The First Sermon on the First Chapter - John Calvin
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to all you holy and faithful ones in Jesus Christ. which are at Ephesus. Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ. – Ephesians 1:1-3
When we read the epistles which St. Paul wrote to a variety of places, we must always consider that God meant they should serve not only for one time alone, or for certain people only, but for ever, and in general for the whole church. And truly if a man considers well the doctrine that is contained in them, it will be easy to discern that God’s intention was to be heard in the things that are spoken there, even to the world’s end; and also that he has such a care for us that he has not passed over or forgotten anything that might further our salvation. The sum of this Epistle which I have now taken in hand to expound is that St. Paul confirms such as had been already instructed in the gospel, in order that they might know that that is what they must rest upon, as upon the true and perfect wisdom, and that it is not lawful to add anything to it.
Paul tells us that the benefits which are brought us by our Lord Jesus Christ and of which we are made partakers by means of his gospel are so excellent that we must surely be extremely unthankful if we scurry to and fro like people who are never at rest or contented. And then he shows us also what we have in Christ in order that we should so cleave to him as not to presume to seek help anywhere else, but assure ourselves that he has procured everything for us.
Again, on the other side, he shows us that Christ has so well provided for his church that if we know how to use the gifts of grace he offers us, we shall have full and perfect happiness. Along with this, he warns such as have been instructed in the truth of the gospel to lead a holy life, and to show that they have profited as they ought to do in God’s school.
Now these things serve not only for the city of Ephesus, nor for any one country, nor for any one age or time, but we have need to be urged on more and more, seeing that the devil strives ceaselessly to turn us to evil. And when he cannot lead us completely away from the doctrine of Jesus Christ, he labours to make it distasteful to us some way or another, and to entangle us in new curiosities, only to bring to pass that we may not be constant in the faith that we have received, but give way to vacillation. Now whenever our fancies are so fidgety, it is certain that an opening is made to blot out the remembrance of all that we had learned before and to take in many follies, yes, and erroneous doctrines, which serve to corrupt and pervert the purity of our faith.
We see then that the doctrine which is contained in this epistle is directed and dedicated to us at this present day, and that God has by his wonderful providence so disposed things beforehand that we not only have had the foundations of the gospel upon which to ground ourselves, but also the means by which our faith may from day to day grow and increase, so that we may still go forward until we reach perfection.
First and foremost, St. Paul claims the authority belonging to him, which had been given him by God, in order that men should not waste their time over his person, as though his word had been but the saying of a mortal man. For in very deed our Lord Jesus Christ is the only master from whom we must learn, for it is witnessed of him from heaven that it is only he and no other to whom we must listen [Matt. 17:5]. It has always been God’s will to keep the guiding of his own church to himself, and that his Word should be received without contradiction. He has not given that privilege to any creature. And when Jesus Christ is ordained in the place of God his Father, it is because he is God manifested in the flesh, and the infallible truth itself, and his wisdom which was before all time [I Tim. 3:16].
Furthermore, when men speak they must not do it in their own name, nor put forward anything of their own fancy and brain, but they must faithfully set forth the thing that God has enjoined upon them and given them in charge. Thus you see why St. Paul uses this preface, as it were everywhere, that he is an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence he holds it as a settled principle that if any man introduces himself to speak in his own name, there is nothing but rashness in him, for he takes upon himself what belongs to God only.
Again, since our Lord Jesus Christ was purposely sent to be our last teacher that we might have such wisdom as is perfect and utterly without fault, therefore St. Paul calls himself an apostle sent by him. This presupposes two things; first, that St. Paul had that charge committed to him; secondly, that he duly acquitted himself of it by rendering faithful service in the office that he was called to. For if a man were the most gifted and most excellent in the world, yet if he thrusts himself forward under his own impulse, he disturbs all order. And we know that God will have order and not disorder amongst us, as St. Paul says in the fourteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians.
