Pauls's Epistle to the
THE CHURCH EDIFIED, AND EDIFYING ITSELF.
"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, "When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men". (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ : from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." - EPH. iv. 7-16.
THE leading thought, all through, in this whole passage
(vers. 4-16), is the oneness of the body of Christ. And that oneness is brought
out in three consecutive and closely connected points of view. First, there is
the constitution of the body (vers. 4-6). Secondly, there is the ministry
provided for the nourishment of the body (vers. 7-12). And thirdly, there is
the body's power of spontaneous growth and progress towards perfection (vers.
13-16). These are the three connections in which the word "body" here occurs.
First, "one body" (ver. 4). Secondly,"the edifying of the body of Christ" (ver.
12). Thirdly, "the body edifying itself" (ver. 16). Having considered the first
of these views, let me ask attention to the other two, briefly, for I attempt
no full exposition.
A living organised body requires for its subsistence and development
(I.) An outward system of means and ministries ; and
(II) An inward power or capacity of making these means and ministries available for its subsistence and due development. And if the body is complex and various, the means and ministries may be expected to be manifold. So also must be the power or capacity of improving them. Yet all must be found tending to unity. The Church is such a body, complex and various: "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (ver. 7). It is composed of members having graces and gifts all but infinitely diversified. To meet the case of such a body, and foster its growth to maturity, the outward appliances and the inward impulses must also be very varied.
I. There are various outward appliances; all meant for the edifying of the body of Christ (vers. 8-12). These may be regarded as comprehending generally all the spiritual instrumentalities and gifts brought to bear upon the church and its members from without and from above. For the apostle is not here laying down the platform of church government, or determining formally and authoritatively what offices had been, or were to be, owned and sanctioned in the church. He is not thinking of that, but of something else. He merely names the ministries then in exercise. He names them simply to bring out their variety of function, in connection with their unity of aim. They are all of them, as then subsisting, among the gifts which, when he ascended up on high, leading captivity captive, Christ received of the Father that he might give them unto men. They are widely different from one another, in respect of their inherent nature and their official use. But all their differences tend to unity, and they work together for one ultimate end.
Thus we have, first, apostles hearing witness to the resurrection of the Lord, from their intimate personal acquaintance with him, and their directly receiving communications from him in his risen state. Then, secondly, we have prophets; men endowed with supernatural insight and foresight as to the mind and purpose of God. Then, thirdly, we have evangelists, possessed of burning zeal to conquer new realms for Christ; and of ripe wisdom also to organise their conquests. Fourthly, there are pastors, to lead and nourish, as shepherds, the flock of Christ, feeding them with heavenly food. And, fifthly, there are teachers, to instruct the ignorant, to guide inquirers in the right way, and to assist all the people to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
These are the means and ministries of grace in full force and play at the time of the apostle's writing his letters; various in their character, so as to meet varieties of condition and circumstances among the members of the church, but all working together for the church's unity, having one aim, one end, one tendency.
And what is that? It may seem, and indeed is in one view, twofold. It contemplates "the perfecting of the saints;" their progressive sanctification and growth to perfection; it contemplates also, not only their personal progress and perfection, but their work, their ministry, their deaconship; the obligation lying on them to do good, to be of the same mind with Christ, when he said that he came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. But though thus twofold in the working out of it, the end is one. These various appliances, apostolical or divinely authoritative, prophetical or divinely intuitional, evangelistic or missionary, pastoral, didactic; promoting inward progress towards perfection in the saints, and prompting them to outward service; all tend to one result, the drawing of the whole together; the edifying of the body of Christ (ver. 12).
II. In this process of edification the body of Christ is not passive. It has inward vitality; internal vital impulses and movements. And these also are various, as are the ministerial influences from without (vers. 13-16). And yet they too all tend to one and the same result; the edifying of the body of Christ; its edifying itself (ver. 16). For it is correct now to speak of the body edifying itself. It is not merely subjected to an outward process of edification; it has in it an inward principle of self-edification. It grows to maturity, not only in virtue of outward influences and appliances, but in virtue also of impulses and movements and aspirations from within. And these, however various, all tend in one direction and to one issue, the edifying of the body of Christ; its not only being edified, but edifying itself.
This is indicated in the opening words of ver. 13 - "Till we all come." The risen Saviour gives certain gifts to us for certain effects to be wrought on us, till we all come, with a view to our all coming to one goal. Not as dragged, or forced, or driven by external compulsion or constraint; but as reaching what we have ourselves been aiming at. It is clearly implied that we all, who are members of the body, however different our circumstances may be, and however different our paths, are yet moving to one goal. What that is the apostle indicates in verse 13: "Till we all come to (not 'in') the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Oneness of faith and knowledge as regards the Son of God is the great terminus ad quern, the meeting-point for all the members of the body. Oneness of faith and knowledge about the Son of God is what constitutes the church's perfect manhood, her full-grown mature unity; and that according to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. There is ripeness or maturity of manhood among Christians in proportion as there is oneness of faith and knowledge about the Son of God. To that we are all to come at last: to that we are all coming now.
But our coming to it implies the fulfilling of two terms or conditions: - First, There must be an end of all childishness or infantile imbecility; of mere passive submission to external influences (ver. 14). And, secondly, there must be wrought in us an active, energetic principle, bent on doing the true thing, and doing it lovingly (ver. 15). There can be no growth, no tendency to oneness of faith and knowledge about the Son of God, where there is nothing more than a sort of childish receptivity. But let there be wrought in us a fixed, manly determination to embrace and act out the truth lovingly, cordially, affectionately, with our whole souls and hearts. Then there is a growing up into Christ. There is a growing up of the whole nature into him. All of us, the members, thus exercising ourselves truly and lovingly, grow up into Christ. And all growing up into him, we draw from Him an all-pervading element of unity.
Mark, then, the two causes or conditions of that growth which is the full development of the unity of the body of Christ.
On the one hand (vers. 7-12) there is the outward ministry, in all its variety of means and influences, adapted to the double character which all Christians have to sustain as saints and deacons; personally sanctified and set apart as holy unto the Lord, and officially, as it were, called to be workers, fellow-workers, with the Lord. In the one character they need to be perfected, completed. Their consecration to the Lord, their coming out from the world, their devoted-ness, their piety, their godliness, all the elements of the hidden life of God in their souls; their spiritual tastes, convictions, and affections; all need to be becoming more thorough, real, intense. In the other character they need to be stimulated, encouraged, guided, stirred up to love and to good works; made to walk and abound more and more in all good works. For both ends the outward ministry in the church is available. Let us "be edified."
Then, on the other hand (vers. 13-16), there is the inward principle of activity, causing you to be ever coining, as by a spontaneous movement, into oneness of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. That principle is faith working by love. It is "speaking the truth in love." It is our being true and loving; true to ourselves, loving towards others. Thus let us be true and loving, and so expect the double blessing. We grow up more and more into him who is the Head in all things. And this growing up into him, making our union more close, more vital, more of a real identification, draws out from him, more and more, the living virtue which, pervading the whole frame, and putting fresh oil into every joint, brings out in fullest symmetry all its various susceptibilities of growth and faculties of motion, and so makes it increase and edify itself. Such is the divine ideal of the church and of its unity ; its living, growing unity.
I cannot now enlarge on the whole subject thus brought before us. But I fasten upon the one thought that all is of Christ the risen Saviour. He gives the Spirit, the source and spring in us of life and growth. And he gives the means and ministries needful instrumentally for that life and that growth. In particular he gives " pastors and teachers," the standing ministry in his church till now. But now, how is this gift to be ascertained and verified? How is a pastor and teacher to be recognised and identified as really given by the risen and ascended Lord to the church at large, or to any single congregation in particular? Apart from any outwardly supernatural designation or sign, we must look to indications and evidences of a more inward character. And we can look for such indications and evidences only in the line of the views and feelings of the parties called to judge in the matter.
I. First among these is the individual himself who is proposed as pastor and teacher. He must, in the first instance, take the responsibility of saying that he believes himself to be Christ's gift to the church. He must avow, and act upon the avowal, that his call to the ministry is from Christ. Nothing can relieve him of the burden of that decision, no human opinion, no human authority. Human opinion, and the influence of human authority, he may fairly weigh. In making up his mind, he must take these elements into account. On the ground and warrant of such pressure from without, on the part of the Christian commonwealth, men of old were constrained to accept office in the church. And there is no reason why similar instances might not occur in a lively and reviving state of religion. Still, ultimately, however his mind may have been moved by such considerations brought to bear upon him from without, his ultimate determination must be, not only, as regards the church, his own free and voluntary act; but his act acknowledging, as regards the Supreme Head of the church, an inward movement that leaves him no discretion, a call from above which he cannot disobey.
