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Let us lament the atheism and idolatry of our own hearts. Since we know God, let us glorify him as God, by thankfulness and obedience. Let us, by the discoveries of his character made before our eyes, and the exercises of his goodness which we daily experience, be persuaded to present ourselves living sacrifices holy and acceptable to him; for this is our rea sonable service,
The Happiness of Believers in Nearness to God.
EPHESIANS ii. 13–18.
But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition be tween us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might rec oncile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby; and came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and to them that were nigh; for through him we both have an access by one Spirit unto the Father.
IN the preceding verses, the Apostle reminds the Gentile believers in Ephesus, in what respects they had formerly lived at a distance from God. They were Gentiles in the flesh-they were by Jews despised, as not having the mark and sign of God's people -they were without the knowledge of Christ-they were excluded from the privilege of worshipping God in his sanctuary-they were strangers to the gracions promise of the covenant-they had no sure hope of a future life-and they were without God in the world.
In the words now read, he describes that happy state of nearness to God, into which they were brought by the gospel. "He says, verse 13, Ye who sometimes
were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ." The circumstances of this nearness he distinetly illustrates in the following words, which we will now open and apply.
I. They were brought within the church of God, and admitted to equal privileges with his ancient people the Jews.
The seed of Abraham were the people, whom God chose, and whom he caused to approach near to himself. To them he shewed his statutes and his judgments: he dealt not so with any other nation. The Gentiles he left afar off from him. But now," says the Apostle," these are made nigh in Christ," as well as the Jews. "Christ is our peace." He has made a peace-a union between Jews and Gentiles. "He has made both to be one." He has formed them into one church, and given them an equal share in gospel privileges, so that one has no preeminence above the other. Christ says, "I lay down my life for the sheep ;" not merely for those of the ancient fold; "for I have other sheep, which are not of this fold: Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd."
"He has broken down the middle wall of partition which was between us." He has abolished the ceremonial law, which was a wall of separation between Jews and other nations. The Apostle alludes to the wall in the temple, which divided the court of the Gentiles from the holy place, where the Jews were allowed to worship. On this wall, Josephus says, it was written," that no alien might go through it."
The Apostle adds, "Christ hath abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments, consisting in ordinances, to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace" between them. That which made the enmity, or separation between Jews and Gentiles was the law of ceremonies and ordinances; for these were peculiar to the Jews: Uncircum
cised Gentiles were not admitted to them. These Christ has abolished in his flesh. The great intention of them was to prefigure Christ's sufferings in the flesh for the sins of the world. When he offered himself on the cross, he abolished these ordinances as being no longer of use, and thus removed the enmity, or the occasion of distinction between Jews and Gentiles. So the Apostle says in his epistle to the Colossians. "He hath made peace through the blood of the cross, and hath blotted out the hand writing of ordinances, which was against us" Gentiles," and hath taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."
As the death of Christ was designed alike for the benefit of all nations, so when he removed the law of ceremonies given to the Jews, he instituted a more simple way of worship, which should be common to Gentiles, as well as Jews. As he made no distinction between them in the design of his death, so he would allow none to be made in regard of the privileges of his worship; but would reconcile both in one body.
You here see, and you ought to remember, that one great design of Christ's death was to abolish former distinctions, to unite all nations in one church, and to create in himself one new man, so making peace. He has purchased the church with his blood, and his church is one. Though, for the convenience of wor ship, it may be divided into many members, still it is one body in him. He is the head of the church, and the Saviour of the body.
Hence it follows, that all contentions, divisions and separations in the church of Christ, are a direct opposi tion to the design of his death. As the members of a particular church ought to walk together in peace, so particular churches should maintain communion with one another. They should cooperate in building up the great kingdom of their common Lord, until they all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the measure of the stature of
the fulness of Christ. Christians may entertain differ ent opinions in the less important doctrines of the gospel, and may practise different usages in the worship of God; but as long as they hold the head, on which all the members depend, and as long as they call on the name of the same Lord Jesus Christ, they should regard and treat each other as fellow members in him.
Most of the Churches planted by the Apostles, consisted both of Jews and Gentiles. These, having been differently educated, and still retaining some of their ancient habits, often fell into troublesome contentions. But in these cases Paul always inculcated forbearance, condescension and charity. While he required the churches to purge out the openly wicked and ungodly, he cautioned believers not to judge and condemn one another for circumstantial differences, and exhorted them, wherein they were agreed, to walk by the same rule.
If we separate from the communion of our brethren for differences, which enter not into the essence of rea ligion; or if we renounce fellowship with particular churches, which still, we have reason to hope, Christ has owned and blessed, we not only oppose the plain instructions of the gospel, but counteract one great design of Christ's death, which was to destroy all enmity, and reconcile his disciples in one body.
It is the duty of all Christians to excite one another to love and good works, and to unite in advancing the common interest of pure religion. They are to seek, not merely their own profit, but the profit of many. They are not only to consult, each one his own personal edification; but to study the things which make for peace, and the things wherewith they may edify one another.
II. These Ephesians were brought near to God, as they were admitted to enjoy the gospel, which is a dispensation of grace grace and