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Temporal and Spiritual Habitations
Focussed together, as by the lenses of a double lantern, we see at once the actual and ideal condition of these Asiatic Christians. They were in Colossae, a small town in a Phrygian valley, much decayed from its former greatness, overshadowed by its more important neighbours. Of all the places to which the Apostle directed his letters it was of the least significance to the world, yet of supreme importance to itself. Turn to the other picture. These Christians were in Christ. There is a circle within a circle here; they were in Christ in Colossae. It became a different place as they looked at it from the shelter of Christ.
I. Wherever our Colossae is we rarely look out upon it with quite clear and unprejudiced eyes. Our vision is coloured by our moods and fancies; we see it through the medium of our thoughts, passing tempers, and abiding purposes, and our reaction upon it largely depends upon the quality of this inward thought world, the faith that is the spiritual home of the soul. Although the outward facts seem terribly hard and set, it is surprising how small a difference in our hearts it takes to transform them. We write 'home' upon one house in a monotonous red brick row, and it becomes a living poem to us. We do our daily walk to the accompaniment of some thrilling thought, and it sets our feet to music where they have often dragged wearily.
II. It is only the inward wealth of life that can transform our world. As it is not what enters into the man, but what comes out from him, that defiles him, so it is what comes out from us that saves and redeems our daily living. Our inward faith does not simply make the world look differently, it actually changes it. The purity of the home cleanses the city. The soul that dwells in the secret place of the Most High reshapes its Colossae, and all things are new because of its inward renewing.
W. Charter Piggott, Sunday School Chronicle, XXXVI. p. 300.
References. I. 2. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 2; ibid. vol. vii. p. 66. I. 3. R. W. Riley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 257. I. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1438. I. 5, 6. Penny Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 145. I. 9. Bishop Creighton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 243. H. P. Wright, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 277. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 23, 31. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 404. I. 9, 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1742. I. 9-11. E. A. Stuart, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. p. 305. I. 10. J. Weller, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 190. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 173. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 275. I. 11. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 292. I. 12. J. Cumming, Penny Pulpit, No. 1510, p. 217. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 67. W. J. Brock, Sermons, p. 61. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2751. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 156. I. 12, 13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 319. I. 13. E. A. Stuart, His Dear Son and Other Sermons, vol. v. p. 1. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading (2nd Series), p. 173. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 158; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 155. I. 14. W. Redfern, The Gospel of Redemption, p. 83. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 6. W. R. Evans, Sermons far the Church's Year, p. 271. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 227. Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 140. I. 15. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 39; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 86; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 198. I. 16, 16. Ibid. vol. i. p. 399. I. 15-17. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 119. I. 15-21. Ibid. p. 136.
Christ and the Creation
A very narrow notion of the functions of Christ is afloat in the atmosphere of popular religious thought, though not perhaps formulated into dogmatic phrases. According to this, our Lord is virtually regarded as limited in work, and even in nature, to the mission of redemption. Such an idea implies that the existence of Christ is dependent on the existence of sin; that if there had been no evil there would have been no Saviour; that the very being of the Son of God is but an expedient required for the deliverance of man. So stated, the doctrine must be considered by all Christians as monstrous. In the Bible an infinitely larger range is given to the work and nature of Christ. If there had been no sin, Christ would still have visited the world in some way of Divine goodness. He came in the creation before the birth of sin.
I. The Relation of Christ to Creation. The relation of Christ to creation is threefold:
(a) In Christ is the fundamental basis of creation. All things were made 'in' Him, i.e. His thoughts are the archetypes of the worlds and their contents, and the genesis of them follows the principles of His nature.
(b) Christ is the instrumental agent of creation. All things were made 'through' Him. He is the Mediator in creation as well as in redemption.
(c) Christ is the end of creation. All things were made 'unto' Him, i.e. they grow into His likeness, they move upwards towards the realisation of His life (Christ in His human earthly nature was the highest development of the upward movement of creation), they are destined to serve and glorify Him.
II. The Scope and Range of Christ's Work. The scope and range of the work of Christ was universal in creation. It included (a) all things, visible and invisible, i.e. physical and spiritual existences, or things within our observation and the infinite population of the regions of space beyond; (6) all orders of beings, thrones, etc., none too great for His power, none too small for His care; (c) every variety and every individual. Different classes are specified. Creation is not a work merely of general laws, it implies individual formation under them. All this vast and varied work is ascribed to Christ as its foundation, its efficient instrument, and its end.
III. We Learn:
1. As regards Christ (a) His pre-existence. This does not involve the eternity of His human nature, which surely began to be when 'the Word was made flesh'. That which was Divine in Christ was before all things. The Christ-side of God, all that is so touching and so winning in the marvellous revelation of God in Jesus, is no new phase of His character. It was before the sterner revelation of Sinai. It is eternal (Hebrews 13:8 ). (b) His glory. All that is great and beautiful in creation glorifies Him through Whom it came into existence.
2. As regards the Creation. (a) This must be in harmony with Christ. Therefore we must interpret its darker phases by what we know of the spirit and character of Christ: and we must expect that ultimately its laws and forces will make for Christianity, breathing benedictions on the faithful followers of Christ, and bringing natural penalties on those who rebel against His rule. (6) We should endeavour to trace indications of the spirit and presence of Christ in nature.
References. I. 16. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 428; ibid. vol. vi. p. 262; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. pp. 31, 146. I. 16-18. Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 86. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 8. I. 17. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 447.
The Pre-eminent Lord
This is characteristically Paul's doctrine. The supremacy of Christ is to his mind the only possible outcome of His Saviourhood. In his consciousness the cross is the foundation of the throne, and he is jealous that all who share in the saving benefits of Christ's death should give Him that place in heart and life to which He is rightly entitled. For himself this has long been the secret of his life's strength and explanation of the fruitfulness of his service. Christ is to him the 'Lord of all'. He is 'before all things,' and over all things exercises His beneficent control. 'For Jesus' sake,' expresses the governing motive of his whole life. 'The Man Christ Jesus' comprehends his entire message, and to be well-pleasing unto Him is his supreme aim. In the light of His preeminence he interprets all the providences of life, and even when fettered he is but 'the prisoner of Jesus Christ'. His outlook, too, is bounded by the pre-eminent Lord, for 'we look for the Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ,' is the triumphant expectancy with which he both encourages himself and his fellows. Past, present, and future hold alike for him nothing which is not directly related to the Lord, Whose he is and Whom he serves. And it is this same preeminence to which Christ is entitled on the part of all who call Him Saviour that is the Apostle's keen desire. He would enthrone Him in the life of the congregation and the individual alike, recognising Him as the Master of assemblies and as the King of the heart.
I. It is chiefly in regard to its personal significance that this desire of the Apostle needs to be laid to heart, for after all the Church is but an aggregation of individuals. If the life of the unit be right, the life of the congregation will not long be deficient. Hence the most important consideration is as to the securing of the preeminence of Jesus in the lives of individual believers, and nothing is more heart-searching and wholesome than the personal query as to the relative position which He occupies in our lives. For Christians are mainly divisible into three classes those who give Him place, those who give Him prominence, and those who give Him preeminence.
II. The importance of giving to Christ this His rightful place is attested by the fact of common experience that that which is pre-eminent in thought and affection exercises the strongest formative influence in the cultivation of character. This is seen when men make money, pleasure, ambition, or success the pre-eminent thing in life, and devote to it their best strength of thought and energy. Character deteriorates, powers of vision become dim, and holier impulses are killed at the birth, until that to which preeminence has been voluntarily given becomes the absolute master. It is a man's own safety and highest good, as well as the honour of Christ, which is determined by the place he assigns to the Son of God.
III. The preeminence of the Saviour affords us too an explanation of many of the mysteries of life which, apart from His supremacy, are hard and indeed almost impossible to understand.
But let it not be thought that the actual preeminence of Jesus in any life is a mere inference from truth, a mere philosophic acceptance of doctrine, or a mere prospect of faith and hope. Let it never be forgotten that it is rather a definite consecration in expression of personal indebtedness the response of a love which constrains. Professor Drummond used to tell of an invalid girl whose life, so unruffled in its peace and fragrant with the beauty of holiness, was a constant source of wonderment to those who knew her pain and were acquainted with her circumstances. After her death the secret was discovered. A small locket which had hung about her neck was found to contain the words, 'Whom having not seen I love!' The preeminence of Jesus Christ is the preeminence which love will ever give to the One of its choice, however costly it proves.
