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1. I would have you know. He declares his affection towards them, that he may have more credit and authority; for we readily believe those whom we know to be desirous of our welfare. It is also an evidence of no ordinary affection, that he was concerned about them in the midst of death, that is, when he was in danger of his life; and that he may express the more emphatically the intensity of his affection and concern, he calls it a conflict. I do not find fault with the rendering of Erasmus — anxiety; but, at the same time, the force of the Greek word is to be noticed, for ἀγών is made use of to denote contention. By the same proof he confirms his statement, that his ministry is directed to them; for whence springs so anxious a concern as to their welfare, but from this, that the Apostle of the Gentiles was under obligation to embrace in his affection and concern even those who were unknown to him? As, however, there is commonly no love between those who are unknown to each other, he speaks slightingly of the acquaintance that is contracted from sight, when he says, as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; for there is among the servants of God a sight different from that of the flesh, which excites love. As it is almost universally agreed that the First Epistle to Timothy was written from Laodicea, some, on this account, assign to Galatia that Laodicea of which Paul makes mention here, while the other was the metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana. (345) It seems to me, however, to be more probable that that inscription is incorrect, as will be noticed in its proper place.
(345) After the time of Constantine the Great, “Phrygia was divided into Phrygia Pacatiana and Phrygia Salutaris.... Colosse was the sixth city of the first division.” — Dr. A. Clarke. — Ed.
2. That their hearts may receive consolation. He now intimates what he desires for them, and shews that his affection is truly apostolic; for he declares that nothing else is desired by him than that they may be united together in faith and love. He shews, accordingly, that it was by no unreasonable affection (as happens in the case of some) that he had been led to take upon himself so great a concern for the Colossians and others, but because the duty of his office required it.
The term consolation is taken here to denote that true quietness in which they may repose. This he declares they will at length come to enjoy in the event of their being united in love and faith. From this it appears where the chief good is, and in what things it consists — when mutually agreed in one faith, we are also joined together in mutual love. This, I say, is the solid joy of a pious mind — this is the blessed life. As, however, love is here commended from its effect, because it fills the mind of the pious with true joy; so, on the other hand, the cause of it is pointed out by him, when he says, in all fullness of understanding. (346) The bond also of holy unity is the truth of God, when we embrace it with one consent; for peace and agreement with men flow forth from that fountain.
Riches of the assurance of understanding. As many, contenting themselves with a slight taste, have nothing but a confused and evanescent knowledge, he makes mention expressly of the riches of understanding. By this phrase he means full and clear perception; and at the same time admonishes them, that according to the measure of understanding they must make progress also in love.
In the term assurance, he distinguishes between faith and mere opinion; for that man truly knows the Lord who does not vacillate or waver in doubt, but stands fast in a firm and constant persuasion. This constancy and stability Paul frequently calls ( πληροφορίαν) full assurance, (which term he makes use of here also,) and always connects it with faith, as undoubtedly it can no more be separated from it than heat or light can be from the sun. The doctrine, therefore, of the schoolmen is devilish, inasmuch as it takes away assurance, and substitutes in its place moral conjecture, (347) as they term it.
Is an acknowledgment of the mystery. This clause must be read as added by way of apposition, for he explains what that knowledge is, of which he has made mention — that it is nothing else than the knowledge of the gospel. For the false apostles themselves endeavor to set off their impostures under the title of wisdom, but Paul retains the sons of God within the limits of the gospel exclusively, that they may desire to know nothing else. (1 Corinthians 2:2.) Why he uses the term mystery to denote the gospel, has been already explained. Let us, however, learn from this, that the gospel can be understood by faith alone — not by reason, nor by the perspicacity of the human understanding, because otherwise it is a thing that is hid from us.
The mystery of God I understand in a passive signification, as meaning — that in which God is revealed, for he immediately adds — and of the Father, and of Christ — by which expression he means that God cannot be known otherwise than in Christ, as, on the other hand, the Father must necessarily be known where Christ is known. For John affirms both:
He that hath the Son, hath the Father also: he that hath not the Son, hath also not the Father. (1 John 2:23.)
Hence all that think that they know anything of God apart from Christ, contrive to themselves an idol in the place of God; as also, on the other hand, that man is ignorant of Christ, who is not led by him to the Father, and who does not in him embrace God wholly. In the mean time, it is a memorable passage for proving Christ’s divinity, and the unity of his essence with the Father. For having spoken previously as to the knowledge of God, he immediately applies it to the Son, as well as to the Father, whence it follows, that the Son is God equally with the Father.
(346) “ En toutes richesses de certitude d’intelligence ;” — “In all riches of assurance of understanding. ”
(347) See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 112, and vol. 2, p. 397.
3. In whom are all the treasures. The expression in quo ( in whom, or in which) may either have a reference collectively to everything he has said as to the acknowledgment of the mystery, or it may relate simply to what came immediately before, namely, Christ. While there is not much difference between the one or the other, I rather prefer the latter view, and it is the one that is more generally received. The meaning, therefore, is, that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ — by which he means, that we are perfect in wisdom if we truly know Christ, so that it is madness to wish to know anything besides Him. For since the Father has manifested himself wholly in Him, that man wishes to be wise apart from God, who is not contented with Christ alone. Should any one choose to interpret it as referring to the mystery, the meaning will be, that all the wisdom of the pious is included in the gospel, by means of which God is revealed to us in his Son.
He says, however, that the treasures are hidden, because they are not seen glittering with great splendor, but do rather, as it were, lie hid under the contemptible abasement and simplicity of the cross. For the preaching of the cross is always foolishness to the world, as we found stated in Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 1:18.) I do not reckon that there is any great difference between wisdom and understanding in this passage, for the employment of two different terms serves only to give additional strength, as though he had said, that no knowledge, erudition, learning, wisdom, can be found elsewhere.
4. This I say, that no man may deceive you. As the contrivances of men have (as we shall afterwards see) an appearance of wisdom, the minds of the pious ought to be preoccupied with this persuasion — that the knowledge of Christ is of itself amply sufficient. And, unquestionably, this is the key that can close the door against all base errors. (348) For what is the reason why mankind have involved themselves in so many wicked opinions, in so many idolatries, in so many foolish speculations, but this — that, despising the simplicity of the gospel, they have ventured to aspire higher? All the errors, accordingly, that are in Popery, must be reckoned as proceeding from this ingratitude — that, not resting satisfied with Christ alone, they have given themselves up to strange doctrines.
With propriety, therefore, does the Apostle act in writing to the Hebrews, inasmuch as, when wishing to exhort believers not to allow themselves to be led astray (349) by strange or new doctrines, he first of all makes use of this foundation —
Christ yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8.)
By this he means, that those are out of danger who remain in Christ, but that those who are not satisfied with Christ are exposed to all fallacies and deceptions. So Paul here would have every one, that would not be deceived, be fortified by means of this principle — that it is not lawful for a Christian man to know anything except Christ. Everything that will be brought forward after this, let it have ever so imposing an appearance, will, nevertheless, be of no value. In fine, there will be no persuasiveness of speech (350) that can turn aside so much as the breadth of a finger the minds of those that have devoted their understanding to Christ. It is a passage, certainly, that ought to be singularly esteemed. For as he who has taught men to know nothing except Christ, has provided against all wicked doctrines, (351) so there is the same reason why we should at this day destroy the whole of Popery, which, it is manifest, is built on ignorance of Christ.
