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A SERMON ON EPHESIANS IV. 10.
he extends his dominion even to man's will, that great seat of freedom, that, with a kind of autocracy and supremacy within itself, commands its own actions, laughs at all compulsion, scorns restraint, and defies the bondage of human laws or external obligations.
Yet this, even this absolute principle, bends to the overpowering insinuations of Christ's spirit; nay, with a certain event, and yet with a reserve to its own inviolate liberty, when he calls, it cannot but be willing. My earthly prince may command my estate, my body, and the services of my hand, but it is Christ only that can command my will: this is his peculiar and prerogative.
It remains now that we transcribe this article of our creed into our lives, express his sovereignty in our subjection, and, by being the most obedient of servants, declare him to be the greatest of masters: even the blessed and only Potentate, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.
To whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
EPHESIANS iv. 10.
-that he might fill all things.
THE HESE words exhibit to us the great end and design of Christ's ascension, and, without any strain or force laid upon them, are capable of a threefold interpretation; a distinct survey of each of which shall be the business of the present exercise.
1. In the first place then, this term all things may refer to the whole series of prophecies and predictions recorded of Christ in the scriptures; which he might be said to fill, or rather to fulfil by his ascension; which signification, as it is most proper to the force of the Greek word, (forasmuch as all other places which we translate fulfil, are expressed by this word λnpów,) so it is most agreeable to the method of the scriptures, speaking of Christ; of whom we never find any great action recorded, which was before pointed at by some prophecy, but it is immediately added, that it was done va ☎λŋpwon, that such or such a scripture might be fulfilled. And for Christ's ascension, and the consequent of it, his diffusion of the gifts of the Spirit, we have an eminent prediction of that in Psalm lxviii. 18, here referred to by the apostle; He ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts
Concerning which place it must be confessed, that both the Hebrew and the Septuagint from the Hebrew render it, not, he gave gifts unto men, but he received gifts amongst men, SOUTH, VOL. IV.
ἀνέβης εἰς ὕψος, καὶ ἔλαβες δόματα ἐν ἀνθρώποις: and for this the Jews, who at all hands lie upon the catch, charge Paul as a perverter of the prophet's meaning, in a false rendition of the sense of the place.
But to repel their calumny, and to salve the credit of our apostle, there may be a double answer applied to this.
1. That the apostle did not precisely tie himself to the very words, but followed only the design and sense of the text: and this was the same in both those different words, čλaße kai edwкe, he received and he gave. For the prophet, speaking of it as of a thing at that time future, says, that Christ received gifts, namely, from his Father: which gifts he was afterwards, in the fulness of time, to pour forth upon men. But the apostle, speaking of it as of a thing in his time past and fulfilled, mentions only his giving and actual bestowing those gifts, which indeed was the end for which he first received them of his Father.
2. But, secondly, if the Hebrew be rendered, not he received gifts for men, but from or amongst them, as the Jews contend that it ought; forasmuch as the prophet, in that psalm, relates the conquest God gave his people over their enemies; whereupon he is said to have received gifts from them; as it is the custom for conquerors to set apart and consecrate some of their spoils to their god: I say, if this be admitted, as the plea is very plausible, we affirm then, that it was not Paul's design to use these words, he gave gifts unto men, by way of citation out of David; but having by a kind of transumption and accommodation borrowed those former words of his, he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, to shew how great a triumph God made over those greater enemies, sin and death, in the ascension of Christ, that he might now also express how much this spiritual triumph did exceed those temporal ones that God wrought for his people over their temporal enemies; whereas the psalmist says, that upon those triumphs he received gifts from men. Paul here adds these words of his own, that upon this greater triumph in the ascension of Christ, he gave gifts unto men; according to which sense the words carry in them an elegant antithesis, designed to set forth the excellency of one above the other,
by how much it is more excellent to give than to receive. And thus we have a full vindication of the apostle.
But here, for the further illustration of Christ's filling all things in this sense, I cannot pass over that useful observation of Grotius about the word "Anpów, that is does not signify only a bare giving an event to a prophecy, many of which, though applied to Christ by the apostles, yet indeed were fulfilled before him; as particularly that place in Matt. ii. I have called my son out of Egypt, was fulfilled in the children of Israel, of whom it was first spoke. But because those prophecies had not only a literal and historical, but also a further and a mystical intention, therefore this word λŋpów signifies a completion even to a redundancy, a fulfilling them over and above; namely, such a one, as not only reaches their first and historical event, but also verifies their mystical and more
And such a filling or fulfilling of the old prophecies and predictions was proper and peculiar to Christ, to whom they all pointed, and in whom they all ended, as in their utmost period, their only centre, their great and last design. And thus much for the first interpretation.
2. But 2dly, the term all things may refer to the church; which sense I shall most insist upon, as carrying in it the subject-matter of this day's commemoration.
Now Christ, it seems, would not have the fabric of his church inferior to that of the universe: it being itself indeed a lesser world picked or rather sifted out of the greater, where mankind is brought into a narrower compass, but refined to a greater perfection. And as in the constitution of the world, the old philosophy strongly asserts that nature has with much care filled every little space and corner of it with body, there being nothing that it so much abhors as a vacuity: so Christ, as it were, following the methods of nature in the works of grace, has so advantageously framed the whole system of the church; first, by an infinite power making in it capacities, and then by an equal goodness filling them.
Chasms and emptinesses are not the infelicities of the work, but the disgrace of the workman. Capacity unfilled is the opportunity of misery, the very nature and definition of want.
Every vacuity is, as it were, the hunger of the creation, both an undecency and a torment.
Christ therefore would have his body the church not meager and contemptible, but replenished and borne up with sufficiency, displayed to the world with the beauties of fulness and the most ennobling perfections.
Now the church being a society of men combined together in the profession of Christian religion, it has unavoidably a double need or necessity emergent from its very nature and constitution. That is, one of government, the other of instruction; the first agreeing to it simply as a society, the second as it is such a society. And it is Christ's great prerogative to fill it in both these respects.
1. And first in respect of its government, of which excellent and divine thing in general we may say this, that, as at first it could be nothing else but the invention of the infinite, eternal mind; so now it is the vital support, and very sinew that holds together all the parts of society. And being of such universal necessity, there must be a policy in church as well as state. The church indeed is a spiritual body, but government is the very spirit of that.
Hereupon it follows in the next verse, that Christ gave some, apostles; some, evangelists; some, prophets; some, pastors and teachers; part of which are names importing rule and jurisdiction.
But yet in all this catalogue of ecclesiastical officers we find no lay-elders, no church-aldermen, no spiritual furs; nor yet in the whole current of antiquity, till they dropped from the invention of a late impostor, who, being first expelled by the popular rout, became afterwards obnoxious to it, and so had no way to make himself chief in the government, but by allowing them a share.
But Geneva certainly is not the mother-church of the world, nor are Mr. Calvin and Mr. Beza fit correctors of antiquity or prescribers to posterity; nor ought this new fashion in church-government to be therefore authentic, because derived to us from France.
2dly. The church being thus framed into the economy of a governed body, stands equally in need of instruction. For