* Excerpted, by permission, from John Calvin’s Sermons on Ephesians,The Banner of Truth Trust, 3 Murrayfield Road, Edinburgh, EH12 6EL , UK, www.banneroftruth.org.
This excerpt of Calvin’s Twenty Second Sermon on Ephesians treats especially verses 3-5 of Ephesians 4 and the call to keep the unity of the Spirit. Because of the length of the sermon, the first part was omitted. In it, Calvin movingly exhorts to godly attitudes towards others: “lowliness and meekness, with patience, bearing with each other in love….” Reading Calvin always comes with rich rewards.
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
St. Paul rules further that (as I have touched on already) we must keep the unity of the Spirit or the bond of peace. For here he puts down the unity of the Spirit as a mark that is required in the church and flock of God, insomuch that if we are divided among ourselves, we are estranged from God. And with this, he shows us what we have seen briefly before, which is that if we are not at one among ourselves, God disclaims us and tells us we do not belong to him. This unity therefore is something which ought to be valued nowadays, seeing it is the way in respect of which we are acknowledged as God’s children.
It is true that the wicked and the unbelieving have their conspiracies, and are so linked one to another that there is not a closer alliance to be found in the world. For even their evil doings bind them to one another, as though they were tightly stitched together, because they perceive themselves to be bound, insomuch that he who has conspired in some evil with another wicked man will be afraid of him, and that fear is like a bond that cannot be broken. However, St. Paul presupposes here that the faithful are at one in God, as he will presently show. For this reason he shows them how the same unity may be kept. “It is (says he) the bond of peace….”
And now he shows what kind of reconciliation or union it is that he has spoken of, saying that there is but one God, and one faith, and one baptism, that “there is but one hope to which we are called, and that there is but one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is above us all and in us all.” It was very necessary that this should be added, to show that peace will never be good or allowed by God, yea, rather it would be an evil, unless it has a good basis. For what sort of a peace would it be if nowadays we were to join the papists? We should have to forsake the pure doctrine of the gospel and to set up ourselves against God and defile ourselves with all kinds of filthiness and abominations. But it would be better if the whole world were sunk, and we with it, than to seek such a peace. We might just as well be eager to do it with regard to the Turks, for it is only a means to wrap us in destruction and pluck us away from God….
Be that as it may, no peace is commendable but such as joins us together as God reigns over us and we become all one in him, for without that it will be but a curse. And so you see why St. Paul calls us back here to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ, to baptism and to the faith of the gospel, to show how we ought to be of one accord.
Now then, we have here two points to bear in mind. One is that in seeking union with men we must always have our eye upon God, and when we are come to it, we must be settled in it more and more…. Now in general it is true that peace is to be desired, and that the very name of it is held in esteem among men. But yet for all that, we must not so shroud ourselves under the shadow of peace that we separate ourselves from God, that in the end we make war against him, and he proclaims us to be his enemies. And for that reason it is said that we must be at continual war with the wicked. For since they serve Satan, they will not cease to fight against God and our salvation. And therefore we must not be cold and negligent in that respect, but zealous in setting ourselves against them. Even though they are in honor and credit, yet let us abhor them, as it is said in the psalm, let them be to us as stinking and abominable things, full of filth and uncleanness….
Now then, if we are joined together in God, let us follow the rule given us here, that is to say, to be so abased in ourselves that the world may perceive by our mildness, that there is no more presumption in us to divide us. And as kindheartedness brings patience, so let us also condemn men’s vices, and yet labor always to draw the parties to God and to win them to him, rather than to embitter them.
But now let us come to the words set down here by St. Paul. He says that “we are one body and one spirit, as we are called in one hope of our calling.” In the first place he shows us upon what condition we are called by God, that is to say, that there should be such a union among us as might show that we are in very deed the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. For it is not enough for us to be piled up together like a heap of stones, but we must be joined together with cordial affection. And just as it is said that there was one heart and one mind among the faithful in the primitive church [Acts 4:32], so must the same appear among us too at this day. St. Paul then, in telling us that we are one spirit and one body, meant that we are made, as it were, all one man in Jesus Christ. For Jesus Christ can well find in his heart to communicate his name to all the company of the faithful, and that is in order to draw us the more to the said affection of walking together in concord and brotherly love, even with such union that we may be more than brethren, that is to say, joined together as the fingers of a hand,…
Now St. Paul, to stir us up the better, shows us that we are called to an inheritance. In saying so, he shows that there is a much holier union between us than there is between the natural brothers of this world. For although they are born of one father and one mother, so that they are only one blood, yet nevertheless, every man soon begins to look after his own affairs, and the inheritance is parted among them, so that the brethren seem to be separated, and the natural bond that was among them before to be half broken. But we have an inheritance that cannot be divided up. It is not a question of saying, I have that which belongs to me, I will get me away, and I will stand aloof. For what is our inheritance? It is God himself—and, moreover, the heavenly life which is purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and into which he himself is gone before us, to gather us there to him…. Were this thoroughly imprinted in our hearts, surely there would be another kind of friendship and brotherliness among us than there is, and men would see another kind of meekness, mildness, and patience.