(348) “ Tous erreurs et faussetez;” — “All errors and impostures.”
(349) “ Qu’ils ne se laissent point distraire ça et la;” — “That they do not allow themselves to be distracted hither and thither.”
(350) Pithanologia — our author having here in view the Greek term made use of by Paul, πιθανολογία, ( persuasive speech.) See Calvin on 1 Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 100; also Plat. Theaet. 163, A. — Ed.
(351) “ Toutes fausses et meschantes doctrines;” — “All false and wicked doctrines.”
5. For though I am absent in body. Lest any one should object that the admonition was unseasonable, as coming from a place so remote, he says, that his affection towards them made him be present with them in spirit, and judge of what is expedient for them, as though he were present. By praising, also, their present condition, he admonishes them not to fall back from it, or turn aside.
Rejoicing, says he, And seeing, that is — “Because I see. ” For and means for, as is customary among the Latins and Greeks. “Go on as you have begun, for I know that hitherto you have pursued the right course, inasmuch as distance of place does not prevent me from beholding you with the eyes of the mind.”
Order and steadfastness. He mentions two things, in which the perfection of the Church consists — order among themselves, and faith in Christ. By the term order, he means — agreement, no less than duly regulated morals, and entire discipline. He commends their faith, in respect of its constancy and steadfastness, meaning that it is an empty shadow of faith, when the mind wavers and vacillates between different opinions. (352)
(352) “ Quand l’esprit est en branle, maintenant d’vne opinion, maintenant d’autre;” — “When the mind is in suspense, now of one opinion, then of another.”
6. As ye have received. To commendation he adds exhortation, in which he teaches them that their having once received Christ will be of no advantage to them, unless they remain in him. Farther, as the false apostles held forth Christ’s name with a view to deceive, he obviates this danger twice, by exhorting them to go on as they had been taught, and as they had received Christ. For in these words he admonishes them, that they must adhere to the doctrine which they had embraced, as delivered to them by Epaphras, with so much constancy, as to be on their guard against every other doctrine and faith, in accordance with what Isaiah said,
This is the way, walk ye in it. (Isaiah 30:21.)
And, unquestionbly, we must act in such a manner, that the truth of the gospel, after it has been manifested to us, may be to us as a brazen wall (353) for keeping back all impostures. (354)
Now he intimates by three metaphors what steadfastness of faith he requires from them. The first is in the word walk. For he compares the pure doctrine of the gospel, as they had learned it, to a way that is sure, so that if any one will but keep it he will be beyond all danger of mistake. He exhorts them, accordingly, if they would not go astray, not to turn aside from the course on which they have entered.
The second is taken from trees. For as a tree that has struck its roots deep has a sufficiency of support for withstanding all the assaults of winds and storms, so, if any one is deeply and thoroughly fixed in Christ, as in a firm root, it will not be possible for him to be thrown down from his proper position by any machinations of Satan. On the other hand, if any one has not fixed his roots in Christ, (355) he will easily be
carried about with every wind of doctrine, (Ephesians 4:14,)
just as a tree that is not supported by any root. (356)
The third metaphor is that of a foundation, for a house that is not supported by a foundation quickly falls to ruins. The case is the same with those who lean on any other foundation than Christ, or at least are not securely founded on him, but have the building of their faith suspended, as it were, in the air, in consequence of their weakness and levity.
These two things are to be observed in the Apostle’s words — that the stability of those who rely upon Christ is immovable, and their course is not at all wavering, or liable to error, (and this is an admirable commendation of faith from its effect;) and, secondly, that we must make progress in Christ aye and until we have taken deep root in him. From this we may readily gather, that those who do not know Christ only wander into bypaths, and are tossed about in disquietude.
(353) Murus aheneus . Our author has probably in his eye the celebrated sentiment of Horace — “ Hic murus aheneus esto — nil conscire sibi;” — “Let this be the brazen wall — to be conscious to one’s self of no crime.” — (Hor. Ep. I. 1:60, 61.) See also Hor. Od. III. 3, 65. — Ed.
(354) “ Toutes fallaces et astutes;” — “All fallacies and wiles.”
(355) “ Si quelque vn n’ha la racine de son cœur plantee et fichee en Christ;” — “If any one has not the root of his heart planted and fixed in Christ.”
(356) “ Que n’ha point les racines profondes;” — “That has not deep roots.”
7. And confirmed in the faith. He now repeats without a figure the same thing that he had expressed by metaphors, — that the prosecution of the way, the support of the root, and of the foundation, is firmness and steadfastness of faith. And observe, that this argument is set before them in consequence of their having been well instructed, in order that they may safely and confidently secure their footing in the faith with which they had been made acquainted.
Abounding. He would not have them simply remain immovable, but would have them grow every day more and more. When he adds, with thanksgiving, he would have them always keep in mind from what source faith itself proceeds, that they may not be puffed up with presumption, but may rather with fear repose themselves in the gift of God. And, unquestionably, ingratitude is very frequently the reason why we are deprived of the light of the gospel, as well as of other divine favors.
8. Beware lest any one plunder you. He again instructs them as to the poison, which the antidote presented by him should be made use of to counteract. For although this, as we have stated, is a common remedy against all the impostures of the devil, (359) it had, nevertheless, at that time a peculiar advantage among the Colossians, to which it required to be applied. Beware, says he, lest any one plunder you. He makes use of a very appropriate term, for he alludes to plunderers, who, when they cannot carry off the flock by violence, drive away some of the cattle fraudulently. Thus he makes Christ’s Church a sheep-fold, and the pure doctrine of the gospel the enclosures of the fold. He intimates, accordingly, that we who are the sheep of Christ repose in safety when we hold the unity of the faith, while, on the other hand, he likens the false apostles to plunderers that carry us away from the folds. Would you then be reckoned as belonging to Christ’s flock? Would you remain in his folds? Do not deviate a nail’s breadth from purity of doctrine. For unquestionably Christ will act the part of the good Shepherd by protecting us if we but hear his voice, and reject those of strangers. In short, the tenth chapter of John is the exposition of the passage before us. [John 10:0 ]
Through philosophy. As many have mistakingly imagined that philosophy is here condemned by Paul, we must point out what he means by this term. Now, in my opinion, he means everything that men contrive of themselves when wishing to be wise through means of their own understanding, and that not without a specious pretext of reason, so as to have a plausible appearance. For there is no difficulty in rejecting those contrivances of men which have nothing to set them off, (360) but in rejecting those that captivate men’s minds by a false conceit of wisdom. Or should any one prefer to have it expressed in one word, philosophy is nothing else than a persuasive speech, which insinuates itself into the minds of men by elegant and plausible arguments. Of such a nature, I acknowledge, will all the subtleties of philosophers be, if they are inclined to add anything of their own to the pure word of God. Hence philosophy will be nothing else than a corruption of spiritual doctrine, if it is mixed up with Christ. Let us, however, bear in mind, that under the term philosophy Paul has merely condemned all spurious doctrines which come forth from man’s head, whatever appearance of reason they may have. What immediately follows, as to vain deceit, I explain thus; “Beware of philosophy, which is nothing else than vain deceit, ” so that this is added by way of apposition. (361)
According to the tradition of men. He points out more precisely what kind of philosophy he reproves, and at the same time convicts it of vanity on a twofold account — because it is not according to Christ, but according to the inclinations of men; (362) and because it consists in the elements of the world. Observe, however, that he places Christ in opposition to the elements of the world, equally as to the tradition of men, by which he intimates, that whatever is hatched in man’s brain is not in accordance with Christ, who has been appointed us by the Father as our sole Teacher, that he might retain us in the simplicity of his gospel. Now, that is corrupted by even a small portion of the leaven of human traditions. He intimates also, that all doctrines are foreign to Christ that make the worship of God, which we know to be spiritual, according to Christ’s rule, to consist in the elements of the world, (363) and also such as fetter the minds of men by such trifles and frivolities, while Christ calls us directly to himself.
