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The EPISTLE for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.
Ephef. iv. 17, to the end.
This I Say therefore and testify in the Lord, that henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the Vanity of their Mind, having the Underftanding darken'd, &c.
HE Collect for this Day teaches us to pray to God, that forafmuch as without him we are not able to please him, he would mercifully grant us his Holy Spirit, in all things to direct and rule our Hearts. Accordingly,
The Epiftle for the Day fhews us,
Firft, Our utter Inability of our felves to please God, fet forth by the natural State of the Gentiles before they receiv'd the Gospel.
Secondly, The gracious Aids and Affiftances of God's Holy Spirit in order to please him, reprefented in the happy Eftate of Chriftians by the Grace and Favour of the Gospel.
Thirdly, Some of thofe Rules by which the Holy Spirit in all things directs our Hearts in the right way. Thefe things are the Sum of this Epiftle, which must therefore be particularly confider'd.
First, The Epiftle begins with an earnest Exhortation to the Ephefians, who were lately converted from Heathenifm to Chriftianity, to lead other and better Lives than they did before their Converfion. This I fay and teftify in the Lord (faith the Apoitle) that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles, &c. This is a matter that I am folemnly to declare and publifh to you, that being become Christians, ye live no longer after the manner of Heathens, either in the Vanity of their Minds, or the Vileness of their Practices:
for tho in times of Ignorance God wink'd at many things, yet now he commands all Men to repent, and to turn from their Idol Worship to the living God. Let your Carriage therefore be fuitable to your Privileges, and your Actions answer your Profeffion, which alone can render them pleafing and acceptable unto God. From whence he proceeds to let thefe Ephefians know their utter Inability to please God in their Gentile State. And that,
Ift, Because their Understandings were darken'd, and their Minds overspread with Blindness and Ignorance. Ye were Sometimes Darkness (faith the Apostle) Eph. 5. 8. Before the Light of the Gospel fhone upon you, ye were not only dark, but Darkness it felf, being deftitute of all true Knowledg of God, of Chrift, or your felves; and fo were, as he expreffes it, without God, and without Chrift, and without Hope in the World. This was the forlorn Condition of the Ephefians, whilft they continu'd Heathens; and this is the natural State and Condition of us all, before we are receiv'd into Chrift's Church and become Chriftians; in which Eftate 'tis impoffible to please God. Again,
zdly, He tells them in the next Verfe, that they were alienated from the Life of God through the Ignorance that was in them, and because of the Blindness of their Hearts: meaning, that their want of Knowledg drove them to those courses, that depriv'd them of all fpiritual Life, and made them dead in Trefpaffes and Sins; by which means they were no more able to move in the ways of God, than a dead Carcafe, which is void of all Motion: and fure in fuch à Condition 'tis no way poflible to please God. And we too in our natural State are as far remov'd from all fpiritual Life and Motion, till we are quicken'd by Divine Grace. Moreover,
3dly, He tells them in the following Verfe, that they were paft feeling, and fo gave themselves over unto Lafcivioufnefs, to work all Uncleanness with greediness: that is, their Hearts were harden'd, and their Confciences fo fear'd, that they loft all the Impreffions of Good and Evil; a long Courfe of finning had brought that Senfleffness and Be numniedness upon their Spirits, that they felt no more the weight of their Sins, than a dead Man in the Grave doth the Burden of Earth that lies upon him. This made them commit all manner of Vice and Wickedness without any Regret or Remorse, and especially the abominable Vices of Uncleanness, running as greedily after their Lufts, as a
hungry Perfon does after his Victuals; giving themselves over to all kind of Lewdness and Lafcivioufness, and fo falling into thofe beaftly and unnatural Lufts, that are not to be nam'd among Chriftians.
This is the fad Condition of the Heathens or Gentiles, and this was the deplorable State of thefe Ephefians, before they embrac'd Christianity, of which the Apoftle thought fit to put them in mind; Eph. 2. 12. Te were (faith he) without Chrift, Aliens from the Commonwealth of Ifrael, and Strangers from the Covenants of Promife, having no Hope, and without God in the World. In which Condition we may well enough conclude, that neither they, nor we can do any thing of our felves to please God. From whence the Apostle proceeds, in the four following Verfes, to declare the happy Change made in them, by the Light of the Gofpel, and the Influence of the Divine Grace: Which will lead me,
Secondly, To the gracious Aids and Affiftances of God's holy Spirit, to enable us to please him. When St. Paul had recited the many Miferies, and abominable Vices of the Heathens, he adds in the next words, concerning the Ephe fans, But ye have not fo learn'd Chrift: meaning, that they had learn'd better things from the Chriftian Religion, if fo be that they had heard him, and been taught by him, as the Truth is in fefus; that is, if they had heard and receiv'd the Word aright, and been throughly inftructed in the Truth of the Chriftian Doctrine, they would foon fee the Error and Danger of thofe Ways, for that would difcover to them the Deformity of their former Practices, and lead them to new and better Courses. And this he tells them, is the main Design of Chrift's Religion, that ye fhould learn thereby to put off concerning the former Converfation the old Man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful Lufts: that is, that ye fhould change your former Course of Life, and caft off thofe vile and finful Practices that lead to fuch foul and filthy Lufts. And be renew'd in the Spirit of your Mind, that it may be fet on new and better things. Which is exprefs'd in the next words, by putting on the new Man, which after God is created in Righteoufnefs and true Holiness: that is, that ye feek to beget in you new Defires, new Purposes, and Pursuits after greater and nobler Objects, that ye may be reftor'd again to that loft Image of God, which confifts in a fincere Piety and Purity of Mind.
