossæ. With the seed of the kingdom the enemy was mingling vicious tares. The apostle has reason to fear that there were those within the wide circle to which his letter is addressed, who had in one form or other heard a different gospel and a Christ other than the true Christ of apostolic teaching.

Where does he find the test and touchstone of the true Christian doctrine?—In the historical Jesus: “as there is truth in Jesus.” Not often, nor without distinct meaning, does St Paul use the birth-name of the Saviour by itself. Where he does, it is most significant. He has in mind the facts of the gospel history; he speaks of “the Jesus”122122   Ἐστὶν ἀληθεία ἐν τῷ Ἰησοῦ. The article with the proper name is most significant. It points to the definite image of Jesus, in His actual person, that was made familiar by the preaching of Paul and the other apostles. of Nazareth and Calvary. The Christ whom St Paul feared that some of his readers might have heard of was not the veritable 279 Jesus Christ, but a shadowy and notional Christ, lost amongst the crowd of angels, such as was now being taught to the Colossians. This Christ was neither the image of God, nor the true Son of man. He supplied no sufficient redemption from sin, no ideal of character, no sure guidance and authority to direct the daily walk. Those who followed such a Christ would fall back unchecked into Gentile vice. Instead of the light of life shining in the character and words of Jesus, they must resort to “the doctrines and commandments of men” (Col. ii. 8–23).

Amongst the Gnostics of the second century there was held a distinction between the human (fleshly and imperfect) Jesus and the Divine Christ, who were regarded as distinct beings, united to each other from the time of the baptism of Jesus to His death. The critics who assert the late and non-Pauline authorship of the epistle, assert that this peculiar doctrine is aimed at in the words before us, and that the identification of Christ with Jesus has a polemical reference to this advanced Gnostic error. The verses that follow show that the writer has a different and entirely practical aim. The apostle points us to our true ideal, to “the Christ” of all revelation manifest in “the Jesus” of the gospel. Here we see “the new man created after God,” whose nature we must embody in ourselves. The counteractive of a false spiritualism is found in the incarnate life of the Son of God. The dualism which separated God from the world and man’s spirit from his flesh, had its refutation in “the Jesus” of Paul’s preaching, whom we see in the Four Gospels. Those who persisted in the attempt to graft the dualistic theosophy upon the Christian faith, were in the end compelled to divide and destroy the Christ 280 Himself. They broke up into Jesus and Christ the unity of His incarnate Person.

It is an entire mistake to suppose that the apostle Paul was indifferent to the historical tradition of Jesus; that the Christ he taught was a product of his personal inspiration, of his inward experience and theological reflection. This preaching of an abstract Christ, distinct from the actual Jesus, is the very thing that he condemns. Although his explicit references in the epistles to the teaching of Jesus and the events of His earthly life are not numerous, they are such as to prove that the Churches St Paul taught were well instructed in that history. From the beginning the apostle made himself well acquainted with the facts concerning Jesus, and had become possessor of all that the earlier witnesses could relate. His conception of the Lord Jesus Christ is living and realistic in the highest degree. Its germ was in the visible appearance of the glorified Jesus to himself on the Damascus road; but that expanding germ struck down its roots into the rich soil of the Church’s recollections of the incarnate Redeemer as He lived and taught and laboured, as He died and rose again amongst men. Paul’s Christ was the Jesus of Peter and of John and of our own Evangelists; there was no other. He warns the Church against all unhistorical, subjective Christs, the product of human speculation.

The Asian Christians who held a true faith, had received Jesus as the Christ. So accepting Him, they accepted a fixed standard and ideal of life for themselves. With Jesus Christ evidently set forth before their eyes, let them look back upon their past life; let them contrast what they had been with what 281 they are to be. Let them consider what things they must “put off” and what “put on,” so that they may “be found in Him.”

Strangely did the image of Jesus confront the pagan world; keenly its light smote on that gross darkness. There stood the Word made flesh—purity immaculate, love in its very self—shaped forth in no dream of fancy or philosophy, but in the veritable man Christ Jesus, born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate,—truth expressed

“In loveliness of perfect deeds,

More strong than all poetic thought.”

