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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Colossians 3

 

 

Verse 1

(1) If ye then be risen (rather, ye rose) with Christ.—In these words is marked the beginning of the spiritual life, referred evidently to baptism. (See Colossians 2:12.) It is a “resurrection with Christ” and in Christ; as such it is dwelt upon in detail in Romans 6:1-14. We may note that this phrase, implying a sudden passing from death unto life, accords more exactly with the idea of adult baptism, accepted in conscious faith, and leading at once to a new life; while the later phrase, “regeneration” (Titus 3:5), which speaks of the soul as passing, indeed, at once into a new condition, but as having only the undeveloped germ of the new life, corresponds more closely with the idea of the infant baptism, which gradually superseded the other. Here this spiritual resurrection is taken for granted, and the Apostle goes on at once to the next stage of the spiritual life.

Christ.—The name, four times repeated, has in all cases the article prefixed to it. Evidently it used emphatically to refer to our Lord, as our Mediator—our Prophet, Priest, and King.

Seek those things which are above . . . set your affection on things above.—Here we have the spiritual life in its continuance. It is described, (1) first, as “seeking the things above”—that is, looking, and so growing, to perfection. This characteristic is dwelt upon with great fulness and beauty in Philippians 3:12-16. (2) Next, in a still higher strain, as “setting our affection on the things above,” or, more properly, catching the spirit of the things above, being “heavenly-minded” already—anticipating heaven, not only in hope, but in tone and temper, seeing things as God sees them, and seeing all in relation to Him. On this we may again compare the great passage in Philippians 3:20-21, on our “citizenship of heaven.” Of such heavenly-mindedness we have, perhaps, the most perfect specimen in the calm and loving certainty of St. John’s Epistles. (3) These two graces must be united In the one is the secret of growth, in the other the present earnest of perfection. Moreover, the higher grace must follow from the former; “for, where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.”

Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.—The allusion is emphatic. Heaven is to us, in itself, a vague expression of unknown bliss. It is made definite to the Christian by the thought of Christ. in His glorified humanity, there enthroned in majesty, “preparing a place for us,” and drawing us to be with Him. (Note a similar emphatic reference in Philippians 3:21; and comp. Ephesians 2:6, “He raised us up, and made us to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”)

This glorious idea of Christ in heaven, and heaven in Christ, runs through the whole book of the Revelation of St. John, from the opening Epistles to the last vision of glory.


Verses 1-4

III.

(1-4) As the partaking of the death of Christ taught the negative lesson of death to the Law, so the partaking of His resurrection teaches the positive lesson of the spiritual life. We observe that this celebrated passage occupies a place at the close of the doctrinal portion of the Epistle, exactly corresponding to the even greater passage on the unity of the Church in God in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:1-16). It is unlike that passage, because, summing up the main teaching of this Epistle, it dwells simply on the close personal relation of all souls to God in Jesus Christ, who is at once “the image of God,” and the one Mediator between God and man. It is like it (and like other passages of the Epistles of the Captivity) because it passes on from Christ risen to Christ in heaven: it takes for granted our being risen with Christ, and bids us in heart to ascend to heaven now, and look forward to the bliss of heaven in the hereafter.


Verses 2-4

The Hidden Life

Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.—Colossians 3:2-4.

1. The mind of St. Paul moves in this Epistle on a very high level. He is speaking to the men of Colossæ of one who, in the estimate of unbelievers, was no more than a dead man. Whatever Christ had been, He is gone; and the new truth St. Paul is introducing to the consciousness of the world notwithstanding, is that there has been no severance between the life of Him who has gone and that of men now living on the earth. He is not like any other dead man; He is One who rose from the dead, and though He has since disappeared from sight, His resurrection is that characteristic thing which makes Him different from all other men who have lived and died. It is not only a physical but a moral resurrection; the coming to life again of all those holy principles of action and elements of power which seemed for a moment to have been overshadowed by the darkness of the grave. He is now not dead but unchangeably living. And together with this the Apostle insists on the indissoluble character of the common life between Christ and His disciples. That which has gone out of sight is the mere form and semblance of the Man Christ Jesus; the true Christ is risen and ascended. And if there be this indissoluble union, men now living on the earth have risen with Him; they are sharers, in a mystic sense which yet is consistent with the deepest reality, in that higher life of His in the heavenly places. To the old life which sought its Paradise on the earth which made this world the sum and substance of existence, they have died; they are now sharers with Him in the pure and holy life which has only one supreme ambition, the doing of the Heavenly Father’s Will. “Your life,” says the Apostle, “is hid with Christ in God.”

2. The fact that St. Paul should have felt justified in writing thus to inhabitants of Colossæ is a remarkable evidence of the power of Christianity to touch hearts and change lives. Colossæ, although no worse than the average contemporary city, can scarcely have been much better; and a few years before, it is tolerably certain, the notion of sending a communication of this kind to people of the place would have been a melancholy sarcasm. But all that had been changed. There were men and women in its streets and lanes now who had believed in Jesus Christ, and who possessed the peace and joy of reconciliation. Risen with Christ, they had the very springs of their being hid with Him in God. Once there had been no depths in their life; all had been shallow, specious, external, busy with affairs that mattered little, crowded with trifles, pathetically wasted in worthless ambition and fleeting pleasure. Then God called them, as He calls us, into a new domain, and their whole experience was re-created. In the barren wastes fountains of water were springing up; in wide ranges of unprofitable folly mines had been discovered that would yield the gold and gems of faith and hope and love. Once they were content with a poor, starveling, fortuitous morality; always untrustworthy, always unequal to a new or sudden strain, whereas now their stores of power and gladness in service were held high above the reach of sorrow and temptation, because treasured and guarded well by Christ in the unseen.

3. There are here two similar exhortations, side by side. “Seek the things that are above,” and “Set your mind on the things that are above.” The first is preceded and the second is followed by its reason. So the two laws of conduct are, as it were, enclosed like a kernel in its shell, or a jewel in a gold setting, by encompassing motives. These considerations in which the commandments are embedded are the double thought of union with Christ in His resurrection and in His death, and, as consequent thereon, participation in His present hidden life and in His future glorious manifestation. So we have here the present budding life of the Christian in union with the risen, hidden Christ; the future consummate flower of the Christian life in union with the glorious manifested Christ; and the practical aim and direction which alone is consistent with either bud or flower.

