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OL 1-4{In the Epistle to the Colossians, we have a proof of that which other Epistles demonstrate, namely, the blessed way in which our God in His grace turns everything to the good of those that love Him.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Holy Ghost had developed the counsels of God with regard to the Church—its privileges. The Christians of Ephesus had nothing to be reproached with, therefore the Holy Ghost could use the occasion furnished by that faithful flock, to unfold all the privileges which God had ordained for the Church at large, by virtue of its union with Jesus Christ its Head; as well as the individual privileges of the children of God. It was not so with the Colossians. They had in some measure slipped away from this blessed position, and lost the sense of their union with the Head of the body. This union itself, thank God! cannot be lost; but, as a matter of faith, the consciousness of it may. We know this but too well, in the Church of the day we live in. This grievous fault in the Colossians gives occasion, however, to the Spirit of God to develop all the riches and all the perfection which are found in the Head, and in His work; in order to recover the members of the body from their spiritual feebleness, and set them again in the full practical enjoyment of their union with Christ, and in the power of the position gained for them by that union. For us this is abiding instruction with regard to the riches that are in the Head. If the Epistle to the Ephesians delineates the privileges of the body, that to the Colossians reveals the fullness that is in the Head. Thus in that to the Ephesians, the Church is the fullness of Him who filleth all in all, In that to the Colossians, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily. This difference well noted, we may say that the two Epistles have a great resemblance in their general character.
They commence in nearly the same way. Both are written from Rome, while the apostle was a prisoner in that city, and sent by the same messenger, and on the same occasion, as well, probably, as that to Philemon; as the names and salutations give us reason to believe. The address to the Ephesians places them, perhaps, more immediately in connection with God Himself, instead of presenting them as in brotherly communion on earth. They are not called brethren (Eph. 1.1), only saints and faithful in Christ Jesus. Also, in this Epistle, the apostle's heart expands at once in the sense of the blessing enjoyed by the Ephesians. They were blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. For the Colossians there was a hope laid up in heaven.
But let us consider more closely that which is said to the latter. The stream of glorious privileges, of which the apostle speaks (Eph. 1:3-15), is absent here, and the third verse of Col. 1, answers to the sixteenth verse of Eph. 1; only one feels that there is more fullness in the joy of Eph. 1:1616Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; (Ephesians 1:16). Faith in Christ and love to all saints, are found in each exordium, as the occasion of the writer's joy. The subject of his prayer is quite different. In the Ephesians, where he would develop the counsels of God with regard to the Church, he prays that the saints may understand them, as well as the power by means of which they participated in them. Here he prays that their walk may be guided by divine intelligence. But this belongs to another cause, to the point of view from which, in his discourse, he looks at the saints. We have seen that in the Epistle to the Ephesians, he views them as sitting in the heavenlies.
Their inheritance, consequently, is that of all things which are to be gathered together under Christ as Head. Here the inheritance is laid up in heaven; his prayer, therefore, refers to their walk, that it may be in harmony with the object which they had set before them. Not having adhered to the Head, the believers in Colosse were in danger of departing from that object. He prayed, therefore, in view of that heavenly hope. They had heard of this perfect and glorious hope. The Gospel had proclaimed it everywhere. It was this hope of heaven which had produced fruit among men, fruit that was characterized by its heavenly source. Their religion, that which governed their heart in these relationships with God, was heavenly. They were in danger of falling back into the current of ordinances, and of the religious customs of man living in the world, whose religion was in connection with the world in which he dwelt, and not enlightened, not filled with heavenly light. There is nothing but union with Christ which can keep us securely there.
Nevertheless, how precious it is even if we are not at the full height of our calling—to have an object set before our hearts which delivers us from this world, and from the influences which hide God from us. Such is the apostle's object in this Scripture. He directs the eyes of the Colossians to heaven, in order that they may see Christ there, and regain that sense of their union with the Head which they had, in some measure, lost. The ground-work was, however, there; faith in Christ and love to all saints. They only needed union with the Head; which, moreover, could alone maintain them in the heavenly element, above ordinances, above human and earthly religion.
The apostle, in order to raise them up, sets out, as usual, from the point where he found good in the saints to whom he wrote. This heavenly hope had reached them, and had produced fruit. It is this which distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, and in particular from the Jewish system, which—although individuals by grace sighed for heaven—hid God behind the vail, and enveloped the conscience in a series of ordinances at a distance from Him.
Now, based upon this hope, which placed the inner life of the Christians in connection with heaven, the apostle prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of the will of God, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This was very different from commandments and ordinances. It is the fruit of intimate communion with God, of knowledge of his character and of His nature, by virtue of this communion; and although it refers to practical life, it leaves (as belonging to the inner life), ordinances completely behind. The apostle had to begin at this practical end, at Christian life. Perhaps the Colossians did not at first understand the bearing of these instructions, but they contained a principle which, already planted in their heart, and capable of being re-awakened, led them to the point which the apostle aimed at, and was at the same time a very precious privilege, the value of which they were in a position to apprehend. Such is charity. The apostle develops their privileges in this respect with force and clearness, as one to whom such a walk was well known, and, moreover, with the power of the Spirit of God.
The first principle of this practical heavenly life was the knowledge of the will of God—to be filled with it, not to run after it as a thing without us, but to be filled with it, by a principle of intelligence which comes from Him, and which forms the understanding and the wisdom of the Christian himself. The character of God was livingly translated in the appreciation of everything that the Christian did. Thus he walked worthy of the Lord, he knew what became Him, and walked accordingly, that he might please Him in all things; bearing fruit in every good work, and growing up into the knowledge of God. It was not, then, only the character of life, this life was productive; it bore fruit, and, as life, grew up into increasing knowledge of God. But this connection with God brought in another very precious consideration. Besides the character and the living energy which are in relationship with this knowledge, the strength of God was developed in it also. They drew strength from God. He gave it that they might walk thus. "Strengthened," he says of the Christian, "with all might, according to the power of His glory." Such was the measure of the Christian's strength for a life in harmony with the character of God. Thus the character of this life was revealed in the heavenly glory on high—in Jesus Christ. On earth its manifestation—as it had been in Jesus Christ—was realized in all patience and long-suffering with joy, in the midst of the sorrows and afflictions of the life of God in this world.
And here the apostle connects this life of endurance with that which is its source, its aim, and its present possession by faith. Walking thus, we are full of joy, and we give thanks to the Father who has made us meet to share the portion of the saints in light. Here are the saints established in their proper relationship with God (their Father) in heaven in the light; that which God is, and in which He dwells.
The means employed, and the practical character of the work which set us in the light, are then presented.
The Father has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transported us into the kingdom of the Son of his love. It is not a Jewish rule for a man; it is an operation of the power of God, who treats us as altogether by nature the slaves of Satan and of darkness; and places us, by an act of that power, in an entirely new relationship with Himself. We see, indeed, here, if we examine the principles in their origin, the same thing as in Eph. 1:4,54According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Ephesians 1:4‑5), and 2:1-6, as to our position before God. But it is evident, that the fullness and definiteness of an acquired position are wanting. "The inheritance of the saints in light," " the kingdom of this Son of His love," remind us of Eph. 1:4;54According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:4) but there is not the development of a position with which one is familiar, as standing in it. The power and the love of the Father place us in it, and although the character of God is necessarily there as Light and Love, according to His relationship to His Son, yet what we have here is not our own relationship with God Himself, outside the question of whence he took us, but the work in general which places us there, in contrast with our previous position. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son; we have part in the inheritance of the saints in light: but where is the saint " without blame before Him in love"-where our relationship to Him, according to the counsels of Him who saw only the good which He purposed in His own heart—where the "children unto Himself by Jesus Christ," through His eternal predestination? In Ephesians, deliverance is brought in as a consequence of the position in which the heirs, the objects of the eternal counsels of God, are found. Here deliverance is the chief subject. How dangerous and disastrous it is to depart from the Head; and to lose the full consciousness in the light, of our union with Him. How perfect and precious is that grace which adapts itself to our condition in order to bring us back again, and to make us enjoy—according to the power and grace of God—the inestimable position which he has given us in Christ.