He then that speaks, at least to teach, must have a calling, that is to say, he must be admitted and have his charge given him, so that every man may not put himself forward by reason of an unadvised zeal, as I said before. But to speak further of St. Paul’s calling is not needful at this time, for we know how God gave testimony that he anointed him as his apostle [Acts 9:15]. And indeed he does not dispute much about it here, because it was known well enough in the church of Ephesus. But since the Galatians had been troubled by deceivers, so that St. Paul’s authority, yes, and the name of God himself had been disgraced there, we see how he maintained his own status, telling them that the reverence due to an apostle of Jesus Christ could not be taken from him without overthrowing the divine order [Gal. I:13—16]. Therefore it is enough for him here to have said in one word that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Let us come to the second point upon which I touched, namely, that it is not enough for a man to be called, except he discharge his duty with a pure conscience and with integrity in his office, which thing St. Paul took upon him as a thing beyond all question, and he had given sufficient proof of it. The deceivers may well boast with full mouth that they are called, as we see they do. For all they who fight against God and his Word, and sow trouble and tares in his church, would fain make a shield of their calling, and also of their zeal, for they will insist on being called Christians over and over again. But St. Paul had sufficiently proved that he did not come of himself, nor sought anything else than to spend himself in the building up of the church. And since the same was well known in Ephesus (as we may gather from the history of St. Luke: Acts 19), and he had fought many a hard battle, therefore he thinks it enough to say in one word that he is an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here we must take warning, first to keep to the pure doctrine which we know has proceeded from God, for we cannot go wrong if we follow that rule. And seeing that in our Lord Jesus Christ we have the performance of all that is requisite and needful for our instruction, so that we have no need to doubt whether we must keep to the gospel or add something to it, let us be content to take the Son of God as our Master, especially as he vouchsafes to stoop so low as to take that charge upon him, and also testifies that if we have profited well in his doctrine, we shall come to the true goal to which we should make our way.
You see then that the first lesson which we have to gather from this passage is that our faith must not waver one way or another, but have a sure and immoveable foundation to rest on, namely, God’s truth, even as it is contained in the gospel. And seeing that St. Paul is sufficiently acknowledged by us, let us not doubt that God’s Spirit speaks to us at this day by his mouth, neither let us hear the doctrine as if it were subject to our judgment. But let us subject our own understanding and minds and receive it without calling it in question, unless we will wilfully make war against God and lift up ourselves above him. This, then, is one of the things which we have to notice from this passage.
Furthermore, in order that this doctrine may not only be reverenced among us, but that it may also be pleasant to us, let us take note that St. Paul speaks in the name of Christ, who was sent to us by God his Father to bring us glad tidings of peace. Also let us bear in mind how he says in another passage that he was ordained to bring the message of reconciliation, and that he beseeches men in God’s name to be reconciled to God [2 Cor. 5:20]. Now I told you that this was done to make the doctrine of the gospel sweet, that we might be desirous of it and give ourselves wholly to it. For whenever it is told us that God speaks to us, truly it is enough to give authority to all that he shall speak. But yet we may tremble at his voice and at the same time be troubled by it, according as we see a great number confess well enough that God deserves to be obeyed and to have all men subject to him, but in the meanwhile they turn away and shun him as far as they can, because his voice makes them afraid.
But when Jesus Christ speaks to us as the mediator between God and man, we may go to him boldly, for (as it is said in the Epistle to the Hebrews) we are no more, as it were, at Mt. Sinai, where the lightnings flashed in the air when the law was published, insomuch that if a beast had come near to it, it must have died. The voice which God uttered at that time was terrible [Heb. 12:18—20; Exod. 19:12]. But nowadays, seeing that he encourages us by his gospel to receive the grace he offers us, and intends to wipe away the remembrance of our sins, let us allow ourselves to be justified by his free grace, and let us be peaceable and obedient to him. For indeed this ought to move us to come to him like poor hungry souls to be fed with the heavenly food that he will give us. Thus we see in effect what we have to remember when St. Paul calls himself the apostle of Jesus Christ.
Paul adds that he is an apostle by the will of God. This serves to place it beyond all doubt, in order that men should not blame him for presumption, as though he thought himself of better reputation than other men. He protests that it was not because of any worthiness of his own, but because it had pleased God to choose him for that office. And certainly it is no feigned humility when he says he was set in that position by God’s mere grace and choosing [I Cor. 15:9; I Tim. 1:13—16]. For we see how in other passages he confesses that he is not worthy of such honour, but rather had deserved utter damnation, and therefore was to be taken as a mirror of God’s infinite goodness, in that he had exalted him so high, even him who had been a murderer of Christians, who had shed the blood of the martyrs, and who had blasphemed against God and his Word, as he himself reports it.
We see then that there was no pretence in this confession of his, where he says that he was set in that state and rank by the will of God alone. And this serves a great purpose still, in order that we may not esteem God’s Word according to the worth of those who bring it to us. For one of the common artifices which the devil uses to diminish reverence for God’s Word is to place before our eyes the persons who bring it. Now it is certain that we are frail vessels and of no value, yes, of no more worth than broken pots. What is there in those whom God has ordained to be the ministers of his Word But the treasure is inestimably great at all times, despite the contemptibleness of the vessels [2 Cor. 4:7].
Let us take note then that when men come to bear testimony to the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation we ought to hope for, our faith must rise up higher and not stand questioning whether such a man is worthy to be heard or not, or enquiring what manner of person he is. Let us content ourselves with the thought that God by that means intends to draw us to himself. This is the way we must walk, and if we step aside from it, we soon go astray and are on the way to perdition.
Let us note this well, then, that we must submit ourselves to God’s will and ordinance and receive without hindrance the doctrine that is preached to us by the mouths of mortal men. For we must not be wise in the way that many people are, who demand whether God could not send his angels from heaven and teach us by revelations, nor in the way of some busybodies who make pretence that they have the Holy Ghost at their beck and call, [en leur manche (Fr.) (In their sleeve)], for which reason they disdain to receive the gifts as they are dealt out by God. So that we may not be bewitched by Satan after this manner, let us take note how it is said here that it is God’s will that the gospel should be preached by the mouths of men, and that they are, as it were, witnesses to us. Whoever exempts himself from this ordinance is acting as if he thrusts back God’s hand when he offers him sure and infallible testimony of his salvation. Thus you see what we still have to take note of from this passage.
Again, they that are called to proclaim God’s Word ought to take warning from St. Paul’s example to walk in lowliness. For who are we if we compare ourselves with him He shows us that he was not chosen for any native sufficiency or ability, but because it was God’s will to have it so. Therefore let us assure ourselves that we hold all things of God and his pure grace, and that we cannot attribute anything to ourselves, unless we intend to rob him of his right. And we know that such ingratitude is not to be tolerated.
Next the apostle says, ‘To all the holy ones that are in Ephesus and to the faithful in Jesus Christ’. It is true that the name of the city is expressed here, but yet (as I have touched on already) the doctrine is common to us all, and God has granted it for our use at this day, and we must receive it as if St. Paul were still alive and among us. Yes, and we must not only have an eye to him, but to the Person by whom he is sent. For although he died when he had finished his race, yet God’s Spirit is immortal. Whatever happens, we must, for our learning, bear in mind what St. Paul says here when he speaks to the saints and faithful ones in Jesus Christ.
Although, then, we are not of that time, nor of the country and people of Asia, nevertheless seeing it has pleased God to join us with those to whom St. Paul wrote in his time, let us assure ourselves that it behoves us to be strengthened in the faith which we have received by the gospel, because it was the intention and purpose of the Holy Spirit to exhort to perseverance all those who have the rudiments of the gospel, and are still weak and in need of stronger confirmation.