Maeterlinck tells us of the threshold of “the third enclosure,” behind which is the life of life. Browning, in his “Death in the Desert,” expounds the doctrine of the three souls in man which, in ascending order of importance, make up one soul: “What Does, what Knows, what Is, three souls, one man.” Matthew Arnold has written words about the “Buried Life” which can never be forgotten by those who know them, as he tells of those rare moments when a “bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast, the eye sinks inward and the heart lies plain, and what we mean we say, and what we would, we know.” Carlyle, in a well-known passage, declares: “Not what I have, but what I do is my kingdom.” That is hardly true. Not what I have is my kingdom; we have learned that a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses: not what I know is my kingdom, so soon does knowledge become antiquated and obsolete; not what I say—in words always inadequate and often unreal—is my kingdom; nor even what I do, so little can I accomplish of what I would fain achieve, and my reach so far exceeds my grasp. No; what I am is my kingdom; and then the question presses, What am I? We turn from philosophy and poetry to religion, and especially to the Christian religion, and we are reminded of the “inward man,” the “hidden man of the heart,” and hear the memorable words, “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” That life is the one thing that counts for each one of us, and that alone.1 [Note: W. T. Davison, The Indwelling Spirit, 298.]

It was the passionate and unceasing insistence on the Christ-nature within every man as such that gave dignity and power to the preaching of the early Quakers. Read George Fox’s Journal, and this emerges out of an astonishing amount of fanaticism and unfairness. It runs like a thread of gold through the whole narrative. On all hands religious men were disputing about the limits of Church membership, the rights of hierarchies, the importance of sacraments, the decrees of God in election and reprobation, and so forth; and there was immense excitement and vehemence and partisanship; Christianity seemed to have lost its moral force altogether; and the Image of Christ had faded from view. Then came this strange, youthful-looking man, with his long hair and brilliant eyes, and courage of a martyr blended with an extraordinary tenderness, and a fervent eloquence which held men spell-bound and called them away from the quarrelling Christians and their Churches, and pointed them to Christ within themselves. This is his habitual phrase. “I directed them to the light of Christ in them.” “I exhorted the family to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and hearken to His teachings in their own hearts.” “I directed them to Christ, the true teacher within.” These and similar expressions are scattered freely through the journal, and give it a distinct character.1 [Note: Canon H. Hensley Henson.]

I

The Old Life Left Behind

1. “Ye died.” That represents a distinct element in Christian experience. It means that the soul passes through a death to earthly things—to sin and the allurements of the flesh, just as the Lord died upon the tree. The crucifixion has its counterpart within us. We die to the attractions of the world.

The new life we enjoy had its birth in the death of the old nature; it is preserved and flourishes now only by the continuous use of that cross on which the old desires were crucified and by which they must still be mortified right on to the very last, when the body itself is put off and earthly temptations cease. The inner life is one of continual joyful self-crucifixion, the doing to death of all that in tendency threatens the supremacy of the higher and better self. The power of the Cross alone can free from the guilt and stain of the past, as in it alone is found the secret of a new, sacred, ineffable life, named in St. John’s Gospel “eternal,” in one of Paul’s Epistles “life indeed.”

The old life, like the trees the backwoodsmen cannot wait to cut down, is ringed; and, as when that strip of bark is cut out, its withering is only a question of time. Or, to change the figure, the channels in which its streams once flowed may now and then seem to run as copiously as ever; but gradually the parent spring is failing, and one day it will cease, never to fill again. You who have the new heart, but are sorely plagued by the old, remember this. Do not complain that the struggle is unavailing. Do not even grow impatient with yourselves; for not to have surrendered is itself a victory.2 [Note: H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God’s Plan, 147.]

2. Paul is indicating a definite occasion in the past. Sometimes the passage of a soul into God’s Kingdom is a very sudden thing. It may even be as the flight of a bird for swiftness. We lie down one night our old selves, and ere we sleep again the revolution has occurred. In this text, however, suddenness of that kind is not necessarily implied. Men may die swiftly, or they may die slowly; it matters nothing, once they have wakened on the immortal side of death.

At the Equator no visible line is stretched round the world for all to see; nevertheless, the line is actually crossed; at some definite point the ship leaves one hemisphere and enters on the other. Just so, when God’s eye reads our past, many circumstances may take on a bold prominence and fixity of outline that were concealed, or only half displayed to our feebler gaze. Where we saw nothing but an unbroken, imperceptible advance, He, it is possible, may discern a cleavage, sharp as though effected by a scimitar-stroke, between the old existence and the new. And the fittest metaphor to illustrate the transition that St. Paul can think of is that passage from one world to another which we call death.1 [Note: H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God’s Plan, 146.]

Yet one more step—no flight

The weary soul can bear

Into a whiter light,

Into a hush more rare.


Take me, I am all Thine;

I Thine now, not seeking Thee

Hid in the secret shrine,

Lost in the shoreless sea.


Grant to the prostrate soul

Prostration new and sweet;

Make weak the weak, control

Thy creature; at Thy feet


Passive I lie: shine down,

Pierce through the will with straight,

Swift beams one after one;

Divide, disintegrate,


Free me from self, resume

Thy place, and be Thou there.

Yet also keep me. Come,

Thou Saviour and Thou slayer!1 [Note: Edward Dowden.]

II

The New Life Hidden in God

1. Every one has two lives, the outward and the inward; and although they are seemingly separate, having a different mode of manifestation, they are at the same time intimately connected. Even rude, undeveloped natures have that which they hide from men. Much goes on within them that does not show itself outwardly. Their cunning purposes, their selfish greed, their lurid and lustful desires—if not shame, then self-interest and safety lead them to secrete these bad elemental forces; and so the lowest natures have a hidden life of badness. Many men are bad outwardly who are a great deal worse inwardly.

But also when love has purified the soul; when men have risen through the social affections far above these vulgar conditions, they in like manner have secret lives, but of a different sort. Men revolve ten thousand thoughts which never find expression, and never can. We never can say our best things. We think a great deal better than we ever speak. Fancies thick as stars shine in the vault of souls elected to poetry. Our tender and affectionate natures are like nightingales, and will not sing in glare of day, nor without cover and retirement.

Every person of richness of soul will recognize the truth, that the dearest part of his life—that which seems to him the finest, the noblest, the deepest—never is fully and fairly exposed. And if we think a moment, we are conscious that all those subtlest sentiments, those rarest feelings, which, when they manifest themselves in us with power, give us some sentiment of divinity, are the strains of the soul which we cannot speak, and certainly do not. Our feelings towards each other, the feelings that parents have towards their children, are unutterable; and, surely, the feelings of affection which great natures have towards each other never find expression in words. There is more in one look that the eye gives than in all that the tongue utters in a lifetime.