The means which the Spirit here employs to accomplish this work of grace, is the development of the glory of the Lord, of the Son of His love.
Here alone, I believe, is the kingdom called the kingdom of the Son; and I think, it is only as introducing His person as the center of everything. It is, indeed, His kingdom; and in order that we may apprehend the character of this kingdom as it is now for us, and our nearness to God as having part in it, it is called the kingdom of the Son of His love. It is this which is the present foundation and characteristic of the relationship with God of those who are truly its members. As the kingdom of the Son of Man, it is His manifestation hereafter in glory and in government. Here it is characterized by the relationship of the Son Himself to the Father, in His person, with the addition of that which gives us a full title to share it: redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
The apostle, having thus introduced the Son in His relationship to the Father, as the central and mighty object which was to attract the heart of the Colossians, and set them free from the yoke of ordinances, sketches now the different parts of the glory of that Person. If, therefore, the Church's own glory is wanting, that of Jesus is so much the rather set in stronger relief before us. Thus God brings good out of evil, and in every way feeds His beloved Church.
The Lord is the image of the invisible God. It is in the Son of His love that we see what God is (compare John 1:1818No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18); and also 1 John 1:22(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (1 John 1:2)). This is the first character of His personal glory, the essential center of all the rest. Now, in consequence of this proper character of His person, He takes, by right, the position of representing God in the creation. Adam was created in some sort the image of God, and placed as center in a creation that was subjected to Him. But, after all, he was only a figure of the Christ, of Him who was to come. The Son, in His very person, in His nature (and for us as in the bosom of the Father) is He who makes God known, because He presents Him in His own person, and in a full revelation of His being and of His character, before men, and in the whole universe; for all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him. Nevertheless, He is a man. He is thus seen of angels. We have seen Him with our eyes or by faith. Thus He is the image of the invisible God. The perfect character and living presentation of the invisible God have been seen in Him. Wondrous truth for us with regard to the person of our Savior! But then what place can He have in creation when He has come into it according to the eternal counsels of God? He could have but one, namely, that of supremacy, without contestation and without controversy.
He is the first-born of all creation: this is a relative name, not one of date with regard to time. It is said of Solomon, " I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth." Thus the Creator, when He takes a place in creation, is necessarily its Head. He has not yet made good His rights, because, in grace, He would accomplish redemption. We are speaking of His rights-rights which faith recognizes. He is then the image of the invisible God, and the first-born of all creation when He takes His place in it. The reason of this is worthy of our attention-simple, yet marvelous: He created it. It was in the person of the Son that God acted, when by His power He created all things, whether in heaven or in the earth, visible and invisible. All that is great and exalted is but the work of His hand; all has been created by Him (the Son) and for Him. Thus, when He takes possession of it, He takes it as His inheritance by right. Wonderful truth, that He who has redeemed us, who made Himself man, one of us, in order to do so, is the Creator! But such is the truth. In connection with this admirable truth, it was a part of God's counsels that man should have dominion over all the works of His hands. Thus Christ, as man, has it by right, and will take possession of it in fact. This part of the truth of which we are speaking, is treated in Heb. 2 we shall consider it in its place. I introduce it here merely that we may understand the circumstances under which the Son takes possession. The Spirit speaks of the One who is man, but the One who is at the same time Creator of all things, the Son of God. They were created by Him, they were necessarily then created also for Him. Thus we have, hitherto, the glory of the person of Christ, and His glory in creation connected with His person. In Him is seen the image of the invisible God. He has created all things, all is for Him, and He is the first-born of all that is created.
Another category of glory, another supremacy is now presented. He takes a special place in relation to the Church in the power of resurrection. It is the introduction of divine power, not in creation but in the empire of death; in order that others may participate in His glory, by redemption, and by the power of life in Him. The first glory was, so to speak, natural-the latter special and acquired (although in virtue of the glory of His person) by undergoing death, and all the power of the enemy. Accordingly it is connected, as we have just said, with redemption, and with the introduction of others into the participation of the same privileges. He is the Head of the body which is the Church, the Beginning, the First-born from among the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. He is the First-born of creation, He is the Firstborn, according to the power of resurrection, in this new order of things after which man is predestined to an entirely new position, gained by redemption; and in which he participates in the glory of God (as far as that which is created can do so), and that by participating in divine life in Jesus Christ the Son of God, and everlasting life; and, as regards the Church, as members of His body. He is the First-born of creation, the First-born from among the dead; the Creator, and the conqueror of death and the enemy's power. These are the two spheres of the display of the glory of God. The special position of the Church, the body of Christ, forms a part of the latter. He must have this resurrection-glory, this universal pre-eminence and superiority also, as being man, for all fullness (namely, of the Godhead, see 2:9) was pleased to dwell in Him. What place could He have except that of first in all things. But, before speaking of that which follows, some important remarks are yet to be made on that which we have been considering.
The Son is here presented to us as Creator: not to the exclusion of the Father's power, nor of the operation of the Spirit. They are one; but it is the Son who is here set before us. In John 1 it is the Word who creates all things. Here, and in Heb. 1, it is under the name of Son that He, who is also the Word, is revealed to us. He is the Word of God, the expression of His thought and of His power. It is by Him that God works and reveals Himself. He is also the Son of God; and, in particular, the Son of the Father. He reveals God, and he who has seen Him has seen the Father. Inasmuch as, born in this world by the operation of God through the Holy Ghost, He is the Son of God (Luke 1:3535And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35); Psa. 2:77I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (Psalm 2:7)). But that is in time, when creation is already the scene of the manifestation of the ways and counsels of God. But the Son is also the name of the proper relationship of His glorious person to the Father, before the world was. It is in this character that He created all things. The Son is to be glorified even as the Father. If He humble Himself, as He did, for us, all things are put into His hands, in order that His glory shall be manifested in the same nature in the assumption of which He humbled Himself. And already the power of life and of God in Him is manifested by the resurrection, so that He is declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection. That is the proof of it.
In the Epistle to the Colossians that which is set before us is the proper glory of His person as the Son, before the world was. He is the Creator as Son. It is important to observe this. But the persons are not separated in their manifestation. If the Son wrought miracles on earth, He cast out devils by the Spirit; and the Father who dwelt in Him (Christ) did the works. Also it must be remembered that that which is said, is said when He was manifested in the flesh, of His complete person, man upon earth. Not that we do not in our minds separate between the divinity and the humanity; but even in separating them we think of the one person with regard to whom we do so. We say, Christ is God, Christ is man, but it is Christ who is the two. I do not say this theologically, but to draw the reader's attention to the remarkable expression, " All the fullness was pleased to dwell in Him." All the fullness of the Godhead was found in Christ. The Gnostics, who in later years so much harassed the Church, used this word " fullness " in a mystical and peculiar sense, for the sum and source; and yet, after all, in the sense of a locality (for it had an epos, limits which separated it from everything else) of divinity which developed itself in four pairs of beings-syzygies-of which Christ was only one of a pair. It is not necessary to go farther into their reveries, except to observe that, with different shades of thought, they attributed creation to a god, either inferior or evil, who also was the author of the Old Testament. Matter, they said, did not proceed from the supreme God. They did not eat meat; they did not marry: at the same time they gave themselves up to all sorts of horrors and dissoluteness; and, strange to say, associated themselves with Judaism, worshipped angels, etc.
