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This I say therefore and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart, who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
THESE Ephesians, you will remember, had lately been called out of a state of Heathenism to the knowledge and profession of the religion of Jesus. In the verses immediately preceding the text, the apostle observes to them, that God had brought them within his church, and had admitted them to the privilege of the gospel ministry, which was given by Jesus Christ, at the time of his ascension, for the edifying of his church, till all should come to full maturity in relig ion, that they might no more be children, tossed about by the artifice of deceivers; but might be men grown up in all things to the resemblance of Christ; and, being united to him by faith, and joined one to another by love, might derive spiritual influence from him, and charitable assistance from their brethren, and so make continual increase in every virtue and good work.
Now since they had experienced so great a change in their condition, and were placed under such superior advantages, the apostle earnestly exhorts them, that, in all their conversation, they would distinguish themselves from other Gentiles, and would walk worthy of their high character and calling.
The manner in which other Gentiles still walked, and in which they themselves had once walked, he des eribes in the words which have been read. They lived in the vanity of their mind-were darkened in their understanding-alienated from the life of God through their ignorance and hardness of heart-and, being past feeling, had given themselves over to work all uncleanness with greediness.
While we contemplate the manner in which these Gentiles walked, we shall see how converts ought to walk; for the apostle here holds up to view the conversation of the former, for a warning to the latter. "I testify in the Lord, that henceforth ye walk not as other Gentiles walk."
1. These Gentiles walked in the vanity of their mind. The apostle Peter, describing the corruptions of the Heathens, says, "They walked in abominable idolatries."
The false deities, which the Gentiles worshiped, are often called vanities. The apostles preached, "that, they should turn from these vanities to the living God, who made heaven and earth." On account of their worshipping these vanities, the apostle says, "They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts and creeping things; wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts and to vile affections and a reprobate mind, to do things which were not seemly."
The prevalence of idolatry in the world is a melancholy proof of the depravity of human nature. The apostle says, "The invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even his eternal power and Godhead."-That which may be known of God was manifest even to the Heathens, for God had shewed it to them, so that they were without excuse." The reason why they changed the truth of God into a lie was not because God had left himself without witness; but because they did not like to retain him in their knowledge. Displeased with the idea of one God in whom all perfections met, and on whom all things depended, they invented gods many, and lords many, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, ascribing to each deity properties suited to their own vain imaginations. The Psalmist resolves the atheism of the world into the same cause. "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt; they have done abominable works; there is none that doeth good."
Atheism and idolatry proceed not from the want of sufficient evidence, that there is one eternal, all perfect Being; but from that corruption of heart which blinds the understanding and perverts the judgment.
We, who have enjoyed the light of revelation, easily see the absurdity of worshipping the sun and moon, the ghosts of departed heroes, or images formed by art and man's device. There is, however, a species of idolatry, less gross indeed in appearance, but equally fatal in its consequences, which still prevails even among the enlightened part of mankind. The love of this world, and the serving of divers lusts and pleasures the gospel condemns as idolatry, warning us, that for these things' sake cometh the wrath of God on the children of disobedience.
We then, who enjoy the light, are not only to acknowledge one all perfect Deity, in opposition to
Heathen idolatry; but to love him with all our heart, to serve him with a willing mind, to seek his favor with supreme desire, and to resign ourselves to his will without reserve, in opposition to spiritual idolatry. If we transfer to earthly objects the regards, which are due only to him, we are as really guilty of idolatry, as they who worship an image.
2. The Heathens were darkened in their understanding.
The understanding is that faculty, by which we view and compare things, discern truth from error, and distinguish between moral good and evil. It is to the mind, what the eye is to the body. The eye is that organ, which, receiving the light of the sun, beholds, through this medium, surrounding objects, and distinguishes one from another. The understanding is that faculty, which receives the knowledge of moral things, and discerns their relations and differences.
In these Heathens the understanding was darkened -not in respect of natural things; for, in useful arts and liberal sciences, many of them greatly excelledbut in respect of moral truth and obligation. Here, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
Their darkness was owing, not solely to the want of revelation, but also to the want of an honest and good heart. The apostle says, "They knew not what might. have been known of God."-"They understood not what God had shewed them."
There are those under the gospel, who, through carelessness and inattention, live criminally ignorant of the plain and important doctrines of religion. The apostle says to the Corinthians, "Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame." He reproves the Hebrews, because "they were dull of hearing; and when, for the time, they ought to have been teachers of others, they still had need, that one should teach them again, what were the first principles of the oracles of God." VOL. III,
If the ignorance of the Heathens was, in any degree, to be imputed to their own corrupt hearts, How great is the corruption, and how aggravated the guilt of those, who, under the gospel, remain ignorant of the things which essentially relate to their duty and salvation?
Farther: The understanding is darkened in some, who have a superior knowledge of religion. There are those," who seeing, do not perceive; and hearing, do not understand; whose heart is waxed gross, and whohave closed their eyes, lest they should see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and should turn and be healed.”
Some, who under the advantages of a good educa tion, acquire a competent knowledge of religious truths, are still blind and insensible to the excellence and importance of those truths, and are no more governed by them, than if they had never learned them.. To such may be applied what the apostle says to the Corinthians" The natural," or sensual," man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, be cause they are spiritually discerned.?? Men of sensual. and vicious minds, after all their knowledge, may be said to be in darkness, because they know nothing yet as they ought to know. Their knowledge descends not into their hearts to influence their tempers and direct their actions, but it lies useless in their heads.
When such as these are recovered from a state of sin, though they should acquire no new knowledge of the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, yet they may be said to be enlightened, because they have new apprehensions of divine things, see them in a more convincing light, attend to them with greater earnestness, and feel from them a more powerful influence. Re ligion consists not merely in a knowledge of, and as. sent to divine truths; but in such a conformity of heart to their nature and design, and in such a view of