J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-eminent Lord, p. 3.
Many years ago the late Dr. Howson, then Dean of Chester, one of Simeon's latest hearers, gave me a vivid reminiscence of his own. Trinity Church was crowded as usual, aisles as well as pews.... The text was Colossians 1:18 : 'That in all things He might have the preeminence'. One passage was written for ever on the listener's heart by the prophetic fire of the utterance, as the old man seemed to rise and dilate under the impression of the Master's glory: 'That He might have the preeminence! And He will have it! And He must have it! And He shall have it!'
Bishop Moule, Life of Simeon, pp. 94, 95.
The Christian will never call it religion to keep, like Septimius Severus, a bust of Christ in his private chapel, 'along with Virgil, Orpheus, Abraham, and other persons of the same kind'. He claims to address himself to a Being made human enough to give our love a place to cling, but remaining Divine in His perfection, in His illuminating and responsive power.
F. W. H. Myers, Modern Essays, p. 303.
References. I. 18. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 839. F. B. Proctor, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 320. R. J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 81. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 113. I. 19. C. O. Eldridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 222. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 978. A. Whyte, The Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 526. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1169. 1. 19, 20. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 140; ibid. vol. vi. pp. 31, 420. I. 20. G. Campbell Morgan, The Bible and the Gross, p. 101. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 436; ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. pp. 136, 144; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 248. I. 21. W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 800. A. Berry, The Doctrine of the Gross, p. 83. I. 21, 22. G. Campbell Morgan, The Bible and the Gross, p. 37. I. 22, 28. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 69. I. 23. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1763, p. 423. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1688. J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 189.
It has been said that the one infallible note of all false Christs and of all anti-Christs, of all and indeed the only false Gods, however they may be disguised by trappings of royalty, is the absence of a crown of thorns. And certainly the men who have, above all other men, set God before the eyes of an unwilling world, have shared that crown.
W. S. Palmer, The Diary of a Modernist, p. 16.
'That Which Is Behind of the Afflictions of Christ'
St. Paul was accustomed to urge upon his converts, men and women, who would all in one way or another experience the fulfilment of the Lord's words, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation,' that they should nevertheless be of good cheer. 'Rejoice in the Lord always,' so he taught, and like Chaucer's poor parson, he followed it himself. When we speak about sufferers that we know, we think it high praise to say, 'How perfectly patient they were'! Here is a higher note, not patience, but joy. There were personal reasons for this, no doubt. He knew well that his sufferings had been the means of his receiving a fuller measure of that life of grace which strengthens the soul. That was a cause for rejoicing, but it was not the chief, not the uppermost in his mind. It is a quite unselfish delight that we have here in these difficult words, difficult because does it not come upon us with a shock to hear that there was anything lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Yet 'I fill up on my part that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ'. The words are quite plain, they clearly state that there is something wanting in the afflictions borne by Christ. How can that be so? And, if so, can any man's be counted with His to fill up the deficiencies? We may nevertheless make a distinction in the Saviour's sufferings. There were those which no man could share when He trod the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with Him; but the Greek word that is used in the text is not the word in the New Testament in connection with the atoning work of Christ. It tells of afflictions of body and of mind which came upon Him as a holy and self-denying Person, in the midst of a corrupt and selfish world, born as one of the great human family, and to these there was something left to add. Yes, it is for us to say, 'I fill up on my part that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for His body's sake, which is the Church'.
I. Our Relation to Christ. But, then, what I bear for the sake of others, these are my afflictions. How can they fill up His? Can they be mine without being His? Depend upon it, unless being a member of His body is but a phrase, is but a metaphor, your sufferings are His. To understand that we must understand our oneness with Jesus Christ our Lord. There are different kinds of unions.
(a) External union. There is a merely external union, as when you add one more stone to the fabric which rises from the ground. It is an integral part, one with the whole, but what is that unity compared with the unity which takes place when you graft upon a stock a living shoot, that becomes part of the tree?
(b) Vital union. There is union, not local, but vita], and the sap circulates through the new limb. You injure it now and you injure it not alone, you injure the tree itself. This is a union of that kind, vital, that the baptised believer has with the Saviour. 'I am the Vine, and ye are the branches. Cut off from Me, you wither; abiding in Me, you bear much fruit.'
