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قراءة كتاب St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians: A Practical Exposition

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St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians: A Practical Exposition

St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians: A Practical Exposition

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

those pure sources.

And to the Christian believer these books are not only documents of great historical importance as illustrative of a unique period: they also represent to us in different forms the highest level of that action of the divine Spirit upon the mind of man which we call inspiration. St. Paul for instance, in this Epistle to the Ephesians claims, as we shall find, to be an 'inspired' man, a recipient of divine revelation, and makes a similar claim for the apostles and prophets generally. 'By revelation,' he says, 'God made known unto me the mystery (or divine secret), as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.' Inspiration is a term not easily susceptible of definition. We are inclined in our generation to recognize its limits more frankly than has been done in the past, and its compatibility even with positive error on subjects which are matter of ordinary human inquiry and not of divine revelation[1]; but its positive meaning in the region of divine revelation—in what concerns God's moral will, purpose, character and being, and the consequent moral and spiritual significance of our human life—ought not to be less apparent to us than formerly. Thus when we call a writer of the New Testament 'inspired' we must mean at least this: that the same divine Spirit who put the message of God in the hearts of the prophets of old, and who worked His perfect work without let and hindrance in the manhood of Christ, is here so working upon the will and imagination, the memory and intelligence, of one of Christ's commissioned witnesses as that he shall interpret and not misinterpret the mind and person of his Master. Practically, an inspired writer of the New Testament means a writer under whom we can put ourselves to school to 'learn Christ' with whole-hearted confidence and faith. This, of course, gives an additional reason of the most cogent force why we should continually recur to the sacred books of the New Testament. If Christianity is to be deterred from a fatal return to nature—that is to the religious or irreligious tendencies of mankind when left to itself—or if it is to be recalled when it has lapsed, this can only be by an appeal to Scripture constantly reiterated and pressed home. There is for ever the testing-ground alike of doctrine, of moral character, and of ecclesiastical tendency; there is the only perfect image of the mind of Christ.


The Epistle to the Ephesians gives us St. Paul's gospel of the Catholic Church. So far from being a man of one idea, St. Paul fascinates and sometimes bewilders us by the intricacy and variety of his thoughts; but like the innumerable leaves and twigs of some finely-grown tree which emerge, all of them, through branches and boughs, out of one great trunk, strong and straight, and one deep and firmly-set root, so it is with the infinitely various topics and suggestions of St. Paul. They run back into a few dominant thoughts, which in their turn have one trunk-line of developement and one root. The root is the conviction, finally smitten into the soul of St. Paul at the moment of his conversion on the road to Damascus, that Jesus is the Christ; and the trunk-line of development is that which is involved in St. Paul's special commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, that is to say, the principle that the Christ is the saviour of Gentiles as of Jews and on an equal basis—or in other words, that the Christian church is catholic.

When St. Paul acknowledged that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, this of course meant that he remained no less than formerly an adherent of the Jewish faith, and that he 'worshipped' without any breach of continuity, 'the God of his fathers.' So he is fond of insisting[2]. Thus to him the Church of Christ is still 'the commonwealth of Israel,' God's ancient church, though reconstructed[3]. For the religion of Israel had had for its main motive the hope of the Christ. All that St. Paul now believed was that this hope had been realized, and realized to the shame of Israel in One whom they had rejected and crucified. But if to believe that Jesus was the Christ involved no breach with the religion of Israel, yet it did involve the recognition that it had been reconstituted on a new basis, and in a way that suggested to existing Israelites nothing less than a revolution. The church of God had, in St. Paul's present belief, widened out from being the church of one nation into being a catholic society, a society for all mankind.

If St. Paul's epistles are taken in those groups into which they naturally divide themselves, we find that in the first group, that of the two epistles to the Thessalonians, all his favourite topics are present as it were in the germ, but nothing that is specially characteristic of him is yet developed. The free admission of the Gentiles into the Church is, with the accompanying hostility of the Jews, assumed[4], but not much insisted upon; but in the interval between these epistles and that to the Galatians the subject had gained fresh and poignant interest. A party of Christians having their centre at Jerusalem had been trying—in spite of the decision of the apostolic council at Jerusalem—to reimpose upon the consciences of Gentile Christians, and with especial success in the Galatian province, the obligation of circumcision; or in other words had been trying to make it evident that the Church of God was as much as ever the people of the Jews, and that Gentiles could only become Christians by becoming also Jewish proselytes pledged to keep the law of Moses. In view of this attempt St. Paul re-embarks upon his great campaign for the catholicity of the Church, and in his epistles of the second group[5] (especially those to the Galatians and the Romans) the catholicity of Christianity is vindicated controversially upon the basis of the principle of justification by faith, not by works of the law.

The meaning and real importance of this doctrine ought not to be hard for us to understand. To be justified means to be accepted or acquitted by God. The Judaizers—that is the Christian representatives of the narrower religious spirit of Israel—held that, as God's covenant was with the Jews only, so men could obtain acceptance simply by the observance of that Mosaic law which was to the Jew at once the expression of the divine selection of his race, and the grounds of his arrogant contempt for all who had not 'Abraham to their father[6].' But St. Paul had made trial of that