And this life of Jesus, living in those who loved Him (2 Cor. iv. 11), ended not when He passed from earth; it passed from land to land, speaking many tongues, raising up new witnesses at every step as it moved along. It was not a new system, a new creed, but new men that it gave the world in Christ’s disciples, men redeemed from all iniquity, noble and pure as sons of God. It was the sight of Jesus, and of men like Jesus, that shamed the old world, so corrupt and false and hardened in its sin. In vain she summoned the gates of death to silence the witnesses of Jesus. At last

“She veiled her eagles, snapped her sword,

And laid her sceptre down;

Her stately purple she abhorred,

And her imperial crown.

She broke her flutes, she stopped her sports,

Her artists could not please;

She tore her books, she shut her courts,

She fled her palaces;

Lust of the eye and pride of life—

She left it all behind,

And hurried, torn with inward strife,

The wilderness to find” (Obermann once more).

282 The Galilean conquered! The new man was destined to convict and destroy the old. “God sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. viii. 3). When Jesus lived, died, and rose again, an inconceivable revolution in human affairs had been effected. The cross was planted on the territory of the god of this world; its victory was inevitable. The “grain of wheat” fell into the ground to die: there might be still a long, cruel winter; many a storm and blight would delay its growth; but the harvest was secure. Jesus Christ was the type and the head of a new moral order, destined to control the universe.

To see the new and the old man side by side was enough to assure one that the future lay with Jesus. Corruption and decrepitude marked every feature of Gentile life. It was gangrened with vice,—“wasting away in its deceitful lusts.”

St Paul had before his eyes, as he wrote, a conspicuous type of the decaying Pagan order. He had appealed as a citizen of the empire to Cæsar as his judge. He was in durance as Nero’s prisoner, and was acquainted with the life of the palace (Phil. i. 13). Never, perhaps, has any line of rulers dominated mankind so absolutely or held in their single hand so completely the resources of the world as did the Cæsars of St Paul’s time. Their name has ever since served to mark the summit of autocratic power. It was, surely, the vision of Tiberius sitting at Rome that Jesus saw in the wilderness, when “the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and said, All this hath been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will I give it.” The Emperor was the topstone of the splendid edifice of Pagan civilization, that had been 283 rearing for so many ages. And Nero was the final product and paragon of the Cæsarean house!

At this epoch, writes M. Renan,123123   L’Antéchrist, pp. i. ii. 1, 2. This is a powerful and impressive work, of whose value those who know only the Vie de Jésus can have little conception. Renan’s faults are many and deplorable; but he is a writer of genius and of candour. His rationalism teems with precious inconsistencies. One hears in him always the Church bells ringing under the sea, the witness of a faith buried in the heart and never silenced, to which he confesses touchingly in the Preface to his Souvenirs.Nero and Jesus, Christ and Antichrist, stand opposed, confronting each other, if I may dare to say so, like heaven and hell.... In face of Jesus there presents itself a monster, who is the ideal of evil as Jesus of goodness.... Nero’s was an evil nature, hypocritical, vain, frivolous, prodigiously given to declamation and display; a blending of false intellect, profound wickedness, cruel and artful egotism carried to an incredible degree of refinement and subtlety.... He is a monster who has no second in history, and whose equal we can only find in the pathological annals of the scaffold.... The school of crime in which he had grown up, the execrable influence of his mother, the stroke of parricide forced upon him, as one might say, by this abominable woman, by which he had entered on the stage of public life, made the world take to his eyes the form of a horrible comedy, with himself for the chief actor in it. At the moment we have now reached [when St Paul entered Rome], Nero had detached himself completely from the philosophers who had been his tutors. He had killed nearly all his relations. He had made the most shameful follies the common fashion. A large part of Roman society, following his example, had descended to the lowest level of debasement. The cruelty of the ancient world had reached its consummation.... The world 284 had touched the bottom of the abyss of evil; it could only reascend.”

