The Gifts of an Ascended Christ.

Ephesians 4:7-11.

We have seen how the first exhortations, with respect to walking worthy of our vocation, are directed to "endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." Nothing is more practical, nothing dearer to the Lord's heart, than this manifested oneness; and though its restoration is now impossible, yet the principle on which it was founded can be owned, and obedience to the word of God exhibited.

But it is objected that in all God's works there is variety, that men's minds are differently constituted, and that it is impracticable to mould all to the same monotonous pattern. Does the oneness then, so strongly insisted upon in Scripture, imply a lifeless uniformity? The very illustration by which it is constantly described proves the exact opposite. In the human body no two portions are alike, and the endless differences in each of its bones, veins, muscles, and ligaments, all contribute to its healthy action as a whole. Diversity of action does not involve schism and division. Such is the apostle's argument with respect to the setting of the individual members in the body of Christ. "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body." (1 Cor. 12:17-20.) The same fact as to diversity of gifts in one body is presented in the epistle to the Ephesians. The apostle, after dwelling strongly on the manifestation of unity, goes on to say: "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on, high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." (vv. 7, 8.) The second of these verses explains the sense in which the word "grace" is used in the first. It is not that display of grace by which sinners are saved, but that by which believers are endowed with the gifts of an ascended Christ. The grace, of course, is the same in both instances, but exercised in a different manner.

There is a marked distinction between the way in which gifts are spoken of in this epistle and in the epistle to the Corinthians. In writing to the Church at Corinth the apostle was giving directions as to the use of gift in the assembly, which is regarded as the house of God on earth, administered by the Holy Ghost. Hence the teaching is not so much with respect to the origin of gifts as with respect to their distribution and exercise, which is the proper circle of the Spirit's activity. "To one," we read, "is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit," and so on through the other gifts; "but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will." (1 Cor. 12:8-11.) Moreover, as the subject here dealt with is the Spirit's sovereignty in regulating the exercise of gift in the assembly, all gifts that might be used in the assembly are taken into account - the sign gifts, such as the speaking with tongues, as well as the gifts for edifying the body.

In the epistle to the Ephesians the question is not the exercise of gift, but its origin and its object. The object is, "For the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ." (v. 12.) The origin is Christ Himself, not acting, however, in His sovereign rights as the eternal Son of God, but in His acquired rights as the victorious, risen, and ascended man. This agrees with the general character of the epistle. In its earlier chapters we see God's "mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come." (Eph. 1:19-21.) It is in virtue of the same victory and exaltation that Christ now bestows gifts on believers. "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." (Eph. 1:8.) To lead captivity captive is a poetical expression signifying the complete triumph over a power by which one has formerly been subjugated, as it is said of Israel in reference to Babylon, "They shall take them captives whose captives they were." (Isa. 14:2.) The words are first found in the song of Dehorah, when celebrating the victory of Barak over the armies of Jabin, by whom the Israelites had long been oppressed: "Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Ahinoam." (Judges 5:12.) It is adopted in the passage here quoted by the apostle from the Psalms, where it is clearly prophetic of Christ's triumph: "Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men." (Ps. 68:18.) The title by which Christ bestows these gifts is therefore as follows: Man, as fallen, was in bondage under the fear of death, and under the power of the devil. Jesus has come as man, has entered into our wretchedness, charged Himself with our responsibilities, gone down under our judgment, so that "through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." (Heb. 2:14.) Having thus descended and conquered the foe who held us in captivity, He has ascended in triumph, and received gifts from God in His character as the risen, victorious man. Hence it is said, "Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things." (vv. 9, 10.) It was in consequence of His humbling Himself and taking the lowest place that He obtained this victory; and in virtue of this victory He "receives gifts for men," or, as the margin reads, "in the man," that is, in His character as man.

It will be seen that the Spirit of God, in quoting this passage, has somewhat varied and extended its scope. The psalm, after declaring Christ's victory, says: "Thou hast received gifts for men," or, "in the man." The apostle quotes it thus: "And gave gifts unto men." The Old Testament shows Christ, as man, receiving gifts in consequence of His triumph. But the Holy Ghost in the New Testament so applies the passage as to show the actual bestowing of these gifts on those for whom they were acquired. Nor is this all. The psalm describes the time when God arises, and His enemies are scattered; when God "is blessed in the congregation, even the Lord from the fountain of Israel;" when, "because of His temple at Jerusalem, kings shall bring presents unto Him;" when "princes shall come out of Egypt, and Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God." All this looks on to the reign of Christ in glory and majesty; to the full blessing of Israel and the world. Then it is that He receives "gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." But in the epistle Christ is shown as bestowing these gifts before this reign and this period of earthly blessing begin - bestowing them in the sphere of His present interests "unto every one of us." Though the victory has been won, its consequences, in respect to Israel and the world, are not yet seen. But towards the Church He already exercises His rights in bestowing the gifts He has acquired. How remarkably this insertion of the present use of gifts, not alluded to in the Old Testament, agrees with the character of the Church as a mystery "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit."

