And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
This address contains very much instruction for Christian ministers, and therefore for Churches. For ministers are very largely what Churches make them. It is hard for the strongest man to resist the current of opinion and feeling among those with whom he is in constant association. If in some Churches the ministers have become priests, it has been because the people first transferred to the ministers all spiritual responsibilities, who belonged to the sacred "order" were regarded as having a nearer access to God. St. Paul —
I. KEPT BACK NOTHING THAT WAS PROFITABLE. He never considered what it would please them to hear; he told them everything that it was well for them to know. He did not shrink from declaring to them "all the counsel of God." Paul was not among those who think that it is necessary to cajole men into faith and righteousness by concealing truth which might repel them. He was frank and open, and asserted that he was "clear from the blood of all men," because he had concealed nothing, in every age of the Church there have been strong inducements to follow another course.
1. When the Reformation began, good and wise men must have been sorely tempted to a policy of reserve. The religious faith of millions rested on the authority of the Roman Church and priesthood; to challenge the authority was to loosen the foundations of religious belief. The errors — so it might have been urged — were not altogether mischievous. Superstitious fears might restrain some from evil courses who were not likely to be restrained by a purer faith. An undue reverence for the priests might draw some to the services of the Church who would not be drawn by reverence for the invisible God. Even if the institutions were corrupt and the beliefs erroneous, it would be well to use a little "management" in reforming them. Now no doubt the Reformation loosened in some countries, while it strengthened in others, the foundations of morality and of faith. There is more than plausibility in the contention that the revolt of Germany against the authority of the Church prepared the way for the revolt of France against the authority of Christ. But the catastrophe might have been averted if wiser teachers had had the courage to expose error and to resist its growth in earlier generations.
2. Do you suppose that we, in our days, are quite free from the cowardice, treachery, and unbelief of the good men. who lived, in the ages before the Reformation? Some excellent persons are seriously afraid that the new translation of the Bible will give a great shock to the faith of "simple-minded Christians." Well, if the faith of "simple-minded Christians" is disturbed, the responsibility lies with those who have always known that the sacred text was imperfect; and that, even with a perfect text, no translation can be faultless. But there are people in our congregations who do not want to have their minds cleared of mistakes; and ministers may be tempted to conceal the truth because some of their hearers do not wish to know it. There are some truths which have become part of the very substance of our moral and religious life. But unhappily there are many Evangelical Christians who are in a panic if any of the human definitions of these truths are impeached and condemned. They do not ask for "all the counsel of God," but only for as much of it as will confirm their traditional beliefs, and leave their minds undisturbed. They clamour against every man that is not of the same mind with themselves. They follow the same line in dealing with those who are in doubt. If a man begins to question any part of their system, they say that he is on the high road to infidelity.
3. The only remedy is to be found in a more courageous faith in truth. Let Evangelical Christians be loyal to Him who is the Light as well as the Life of men; let them remember that the Spirit of Truth has come to lead us into "all the truth"; let them desire to know "all the counsel of God," and then we need have no fear of the ultimate result of the troubles and perplexities through which we are now passing; the victory of the evangelical faith would be assured.
II. The tone of the address suggests that the Ephesian Church had relied very largely on himself. Now that they are to "see his face no more," he commends them "to God and to the word of His grace." This reminds us of another quality which should distinguish the work of every minister, and which congregations should encourage and honour, viz., TO LEAD PEOPLE TO RELY ON GOD, NOT ON HIMSELF. Whenever he comes between the people and God he is in a false position, and he is doing permanent harm. But in all Churches there is a craving for this illegitimate exercise of ministerial power. Romish priests discharge two functions. As confessors they absolve from sin; as directors they assume the guidance of the spiritual life. Even in Protestant Churches, though confession and absolution are abhorred, there is sometimes a craving for "direction." That the counsel of a minister may occasionally he of service is obvious; but something more than counsel of this kind is desired. There is a readiness to charge the minister with the responsibility of the conduct of the religious life. This disposition is the result of a want of moral and spiritual vigour; if yielded to, it increases moral and spiritual weakness. It obstructs the free development of conscience. It impairs faith in God. When Christ was in the world, who would have dared to come between any of His apostles and Him? who would have dared to assume the "direction" of their religious life? There is equal presumption in coming between the humblest and most ignorant of Christian men and the Spirit of Christ, who now dwells with the Church. "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace"; this should be the reply of every Christian minister to those who seek from him what they should seek direct from God.
(R. W. Dale, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.