Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man…
The object for which the various gifts that flow from the ascension of Christ (see ver. 8) are bestowed is here described. That object is not the mere enjoyment of the gifts themselves. It is practical and for a distinct purpose, viz. to accomplish "the building up of the body of Christ." For this same end the offices of the Christian ministry and all other ordinances and institutions of Christianity are now ordained. It is not enough to hold services and gather together decorous congregations. Nor is it even enough to secure converts. The final object is to build up the Church itself, by developing its manhood and cementing its unity. The end is twofold; and though the two parts of it are as intimately connected in experience as they are here blended together in the language of St. Paul, they can be considered separately. The first element in the building up of the Church is the development of individual Christians from spiritual infancy to spiritual manhood; the second is the consolidation of the several members of the Church into the one body of Christ - the inward growth to the stature of the fullness of Christ, the outward growth of the various parts of that great organism of which Christ is the Head.
I. THE INWARD GROWTH OF SPIRITUAL MANHOOD, Individual Christians must grow if the whole Church is to grow.
1. The characteristics of the growth. It is the gradual attainment of manhood. There are babes in Christ among men who are old in years. The work of the gospel is not accomplished till it has made strong men of us. A religion of soft sentiment and imbecile intelligence, such as some would commend as a rebuke to our pride, would find no favor with St. Paul. He was a man of robust intellect and vigorous energy. The childlikeness of the Christian is far from the childishness of the sentimental religionist. Many of the greatest heroes have had a singular childlikeness which has only enhanced the manliness of their lives. The perfect Christian is just the perfect man. In particular he must have:
(1) Increase of knowledge.
(2) Stability of belief; the lack of personal convictions that is so common among us is a symptom of intellectual feebleness. We do not want rigid dogmatism, but surely as our thinking and experience progress some truths should emerge out of the mist of doubt clear and certain, some ground should be securely won, though much must still be beyond our comprehension.
(3) Fidelity; "speaking the truth," or rather "dealing truly;" for this a manly firmness must be acquired.
(4) Love; "in love," etc.
2. The relation of this growth to Christ.
(1) Christ is the object of our growing knowledge; we have to grow in "the knowledge of the Son of God."
(2) Christ is the standard of Christian manliness. "The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" is what we are called to grow up to.
(3) Christ is the end of Christian effort. We have to grow "into him." The degree of our Christian progress may be determined by our nearness to Christ. Apparent increase of knowledge, energy, etc., is real decline if we are drifting further from Christ. The perfect Christian is at once he who is most Christ-like in character and he who is nearest to Christ in living communion.
II. THE OUTWARD GROWTH OF THE CHURCH. The whole body grows with the gradual increase of its several parts. But this general increase has a character and a history of its own. The Church grows up to manhood. Through all the ages of Christendom it has been the object of Christ to develop and educate his people till the infant Church of the first age should become the manly Church of the last. This thought warns us against the foolish veneration for antiquity which Lord Bacon repudiated, reminding us that these later days are the truly ancient times when the world has grown old in experience. Doubtless we may learn much by the study of patristic and primitive Christianity. But we shall be in error if we imagine that all we have to do is to revive the days of the Church's childhood; and we shall be far from the broad, strong, spirit of St. Paul if we timidly shrink from those new advances that make for the increase of the Church's manhood. The Church, as well as the individual Christian must grow in knowledge; it should also grow in fixity of established faith, in fidelity, and in love. The true growth of the Church will also show
(1) more harmony and unity of sympathy and co-operation in work "fitly framed and knit together;"
(2) at the same time more elasticity, versatility, and variety of life and action - "every joint" supplying its own share of work;
(3) enlargement in numbers and size - "increase of the body ;" and
(4) closer union with Christ - the whole body must "grow up in all things unto him which is the Head." - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: