We have hitherto, in our Meditations, addressed ourselves chiefly to the consideration of "various important points of our most holy faith;" but it has for some time past struck our mind that for the sake of a little variety for our readers, as well as for other reasons more specially connected with our own thoughts, desires, and feelings, we would now turn our attention to Scripture Exposition. In the course of a long profession, for our own private profit and edification, and had this not been a primary object, almost necessarily from having been so many years in the ministry, we have read, we may, perhaps, say studied, the Scriptures a good deal, especially the Epistles of the New Testament; and if, through the Lord's goodness, any light has been cast upon them by the Blessed Spirit for our own instruction and edification, and if we have gathered any fruit or profit thereby for our own soul, it will be both a pleasure and a privilege to be allowed to impart any measure of both to others. "Freely have you received, freely give," the Lord said to his disciples. Acting in the spirit of this blessed precept, we would freely impart anything which we have so freely, so undeservedly received, and can only lament that both reception and gift should be in so scant a measure. "But if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not." Measured by this willingness, and not by the amount of the gift, would we lay our contribution at the Lord's feet, in the hope that he will make use of it for his own glory and his people's good.
Our hearers in various places will, perhaps, remember that 'exposition' almost always formed a part of our ministry when we were engaged in its active exercise; and if we may give some of our friends credit for soundness of judgment, as well as for sincerity in its expression, they have sometimes assured us that the exposition was much more profitable than the sermon. Nor is the reason far to seek, whether in our own case or in that of our brother ministers who are in the habit of expounding the Scripture, for some of the choicest servants of God, whether dead or living, have not practiced it. (Mr. Fowler used to expound, and Mr. Hardy was singularly great in exposition; but Mr. Gadsby and Mr. Warburton, and, we believe, Mr. Huntington considered preaching quite sufficient.)
In 'sermons', there is generally a good deal of what we may call surplusage, mere straw and hay by way of packing, as in a crate of glass, to keep our ideas a little together, and prevent them from getting broken; but in 'exposition', at least where there is any gift that way, there is more of the word of GOD, and less of the word of MAN. We let the word of truth speak more for itself, and, therefore, it flows less diluted and watered, and thus less weakened than when drawn out in a long and often tedious discourse.
Being, then, in the wise dispensation of the Lord, a good deal laid aside, especially in the colder parts of the year, from the work of the ministry, if we can, through the pages of the Standard, by opening the word of truth, in some measure carry it on from our study, it will but form another cause of thankfulness to the God of all our mercies that he still spares our life when so many of our brethren in the ministry are being taken away on the right hand and on the left, whose places we know not to whom to look to supply. But enough of self, of which, indeed, we should not have said so much, had we not wished to explain why we have been led to adopt the plan we have proposed of offering to our readers some exposition of various portions of the word of God. Suffice it, then, to say, that if we can throw any light on the word of truth, if we can enable our readers more clearly to understand, more firmly to believe, and more experimentally to feel the power of what God has revealed in the Scriptures for their instruction, edification, and consolation—that will be our chief reward, as, we hope, it is our chief aim.
We shall commence with the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, as not only that is a special portion of the word which has been opened to our mind, and made sweet to our taste; but there has long been a secret desire in our bosom to bring it before the living family of God, as containing such a rich store of precious gospel truth. In endeavoring to expound it, and we wish the same remark to apply to all our other attempts of a similar nature, we shall neither seek nor shun anything which may look like learning or research. We have read it so often in the original that it is almost as familiar to us as the English translation; and if, therefore, sometimes we may refer to it, let it not be ascribed to any foolish, and in things of God, most unbecoming, no, sinful, desire of what is called showing off, but to a simple wish to make the truth of God more clear and precious.
But before we proceed to our intended exposition, let us make a few preliminary remarks on the Epistles generally, and that to the Ephesians in particular. The New Testament may be broadly divided into three distinct portions—1. Narrative; 2. Epistolary; 3. Prophetical. The first division, the narrative, comprehends the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles; the second, the epistolary, all the Epistles of the New Testament; and the third, the prophetical, the Book of Revelation.