It is indeed a solemn and awful question that he has thus to raise and answer. And it is one which every student, every preacher, every minister, must be continually, from time to time, putting to himself, Am I Christ's gift to his church? Am I that now? Was I that long years ago when I entered on my ministry? Am I that still; my ministry having lasted so long since then? I cannot evade the question, as a present question, no matter how long a time I have been in the Gospel-harness. I must realise now, not merely what I may hopefully look upon as having been a warrantable call to adopt the ministerial profession more than a quarter of a century ago, but what may give me some confidence as to my being Christ's gift to the church now. I must feel that I have, not merely a past, but a present call to the ministry. On what evidence I may feel that I have that; or on what evidence one entering on the ministry may feel that he has it, is a question on which I cannot now enlarge. I would only say that there is this distinction between him and me: - He must judge for himself without experience; without actual trial of his ministry. I have a far deeper and far more formidable question to raise. Have you found me faithful? Are you the seals of my ministry?
II. The second party in this matter is the church; or the collective body of Christians in any place or under any organisation, acting as a collective body through its appropriate and appointed official channel; its legitimate scripturally-sanctioned representatives and agents. To simplify the matter, I take the presbytery, the radical court in our church, as regards the point in question; and the court for which we think we can plead direct apostolic authority. "What have these presbyters to do when a man presents himself, or is presented to them, as a candidate for the ministry, for the office of pastor and teacher? What question have they to decide? Plainly this, Is he Christ's gift? His gift to the church at large? His gift to any particular congregation soliciting his services? Whatever rules may be laid down as to the training of students, whatever conditions may be attached to the disposal of calls; in the long run, and in the last resort, the church, in its presbyteries and other courts, has to face this as the crucial and testing appeal to her : Is the man now before us one whom we ought to recognise as given by the Head of the church to be a pastor and teacher, in the church generally, or specially in this congregation? We license and Ordain and induct. But in all that we do not act as exercising a right, and asserting a discretion of our own. We simply seek to ascertain, as best we can, and to acknowledge and carry out, the mind of the church's Head.
No doubt, in the absence of miraculous indications from above, and the power of discerning spirits here below, we must, in faith and prayer, use and trust our own judgment; looking to personal qualifications and providential leadings. And, knowing our own weakness, we must guard against caprice and partiality, by enacting and enforcing general regulations on the subjects of the curriculum of students and the calling of ministers. But that does not shift, or in the least affect, the real state of the case, as we have ultimately to dispose of it. In principle it always comes back to this plain, issue: - here is, by supposition, a man, offering himself, or permitting himself to be offered, to the church, or to one of her charges, as Christ's gift; not merely at his own hand seeking office, but called and sent by Christ. That must be postulated, or assumed, or taken for granted, in the first instance. And what have we, the church's office-bearers, to do, on behalf of Christ, the church's Head? Simply to form and give forth our opinion as to whether what the man professes for himself, or his friends allege of him, is in our judgment, after full trial, in the light of Scripture, and with prayer for the Spirit's guidance, true or not. If, in some extraordinary instance, we conclude that this is true of one who has not complied with our rules, these rules must give place and give way. Even when these rules have been most punctually observed, there still remains the question, Is the man. Christ's gift?
III. There is a third party, when the case is one, not of a general license to preach the Gospel, but of ordination or induction into a particular ministerial charge. The congregation comes now upon the field, without whose call or consent we hold any such transaction to be unscriptural and unlawful, sinful and wrong. We maintain the indefeasible right of the flock to choose its own pastor: we stand for popular election. But we do so with this clear and solemn intimation, that in availing yourselves as a congregation of your right, you have to entertain and dispose of the very same question which, as we have seen, the individual believer has in the first instance to face for himself with reference to his warrant for entering on the office of pastor and teacher, and which we, as rulers in the Church, have to face for ourselves, with reference to our acknowledgment of him, in that character and capacity. Is he one whom you can and ought to regard as given by Christ to you, or rather to the congregation of which you are one? Obviously there is here something more than the mere exercise of a privilege or right, in the ordinary sense of these terms; something, in fact, altogether and widely different. Your position is really reversed. You have to ascertain, as best you may, not your own mind, but Christ's; not what you would have, but what he gives. No doubt, in trying to ascertain that, you must do what the other parties concerned are entitled and constrained to do. You must exercise your own judgment, in the light of Scripture and with prayer for the Spirit's guidance, upon all the materials within your reach. You must inquire, and examine, and make diligent search. And you are at full liberty, nay you. are imperatively bound, not merely to weigh scrupulously all information coming to you through most competent and trustworthy testimony, but to consult your own impressions and feelings, in so far as you have the means of personal and experimental trial of a man's gifts and graces; and in so far as you think you have reason to believe that you have had the Spirit of the Lord along with you and within you in the trial of them.