But let us bear well in mind these words where it is said, ‘the saints and faithful ones in Jesus Christ’. For St. Paul shows that all the holiness of men is nothing else but pretence until God has brought them to his own service and dedicated and consecrated them to it by faith. For we are all unclean by nature, and nothing but infection can come from us. It is true that, if men put on some fine outward show and appearance, they will be accounted as righteous as can be, and their virtues will be commended everywhere, just as we see that a man can acquire the reputation of great perfection if he but possesses some fair qualities. But we must remember that it is said in the fifteenth chapter of Acts that God cleanses men’s hearts by faith [15:9]. And he had great reason to do so, for (as the prophet Jeremiah says) man’s heart is a pit of horrible confusion [17:9]. We ourselves do not perceive it, but God has clearer eyes than me. Be that as it may, let us assure ourselves of this, that all the holiness which men imagine they have is but corruption and abominable before God, until such time as they are made one by the faith of the gospel. Therefore note it for a settled point that no other holiness is accepted and acknowledged at God’s hand than the holiness of believers. For except we first become Christians we are blind and can never render to God his due.
Although there were no other sacrilege than this, would it not be enough to mar all the virtues that we could have besides Again, seeing that the spirit of perfection, the spirit of the fear of God, the spirit of righteousness and the spirit of purity abide and rest in Jesus Christ, it is certain that all such as are separated from him have nothing else in them but vice and all manner of uncleanness, however much the world may applaud them.
On the other hand, let us note also that all such as boast of having faith in the gospel, and are not sanctified by God, betray their own hypocrisy and lying, and belie themselves by their own life, no matter what they may sing or say, just as we see many nowadays who defile and profane this name of the faith which ought to be holy. For every man will say that he is faithful, and they who have least faith are boldest to say that there is no faith but in themselves. And would God that it were so only by half! But we see even among all that bear the name of Christians that their whole life is disordered and loose, insomuch that they mock God to the full and despise all religion, and yet nevertheless in the meanwhile think (as I have said already) that they are greatly wronged if they are not taken as good and catholic Christians.
Yet for all this we see how St. Paul links these two things together in an inseparable bond, namely, that if we have the faith of the gospel, we must consequently give ourselves over entirely to our God and separate ourselves from the corruptions of the world, just as we have seen that in the Epistle to the Galatians [I:4; 4:5—7] he says that the coming into the world of our Lord Jesus Christ is in order that we should be sanctified by his blood, to yield obedience henceforth in all pureness to God his Father. And as he says in another place [IThess. 4:7] we are not called to uncleanness but to righteousness, in order that God’s name should be honoured and glorified by us.
Thus you see what we have to remember from this preface, in order that we may be the better prepared to receive the doctrine contained in this Epistle, and that it may have such authority among us as it deserves, and moreover be made pleasant to us, so that we may understand how it is for our special benefit to learn at Paul’s hand. For the apostle testifies the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to us and leads us to God to be reconciled to him, whereas we are naturally the children of wrath. And furthermore he shows how we may stand in God’s favour, so that we may be bold to call upon him as our Father and be sure that he also accounts us his children.
Next Paul uses a thanksgiving to lift up all men’s hearts to acknowledge how much they are bound and indebted to God, especially considering that he has shown himself so bountiful towards them in giving forth himself in all kinds of ways. ‘Blessed (he says) be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things (or in heavenly places) in Christ.’ Since the chief sacrifice which God requires at men’s hands is that they should acknowledge his benefits and be thankful to him for them, St. Paul considers first of all how the same may provoke them to do their duty, for we are so slack that it is frightful to see it. We can well enough confess that our chief study and endeavour ought to be to have a well-ordered life, namely, to praise God. For if a man asks us why we are found in this world, why God has such a care for us, why his goodness feeds and cherishes us, and finally why he, as it were, dazzles us with the great number of benefits he bestows upon us, it is in order that we should yield some acknowledgement of them to him. For (as it is said in the psalm) we for our part cannot profit him at all, neither does he require anything else of us in exchange, but thanksgiving, according as it is said in Psalm 116, ‘What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits which I have received from him, except to take the cup of salvation at his hand and to call upon his name
You see then that all that we can ever bring to God is but to acknowledge ourselves bound to him for all things. And yet, for all that, no man discharges his duty, no, nor a hundredth part of it, in that respect, but rather, all of us from the greatest to the least defraud him of it, inasmuch as we do not cease through our baseness to bury his praise which ought to resound in our mouths. For this reason our Lord rebukes us for our negligence, for when the holy Scripture exhorts us to praise God and uses many words for that purpose, let us not think that they are superfluous, but let us acknowledge them to be so many upbraidings of our malice and wickedness for failing in the thing that is so requisite and (as you would say) the principal thing in life.