When the Apostle, therefore, speaks of the Christian life as a hidden one, it is neither a paradox nor a mystery, though at first it may strike one as being so. Interpreted by the analogy of the soul’s best habits, it is only declaring the Christian’s hope to be the secret and spring of all the rest of his life. That which is the strongest in him, that which is the truest to his Divine nature, that which he considers the best part of him—in short, that which he will call his real life—is hidden. “Your life is hid with Christ in God.”

To his sense of responsibility to the Faith and the Church must be added his sense of responsibility as Bishop and Primate for national life. The three things went together; they would stand and fall together. The conviction came to him originally through his reading of Coleridge: “Christianity is not a Theory, or a Speculation; but a Life. Not a Philosophy of Life, but a Life and a living Process.” Dr. Temple applied this principle to all doctrines—notably to the doctrine of Easter Day. “Try to live by it,” he says to the boys at Rugby: “Try to live as if that other world were immediately before your eyes; try to live as if you were following your great Captain on the road to victory; and, believe me, you will never find the doctrine stale or commonplace or powerless!” This conviction only deepened as he grew older.1 [Note: Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, ii. 670.]

As you cross a Highland moor you may come upon a curious bright streak of green, winding in and out among the heather, its pure and shining verdure clearly marked against the dull brown of its immediate surroundings. What is it, and how came it there? Whence rises the sap to feed this soft elastic ribband of turf? There is a tiny stream below, a runnel of sweet water flowing down there out of sight, only hinting its presence by the green beauty above. So the springs of Christian life are hid, hid with Christ in God.2 [Note: H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God’s Plan, 148.]

2. The Christian life is hidden inasmuch as here on earth action ever falls short of thought, and the love and faith by which a good man lives can never be fully revealed in his conduct and character. Electricity cannot be carried from the generator to the point where it is to work without two-thirds of it being lost by the way. Neither word nor deed can adequately set forth a soul; and the profounder and nobler the emotion, the more inadequate are the narrow gates of tongue and hand to give it passage. The deepest love can often only “love and be silent.” So, while every man is truly a mystery to his neighbour, a life which is rooted in Christ is more mysterious to the ordinary eye than any other. It is fed by hidden manna. It is replenished from a hidden source. It is guided by other than the world’s motives and follows unseen aims. Therefore, the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.

There is an old and beautiful Spanish legend of a certain Convent of St. Benedict, not far from the old city of Toledo, which was the retreat of a sisterhood embracing some of the noblest blood of all Spain. When the Moors overran the country after Don Roderick and his fine chivalry were slain, they came to this convent and vowed its destruction. But just as they were making their final assault the convent disappeared. Cloisters, cells, chapel, belfry, with their inmates, sank underground. Forty years after a lonely traveller, journeying through the forest at eventide, heard in an open space of rising ground the mysterious echoes of vesper bells and voices floating on the still evening air, as they breathed forth the praise of evensong. Nothing but a moss-grown stone pinnacle surmounted by a Cross broke the dark glades of forest on either hand. Yet the harmonies from that buried convent thrilled his heart with wonder and awe. Ethereal, mystic, heavenly, they broke upon the ear like the echoes of another world. Such is the Christian life ever since the first Easter Day, buried away out of the sight of men, stolen from the grasp of the boasting foe, “hidden in the sealed stone,” yet still exerting its powerful spell almost unrecognized over the hearts of men, still breathing forth its heavenly music to souls who have spiritual leisure to hearken to it, still filling the solitary place with mysterious praise.1 [Note: T. A. Gurney, The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, 96.]

3. This life is hid, because Christ has gone out of sight, bearing with Him the true source and root of our lives into the secret place of the Most High. Therefore we no longer belong to this visible order of things in the midst of which we tarry for a while. The true spring that feeds our lives lies deep beneath all the surface waters. These may dry up, but it will flow. These may be muddied with rain, but it will be limpid as ever. The things seen do not go deep enough to touch our real life. They are but as the winds that fret and the currents that sway the surface and shallower levels of the ocean, while the great depths are still. The circumference is all a whirl; the centre is at rest.

In the early folk-lore of various countries, we come, here and there, on certain statements which have a singular affinity with what St. Paul says in the text and which may possibly have had something to do with the form, at least, of the thought which he there expresses. I refer to the accounts which are given about cruel giants and other monstrosities who could not be killed by wounds that would at once have ended the life of any other creature. They might be pierced through the heart with the sword of an assailant, they might be hurled from a precipice that should have broken all their bones, they might be left for dead in a burning fire that should have consumed them effectually, but nothing could touch their life, or even seriously hurt them. For, according to the story, their life was not in their own bodies, but somewhere else, and carefully concealed so that no one could reach it. It is represented as being, perhaps, hid in an egg, which is in the belly of a fish, which is swimming in a lake, which lies among inaccessible mountains or an island that is far away in some untravelled ocean; and unless you can discover that ocean and the island and the lake, and catch the fish, and lay hold on the egg, nothing you can do will anywise affect the life of the terrible being you are anxious, for some reason, to destroy. As a rule, the stories tell us that, after many had tried and failed, a hero comes at last who, by some means or other, discovers the secret, overcomes all the difficulties, and destroys the creature who had wrought so much mischief, but with that part of them we have at present nothing to do. What I want to point out is simply the idea, which seems to have been pretty widely prevalent, that one’s life could be kept apart from one’s self, and so hid as to be very hard to reach, and that no injury to one’s body could anywise affect such a life.1 [Note: Walter C. Smith.]

Botanists tell us that there is a beautiful arrangement in nature for clothing our barren moorlands with a vesture of heather. The heather cannot nourish itself, but must be nourished, so to speak, by a foster-parent, which prepares its food for it, reducing the peat upon which it grows into a condition that renders it capable of being absorbed and assimilated. So at the extreme ends of the roots of the heather, you will find mingled with the finer fibres a tissue of delicate whitish threads. This is not part of the heather itself, but a separate plant or fungus which lives in association with the heather, and does for it the kindliest service, nourishing its vitals at the fountain head. Microscopic examination of the fine rootlets of the heather shows how filaments of its hidden friend and partner penetrate into the very cells of the texture of these rootlets, conveying life and strength to the whole plant. Without the help of this hidden intermediary the heather would wither and die. And whenever you transplant heather without securing its associate feeder, your labour is in vain, the heather infallibly dies. So our spiritual life is linked with Christ and hid in God. We are identified with Christ, and He communicates to us His own life. “Without me,” He says, “ye can do nothing.” But, says the Apostle, as if responding to Him, “I can do all things in Christ which strengtheneth me.” The hidden life of Christ works deep down at the roots of our being, and the chief hindrance to a noble and rich and fruitful career is that we do not sufficiently realize our oneness with Christ and His readiness to vitalize all our spiritual and moral energies.1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan.]

