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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:1. What great conflict—R.V. “how greatly I strive.” It is a repetition of the thought of the previous verse expressed in terms of the arena. For them at Laodicea.—About a dozen miles distant from Colossæ.
Colossians 2:2. The mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.—The R.V. has greatly simplified this perplexing phrase: “The mystery of God, even Christ.” Of the eleven various readings extant (given by Lightfoot) that of our A.V. is to all appearance the latest and worst.
Colossians 2:3. In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.—When we have “laid our reasonings at His feet,” He does not stultify us. Neither pure reason nor practical reason is to “fust in us unused,” if they seek their answers in Him.
Colossians 2:4. Should beguile you with enticing words.—The word for “beguile” is only again found in the New Testament at James 1:22. It means to lead into error by sophistical reasoning. Enticing words, or persuasive speech, plausible but false.
Colossians 2:5. The stedfastness of your faith in Christ.—Some think “stedfastness” (as well as “order” preceding) may have a military significance. If so, it would mean the compact firmness of the phalanx. Others say that meaning is not inherent, but derived from its context, which here does not suggest it. The word is used in the LXX. for firmament—a solid vault, as it was thought.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:1-51.2.4
The more clearly we apprehend truth in its many-sided aspects and in its complex and vital relations, the more grievous and calamitous does error appear. Error cannot come into collision with truth without creating confusion of ideas and much mental distraction, and as a consequence robbing the soul of the peace and solace it enjoyed. The apostle saw the dangerous tendency of the doctrines advocated by the false teachers against whom his epistle was directed, and he was deeply concerned lest the pure and simple gospel embraced by the new converts should be contaminated. As one drop of ink pollutes the whole vessel of water, as one stroke of the hammer diverts the rod from a straight line and spoils it throughout its whole length, so one single error obscures and warps the holiest truth.
I. This anxiety was intense.—“For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have” (Colossians 2:1). In the closing words of the preceding chapter the apostle referred to his stern self-discipline in training himself for his arduous and self-denying labours as an apostle; and in this verse he expands the same thought, and would have the converts know the magnitude of the struggle which his anxiety for their welfare cost him. This conflict refers not only to his external labours on behalf of the Churches, in journeys, perils, privations, persecutions, and imprisonments, but more especially to his fervent wrestling with God in prayer, like Jacob of old; his importunity, like the widow with the unjust judge; his inward soul struggles in earnest intercession for their stability in the faith. The danger must have been serious that produced in such a man so great an agony of anxiety: great souls are not affected by trifles. People little know what their pastors pass through: when they think them the most at leisure, then are they the least so—the fervent conflict of prayer is going on in secret. A knowledge of the minister’s anxiety is sometimes necessary to create a responsive sympathy, and to teach the people the care and anxiety they should feel for their own salvation.
II. This anxiety was disinterested.—“For you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh” (Colossians 2:1). The solicitude of the apostle was not restricted to the Colossians, as though they were more liable than others to defection from the truth, but embraced the converts in the neighbouring city of Laodicea. In this populous and thriving city, celebrated at that time for its immense commercial wealth and for the high intellectual attainments of its philosophers, the heretic leaven had begun to work; and the subsequent history of the Church there showed that it spread only too surely and disastrously (Revelation 3:14-66.3.18). The apostle also extended his anxious regard to “as many as had not seen his face in the flesh.” The bulk of our troubles in this life we endure on behalf of others. The Christian spirit, in its broad, comprehensive charity, gives us a deep interest in all who have any connection with Christ. Fervent prayer on behalf of others, notwithstanding the sneers of some modern scientists, is efficacious, irrespective of locality or of actual personal intercourse. Prayers offered in private are often answered in a strange, unlooked-for manner in public. God has a sovereign right to select the mode in which He answers the prayers of the faithful. An old divine has said: “If we would reap openly in the conversion of souls and their steady walk, we must plough in secret with prayers and tears.” Our anxiety about the welfare of others is a strong evidence of our possessing the genuine love of the truth. It was a trenchant aphorism of Coleridge that, “He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or Church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.”
III. This anxiety had special reference to the highest spiritual attainments of believers.—
1. The apostle was solicitous for the confirmation of their faith. “That their hearts might be comforted” (Colossians 2:2)—i.e. encouraged, confirmed. The apostle knew the subtle power of error in disintegrating the heart’s confidence, producing trouble, dejection, doubt, and perplexity. Hence he was anxious so to present the truth as it is in Jesus, as to restore and cheer the bewildered mind and settle it on the firm basis of an intelligent and cordial faith. No man can reach the high attainments of the Christian life whose heart is not at rest in God.