And so, because we are one with Christ in that living way, He truly shares in our sufferings. Can the body be injured and the head suffer nothing? Wound a limb and the brain quivers with pain. In all our afflictions He is afflicted. What a different aspect our troubles would wear if that was realised!
II. St. Paul's Sufferings. How and when did St Paul learn to identify himself so confidently with Christ that he could speak of his own sufferings for the Church as actually Christ's sufferings? I think we know in the blinding splendour of that revelation on the road to Damascus, when he lay, proud Pharisee as he was, prostrate on the earth in the midst of his astonished train. There stood before him, seen by him alone, the majestic, reproachful Christ the Lord. 'Saul, why persecutest thou Me'? He never had done so literally; still the sad voice said, 'Saul, why persecutest thou Me'? It was because he gloried in persecuting the Church, gloried in a pitiless harrowing of the poor souls who clung to the Lord, that Christ could never forget that they were members of the Lord and their sufferings were His, for 'Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me'. That was a crushing thought to Saul the persecutor; it was joy to Paul the Apostle. 'Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh.' Poor flesh it was, so weary and weatherbeaten, so scarred with the rough handling of the world; but the great, brave heart, so fixed on God, so full of enthusiasm for the Master, cried, 'I rejoice for His body's sake, the Church'. So you see it was an unselfish joy. His afflictions were for the sake of the brethren.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ came by blood as well as by water, not only as a fount of grace and truth the source of spiritual light, joy, and salvation but as a combatant with sin and Satan, who was 'consecrated through suffering'. He was, as prophecy had marked Him out, 'red in His apparel, and His garments like Him that treadeth in the wine-fat'; or, in the words of the Apostle, 'He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood'. It was the untold sufferings of the Eternal Word in our nature. His body dislocated and torn, His blood poured out, His soul violently separated by a painful death, which has put away from us the wrath of Him whose love sent Him for that very purpose. This only was our atonement; no one shared in the work. He 'trod the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with Him'. When lifted up upon the cursed tree, He fought with all the hosts of evil, and conquered by suffering.
Thus, in a most mysterious way, all that is needful for this sinful world, the life of our souls, the regeneration of our nature, all that is most joyful and glorious, hope, light, peace, spiritual freedom, holy influences, religious knowledge and strength, all flow from a fount of blood. A work of blood is our salvation; and we, as we would be saved, must draw near and gaze upon it in faith, and accept it as the way to heaven. We must take Him, who thus suffered, as our guide; we must embrace His sacred feet, and follow Him. No wonder, then, should we receive on ourselves some drops of the sacred agony which bedewed His garments; no wonder, should we be sprinkled with the sorrows which He bore in expiation of our sins!
And so it has ever been in very deed; to approach Him has been, from the first, to be partaker, more or less, in His sufferings; I do not say in the case of every individual who believes in Him, but as regards the more conspicuous, the more favoured, His choice instruments, and His most active servants; that is, it has been the lot of the Church, on the whole, and of those, on the whole, who had been most like Him, as Rulers, Intercessors, and Teachers of the Church. He, indeed, alone meritoriously; they, because they have been near Him. Thus, immediately upon His birth, He brought the sword upon the infants of His own age at Bethlehem. His very shadow, cast upon a city, where He did not abide, was stained with blood. His blessed mother had not clasped Him to her breast for many weeks, ere she was warned of the penalty of that fearful privilege: 'Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also'. Virtue went out of Him; but the water and the blood flowed together as afterwards from His pierced side. From among the infants He took up in His arms to bless, is said to have gone forth a chief martyr of the generation after Him. Most of His Apostles passed through lifelong sufferings to a violent death. In particular, when the favoured brothers, James and John, came to Him with a request that they might sit beside Him in His kingdom, He plainly stated this connection between nearness to Him and affliction. 'Are ye able,' He said, 'to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?' As if He said, 'Ye cannot have the sacraments of grace without the painful figures of them. The cross, when imprinted on your foreheads, will draw blood. You shall receive, indeed, the baptism of the Spirit, and the cup of My communion, but it shall be with the attendant pledges of My cup of agony, and My baptism of blood.' Elsewhere He speaks the same language to all who would partake the benefits of His death and passion: 'Whosoever doth not bear hip cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple'.