Such was the man who occupied at this time the summit of human power and glory,—the man who lighted the torch of Christian martyrdom and at whose sentence St Paul’s head was destined to fall, the Wild Beast of John’s awful vision. Nero of Rome, the son of Agrippina, embodied the triumph of Satan as the god of this world. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, reigned only in a few loving and pure hearts. Future history, as the scroll of the Apocalypse unfolded it, was to be the battle-field of these confronting powers, the war of Christ with Antichrist.

Could it be doubtful, to any one who had measured the rival forces, on which side victory must fall? St Paul pronounces the fate of the whole kingdom of evil in this world, when he declares that “the old man” is “perishing, according to the lusts of deceit.” It is an application of the maxim he gave us in Galatians vi. 8: “He that soweth to his own flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption.” In its mad sensuality and prodigal lusts, the vile Roman world he saw around him was speeding to its ruin. That ruin was delayed; there were moral forces left in the fabric of the Roman State, which in the following generations re-asserted themselves and held back for a time the tide of disaster; but in the end Rome fell, as the ancient world-empires of the East had fallen, through her own corruption, and by “the wrath” which is “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” For the solitary man, for the household, for the body politic and the family of nations the rule is the same. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”

The passions which carry men and nations to their 285 ruin are “lusts of deceit.” The tempter is the liar. Sin is an enormous fraud. “You shall not die,” said the serpent in the garden; “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be as God!” So forbidden desire was born, and “the woman being deceived fell into transgression.”

“So glistered the dire Snake, and into fraud

Led Eve, our credulous mother, to the tree

Of prohibition, root of all our woe.”

By its baits of sensuous pleasure, and still more by its show of freedom and power to stir our pride, sin cheats us of our manhood; it sows life with misery, and makes us self-despising slaves. It knows how to use God’s law as an incitement to transgression, turning the very prohibition into a challenge to our bold desires. “Sin taking occasion by the commandment deceived me, and by it slew me.” Over the pit of destruction play the same dancing lights that have lured countless generations,—the glitter of gold; the purple robe and jewelled coronet; the wine moving in the cup; fair, soft faces lit with laughter. The straying foot and hot desires give chase, till the inevitable moment comes when the treacherous soil yields, and the pursuer plunges beyond escape into sin’s reeking gulfs. Then the illusion is over. The gay faces grow foul; the glittering prize proves dust; the sweet fruit turns to ashes; the cup of pleasure burns with the fire of hell. And the sinner knows at last that his greed has cheated him, that he is as foolish as he is wicked.

Let us remember that there is but one way of escape from the all-encompassing deceit of sin. It is in “learning Christ.” Not in learning about Christ, but 286 in learning Him. It is a common artifice of the great deceit to “wash the outside of cup and platter.” The old man is improved and civilized; he is baptized in infancy and called a Christian. He puts off many of his old ways, he dresses himself in a decorous garb and style; and so deceives himself into thinking that he is new, while his heart is unchanged. He may turn ascetic, and deny this or that to himself; and yet never deny himself. He observes religious forms and makes charitable benefactions, as though he would compound with God for his unforsaken sin. But all this is only a plausible and hateful manifestation of the lusts of deceit. To learn the Christ, is to learn the way of the cross. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me,” He bids us; “for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Till we have done this, we are not even at the beginning of our lesson.

From the perishing old man the apostle turns, in verses 23, 24, to the new. These two clauses differ in their form of expression more than the English rendering indicates.124124    ἀνανεοῦσθαι δὲ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν, καὶ ἐνδυσασθαι τὸν καίνον ἄνθρωπον, τὸν κατὰ Θεὸν κτισθέντα. When he writes, “that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” it is a continual rejuvenation that he describes; the verb is present in tense, and the newness implied is that of recency and youth, newness in point of age. But the “new man” to be “put on” (ver. 24) is of a new kind and order; and in this instance the verb is of the aorist tense signifying an event, not a continuous act. The new man is put on when the Christian way of life is adopted, when we enter personally into the new humanity founded in Christ. We “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. xiii. 14), who covers and absorbs 287 the old self, even as those who await in the flesh His second advent will “put on the house from heaven,” when “the mortal” in them will be “swallowed up of life” (2 Cor. v. 2–4). Thus two distinct conceptions of the life of faith are placed before our minds. It consists, on the one hand, of a quickening, constantly renewed, in the springs of our individual thought and will; and it is at the same time the assumption of another nature, the investiture of the soul with the Divine character and form of its being.