Since Eden, it keeps the secret!

Not a flower beside it knows

To distil from the day the fragrance

And beauty that flood the rose.


Silently speeds the secret

From the loving eye of the sun

To the willing heart of the flower:

The life of the twain is one.


Folded within my being,

A wonder to me is taught,

Too deep for curious seeing

Or fathom of sounding thought,


Of all sweet mysteries holiest!

Faded are rose and sun!

The Highest hides in the lowliest;

My Father and I are one.2 [Note: Charles G. Ames.]

III

The Coming Manifestation

1. The present has in it the promise of the future.—Eternal life is a condition of the soul into which we may pass without dying; indeed, at any moment this resurrection may take place, we may pass from death to life, or also from life to death; the lower sphere may be exchanged for the higher, or the higher for the lower. And so when the lawyer asked the great question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” the answer practically was that the love of God and man is eternal life. It is a change in the sphere and level of life and emotion now, not a succeeding stage in our existence. In fact, to be spiritually minded, this is life; and to be carnally minded, this is death. The teaching of the Apostles is everywhere clear. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” “Our citizenship is in heaven.” “We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem.” “Christ is our life.” The Gospel Christ preached is pre-eminently one of the present world; it is the release from the grip of sin now, that real redemption which we may daily verify when we give up any wrong act for the love of Christ; it is the presence of God in the heart now.

Union with Christ by faith is the condition of a real communication of life. “In him was life,” says St. John, meaning thereby to assert, in the language of our Epistle, that “in him were all things created, and in him all things consist.” Life in all its forms is dependent on union in varying manner with the Divine, and upheld only by His continual energy. The creature must touch God or perish. Of that energy the Uncreated Word of God is the channel—“with thee is the fountain of life.” As the life of the body, so the higher self-conscious life of the thinking, feeling, striving soul is also fed and kept alight by the perpetual operation of a higher Divine energy, imparted in like manner by the Divine Word. Therefore, with deep truth, the Psalmist goes on to say, “In thy light shall we see light”—and therefore, too, St. John continues: “And the life was the light of men.”

The training of a prince may, in some respects, be very much like that of other youths. He may have to endure hardness, to fare simply, to toil patiently, to deny himself, that he may be able for the tasks that await him by and by. All that will be good for him, and especially it will be needful that he should learn to have princely ideas of duty and a regal nobleness of mind; for the higher his position is, the more worthless would he appear if he were given to any kind of baseness. He must look, therefore, to the things that are above. He must converse with high affairs in a high strain of thought. Any littleness would only be made more glaring by contrast with the grandeur of his position at last. While his life is for a season hidden, then, it must be carefully preparing for the final manifestation of its regal dignity, which otherwise he would only dishonour.1 [Note: Walter C. Smith.]

2. The manifestation of Christ will carry with it the manifestation of all life hid with Him in God.—There is nothing in the future, however glorious and wonderful, that has not its germ and vital beginning in our union with Christ here by humble faith. The great hopes which we may cherish are gathered up here into the words, “He shall be manifested.” That is far more than was conveyed by the old translation—“shall appear.” The roots of our being shall be disclosed, for He shall come, “and every eye shall see him.” We shall be seen for what we are. The outward life shall correspond to the inward. The faith and love which often struggled in vain for expression and were thwarted by the obstinate flesh, as a sculptor trying to embody his dream might be by a block of marble with many a flaw and speck, shall then be able to reveal themselves completely. Whatever is in the heart shall be fully visible in the life. Stammering words and imperfect deeds shall vex us no more. “His name shall be in their foreheads”—no longer only written in fleshy tables of the heart, and partially visible in the character, but stamped legibly and completely on life and nature. They shall walk in the light, and so shall be seen of all. Here the truest followers of Christ shine like an intermittent star, seen through mist and driving cloud: “Then shall the righteous blaze forth like the sun in the kingdom of my Father.”

The underground river, fed from hidden springs, will emerge in due time as a clear, full stream, at which the nations may drink. The coral polyp builds steadily on under the water amidst the ceaseless beating of the surf, and ere long there appears above the surface the atoll reef with its waving palms and still lagoon. Realities have their own way of asserting themselves, even in a world of shadows often mistaken for realities. The hidden life is the most potent life, even amidst the half-lights of earth, and the time will come when the day will break and the shadows flee away. “When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall we also with him be manifested in glory.”

The Great Artist will then unveil His work, that has been long preparing in secret and behind the screen of an infirm decaying body, wrought out through the machinery of nature, which labours and groans beneath “the bondage of corruption” and moves with harsh grinding and torturing of the spirit through the flesh as it is placed upon the wheel. Yet from this factory and loom of time, with its unsightliness and disarray and its thousand seeming-cruel processes, God’s fairest work is coming, the adornment of heaven and the wealth of eternity. The Lord and Redeemer of men, when He appears the second time, shall appear “to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.”1 [Note: G. G. Findlay, The Things Above, 30.]

As the traveller starting for some distant mountain sees at the outset its cloudy and mysterious summits hanging in the far-off horizon, and is conscious that even then their presence adds a beauty and an interest to all the nearer landscape through which he is passing; but, as he advances on his way, every hour they engross a larger portion of the view, they become clearer and nearer, and fresh scenes of wonder and glory open up, till at last, without any perceptible break, he finds that his path has led him into the very bosom of the eternal hills; even so there are some whose way through this world is beautified and glorified, from dawn till eve, by the bright vision of the world beyond the grave. For them earth melts into heaven, and heaven sheds its radiance upon earth.2 [Note: E. H. Bradby.]

3. This is the enduring life.—Such a life has nothing in it of the ephemeral and passing. It has no relation to the body, or the death of the body. Physical death is not its end, or its beginning, or its opposite. The life in God partakes of the Divine—unchangeableness and infinity and eternity. All on earth passes away; even the everlasting hills will at last change and disappear; but if we ourselves become in some way incorporate with the life of God, then we are safe for ever in His everlasting arms. Our life is verily “hid with Christ in God.”

As Ralph Erskine puts it: “When risen with Christ you have a Treasure, a Treasurer, and a Treasury. ‘Your Life’—that is your Treasure; ‘is hid with Christ’—He is your Treasurer; ‘in God’—that is your Treasury. Your life is hidden for secrecy and for security. The world knows not the sons of God; they draw their strength and inspiration from a secret source, they fix their hopes upon things unseen. Their life is hidden from the eyes of men. This makes it all the more secure. The foundations are beyond the reach of pickaxe or dynamite. The believer’s security does not lie exposed to the malice of man or devil. It is the security of a union which cannot be dissolved, of a trusteeship which never fails, of a covenant which cannot be broken. God the Father is the author of the Covenant. God the Son is the faithful guardian or trustee. God the Holy Ghost is the bond of the union. Secure indeed are those whose life is hid with Christ in God.”