2. The apostle was solicitous for their union in love.—“Being knit, together in love” (Colossians 2:2). The heart can never enjoy solid comfort till it is united in the love, as well as in the faith, of the truth. Error divides as well as distresses; it snaps the bond of love, splits the Christian Church into parties, rends what ought to be the seamless robe of Christ. Where there is discord in the understanding about fundamental truths, there cannot be concord in the will and affections. The stability of believers depends upon their being knit together in a mutual love, as the timbers of a building are joined and compacted by a carpenter—such is the original signification of the word—each part being fitted in with the rest, and all subserving the firmness and safety of the whole. “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
3. The apostle was solicitous they should be enriched with the unspeakable wealth of the divine mystery.—
(1) The divine mystery is explained in the unique person and endowments of Christ. “The mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-51.2.3). Christ embraced in His own person the divine and human natures. As God, He is equal with the Father, and possesses in Himself all the essentials of Deity; but as man He is dowered with moral treasures surpassing the endowments of the highest angel. The mystery is not so much Christ, as Christ containing in Himself “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” There is in Christ an all-sufficiency for every possible want of man—copious and inexhaustive riches of eternal and saving wisdom. These riches are hid in Christ as treasure in a field—concealed from the gaze of the mere passer-by, the careless, indolent, and proud; but revealed to and enjoyed by the humble, diligent, and persevering seeker. “He who is not content with Christ, but goes out of Him to philosophy or tradition, forsakes the treasures for the miserable beggary of human counterfeits.” It is still a mystery to the world how Christ can be the grand depositary of all wisdom; and the mystery is dispelled only as the soul becomes savingly acquainted with Him.
(2) The believer is privileged to gain the full knowledge of the divine mystery.—“To the acknowledgment of the mystery” (Colossians 2:2). The word implies that the knowledge of God and of Christ is the perfection of knowledge. The ancient sage declared: “If thou criest after knowledge, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” And the apostle prayed for the Ephesians that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ might give unto them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” This knowledge is to be not a simple perception of the truths contained in the divine mystery, but a full, firm, and distinct knowledge as the result of careful sifting, and the actual experience of their soul-transforming power. We know nothing to purpose until it is strongly grasped by the heart as well as by the understanding.
(3) A clear and profound understanding of the divine mystery is the true enrichment of the mind.—“Unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding” (Colossians 2:2). The vast store of moral riches here indicated is opposed to the poverty of the mind, which has only a few confused, unconnected truths about the gospel laid up in its treasury. By the full assurance of understanding is meant an unclouded perception and firm conviction of the truth revealed in the gospel. This is obtained only by diligent study and the inner illumination of the Spirit; the understanding is cleared up, the judgment settled, and the individual believer enabled to apprehend each part of the gospel in its essential relation to the grand whole, and thus to grasp with a firm hold the salient features of the divine mystery. In this assured knowledge of the greatest truths the mind of man finds it true enrichment; its abiding rest and felicity. “Wisdom is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.” Every other kind of knowledge, however rare and extensive, is in itself poor and unsatisfying.
IV. This anxiety prompted the apostle faithfully to warn the Church.—“And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words” (Colossians 2:4). Error assumes the most seductive forms: it charms with its eloquence, bewilders with its subtle reasoning, misleads with its bold, assured statements of half-truths. The soul is fascinated as by the gaze of a basilisk, and morally poisoned by its breath. “Men are easily persuaded to believe that which flatters their own vanity, and dilutes or modifies the gospel, so as to accommodate it to their own degenerate tastes.” It is needful to maintain a vigilant outlook, and be on our guard against every phase of false teaching. Some contend that words have little to do with religion; that true religion is a sentiment in the soul independent of words. The apostle thought differently when he exhorted to hold fast “the form of sound words”; and in this verse he distinctly avers that enticing words may beguile. He solemnly warns the Ephesians, who were assailed with a similar class of errors: “Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” The most effectual antidote to any heresy is the faithful, simple proclamation of the doctrine of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is the clue that leads us out of all the mazes of error.
1. The true minister is anxious to promote the highest good of the people.
2. All truth finds its explanation and all error its refutation in Christ, the Source of eternal Wisdom
3. False doctrine should be fearlessly and faithfully exposed.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 2:3
The Hidden Treasures of Wisdom in Christ.
Wisdom does not consist in the possession of varied and extensive knowledge. The student may be deeply read in ancient and long-forgotten lore, be versed in the entire circle of the arts, sciences, and philosophies, be intelligibly familiar with the best literature of the day, be a walking encyclopædia, a literary fountain gushing in a perennial stream of information, and yet be far from being a wise man. Wisdom is the practical application of knowledge, the attainment of the highest moral results by the use of the best and simplest means. The cry of the human intellect in all ages has been, “Where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?” The greatest souls have toiled painfully in search of the coveted treasure, but failed to discover it. Their mightiest endeavours have terminated in disappointment and despair. True wisdom is a divine revelation. The world by wisdom knew not God; and one of the profoundest philosophers of any age, and who approached as near the threshold of the grand discovery as the unaided human mind was perhaps ever permitted to do, had to confess with a sigh, “If ever man is destined to know the good and the true, it must be by a revelation of the Deity.” That wisdom which all need, and of which all are in quest, is found only in Christ. This verse declares that Christ is the unfathomable depositary of the highest wisdom. Observe:—
I. That Christ is the inexhaustible Source of the truest wisdom.—“In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The false teachers at Colossæ, like certain pretentious philosophers of modern times, boasted of the vast range of their wisdom and knowledge. They discussed questions, some of which, strange to say, are reproduced and advocated to-day—questions on the nature of the world, the eternity or non-eternity of matter, the chief good of man, the orders and ranks of the angelic hierarchies and their relation to the mediatorial work of Christ, the necessity of observing the ceremonies and austerities of the law, and of the beauty and grandeur of the theories of Plato and Pythagoras, the ruling philosophers of the time. But all this is simply “the wisdom of this world and of the princes of this world, which come to nought.” It is only in Christ we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge to furnish and enrich the mind and to guide into the way of salvation. He is “to us who are saved the power of God and the wisdom of God.” If, for the sake of illustration, we classify the principal sources of human knowledge into poetry, history, philosophy, and theology, we may assert that only in Christ does each department find its fullest explication, and from Him derive its significance and worth.
1. Christ is the loftiest ideal and purest inspiration of the poet.—Poetry occupies an important place in contributing to the sum of human knowledge, and to the culture, development, and happiness of man. It was the language of the world’s infancy, as it is of the infancy of man; the spontaneous outflow of the soul, on its first acquaintance with the marvels of the present life, expresses itself in strains of poetic music. It is true this great gift has been abused, and often made the instrument of debasing instead of elevating the mind. Hence Plato, in constructing his ideal republic, would exclude the poets because of the evil tendency of some of their productions, though he accords them all honour on account of their learning and genius. The genuine poet pants after the noblest expression of the beautiful and the good. Christ is the glorious ideal and embodiment of the pure and beautiful; the poet drinks in his most ravishing inspiration from Him, and exhausts all the resources of his genius in attempting to portray the exquisite lineaments of His matchless character.
2. Christ is the grandest hero of the historian.—History furnishes us with the knowledge of man and his doings in all ages—in his individual, social, and national aspects. It traces the development of the race from the first solitary man to the peopling of the world with the varied nationalities which now swarm upon its surface. But the history of the world and man would be a dark, unsolvable enigma if the name of Christ could be struck out. The story of redemption unites Christ with the destiny of man in all ages—past, present, and future; and “no history of the world, political or moral, can be either just or accurate that does not find in Christ foretold to come, or in Christ come and crucified, its centre and its key.” The world was created by Christ; it exists for Him; and, without interfering with individual freedom, it may be said that He makes its history: His name and influence are traceable everywhere, and are everywhere potent. The devout historian finds in Him the hero in whom all excellencies combine, and whose exploits he loves to chronicle.
3. Christ is prominent among the sublimest themes of the philosopher.—A philosophy that does not recognise the divine plunges its votaries into labyrinthine darkness; its legitimate office is to conduct to God. Coleridge has well said: “In wonder all philosophy began; in wonder it ends; and admiration fills up the interspace. But the first wonder is the offspring of ignorance; the last is the parent of adoration.” In every sphere where philosophy penetrates it is confronted with ineffaceable evidences of the power and presence of Christ. Among the splendid phenomena of the natural creation—the forces that move, and the laws that control its vast machinery—Christ is acknowledged as the creating and ruling spirit; and only as the material world is regarded as the theatre of redemption, and of moral conflict and discipline, does the philosopher reach its highest meaning: in the realm of mind, the true dignity, preciousness, and immortal endowments of the soul are understood only as we apprehend that the life of the great Redeemer was sacrificed to effect its ransom; and, in the sphere of morals, we decipher the relation of man to man, and to society at large, learn the duties and obligations we owe to each other and to God, discover the standard of right actions, and are aided in explaining and harmonising the inequalities that exist, when we gain an insight into the moral relation of Christ to the whole race.
4. Christ is the all-comprehensive subject of the theologian.—God is inscrutable to the unchristianised reason. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than bell, what canst thou know?” Men have sought God in all ages with tears, sacrifices, and sufferings indescribable; but in vain. Christ is the only way to the Father; in Himself He reveals and illustrates the Godhead. All our saving and renewing knowledge of God, and of our manifold relations to Him, we owe entirely to Christ. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” In the domain of theology “Christ is all in all.” But for Him the office of the theologian would be an impossibility.
II. That the treasures of divine wisdom are discoverable by the sincere and earnest seeker.—They are hid; but not so hid as to be beyond our reach. They are intended for discovery and appropriation. Their brilliancy sparkles even in their hiding-place. They are like a mine, whose riches, though faintly indicated on the surface, are concealed in the depths of the earth. The more diligently the mine is worked, the more precious and abundant the ore appears. So in Christ there are treasures of wisdom unseen by the superficial and careless observer; but to the humble and believing student new and deeper veins are perpetually opening up, until, still pursuing his search, he is dazzled by the splendour and inexhaustible fulness of wealth, surpassing all finite comprehension, and filling him with admiration and awe.
1. Man universally covets Wisdom
2. The highest wisdom is treasured up in Christ for man.
3. If man finds it not, it is his own fault.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:1-51.2.3. Christian Unity.
I. We cannot but lament the divisions and scandals of the professed disciples of Jesus, which have more than anything else prevented the universal diffusion of the gospel.
II. We should make it manifest, by acknowledging the truth in whomsoever found, that we are not bigoted sectarians.
III. As regards those with whom we are united in fellowship, let us prove by our humble, modest, and kind disposition that we are lovers of peace and concord.
IV. Christian unity is promoted by mutual efforts to edify one another in faith and love.—W. France.
Colossians 2:3. Christ the Treasury of Wisdom and Knowledge.—The revelation of Christ not merely teaches us a series of truths of inexpressible importance, and without it wholly unattainable, but it also, as a great central discovery, harmonises all our beliefs, sacred and secular, binds them together as its own servants, gives them a new interest, position, and colouring, and dignifies the pursuit of them as a labour in the very cause of God Himself, begun and prosecuted with a view to His glory—for to know the beauty of the temple is to know the glory of the Architect.—Archer Butler.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 2:5
Apostolic Praise of Order and Stability.
It is an impressive spectacle to see a well-armed body of troops drawn up in compact military order, resisting with calm, unflinching courage the terrible charge of the enemy. Every point of attack is strongly guarded, every vacancy occurring in the exposed front line is instantly supplied, and the broad, deep phalanx remains impenetrable and invincible. The enforced companionship of the apostle with the soldiers of the prætorian guard, in his imprisonment in Rome, where he would be a daily witness of their exercises, might suggest some such metaphor as this to his mind. And as he foresaw the confusion and ruin that would be introduced into the Colossian Church if the fatal errors of the false teachers were triumphant, in this verse he expresses his joyous satisfaction in being assured of the orderly array and firmly set stability which their faith in Christ presented against the assaults of the foe. Note:—
I. The apostle commended the external order of the members of the Church.—“Beholding your order.” This is mentioned first, because it first meets the eye, though all external discipline and order must necessarily spring out of and accompany a genuine faith. There is no form of ecclesiastical government that can claim an exclusively divine sanction. The New Testament lays down broad, general principles; and the Christian Church has been left to shape itself according to circumstances and in harmony with the indications of divine Providence. True order depends, not upon the form of Church polity we adopt—whether prelacy, presbytery, or congregationalism—as upon the consistency, fidelity, and union of the individual members of the Church. Order that is not based on a vigorous Church-life, and regulated by it, is empty and powerless; it is like the ice of the Polar regions, which sometimes assumes forms of exquisite and wondrous beauty, but is cold, heartless, dead. The Scriptural directions on this subject are brief, but pregnant with meaning: “Let all things be done decently and in order”; “God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the Churches of the saints”; “Let all things be done with charity”; “The rest will I set in order when I come.” While organisation that is not instinct with a moving, pervasive, and aggressive life is cumbersome, vapid, and useless; on the other hand, Christian steadfastness is imperilled where order is disregarded.
II. The apostle commended their stability in the faith.—“And the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” These words describe the internal condition of the Church; and the picture of a firm, confident reliance on Christ which he beheld delighted the soul of the anxious apostle. Order is the fence and guard, steadfastness the end in view, order is the garb and ornament, steadfastness the substance of the Christian character. Faith girds and strengthens the soul with its unchanging and invincible verities; the shafts of error and profanity assail it in vain. When the Roman proconsul, from his judgment-seat, urged the holy Polycarp to save his life by cursing the name of Jesus Christ, the venerable martyr calmly answered: “For eighty-six years I have served him; He has never yet done me harm. How can I blaspheme my King, who has saved me!” Man is great and noble, not by what he possesses, not by what he says, not by what he gives, not by what he does, but by what he believes. The most magnanimous outward conduct may be, after all, a very imperfect representation of the soul’s deepest faith. What a man believes is not therefore a matter of comparative indifference, but a question of supreme importance; he must have a clear, definite creed. True a creed is but the visible, expressive mould of the inward conception of the truth believed; but as the tendency of all life is to assume form, and can be understood by us only as it does so, so faith, as a vital and irresistibly active principle, must inevitably shape itself into some outward expression. Where there is no creed, there is no faith; a creedless man believes in nothing, and he is himself that nothing. He has no more cohesion in him than the separate particles of sand in the hour-glass. All true faith takes its rise “in Christ,” and gathers its stability by continuing in Him.