But what is meant by the phrase — elements of the world ? (364) There can be no doubt that it means ceremonies. For he immediately afterwards adduces one instance by way of example — circumcision. The reason why he calls them by such a name is usually explained in two ways. Some think that it is a metaphor, so that the elements are the rudiments of children, which do not lead forward to mature doctrine. Others take it in its proper signification, as denoting things that are outward and are liable to corruption, which avail nothing for the kingdom of God. The former exposition I rather approve of, as also in Galatians 4:3
(359) Our Author evidently refers to what he had said as to the advantage to be derived from steadfastness in the faith. See p. 178. — Ed.
(360) “ Quand elles n’ont ni monstre ni couleur;” — “When they have neither show nor appearance.”
(361) See p. 148, n. 2.
(362) “ Selon les ordonnances et plaisirs des hommes;” — “According to the appointments and inclinations of men.”
(363) “ Es choses visibles de ce monde;” — “In the visible things of this world.”
(364) “ Rudimens, ou elemens du monde;” — “Rudiments, or elements of the world.”
9. For in him dwelleth. Here we have the reason why those elements of the world, which are taught by men, do not accord with Christ — because they are additions for supplying a deficiency, as they speak. Now in Christ there is a perfection, to which nothing can be added. Hence everything that mankind of themselves mix up, is at variance with Christ’s nature, because it charges him with imperfection. This argument of itself will suffice for setting aside all the contrivances of Papists. For to what purpose do they tend, (365) but to perfect what was commenced by Christ? (366) Now this outrage upon Christ (367) is not by any means to be endured. They allege, it is true, that they add nothing to Christ, inasmuch as the things that they have appended to the gospel are, as it were, a part of Christianity, but they do not effect an escape by a cavil of this kind. For Paul does not speak of an imaginary Christ, but of a Christ preached, (368) who has revealed himself by express doctrine.
Further, when he says that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, he means simply, that God is wholly found in him, so that he who is not contented with Christ alone, desires something better and more excellent than God. The sum is this, that God has manifested himself to us fully and perfectly in Christ.
Interpreters explain in different ways the adverb bodily. For my part, I have no doubt that it is employed — not in a strict sense — as meaning substantially. (369) For he places this manifestation of God, which we have in Christ, to all others that have ever been made. For God has often manifested himself to men, but it has been only in part. In Christ, on the other hand, he communicates himself to us wholly. He has also manifested himself to us otherwise, but it is in figures, or by power and grace. In Christ, on the other hand, he has appeared to us essentially. Thus the statement of John holds good:
He that hath the Son, hath the Father also. (1 John 2:23.)
For those who possess Christ have God truly present, and enjoy Him wholly.
(365) “ Toutes leurs inuentions;” — “All their inventions.”
(366) “ Ce que Christ a commencé seulement;” — “What Christ has only commenced.”
(367) “ Vn tel outrage fait au Fils de Dieu;” — “Such an outrage committed upon the Son of God.”
(368) “ D’vn vray Christ;” — “Of a true Christ.”
(369) “ Σωματικῶς signifies truly, really, in opposition to typically, figuratively. There was a symbol of the Divine presence in the Hebrew tabernacle, and in the Jewish temple; but in the body of Christ the Deity, with all its plenitude of attributes, dwelt really and substantially, for so the word σωματικῶς means.” — Dr. A. Clarke. — Ed.
10. And ye are complete in him. He adds, that this perfect essence of Deity, which is in Christ, is profitable to us in this respect, that we are also perfect in him. “As to God’s dwelling wholly in Christ, it is in order that we, having obtained him, may posses in him an entire perfection.” Those, therefore, who do not rest satisfied with Christ alone, do injury to God in two ways, for besides detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above his perfection, they are also ungrateful, inasmuch as they seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ. Paul, however, does not mean that the perfection of Christ is transfused into us, but that there are in him resources from which we may be filled, that nothing may be wanting to us.
Who is the head. He has introduced this clause again on account of the angels, meaning that the angels, also, will be ours, if we have Christ. But of this afterwards. In the mean time, we must observe this, that we are hemmed in, above and below, with railings, (370) that our faith may not deviate even to the slightest extent from Christ.
(370) See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 474, n. 2.
11. In whom ye also are circumcised. From this it appears, that he has a controversy with the false apostles, who mixed the law with the gospel, and by that means made Christ have, as it were, two faces. He specifies, however, one instance by way of example. He proves that the circumcision of Moses is not merely unnecessary, but is opposed to Christ, because it destroys the spiritual circumcision of Christ. For circumcision was given to the Fathers that it might be the figure of a thing that was absent: those, therefore, who retain that figure after Christ’s advent, deny the accomplishment of what it prefigures. Let us, therefore, bear in mind that outward circumcision is here compared with spiritual, just as a figure with the reality. The figure is of a thing that is absent: hence it puts away the presence of the reality. What Paul contends for is this — that, inasmuch as what was shadowed forth by a circumcision made with hands, has been completed in Christ, there is now no fruit or advantage from it. (371) Hence he says, that the circumcision which is made in the heart is the circumcision of Christ, and that, on this account, that which is outward is not now required, because, where the reality exists, that shadowy emblem vanishes, (372) inasmuch as it has no place except in the absence of the reality.
By the putting off of the body. He employs the term body, by an elegant metaphor, to denote a mass, made up of all vices. For as we are encompassed by our bodies, so we are surrounded on all sides by an accumulation of vices. And as the body is composed of various members, each of which has its own actings and offices, so from that accumulation of corruption all sins take their rise as members of the entire body. There is a similar manner of expression in Romans 6:13.