Now the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is especially to be admired in adopting this threefold mode of communicating the books of the New Testament as the inspired word of God. The foundation of our faith is the Person and work of the Son of God. It was, therefore, needful that there should be a historical revelation of his birth, death, and resurrection, of his miracles and his discourses so full of grace and truth, and generally of what he was and did, suffered and sorrowed when here below. It will be seen at a glance that what was required was an inspired and, therefore, perfectly truthful narrative of the words and actions of the blessed Lord, in order that our faith in him might rest on some clear, tangible, visible foundation. Now nothing is so suitable for a foundation of this kind as a simple historical narrative guaranteed by positive divine inspiration from all mistake of fact or expression. An epistle here would be out of place. We have, therefore, four distinct inspired narratives, each independent of the other, and yet all combining to give us a faithful portraiture of the Lord in the days of his flesh. The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are two grand capital features of our most holy faith. In the four gospels, then, we have the clearest possible account which even an inspired pen could give of the crucifixion of Christ, and of his resurrection from the dead.
But we also needed the visible proofs of his ascension and glorification at the right hand of the Father in the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, and the setting up of his spiritual kingdom in a Church to be called out and manifested as his purchased possession. This we have also in a similar form of narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, which embraces a period of about 30 years from the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, to Paul's journey to Rome to appear before Caesar. Here again we see the necessity of narrative to present to us a connected account of such part of the history of the early churches as the Holy Spirit thought best to give for the general instruction and edification of the Church. As it was the mind of the Spirit that so many of the Epistles should be written by Paul, we see his wisdom in giving us in the Acts so large an account of his labors, and thus the Epistles and the Acts mutually explain and confirm each other. Into these points we need not, therefore, further enter, except to name that a prophetical map was also needed as a kind of chart for the Church, and especially to warn and prepare her beforehand for that monstrous system which has developed itself as the Babylon of the New Testament, and which we have described beforehand in the Revelation.
But now, just for a few moments, admire with us the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in giving us the EPISTLES of the New Testament. There was sweet, precious, and most important truth in the bosom of Christ, which could not be revealed to the Church until after the ascension of her risen Lord. This, then, is unfolded in the Epistles; and observe with what special grace and wisdom that form of communicating divine truth has been chosen. Of all modes of composition, a letter (for these Epistles are letters) is what we may call most flexible; that is, most easily adapted to almost every mode of conveying meaning.
1. Thus a letter admits first of narrative. You can tell a friend, in a letter, where you have been, and what you have said and done. So in the Epistles, we have sometimes simple narrative. See, for instance, 2 Cor. 11:24-33; 12:1-10 Gal. 1:15-24; 2:1-14; 1 Thess. 1:6-10; 3:1-8. In these places we have simple narrative of actions; and all will see how naturally and easily this historical relation falls in with the rest of the Epistle.
2. An epistle or letter admits also of direct or positive teaching. This feature is out of place in a narrative, except as it records words actually spoken; as in the case of the discourses of the blessed Lord. But a letter written by an inspired Apostle to a Church admits, in the fullest degree, of an authoritative declaration of divine truth. Take any one of the Epistles, and you would be surprised, if you were not prepared for it, at the amount of positive teaching which it contains. Look, for instance, at the Epistle to the Romans, and see what a large amount of direct, positive truth it contains, as the Holy Spirit gradually unfolds in it the way in which God justifies a sinner, freely and fully, through the blood and righteousness of his dear Son.
Read the first eleven chapters of the Romans as a harmonious whole, and see what a full, clear, connected exposition it is, from the description of what man is by actual transgression, in chap. 1; to the present casting off and future restoration of Israel, in chap. 11. We wish we could convey to all our readers what we have seen of the beauty and harmony of the whole chain of scriptural, we might almost say logical, reasoning which connects these chapters, as in one golden bond. Or take the Epistle to the Hebrews. What a large and blessed amount of positive teaching, of clear detailed instruction about the priesthood of Christ, and its connection with that of Aaron and Melchisedek, do we find through the whole Epistle. So with the Epistle to the Ephesians. What a clear and full amount of direct, positive teaching as to the Church of Christ, and the position in which she stands to her risen and glorified Lord. We see from these examples how admirably a letter or an epistle, written by an inspired Apostle, is adapted to convey clear, distinct, positive instruction in divine truth.