III. The apostle cherished a deep, personal interest in their welfare.—
1. In spirit he was present with them. “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit.” We have no satisfactory evidence that the apostle had as yet personally visited Colossæ. Epaphras, the faithful and anxious evangelist, sought him out in Rome, perhaps for the purpose of laying before him the state of Colossæ and of the neighbouring Churches on the banks of the Lycus. The apostle’s interest in Colossæ was further excited at this time by meeting with Onesimus, a runaway slave, belonging to the household of Philemon, a Colossian. The apostle was the means of bringing the runaway to repentance and to the enjoyment of the liberty of the spiritually free. These circumstances deepened St. Paul’s concern in the affairs of the Colossian Christians; he grasped all the points of the situation, was keenly alive to the gravity of the dangers with which they were threatened, and, as though he were personally present in their midst, expressed his sincere sympathy with them in their trials, and his profound satisfaction on hearing of their steady adherence to the truth. It is not necessary to be locally near in order to hold spiritual intercourse; oceans may roll between individuals whose souls participate in the highest communion. The soul is where it loves: thither it directs its affections, wishes, and hopes.
2. He rejoiced in their fidelity.—“Joying and beholding.” As though an actual spectator of their order and steadfastness, his soul is filled with joy. The expression of his hearty interest in their state, and his praise of their fidelity, prepared them to give heed to his cautions against the seductions of false teachers, and to his exhortations to perseverance. No disappointment is so poignant as that arising from the failure of Christian toil, and no joy so exquisite as the joy of success. The spectacle of a Christian Church poised in beauteous order, and strengthened with the might of an unfalteringly aggressive faith, is a subject of unspeakable joy to God, to His angels, and to all true ministers.
1. Attention must be paid to the outward as well as the inward state of the Church. 2. While the Church preserves its order and stability it is invulnerable.
3. It is cause of rejoicing when the Church faithfully maintains the conquests already won.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:7. Rooted and built up.—St. Paul passes over rapidly from one conception to another of quite a different kind. We cannot call it mixed metaphor. We commonly speak of a new town planted or a house planted.
Colossians 2:8. Beware lest any man spoil you.—R.V. “maketh spoil of you.” The word for “spoil” means “to lead away as booty,” as the Sabeans swooped down on the oxen and asses of Job and carried them away as their own property. Through philosophy and vain deceit.—We are reminded of the saying, “It is the privilege of a philosopher to depreciate philosophy.” And then men say, “How well he’s read to reason against reading!” St. Paul speaks here of philosophy “falsely so called.” The love of wisdom can never be a dangerous thing to men whose Master said, “Be wise as serpents”; only it must be the “wisdom which cometh from above.” St. Paul’s alias for what they call philosophy is “empty fallacy,” a hollow pretence; or what George Herbert might name “nothing between two dishes.” After the tradition of men.—Something passed over from one to another, as the deep secrets of the esoteric religions were whispered into the ears of the perfect. That a matter has been believed always, everywhere, and by all is no guarantee of its truth, as Galileo knew.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:6-51.2.7
Suggestive Features of the Christian Life.
The Christian life is essentially progressive. The law that governs its existence involves perpetual, active increase; if it did not grow, it would cease to live. Unlike the principle of growth in the natural world, we cannot conceive a point in the religious life where it necessarily becomes stationary, and then begins to decline, on the other hand, every provision is made for its unceasing expansion in the highest moral excellencies.
I. The Christian life begins in a personal reception of Christ.—“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord” (Colossians 2:6). Religion is not a self-development of innate human goodness, as many in the present day believe and teach. The soul of man is infected with the virulent poison of sin; no part has escaped the destructive moral taint. The utmost exercise of the unsanctified powers of the soul can therefore tend only towards the development of its own inborn corruption. As the vinegar plant reproduces itself with great rapidity, and impregnates every branch and fibre with its own essential acid, so the evil reigning in man reproduces itself with marvellous rapidity, and permeates the whole soul with its debasing poison. Religion is a receiving—the receiving of a gift, and that a divine gift. It is the growth and development of the supernatural in man. “Christ in you the hope of glory.”
1. Christ is received as THE CHRIST.—The Colossian heresy aimed at subverting the true idea of the Christ, the Anointed One, commissioned by the Father to effect the reconciliation of the world to Himself; it interposed a graduated series of angelic mediators, and thus thought to discredit the sole and absolute mediatorship of Christ. To receive the Son of God effectually is to receive Him in all that He claimed to be, and all that He came to do, as the divine, specially anointed Son, who alone and fully manifested the Father, and who is the only mediator between sinful man and God. It is of unspeakable importance to catch the true idea of the character and office of Christ at the beginning of the Christian life.
2. Christ is received as Jesus the Lord.—Jesus is the name by which He was known among men, and points out how completely He has identified Himself with humanity as the Saviour. “It behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” He is also Lord, the supreme Governor in all spheres, in nature, providence, and grace. To receive Jesus aright, He must be trusted as the Saviour, able to save to the uttermost, acknowledged as the Sovereign and universal Ruler, and homage and obedience rendered to His rightful authority. Our reception of Christ does not place us beyond the reach of law, but creates in us the capacity for rendering an intelligent and cheerful obedience to its holy requirements.
3. Christ is received by an act of faith.—To receive Christ is to believe in Him; and faith in Christ is simply the reception of Christ: the only way of receiving Him into the soul is by faith. The soul accepts, not only the testimony concerning Christ, whether furnished by Himself or by His witnesses, but accepts Christ Himself. The great, final object of faith that saves is Christ, and all testimony is valuable only as it brings us to Him. The sin-tossed spirit finds rest and peace only as it reposes, not in an abstract truth, but in a person—not in love as the law of the moral universe, but in a person who is Himself love.
II. The Christian life is governed by the law of Christ.—“So walk ye in Him” (Colossians 2:6). The word “walk” expresses the general conduct of man and the process of progression in the formation of individual character. The will of Christ, as indicated in His character, words, spirit, and example, is the ruling principle in the life of the believer.
1. To walk in Christ implies a recognition of Him in all things.—In everything that constitutes our daily life—business, domestic relations, social engagements, friendships, pleasures, cares, and trials—we may trace the presence of Christ and recognise His rule. Everywhere, on road, or rail, or sea—in all seasons of distress or joy, of poverty or wealth, of disturbance or rest—we may be conscious of the encompassing and regulating presence of Christ Jesus the Lord.
2. To walk in Christ implies a complete consecration to Him.—He has the supreme claim upon our devotion and service: “We are not our own; we are bought with a price.” Our life consists in serving Him: “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord.” The best of everything we possess should be cheerfully offered to Him. Carpeaux, the celebrated French sculptor, was kept in comparative retirement for some time before his death by a long and painful illness. One Sunday, as he was being drawn to church, he was accosted by a certain prince, who exclaimed, “Carpeaux, I have good news for you! You have been advanced in the Legion of Honour. Here is the rosette d’officier.” The emaciated sculptor smiled and replied, “Thank you, my dear friend. It is the good God who shall first have the noble gift.” Saying which, he approached the altar, put the rosette in his button-hole, and reverentially knelt down to pray.
3. To walk in Christ implies a continual approximation to the highest life in Him.—The Christian can rise no higher than to be most like Christ. The highest ambition of the apostle was to be “found in Him.” Life in Him is a perpetual progress in personal purity and ever-deepening felicity. Our interest in the vast future is intensified by the Christ-inspired hope that we shall be for ever virtually united to Him, that we shall delight in ever-changing visions of His matchless glory, that we shall be like Him, and reflect and illustrate the splendour of His all-perfect character. Every triumph over sin is a substantial advance towards this glorious future destiny.
III. The Christian life is supported and established by faith in fully declared truth.—
1. There is the idea of stability. The believer is rooted in Christ, as a tree planted in firm, immovable soil; he is built up in Christ, as an edifice on a sure foundation; and in both senses, as a tree and as a building, he must be established in the truth which has been demonstrated to him as divine and all-authoritative. It is not enough to preserve the appearance of an external walk in Christ; but the roots of our faith must be worked into Him, and the superstructure of holiness rest on Him as the only foundation laid in Zion. The soul thus firmly established will survive the heaviest storms of adversity and the most furious assaults of error.
2. There is the idea of progress.—Walking implies a continual advance to a given destination; a tree is planted in order to grow; the building, after the foundation is laid, rises to completion. The word “built” is in the present tense, and describes a work in actual process. So the believer, having become attached to the only foundation that is laid, which is Christ Jesus, is ever rising in conformity with the foundation and with the outlines of that grand spiritual edifice of which Christ is the pattern and glory. Faith is the cement that fastens one part of the building to the other; but faith as a living, active principle also admits of increase. With respect to every individual effort after a higher spiritual life, according to our faith it is done unto us.
IV. The Christian life has its most appropriate outflow in thanksgiving.—“Abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7). The end of all human conduct is thanksgiving. It should be expressed in every word, and appear in every action. Life should be a ceaseless, ever-abounding outflow of gratitude. We should never forget the magnitude of the blessings we have received, the wealth of morcies now offered to us, and the source whence they all issue. A thankful remembrance of past benefits cheers and strengthens the heart under difficulties, and disposes the bounteous Donor to confer further benefits. There is nothing in which Christians are more deficient than in a devout and heartily expressed gratitude. Gratitude expands our sympathies for the race. What a triumph of disinterested thankfulness was that of the invalid who, though confined to his room, “thanked God for the sunshine for others to enjoy”! The spirit of Christian progress is one of unceasing thanksgiving.