He takes the term flesh, as he is wont, to denote corrupt nature. The body of the sins of the flesh, therefore, is the old man with his deeds; only, there is a difference in the manner of expression, for here he expresses more properly the mass of vices which proceed from corrupt nature. He says that we obtain this (373) through Christ, so that unquestionably an entire regeneration is his benefit. It is he that circumcises the foreskin of our heart, or, in other words, mortifies all the lusts of the flesh, not with the hand, but by his Spirit. Hence there is in him the reality of the figure.
(371) “ Maintenant le fruit et l’vsage d’icelle est aneanti;” — “The fruit and advantage of it are now made void.”
(372) “ Le signe qui la figuroit s’esuanouit comme vn ombre;” — “The sign which prefigured it vanishes like a shadow.”
(373) “ Ce despouillement;” — “This divesture.”
12. Buried with him, in baptism. He explains still more clearly the manner of spiritual circumcision — because, being buried with Christ, we are partakers of his death. He expressly declares that we obtain this by means of baptism, that it may be the more clearly apparent that there is no advantage from circumcision under the reign of Christ. For some one might otherwise object: “Why do you abolish circumcision on this pretext — that its accomplishment is in Christ? Was not Abraham, also, circumcised spiritually, and yet this did not hinder the adding of the sign to the reality? Outward circumcision, therefore, is not superfluous, although that which is inward is conferred by Christ.” Paul anticipates an objection of this kind, by making mention of baptism. Christ, says he, accomplishes in us spiritual circumcision, not through means of that ancient sign, which was in force under Moses, but by baptism. Baptism, therefore, is a sign of the thing that is presented to us, which while absent was prefigured by circumcision. The argument is taken from the economy (374) which God has appointed; for those who retain circumcision contrive a mode of dispensation different from that which God has appointed.
When he says that we are buried with Christ, this means more than that we are crucified with him; for burial expresses a continued process of mortification. When he says, that this is done through means of baptism, as he says also in Romans 6:4, he speaks in his usual manner, ascribing efficacy to the sacrament, that it may not fruitlessly signify what does not exist. (375) By baptism, therefore, we are buried with Christ, because Christ does at the same time accomplish efficaciously that mortification, which he there represents, that the reality may be conjoined with the sign.
In which also ye are risen. He magnifies the grace which we obtain in Christ, as being greatly superior to circumcision. “We are not only,” says he, “ingrafted into Christ’s death, but we also rise to newness of life:” hence the more injury is done to Christ by those who endeavor to bring us back to circumcision. He adds, by faith, for unquestionably it is by it that we receive what is presented to us in baptism. But what faith ? That of his efficacy or operation, by which he means, that faith is founded upon the power of God. As, however, faith does not wander in a confused and undefined contemplation, as they speak, of divine power, he intimates what efficacy it ought to have in view — that by which God raised Christ from the dead. He takes this, however, for granted, that, inasmuch as it is impossible that believers should be severed from their head, the same power of God, which shewed itself in Christ, is diffused among them all in common.
(374) “ Du gouuernement et dispensation que Dieu a ordonné en son Eglise;” — “From the government and dispensation which God has appointed in his Church.”
(375) “ Afin que la, signification ne soit vaine, comme d’vne chose qui n’est point;” — “That the signification may not be vain, as of a thing that is not.”
13. And you, when ye were dead. He admonishes the Colossians to recognize, what he had treated of in a general way, as applicable to themselves, which is by far the most effectual way of teaching. Farther, as they were Gentiles when they were converted to Christ, he takes occasion from this to shew them how absurd it is to pass over from Christ to the ceremonies of Moses. Ye were, says he, dead in Uncircumcision. This term, however, may be understood either in its proper signification, or figuratively. If you understand it in its proper sense, the meaning will be, “ Uncircumcision is the badge of alienation from God; for where the covenant of grace is not, there is pollution, (376) and, consequently, curse and ruin. But God has called you to himself from uncircumcision, and, therefore, from death.” (377) In this way he would not represent uncircumcision as the cause of death, but as a token that they were estranged from God. We know, however, that men cannot live otherwise than by cleaving to their God, who alone is their life. Hence it follows, that all wicked persons, however they may seem to themselves to be in the highest degree lively and flourishing, are, nevertheless, spiritually dead. In this manner this passage will correspond with Ephesians 2:11, where it is said,
Remember that, in time past, when ye were Gentiles, and called uncircumcision, by that circumcision which is made with hands in the flesh, ye were at that time without Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the promises.
Taking it metaphorically, there would, indeed, be an allusion to natural uncircumcision, but at the same time Paul would here be speaking of the obstinacy of the human heart, in opposition to God, and of a nature that is defiled by corrupt affections. I rather prefer the former exposition, because it corresponds better with the context; for Paul declares that uncircumcision was no hinderance in the way of their becoming partakers of Christ’s life. Hence it follows, that circumcision derogated from the grace of God, which they had already obtained.
As to his ascribing death to uncircumcision, this is not as though it were the cause of it, but as being the badge of it, as also in that other passage in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which we have quoted. It is also customary in Scripture to denote deprivation of the reality by deprivation of the sign, as in Genesis 3:22, —
Lest peradventure Adam eat of the fruit of life, and live.
For the tree did not confer life, but its being taken away was a sign of death. (378) Paul has in this place briefly expressed both. He says that these were dead in sins: this is the cause, for our sins alienate us from God. He adds, in the uncircumcision of your flesh. This was outward pollution, an evidence of spiritual death.
By forgiving you. God does not quicken us by the mere remission of sins, but he makes mention here of this particularly, because that free reconciliation with God, which overthrows the righteousness of works, is especially connected with the point in hand, where he treats of abrogated ceremonies, as he discourses of more at large in the Epistle to the Galatians. For the false apostles, by establishing ceremonies, bound them with a halter, from which Christ has set them free.
(376) “ Là il n’y a que souillure et ordure;” — “There, there is nothing but filth and pollution.”
(377) “ Il vous a donc retirez de la mort;” — “He has, therefore, drawn you back from death.”
(378) See Calvin on Genesis, vol. 1, p. 184.
14. Having blotted out the hand-writing which was against us. He now contends with the false apostles in close combat. For this was the main point in question, — whether the observance of ceremonies was necessary under the reign of Christ? Now Paul contends that ceremonies have been abolished, and to prove this he compares them to a hand-writing, by which God holds us as it were bound, that we may not be able to deny our guilt. He now says, that we have been freed from condemnation, in such a manner, that even the hand-writing is blotted out, that no remembrance of it might remain. For we know that as to debts the obligation is still in force, so long as the hand-writing remains; and that, on the other hand, by the erasing, or tearing of the handwriting, the debtor is set free. Hence it follows, that all those who still urge the observance of ceremonies, detract from the grace of Christ, as though absolution were not procured for us through him; for they restore to the hand-writing its freshness, so as to hold us still under obligation.
This, therefore, is a truly theological reason for proving the abrogation of ceremonies, because, if Christ has fully redeemed us from condemnation, he must have also effaced the remembrance of the obligation, that consciences may be pacified and tranquil in the sight of God, for these two things are conjoined. While interpreters explain this passage in various ways, there is not one of them that satisfies me. Some think that Paul speaks simply of the moral law, but there is no ground for this. For Paul is accustomed to give the name of ordinances to that department which consists in ceremonies, as he does in the Epistle to the Ephesians, (Ephesians 2:15,) and as we shall find he does shortly afterwards. More especially, the passage in Ephesians shews clearly, that Paul is here speaking of ceremonies.
Others, therefore, do better, in restricting it to ceremonies, but they, too, err in this respect, that they do not add the reason why it is called hand-writing, or rather they assign a reason different from the true one, and they do not in a proper manner apply this similitude to the context. Now, the reason is, that all the ceremonies of Moses had in them some acknowledgment of guilt, which bound those that observed them with a firmer tie, as it were, in the view of God’s judgment. For example, what else were washings than an evidence of pollution? Whenever any victim was sacrificed, did not the people that stood by behold in it a representation of his death? For when persons substituted in their place an innocent animal, they confessed that they were themselves deserving of that death. In fine, in proportion as there were ceremonies belonging to it, just so many exhibitions were there of human guilt, and hand-writings of obligation.
Should any one object that they were sacraments of the grace of God, as Baptism and the Eucharist are to us at this day, the answer is easy. For there are two things to be considered in the ancient ceremonies — that they were suited to the time, and that they led men forward to the kingdom of Christ. Whatever was done at that time shewed in itself nothing but obligation. Grace was in a manner suspended until the advent of Christ — not that the Fathers were excluded from it, but they had not a present manifestation of it in their ceremonies. For they saw nothing in the sacrifices but the blood of beasts, and in their washings nothing but water. Hence, as to present view, condemnation remained; nay more, the ceremonies themselves sealed the condemnation. The Apostle speaks, also, in this manner in the whole of his Epistle to the Hebrews, because he places Christ in direct opposition to ceremonies. But how is it now? The Son of God has not only by his death delivered us from the condemnation of death, but in order that absolution might be made more certain, he abrogated those ceremonies, that no remembrance of obligation might remain. This is full liberty — that Christ has by his blood not only blotted out our sins, but every hand-writing which might declare us to be exposed to the judgment of God. Erasmus in his version has involved in confusion the thread of Paul’s discourse, by rendering it thus — “which was contrary to us by ordinances.” Retain, therefore, the rendering which I have given, as being the true and genuine one.
Took it out of the way, fastening it to his cross. He shews the manner in which Christ has effaced the hand-writing; for as he fastened to the cross our curse, our sins, and also the punishment that was due to us, so he has also fastened to it that bondage of the law, and everything that tends to bind consciences. For, on his being fastened to the cross, he took all things to himself, and even bound them upon him, that they might have no more power over us.
15. Spoiling principalities. There is no doubt that he means devils, whom Scripture represents as acting the part of accusing us before God. Paul, however, says that they are disarmed, so that they cannot bring forward anything against us, the attestation of our guilt being itself destroyed. Now, he expressly adds this with the view of shewing, that the victory of Christ, which he has procured for himself and us over Satan, is disfigured by the false apostles, and that we are deprived of the fruit of it when they restore the ancient ceremonies. For if our liberty is the spoil which Christ has rescued from the devil, what do others, who would bring us back into bondage, but restore to Satan the spoils of which he had been stript bare?
Triumphing over them in it. The expression in the Greek allows, it is true, of our reading — in himself; nay more, the greater part of the manuscripts have ἐν αὑτῳ with an aspirate. The connection of the passage, however, imperatively requires that we read it otherwise; for what would be meagre as applied to Christ, suits admirably as applied to the cross. For as he had previously compared the cross to a signal trophy or show of triumph, in which Christ led about his enemies, so he now also compares it to a triumphal car, in which he shewed himself conspicuously to view. (379) For although in the cross there is nothing but curse, it was, nevertheless, swallowed up by the power of God in such a way, that it (380) has put on, as it were, a new nature. For there is no tribunal so magnificent, no throne so stately, no show of triumph so distinguished, no chariot so elevated, (381) as is the gibbet on which Christ has subdued death and the devil, the prince of death; nay more, has utterly trodden them under his feet.
(379) “ En grande magnificence;” — “In great magnificence.”
(380) “ La croix;” — “The cross.”
(381) “ Tant eminent et honorable;” — “So lofty and honourable.”
16. Let no one therefore judge you. What he had previously said of circumcision he now extends to the difference of meats and days. For circumcision was the first introduction to the observance of the law, other things (384) followed afterwards. To judge means here, to hold one to be guilty of a crime, or to impose a scruple of conscience, so that we are no longer free. He says, therefore, that it is not in the power of men to make us subject to the observance of rites which Christ has by his death abolished, and exempts us from their yoke, that we may not allow ourselves to be fettered by the laws which they have imposed. He tacitly, however, places Christ in contrast with all mankind, lest any one should extol himself so daringly as to attempt to take away what he has given him.
In respect of a festival-day. Some understand τὸ μέρος to mean participation. Chrysostom, accordingly, thinks that he used the term part, because they did not observe all festival days, nor did they even keep holidays strictly, in accordance with the appointment of the law. This, however, is but a poor interpretation. (385) Consider whether it may not be taken to mean separation, for those that make a distinction of days, separate, as it were, one from another. Such a mode of partition was suitable for the Jews, that they might celebrate religiously (386) the days that were appointed, by separating them from others. Among Christians, however, such a division has ceased.
But some one will say, “We still keep up some observance of days.” I answer, that we do not by any means observe days, as though there were any sacredness in holidays, or as though it were not lawful to labor upon them, but that respect is paid to government and order — not to days. And this is what he immediately adds.
(384) “ Les autres ceremonies;” — “Other rites.”
(385) “ Mats c’est vne conjecture bien maigre;” — “But this is a very slender conjecture.”
(386) “ Estroittement;” — “Strictly.”
17. Which are a shadow of things to come. The reason why he frees Christians from the observance of them is, that they were shadows at a time when Christ was still, in a manner, absent. For he contrasts shadows with revelation, and absence with manifestation. Those, therefore, who still adhere to those shadows, act like one who should judge of a man’s appearance from his shadow, while in the mean time he had himself personally before his eyes. For Christ is now manifested to us, and hence we enjoy him as being present. The body, says he, is of Christ, that is, IN Christ. For the substance of those things which the ceremonies anciently prefigured is now presented before our eyes in Christ, inasmuch as he contains in himself everything that they marked out as future. Hence, the man that calls back the ceremonies into use, either buries the manifestation of Christ, or robs Christ of his excellence, and makes him in a manner void. (387) Accordingly, should any one of mortals assume to himself in this matter the office of judge, let us not submit to him, inasmuch as Christ, the only competent Judge, sets us free. For when he says, Let no man judge you, he does not address the false apostles, but prohibits the Colossians from yielding their neck to unreasonable requirements. To abstain, it is true, from swine’s flesh, is in itself harmless, but the binding to do it is pernicious, because it makes void the grace of Christ.