But if we have so far been ill advised, yet it is much better to take instruction late than never. Wherefore, let us learn from this doctrine of St. Paul’s that whenever we are provoked to displeasure so that we seem to have reason to reject one, to leave another, and to separate ourselves from this one or that one, we must understand that we all have one hope of the kingdom of heaven, and that Jesus Christ, who is our Head, calls all of us to himself, and sets this condition before us, without which we cannot come to him, namely, that we must show truly and by our deeds that we count all such as are partakers of the gospel with us, as our brethren and as though they were our own flesh and blood, joined together as the fingers of the hand, as I said before.
And next St. Paul, proceeding with the same doctrine, says, “there is but one Lord.” It is certain that by this he means one God, who has sovereign dominion over us, and is our master to keep us in unity, because he cannot suffer us to be divided. In the twelfth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians [v. 6], St. Paul says that there is but one God, to show that service which we owe to God, specially for granting his gifts with which to edify his church. But his attributing of sovereignty to God in this passage is to make us understand that we cannot serve God unless we are at one and in accord. And why? For although a mortal man is changeable and changes his mind from morning to night, yet he will not have any discord in his house. If there are riots, or if there rises any strife, he cannot endure it. And what shall God do, who is the God of peace, seeing he will have us gather together under him, and tells us that he dwells in our midst, and that we are his house? Do we think we can involve him in our troubles and contentions, our quarrels, violence and outbursts?…
Now he adds that “there is one faith, and one baptism, and one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” His saying that there is one faith is to show that we have one common treasure, even in this world. For he has spoken already of the heritage we hope for and which is assured us in heaven, though it is not manifested to us yet. Now what is the pledge of eternal life but the gospel? And that we have in common together. Seeing that is so, then if the faithful forsake one another’s company, surely the gospel would be as good as torn in pieces…. So now, when he says that there is but one faith, it is surely not to our credit if the gospel is torn into bits and pieces, even to shreds, as they say, when we cannot agree with our brethren, nor bear with them gently and patiently, as was commanded before. That then is what God calls us to.
…Next St. Paul also tells us that there is but one baptism. By baptism we put on Jesus Christ and are joined to him, to be partakers of his life and of all his benefits. Now there is one baptism only, in which the name of Jesus Christ is always invoked, as he is our redeemer…. Seeing then that God so calls us to himself by a visible sign, must it not of necessity be that we are too peevish, like wild and mad beasts, if we do not continue in such unity as he commands?…
By these words of St. Paul, we may see plainly that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are but one God. For if baptism is one in such a way that it serves to bring us to this unity of body and soul, that is to say, to a brotherhood that surpasses all the alliances of the world, what will it be when we come to God, from whom baptism receives all the power it has? And what is God? He is not only the Father, but Jesus Christ is joined with him, and also the Holy Ghost. So then, let us note that there is truly a unity in the essence of God, and that although there is distinction of persons, yet God is neither separated nor divided in himself. And although the Father is named simply God (as St. Paul will speak of him hereafter), that is with reference to distinction and order, and because he is the Head of him who was sent to be the mediator, and the more especially as Jesus Christ humbled himself, and although he possessed equal form with God (as St. Paul says) [Phil. 2:6] and it would have been no robbery for him to have shown himself in such sovereign majesty, yet it was his will to humble himself, and even utterly to empty himself.
But be that as it may, yet we see that baptism leads us straight to God. And by this we see what we have dealt with before, namely, that if our peace and concord is not grounded in God, and unless we are governed by him according to his Word and by the power of his Holy Spirit, there is nothing but loathsomeness in us. But if our hearts are touched by what is said to us here, that is to say, that Jesus Christ has linked us to himself, with the condition that we also should link up with one another, we shall be kept in such concord that the devil shall not be able to gain so much at our hands as to separate us from the flock, but we shall overcome all temptations ; and where there are any vices and infirmities we shall bear with them mildly and patiently and continue in the holy union to which we are daily exhorted by the gospel, and by the common baptism we have received.
Now let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God with acknowledgment of our faults, praying him to make us so to perceive them that we may hate them more and more and run back to him with true repentance to obtain such grace from him that we may withdraw ourselves from all defilements, and by that means learn to be unabashed or undismayed at any assaults of Satan, and be able to overcome them all, with all the obstacles that he can put in our way to turn us out of the path of salvation. That it may please God to grant this grace, not only to us, but also to all people and nations of the earth….