It is true that the Holy Spirit often sets forth other reasons why we should magnify God’s name, as (for example) the order of nature, the fruits which the earth yields, the aid and help which God gives us, and other such things. And these are sufficient matter for which to praise God. But St. Paul leads us higher here, and will have us to glorify God above all things. He thinks it not enough to own that God has placed us in the world and that he nourishes us here, and that he provides all things needful during the passing of this transitory life, but he also says that God has chosen us to be heirs of his kingdom and of the heavenly life.
We are then doubly bound to God, and that, much more closely than ignorant and unbelieving wretches are. For although they are sufficiently indebted already, yet the good he has done us in Jesus Christ is beyond all comparison more excellent and noble, because he has adopted us to be his children. It is true, since we are men, that we are of the number of his creatures which he has fashioned after his own image. But what of that? This image is defaced in us by sin and by the corruption with which we are tainted by Adam’s disobedience. And now what other heritage have we than his wrath and eternal death?
In brief, we are not worthy to be reckoned among the number of brute beasts, if we remain in the state which is ours by nature. Now then, seeing that God makes us members of his only Son, and ranks us with the angels and prepares us to become partakers of his own nature and glory (as St. Peter says in his first Epistle, I:12) ought we not to perceive there so high and noble a grace as should ravish us completely.
Thus you see that of the things which St. Paul meant to say in this text, the first is that we are here exhorted to apply ourselves wholeheartedly to the work of praising God, just because we are too cold and indifferent in that respect, if we are not pushed and constrained to it. Besides this, St. Paul had one other intention more, namely, to feed us in such a way with the grace that we have by the gospel that we may no more covet this thing and that thing after our customary manner. We see how fickle we are by nature, and when God is so good to us as to set his Word before us, we insist on having some other things beside, and nothing can content us. And why not Because we are dull and have never conceived or understood what God shows us by his Word [Eph. 3:18]. For we shall see hereafter that such as know the love that God shows us in our Lord Jesus Christ have all that they can wish, high and low, far and wide. Also St. Paul now calls upon us to bless God with the purpose of keeping us to the doctrine in which consists the fulness of all happiness, at least if we know how to use it to our profit.
Furthermore, let us also note that it is not without reason that he speaks of ‘spiritual blessings’. For although we cannot eat a scrap of bread or drink a drop of water without being robbers of God, unless we acknowledge and confess that he therein shows himself a true Father to us, nevertheless the things that concern this body and this our transitory life are nothing compared with the things that serve for the eternal welfare of our souls. And in very deed, St. Paul’s exhorting us here to praise God for his heavenly blessings is done in such a way that at the same time he gives us to understand that we must be patient if we are afflicted in respect of the flesh, and do not have all things according to our desires, and if God curtails our food and handles us not so tenderly as we could wish.
Two things therefore are contained here. The one is that we should learn to know wherein our true and perfect happiness consists, namely, in the life which we hope for and which is hid from us as yet, in order that we should not be tied to the world. Note that for one point. Secondly, that if this world rejects us and despises us, and makes a laughing-stock out of us, we must settle ourselves in patience; and while the despisers of God vaunt themselves with pomp and show and it seems that we are unhappy compared with them, insomuch that some of us suffer hunger and thirst, and others are troubled and unjustly molested, we must look further. And why Even because we ought to content ourselves with the heavenly blessings which God has bestowed upon us. This blessedness so great, so high, and so inestimable, then, must make us overlook all the encumbrances we can conceive, whenever God exercises and tries us in this world by many afflictions, and wills that we should know scarcity and the lack of many things. This is the effect of the things we have to note from this passage.
Now before we come to the rest, let us note that this word ‘blessing’ is taken in different senses when St. Paul applies it either to God or to ourselves. It is said that we bless God. And how As he blesses us. After what manner does he bless us We do not bless him as he blesses us. We come far short of that. For (as I have shown already from the sixteenth psalm) all our services can do him no good. Again, we have to conclude that (as I have also shown from the one hundredth and sixteenth psalm) all that we can bring to God is no more than this acknowledgement that we are bound to him for all the good things we have. You see then that all our blessing is but to yield the sacrifice of praise to God. Let that serve for one point.
But now, when God blesses us, is it simply in words No! No! But it is a filling of us and a bestowing of all things upon us that we want, as far as is needful. And why is this word ‘blessing’ attributed to him? Because he does not need to labour and take great pains to help his servants and to give them what he knows is expedient for them. If he simply says the word, that is to say, if he only declares his will, the thing is done.
Since then God, having created the world by his word alone, has power also to do us good simply by commanding it, therefore it is said that we become rich by his blessing alone, that is to say, by his showing himself loving and favourable to us. Now let us see if we are to be excused when we defraud God of his due by disdaining to open our lips to confess how much we are bound and indebted to him after we have received so many benefits at his hand. Let all the blessings that all the men in the world can give to God be laid in the balance against the blessing with which he enriches them; and which has the greater worth All that they can put forward is that it is needful for them to confess that they can neither say nor do anything that is worth while, whereas at the same time God shows us that he has all that is requisite for our happiness. Therefore it is not without reason that St. Paul says here that the faithful must fully devote and apply their minds and endeavours to bless the name of God, seeing that he gives them so great cause, for otherwise they would be unthankful and churlish. Therefore he says two things, ‘The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ’.
When he says ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’, it must be explained in this way, that the God whom we feel so favourable to us is the Father of our Lord Christ. This circumstance deserves to be noted well. For by it St. Paul makes us understand that God’s benefits, especially those that belong to the heavenly life and to the everlasting salvation of our souls, cannot come to us, except Jesus Christ is, as it were, the channel of them, so that we may be made partakers of them for his name’s sake. Therefore let us note well that we are shut out from all God’s benefits and from all things that concern the salvation of our souls, unless Jesus Christ becomes our way.
It is true that unbelievers eat and drink and glut themselves to the utmost, and the sun shines on them. But be that as it may, to speak properly, they do not enjoy all the things God gives them, because they usurp them without any lawful title to them. For the world was created for God’s children, even with respect to their Head, who is our Lord Jesus Christ, In brief, it is not without cause that St. Paul, showing how God has given himself to us, says that it is because he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But (as I have already told you) it is not a question of eating and drinking, but of far greater and more precious things, namely, that God has adopted us as his children. And so you see in effect what we have to bear in mind.
Yet, that we may the better profit from this passage, let us take note that we must check ourselves lest we wander into many speculations when we know God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And why? The papists have this word ‘God’ often enough in their mouths, and likewise the word ‘Jesus Christ’, but at the same time they have disfigured Jesus Christ and utterly falsified the doctrine of his gospel in which he should be seen. So they have a God, though but by confused fancies, and yet they do not know him. And truly, they can no more explain what God they serve and adore than the Turks do. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ (in the fourth chapter of St. John) says that they who do not have the doctrine by which to rule themselves well do not know what they worship, but continually invent idols for themselves. Therefore there is but one way by which to have good and infallible access to God, and that is by beholding him in his living image, for his majesty is too high, too much hidden, and too deep for us. But Jesus Christ has communicated himself to us, and applied himself to our weakness, and taught us whatever it was requisite to know, that we might come to God his Father.