Should any one ask, “What view, then, is to be taken of our sacraments? Do they not also represent Christ to us as absent?” I answer, that they differ widely from the ancient ceremonies. For as painters do not in the first draught bring out a likeness in vivid colors, and ( εἰκονικῶς) expressively, but in the first instance draw rude and obscure lines with charcoal, so the representation of Christ under the law was unpolished, and was, as it were, a first sketch, but in our sacraments it is seen drawn out to the life. Paul, however, had something farther in view, for he contrasts the bare aspect of the shadow with the solidity of the body, and admonishes them, that it is the part of a madman to take hold of empty shadows, when it is in his power to handle the solid substance. Farther, while our sacraments represent Christ as absent as to view and distance of place, it is in such a manner as to testify that he has been once manifested, and they now also present him to us to be enjoyed. They are not, therefore, bare shadows, but on the contrary symbols (388) of Christ’s presence, for they contain that Yea and Amen of all the promises of God, (2 Corinthians 1:20,) which has been once manifested to us in Christ.
(387) “ Inutile et du tout vuide;” — “Useless and altogether void.”
(388) “ Signes et tesmoignages;” — “Signs and evidences.”
18. Let no one take from you the palm. (389) He alludes to runners, or wrestlers, to whom the palm was assigned, on condition of their not giving way in the middle of the course, or after the contest had been commenced. He admonishes them, therefore, that the false apostles aimed at nothing else than to snatch away from them the palm, inasmuch as they draw them aside from the rectitude of their course. Hence it follows that they must be shunned as the most injurious pests. The passage is also carefully to be marked as intimating, that all those who draw us aside from the simplicity of Christ cheat us out of the prize of our high calling. (Philippians 3:14.)
Desirous in humility. Something must be understood; hence I have, inserted in the text id facere , ( to do it.) For he points out the kind of danger which they required to guard against. All are desirous to defraud you of the palm, who, under the pretext of humility, recommend to you the worship of angels. For their object is, that you may wander out of the way, leaving the one object of aim. I read humility and worship of angels conjointly, for the one follows the other, just as at this day the Papists make use of the same pretext when philosophizing as to the worship of saints. For they reason on the ground of man’s abasement, (390) that we must, therefore, seek for mediators to help us. But for this very reason has Christ humbled himself — that we might directly betake ourselves to him, however miserable sinners we may be.
I am aware that the worship of angels is by many interpreted otherwise, as meaning such as has been delivered to men by angels; for the Devil has always endeavored to set off his impostures under this title. The Pope at this day boasts, that all the trifles with which he has adulterated the pure worship of God are revelations. In like manner the Theurgians (391) of old alleged that all the superstitions that they contrived were delivered over to them by angels, as if from hand to hand. (392) They, accordingly, think that Paul here condemns all fanciful kinds of worship that are falsely set forth under the authority of angels. (393) But, in my opinion, he rather condemns the contrivance as to the worshipping of angels. It is on this account that he has so carefully applied himself to this in the very commencement of the Epistle, to bring angels under subjection, lest they should obscure the splendor of Christ. (394) In fine, as he had in the first chapter prepared the way for abolishing the ceremonies, so he had also for the removal of all other hinderances which draw us away from Christ alone. (395) In this class is the worship of angels
Superstitious persons have from the beginning worshipped angels, (396) that through means of them there might be free access to God. The Platonists infected the Christian Church also with this error. For although Augustine sharply inveighs against them in his tenth book “On the City of God,” and condemns at great length all their disputations as to the worship of angels, we see nevertheless what has happened. Should any one compare the writings of Plato with Popish theology, he will find that they have drawn wholly from Plato their prattling as to the worship of angels. The sum is this, that we must honor angels, whom Plato calls demons, χάριν τὢς εὐφήμου διαπορείας ( for the sake of their auspicious intercession.) (397) He brings forward this sentiment in Epinomis, and he confirms it in Cratylus, (398) and many other passages. In what respect do the Papists differ at all from this? “ But, ” it will be said, “they do not deny that the Son of God is Mediator.” Neither did those with whom Paul contends; but as they imagined that God must be approached by the assistance of the angels, and that, consequently, some worship must be rendered to them, so they placed angels in the seat of Christ, and honored them with Christ’s office. Let us know, then, that Paul here condemns all kinds of worship of human contrivance, which are rendered either to angels or to the dead, as though they were mediators, rendering assistance after Christ, or along with Christ. (399) For just so far do we recede from Christ, when we transfer the smallest part of what belongs to him to any others, whether they be angels or men.
Intruding into those things which he hath not seen. The verb ἐμβατεύειν, the participle of which Paul here makes use of, has various significations. The rendering which Erasmus, after Jerome, has given to it, walking proudly, would not suit ill, were there an example of such a signification in any author of sufficient note. For we see every day with how much confidence and pride rash persons pronounce an opinion as to things unknown. Nay, even in the very subject of which Paul treats, there is a remarkable illustration. For when the Sorbonnic divines put forth their trifles (400) respecting the intercession of saints or angels, they declare, (401) as though it were from an oracle, (402) that the dead (403) know and behold our necessities, inasmuch as they see all things in the reflex light of God. (404) And yet, what is less certain? Nay more, what is more obscure and doubtful? But such, truly, is their magisterial freedom, that they fearlessly and daringly assert what is not only not known by them, but cannot be known by men.
This meaning, therefore, would be suitable, if that signification of the term were usual. It is, however, among the Greeks taken simply as meaning to walk. It also sometimes means to inquire. Should any one choose to understand it thus in this passage, Paul will, in that case, reprove a foolish curiosity in the investigation of things that are obscure, and such as are even hid from our view and transcend it. (405) It appears to me, however, that I have caught Paul’s meaning, and have rendered it faithfully in this manner — intruding into those things which he hath not seen. For that is the common signification of the word ἐμβατεύειν — to enter upon an inheritance, (406) or to take possession, or to set foot anywhere. Accordingly, Budaeus renders this passage thus: — “ Setting foot upon, or entering on the possession of those things which he has not seen.” I have followed his authority, but have selected a more suitable term. For such persons in reality break through and intrude into secret things, (407) of which God would have no discovery as yet made to us. The passage ought to be carefully observed, for the purpose of reproving the rashness (408) of those who inquire farther than is allowable.
Puffed up in vain by a fleshly mind. He employs the expression fleshly mind to denote the perspicuity of the human intellect, however great it may be. For he places it in contrast with that spiritual wisdom which is revealed to us from heaven in accordance with that statement —
Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee. (Matthew 16:17.)
Whoever; therefore, depends upon his own reason, inasmuch as the acuteness of the flesh is wholly at work in him, (409) Paul declares him to be puffed up in vain. And truly all the wisdom that men have from themselves is mere wind: hence there is nothing solid except in the word of God and the illumination of the Spirit. And observe, that those are said to be puffed up who insinuate themselves (410) under a show of humility. For it happens, as Augustine elegantly writes to Paulinus, by wonderful means, as to the soul of man, that it is more puffed up from a false humility than if it were openly proud.
(389) “The Latin, ‘ seducat,’ correctly gives the intention of καταβραβευέτω which signifies, to cause a competitor to lose his prize, by drawing him aside from the goal, ( seorsim ducendo, or seducendo.)” — Penn. — Ed.
