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The Apostle gives thanks to God for their faith and love, of which he had lately heard, and some effects of which he had formerly seen, while he resided among them.
As there were many from all parts of Asia, who attended on his ministry, when he preached in Ephesus, it is not supposable, that he could be personally acquainted with them all; he therefore speaks of their faith and love, as having been reported to him. Besides: He had now for sometime been absent from them; and he foretold, that after his departure, there would be a great defection from the faith, which accordingly happened, as we learn from his epistles to Timothy And he probably intends here to express his joy concerning those, of whom he had heard, that in these times of dangerous declension they remained stedfast in the faith. He did not, however, think them so firmly established, as to be secure in that evil day from all the power of temptation; he therefore prays, as well as gives thanks in their behalf.
What he requested was, in general, that they might have greater knowledge and clearer discernment in divine things; and, particularly, that they might know the exalted hope to which they were called; the glorious inheritance which was provided for them; and the greatness of that power which will work in believers, to raise them unto immortal life, as it had already wrought in raising Christ from the dead, and setting him at God's right hand in heavenly places.
I. Let us consider the things for which the Apostle commends the Ephesians: These are faith in Christ, and love to all the saints.
Faith is such a sensible, realizing belief of the gospel, in its general truth, and in its particular doctrines and precepts, as gives it a practical influence on the heart and life. It receives the love of the truth" "receives it as the word of God, which effectually works in them who believe." Vol. III.
Evangelical faith has a particular respect to Jesus Christ, as the great author of the gospel, and as the purchaser of that salvation which it reveals. God has spoken to us by his Son: Faith receives him as a teacher sent from God, and embraces as truth whatever is taught by him. Jesus is the mediator, through whom God shews mercy to guilty men. Faith, therefore, looks up to God through him. "We by Christ believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God." True faith is "made perfect by works." The Apostle commends the Thessalonians for the works of faith, which accompanied their good profession. The christian scheme is so vastly important, that one who believes it with the heart, and views it as it is, cannot feel indifferent to it, nor live uninfluenced by it. The Apostle says of the Ephesian believers, "He had heard of their faith." Its fruits were so conspicuous, that it was spoken of at a distance. They had not only professed their faith, but stedfastly maintained it in times of great corruption and defection. They had attended on the ordinances of Christ in his church.. They had walked in humble obedience to his laws, and in peace and charity with one another; and thus had shewed their faith by their works. Real faith has such a commanding influence in the soul, that "it casts down imaginations and every high thing, which exalts itself against the knowledge of God and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
The faith of the Ephesians toward Christ, was accompanied with "love to all the saints." Where the work of faith is, there will be the labor of love; and where faith grows among Christians, their charity toward each other will abound. The gospel exhibits the most engaging examples of love in the character of the great God, and in the life of Jesus Christ; and it
poses the most powerful motives to beneficence in all its doctrines and discoveries. Faith, viewing and applying the examples and doctrines of the gospel, purifies the soul unto unfeigned love of the brethren." The end of the cammandment is charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned."
The gospel requires us to love all men, sinners as well as saints; enemies, as well as friends. The love which we owe to mankind in common, is benevolence or good will. This consists in a desire of their happiness, and a disposition to promote it. But, besides this, there is another kind of love, which we owe to the saints, or those who appear to be such. This consists in an approbation and esteem of their character. This is the same kind of love, as that which we owe to the Deity. So St. John teaches us: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how shall he love God, whom he hath not seen? Every one that loveth him who begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.. By this we know,, that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments."
Love to God is an approbation of, and pleasedness with his moral character-his holiness, justice, truth, goodness and mercy. It supposes a conformity to this character, and it implies a desire of becoming more and more assimilated to it. The saints are "partakers of a divine nature :" They are "renewed after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness." If, therefore, we love God for his moral perfections, we shall love the saints, as far as they appear to have these divine qualities wrought into their temper. It is absurd to pretend, that we love the character of God, as long as we disregard this character in our fellow men.
But though love to God, and love to the saints, are same in their general nature, yet, as they respect
different objects, they must be diverse in many of their operations. As God is an all perfect Being, love to him will express itself by an intire submission to his will-by a choice of him for our portion-by a prefer ence of his favor to every worldly interest-by a ful complacence in him as our happiness-and by a hum ble acquiescence in all his dispensations and commands. As the saints are but dependent creatures, and as they are holy in a very imperfect measure, they cannot be the objects of these high operations of love. God only we are to love with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind. The saints we are to love with a pure heart fervently, but not with all the heart supremely. Our love to them we must express by choosing them for our companions-by delighting in their virtuous example and heavenly conversation-by cheerfully assisting them in their spiritual interests, and meekly accepting their assistance in ours-by studying the things which make for peace and edification by communing with them in instituted ordinances by bearing their infirmities-by condescend ing to them in cases of difference-and by seeking their profit, as well as our own, that both they and we may be saved.
These Ephesians manifested their love to all saints. Their charity was not confined to a party-to those who lived in the same city, and worshipped in the same sanctuary; but it embraced all, who in every place called on the name of Jesus Christ their common Lord.
If our love consists in an attachment to a particular sect, with which we are connected in sentiment, interest, or worldly design, it has nothing of the nature of Christian love. The love which regards the saints for their holy character, will regard all in whom this character appears, wherever they dwell, and whatever name they bear. To judge then, whether our love is sinceré, we must consider its extent, as well as its effects
II. Paul expresses his great thankfulness to God for the happy success of the gospel among these Ephesians. "After I heard of your faith and love, I cease not to give thanks."
He rjo ced in the honor which rebounded to the crucified Jesus, who, having made his soul an offering for sin, now saw his seed increasing, and the pleasure of the Lord prospering in his hands. He rejoiced to think, how many immortal souls were now rescued from the power of Satan, delivered from guilt and condemnation, and brought into a state of pardon and -fafety. He rejoiced in the happy consequences, which might ensue to others from the glorious success of the gospel in Ephesus. He hoped, that from hence the word of God might sound forth to all around, and that the knowledge of the truth might be transmitted to Succeeding ages. Here were many pious families, in which religion was maintained, and children trained up in the admonition of the Lord. The blessed effects of Paul's preaching here might hopefully reach to mul titudes around, and descend to generations yet unborn. He rejoiced the more in their faith and love, because these were the effects of his own preaching. The good minister is pleased to hear of the success of the gospel in any place; but he feels a peculiar pleasure in seeing the success of his own ministry. Paul had an uncommon affection for those, whom he had begotten by the gospel, and he conceived a special joy in the prospect of meeting them in heaven. He says to the Thessalonians" What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing ?-Are not even ye in the presence of ou Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? Ye are our glory and our joy."
If the prevalence of religion is, on so many accounts, matter of thankfulness, we should spare no pains to give it success. Not only ministers, but all Christians should labor in this glorious cause. We should all be solicitous to experience the power of religion in our