J. H. Newman.
References. I. 24. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 372. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. p. 324. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 377; ibid. vol. iv. p. 13; ibid. vol. viii. p. 265. I. 24-27. Ibid. vol. viii. p. 235. I. 26. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 32; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 394.
The Hope of Glory
Christ in you the hope! Now why does St. Paul say that of the secrets of God. And remember the mysteries of God are the revealed secrets that He has stooped down and whispered to our ears. 'God stooping shows sufficient of His light for us in the dark to rise by,' the poet Browning said. But why does St. Paul say that this is a gloriously rich mystery?
I. First of all, it is the hope of what all men want and few men get, and that is Power.
Do you want the first thing that everyone who understands life really wants, and that is power? Then have Christ in you, Christ in you, not outside you, that is not enough. You may respect Christ, you may think well of religion, you may speak well of the clergy because they do so much good social work in your district; but that is not power. If you have been brought by the Holy Spirit here, it is that Christ without you may be changed into Christ within you, and that you, too, may be strong like those people, you, too, may no longer be a useless person in your district making, very likely, your home miserable by your temper, or your friends miserable by your weakness, and useless in the Church down here by your sloth and want of power to witness. All that may be changed to-night and you may flame away down here for years, one of the brilliant hopes of the Church, but it will not be unless Christ without you becomes Christ within you Christ in you the hope of power.
II. But that is not all. Not only is Christ within you and this is the second reason why this secret is worth knowing not only is it that Christ within you is the secret of power, but also the secret of growth. It is like the blazing sun coming down upon a rather unsatisfactory field of corn; and the blazing sun brings out the ripeness and the richness of the corn; it brings on the whole crop in the field the blaze of the sun does the work.
III. Again, I am going to use a word now which has a very distasteful sound in some people's ears, and that is the word 'holiness'. I believe if you were offered, some of you, the choice of whether you would prefer to have said of you, He is the holiest man or holiest woman in Willesden, or the most attractive and the most agreeable, nine out of ten would choose the second at the bottom of their souls, because they do not understand this: that holiness, if you can get it pure, is the most winning thing in the world; that goodness, when it is unalloyed, simply draws like a magnet, and that when we are put off a holy man or holy woman it is because of the dross and not the gold; because the gold is mixed up with some dross of manner, of self-centredness, or priggishness which puts us off the holiness. But get the holiness and goodness pure, and it wins the world.
How are we 'to get to glory?' to use an old expression which has rather died out now. Christ in you the hope of glory; Christ in you the secret of holiness. And because the secret of power and progress and holiness, therefore the hope of glory. Christ in you the hope of glory!
Bishop Winnington Ingram, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXVII. p. 120.
References. I. 27. H. Bell, Sermons on the Holy Communion, p. 66. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1720. L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 3. A. Whyte, The Scottish Review Sunday Supplement, vol. iv. p. 82. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 264.
It is not for nothing that it is said, 'Christ in you the hope of glory'. I will be content of no pawn of heaven but Christ Himself; for Christ, possessed by faith here, is young heaven and glory in the bud.
The Justification of Christian Preaching
The aim of Christian preaching is personal, social, universal. And the theme of it is Christ. Is the theme, is the message, adequate to the aim? Judge for yourselves by those three considerations.
I. We assert that the message is adequate because Christ, whom we preach, is able by many manifest proofs to make the life of the individual a positive force.
II. We assert that the preaching of Christ justifies itself, and is adequate because He reconciles the duality, the contrast, apparent contradiction, which runs through all our life. I mean the duality which you have between the inner life of the soul and the outward demands of duty, between spiritual life and practical conduct, between faith and works.
III. We assert that the message of the evangel justifies itself, and is adequate to its end because Christ is co-extensive with human life.
A. Connell, Scottish Review, vol. III. p. 439.
References. I. 27, 28. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 85. W. Scrymgeour, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 314. H. S. Seekings, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 660. I. 28. J. Thew, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 246. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2581. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 352. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 200. J. Edwards, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 173. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 34; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 147. I. 29. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 914.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Colossians 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter