Ephesians 4:25-27. "Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak
ye truth each one with his neighbor; for we are members one of another.
Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither
give place to the devil."
Having spoken of the "old man" generally, he next draws him also in
detail; for this kind of teaching is more easily learned when we learn
by particulars. And what saith he? "Wherefore, putting away falsehood."
What sort of falsehood? Idols does he mean? Surely not; not indeed but
that they are falsehood also. However, he is not now speaking of them,
because these persons had nothing to do with them; but he is speaking of
that which passes between one man and another, meaning that which is deceitful
and false. "Speak ye truth, each one," saith he, "with his neighbor"; then
what is more touching to the conscience still, "because we are members
one of another." Let no man deceive his neighbor. As the Psalmist says
here and there; "With flattering lip and with a double heart do they speak."
(Ps. 12:2) For there is nothing, no, nothing so productive of enmity as
deceit and guile.
Observe how everywhere he shames them by this similitude of the body.
Let not the eye, saith he, lie to the foot, nor the foot to the eye. For
example, if there shall be a deep pit, and then by having reeds laid across
upon the mouth of it upon the earth, and yet concealed under earth, it
shall by its appearance furnish to the eye an expectation of solid ground,
will not the eye use the foot, and discover whether it yields and is
hollow underneath, or whether it is firm and resists? Will the foot
tell a lie, and not report the truth as it is? And what again? If the eye
were to spy a serpent or a wild beast, will it lie to the foot? Will it
not at once inform it, and the foot thus informed by it refrain from going
on? And what again, when neither the foot nor the eye shall know how to
distinguish, but all shall depend upon the smelling, as, for example, whether
a drug be deadly or not; will the smelling lie to the mouth? And why not?
Because it will be destroying itself also. But it tells the truth as it
appears to itself. And what again? Will the tongue lie to the stomach?
Does it not, when a thing is bitter, reject it, and, if it is sweet, pass
it on? Observe ministration, and interchange of service; observe a provident
care arising from truth, and, as one might say, spontaneously from the
heart. So surely should it be with us also; let us not lie, since we are
"members one of another." This is a sure token of friendship; whereas the
contrary is of enmity. What then, thou wilt ask, if a man shall use treachery
against thee? Hearken to the truth. If he use treachery, he is not a member;
whereas he saith, "lie not towards the members." "Be ye angry, and sin
Observe his wisdom. He both speaks to prevent our sinning, and, if we
do not listen, still does not forsake us; for his fatherly compassion does
not desert him. For just as the physician prescribes to the sick what he
must do, and if he does not submit to it, still does not treat him with
contempt, but proceeding to add what advice he can by persuasion, again
goes on with the cure; so also does Paul. For he indeed who: does otherwise,
aims only at reputation, and is annoyed at being disregarded; whereas he
who on all occasions aims at the recovery of the patient, has this single
object in view, how he may restore the patient, and raise him up again.
This then is what Paul is doing. He has said, "Lie not." Yet if ever lying
should produce anger, he goes on again to cure this also. For what saith
he? "Be ye angry, and sin not." It were good indeed never to be angry.
Yet if ever any one should fall into passion, still let him not fall into
so great a degree. "For let not the sun," saith he, "go down upon your
wrath." Wouldest thou have thy fill of anger? One hour, or two, or three,
is enough for thee; let not the sun depart, and leave you both at enmity.
It was of God's goodness that he rose: let him not depart, having shone
on unworthy men. For if the Lord of His great goodness sent him, and hath
Himself forgiven thee thy sins, and yet thou forgivest not thy neighbor,
look, how great an evil is this! And there is yet another besides this.
The blessed Paul dreads the night, lest overtaking in solitude him that
was wronged, still burning with anger, it should again kindle up the fire.
For as long as there are many things in the daytime to banish it, thou
art free to indulge it; but as: soon as ever the evening comes on, be reconciled,
extinguish the evil whilst it is yet fresh; for should night overtake it,
the morrow will not avail to extinguish the further evil which will have
been collected in the night. Nay, even though thou shouldest cut off the
greater portion, and yet not be able to cut off the whole, it will again
supply from what is left for the following night, to make the blaze more
violent. And just as, should the sun be unable by the heat of the day to
soften and disperse that part of the air which has been during the night
condensed into cloud, it affords material for a tempest, night overtaking
the remainder, and feeding it again with fresh vapors: so also is it in
the case of anger.
"Neither give place to the devil."
So then to be at war with one another, is "to give place to the devil";
for, whereas we had need to be all in close array, and to make our stand
against him, we have relaxed our enmity against him, and are giving the
signal for turning against each other; for never has the devil such place
as in our enmities. Numberless are the evils thence produced. And as
stones in a building, so long as they are closely fitted together and leave
no interstice, will stand firm, while if there is but a single needle's
passage through, or a crevice no broader than a hair, this destroys and
ruins all; so is it with the devil. So long indeed as we are closely set
and compacted together, he cannot introduce one of his wiles; but when
he causes us to relax a little, he rushes in like a torrent. In every case
he needs only a beginning, and this is the thing which it is difficult
to accomplish; but this done, he makes room on all sides for himself. For
henceforth he opens the ear to slanders, and they who speak lies are the
more trusted: they have enmity which plays the advocate, not truth which
judges justly. And as, where friendship is, even those evils which are
true appear false, so where there is enmity, even the false appear true.
There is a different mind, a different tribunal, which does not hear fairly,
but with great bias and partiality. As, in a balance, if lead is cast into
the scale, it will drag down the whole; so is it also here, only that the
weight of enmity is far heavier than any lead. Wherefore, let us, I beseech
you, do all we can to extinguish our enmities before the going down of
the sun. For if you fail to master it on the very first day, both on the
following, and oftentimes even for a year, you will be protracting it,
and the enmity will thenceforward augment itself, and require nothing to
aid it. For by causing us to suspect that words spoken in one sense were
meant in another, and gestures also, and everything, it infuriates and
exasperates us, and makes us more distempered than madmen, not enduring
either to utter a name, or to hear it, but saying everything in invective
and abuse. How then are we to allay this passion? How shall we extinguish
the flame? By reflecting on our own sins, and how much we have to answer
for to God; by reflecting that we are wreaking vengeance, not on an enemy,
but on ourselves; by reflecting that we are delighting the devil, that
we are strengthening our enemy, our real enemy, and that for him we are
doing wrong to our own members. Wouldest thou be revengeful and be at enmity?
Be at enmity, but be so with the devil, and not with a member of thine
own. For this purpose it is that God hath armed us with anger, not that
we should thrust the sword against our own bodies, but that we should baptize
the whole blade in the devil's breast. There bury the sword up to the hilt;
yea, if thou wilt, hilt and all, and never draw it out again, but add yet
another and another. And this actually comes to pass when we are merciful
to those of our own spiritual family and peaceably disposed one towards
another. Perish money, perish glory and reputation; mine own member is
dearer to me than they all. Thus let us say to ourselves; let us not do
violence to our own nature to gain wealth, to obtain glory.
Ver. 28. "Let him that stole," saith he. "steal no more."
Seest thou what are the members of the old man? Falsehood, revenge,
theft. Why said he not, "Let him that stole" be punished, be tortured,
be racked; but, "let him steal no more"? "But rather let him labor, working
with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give
to him that hath need."
Where are they which are called pure; they that are full of all defilement,
and yet dare to give themselves a name like this? For it is possible, very
possible, to put off the reproach, not only by ceasing from the sin, but
by working some good thing also. Perceive ye how we ought to get quit of
the sin? "They stole." This is the sin. "They steal no more." This is not
to do away the sin. But how shall they? If they labor, and charitably communicate
to others, thus will they do away the sin. He does not simply desire that
we should work, but so "work" as to "labor," so as that we may "communicate"
to others. For the thief indeed works, but it is that which is evil.
Ver. 29. "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth."
What is "corrupt speech"? That which is said elsewhere to be also "idle,
backbiting, filthy communication, jesting, foolish talking." See ye how
he is cutting up the very roots of anger? Lying, theft, unseasonable conversation.
The words, however, "Let him steal no more," he does not say so much excusing
them, as to pacify the injured parties, and to recommend them to be content,
if they never suffer the like again. And well too does he give advice concerning
conversation; inasmuch as we shall pay the penalty, not for our deeds
only, but also for our words.
