The apostle having gone through his exhortation to mutual love, unity, and concord, in the Eph. 2:16; there follows in these an exhortation to Christian purity and holiness of heart and life, and that both more general (Eph. 4:17-24) and in several particular instances, Eph. 4:25-32. This is solemnly introduced: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord; that is, seeing the matter is as above described, seeing you are members of Christ’s body and partakers of such gifts, this I urge upon your consciences, and bear witness to as your duty in the Lord’s name, and by virtue of the authority I have derived from him.” Consider,
I. The more general exhortation to purity and holiness of heart and life.
1. It begins thus, “That you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk—that for the time to come you do not live, and behave yourselves, as ignorant and unconverted heathens do, who are wholly guided by an understanding employed about vain things, their idols and their worldly possessions, things which are no way profitable to their souls, and which will deceive their expectations.” Converted Gentiles must not live as unconverted Gentiles do. Though they live among them, they must not live like them. Here,
(1.) The apostle takes occasion to describe the wickedness of the Gentile world, out of which regenerate Christians were snatched as brands out of the burning. [1.] Their understandings were darkened, Eph. 4:18. They were void of all saving knowledge; yea, ignorant of many things concerning God which the light of nature might have taught them. They sat in darkness, and they loved it rather than light: and by their ignorance they were alienated from the life of God. They were estranged from, and had a dislike and aversion to, a life of holiness, which is not only that way of life which God requires and approves, and by which we live to him, but which resembles God himself, in his purity, righteousness, truth, and goodness. Their wilful ignorance was the cause of their estrangement from this life of God, which begins in light and knowledge. Gross and affected ignorance is destructive to religion and godliness. And what was the cause of their being thus ignorant? It was because of the blindness or the hardness of their heart. It was not because God did not make himself known to them by his works, but because they would not admit the instructive rays of the divine light. They were ignorant because they would be so. Their ignorance proceeded from their obstinacy and the hardness of their hearts, their resisting the light and rejecting all the means of illumination and knowledge. [2.] Their consciences were debauched and seared: Who being past feeling, Eph. 4:19. They had no sense of their sin, nor of the misery and danger of their case by means of it; whereupon they gave themselves over unto lasciviousness. They indulged themselves in their filthy lusts; and, yielding themselves up to the dominion of these, they became the slaves and drudges of sin and the devil, working all uncleanness with greediness. They made it their common practice to commit all sorts of uncleanness, and even the most unnatural and monstrous sins, and that with insatiable desires. Observe, When men’s consciences are once seared, there are no bounds to their sins. When they set their hearts upon the gratification of their lusts, what can be expected but the most abominable sensuality and lewdness, and that their horrid enormities will abound? This was the character of the Gentiles; but,
(2.) These Christians must distinguish themselves from such Gentiles: You have not so learned Christ, Eph. 4:20. It may be read, But you not so; you have learned Christ. Those who have learned Christ are saved from the darkness and defilement which others lie under; and, as they know more, they are obliged to live in a better manner than others. It is a good argument against sin that we have not so learned Christ. Learn Christ! Isa. Christ a book, a lesson, a way, a trade? The meaning is, “You have not so learned Christianity—the doctrines of Christ and the rules of life prescribed by him. Not so as to do as others do. If so be, or since, that you have heard him (Eph. 4:21), have heard his doctrine preached by us, and have been taught by him, inwardly and effectually, by his Spirit.” Christ is the lesson; we must learn Christ: and Christ is the teacher; we are taught by him. As the truth is in Jesus. This may be understood two ways: either, “You have been taught the real truth, as held forth by Christ himself, both in his doctrine and in his life.” Or thus, “The truth has made such an impression on your hearts, in your measure, as it did upon the heart of Jesus.” The truth of Christ then appears in its beauty and power, when it appears as in Jesus.