(390) “ Car ayans proposé l’indignite de l’homme, et presché d’humilite, de là ils concluent;” — “For having set forth man’s unworthiness, and having preached of humility, they conclude from this.”
(391) The Theurgians were the followers of Ammonius Saccas, who prescribed an austere discipline with the view of “refining,” as he pretended, “that faculty of the mind which receives the images of things, so as to render it capable of perceiving the demons, and of performing many marvellous things by their assistance.” See Mosheim’s, Ecclesiastical History, vol. 1, p. 174. — Ed.
(392) Per manus , ( from one hand to another.) The reader will find the same proverbial expression made use of by Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, pp. 150, 373, and vol. 2, p. 9. — Ed.
(393) “ Lesquelles on fait receuoir au poure monde sous la fausse couuerture de l’authorite des anges;” — “Which they make the world receive under the false pretext of the authority of angels.”
(394) “ La splendeur de la maieste de Christ;” — “The splendor of Christ’s majesty.”
(395) “ De seul vray but, qui est Christ;” — “From the only true aim, which is Christ.”
(396) See Calvin’S Institutes, vol. 1, p. 200.
(397) “ A cause de l’heureuse intercession qu’ils font pour les hommes;” — “On account of the blessed intercession which they make for men.”
(398) See Calvin’S Institutes, vol. 1, p. 202.
(399) “ Comme s’ils estoyent mediateurs ou auec Christ, ou en second lieu apres Christ, pour suppleer ce qui defaut de son costé “ — “As if they were mediators either with Christ, or in the second place after Christ, to supply what is wanting on his part.”
(400) “ Mettent en auant leurs mensonges;” — “Bring forward their false hoods.”
(401) “ Ils prononcent et determinent comme par arrest;” — “They declare and determine as if by decree.”
(402) “ Perinde atque ex tripode,” ( just as though it were from the tripod.) Our author manifestly alludes to the three-footed stool on which the Priestess of Apollo at Delphi sat, while giving forth oracular responses. — Ed.
(403) “ Les saincts trespassez;” — “Departed saints.”
(404) “ En la reuerberation de la lumiere de Dieu;” — “In the reflection of the light of God.”
(405) “ Et surmontent toute nostre capacite;” — “And exceed all our capacity.”
(406) Thus ἐμβατεύειν εἰς τὴν οὐσίαν is made use of by Demosthenes, as meaning — “to come in to the property.” — See Dem. 1086. 19. — Ed.
(407) “ Es choses secretes et cachees;” — “Into things secret and hidden.”
(408) “ La role outrecuidance;” — “The foolish presumption.”
(409) “ Pource qu’il n’est gouuerné que par la subtilite charnelle et naturelle;” — “Because he is regulated exclusively by carnal and natural acuteness.”
(410) “ En la grace des hommes;” — “Into the favor of men.
19. Not holding the Head. He condemns in the use of one word whatever does not bear a relation to Christ. He also confirms his statement on the ground that all things flow from him, and depend upon him. Hence, should any one call us anywhere else than to Christ, though in other respects he were big with heaven and earth, he is empty and full of wind: let us, therefore, without concern, bid him farewell. Observe, however, of whom he is speaking, namely, of those who did not openly reject or deny Christ, but, not accurately understanding his office and power, by seeking out other helps and means of salvation, (as they commonly speak,) were not firmly rooted in him.
From whom the whole body by joints. He simply means this, that the Church does not stand otherwise than in the event of all things being furnished to her by Christ, the Head, and, accordingly, that her entire safety (411) consists in him. The body, it is true, has its nerves, its joints, and ligaments, but all these things derive their vigor solely from the Head, so that the whole binding of them together is from that source. What, then, must be done? The constitution of the body will be in a right state, if simply the Head, which furnishes the several members with everything that they have, is allowed, without any hinderance, to have the pre-eminence. This Paul speaks of as the increase of God, by which he means that it is not every increase that is approved by God, but only that which has a relation to the Head. For we see that the kingdom of the Pope is not merely tall and large, but swells out into a monstrous size. As, however, we do not there see what Paul here requires in the Church, what shall we say, but that it is a humpbacked body, and a confused mass that will fall to pieces of itself.
(411) “ Toute la perfection de son estre;” — “The entire perfection of her being.”
20. If ye are dead. He had previously said, that the ordinances were fastened to the cross of Christ. (Colossians 2:14.) He now employs another figure of speech — that we are dead to them, as he teaches us elsewhere, that we are dead to the law, and the law, on the other hand, to us. (Galatians 2:19.) The term death means abrogation, (416) but it is more expressive and more emphatic, ( καὶ ἐμφατικώτερον.) He says, therefore, that the Colossians, have nothing to do with ordinances. Why? Because they have died with Christ to ordinances; that is, after they died with Christ by regeneration, they were, through his kindness, set free from ordinances, that they may not belong to them any more. Hence he concludes that they are by no means bound by the ordinances, which the false apostles endeavored to impose upon them.
(416) “ Et abolissement;” — “And abolishment.”
21. Eat not, taste not. Hitherto this has been rendered — Handle not, but as another word immediately follows, which signifies the same thing, every one sees how cold and absurd were such a repetition. Farther, the verb ἅπτεσθαι is employed by the Greeks, among its other significations, in the sense of eating, (417) in accordance with the rendering that I have given. Plutarch makes use of it in the life of Caesar, when he relates that his soldiers, in destitution of all things, ate animals which they had not been accustomed previously to use as food. (418) And this arrangement is both in other respects natural and is also most in accordance with the connection of the passage; for Paul points out, ( μιμητικῶς,) by way of imitation, to what length the waywardness of those who bind consciences by their laws is wont to proceed. From the very commencement they are unduly rigorous: hence he sets out with their prohibition — not simply against eating, but even against slightly partaking. After they have obtained what they wish they go beyond that command, so that they afterwards declare it to be unlawful to taste of what they do not wish should be eaten. At length they make it criminal even to touch. In short, when persons have once taken upon them to tyrannize over men’s souls, there is no end of new laws being daily added to old ones, and new enactments starting up from time to time. How bright a mirror there is as to this in Popery! Hence Paul acts admirably well in admonishing us that human traditions are a labyrinth, in which consciences are more and more entangled; nay more, are snares, which from the beginning bind in such a way that in course of time they strangle in the end.
(417) An example occurs in Homer’s Odyssey, (6: 60,) σίτου θ ᾿ ἅπτεσθον καὶ χαρ́ετον. — “Take food and rejoice.” See also Xenoph. Mem. 1. 3. 7. — Ed.
(418) “The passage referred to is as follows: — “ ᾿Εβρώθη δὲ καὶ φλοιὸς ὡς λέγεται, καὶ ζώων ἀγεύστων πρότερον ἥ ψαντο.” — “Even the bark of trees, it is said, was devoured, and they ate animals not previously tasted.” — Ed.
