28. Therefore, take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to govern the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his blood.29. For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.30. And of your own selves shall arise men, speaking perverse things, that they may draw disciples after them.31. For which cause watch ye, remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not night and day to warn every one of you with tears.32. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, who is able to build farther, and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
28. Take heed, therefore. He doth now apply his speech unto them, and by many reasons showeth that they must watch diligently, and that he is not so careful but because necessity doth so require. The first reason is, because they be bound to the flock over which they be set. The second, because they were called unto this function not by mortal man, but by the Holy Ghost. The third, because it is no small honor to govern the Church of God. The fourth, because the Lord did declare by an evident testimony what account he doth make of the Church, seeing that he hath redeemed it with his blood. As touching the first, he doth not only command them to take heed to the flock, but first to themselves. For that man will never be careful for the salvation of other men who will neglect his own. And in vain shall that man prick forward other to live godlily, who will himself show no desire of godliness. Yea, that man will not take pains with his flock who forgetteth himself, seeing he is a part of the flock. Therefore, to the end they may be careful for the flock to them committed, Paul commandeth and warneth that every one of them keep himself in the fear of God. For by this means it should come to pass, that every one should be as faithful towards his flock as he ought. For we said that Paul reasoneth from their calling, that they be bound to take pains in the Church of God, whereof they have the government. As if he should say, that they may not do whatsoever they like best, neither are they free after they be made pastors, but they be bound publicly to all the flock.
The Holy Ghost hath made you overseers. By the very word he putteth them in mind, that they be placed, as it were, in a watch-tower, that they may watch for the common safety of all men. But Paul standeth principally upon this, that they were not appointed by men, but the charge of the Church was committed unto them by God. For which cause they must be the more diligent and careful, because they must give a straight account before that high seat of judgment. For the more excellent the dignity of that Lord and Master whom we serve is, the more reverence do we give him naturally, and the reverence itself doth sharpen our study and diligence.
Moreover, though the Lord would have ministers of the word chosen from the beginning by the voices [suffrages] of men, yet doth he always challenge the government of the Church to himself, not only to the end we may acknowledge him to be the only governor thereof, but also know that the incomparable treasure of salvation doth come from him alone. For he is robbed of his glory if we think that the gospel is brought unto us, either by chance or by the will of men, or their industry. But this doth Paul attribute peculiarly to the Spirit, by whom God doth govern his Church, and who is to every man a secret witness of his calling in his own conscience.
Concerning the word overseer or bishop, we must briefly note this, that Paul calleth all the elders of Ephesus by this name, as well one as other. Whence we gather, that according to the use of the Scripture bishops differ nothing from elders. But that it came to pass through vice and corruption, that those who were chief in every city began to be called bishops. I call it corruption, not because it is evil that some one man should be chief in every college or company; but because this boldness is intolerable, when men, by wresting the names of the Scripture unto their custom, doubt not to change the tongue of the Holy Ghost.
To govern the Church. The Greek word poimainein doth signify to feed. But by a fit similitude it is translated unto every kind of government. And we have said that this is the third argument drawn from the excellency of the function; as the same Paul telleth Timotheus elsewhere, that he take heed and see how he ought to behave himself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth. As if he should say, that there is no time to be idle in such a weighty calling, and that those are less excusable whom God hath made stewards of his family, the higher that degree of honor is, unless they be correspondent to so great dignity, that is, unless they do their duty diligently. Now, if bishops or overseers be made by the Holy Ghost, to the end they may feed the Church, the hierarchy of Papistry is ridiculous, wherein bishops being proud of their (painted sheath and) vain title, do not so much as once meddle with the function of teaching, no, not for fashion's sake.
Which he hath purchased. The four reasons, whereby Paul doth carefully prick forward the pastors to do their duty diligently, because the Lord hath given no small pledge of his love toward the Church in shedding his own blood for it. Whereby it appeareth how precious it is to him; and surely there is nothing which ought more vehemently to urge pastors to do their duty joyfully, than if they consider that the price of the blood of Christ is committed to them. For hereupon it followeth, that unless they take pains in the Church, the lost souls are not only imputed to them, but they be also guilty of sacrilege, because they have profaned the holy blood of the Son of God, and have made the redemption gotten by him to be of none effect, so much as in them lieth. And this is a most cruel offense, if, through our sluggishness, the death of Christ do not only become vile or base, but the fruit thereof be also abolished and perish; and it is said that God hath purchased the Church, to the end we may know that he would have it remain wholly to himself, because it is meet and right that he possess those whom he hath redeemed.
Notwithstanding, we must also remember, that all mankind are the bond-slaves of Satan until Christ set us free from his tyranny, gathering us into the inheritance of his Father.