The uncertainty as to what awaits us ahead, beyond the limit of our spiritual vision—this uncertainty, this mystery—is the only possibility of our life, because it secures the forward movement. We walk, as it were, through an underground passage and see ahead of us the illuminated point of the exit; but that we may reach this exit, ahead of us, in front of us must be an emptiness. The eternal life is eternal for the very reason that it deploys before us infinitely. If it were completely unfolded before us, and we could comprehend it here, in our temporal, carnal existence, it would not be the eternal life, as there would be nothing left beyond it.1 [Note: Tolstoy, Thoughts and Aphorisms (Works, xix. 81).]

If you address any average modern English company as believing in an eternal life; and then endeavour to draw any conclusions from this assumed belief, as to their present business, they will forthwith tell you that “what you say is very beautiful, but it is not practical.” If, on the contrary, you frankly address them as unbelievers in eternal life, and try to draw any consequences from that unbelief,—they immediately hold you for an accursed person, and shake off the dust from their feet at you.2 [Note: Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive (Works, xviii. 392).]

IV

The Present Duty

1. “Set your mind on the things that are above.” The Apostle uses a word which indicates the application of the mind to the observation and study of any object. It is a stronger word and means more than the word “seek” used in Colossians 3:1. And what we are urged to do is to let our minds go out upon these things, and rest in quiet contemplation of them. He would have us take them as settled and indubitable facts, clearly revealed to us, and make them the object of our deep, continuous, and interested study. He calls us not to pry into things hidden and recondite, but to ponder things manifest and revealed. It is not to a process of research but to a process of reflection that he urges us. He would have us stand, as it were, at the gate of heaven, and inspire its hallowed atmosphere, and bask in radiance of its unutterable splendour. A mere baptism with the waters of the river of life will not suffice; what he exhorts us to is to cast ourselves into that heaven-born stream, and repose upon the bosom of its shining and ever-flowing waters. There must be the outgoings of the soul after those supernal realities, and the incomings of these into the soul in return. Our reflections must be after the similitude of those angels that are to be seen ascending and descending upon the Son of man, a continuous and reflexive process, yet ever finding in Him its alpha and its omega, its beginning and its ending, its first and its last.

One sunny day, as on my way I went,

And stooped to pluck the flowers I loved so well,

I saw that on each bloom o’er which I bent,

My shadow fell;

But when my wandering glances left the ground

And travelled sunwards up the shafts of light,

The shadow fell behind me, and I found

That all was bright.


So when, with earthward gaze, we set our minds

On flowers beside life’s pathway blooming fair,

Whoever stoops to seize their beauties finds

A shadow there;

But if, with eyes uplifted, we are wont

To scan the heavenward stair the angels trod,

Behind us is the shadow, and in front

The light of God.1 [Note: E. T. Fowler, Verses Wise and Otherwise, 137.]

2. If the affections are habitually set on things above, this is the surest evidence of being in a state of grace. In the animal world we see life manifesting itself through an immense gradation, from the sluggish and hardly perceptible animation of the zoophyte up, through that of the insect and reptile tribes, to the finer perceptions and sensibilities of the more perfectly organized animals, until we reach its highest development in man. In all cases we are satisfied life is there, because the results of life are there; but as these become increasingly distinct and manifest, as we ascend the scale of being, so our assurance of it becomes proportionately stronger. It is the same as regards the spiritual life. That life may be very feeble in some, hardly perceptible, a mere zoophytic existence; but if it is there at all, it will show itself by its proper results, and most of all by some measure of spiritual sensibility and relish for spiritual things, the things that are above. And as the life becomes stronger, this manifestation of it will become increasingly distinct and convincing.

By holiness do we not mean something different from virtue? It is not the same as duty, as religious belief. Holiness is the name for an inner grace of nature, an instinct of the soul, by which, though knowing of earthly appetites and worldly passions, the spirit, purifying itself from these and independent of all reason, arguments, and fierce struggles of the will, dwells in living, patient, and confident communion with the seen and unseen good.1 [Note: John Morley, Miscellanies.]

Our fathers understood by cultivation of the hidden life the practice of earnest prayer, reverent study of the Bible and devotional books, with meditation and endeavour to make their own by faith the life that is hid with Christ in God. Their fathers before them for nearly two thousand years used similar methods. Have we outgrown them? Are these amongst the old-fashioned ways which we style “early Victorian,” and, confident in our maturity, are prepared to leave behind us? The Bible—is it read, known, loved, thought and prayed and wrestled over till its deepest religious teaching is afresh assimilated? The chief interest excited concerning it to-day is aroused by criticism, which in some directions is doing excellent service. But the Bible is essentially a book of religion, not a collection of literary documents. There is a time and a place for examination into the details of its composition, but it is as food for the hidden man of the heart that it is all-important, and it is a question whether the coming generation in any stratum of society knows the Bible well or appreciates its value for the world. Every Christian prays; but how? One who would know the hidden world of prayer must be a familiar denizen of it; hasty and occasional visits will teach him nothing. Whilst Sir Oliver Lodge is urging the power in the spiritual world of filial communion and those aspirations and petitions which “exert an influence far beyond their conscious range,” some Christians, who ought to know better, plead that work is worship, and that social reform is of more importance than “pietistic communings.” These things, therefore, ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.1 [Note: W. T. Davison, The Indwelling Spirit, 301.]

The lowland road is pleasant and the upper road is steep,

The lowland air is windless and its rivers sing of sleep;

When all the kine are gathered and all the pastures mowed,

One should go home at evening along the lowland road.


When stalwart knees bend inward and strong-thewed shoulders tire,

When a man has wrought his utmost and followed his desire,

When he has starved and feasted and borne a heavy load,

How good to come at evening along the lowland road.


But if the white peaks beckon, if one be left to scale,

A man should seek the mountains and shun the lowland vale;

His heart will feel their prompting, and answer to the goad,

And tho’ the hour be evening, he’ll take the upper road.


When all earth’s fruits are gathered on silent field and garth,

When song is at the winepress and mirth is at the hearth,

There is another harvest whose seed we have not sowed—

You’ll find the orchards of the Lord upon the upper road.


I’m going by the upper road, for that still holds the sun;

I’m climbing thro’ Night’s pastures, where starry rivers run;

If you should think to seek me in my old dark abode,

You’ll find this writing on the door—“He’s on the Upper Road.”

3. Setting the mind on things above is conducive to the right discharge of duty and the right endurance of trial. The mind accustomed to Divine contemplation looks at things not on their earthward but on their heavenward side; or rather—may we say?—looks at the things of earth from a heavenly point of view. Duty thus is seen not simply as something that has to be done, a task that has to be performed, but as the will of the heavenly Father, which it is an honour and a privilege to His servants to be called to do. Affliction is seen to be light because it is looked at, not as among things seen and temporal, but in its relation to those things which are unseen and eternal. Thus, the man who has his “conversation in heaven,” who is occupied with spiritual realities, whose treasure is in heaven, and whose heart is there also, has a power in him for the discharge of duty which the world cannot understand, and a support under trial which the world can neither give nor take away.

Christian prayer is earnest and believing, but it asks for blessings in accordance with the will of the Father. It means good, not harm, for our neighbours as for ourselves; it means bringing ourselves into harmony with the laws of health and right living; it means using to the utmost all the strength and energy that God has put into our hands to bring about the result that we pray for. We cannot pray for food and expect the ravens to bring it to us, like one misguided man whom I met some years ago. He excused himself from work and lived on charity or the small earnings of his wife, on the plea that the Bible commands us to take no thought for the morrow. Prayer means not the halting of effort, but its spur. We cannot ask for peace, and give way at the first provocation to ill-temper and irritability. We cannot pray for unselfishness, and refuse the opportunity to practise it. We cannot pray for success, and expect to achieve it without work. Prayer gives us the assurance that behind our effort is infinite strength, but that effort must measure the best that we have of will, energy, and intelligence. We must bring the inspiration of our ideals into daily living.1 [Note: S. Fallows, Health and Happiness, 12.]

We doubt the word that tells us: Ask,

And ye shall have your prayer;

We turn our thoughts as to a task,

With will constrained and rare.


And yet we have; these scanty prayers

Yield gold without alloy:

O God, but he that trusts and dares

Must have a boundless joy!2 [Note: George MacDonald, “Organ Songs” (Poetical Works, ii. 292).]

The Hidden Life

Literature

Alexander (W. L.), Sermons, 309.

Beecher (H. W.), Sermons, 2nd Ser., 508.

Cook (F. C.), Church Doctrine and the Spiritual Life, 53.

Davison (W. T.), The Indwelling Spirit, 297.

Dearden (H. W.), Parochial Sermons, 75.

Findlay (G. G.), The Things Above, 1.

Gladden (W.), Where does the Sky Begin? 208.

Grimley (H. N.), Tremadoc Sermons, 1.

Gurney (T. A.), The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, 80.

Houchin (J. W.), The Vision of God, 149.

Huntingdon (F. D.), Sermons for the People, 310.

Kelman (J.), Ephemera Eternitatis, 266.

Mackintosh (H. R.), Life on God’s Plan, 143.

Russell (A.), The Light that Lighteth every Man, 248.

Smith (W. C.), Sermons, 216.

Wilberforce (B.), The Secret of a Quiet Mind, 103.

Wilson (J. M.), Sermons Preached in Clifton College Chapel, 41.

Christian Age, xlvi. 402 (Abbott).

Christian World Pulpit, xiv. 166 (Scott); lxii. 2 (Henson).

Church of England Pulpit, xlvii. 181 (Carpenter).

Churchman’s Pulpit: St. Matthias, xiv. 298 (Burgon).

Expositor, 3rd Ser., iii. 434 (Maclaren).


Verse 3

(3) Ye are dead.—Properly, ye died. See Colossians 2:20, and Note there. The phrase here is to be taken in its whole sense, both of “death to sin” and “death to the visible world.”

Your life is hid with Christ in God . . . Christ who is our life.—In these two phrases, again, we pass from a lower to a higher expression of the same truth. (1) First, “our life is hid with Christ in God.” The spiritual life in man is a “hidden life,” having its source in God; the full conviction of it, as distinct from the mere instinctive consciousness of it in the mind itself, comes only from the belief that it is the image of God in us, and is sustained by constant communion with Him. If God be our God at all, we must live; for “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). It is also “hid with Christ.” Our Lord’s ascent to His glory in heaven is at once the pledge and the means of this our spiritual communion with God. It is “with Him” that we can “in heart and mind ascend;” it is “with Him” that we can “continually dwell.” (2) But this is not all. “Christ is our life” now as well as hereafter. This is simply a summary of the two truths;” Christ liveth in me (see Galatians 2:20), as the source of life; and “To me to live (the actual condition of life) is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). It is but a brief expression of faith in the truth which our Lord Himself declared (John 11:25), “I am the Life; whoso liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” (Comp. John 14:6.) Hence our spiritual life is not only a being “with Christ;” it is also unity with Christ in the bosom of the Father.


Verse 4

(4) When Christ . . . shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.—This describes the last stage of the spiritual life—the glorification with Christ in heaven, manifesting what now is hidden, and perfecting what exists only in germ. (Comp. 1 John 3:1-2, “Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”) This same conclusion ends the corresponding passage in Philippians 3:21.

In all these Epistles we note how constant a reference there is to the “glory of God,” and to the share in it reserved for us. So we also note the especial reference to the “appearance of Christ” in the Pastoral Epistles (see 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13), and the constant revelation of it in the Apocalypse.

The whole passage forms a complete and magnificent picture of the spiritual life in Christ—the means of its beginning, the signs of its presence, and the hope of its close. It may be compared with the fuller yet hardly completer picture of Romans 8.


Verse 5

(5) Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.—The expression is doubly unique. It is the only passage where “mortification”—the killing of anything in us—is enjoined; and it is also notable, as not explicitly distinguishing between the members themselves, and the evil of which they are made the instruments. The sense is, of course, clear enough. It corresponds to the “crucifying the flesh” of Galatians 5:24; and the idea of evil, mostly expressed plainly in the word “flesh,” is here hinted in the phrase “which are on the earth,” that is, which are busied with earth and bind us down to the earthly life. The particular word “members” is perhaps suggested by our Lord’s command to “cut off the right hand” and “pluck out the right eye” if they cause us to offend (Matthew 5:29-30). But, as a rule, Scripture more clearly marks the distinction between the members and “the law of sin in the members” (Romans 7:5; Romans 7:23); and we are usually bidden not to “kill our members,” but to turn them from “instruments of unrighteousness” to be “instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13). The fact is that this passage contains only half the truth, corresponding to the death with Christ, and not the whole truth, including also the resurrection to the new life. Accordingly, as the next verse shows, the members to be mortified are actually identified with the vices of the old man residing in them.

Fornication, uncleanness . . . covetousness, which is idolatry.—See Ephesians 5:3, and Note there.

Inordinate affection, evil concupiscence.—These words are not found in the parallel passage. The word rendered “inordinate affection” is the general word for “passion” (pathos). It is found united to “concupiscence” in 1 Thessalonians 4:5, “the lust of concupiscence.” Both words here are general words, denoting the condition of soul, of which “fornication” and “covetousness” are both exemplifications. This is the condition of unrestrained passion and desire, the former word implying a passive receptiveness of impression from without, the other the positive energy of desire to seek gratification. Comp. Galatians 5:24, “the affections” (passions) and “lusts.” Of such a temper Article IX. of the Church of England declares with singular accuracy, not that it is sin, but that it has in itself rationem peccati, that is, the initial principle of sin.


Verses 5-9

Colossians 3:5-9 contain the negative section of St. Paul’s practical appeal, drawing out the consequences of the “death with Christ,” in the mortification of all tendencies to impurity, malice, and falsehood. For these are the opposites to purity, love, and truth—the three great attributes of God, and therefore the three chief graces of man.


Verses 5-17

[5. Practical Exhortation, General.

(1) NEGATIVE.—To MORTIFY THE OLD MAN, by fleeing from—

(a) Uncleanness and lust (Colossians 3:5-7);

(b) Wrath and malice (Colossians 3:8);

(c) Falsehood (Colossians 3:9).

(2) POSITIVE.—To PUT ON THE NEW MAN, making Christ our “all in all.”

(a) In love and peace, as shown in mercy, humility, patience, and forgiveness (Colossians 3:10-15);

(b) In thanksgiving (Colossians 3:16);

(c) In living to the glory of God (Colossians 3:17);

(The whole of this section stands in close parallelism, frequently in verbal coincidence, with Ephesians 4:20 to Ephesians 6:9. There are, however, constantly emerging indications of independence of handling. Generally speaking, the Ephesian Epistle is fuller and deeper in treatment; and, moreover, it constantly brings out, in relation both to moral duty and to the observation of the relations of life, the great characteristic doctrine of the universal unity in Christ. This Epistle, on the other hand, is briefer and more incisive, and has only slight, though clear, indications of the idea so powerfully worked out in the other Epistle.)]


Verse 7

(7) In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived (were living) in them.—The former condition of heathenism was that in which “they were living,” with contagion of evil on every side. But St. Paul is not content without noting their own active participation—“ye walked in them.” (Comp. Ephesians 4:17-20.)


Verse 8

(8) Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy (slander—see Ephesians 4:31 and Notes there), filthy communication.—The word is “foul,” and the context here seems to show that it refers to grossness of insult and abuse, rather than (as in the cognate word of Ephesians 4:4) to “filthiness.”


Verse 9

(9) Lie not one to another.—Comp. Ephesians 4:25, and note the characteristic insertion there of a clause to which there is nothing here to correspond, “for we are members one of another.”

Seeing that ye (have) put off the old man.—Comp. the fuller description of Ephesians 4:22-24.


Verse 10

(10) The new man, which is (being) renewed.—There are here the same two different words which are found in the parallel passage. (See Notes on Ephesians 4:22-24). “The new man” is here properly the youthful man “which is renewed,” that is, to which is given a nature really fresh and new.


Verses 10-17

(10-17) In these verses we have the corresponding positive exhortation, connected with the idea of resurrection with Christ, through which we put on the new man, holding Christ to be our all in all. Of the new nature there are two marks—towards man love in all its various forms, towards God thanksgiving and living to His glory.


Verse 11

(11) Where there is neither . . .—This passage naturally suggests comparison with Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Jesus Christ.” In comparing the passages (passing by the insertion here of “circumcision nor uncircumcision,” which is simply explanatory of “Jew nor Greek”) we notice in this—(1) The insertion of “barbarian, Scythian.” This insertion is clearly intended to rebuke that pride of intellect, contemptuous of the unlearned, which lay at the root of Gnosticism. The “barbarian” was simply the foreigner (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:11); the “Scythian” was the savage, towards whom the contempt implied for the “barbarian” assumed explicitness, and reached its climax. (2) The omission of “male nor female.” In the Oriental society, as in Galatia, the dignity of women needed to be asserted against supposed inferiority. In Greek or Græcised society, as at Corinth, Ephesus, and Colossæ, the new “freedom” of the gospel was apt to be abused to license; hence it was rather the “subjection” of women which needed to be suggested. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 11:3-16; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:22-24; and 1 Timothy 2:11-15.) (3) Whereas in the Galatian Epistle the stress is laid on the unity of all with one another in Christ, here (as usual) the great truth is that “Christ is all things and in all.” In 1 Corinthians 15:28 we have this phrase applied to God, in contradistinction to the office of the Son in His mediatorial kingdom. Here it is in reference to that kingdom that it is used. In it Christ (see Ephesians 1:23) “fills all in all;” and by His universal mediation all “life is hid with Him in God.” He is all that can be needed, and that both “in all things” and “in all persons.” But under both aspects the catholicity of the gospel is equally brought out; here by the direct union of all alike with Christ, there by the resulting unity of all with one another.


Verse 12

(12) Elect of God.—For the description of the election here signified see Ephesians 1:4-6. The name is obviously applied to the whole Church, as “elect to privilege “; it is not opposed to “called” (as in Matthew 20:16), but coincident with it, representing, indeed, the secret act of God’s gracious will, which is openly manifested in calling. (Comp. the other instances of the word in the Epistles, Romans 8:33; Romans 16:13; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; Revelation 17:14.)

Holy and beloved.—Of such election there are here two signs. The elect are “holy,” consecrated to God in thought and life; and “beloved,” accepted and sustained in their consecration by His love. Both epithets belong to them as conformed to the image of Christ (Rev. ); for He is “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34), who “sanctifies Himself for us, that we also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19); and He is also the “Beloved,” the “Son of God’s love” (Colossians 1:13; Matthew 3:17; Ephesians 1:16), and we are accepted in Him. The two epithets here seem intended to prepare for the two-fold exhortation following. They are “beloved,” therefore they should love one another (Colossians 3:12-15); they are holy, therefore they should thank God and live to His glory (Colossians 3:16-17).


Verse 12-13

(12, 13) Comp. Ephesians 4:2; Ephesians 4:31; Ephesians 5:1-2. The word “tenderhearted” in those passages corresponds to the “bowels (or, heart) of mercies” here;” kindness” and “forgiveness,” “humility,” “gentleness,” “forbearance,” appear in both. But the enumeration here is more exact in order of idea. St. Paul starts with the natural and universal instinct of compassion or sympathy; he next dwells on “kindliness and lowliness of mind,” which are closely akin, since readiness to oblige others grows naturally out of a self-neglectful humility; from these he passes to “gentleness and long-suffering “in case of injury, ready” to forbear and to forgive; lastly, from these particulars he rises to the general spirit of “love,” ruling under “the peace of God.”