1. The Christian life is divinely bestowed.
2. The Christian life is divinely sustained.
3. The reality of the Christian life is evidenced by effusive and practical gratitude.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:6-51.2.7. Retrospection the Basis of Progress.
I. The Christian consciousness in its apprehension of Christ.—
1. There are two opposing theories prevalent on the person of Christ—the rationalistic and the revealed. The one rules out His Godhead; the other is the basis of the Christian faith.
2. Two systems of theology, widely distinct from each other, are dependent on these theories. The one puts man at its centre, and is wholly human; the other enthrones God, and is essentially divine.
3. There is only one Christ, one faith, one salvation.
4. It is within the one or the other of these two systems that we must posit our decisions.
II. The Christian consciousness in its reception of Christ.—
1. Faith receives the whole Christ.
2. Christ asks and gets the whole man.
3. The life of faith, as embodied in the moralities of Christian living, is thus provided for and follows this consecrating act.
III. The Christian consciousness in its subjection to Christ.—
1. The sphere of the lordship of Christ is the human mind.
2. The claim of this lordship is absolute.
3. The mind is free and unconstrained in its surrender to the authority of Christ.—John Burton.
Colossians 2:6. Moral Imitation.
I. The text assumes that man possesses the faculty of imitation.
II. He requires an example to imitate, and that example is Christ.
III. A model must be seen to be imitated, so Christ has presented Himself to us for that purpose.—W. Frazer.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 2:8
The Marks of a False Philosophy.
Philosophy plays an important part in the investigation and discovery of truth. The use of the word arose out of the humility of Pythagoras, who called himself a lover of wisdom. The noblest intellects of all ages have been devoted to the pursuit of the same coveted prize. Philosophy represents the highest effort of the human intellect in its search after knowledge. It explores and tests phenomena in the realm of physics and of morals, and discovers the subtle laws by which those phenomena are governed. It elevates man to his true rank in creation, and teaches that he must be estimated, not by his physical relation to the outward world, but by the sublime endowments of his mind, into which it is the special function of philosophy to inquire. The philosophic mood never reaches its highest development till it is Christianised. The apostle does not stigmatise all philosophy as in vain; he knew the value of a true philosophy, and in his estimation the Christian religion was the embodiment of the highest philosophy. But he warned the Colossians against a false philosophy that was deceptive in its pretentions and deadly in its influence.
I. A false philosophy is known by its profitless speculations.—The absence of both preposition and article in the second clause shows that “vain deceit” describes and qualifies philosophy. A celebrated Roman sophist summed up his deliberate judgment on the efforts of the learned in the painful search after wisdom in these words: “The human mind wanders in a diseased delirium, and it is therefore not surprising that there is no possible folly which philosophers, at one time or another, have propounded as a lesson of wisdom.” When the most highly cultured intellects have been gravely occupied with tricks of magic, the casting of nativities, the random guesses of soothsaying, and the pretended marvels of a mystic astrology; when the best of life has been spent in discussing transcendental questions as to the eternity of matter, fate, the mortality of the soul, the worship of angels and their mature endowments and habits, and in definitional hair-splitting as to what constitutes the chief good of man; when the truest and best discoveries of human reason are used to disparage divine revelation and discredit the absolute authority of saving truth—then philosophy falsifies its name, frustrates its lofty mission, and degenerates into vain, empty, profitless speculations. The student of the theories and contradictions of certain philosophic schools may begin with extravagant expectations, only to end in chagrin and despondency. The errors which assailed the Colossian Church were a mixture of the Oriental system of Zoroaster with Judaism, and with the crude, half-comprehended truths of Christianity. It was a mongrel system of philosophy, containing the germs of what afterwards developed into an advanced Gnosticism, and became the prolific source of many forms of heresy. Its abettors became “vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”
II. A false philosophy is known by its purely human origin.—“After the tradition of men.”
1. The human mind is limited.—The stream can never rise higher than its source; so the wisdom that comes from man is necessarily bounded by the range of his mental powers. The human mind cannot penetrate far into any subject without discovering there is a point beyond which all is darkness and uncertainty. It is impossible for the circumscribed and unaided mind of man to construct a philosophy that shall be universally true and beneficial. Tillotson has said: “Philosophy has given us several plausible rules for attaining peace and tranquillity of mind, but they fall very much short in bringing men to it.”
2. All human knowledge is imperfect.—“If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” The traditions of men are the accumulation of mere human theories transmitted from age to age until they have assumed the pretensions of a philosophy, imposing a number of uninspired and unauthorised observances and austerities. The imperfection of human knowledge is not obliterated but aggravated by its antiquity. A philosophy that builds solely on man is baseless and full of danger.