Still you are to keep steadily before you the real state of the question. You are to bear in mind what it is that you have to decide. It is not who, as pastor and teacher, would best please you. Nay, it is not even who, as pastor and teacher, might most plausibly or most probably be welcomed by you as given to you by Christ the Lord, the church's Head ; I mean given by him to you individually. No. For you cannot isolate yourself. It is not you by yourself, and for yourself alone, who have to exercise this sacred trust, and discharge this responsible duty; but the congregation as such. It is as one of the congregation ; it is in the interest of the congregation, and in view of the congregation's obligation and responsibility, that you are required to decide and act. The question therefore now becomes far wider and far deeper. Does it seem to be the mind of Christ that such a one may be pastor and teacher in such a congregation? Am I shut up to the conclusion, or may I warrantably regard myself as shut up to the conclusion, that he is one whom, not I as an individual, but the collective congregation, may accept as Christ's gift?
I have said that the question becomes thus far wider than if the decision of it turned simply on your individual preference or predilection, or even upon your conviction of what might be best for your individual good. You cannot, of course, be responsible for the constituting of any pastorate, or acquiesce in it when constituted, if you believe it to be unwarrantable in itself, m injurious to the best interests of your souls. But under that qualification you must bear in mind the duty of consulting for others; consulting for the congregation; consulting for Christ; always devoutly and vividly realising the large bearing of the question, viewed in the light of the pastor and teacher being Christ's gift to the flock. For in that view, a variety of considerations come to press upon you which would have no weight or relevancy if you had only yourselves to think of, and your own comfort and edification, or even your own highest spiritual perfection, to provide for. The position of the congregation, the exigencies and wants of the time and of the place, the interests of families as regards family visitation, the risks and hazards of the young in the midst of social, intellectual, and spiritual trials, are to be considered as indicating what is needed. Then again, as pointing to an adequate meeting of the need, the strong and unequivocal opinion of competent judges, the earnest commendation of men chosen and trusted by yourselves for this very thing, the evidences of success, under the divine blessing, in another sphere of usefulness, are to be weighed. All such elements of judgment may and must enter into your disposal of the question forced upon you, when you are called to say if you can concur in welcoming one thus pointed out to you as Christ's gift to the congregation; not, of course, as if none but he could, in any conceivable circumstances, be Christ's gift; but yet with sufficient ground for believing that here and now, as regards present duty, you have the mind of Christ.
I referred also to the question being deeper as well as wider, in the view I have been trying to impress, than when it is looked at in the coarse and vulgar light of its being the mere exercise of a personal right, upon personal considerations, that is involved. What I mean is that, not only must it be looked at more broadly, but it must be pondered more profoundly. And especially there must gather round it, in the sphere of your conscientious convictions, a more intense feeling of responsibility. If it were merely your saying for yourself who it is whom you would like to preach to you and he your minister, you might waive that right, and make a merit of waiving it. You might stand aloof and be neutral. You might decline to take any share of responsibility in the matter. But you cannot thus evade your duty when you take a scriptural view of this momentous transaction, as affecting, not your spiritual gratification merely, but the carrying out of the mind of Christ, in his gift of pastors and teachers to his church. You cannot be guiltless if you refuse to judge in any particular case as to whom he may be giving; and to carry out the result of whatever judgment you may, through prayer and meditation, reach. Let me, in closing, urge yovi to consider the vast importance of your acting on the view now suggested, as bearing on the welcome you give to any minister coming among you, as well as the call you address to him inviting him to come. If you call on the principle and in the spirit I have been endeavouring to explain, then your welcome will correspond to your call.
Go To Chapter Eight
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