The apostle was often in conflict with these tools of Satan. Peter also mentions them. Here Paul sets forth, by the Word of God, the whole fullness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Far from being something inferior, an emanation, or having a place, however exalted, in those endless genealogies, all the fullness itself dwelt in Him. Glorious truth, with regard to the person of the Lord our Savior! We may leave all the foolish imaginations of man in the shade, in order to enjoy the perfect light of this glorious fullness of God in our Head and Lord. All the fullness was in Him. We know, indeed, the Father-but revealed by Him. We possess indeed, the Spirit-but the fullness of the Spirit was in Him; and because, having accomplished our redemption and our purification, He then received that Spirit for us. And God Himself, in all his fullness, was revealed, without any reservation, in the person of Christ: and this Christ is ours, our Savior, our Lord. He has been manifested to us and for us. What a glorious truth for us!
It is for His own glory, no doubt, that He should be known as He is, as love; but it is not the less true that this revelation was in connection with us. It is not only the Son revealing the Father, sweet and precious as that fact is. It is the fullness of the Godhead, as such, that is revealed and shown forth in Christ. It was the good pleasure of the fullness to dwell there.
But Christ was not only the Head of creation in virtue of the divine glory of His person, and the Bead of the Church as risen from among the dead and victorious over the power of the enemy. Creation, and all those who were to form the Church, were alike far from God; and the latter were so even in their will. To be in relationship with God they must be reconciled to Him. This is the second part of the glory of Christ. Not only was it the good pleasure of the fullness of the Godhead to dwell in Him, but by Him to reconcile all things to itself, having made peace by the blood of the Cross. This reconciliation of things in Heaven as well as on the earth, is not yet accomplished. Peace is indeed made by the blood, but the power has not yet conic in, to bring back the whole into actual relationship with God, according to the value of that blood.
Thus, in Israel, the blood was put upon the mercy-seat, and expiation, peace, was made; but besides this, everything was sprinkled, and the sins of the people were confessed. This, with regard to Israel and to creation, has not yet been done. As to that which is outward, it remains still at a distance from God, although peace is made. We know that it is the good pleasure of God to reconcile all things in heaven, and on the earth, by virtue of this blood. All things shall be restored to order under a new rule. The guilty, remaining in their sins, will be outside this scene of blessing; but heaven and earth will be completely freed from the power of evil, and even from its presence, as regards its manifestation—still later, absolutely from its presence itself, according to the virtue of that blood which has separated between good and evil, after the character of God Himself, and so glorified God that peace is made. God can act freely for blessing; but here the work is two-fold, like the glory of the person of Christ, and refers to the same objects as His glory. It is in the counsels of God to reconcile unto Himself all things in heaven and on the earth, through Christ. But Christians He has already reconciled. Once, not only defiled, like the creature, but enemies in their minds,—He has already reconciled them by the body of His flesh, by means of death. The perfect work which Christ accomplished in His body, blotting out sin for us, and perfectly glorifying God His Father, has brought us into relationship with God in His holiness, according to the efficacy of that work; that is to say, it is efficacious to present us, perfectly reconciled, holy, without blemish, and without blame, before His face: always supposing that we continue steadfast in the faith unto the end.
The position of the Colossians gave room for this warning. We have seen that they had a little departed from the realization of their union with Christ.
It will be noticed, also, that the apostle speaks of his Gospel as spread abroad in all the world. Grace had overstepped the narrow limits of Judaism and the expectation of the Messiah, in order to make known the testimony of the perfect love of God in the whole creation under heaven, of which Paul was the instrument, as the apostle of the Gentiles.
Hitherto, then, the Spirit of God has set before us the two pre-eminences of Christ, that over creation and that over the Church, and the two reconciliations which answer to them, namely, 1st, that of the things over which Christ is set, as Head, namely, of all things in heaven and earth; and 2nd, that of Christians themselves. The latter already accomplished, the former yet to come. The ministry of the apostle has now the same double character. He has not, undoubtedly, to preach in heaven; but his ministry is exercised in every place under heaven where there is a soul to hearken. He is a minister of that Gospel, and then he is a minister to the Church, and preaches its true position and its privileges (ver. 23, 25). By this last instruction he completed the Word of God: an important principle with regard to the exclusive authority of the written Word, which shows the spiritual man that its totality already exists, demonstrated by the subjects which it comprises- subjects which are entirely completed, to the exclusion of others which people may seek to introduce. The circle of truths which God had to treat, in order to reveal to us the glory of Christ, and to give us complete instruction according to His wisdom, is entire when the doctrine of the Church is revealed. There were no others to be added.
But this doctrine in particular exposed the apostle to persecutions and sufferings, which the Jews especially and the enemy sought in every way to inflict upon him. But he rejoiced in it as a privilege, because Christ had suffered on account of His love for the Church-for His own. The apostle speaks here not of the efficacy of His death, but of the love which led Him to suffer. Looked at in this point of view, the apostle could participate in His sufferings, and we also in our little measure; but the apostle in a peculiar manner, as the special witness-bearer to this truth. If Christ had been content to accept the position of Messiah according to man, He would have been well received. If Paul had preached circumcision, the offense of the Cross would have ceased; man could have taken part in the religion of God. But if God is revealed-if His grace extends to the Gentiles—if, by this grace, and without having respect to the Jew more than to the Gentile, He forms a Church, which is the body of Christ, sharing the heavenly glory of His Son—this is what the flesh cannot endure. To be thus shut out, as nothing worth before God, even in its religion, take what pains it might,—this is unbearable. This is the source of the enmity of the Judaizing spirit, which is founded on the flesh, on man, and which is constantly reappearing in the apostle's history, whether as exciting the hatred of the heathen, or as corrupting the doctrine of Christ and the simplicity of the Gospel.
Thus we have a double ministry, as well as a double pre-eminence of Christ and a double reconciliation; and each having a similar relationship the one to the other. Christ, the Head of all things in heaven and earth-the Head of the Church: all things in heaven and earth are to be reconciled; Christians are reconciled. Paul exercises his ministry in the whole creation under heaven; he is the minister of the Church. Naturally, his ministry was limited to the earth. In every respect, the extent and bearing of the glory of Christ, and of the ministry, went beyond the limits of Judaism, and were in contrast with the whole system.
The apostle then insists on the second part of his ministry, of which he had been just speaking; dwelling, however, particularly on that which met the need of the Colossians, and developing it in order to bring back their hearts to the enjoyment of the whole circle of these precious truths. He completed the Word of God by announcing this mystery, which had been hidden from all ages and generations, but was now manifested to the saints. No display of the ways of God since the Creation had (in the truths on which it was founded, in the revelation of God—of His power, or of His thoughts, which formed its basis and gave it its character) contained this mystery of the Church. It had not been communicated to any of those who formed part of the system which preceded it, or who were the medium of light to others, as instruments of the revelation of the light of God. Angels, men, Israel, the prophets—all were alike in ignorance of it. The Church (this body united to the Son of God become man and glorified) was hidden from them all.
Now that Christ the Head of the Church, the Head of the body, was glorified, the mystery of this body was made known. The apostle here dwells on one particular side of this subject, which, after the person of Christ, forms the center of all God's ways. This side is, Christ in us, the hope of glory. In fact, it was in every way a new thought, a new truth. That which was known was a Messiah who should be manifested among the Jews, the accomplishment of glory in their midst; the Gentiles, at most, having part in it, as subordinate to the people of God. But according to the doctrine of the Church, Christ invisibly dwelt in the midst of the Gentiles, and even in them; and as to the glory, He was only the hope of it. A Christ dwelling in the heart of men, and of men formerly rejected and outside the promises, and filling their heart with joy and glory in the consciousness of union with Himself; this was the wondrous mystery prepared of God for the blessing of the Gentiles. It was this Christ, a Christ such as this, whom Paul preached, warning every man, and teaching every one according to the full development of the wisdom of God, which wrought mightily in the apostle by the Spirit, in order that he might present every man in a spiritual state answering to this revelation of Christ, as being also its fruit. Not that every man would receive it; but there was no longer any limit. All distinction between them was blotted out alike by sin and by grace, and there was but one thing to do, i.e., to seek that every man, by the power of the "Word and the Spirit, should reflect Christ and grow up unto the stature of His fullness, as revealed in the doctrine committed to the apostle. He labored for this according to the working of Christ in him; for Christ was not only the object, but the power that wrought, to form souls after His own image.