Borne on the stream of his evil passions, we saw “the old man” in his “former manner of life,” hastening to the gulf of ruin. For the man renewed in Christ the stream of life flows steadily in the opposite direction, and with a swelling tide moves upward to God. His knowledge and love are always growing in depth, in refinement, in energy and joy. Thus it was with the apostle in his advancing age. The fresh impulses of the Holy Spirit, the unfolding to his spirit of the mystery of God, the fellowship of Christian brethren and the interests of the work of the Church renewed Paul’s youth like the eagle’s. If in years and toil he is old, his soul is full of ardour, his intellect keen and eager; the “outward man decays, but the inward man is renewed day by day.”

This new nature had a new birth. The soul reanimating itself perpetually from the fresh springs that are in God, had in God the beginning of its renovated life. We have not to create or fashion for ourselves the perfect life, but to adopt it,—to realize the Christian ideal (ver. 24). We are called to put on the new type of manhood as completely as we renounce the old (ver. 22). The new man is there before our eyes, manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom we 288 live henceforth. When we “learn the Christ,” when we have become His true disciples, we “put on” His nature and “walk in Him.” The inward reception of His Spirit is attended by the outward assumption of His character as our calling amongst men.

Now, the character of Jesus is human nature as God first formed it. It existed in His thoughts from eternity. If it be asked whether St Paul refers, in verse 24, to the creation of Adam in God’s likeness, or to the image of God appearing in Jesus Christ, or to the Christian nature formed in the regenerate, we should say that, to the apostle’s mind, the first and last of these creations are merged in the second. The Son of God’s love is His primeval image. The race of Adam was created in Christ (Col. i. 15, 16). The first model of that image, in the natural father of mankind, was marred by sin and has become “the old man” corrupt and perishing. The new pattern replacing this broken type is the original ideal, displayed “in the likeness of sinful flesh”—wearing no longer the charm of childish innocence, but the glory of sin vanquished and sacrifice endured—in the Son of God made perfect through suffering. Through all there has been only one image of God, one ideal humanity. The Adam of Paradise was, within his limits, what the Image of God had been in perfectness from eternity. And Jesus in His human personality represented, under the changed circumstances brought about by sin, what Adam might have grown to be as a complete and disciplined man.

The qualities which the apostle insists upon in the new man are two: “righteousness and holiness [or piety] of the truth.” This is the Old Testament conception of a perfect life, whose realization the devout Zacharias anticipates when he sings how God has “shown mercy 289 to our fathers, in remembrance of His holy covenant, ... that we being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” Enchanting vision, still to be fulfilled! “Righteousness” is the sum of all that should be in a man’s relations towards God’s law; “holiness” is a right disposition and bearing towards God Himself. This is not St Paul’s ordinary word for holiness (sanctification, sanctity), which he puts so often at the head of his letters, addressing his readers as “saints” in Christ Jesus. That other term designates Christian believers as devoted persons, claimed by God for His own;125125   Comp. pp. 29, 30. it signifies holiness as a calling. The word of our text denotes specifically the holiness of temper and behaviour—“that becometh saints.” The two words differ very much as devotedness from devoutness.126126   It is important to distinguish the Greek adjectives ἅγιος and ὅσιος, with their derivatives. See Cremer’s N. T. Lexicon on these words, and Trench’s N. T. Synonyms, § lxxxviii. Of the latter word, 1 Thess. ii. 10; 1 Tim. i. 9, ii. 8; 2 Tim. iii. 3; Tit. i. 8 are the only examples in St Paul.

A religious temper, a reverent mind marks the true child of grace. His soul is full of the loving fear of God. In the new humanity, in the type of man that will prevail in the latter days when the truth as in Jesus has been learnt by mankind, justice and piety will hold a balanced sway. The man of the coming times will not be atheistic or agnostic: he will be devout. He will not be narrow and self-seeking; he will not be pharisaic and pretentious, practising the world’s ethics with the Christian’s creed: he will be upright and generous, manly and godlike.

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