Though some special gifts are named in verse 11, the language used in verse 7 takes in a wider field. It is said: "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." In the parable of the talents the Lord distributes "to every man according to his several ability." (Matt. 25:15.) This, as the parable shows, includes false professors as well as true believers. It makes clear, however, that all believers are entrusted with some gift to use for their absent Lord. So in the text before us the grace spoken of is given not merely to a few, but "unto every one of us." In connection with Christ, the Head, "the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (v. 16) While, therefore, the special gifts needed for public labour are confined to comparatively few, each believer has some gift for the edifying of the body. In Rom. 12 where the question is the faithful and diligent use of the gifts bestowed, the apostle names, among others, liberality, showing mercy, and ministry - or service - in the widest sense of the word. A vast circle of responsibility and activity is thus opened up, and a set of gifts brought to light which are equally distinct from the miraculous sign-gifts named in the Corinthians, and from the gifts for public teaching. In this wider sense all receive some gift, for the use of which they are responsible. In verse 11, however, the writer comes to a special class of gifts. "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." It does not say that the apostles or others received gifts, but that they were gifts. The subject is not, therefore, the gifts bestowed upon individual believers, but the gifts bestowed upon the Church in the form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

Nothing is said about the continuance of these gifts, and we must look at them separately to see how far they were meant to be permanent or only temporary. As to the apostle, the distinguishing feature was his ability to bear testimony to Christ's resurrection. Thus in the case of the new apostle chosen by lot, the object, as explained by Peter, was that he might "be a witness with us of His resurrection." (Acts 1:22.) And even Paul, who had never seen Jesus either during His life or in the forty days before His ascension, rests his apostleship on the same ground. "Am I not an apostle?" he asks. "Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1.) And afterwards, speakiug of Christ's resurrection, he says, "Last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle" (1 Cor. 15:8-9), thus again associating his apostleship with his having seen the risen Christ. Since this, then, was a condition of apostleship, it is clear that no one who has not seen Christ risen could be an apostle; or, in other words, that apostles were only temporary gifts. But again, apostles and prophets were, so to speak, the foundation course of the Church; for we are "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone." No doubt the foundation is permanent, and in this sense the gift is permanent. But this very fact precludes the thought of a succession of apostles; for how could there be a succession of foundations to the same building? The idea of a succession or revival of apostles is therefore a mere fancy of the mind of man, entirely opposed to Scripture, and subversive of all that is there taught concerning apostolic qualifications and functions.

The prophet was also a foundation gift. It was to prophets as well as to apostles that the mystery which had before been hidden was revealed by the Spirit. In certain cases too the prophet foretold future events. In all these characters the gift of a prophet was only temporary. On the other hand, that part of the prophetic gift which consists of speaking "unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort," and in this way "edifying the Church" (1 Cor. 14:3-4), has never been removed, though whether those possessing it are prophets, in the scriptural sense of the word, is at least doubtful.

The gifts of evangelists, pastors, and teachers are of course permanent, and require little explanation. An evangelist is one who brings glad tidings. It may be well to observe that there is nothing to identify evangelization with public preaching. No doubt many evangelists are public preachers; but it would be a great mistake to confine the term to those who thus labour. Perhaps some of the most largely-blessed evangelists are those who, by their writings, or even by their private visits and conversation, have set forth Christ, with little or no qualification for addressing large audiences. No one would for a moment speak slightingly of preaching; but it is more easy to be led by a desire for display in this work than in work of a quieter and less public character. Moreover, the effect produced on the conscience and on the heart by the presentation of the truth in private is often far deeper and more durable than that wrought amidst the excitement of preaching. The same may be said of the teacher, who is really the same gift as the pastor, only as teacher he is looked upon rather in respect of the truth he sets forth, and as pastor rather in respect of the flock which this truth nourishes. But there is nothing in either case which necessarily identifies the gift with public ministry. Indeed, while the labours of a teacher may be, those of a pastor almost inevitably must be, of a private rather than of a public character. T. B. Baines.