2. Another branch of the general exhortation follows in those words, That you put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, etc., Eph. 4:22-24. “This is a great part of the doctrine which has been taught you, and which you have learned.” Here the apostle expresses himself in metaphors taken from garments. The principles, habits, and dispositions of the soul must be changed, before there can be a saving change of the life. There must be sanctification, which consists of these two things:—(1.) The old man must be put off. The corrupt nature is called a man, because, like the human body, it consists of divers parts, mutually supporting and strengthening one another. It is the old man, as old Adam, from whom we derive it. It is bred in the bone, and we brought it into the world with us. It is subtle as the old man; but in all God’s saints decaying and withering as an old man, and ready to pass away. It is said to be corrupt; for sin in the soul is the corruption of its faculties: and, where it is not mortified, it grows daily worse and worse, and so tends to destruction. According to the deceitful lusts. Sinful inclinations and desires are deceitful lusts: they promise men happiness, but render them more miserable, and if not subdued and mortified betray them into destruction. These therefore must be put off as an old garment that we should be ashamed to be seen in: they must be subdued and mortified. These lusts prevailed against them in their former conversation, that is, during their state of unregeneracy and heathenism. (2.) The new man must be put on. It is not enough to shake off corrupt principles, but we must be actuated by gracious ones. We must embrace them, espouse them, and get them written on our hearts: it is not enough to cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Eph. 4:23); that is, use the proper and prescribed means in order to have the mind, which is a spirit, renewed more and more.” And that you put on the new man, Eph. 4:24. By the new man is meant the new nature, the new creature, which is actuated by a new principle, even regenerating grace, enabling a man to lead a new life, that life of righteousness and holiness which Christianity requires. This new man is created, or produced out of confusion and emptiness, by God’s almighty power, whose workmanship it is, truly excellent and beautiful. After God, in imitation of him, and in conformity to that grand exemplar and pattern. The loss of God’s image upon the soul was both the sinfulness and misery of man’s fallen state; and that resemblance which it bears to God is the beauty, the glory, and the happiness, of the new creature. In righteousness towards men, including all the duties of the second table; and in holiness towards God, signifying a sincere obedience to the commands of the first table; true holiness in opposition to the outward and ceremonial holiness of the Jews. We are said to put on this new man when, in the use of all God’s appointed means, we are endeavouring after this divine nature, this new creature. This is the more general exhortation to purity and holiness of heart and life.
II. The apostle proceeds to some things more particular. Because generals are not so apt to affect, we are told what are those particular limbs of the old man that must be mortified, those filthy rags of the old nature that must be put off, and what are the peculiar ornaments of the new man wherewith we should adorn our Christian profession. 1. Take heed of lying, and be ever careful to speak the truth (Eph. 4:25): “Wherefore, since you have been so well instructed in your duty, and are under such obligations to discharge it, let it appear, in your future behaviour and conduct, that there is a great and real change wrought in you, particularly by putting away lying.” Of this sin the heathen were very guilty, affirming that a profitable lie was better than a hurtful truth; and therefore the apostle exhorts them to cease from lying, from every thing that is contrary to truth. This is a part of the old man that must be put off; and that branch of the new man that must be put on in opposition to it is speaking the truth in all our converse with others. It is the character of God’s people that they are children who will not lie, who dare not lie, who hate and abhor lying. All who have grace make conscience of speaking the truth, and would not tell a deliberate lie for the greatest gain and benefit to themselves. The reason here given for veracity is, We are members one of another. Truth is a debt we owe to one another; and, if we love one another, we shall not deceive nor lie one to another. We belong to the same society or body, which falsehood or lying tends to dissolve; and therefore we should avoid it, and speak truth. Observe, Lying is a very great sin, a peculiar violation of the obligations which Christians are under, and very injurious and hurtful to Christian society. 2. “Take heed of anger and ungoverned passions. Be you angry, and sin not,” Eph. 4:26. This is borrowed from the LXX. translation of Ps. 4:4; where we render it, Stand in awe, and sin not. Here is an easy concession; for as such we should consider it, rather than as a command. Be you angry. This we are apt enough to be, God knows: but we find it difficult enough to observe the restriction, and sin not. “If you have a just occasion to be angry at any time, see that it be without sin; and therefore take heed of excess in your anger.” If we would be angry and not sin (says one), we must be angry at nothing but sin; and we should be more jealous for the glory of God than for any interest or reputation of our own. One great and common sin in anger is to suffer it to burn into wrath, and then to let it rest; and therefore we are here cautioned against that. “If you have been provoked and have had your spirits greatly discomposed, and if you have bitterly resented any affront that has been offered, before night calm and quiet your spirits, be reconciled to the offender, and let all be well again: Let not the sun go down upon your wrath. If it burn into wrath and bitterness of spirit, O see to it that you suppress it speedily.” Observe, Though anger in itself is not sinful, yet there is the upmost danger of its becoming so if it be not carefully watched and speedily suppressed. And therefore, though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it rests only in the bosom of fools. Neither give place to the devil, Eph. 4:27. Those who persevere in sinful anger and in wrath let the devil into their hearts, and suffer him to gain upon them, till he bring them to malice, mischievous machinations, etc. “Neither give place to the calumniator, or the false accuser” (so some read the words); that is, “let your ears be deaf to whisperers, talebearers, and slanderers.” 