3. Then observe how beautifully adapted the epistolary form is to the inculcation of precept. How suitably, how forcibly an inspired Apostle, in his letters to a Church of Christ, can urge on them all Christian practice, and, at the same time, enter into the minutest details of gospel obedience in the various relationships of life.
4. Mark again the peculiar tenderness and affection which nothing can so well convey as a letter. In a letter, there is the pouring out of the heart of the writer as if into the bosom of his correspondent. Think for a moment, if you wished to express your feelings of affection to a friend or relative; if you could find any means so good as writing a letter to him or her. Is it not next best to conversing with them, and in some respects better, for shyness or reserve might sometimes stop your tongue—though it does not chain your pen? Lovers, friends, relations—all communicate by letter what their affection prompts. So in the Epistles of the New Testament. What a pouring out of the heart there is in Paul's second Epistle to the Corinthians, written with so many tears. How touching is all this! How it goes from heart to heart. How it makes the Epistles the choicest of love-letters, and what a softness and tenderness has the spirit of love poured into all the instruction and all the exhortation contained in them, thus removing all dryness or formality, whether in instruction or exhortation—and steeping both in an atmosphere of the truest affection.
5. A letter, again, admits of continual change from one point to another, and one form of writing to another. It is eminently what we have already termed flexible—that is, may be bent or turned almost in any direction without violence in its nature. The writer may glide from one thing to another by the most easy transitions. Thus Paul sometimes teaches as an instructor, sometimes exhorts as a father, sometimes gives us a little bit of his past history or experience, sometimes drops a word of warning, or admonition; and yet all is done without any sensible break, or the introduction of anything unsuitable to the character of a letter. This beautiful flexibility is peculiar to the letter style, and is, therefore, eminently adapted for all readers.
6. Letters also admit of familiarly discussing various matters which could not at all be so well handled in a more fixed and formal mode of composition. It is said of the trunk of an elephant that it can pick up a pin, or rend an oak. So a letter can take up the minutest circumstance, such as leaving a cloak at Troas, or pull down an angel with a curse, were he to preach any other gospel than that which Paul had preached unto the Galatians. It can tell a woman to cover her head and keep silence in the house of God, and it can sound forth such majestic chants of triumph over death and hell as fill the last parts of Romans 8 and 1 Cor. 15 with such strains of heavenly eloquence that, side by side with them, all mere human oratory sounds like the tunes of a street organ.
7. A letter also admits of all lengths, from a short epistle, like that to Philemon, to one of many chapters, as that to the Romans and those to the Corinthians, and may be written to individuals, as to Timothy and Titus, or to particular churches, as that at Ephesus or Philippi, or like those of Peter, James, and Jude, to the whole body of the elect scattered abroad.
8. The chief charm of a letter is its ease—the absence of all stiffness and form. It is, as it were, written conversation; and the conversation, too, of intelligent people, able easily and fluently to express their thoughts and feelings without reserve, shyness, or restraint. If we might point out this feature as visible in the Epistles of Paul, we might direct attention to the remarkable ease with which his thoughts and words generally flow. We do not mean to say that he is always easy to understand. To do so requires divine teaching; and we must add careful study and attention, frequent reading, and earnest prayer. But if blessed with the anointing from above, which teaches of all things, and if favored with a studious, teachable, prayerful spirit, desirous to know the mind of Christ, and be led into all the counsel of God, we shall find the Epistles "a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees, well refined."
And be not discouraged, Christian reader, if you seem slow of understanding, and do not as yet see the beauty and blessedness of this portion of the word of truth—"The soul of the diligent shall be made fat." Persevere in reading them. If you feel to lack wisdom, do as James bids, "ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not, and it shall be given you;" and then you will say, "How sweet are your words unto my taste; yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth;" and you will be able to add, "Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way." (Psalm 119:104.)
These preliminary remarks on the Epistles generally, which have been drawn out farther than we intended, may, perhaps, prepare us for the more profitable examination of that to the Ephesians, which we shall hope to consider in our next paper.