Now this power wrought in the apostle's weakness; in a human heart, that felt the necessities of men and the difficulties that occurred by the way -that felt them as a man, although according to God. He desired that the Colossians should understand the conflict he had for them, and for all those who had never seen him, in order that they might be encouraged, and be thoroughly united in love; so that they might understand, in all the riches of a full assurance, the mystery of God.
The apostle felt that it was this which they needed, and which would be a blessing to them. He knew that union with Christ, realized in the heart, was a safeguard from the wiles of the enemy, to which the Colossians were exposed. He knew the unutterable value of this union, and even of its realization by faith. He labored, he wrestled in prayer,- for it is, indeed, a conflict,- in order that the full sense of this union with the glorious Head might be wrought in their hearts, so that the Christ on high should be in them by faith. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were in the Head. They had not to seek elsewhere. Science, falsely so called, might pretend to furnish them with heights, to which the simplicity of the doctrines of Christ did not reach; but, in fact, the wisdom of God and the depth of His counsels left these cloudy efforts of the human mind at an infinite distance. Moreover, they were truth -reality-instead of being but the creatures of imagination, inspired by the enemy.
For this reason, the apostle had brought forward these marvelous revelations of God respecting the double glory of Christ; and, with regard to His person, he declared them, in order that no one should beguile the Colossians with enticing words. He avails himself of the order that existed among them, and of their faith, to guard them against the danger they were in from these thoughts, which might glide unperceived into their minds, while all was yet going on well, and the consciousness of their faith was not touched. This often happens: people have faith in Christ, they walk well, they do not perceive that certain ideas overthrow that faith; they admit them, while still maintaining the profession of faith together with these ideas; but the force of the truth and the sense of union with Christ are lost. The enemy has so far attained his end, That which is received is not the development of Christ, but something outside Him. Therefore the apostle says, " As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him; rooted and built up in Him, and confirmed in the faith, even as you have been taught." When we have received Christ, all the rest is but a development of that which He is, and of the glory which the counsels of God have connected with His person. Knowledge, or pretended knowledge outside this, does but turn us away from Him, withdraw Our hearts from the influence of His glory, throw us into that which is false, and lead our souls into connection with the creation apart from God, and without possessing the key to his purposes. Thus, since man is incapable of fathoming that which exists, and of explaining it to himself, his efforts to do so cause him to invent a mass of ideas that have no foundation, and to endeavor to fill up the void that is found in his knowledge, through his ignorance of God, by speculations, in which (because he is at a distance from God) Satan plays the chief part without man's suspecting it.
Man is not at the center of the immense system of God's ways. Out of Christ and without Christ, he does not know the center; he speculates without foundation and without end, only to lose himself more and more. His knowledge of good and evil, and the energy of his moral faculties, do but lead him astray the more, because he employs them on higher questions than those which simply relate to physical things; and they produce in him the need of reconciling apparently inconsistent principles, which cannot be reconciled without Christ. Moreover, the tendency of man is always to make himself the center of everything. And this renders everything false.
Christians, then, ought to walk with simplicity in the ways of the Lord, even as they have received Him; and their progress ought to be in the knowledge of Christ, the true center and fullness of all things.
When man occupies himself philosophically with all things, the insufficiency of his own resources always throws him into the hands of an intellectual leader, and into tradition, and, when religion is the subject, into traditions which develop the religion of the flesh, and are united to its powers and its tendencies.
In those days, Judaism had the highest pretensions to this kind of religion, allied itself with human speculations and adopted them, and even pursued them assiduously; offering at the same time proofs of divine origin, which the absence of the coarseness of Pagan mythology rendered credible. This relative purity tended to remove—for enlightened minds that which was disgusting in the Pagan system. The Jewish system had, by the death of Jesus, lost all pretension to be the true worship of God; and was, therefore, suited, by the advantages it offered in the comparative purity of its dogmas, to be an instrument of Satan's in opposing the truth. At all times it was adapted to the flesh, was founded on the elements of this world, because by its means God was proving man in the position man stood in. But now, God was no longer in it; and the Jews, moved by envy, urged the Gentiles to persecution; and Judaism allied itself to Pagan speculations, in order to corrupt and sap the foundations of Christianity, and destroy its testimony. In principle it is always thus. The flesh may appear for a time to despise tradition, but that which is purely intellectual cannot stand in the midst of humanity without something religious. It has not the truth nor the world which belongs to faith, and for an immense majority superstition and tradition are needed; that is to say, a religion which the flesh can lay hold of, and which suits the flesh. God, by His power, may preserve a portion of the truth, or allow the whole to be corrupted, but in either case true Christian position and the doctrine of the Church are lost.
We may, indeed, find philosophy apart from the religion of the flesh, and the latter apart from the former; but in this case, philosophy is impotent and atheistic, the religion of the flesh narrow, legal, superstitious, and, if it can, persecuting.
In our chapter we find philosophy and the emptiness of human wisdom united with the traditions of men, characterized as " the elements of this world," in opposition to Christ; for we have a heavenly Christ who is a perfect contrast to the flesh in man living on earth, a Christ in whom is all wisdom and fullness, and the reality of all that which the law pretended to give, or which it presented in figure; and who is, at the same time, an answer to all our wants. This the apostle develops here; showing death and resurrection with Him as the means of participating in it.
And first, all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily. Instead of the misty speculations of men, we have the fullness of God, bodily and efficaciously, in the person of Jesus Christ. In the second place, we are complete in Him: we need nothing out of Christ. On the one side, we have, in Him, God perfectly presented in all His fullness; on the other side, we possess in Him perfection before God—we are wanting in nothing as to our position before God. What a truth! What a position! God, in His perfect fullness, in Him as man, we in Him before God, in the perfection of what he is; in Him who is head of all principality and power, before which man, in his ignorance, would incline to bend the knee. We are in Him, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, as to His person; in Him, who is above all power and principality as to His position and His rights, as Christ-man exalted on high.
The apostle then enters into some details of application, to demonstrate that the faithful have all in Christ, viewed according to the position which He has taken, without having anything to seek elsewhere here below.
Circumcision, the divine token of the covenant with the Jews, and of the putting off of the flesh which was required in order to form a part of God's people,—had its reality in Him. By the power of the life which is in Him, and which is theirs- being made partakers of the efficacy of His death—Christians account themselves to be dead, and have put off this body of sin, by faith. This is the true circumcision of Christ, made without hands. Circumcision made by hands was but the sign of this putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, which is effected in death to sin and to the flesh—the privilege of the Christian in Christ. Having a new life in Christ, he has efficaciously put off the old man.
We are buried with Christ by baptism (for this is its meaning), in which also we are risen with Him by faith in this operation of the power of God, whereby He was raised from among the dead. Baptism was the sign and expression of this; faith, the means by which is effected in us this marvelous new birth, this happy death, or rather this precious participation in the death of Him who has accomplished all for us. But it is the power of God Himself, as it wrought in Christ, which works in us to give us this new life, which implies -by the very fact of our receiving it—that we are forgiven perfectly and forever. We were under the burden, of our sins, and dead in them. This burden Christ took upon Himself, and died for us. Raised up with Him, inasmuch as partaking of that life which he possesses as risen from the dead, we have—like Him and with Him—left all that burden of sin and condemnation behind us, with the death from which we have been delivered. Therefore He says, " having forgiven you all trespasses."