This is what the Apostle hop'd and pray'd for in the behalf of thefe Ephefians, upon their receiving the Gofpel, and becoming Chriftians: that the Change of their Mind might be accompanied with a Change of their Life, and their new Principles engage them to new Practices according to them; by which alone they could be enabled to pleafe God, and to do things acceptable to him. All which are owing to the Light of the Gofpel, and the bleffed Influences of God's Holy Spirit working by it. And this. will lead me, in the
Third Place, to the Rules here given by the Holy Spirit to direct our Hearts aright in the Ways of Christianity; and these Directions take up the remaining Part of this Chapter. The great general Direction to these Ephefians, is, that henceforth they walk not as other Gentiles walk'd in the Vanity of their Minds, but that they fhun all the Deeds of Darkness practis'd by them, and walk as Children of the Light, and as becometh Chriftians. To which end, the
If Rule given to them, is to avoid lying, and to speak nothing but Truth in their Commerce and Communication with one another; ver. 25. Wherefore putting away lying, Speak every Man Truth with his Neighbour, for we are Members one of another. Lying was one of the great Sins and Abominations of the Heathens, who having little or no regard to Truth, dealt chiefly in Falfhood and Deceit. 'Tis one of the Works of the Devil, who is a lying Spirit in the Mouths of all that are given to it: Te are of your Father the Devil (faith our Saviour) and the Works of your Father ye will do, for he was a Lyar from the beginning, and the Father of it. When he fpeaketh a Lye, he fpeaketh of his own, for he was the first Inventor, and is ftill the great Sollicitor to it. Why hath Satan fill'd thy Heart (faith St. Peter to Ananias) that thou shouldft lye unto the Holy Ghost? Acts 5. 3. 'Tis the Devil that puts it into Mens Hearts to falfify and utter Lyes: and therefore however you liv'd in these things whilft ye continued Heathens, yet now being Chriftians you muft abhor and abandon them; for lying is directly oppofite and provoking to the Holy Spirit, who is a Spirit of Truth, and defireth Truth in the inner and outward Parts. And becaufe out of the Abundance of the Heart the Mouth fpeaketh, we must first cleanse the Fountain, that the Streams iffuing from it may be pure and
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clean: Wash thine Heart from Wickedness, and then thy Tongue will be free from Deceit, then wilt thou speak nothing but Truth to thy Neighbour, which fhould be the rather done, because we are Members one of another: we are Members of the fame natural Body, as Men; and of the fame myftical Body, as Chriftians; and therefore should be true and faithful to one another.
2dly, Another Direction here given, is to avoid all rafh and immoderate Anger, in the next Verses; Be angry and fin not, let not the Sun go down upon your Wrath, neither give place to the Devil. This was likewife another great Sin of the Gentiles, who let loose the Reins to inordinate Paf fions, and thereby created Brawls and bloody Contentions; but it muft not be fo among Chriftians, they are to reftrain and bridle their Paffions by the Grace of Meekness, and to keep themselves from all finful and exceffive Anger : for though Men may be fometimes angry without Sin, yet they may never be fo without a Cause; neither fhould any fmall or flight thing inflame us, for nothing but great and weighty Matters are able to juftify a Paffion. Moreover, where there may be a juft Caufe of Anger, it must not rife too high, or kindle too great a Flame, but must be kept within due bounds, and not break out into bitter and contumelious Language; nor muft it continue too long to bake into Rancour and Malice, but we must make all hafte to fubdue that Rage, and to be reconcil'd to our offending Brother. We may not let the Sun go down upon our Wrath: that is, it must not continue to the Evening, but be remov'd before Sun-fet, left it hinder our evening Prayer; wherein we beg Forgiveness of God, as we forgive our Brethren, Plutarch tells us of the Pythagoreans, that if any Anger or Quarrel arofe among them, they were before the Sun went down to fhake hands and be made friends; which is the Apoftle's Leffon here to thefe Ephefians, not to harbour any fecret Grudges, but to fupprefs all caufelefs and inordinate Anger And the rather, because to give way to unruly Paffions, is to give place to the Devil; 'tis to fuffer the Evil-one to get ground upon us, and to be led away by his wicked Suggeftions. Contrary whereunto, we are here taught to be led by the Spirit of God into the Ways of Peace, Meekness, and Reconciliation, and to agree with our Adverfary quickly, as becometh Chrif