Verse 13

(13) Even as Christ forgave you.—The MS. authority is in favour of the word “Lord” instead of Christ; but since the name “Lord” is specially applied to Christ in these Epistles (see, for example, Ephesians 4:5) there is no real difference. In Ephesians 4:31 we have “God in Christ forgave you,” because there the example of Christ, as Son of Man, is afterwards to be set forth emphatically as an example of self-sacrifice (Colossians 3:2), and hence the free mercy of forgiveness is naturally attributed to “God in Christ.” Here, in accordance with the emphatic exaltation of Christ, as all in all, the simpler phrase “Christ (or, the Lord) forgave you” is employed.


Verse 14

(14) Above all.—Properly, over all—as a bond or cincture to keep all together. Love is the general principle, harmonising all the special graces named above.

The bond of perfectness.—The bond of that harmony of character which is perfection. The phrase is remarkable, apparently suggested by the claim to perfection, set up by the Gnostic teachers. They sought such perfection in knowledge peculiar to the few; St. Paul in the love which is possible to all. For as he elsewhere urges (1 Corinthians 8:1),” Knowledge puffs up, charity builds up;” knowledge gains a fancied perfection, charity a real perfection.


Verse 15

(15) The peace of God.—The true reading is the peace of Christ—that which He gives (John 14:27), that which He is (see Ephesians 2:14). The ordinary reading is, no doubt, borrowed from Philippians 4:7. This verse forms a link between the preceding exhortation to love of man, and the following exhortation to a loving and thankful service of God. The “peace of Christ” is the sense of unity in Him, with our fellow-men and with God. We are “called to it in one Body,” of which He is the Head. (Comp. the fuller treatment of this subject in Ephesians 2:14-22; where, in accordance with the whole character of that Epistle, the unity “in one Body,” here only alluded to, is worked out in vividness and detail.)


Verse 16

(16) The word of Christ.—Here again the definite phrase, “the word of Christ,” takes the place of the commoner phrase, “the word of the Lord,” “the word of God.” It is to “dwell in their hearts.” Hence it is the engrafted word” (James 1:21)—the truth of Christ conceived in the heart, striking root into it, and making it its dwelling-place. It will be observed how all such phrases prepare for the full conception of Him as Himself “the Word of God.”

In all wisdom.—The symmetry of the original, “in all wisdom teaching . . . in grace singing,” suggests the connection of the words with those following, not, as in our version, with those going before. The indwelling Word of God is described as manifesting itself, first, in the wisdom of mutual teaching, next, in the grace of hearty thanksgiving.

Teaching and admonishing . . .—Here again we have at once general identity and special distinction between this and the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19-20. There, as here, we have the “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” “the singing in the hearts to the Lord,” and the spirit of “thankfulness.” But there the whole is described as a consequence of “being filled with the Spirit,” and, as an outburst of that spiritual enthusiasm, of which the spurious excitement of drunkenness is the morbid caricature. Here the thought starts from “the word of Christ in the soul,” realised through the gift of the Spirit by all our faculties; and it divides itself accordingly into the function of teaching, which bears on the mind; “the singing in grace” of thankfulness, which comes from and goes to the heart; and the “doing all in the name of Christ,” which belongs to the outer sphere of action.

Psalms and hymns.—The ascription to those of an office of “teaching and admonition” describes what is their real, though indirect, effect. In the Church, as in the world, he who “makes a people’s songs” really guides their minds as well as their hearts. For good and for evil the hymns of the Christian Church have largely influenced her theology.


Verse 17

(17) All in the name of the Lord Jesus.—Comp. here the more general exhortation of 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” This is the first principle of all godly life. The main object of all life, speculative or practical, is declared to be, not our own happiness or perfection, not the good of our fellow-men, but the “glory of God”—the carrying out of His will, and so manifesting His moral attributes. We are taught that if we “seek this first, all the other things shall be added unto us.” But here we have the principle, not only of godly life, but of Christian life. It does all “in the name of Christ,” that is, as conformed to His image, and so being His representative; it looks up thankfully to God our Father, but it is through Him, “having our sonship by adoption” through His all-sufficient mediation. Its desire is, not only that God may be glorified, but that “He may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). Once more we trace here the special and emphatic purpose of the Epistle.

Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1 deals with the three great relations of life—between wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters. In this section we have the closest parallelism with the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9). But the treatment of the first relation is far briefer, having nothing to correspond to the grand and characteristic comparison of marriage to the union between Christ and the Church. Even in the second there is somewhat greater brevity and simplicity. The third is dwelt upon with marked coincidence of language, and at least equal emphasis. We can hardly doubt that the presence of Onesimus, the runaway slave, suggested this peculiar emphasis on the right relation between the slave and his master.

[It will only be necessary to note the few points in which this section differs notably from the parallel passage.]


Verse 18

[6. Special Exhortation as to the relations of life.

(1) THE DUTY OF WIVES AND HUSBANDS (Colossians 3:18-19).

(2) THE DUTY OF CHILDREN AND PARENTS (Colossians 3:20-21).

(3) THE DUTY OF SLAVES AND MASTERS (Colossians 3:22 to Colossians 4:1).]


Verse 18

(18) As it is fit in the Lord.—For the explanation of this special fitness “in the Lord,” i.e., in virtue of Christian unity, see the grand description of Ephesians 5:23-24; Ephesians 5:32-33.


Verse 19

(19) Be not bitter.—Properly, grow not bitter, suffer not yourselves to be exasperated. The word is used metaphorically only in this passage, literally in Revelation 8:11; Revelation 10:9-10.


Verse 21

(21) Provoke not . . . to anger.—This, in the text followed by our version, is borrowed from Ephesians 6:4. The true reading is provoke to emulation, as in 2 Corinthians 9:2. What is forbidden is a constant and restless stimulation, “spurring the willing horse;” which will end in failure and despondency.


Verses 22-25

(22-25) Compare throughout Ephesians 6:5-9. The only peculiarity of this passage is the strong emphasis laid on “the reward of the inheritance.” “The reward” is in the original, a perfect recompense or requital. The “inheritance” is exactly that which no slave could receive; only a son could be an heir (Galatians 4:7). Hence the slave on earth is recognised as a son in heaven. He “serves the Lord,” but his service is the perfect freedom of sonship.


Verse 25

(25) He that doeth wrong is clearly here the master (see Ephesians 6:9), though, of course, the phrase cannot be limited to him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Colossians 3:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/colossians-3.html. 1905.

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