"But such as is good," he proceeds, "for edifying, as the need may be,
that it may give grace to them that hear."
That is to say, What edifies thy neighbor, that only speak, not a word
more. For to this end God gave thee a mouth and a tongue, that thou mightest
give thanks to Him, that thou mightest build up thy neighbor. So that if
thou destroy that building, better were it to be silent, and never to speak
at all. For indeed the hands of the workmen, if instead of raising the
walls, they should learn to pull them down, would justly deserve to be
cut off. For so also saith the Psalmist; "The Lord shall cut off all flattering
lips." (Ps. 12:3) The mouth,--this is the cause of all evil; or rather
not the mouth, but they that make an evil use of it. From thence proceed
insults, revilings, blasphemies, incentives to lusts, murders, adulteries,
thefts, all have their origin from this. And how, you will say, do murders?
Because from insult thou wilt go on to anger, from anger to blows, from
blows to murder. And how, again, adultery? "Such a woman," one will say,
"loves thee, she said something nice about thee." This at once unstrings
thy firmness, and thus are thy passions kindled within thee.
Therefore Paul said, "such as is good." Since then there is so vast
a flow of words, he with good reason speaks indefinitely, charging us to
use expressions of that kind, and giving us a pattern of communication.
What then is this? By saying, "for edifying," either he means this, that
he who hears thee may be grateful to thee: as, for instance, a brother
has committed fornication; do not make a display of the offense, nor revel
in it; thou wilt be doing no good to him that hears thee; rather, it is
likely, thou wilt hurt him, by giving him a stimulus. Whereas, advise him
what to do, and thou art conferring on him a great obligation. Discipline
him how to keep silence, teach him to revile no man, and thou hast taught
him his best lesson, thou wilt have conferred upon him the highest obligation.
Discourse with him on contrition, on piety, on almsgiving; all these things
will soften his soul, for all these things he will own his obligation.
Whereas by exciting his laughter, or by filthy communication, thou wilt
rather be inflaming him. Applaud the wickedness, and thou wilt overturn
and ruin him.
Or else he means thus, "that it may make them, the hearers, full
of grace." For as sweet ointment gives grace to them that partake of it,
so also does good speech. Hence it was moreover that one said, "Thy name
is as ointment poured forth." (Cant. 1:3) It caused them to exhale that
sweet perfume. Thou seest that what he continually recommends, he is saying
now also, charging every one according to his several ability to edify
his neighbors. Thou then that givest such advice to others, how much more
Ver. 30. "And grieve not," he adds, "the Holy Spirit of God."
A matter this more terrible and startling, as he also says in the Epistle
to the Thessalonians; for there too he uses an expression of this sort.
"He that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but God." (1 Thess. 4:8) So also
here. If thou utter a reproachful word, if thou strike thy brother, thou
art not striking him, thou art "grieving the Holy Spirit." And then is
added further the benefit bestowed, in order to heighten the rebuke.
"And grieve not the Holy Spirit," saith He, "in whom ye were sealed
unto the day of redemption."
He it is who marks us as a royal flock; He, who separates us from all
former things; He, who suffers us not to lie amongst them that are exposed
to the wrath of God,--and dost thou grieve Him? Look how startling are
his words there; "For he that rejecteth," saith he, "rejecteth not man,
but God:" and how cutting they are here, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit,"
saith he, "in whom ye were sealed."
Moral. Let this seal then abide upon thy mouth, and never destroy
the impression. A spiritual mouth never utters a thing of the kind. Say
not, "It is nothing, if I do utter an unseemly word, if I do insult such
an one." For this very reason is it a great evil, because it seems to be
nothing. For things which seem to be nothing are thus easily thought lightly
of; and those which are thought lightly of go on increasing; and those
which go on increasing become incurable.
Thou hast a spiritual mouth. Think what words thou didst utter immediately
upon being born,--what words are worthy of thy mouth. Thou callest God,
"Father," and dost thou straightway revile thy brother? Think, whence is
it thou callest God, "Father"? Is it from nature? No, thou couldest never
say so. Is it from thy goodness? No, nor is it thus. But whence then is
it? It is from pure lovingkindness, from tenderness, from His great mercy.