You see then that we must have our Lord Jesus Christ for our way, in order that we might not stray. For seeing that God is the Father of our Head and of him who is made one with us, you see how we may have access to come freely to him. And surely without that mediator we are entirely shut out from him, and the majesty of God is bound to make the hairs of our head stand on end. But when we consider that he is entitled the Father of him who is our Head, let us know that he also is bound to own us as his children, because he has redeemed us.
Furthermore, although St. Paul here sets down in one word what our spiritual blessings are, nevertheless he shows that God has shown himself bountiful towards us in more ways than one. And of this he will make a larger exposition later by setting forth in particular the benefits which we obtain by the gospel, for the whole of this chapter is full of them. But be that as it may, here he gives us to understand that God’s giving of his gracious gifts to us is not sparingly, and that his causing us to taste them is not done with a finger-lick, [faire goûtee à leche doigt (Fr.)]. as they say. But he shows that God has given them to us so diversely and fully that we have reason to magnify him in every respect. Therefore let us understand that, seeing that Jesus Christ is so given to us, in him we obtain all that is necessary for our salvation and for our happiness, just as St. Paul speaks of it in the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. For if the only begotten Son is given to us, how should not all the benefits which he has in himself be communicated to us with him and through him.
But be that as it may, let us learn to taste God’s spiritual gifts in such a way that all our mental faculties may be concentrated to make much of them. And that this may come to pass, let us beware of having our minds too much wedded to the world. For the very cause that draws us away, preventing us from perceiving the hundredth part of the good that God has done us and from applying his benefits to our profit, is our own vanity, because everyone of us beguiles himself with his own foolish and extravagant lusts. Therefore let us learn to shake off the things that stop us from coming to our Lord Jesus Christ. And although our evil nature provokes us to seek the transitory things of this world, yet let us endeavour to withdraw from them, so that we may yield ourselves with a free heart to God and be earnestly minded to obey him and to give ourselves wholly to him, for so it is his will to have us joined to him.
This is the thing which we have to notice in St. Paul when, having spoken of the spiritual blessings, he immediately adds, ‘in heavenly places (or things)’, by which he meant to show that we are not able to receive the gracious gifts which are communicated to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and which God would have us possess, till we know that there is not anything in this world that ought to hold us back. Therefore when once we know that we are not created to dwell for ever in this world, but that we must only be pilgrims in it, and that our permanent heritage and rest is above in heaven, let us thereupon make our way there, and press towards it more and more. And although we are feeble, yet let us not faint, but pluck up good courage and pray God to give it to us. Moreover you see that the reason why St. Paul sets down the word ‘blessings’ is to cause us to know that whereas the devil lays many traps to debauch us and to turn us out of the way, God has made provision for all that, for he has such a store of blessings that he can overthrow and destroy all that may ever be against our salvation.
But now let us fall down before the majesty of our good God, with acknowledgement of our faults, praying him to acquaint us more and more with them, that we may be brought to true repentance. And let us condemn ourselves and seek to find in our Lord Jesus Christ all that we need, and that not for one day, or for a mere brief moment, but continually and steadfastly to our life’s end. And whatever happens to us, let us always assure ourselves that we have good cause to praise our God, and that even if we are poor and miserable in this world, the happiness of heaven is enough to appease us, to sweeten all our afflictions and sorrows, and to give us such content that we may nevertheless have our mouths open to bless God for showing himself so kindhearted and liberal towards us as even to adopt us as his children, and to show us that the heritage which has been purchased for us by the blood of his only Son is ready for us, and that we cannot miss it, seeing that we go to it with true and invincible constancy of faith. May it please him to grant this grace not only to us but also to all peoples.