Followers of God.

Ephesians 4:29; 5:2.

The life of Christ shining forth from the believer is true Christian walk. It is not merely negative, abstaining from evil, but positive, abounding in grace like His who "went about doing good." There is, however, another motive added, equally in accordance with the general character of this epistle. After exhorting the believer to "let no corrupt communication proceed out of his mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers," the apostle adds, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." Among the privileges of the believer especially enumerated in this epistle we read, "After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of, the purchased possession." (Eph. 1:13-14.) This verse declares God's purpose concerning us, and shows the perfect security of the believer who is thus sealed. He is sealed for a permanence, sealed "until the redemption of the purchased possession;" that is, until he receives the inheritance which he now enjoys only in promise.

What, then, is the practical application made of this truth? Is it to sanction carelessness of walk? Is it to give the smallest toleration to sin? Nothing could be more dishonouring to the holiness, or more destructive to the truth of God, than this thought. The very opposite is the fact. Though the believer who falls into sin does not forfeit his standing as sealed of the Spirit, he does grieve the Spirit, and therefore loses all the joy which the presence and fellowship of the Spirit impart. Hence the apostle, instead of using the sealing of the Spirit as an excuse for carelessness, urges it as a motive to circumspection. We get the same truth in the epistle to the Corinthians, where, in warning believers against sensual conduct, he tells them that their bodies are members of Christ, and then further asks, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." (1 Cor. 6:19-20.) In both cases the believer is said to be sealed or indwelt by the Holy Ghost, and the conduct enjoined is not in order to get or keep this privilege, but because he already has it.

Here again we see the distinction between law and grace. Law demands a certain walk as the means of obtaining a position. Grace bestows the position, and demands a corresponding walk. Law gives no power, but exacts the penalty for failure; grace remits the penalty, and then bestows the power. Law is like the vain attempt to carve a dead stock into the likeness of a living tree. Grace supplies the sap and vital energy which makes it a living tree.

It may be well to distinguish between the grieving of the Spirit here spoken of, and two other expressions found in other parts of the Word. Stephen, in addressing the Jewish council, says, "Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." (Acts 7:51.) Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, exhorts them thus: "Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings." (1 Thess. 5:19-20.) Now both these expressions differ, as the connection will show, from the grieving of the Holy Spirit of God spoken of in the passage before us. Resisting the Holy Ghost is refusing the testimony which He gives, whether by prophets, by the mouth of Jesus Himself, or by the apostles after His ascension. This the Jews had done through their whole long history, as Stephen had just been showing, and they were still persisting in the same path of unbelief. The quenching of the Spirit, on the other hand, is connected with ministry. Though Christ risen and ascended is, as we have seen, the author of gifts, their distribution and their exercise in the assembly are regulated by the "Spirit dividing to every man severally as He will." (1 Cor. 12:11.) Any usurpation of this power by man, or any rule or regulation not sanctioned by the Word, which restrains the Spirit's freedom of action in this matter, is quenching the Spirit; and as prophecy was the most important gift for "edification, and exhortation, and comfort," in the church (1 Cor. 14:2-4), the apostle connects the command, "Quench not the Spirit," with the further warning, "Despise not prophesyings."

Grieving the Holy Spirit is quite a different thing. In Galatians the exhortation given is, "If we live in (or by) the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Gal. 5:25.) That the Spirit is our life is assumed, and the practical injunction founded upon this is, that we should have Him also for our power of walk. So again we are told to "walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other." (Gal. 5:16-17.) In writing to the Romans, also, the apostle says that "the minding of the flesh is death; but the minding of the Spirit is life and peace." (Rom. 8:6.) It is only, then, as we are walking after the Spirit that the flesh is prevented from acting, or that our conduct can be pleasing in God's sight. If the flesh acts, the Holy Spirit is grieved, and the effect of grieving the Holy Spirit is to destroy fellowship with God.

Moreover the Spirit was promised by Jesus to His disciples as the One who "shall take of mine and shall show it unto you" (John 16:15); and besides this, "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." (Rom. 5:5.) But how can the Holy Ghost be ministering Christ to our hearts, and shedding abroad 'God's love in them, while we are walking in sin, walking after the flesh? The effect, therefore, of grieving the Holy Spirit of God is, to lose that revelation of Christ, and that shedding abroad in our hearts of God's love which it is the special work of the Spirit to bestow.

The apostle now goes on further to specify the walk suited to a believer, and again we find that the standard held up is infinitely higher than that of law. For while law sets before us what man ought to be, grace sets before us what God is. Law reveals God's righteousness, grace reveals His heart, reveals Himself, and that in the scene where all His perfections receive their brightest manifestation. Believers are exhorted, therefore, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, he put away from you, with all malice and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers (literally, imitators) of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for. a sweet-smelling savour." (Eph. 4:31; Eph. 5:1-2.)

Let us look for a little at both the positive and negative side of this picture. As usual, the negative comes first. We have already seen that there is a righteous anger, an anger that never transgressed the limits of righteousness in the blessed One of whom it is recorded, but which needs to be most jealously watched lest it should degenerate into fleshly passion in the believer. The anger here spoken of, however, is, as the context will show, of a different character, and is simply the work of the flesh. In Galatians, where the contrast between the fruits of the flesh and those of the Spirit is so strongly marked, we find among the works which are declared to be manifestly of the flesh, "hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying." (Gal. 5:20-21.) Such works, then, are unsuited to those who are sealed with the Holy Spirit of God; they grieve the Spirit; they belong to the old man which we have put off, and have nothing to do with "the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth." How beautifully the same connection is shown in the writings of another apostle, who, after reminding believers that they are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever," continues his exhortation - "Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Peter 1:23 - 2:2.)

Let us note in passing the condemnation so repeatedly and emphatically pronounced in Scripture against "evil speaking." No doubt there is much that may truly be said against almost any believer. It does not follow that because a person speaks evil, he speaks falsely. But the more thoroughly one is brought to judge one's own condition before God, the less disposed one is to that censorious, fault-finding spirit which delights to detect and expose the failings of others. There are sorrowful occasions when it is necessary to deal with evil; but the Christian is most happily and profitably occupied when he is thinking on "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise." (Phil. 4:8.) It is God's work to justify, Satan's to accuse. How beautifully the Lord Himself speaks the praises of His imprisoned forerunner, even in the moment when He sent the needed warning, "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." (Matt. 11:6-11.) How ceaseless His compassion, now, as High Priest, towards "them that are ignorant and out of the way." How tender and unfailing His intercession, as advocate with the Father, for the believer who has sinned. Contrast with our readiness to speak evil, the generous warmth which glows in the words of Paul when naming his fellow-soldiers and companions in labour.

But the Holy Ghost never stops with negatives. There is the positive side of the picture also. We are made, morally of course, "partakers of the divine nature," and as such God Himself is our example; just as in John we read, that "if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." (1 John 4:11.) Hence the model for our walk towards our fellow-believers is God's own love to us. The same tender-heartedness, the same forgivingness that God Himself has shown in forgiving us, we are called upon to exhibit towards each other. We are children, and "dear children" - how God delights to tell out the love of His heart towards us! We ought therefore to be followers, or imitators, of Him to whose love and grace we owe all we have, all we are, all we hope to be.

But the example of Christ is also set before us, and that in the matchless love which made Him give Himself on our behalf. Of course in the atonement which He made Christ stands all alone. There He is the One forsaken of God, and that as the hearer of sin. For us to be so forsaken would be eternal perdition; but, thanks be to God, "by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified," so that we are as secure as Christ Himself, "because as He is, so are we in this world." (1 John 4:17.) We are not told therefore to "walk in love" as Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us a sin-offering unto God, but as Christ gave "Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour." There is a vast difference between these two things. As bearing sin, Christ was under the judgment and curse of God, "made a curse for us." As glorifying God in death, as exhibiting the perfect obedience due from man, and the perfect grace that belongs to God, He was never so acceptable, never so much the object of the Father's delight, as when He gave up His life upon the cross. It was this entire surrender of self for God and man that made Him the perfect sweet-savour offering, whose fragrance morning and evening ascended to God from the brazen altar.

This, then, is the model of walk presented to us. How marvellous the thought that in the poor self-sacrificing love of our hearts God can find, as it were, some faint savour of the infinite fragrance of that perfect self-sacrifice in which Christ offered Himself upon the cross! In degree, of course, the difference is as wide as between the infinite and finite, between heaven and earth; but yet this is the model placed before us, this the type in every blurred copy of which God can still find His delight. Thus Paul, writing to the Philippians in acknowledgment of their gift, says, "I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were, sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." (Phil. 4:18.) So again to the Hehrews, "To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." (Heb. 13:16.) To what an immeasurably higher level the standard is raised when the living Christ Himself is thus placed before the soul, than when the believer is again brought heneath the mandates of a lifeless law! T. B. Baines.