Christ, when He arose, left death and the weight of condemnation behind Him -we also, being raised up with Him. Naturally, God, in thus raising us up from the state in which we were, has not raised us up to condemn us, or with condemnation attached to this new life, which is Christ Himself. For He had already borne the condemnation, and satisfied the justice of God, and abolished sin by His death, before He communicated this life to us. God brought us out of death and condemnation with Christ.
All the ordinances, likewise, which weighed as an insupportable yoke upon the Jews (and to which they endeavored to bring others into subjection) which put the conscience always under the burden of a service unaccomplished by man, and a righteousness unsatisfied in God—these ordinances were blotted out. In them, the Jew had put his signature, so to speak, to his guiltiness; but the obligation was destroyed, and nailed to the cross of Christ. We receive liberty, as well as life and pardon.
This is not all. There was the strength of principalities and powers against us, the might of spiritual wickedness. Christ has vanquished and despoiled them on the cross, having triumphed over them in it. All that was against us, He has put aside in order to introduce us, entirely delivered from it all, into our new position. It will be seen here, that what the apostle says of the work of Christ, does not go beyond that which He did for our deliverance, in order to set us in the heavenly places. He speaks (ver. 10) of the rights of Christ, but not as sitting in the heavenly places, nor as leading the enemy captive; neither does he speak of us as sitting in Him in the heavenlies. He has done all that is necessary to bring us into them;—but the Colossians had a little lost the sense of the position which was theirs in virtue of their union with Christ, and were in danger of slipping back into the elements of the world and of flesh, of the man dead, not risen with Christ; and the apostle seeks to bring them back to it, by showing them how Christ had accomplished all that was requisite, had taken out of the way all that prevented their attaining it. But he cannot speak of the position itself—they were not consciously in it. In the things of God we cannot comprehend a position without being in it. God may reveal it. God may show us the way to it. The apostle does so here, with regard to the person of Christ, which alone could bring them back to it; and at the same time he develops the efficacy of His work in this respect, in order to set them free from the shackles which kept them back, and to show them that all obstacles had been removed. But, in detail, he has to apply it to the dangers that beset them, rather than to display its glorious results in heaven.
Jewish ordinances were but shadows, Christ is the body. By bringing in angels as objects of homage, and thus putting them between themselves and Christ, they separated themselves from the Head of the body, who was above all principalities. The simplicity of Christian faith held fast the Head, from which the whole body directly drew its nourishment, and thus increased with the increase of God. It looked like humility, thus to bring themselves into relation with angels, as superior and exalted beings who might serve as mediators. But there were two faults of immense importance in this apparent humility. First, it really was thorough pride, this pretension to penetrate into the secrets of heaven, of which they were ignorant. What did they know of any position held by angels, which would make them the objects of such homage? It was pretending to mount up into heaven for and by themselves, and to measure their relations with God's creatures without Christ, and at their own will to connect themselves with them.
Secondly, it was to deny their union with Christ. One with Him, there could be nothing between Him and them; if there were anything, then they were dead, and twice dead. Besides, by this union, they were one with Him who was above the angles. United to Him, they received, as we have seen, a communication through all the members of the body, of the treasures of grace and life which were in the Head. The mutual links between the members of the body itself, were thereby strengthened, and thus the body had its increase.
Two applications of his doctrine follow (2:20), he applies the principle of death to all the ordinances, and to the asceticism which treated the body as a thing vile in itself which ought to be rejected. And (3:3), he uses the resurrection to raise their hearts into a higher sphere, and to bring them back to Christ by looking up.
To make these instructions more plain by showing their connection, we may remark that the apostle points out the double danger, namely, philosophy and human tradition in contrast with Christ (2:3; see vers. 9-15). While identifying us with Christ, he speaks of the bearing of the work of Christ Himself, father than of this identification. In vers. 16-19, he applies it, first (ver. 16) to subjection to ordinances, i.e., to the Jewish side of their danger; and then (ver. 18) to the Gnostic philosophy, science falsely so called, which linked itself with Judaism (or to which Judaism linked itself), reproducing itself under a new form. From ver. 20, the apostle applies our death and resurrection with Christ to the same points, or to the deliverance of the Colossians by raising their thoughts on high.
But the Colossians are not the only ones who may have been in this danger. In the main, these principles have been the ruin of the Church at all times. They are those of the mystery of iniquity, which has so much ripened since then, and produced effects so various, and under such different modifications on account of other principles which have also acted, and under the sovereign providence of God. We shall see the deep, simple and decisive principle which is involved in it in the verses that follow.
The verses already quoted, as far as the 20th, had judged this whole Judeo-philosophic system, from the point of view of Christ's work, of His resurrection, and of union with Him in His heavenly position.
That which follows, judges it after our position. The preceding verses had demonstrated that the system was false; because Christ and His work were such as is declared in them. The passage we are going to consider, shows that this system is absurd, cannot be applied to us, has no possible application, because of our position. On the one hand, it is a false system, null and void in all its parts, if Christ is true, and is in Heaven; and on the other hand, it is an absurd system in its application to us, if we are Christians. And for this reason: it is a system which supposes life in this world, and relationships to be acquired with God, having their foundation in that life, while it pretends to mortify flesh; and yet it addresses itself to persons who are dead. The apostle says, that we are dead to the rudiments of this world, to all the principles on which its life acts; why then, as though we were still living (qy. alive) in it, as though we were still alive in this world, do we subject ourselves to ordinances which have to do with this life, and which suppose its existence: ordinances which apply to things which perish in the use of them, and which have no connection with that which is heavenly and eternal. They have, indeed, a semblance of humility and self-denial as regards the body, but they have no link with Heaven, which is the sphere of the new life- of all its motives, and all its development—and they do not recognize the honor of the creature, as a creature come out of the hand of God, which, as such, has always its place and its honor.
These ordinances had to do with merely corruptible things; were not connected with the new life, but with man living in his life of flesh on the earth, to which life the Christian is morally dead: and as far as regarded this life, they did not recognize the body as a creature of God, as it ought to be recognized.
Thus this system of ordinances had lost Christ, who was their substance; it was connected with the pride that pretended to penetrate Heaven, in order to put itself in relation with beings whom we do not know in such a manner as to have any relations with them -pride which in so doing separated from the Head of the body, Christ; and thus disowned all connection with the source of life, and with the only true position of the soul before God. This system falsified equally our position on earth, by treating us as though living after the old man, while we are dead; and dishonored the creature, as such, instead of recognizing it as coming from the hand of God.
That which was a danger to Christians in the apostle's days, characterizes Christianity at the present time.
The Christian's position was thus set forth; but, in its application, rather to the dangers of Christians than to their heavenly privileges. Thus Grace has provided us with all we need; using every privilege, using the faith of some, giving warnings and instructions above all price, and turning the faults of others to account.
3. Now begin the exhortations, founded on the truth that has been developed, and adapted to the state in which the Colossians were.
Risen with Christ, they were to set their affections on things above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not on things of the earth. The two could not go together. To look, to have one's motives, above and below at the same time, is impossible. Be tempted by things, have to resist them, we may; but this is not to have them as our object. The reason for this is, however, found in our position; we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. It does not say, "we must die." Man cannot do this by will, we cannot deny will by will. If it acts it does not abdicate. We are dead: this is the precious comforting truth with regard to the Christian, by virtue of Christ's having died for him. He has received the life of Christ, and all that Christ did for him in that life, belongs to him. Thus he is dead, because Christ died for him. The life with which the power of temptation, guilt, the attacks of Satan, are connected, exists no longer to faith. By death, all that was connected with it has come to an end. Now that which was connected with the life of the old man was sin, condemnation, weakness, fear powerlessness against the assaults of the enemy—all this is past. We have a life, but it is in Christ—it is hidden with Him in God. It is not yet manifested in its glory, as God will manifest it before the eyes of all in heaven and earth. It is hidden, but safe, in its eternal source. It has the portion of Christ, in whom we possess it. He is hid in God, so also is our life: when Christ shall appear, we shall also appear with Him.