Whenever then thou callest God, "Father," consider not only this, that
by reviling thou art committing things unworthy of that, thy high birth,
but also that it is of lovingkindness that thou hast that high birth. Disgrace
it not then, after receiving it from pure lovingkindness, by showing cruelty
towards thy brethren. Dost thou call God "Father," and yet revile? No,
these are not the works of the Son of God. These are very far from Him.
The work of the Son of God was to forgive His enemies, to pray for them
that crucified Him, to shed His blood for them that hated Him. These are
works worthy of the Son of God, to make His enemies,--the ungrateful, the
dishonest, the reckless, the treacherous,--to make these brethren and heirs:
not to treat them that are become brethren with ignominy like slaves.
Think what words thy mouth uttered,--of what table these words are
worthy. Think what thy mouth touches, what it tastes, of what manner of
food it partakes! Dost thou deem thyself to be doing nothing grievous in
railing at thy brother? How then dost thou call him brother? And yet if
he be not a brother, how sayest thou, "Our Father"? For the word "Our"
is indicative of many persons. Think with whom thou standest at the time
of the mysteries! With the Cherubim, with the Seraphim! The Seraphim revile
not: no, their mouth fulfills this one only duty, to sing the Hymn of praise,
to glorify God. And how then shall thou be able to say with them, "Holy,
Holy, Holy," if thou use thy mouth for reviling? Tell me, I pray. Suppose
there were a royal vessel, and that always full of royal dainties, and
set apart for that purpose, and then that any one of the servants were
to take and use it for holding dung. Would he ever venture again, after
it had been filled with dung, to store it away with those other vessels
set apart for those other uses? Surely not. Now railing is like this, reviling
is like this. "Our Father!" But what? is this all? Hear also the words,
which follow, "which art in Heaven." The moment thou sayest, "Our Father,
which art in Heaven," the word raises thee up, it gives wings to thy mind,
it points out to thee that thou hast a Father in Heaven. Do then nothing,
speak nothing of things upon earth. He hath set thee amongst that host
above, He hath numbered thee with that heavenly choir. Why dost thou drag
thyself down? Thou art standing beside the royal throne, and thou revilest?
Art thou not afraid lest the king should deem it an outrage? Why, if a
servant, even with us, beats his fellow-servant or assaults him, even though
he do it justly, yet we at once rebuke him, and deem the act an outrage;
and yet dost thou, who art standing with the Cherubim beside the king's
throne, revile thy brother? Seest thou not these holy vessels? Are they
not used continually for only one purpose? Does any one ever venture to
use them for any other? Yet art thou holier than these vessels yea, far
holier. Why then defile, why contaminate thyself? Standest thou in Heaven,
and dost thou revile? Hast thou thy citizenship with Angels, and dost thou
revile? Art thou counted worthy the Lord's kiss, and dost thou revile?
Hath God graced thy mouth with so many and great things, with hymns angelic,
with food, not angelic, no, but more than angelic, with His own kiss, with
His own embrace, and dost thou revile? Oh, no, I implore thee. Vast are
the evils of which this is the source; far be it from a Christian soul.
Do I not convince thee as I am speaking, do I not shame thee? Then does
it now become my duty to alarm you. For hear what Christ saith: "Whosoever
shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of
fire." (Matt. 5:22) Now if that which is lightest of all leads to hell,
of what shall not he be worthy, who utters presumptuous words? Let us discipline
our mouth to silence. Great is the advantage from this, great the mischief
from ill language. We must not spend our riches here. Let us put door and
bolt upon them. Let us devour ourselves alive if ever a vexatious word
slip out of our mouth. Let us entreat God, let us entreat him whom we have
reviled. Let us not think it beneath us to do so. It is ourselves we have
wounded, not him. Let us apply the remedy, prayer, and reconciliation with
him whom we have reviled. If in our words we are to take such forethought,
much more let us impose laws upon ourselves in our deeds. Yea, and if we
have friends, whoever they may be, and they should speak evil to any man
or revile him, demand of them and exact satisfaction. Let us by all means
learn that such conduct is even sin; for if we learn this, we shall soon
depart from it.
Now the God of peace keep both your mind and your tongue, and fence
you with a sure fence, even His fear, through Jesus Christ our Lord, with
whom to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory forever. Amen.