3. We are here warned against the sin of stealing, the breach of the eighth commandment, and advised to honest industry and to beneficence: Let his that stole steal no more, Eph. 4:28. It is a caution against all manner of wrong-doing, by force or fraud. “Let those of you who, in the time of your gentilism, have been guilty of this enormity, be no longer guilty of it.” But we must not only take heed of the sin, but conscientiously abound in the opposite duty: not only not steal, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing that is good. Idleness makes thieves. So Chrysostom, To gar kleptein argias estin.—Stealing is the effect of idleness. Those who will not work, and who are ashamed to beg, expose themselves greatly to temptations to thievery. Men should therefore be diligent and industrious, not in any unlawful way, but in some honest calling: Working the thing which is good. Industry, in some honest way, will keep people out of temptation of doing wrong. But there is another reason why men ought to be industrious, namely, that they may be capable of doing some good, as well as that they may be preserved from temptation: That he may have to give to him that needeth. They must labour not only that they may live themselves, and live honestly, but they may distribute for supplying the wants of others. Observe, Even those who get their living by their labour should be charitable out of their little to those who are disabled for labour. So necessary and incumbent a duty is it to be charitable to the poor that even labourers and servants, and those who have but little for themselves, must cast their mite into the treasury. God must have his dues and the poor are his receivers. Observe further, Those alms that are likely to be acceptable to God must not be the produce of unrighteousness and robbery, but of honesty and industry. God hates robbery for burnt-offerings. 4. We are here warned against corrupt communication; and directed to that which is useful and edifying, Eph. 4:29. Filthy and unclean words and discourse are poisonous and infectious, as putrid rotten meat: they proceed from and prove a great deal of corruption in the heart of the speaker, and tend to corrupt the minds and manners of others who hear them; and therefore Christians should beware of all such discourse. It may be taken in general for all that which provokes the lusts and passions of others. We must not only put off corrupt communications, but put on that which is good to the use of edifying. The great use of speech is to edify those with whom we converse. Christians should endeavour to promote a useful conversation: that it may minister grace unto the hearers; that it may be good for, and acceptable to, the hearers, in the way of information, counsel, pertinent reproof, or the like. Observe, It is the great duty of Christians to take care that they offend not with their lips, and that they improve discourse and converse, as much as may be, for the good of others. 5. Here is another caution against wrath and anger, with further advice to mutual love and kindly dispositions towards each other, Eph. 4:31, 32. By bitterness, wrath, and anger, are meant violent inward resentment and displeasure against others: and, by clamour, big words, loud threatenings, and other intemperate speeches, by which bitterness, wrath, and anger, vent themselves. Christians should not entertain these vile passions in their hearts not be clamorous with their tongues. Evil speaking signifies all railing, reviling, and reproachful speeches, against such as we are angry with. And by malice we are to understand that rooted anger which prompts men to design and to do mischief to others. The contrary to all this follows: Be you kind one to another. This implies the principle of love in the heart, and the outward expressions of it, in an affable, humble, courteous behaviour. It becomes the disciples of Jesus to be kind one to another, as those who have learned, and would teach, the art of obliging. Tender-hearted; that is, merciful, and having tender sense of the distresses and sufferings of others, so as to be quickly moved to compassion and pity. Forgiving one another. Occasions of difference will happen among Christ’s disciples; and therefore they must be placable, and ready to forgive, therein resembling God himself, who for Christ’s sake hath forgiven them, and that more than they can forgive one another. Note, With God there is forgiveness; and he forgives sin for the sake of Jesus Christ, and on account of that atonement which he has made to divine justice. Note again, Those who are forgiven of God should be of a forgiving spirit, and should forgive even as God forgives, sincerely and heartily, readily and cheerfully, universally and for ever, upon the sinner’s sincere repentance, as remembering that they pray, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Now we may observe concerning all these particulars that the apostle has insisted on that they belong to the second table, whence Christians should learn the strict obligations they are under to the duties of the second table, and that he who does not conscientiously discharge them can never fear nor love God in truth and in sincerity, whatever he may pretend to.
In the midst of these exhortations and cautions the apostle interposes that general one, And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, Eph. 4:30. By looking to what precedes, and to what follows, we may see what it is that grieves the Spirit of God. In the Eph. 4:25-29 it is intimated that all lewdness and filthiness, lying, and corrupt communications that stir up filthy appetites and lusts, grieve the Spirit of God. In what follows it is intimated that those corrupt passions of bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, and malice, grieve this good Spirit. By this we are not to understand that this blessed Being could properly be grieved or vexed as we are; but the design of the exhortation is that we act not towards him in such a manner as is wont to be grievous and disquieting to our fellow-creatures: we must not do that which is contrary to his holy nature and his will; we must not refuse to hearken to his counsels, nor rebel against his government, which things would provoke him to act towards us as men are wont to do towards those with whom they are displeased and grieved, withdrawing themselves and their wonted kindness from such, and abandoning them to their enemies. O provoke not the blessed Spirit of God to withdraw his presence and his gracious influences from you! It is a good reason why we should not grieve him that by him we are sealed unto the day of redemption. There is to be a day of redemption; the body is to be redeemed from the power of the grave at the resurrection-day, and then God’s people will be delivered from all the effects of sin, as well as from all sin and misery, which they are not till rescued out of the grave: and then their full and complete happiness commences. All true believers are sealed to that day. God has distinguished them from others, having set his mark upon them; and he gives them the earnest and assurance of a joyful and glorious resurrection; and the Spirit of God is the seal. Wherever that blessed Spirit is as a sanctifier, he is the earnest of all the joys and glories of the redemption-day; and we should be undone should God take away his Holy Spirit from us.