It will be remarked, that the apostle does not speak here of our union with Christ, but of our life; of the fact that we are dead, and that our life is hid with Him in God. He does not speak of the Church with regard to our position; he speaks no doubt, of Christ, as being its Head, as to His personal glory, but not as to us. He speaks of us individually. Each one has his own life, in Christ truly, but as his own, it is not union with other Christians. We have this life in Christ, but it is not here our union as one body with Him. It is the individual character of the Christian, to whom Christ the Head in heaven is everything.
That which is also highly important to observe in connection with this truth is, that in this Epistle there is nothing said of the Holy Ghost. The apostle speaks practically of their love in the Spirit, but in the instruction of the Epistle he does not name Him. Even when he says, " there is neither Jew, nor Greek," &c., it is in the new man, not because we are one in Christ. The individual was to cleave to the Head. He was no longer living in this world; he was dead, and his life hid with Christ in God. But this was for himself; he was to know it, and hold it fast for himself, as necessary truth. that he might be preserved from the wiles of the enemy. In a word, it is life in Christ. Elsewhere we see many of the things which the apostle mentions here, spoken of as the fruit of the Spirit, by which communion and union are maintained; but here it is simply in the nature of the life that these fruits have their source. It is quite natural, consequently, that the compass and the assemblage of all spiritual relationships in one, in Christ, which we find in the divine instruction when the. Holy Ghost is introduced, are wanting here.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, this operation of the Holy Ghost is found every where, and characterizes the whole of that which is developed in communion with the Head, Christ, with whom we are united in one body by the Spirit. Thus we are individually sealed by the Spirit of promise, the earnest of our inheritance;—we all have access to the Father by one Spirit;—we are also builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit;—the union of the Gentiles, in one body, is now revealed by the Spirit; saints are strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man;—there is one body and one Spirit;—we are not to grieve the Spirit;—we are to be filled with Him; the Word itself is the sword of the Spirit. The union of the body with Christ, our resurrection with Him, that we are sitting in the Heavenlies in Him, all that flows from this union, is fully developed; but, at the same time, the Holy Ghost, who unites us. to Him, and unites us all together as one body, and who, here below, characterizes the presence of God in the Church, who acts in us, secures our future and becomes our strength in the present,—the Holy Ghost, I repeat, is found everywhere, to complete the truth, and to give it its present force for us here below.
Many of the exhortations in the Epistle to the Ephesians are nearly the same as those to the Colossians. But in the Epistle to the Ephesians they are connected with the Spirit; in that to the Colossians, with the action of the Word and of grace in the heart. This gives an immense range and a connectedness to the doctrine of the Epistle to the Ephesians, in that which regards our position here below, because it brings in God Himself, and as dwelling in us by the Spirit, and filling us; whether as individuals or in the oneness of the body..
In the Epistle to the Romans, we have (chap. 8) this action and presence of the Holy Ghost presented in a very remarkable way as to the individual. He characterizes us vitally, in the principle of our resurrection, the witness in us that we are children, filling us with joy and with the hope of glory as heirs, the support of our weakness and the source of our petitions, our groans. In the Epistle to the Romans, it is in connection with our personal relationship to God; in that to the Ephesians, as the presence of God in us, in connection with our union to Christ.
There is another thing to be noticed here, which throws light on the purpose of the Holy Ghost in these epistles. The starting point in that to the Ephesians is the counsels of God. Man is looked at as he is, without one pulse of life as regards God; he is dead in trespasses and sins, by nature the child of wrath. God is rich in mercy, He raises him up with Christ, who in grace went down into death, and places him according to His counsels in the same position as that Christ is in. We are His workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus. God is pleased to bring us into His presence, according to His own counsels and His nature. It is not said that we are dead with Christ. Man is not viewed as living in the flesh so that in one way or in another he had to die. That was not necessary. The Ephesians were able to apprehend, on the one hand, the full contrast between God and man, according to His counsels; and on the other, man's sinful state according to nature. In their epistle all is the work of God Himself, according to the original purpose of His own heart, of His nature, and of His will: man is already dead.
The Colossians were inclined to subject themselves to ordinances, and thereby were in a position to consider man as living in the world; and the apostle makes them feel that we are dead with Christ. He was obliged, in grace, to follow them where they were, and (sad necessity!) to take man into consideration as living on the earth; in order, nevertheless, to show that the Christian was already dead with Christ.
In the letter to the Ephesians, man is not said to die with Christ. He is dead in his sins when God begins to act towards him. No man is alive to God. The Christian is quickened together with Christ.
This, however, has its value for us all, and a great value, because the life, the new nature, and grace working in it, are much less brought forward in the Epistle to the Ephesians; where the subject is the energy of God, who fills the believer, and the Church here, with the nature and the character of the new man, and thereby of Christ. One might suppose that there was only the Holy Ghost acting in the fullness of His power, and filling the individual and the Church. But in this Epistle to the Colossians, we find that there is a new nature, an intrinsic change, not of the flesh, but of the man. A source of tastes, of sentiments, of desires, of arguments, and of moral capacities, which are in connection with the very nature of God who has caused it to spring up in the heart: that this source is a life, which needs that the Holy Ghost should reveal to it the objects that are suited to it, and that awaken these tastes and feelings, that satisfy them and cause them to grow. It needs that the Spirit of God should act in it, to give it strength; but it is a real life, a nature, which has its tastes attached to its very existence; which, being enlightened by the Holy Ghost, is conscious of its own existence; and in which we are the children of God, being born of Him.
Neither is it unimportant that we should learn, with regard to the life of the flesh, and when thinking of it, although it be on the negative side, that we are dead; that God recognizes nothing belonging to the old man; that He takes pleasure in a new nature which is, indeed, ours by grace; but which is of God Himself, and which is the moral reflection of His own.
We are dead then, and our life is hid with Christ in God. We have members on earth—no recognized life—and we have to put to death all these members of the old man. The Christian has to deny them practically, as belonging to the old man, while his life is there where Christ is. They bring down the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Christians walked in these things when they had their life in them; but this is no longer the case; and they deny not only gross sins, but all the workings of an unbroken will and an unsubdued heart, every indication of the actings of the will of that nature which knows not God, and is not ruled by His fear. Truth reigns in the heart which has put off the old man, according to the simplicity of the new man, which is renewed also in knowledge after the image of Him who created it. The new man walks in the light. It is not only that there is a conscience which judges good and evil according to that which man ought to be, according to his nature as a responsible being; there is a new man who judges the old man altogether.
Before Christianity, which is the full revelation of God, there were, indeed, as need not be said, souls born anew; but their rule, when a rule was definitely given, was man's responsibility (whatever piety and grace might inspire), and the law which was the perfect mea- sure of that which man, as a being responsible to God, ought to be. Saints, then, did not distinguish between a new and an old man, although of necessity they thoroughly had the conscience of the old man and the tastes of the new. The sense, for instance, of the evil of falsehood, had not at all the same place as with the Christian. Now, the new man is renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him who created him. God Himself, in His nature, is the standard of good and evil, because the new man has the knowledge of what that nature is—he is made a partaker of it, and he has the light of God. It is an intelligent participation, by grace, in the nature of God, which is the marvelous and precious privilege of the Christian. God works in this nature; but by communicating it, He has placed man in this position. Christ is the perfect model of this image, the type of the new man.
Other differences have disappeared: there remains but the old man, which we only acknowledge as dead, and the new man. To the latter, Christ is all, and in all believers; so that there is none but He whom they see and whom they acknowledge. They put on, therefore, as such, elect, holy, beloved (Christ being their life), the character of Christ, mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another if offense has been given, even as Christ has done to us. Finally, they put on love, the bond of perfectness, that which gives a divine character to all the qualities that have been enumerated, and that were manifested in Christ.