22. All which things tend to corruption. He sets aside, by a twofold argument, the enactments of which he has made mention — because they make religion consist in things outward and frail, which have no connection with the spiritual kingdom of God; and secondly, because they are from men, not from God. He combats the first argument, also, in Romans 14:17, when he says,
The kingdom of God is not in meat and drink;
likewise in 1 Corinthians 6:13,
Meat for the belly, and the belly for meats: God will destroy both.
Christ also himself says,
Whatever entereth into the mouth defileth not the man, because it goes down into the belly, and is cast forth. (Matthew 15:11.)
The sum is this — that the worship of God, true piety, and the holiness of Christians, do not consist in drink, and food, and clothing, which are things that are transient and liable to corruption, and perish by abuse. For abuse is properly applicable to those things which are corrupted by the use of them. Hence enactments are of no value in reference to those things which tend to excite scruples of conscience. But in Popery you would scarcely find any other holiness, than what consists in little observances of corruptible things.
A second refutation is added (419) — that they originated with men, and have not God as their Author; and by this thunderbolt he prostrates and swallows up all traditions of men. For why? This is Paul’s reasoning: “Those who bring consciences into bondage do injury to Christ, and make void his death. For whatever is of human invention does not bind conscience.”
(419) “ Le second argument par lequel il refute telles ordonnances, est;” — “The second argument by which he sets aside such enactments, is.”
23. Which have indeed a show. Here we have the anticipation of an objection, in which, while he concedes to his adversaries what they allege, he at the same time reckons it wholly worthless. For it is as though he had said, that he does not regard their having a show of wisdom. But show is placed in contrast with reality, for it is an appearance, as they commonly speak, which deceives by resemblance. (420)
Observe, however, of what colors this show consists, according to Paul. He makes mention of three — self-invented worship, (421) humility, and neglect of the body. Superstition among the Greeks receives the name of ἐθελοβρησκεία — the term which Paul here makes use of. He has, however, an eye to the etymology of the term, for ἐθελοβρησκεία literally denotes a voluntary service, which men choose for themselves at their own option, without authority from God. Human traditions, therefore, are agreeable to us on this account, that they are in accordance with our understanding, for any one will find in his own brain the first outlines of them. This is the first pretext.
The second is humility, inasmuch as obedience both to God and men is pretended, so that men do not refuse even unreasonable burdens. (422) And for the most part traditions of this kind are of such a nature as to appear to be admirable exercises of humility.
They allure, also, by means of a third pretext, inasmuch as they seem to be of the greatest avail for the mortification of the flesh, while there is no sparing of the body. Paul, however, bids farewell to those disguises, for
what is in high esteem among men is often an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15.)
Farther, that is a treacherous obedience, and a perverse and sacrilegious humility, which transfers to men the authority of God; and neglect of the body is not of so great importance, as to be worthy to be set forth to admiration as the service of God.
Some one, however, will feel astonished, that Paul does not take more pains in pulling off those masks. I answer, that he on good grounds rests contented with the simple term show. For the principles which he had taken as opposed to this are incontrovertible — that the body is in Christ, and that, consequently, those do nothing but impose upon miserable men, who set before them shadows. Secondly, the spiritual kingdom of Christ is by no means taken up with frail and corruptible elements. Thirdly, by the death of Christ such observances were put an end to, that we might have no connection with them; and, fourthly, God is our only Lawgiver. (Isaiah 33:22.) Whatever may be brought forward on the other side, let it have ever so much splendor, is fleeting show.
Secondly, he reckoned it enough to admonish the Colossians, not to be deceived by the putting forth of empty things. There was no necessity for dwelling at greater length in reproving them. For it should be a settled point among all the pious, that the worship of God ought not to be measured according to our views; and that, consequently, any kind of service is not lawful, simply on the ground that it is agreeable to us. This, also, ought to be a commonly received point — that we owe to God such humility as to yield obedience simply to his commands, so as not to lean to our own understanding, etc., (Proverbs 3:5,) — and that the limit of humility towards men is this — that each one submit himself to others in love. Now, when they contend that the wantonness of the flesh is repressed by abstinence from meats, the answer is easy — that we must not therefore abstain from any particular food as being unclean, but must eat sparingly of what we do eat of, both in order that we may soberly and temperately make use of the gifts of God, and that we may not, impeded by too much food and drink, forget those things that are God’s. Hence it was enough to say that these (423) were masks, that the Colossians, being warned, might be on their guard against false pretexts.
Thus, at the present day, Papists are not in want of specious pretexts, by which to set forth their own laws, however they may be — some of them impious and tyrannical, and others of them silly and trifling. When, however, we have granted them everything, there remains, nevertheless, this refutation by Paul, which is of itself more than sufficient for dispelling all their smoky vapours; (424) not to say how far removed they (425) are from so honorable an appearance as that which Paul describes. The principal holiness of the Papacy, (426) at the present day, consists in monkhood, and of what nature that is, I am ashamed and grieved to make mention, lest I should stir up so abominable an odour. Farther, it is of importance to consider here, how prone, nay, how forward the mind of man is to artificial modes of worship. For the Apostle here graphically describes (427) the state of the old system of monkhood, which came into use a hundred years after his death, as though he had never spoken a word. The zeal of men, therefore, for superstition is surpassingly mad, which could not be restrained by so plain a declaration of God from breaking forth, as historical records testify.
Not in any honor. Honor means care, according to the usage of the Hebrew tongue. Honour widows, (1 Timothy 5:3,) that is, take care of them. Now Paul finds fault with this, that they (428) teach to leave off care for the body. For as God forbids us to indulge the body unduly, so he commands that these be given it as much as is necessary for it. Hence Paul, in Romans 13:14, does not expressly condemn care for the flesh, but such as indulges lusts. Have no care, says he, for the flesh, to the gratifying of its lusts. What, then, does Paul point out as faulty in those traditions of which he treats? It is that they gave no honor to the body for the satisfying the flesh, that is, according to the measure of necessity. For satisfying here means a mediocrity, which restricts itself to the simple use of nature, and thus stands in opposition to pleasure and all superfluous delicacies; for nature is content with little. Hence, to refuse what it requires for sustaining the necessity of life, is not less at variance with piety, than it is inhuman.
(420) “ Par similitude qu’elle ha auec la verite;” — “By the resemblance which it bears to the reality.”
(421) “ Le seruice forgé a plaisir, c’est a dire inuenté par les hommes;” — “Worship contrived at pleasure, that is to say, invented by men.”
(422) “ Iniques et dures a porter;” — “Unreasonable and hard to be borne.”
(423) “ Ces traditions;” — “These traditions.”
(424) “ Tous les brouillars desquels ils taschent d’esblouir les yeux au poure monde;” — “All the mists by which they endeavor to blind the eyes of the poor world.”
(425) “ Leurs traditions;” — “Their traditions.”
(426) “ La premiere et la principale honnestete et sainctete de la Papaute;” — “The first and principal decency and sanctity of the Papacy.”
(427) “ Peind yci au vif;” — “Paints here to the life.”
(428) “ Les traditions;” — “The traditions.”
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Colossians 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30