But because the speech which Paul useth seemeth to be somewhat hard, we must see in what sense he saith that God purchased the Church with his blood. For nothing is more absurd than to feign or imagine God to be mortal or to have a body. But in this speech he commendeth the unity of person in Christ; for because there be distinct natures in Christ, the Scripture cloth sometimes recite that apart by itself which is proper to either. But when it setteth God before us made manifest in the flesh, it doth not separate the human nature from the Godhead. Notwithstanding, because again two natures are so united in Christ, that they make one person, that is improperly translated sometimes unto the one, which doth truly and in deed belong to the other, as in this place Paul doth attribute blood to God; because the man Jesus Christ, who shed his blood for us, was also God. This manner of speaking is caned, of the old writers, communicatio idiomatum, because the property of the one nature is applied to the other. And I said that by this means is manifestly expressed one person of Christ, lest we imagine him to be double, which Nestorius did in times past attempt; and yet for all this we must not imagine a confusion of the two natures which Eutychus went about to bring in, or which the Spanish dog, Servetus, hath at this time invented, who maketh the Godhead of Christ nothing else but a form or image of the human nature, which he dreameth to have always shined in God.
29. For I know. Paul doth now exhort the Ephesians to watch diligently, by the necessity, which is a most sharp prick. For he saith that |grievous wolves are ready to invade the sheepfold.| This is a thing always incident to the Church to be hated of wolves. Wherefore, there is no time to sleep. But the more and the more hurtful those be who break in, the more watchful must the pastors be. For God doth sometimes release some part of trouble, that the flock may be fed quietly and peaceably; and as when the weather is fair and clear, the sheep are fed more safely in the fields, and there is more danger when the air is cloudy and dark; so the Church of God hath sometimes some fair weather granted to it. After that cometh a troublesome time, which is more fit for the subtilty of wolves. Therefore, Paul doth mean, that it standeth them upon to be more watchful than they have been hitherto, because greater dangers hang over their heads. But the question is, how Paul knew this? First, we need not doubt of this, but that his presence was of great force to drive away wolves; and no marvel, if the power of the Spirit, which shineth in the ministers of Christ, do bridle the wicked so that they dare not utter their poison; yea, if that heavenly light do drive away much darkness of Satan. Therefore, seeing that Paul did know that the malice of Satan was kept under for a time by his industry, he doth easily foretell what will happen after his departure, though it be likely he was certified by the Lord, through the spirit of prophecy, that others might be admonished by him, as we see it came to pass. Howsoever it be, so often as faithful pastors go away, let us learn that we must beware of wolves, whom they can hardly drive from the sheep-cots, though they watch most narrowly.
30. Of your ownselves shall arise. This amplifieth the grievousness of the evil, because there be some wolves within, and so hiding themselves under the title of pastors, [which] do wait for some opportunity wherein they may do hurt. Also, he declareth what danger these wolves do threaten, to wit, the scattering abroad of the flock, when the Church is drawn away from the unity of faith, and is divided into sects. Neither are all those wolves who do not their duty as they ought, but there be oftentimes hirelings, a kind of men not so hurtful as the other. But the corruption of doctrine is a most deadly plague to the sheep. Now, in the third place, the fountain and beginning of this evil is noted, because they will draw disciples after them. Therefore, ambition is the mother of all heresies. For the sincerity of the word of God doth then flourish when the pastors join hand in hand to bring disciples unto Christ, because this alone is the sound state of the Church, that he be heard alone; wherefore, both the doctrine of salvation must needs be perverted, and also the safety of the flock must needs go to nought, where men be desirous of mastership. And as this place teacheth that almost all corruptions of doctrine flow from the pride of men, so we learn again out of the same that it cannot otherwise be, but that ambitious men will turn away from right purity, and corrupt the word of God. For seeing that the pure and sincere handling of the Scripture tendeth to this end, that Christ alone may have the preeminence, and that men can challenge nothing to themselves, but they shall take so much from the glory of Christ, it followeth that those are corrupters of sound doctrine who are addicted to themselves, and study to advance their own glory, which doth only darken Christ. Which thing the Lord doth confirm in the seventh of John (John 7:18). Furthermore, by the word arise which he useth, he signifieth that those wolves do nourish secret destruction until they may have some opportunity offered to break out.
And this place doth very well prevent an horrible stumbling-block and offense which Satan hath always cast in to trouble weak consciences. If external and professed enemies do resist the gospel, this doth not so much hurt to the Church, as if inward enemies issue out of the bosom of the Church, which at a sudden blow to the field, or which unfaithfully provoke the people to fall away; and yet God hath from the beginning exercised his Church with this temptation, and now doth exercise it. Wherefore, let our faith be fortified with this defense that it fail not, if at any time it so fall out that pastors begin to rage like wolves. He saith they shall be |grievous wolves|, that he may the more terrify them; secondly, they shall be authors of wicked opinions, and that to the end they may draw disciples after them, because it cannot almost otherwise be but that ambition will corrupt the purity of the gospel.
By this it appeareth also how frivolous and vain the brag of the Papists is touching their continual succession. For seeing we can easily show that these horned beasts are nothing less than that which they will be thought to be, being always convicted, they fly unto this fortress, that they succeed the apostles by a continual course. As if these did not also succeed them, of whom Paul willeth to take heed. Therefore, seeing that God, either to prove the constancy of his [people], or in his just judgment doth oftentimes suffer wolves to rage under the person of pastors, the authority doth not consist in the name and place alone, neither is succession anything worth unless faith and integrity be joined therewithal. But and if the Papists object that they cannot be called wolves, one word of Paul shall be as a touchstone to prove whether this be so or no, that they may (saith he) draw disciples after them. And to what end tendeth all Popish religion, save only that men's lust and pleasure may reign instead of God's word? But Christ hath no disciples where he is not counted the only master.
31. For which cause, watch. Paul doth again exhort them unto diligence by his own example, though he doth join therewithal fear of danger, as if he should say that they have need of great attention to beware; and that it is an unseemly thing that they should be wearied who had seen his singular patience by the space of three years. Also, he speaketh of his tears, which did add no small efficacy to his exhortations. Whereas he saith that he admonished every one, it may be referred as well unto the common people as unto the elders. For because he was determined to speak such things as should be common to the whole Church, he speaketh as if the whole body were present. Nevertheless, if any had rather restrain it unto the order of the pastors, the meaning shall be this, that their studies must be kindled, not only with this speech which he now maketh, but that it is meet that they remember those often exhortations which he did continually beat in by the space of three years, and that with many tears. Yet it seemeth to me to be more likely that he speaketh of all in general.
32. I commend you to God. He useth a prayer which, in an oration serving to move the hearers greatly, ought not to be counted absurd. For he did not pass for dividing his sermon into parts as the Rhetoricians use to do, seeing no words were sufficient to express the vehemency of the affections wherewith he was inflamed. He had intreated already of great matters and weighty, which did far exceed man's ability.
Therefore, he turneth himself unto prayer, and by little and little draweth toward an end of his speech, though it be rather an expressing of a desire than a direct prayer; as if he should have said, that they be unable to bear so great a burthen; but he doth wish to them new help from heaven, whereto they may trust and overcome all temptations. And it is not to be doubted, though he speak unto the pastors alone, but that he doth also comprehend the whole Church. First, he commendeth them to God; secondly, to the word of his grace. Notwithstanding, it is all one commendation; but Paul meant to express the means whereby the Lord doth defend the salvation of his, which (as Peter saith) is kept by faith, (1 Peter 1:5) and the means of this keeping dependeth upon the word, lest it come in hazard amidst so many dangers. And it is very expedient for us to know how God will keep us. For because his majesty is hid from us, until we come unto him by his word, we look to and fro, being in doubt.
Therefore, so soon as he receiveth us to be kept, he maketh his word the instrument to keep our salvation, in which sense, he addeth the adjunct |grace,| (for the genitive case, after the manner of the Hebrews, doth signify an effect) to the end the faithful might the more safely rest in the word, where God doth show forth his favor. This exposition is plain and apt; for whereas some understand it of Christ, it is too much racked.
Who is able to build farther. The participle, dunamenos, is to be referred unto God, not unto his word. And this consolation is added for this cause, lest they faint through the feeling of their infirmities. For so long as we be environed with the infirmities of the flesh, we be like to an house whose foundation is laid. All the godly must be grounded indeed in Christ, but their faith is far from being perfect. Yea, though the foundation continue stable and sure, yet some parts of the building be like to fall and quail. Wherefore, there is great need both of continual building, and also now and then new props and stays be necessary. Nevertheless, Paul saith that |we must not faint,| because the Lord will not leave his work unfinished; as he doth likewise teach in the first chapter to the Philippians,
|He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of the Lord,|
Whereto that of the Psalm (Psalm 138:8) answereth,
|Thou wilt not forsake the work of our [thy] hands.|
That which is added immediately concerning the inheritance of life appertaineth unto the very enjoying of life. So soon as Christ hath appeared to us, we pass indeed from death to life; and faith is an entrance into the kingdom of heaven; neither is the Spirit of adoption given to us in vain; but Paul promiseth in this place to the faithful a continual increase of grace until they see the possession of the inheritance whereunto they have been called, which is now laid up for them in heaven. He calleth it |the power of God|, not as we use to imagine it, without effect, but which is commonly called actual. For the faithful must so lay hold upon it, that they may have it ready, like to a shield, or buckler, to hold up against all assaults of Satan. As the Scripture doth teach that we have aid enough in the power of God, so let us remember that none are strong in the Lord save those who, abandoning all hope and confidence of their own free will, trust and lean to him, who, as Paul saith very well, is able to build farther.