Several of these qualities may be resembled by things in nature, but the energy, the features, the bond of divine love, which acts in the sense of communion with God, is totally wanting in the latter; and this gives a character, a completeness, a righteousness of application, a perfection, a propriety, and an energy, to the manifestation of these qualities, which love alone can give. For it is, indeed, God Himself who is there, acting in His nature which He has imparted to us. For he who dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him. With regard to the state of the soul, there is a crown to this walk, wherewith they who follow it constantly are adorned. The peace of God reigns in the heart, that sweet and ineffable peace which nothing can disturb, even as nothing can disturb the nature of God Himself, of which it is the sovereign expression. God has also called us to this: He is the God of peace. And here the apostle introduces the oneness of the body, not as to its privileges in Christ, but as to the fact that Christians are called to be together in the unity of which peace is the seal and the bond. And then there will be thanksgiving, for the soul is conscious of the love and the activity of God, and everything flows to it from that love.
But besides peace and thanksgiving towards God, there is an energy that applies to that which surrounds us. These are the two parts of Christian life—the, enjoyment of God and of that which is in His presence, and the responsible activity of the soul with regard to others. Nevertheless, when the latter is real, it is the joyful liberty of a nature that is itself in health, the activity of love that is natural to it, and which receives its energy from communion with God, according to His nature. The Word of Christ is here the rule, and the active and directing power, because it is the expression of that nature, and of its active energy in Him.
The Apostle, therefore, exhorts that the Word of Christ may dwell in them richly. This is the development, according to the perfection of God, of the new man, and the wisdom of God to direct him. Paul desires that Christians may fully realize this. It is by communion with the Lord, holding intercourse with Him, that it is done. But, in this case, it is not only wisdom that we learn, and that is displayed in us, but affections in connection with Him in whom we have found this wisdom, so that these expressions of the life of Christ, as true wisdom in the world, find their voice in our hearts in praise, in thanksgivings, in singing His excellency. All the intimate affections in which spiritual life develops itself, express themselves, and edify and instruct souls, because they flow from Christ, and are the expression of the soul's connection with Him, and of the feelings it produces in the heart. Christ, in His person, in the consciousness of His presence, as the object of our thoughts, and in the moral fruits proceeding thence, sustains the intercourse and the communications of the soul that is occupied with His praises.
But this consciousness of relationship with Christ, in the life which is of Him in us, applies to everything. Nothing is done without him. If He is the life, all which that life does has Him for its end and object, as far as the heart is concerned. He is present as that which gives its character to our actions, and which pre-occupies the heart in performing them. Everything relates to Him, we do not eat without Him, how can we when He is our very life? we do not drink without Him; what we say, what we do, is said and done in the name of the Lord Jesus. The sense of His presence, the consciousness that everything relates to Him, that we can do nothing-unless carnally-without Him, because the life which we have of Him, acts with Him and in Him, does not separate from Him, and has Him for its aim in all things, even as water rises to the height from which it descended. This is what characterizes the life of the Christian. And what a life! Through Him, dwelling in the consciousness of Divine love, we give thanks to our God and Father.
Observe, here, that the Christian life is not only characterized by certain subjective qualities which flow from Christ, but by its having Christ Himself for the aim and object of the heart and mind, in all that we do in every respect. Christ personally reigns in, and is present to the heart in everything.
To the inexperienced eye of man, nature is often confounded with grace; but the intelligent consciousness of Christ as the heart's object, of His presence, of the seal of His approval when one thinks of Him, cannot be confounded with anything. There is nothing that resembles it, nothing that can appear to take its place. When He reveals Himself to this heart, and the heart walks with Him, and communes with Him in all things, and seeks only the light of His countenance, the seal of His favor on the soul in all things, then He is known, well known. There is none but He who thus communicates Himself to the soul when it walks in the way of His will, as expressed in the Word.
After these great and important principles, the apostle enters into the diverse relationships of life, giving warnings against that which would endanger them, by showing what the Christian character of each one of them is.
To the wife, obedience-affection was natural to her" Thy desire shall be to thy husband." To the husband, affection and kindness-his heart may be indifferent and hard. Children are to be obedient; fathers, gentle, in order that the children's affections may not be estranged from them, and that they may not be induced to seek that happiness in the world, which they ought to find in the- sanctuary of the domestic circle, which God has formed as a safeguard for those who are growing up in weakness; the precious home (if Christ is acknowledged) of kind affections, in which the heart is trained in the ties which God Himself has formed; and, which, by cherishing the affections, preserves from the passions and from self-will; and which, where its strength is rightly developed, has a power that, in spite of sin and disorder, awakens the conscience, and engages the heart, keeping it away from evil and the direct power of Satan For it is God's appointment.
I know, indeed, that another power is required to deliver the heart from sin, and to keep it from sin. Nature-even as God created it-does not give eternal life, does not restore innocence, does not purify the conscience. We may, by the energy of the Spirit, consecrate ourselves to God outside these relationships,-break them, even, if God should call us by more powerful obligations, as Christ teaches us in the Gospel. The rights of Christ over man, lost by sin, are sovereign, absolute, and complete. He has redeemed him, and the redeemed one is no longer his own, but belongs to Him who gave Himself for him. Where relationships exist, sin has perverted everything, and corrupted the will; passions come in. But the relationships themselves are of God; woe to him who despises them as such. If grace has wrought and the new life exists, it acknowledges that which. God has formed. It well knows that there is no good in man, it knows that sin has marred everything, but that which sin has marred, is not itself sin. And where these relationships exist, the renunciation of self-will, death to sin, the bringing in of Christ, the operation of life in Him, restore their power; and if they cannot give back the character of innocence, lost forever, can make them a scene of the operations of grace, in Which meekness, tenderness, mutual help, and self-denial, in the midst of the difficulties and sorrows which sin has introduced, lend them a charm and a depth, (even as Christ did in every relationship) which innocence itself could not have presented. It is grace, acting in the life of Christ in us, which develops itself in them.
To be without natural affection is a sign of hopeless apostasy and estrangement from God, of the complete selfishness of the last days.
I am not drawing a false picture, or speaking poetically, as though the bright side were all; I only say that God has formed these relationships, and that whosoever fears God, will respect them. Grace is requisite: they give occasion, through their intimacy itself, to all that is most painful, if grace does not act in them. The apostle warns us here of this danger. If the Lord is the bond in them, if our still closer union with Him forms the strength of our natural relationships, then grace reigns here as elsewhere; and, to those who stand in these relationships, they become a scene for the lovely display of the life of Christ.
It will be observed how the apostle, consequently, introduces Christ into them, and especially in regard to those who are subject in them, wives and children; in order to sanctify, by so exalted a motive, the obedience suited to their position. He does this still more where the tie is not of nature, but one which sin has formed, that between slaves and their masters. Grace does not set itself to change the state of the world and of society, but to lead souls to heaven by renewing them after the image of God. I doubt not that it has very much altered for the better the social condition of man, because through bringing the conscience immediately before the only true God, whom it has revealed in His own perfections, and establishing by its authority that of the natural relationships in the human family, grace has wrought upon that conscience even where the heart was not converted, and has furnished it with a rule in that which regards morality. But Christianity, as to its own doctrine, treats the world as alienated from God, and lying in evil; man, as the child of wrath, and lost.
