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THE BELIEVER'S REVIEW OF HIS PAST AND PRES
EPHES. ii. 13.
But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
It is common to speak of our country, in respect of its high state of civilization and cultivation, as a garden. But to know what civilization and cultivation have done for us, we must know, what we were in former ages, when the island was little better than a wilderness, and its inhabitants a race of barbarians.
Thus, if we would understand what Christianity has done for us, we must acquaint ourselves with the condition in which we were, while subject to pagan darkness and superstition. It is thus that the Apostle, in writing to the Ephesians, teaches them the value of the blessings and privileges of the gospel, by directing their attention to the state in which they were, before it reached them.
At the beginning of the chapter, they are reminded of their state as sinners in common with other sinners: And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the
children of disobedience: among whom also we all (Jews as well as Gentiles) had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But, in addition to this, the Apostle reminds them of their peculiar condition as heathens: Remember, that ye, being in time past Gentiles in the flesh,—that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. This being, in some respects, the greatest remove from God in which men could place themselves, they are emphatically said to have been far off. Sinners, among the Jews, were subjectively distant from God; but they were so both subjectively and objectively, as being destitute of the most important means of knowing him.
In discoursing upon the subject, we shall first observe that state of distance which is peculiar to heathens; secondly, that which is common to heathens and all other sinners; and, thirdly, the way in which they are recovered, and brought nigh.
I. Let us observe THAT STATE OF DISTANCE WHICH IS PECULIAR TO HEATHENS. This is far from being an uninteresting subject to At the time this Epistle was written, our fathers were in this very state; and had not the gospel been brought to us by those who had heard and believed it, we had been in the same state at this day. Instead of being met together, as we now are, to worship the living God through the mediation of his Son, we had been assembled to adore stocks and stones; instead of singing the high praises of Jehovah, nothing had been heard in our cities, towns, and villages, but the vociferations of idolatry; instead of the gratifying sights arising from the institutions of humanity and benevolence, we should have been witnesses, and perhaps more than witnesses, of the offering up of human sacrifices!
The description given of this state by the Apostle, in verses 11, 12, is very affecting: At that time ye were WITHOUT CHRIST. The only way in which Christ could be known, was by revelation; and the only people to whom a revelation was made, was Israel. them pertained the oracles of God, and the covenants of promise. Being, therefore, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, they
must needs be strangers from the covenants of promise, and so, of course, be without Christ. And being without Christ, they had no hope, either of their sins being forgiven, or of a blessed hereafter. And though they daily partook of the bounties of Providence, yet, being without Christ, and without hope, they were without God in the world!
Such was the state of the heathen world at the coming of Christ. The science of Egypt, Chaldea, Greece, and Rome, had discovered much, as to things pertaining to the present life; but, in respect of an hereafter, all was enveloped in gross darkness. The far greater part did not think of it, and they that did, knew but just enough to make them miserable. They were aware that, like all others, they must die; and, knowing that they had not lived and acted, even to each other, as they ought, their consciences forboded a state in which they would be called to account; but what it would be, they knew not.
The following lines might be written by a pensive infidel of modern times; but they would have fitted the lips of a pagan :
"Distrust and darkness of a future state
Makes poor mankind so fearful of his fate:
To be we know not what, we know not where."
Such, or nearly such, must have been the reflections of the most serious among the heathen; and as to the rest, they were buried in all manner of wickedness. It is of the nature of idolatry, to efface and obliterate from the mind all just thoughts of God and true religion, and to substitute in their place vain imaginations and vile affections. Instead of a holy, just, and good Being presiding over the universe, imaginary deities are set up, whose office it is to preside over particular countries and concerns; and this, in a manner suited to the inclinations of their worshippers, entering into all their prejudices, and patronizing their most favourite vices.
There is a marked connexion between impiety and obscenity, or the casting off of the knowledge and worship of God, and being given up to the basest practices towards one another. God is
jealous, and the Lord revengeth! If they dishonour him by transferring his glory to an idol, he will give them up in turn to dis honour their own bodies. If they change the truth of God the creator, who is blessed forever, into the practical lie of worshipping that as God which is not God, for this cause they shall be given up to vile affections. As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a mind void of judgment, and to the practice of every thing obscene, unnatural, unjust, malignant, false, and cruel; not only to wallow like filthy beasts in the mire, but to prefer the society of such as their friends and companions! If any doubt, whether this picture be not overcharged, let faithful witnesses be heard, and they will report the same things of heathen countries at this day.
We hear, from men calling themselves Christians, but who, in fact, are Infidels, flattering accounts of heathen virtue, and laboured attempts to prove the virtuous tendency of the system. Idols, instead of being competitors with the true God, are represented as connected with him; as though it were a matter of indifference to whom the worship is presented, Jehovah, Jove, or Baal; all is received as a tribute paid to the common father of all. Such are the sentiments taught by one of our poets; and such are the principles of so large a part of our countrymen, that, if Britons do not christianize India, India may be expected soon to heathenize Britain! Shall we, in complaisance to Infidels, throw away our Bibles, and listen to their pleas for the most sottish stupidity that ever disgraced human nature! The voice of reason, and (thank God!) the voice of Britain, answer, No! We ourselves were sometimes darkness; but, if we have been made light in the Lord, let us walk as children of the light.
We proceed to observe,
II. THAT STATE OF DISTANCE WHICH IS COMMON TO HEATHENS AND ALL OTHER SINNERS. We have seen already, that there is a state, described at the beginning of the chapter, which refers not to what the Ephesians were by education, by custom, or by any other circumstances attending their former life, but to what they were by nature. It was in respect of this, that the Apostle reckoned himself and his countrymen, notwithstanding their living
under the light of revelation, among them; and, in this respect, we also, notwithstanding our living under the light of the gospel, must be reckoned with them: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
The Apostle does not tell the Ephesians from whom, or from what, they were far off, the reason of which might be, that there was no one word that would convey the fulness of the sentiment. He might have said, Ye were far off from happiness; this had been true: or, far off from peace; this had been true: or, far off from righteousness; this had been true: or, far off from hope; this also had been true: he might mean to comprehend them all, and, therefore, made use of general terms. If any word, more comprehensive than the rest, had been used, it must have been, far off from God. This is the last term in the preceding description, to which the words far off refer: without Christ,—having no hope; and wITHOUT GOD in the world'
There is a natural distance from God, which necessarily be longs to us, and to the loftiest archangel, as creatures. But this distance is not removed by the blood of Christ. The enjoyments of heaven itself will not remove or diminish it. It is not of this, therefore, that the Apostle writes; but of that moral distance from God which belongs to us as sinners. There is nothing sinful in being far off from God, in the first sense; but to be far off in our thoughts of him, affections towards him, and desires after him, is of the essence of sin. This is alienation of heart, which stamps the character for what a man's heart is, that is he. If a subject be so full of disaffection to his rightful prince, that he has no feeling of respect towards him, no mind to please him, nor to think, or read or hear, any thing in his praise, this were alienation of heart: and, if all this were without cause we should say, of such a man, that he did not deserve to live under a government to which he was so wickedly disaffected. Yet this is the state of mind of sinners toward the blessed God. They call not upon his name; but rise in the morning, and retire at evening, as if there were no God, and no hereafter; as if they had no soul to be saved or lost: but,