Christ, the Son of God-who if He had been received could have put all things right, and who will hereafter by His kingdom establish righteousness and peace-was rejected by the world, and the friendship of the world is enmity against God. The state of man is treated in the gospel in a deeper way than in regard to his social condition. It is viewed with reference to the soul's connection with God, and consequently with that which is eternal. God imparts a new life unto us, in order that we may enjoy those new relationships with Himself, which Redemption has gained for us. Now, as Christ, while living, was the expression of the love and the omnipotent goodness of God, in the midst of a fallen creation, so, being now rejected by the world (which thus condemned itself), Christ, who dwells by His grace in the heart of one who has received life, becomes to that heart a source of happiness in communion with the love of God, which lifts it up and sets it above circumstances, be they what they may. The slave, in possessing Christ, is free in heart; he is the freed man of God Himself. The master knows that he himself has a Master, and the relationship in which he finds himself, takes the form of the grace and love that reigns in the heart of him who in it exercises his authority.
But, as I have said, to the poor slave, Christ is especially presented as a resource. He may serve his master, whether a good or bad one, with faithfulness, meekness, and devotedness; because in so doing he serves the Lord Himself, and is conscious that he does so. He will have his reward there where nothing is forgotten that is done to glorify Christ, and where masters and slaves are all before Him who has no respect of persons.
Two principles act in the heart of the Christian slave; his conscience in all his conduct is before God, the fear of God governs him, and not his master's eye. And he is conscious of his relationship to Christ, of the presence of Christ which sustains and lifts him above everything. It is a secret which nothing can take from him, and which has power over everything, because it is within, and on high: Christ in him, the hope of glory. Yes, how admirably does the knowledge of Christ exalt everything that it pervades, and with what consoling power does it descend into all that is desolate and cast down, all that groans, all that is humbled, in this world of sin.
Three times in these two verses, while holding their conscience in the presence of God, the apostle brings in the Lord, the Lord Christ, to fill the hearts of these poor slaves, and make them feel who it was to whom they rendered service. Such is Christianity.
The apostle ends his epistle with some important general exhortations.
He desires that the saints should continue, through prayer, in communion with God, and in the sense of their dependence on Him, conscious of His nearness to them, and His readiness to hear them. For that which speaks to the heart for our walk, is not enough; the soul must know its own relations with God, exercising itself in those relations; and it must receive directly from Him that which assures it of His love. There must be perseverance in this. We are in conflict with evil, which has a hold upon our own hearts, if we are without the strength of God. We must, therefore, commune with God. We must watch, with settled purpose of heart, not merely as an occasional thing; any one can cry out when he is in need. But the heart separated from the world and all that is of it, occupies itself with God, with all that regards the glory of His name, according to the measure in which we are concerned in it. The conflict is carried on with a tender and freed spirit, having only His glory as the object, both in the Church and the individual walk. But thus one understands that God works, and that He does not forsake us, and thanksgiving is always mingled with the prayers we address to Him.
Paul felt his dependence on this blessing, and he asked for a share also in their prayers, that God might open his mouth, and that he might proclaim the gospel as he ought to do.
Now, we are in a hostile world, in which hostility is easily awakened where it does not already exist openly, and in which offense is quickly taken, at things wherein, perhaps, we neither saw nor intended evil. We must take away the occasion even, from those that seek it, and walk in wisdom with respect to them that are without.
How clearly the within and the without are here distinguished. Those within, whom God acknowledges, His family, His church-they are His own. Those without, they are the world, those who are not joined to the Lord. The distinction is plainly marked, but love is active towards them that are without, and being itself in the enjoyment of communion with God, it is careful to do nothing that might prevent others from enjoying it.
But there was something more: they were to redeem the time. The natural man, taken up with his own affairs, and disinclined to serious things, gave Christian love little opportunity to set grace and truth before him and make him care for his own soul, thus serving the Lord and using time in His name. The heart of man cannot always escape the influence of surrounding circumstances, which bear witness to his heart and conscience that he is under the dominion of sin, and already eating its bitter fruits here below; circumstances which bring to his conscience the remembrance of a too much forgotten God, which speak with the mighty voice of sorrow to a broken heart, glad, at least, to have a resource in God, when his hand is pierced by the broken reed on which he leant. God Himself acts upon man by these circumstances, and by every circumstance of life. One who is walking with the Lord, knows how to avail himself of them. Satan may, indeed, deceive a man, but he cannot prevent God at all times from speaking to the heart. It is a happy thing so to walk with God that He can use us as His voice, when He would thus speak to poor sinners. Our speech ought always to be the expression of this separation from evil, this power of the presence of God which keeps us inwardly apart from it; so as to make that power felt by others; and, that in all the questionings which arise in the heart of man, wandering out of the way in confusion and darkness, and even leading others astray thereby, we may know how to give an answer which comes from the light and conveys light.
Tychicus was to carry the testimony of the interest which the apostle took in the welfare of the Colossians, and of his confidence in their interest in him. Paul bears witness to the love of others, and to their concern also in the progress of the gospel, and the prosperity of the faithful.
Marcus, who had formerly drawn back from the toils of the work, receives a testimony here on the apostle's part, and a still better one later (2 Tim. 4.11)' for he had made himself useful to the apostle himself. Such is grace. The secret of the interest Barnabas took in him, comes out here, he was nearly related to him. This dear servant of God was from Cyprus. The flesh and Judaism find their way everywhere. The power of the Spirit of God is requisite to raise us above, and set us beyond, their influence.
Demas receives no especial testimony. The apostle conveys his greetings, but is silent as to himself. Only in the Epistle to Philemon is he named as a fellow-laborer of the apostle. Afterward he forsook Paul. He was a brother- the apostle admits his claim, but says nothing; he had nothing to say. "And Demas," for Paul's style, is terribly cold.
We may observe that the Epistle to the Ephesians was written at the same time, and sent by this same Tychicus. The one "from Laodicea" is, I doubt not, one that they were to receive from that assembly, written by Paul, and by which the saints at Colosse were to profit; possibly the Epistle to the Ephesians, which he may have communicated to the Laodiceans. Be this as it may, all that is said, is, that it was one of which the assembly at Laodicea were in possession, and by no means that it was directly addressed to them: rather the contrary. It is very possible that a letter, or a hundred letters, may have been written by Paul to others, which it was not in the purposes of God to preserve for the universal Church; but here there is no proof that a letter had been written to the Laodiceans. Tychicus was the bearer of two, he may have been the bearer of three, one of which differed only in some details of application which might serve to confirm the Colossians without being in the main another divine communication for other days; but, I repeat, it does not appear to be so from that which is said here. It might be said a letter " from Laodicea," because it was there, instead of a letter to Laodicea, but it is not the usual mode of expression. We have seen that the letter to the Ephesians is another communication of the Spirit of God. It has been preserved for us. We do not know whether that from Laodicea was the same, communicated by them to the Christians of that city; or another, which they were to send to the Colossians (a Church in their vicinity) and which—adding nothing to the divine revelations -has not been preserved for us.
It appears that Christians were not very numerous at Laodicea. The apostle salutes the brethren there. There were some who assembled in the house of one Nymphas; they were not in a case to have a letter addressed to them in particular; still the apostle does not forget them. But that which he says here is an almost certain proof that the apostle had not addressed any epistle, to them. He would not have sent greetings through the Colossians to the brethren in Laodicea, if, at the same time, he had written a special epistle to the latter. The case is plain enough; there were brethren at Laodicea, but not in great numbers, and not in that distinct position which gave rise to an epistle. But this little assembly in the house of Nymphas was not to be forgotten; it should profit by the epistles addressed to other assemblies more considerable than itself, and whose condition required an epistle, or gave occasion to write one, which epistles were transmitted to Laodicea, according to the apostle's order.
With regard to the epistle to the Colossians, it is not a supposition. The apostle commands them expressly to have it read in the assembly at Laodicea. The latter had also received another epistle from some other assembly, and the Colossians were to profit by it in the same manner. The two assemblies, which were near each other, were mutually to enjoy the spiritual favors that were granted them.
The apostle does not forget individuals even. Archippus receives a solemn exhortation to take heed to the ministry which the Lord had committed to him, and to fulfill His service.
The apostle had not seen these assemblies (2:1).