III. A false philosophy is known by its undue exaltation of elementary principles.—“After the rudiments of the world.” The source of the false teaching against which the apostle warned was found in human tradition, and its subject-matter was made up of “the rudiments of the world”—the most elementary instruction conveyed by external and material objects, suited only to man’s infancy in the world. The legal rights and ceremonies instituted by Moses are evidently referred to here; they were the first rough elements of an introductory religion fit only for children—shadows at best of great and deeper truths to which they were intended to lead, and yet, by the tendency of the soul to cling to the outward, gendering to bondage. “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements [rudiments] of the world. But now, after that ye have known God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements?” (Galatians 4:3-48.4.10). The apostle shows the Colossians that, in Christ, they had been exalted into the sphere of the Spirit, and that it would be a sad retrogression to plunge again into the midst of the sensuous and ceremonial. A true philosophy, while starting necessarily with elementary principles, conducts its votaries into a pathway of increasing knowledge and of spiritual exaltation and liberty. A false philosophy fetters the mind by exaggerating the importance of first principles and insisting on their eternal obligation.
IV. A false philosophy is known by its Christlessness.—“And not after Christ.” Christ is neither the author nor the substance of its teaching; not the author, for its advocates rely on human traditions; not the substance, for they ignore Christ by the substitution of external ceremonies and angelic mediators. Such a method of philosophising may be after the Jewish fanatics, after the Pythagoreans or Platonists, after Moses and his abrogated legalism; but it is not after Christ. There is no affinity between Christ and their inventions; the substances cannot amalgamate. As it is impossible, by any process, to convert a baser metal into gold, so is it impossible to elevate a vain philosophy into Christianity. All true saving knowledge must be after—i.e. according to—Christ. It is in Him alone the deepest wants of man’s nature can be met and satisfied. Any philosophy, though championed by the most brilliant intellects, that tends to lure the soul from Christ, that puts anything in the place of Him, or depreciates in any way our estimate of His glorious character, is false and full of peril.
V. A false philosophy is known by its destructive influence.—“Lest any man spoil you.” The meaning of the word “spoil” is very full and significant: it is not simply to despoil—to strip off—but to carry away as spoil, just as the four kings, after the battle in the vale of Siddim, plundered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and bore away as spoil the people and all their property and victuals (Genesis 14:12-1.14.16). The Colossians had been rescued from the bondage of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of light; they were settled there as free and happy citizens; and now there was danger lest they should be tampered with by some crafty marauder, seized and carried away as booty, and fall into a worse state than their former slavery. There are worse losses than loss of property, or even of children: man is never so grievously spoiled as when his soul is debased and robbed by the errors of wicked seducers. Men who have contemptuously given up the Bible as a book of fables, lost their peace of mind, wrecked their moral character, and blasted their prospects for ever, began their downward career by embracing the apparently harmless ideas of a false philosophy. “The thief cometh not,” saith Jesus, “but to steal, to kill, and to destroy; I”—the infallible Teacher, the incorruptible Guardian, the inexhaustible Life-giver—“am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
VI. Against a false philosophy the Church must be faithfully warned.—“Beware.”
1. Because it is seductive in its pretensions.—It seeks to refine and elevate the plain gospel by a show of lofty intellectualism; it dignifies some particular religious rite into an unjustifiable importance; it elaborates a ritual marvellous for spectacular display and musical effect; it flatters the pride and ministers to the corruption of the human heart; and, stealing through the avenue of the charmed senses, gains an imperious mastery over the whole man.
2. Because it is baneful in its effect.—It not only misrepresents and distorts the truth, but injures the faculties of the soul by which truth is obtained and kept. It darkens the understanding, pollutes the conscience, and weakens the will. It robs man of his dearest treasure, and offers in exchange a beggarly system of crude, unsatisfying speculations. The soul is goaded into a restless search after rest, and cursed with its non-attainment.
1. Human philosophy is essentially defective.
2. The true philosophy is the highest knowledge of Christ.
3. All philosophy that weans the soul from Christ is false, and should be shunned.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:9. In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.—There is no minimising the significance of this statement. It is either true or it is the wildest raving of blasphemy. “Dwelleth”—has its settled abode. A change of prefix would give us the word in Luke 24:18. “Dost thou alone sojourn?” etc. Dualism separates God from matter as far as possible; the Incarnation unites Him for ever with it. “Great is the mystery.” “Godhead.” Though twice before in our A.V. (Acts 17:29; Romans 1:23), the word here differs from both.
Colossians 2:10. And ye are complete in Him.—These minor powers of whom you have heard are all subordinate to Him in whom directly you have all you need. There is no need to go viâ Philip and Andrew, Mary or Michael, when “we would see Jesus.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:9-51.2.10
The Divine Fulness of Christ a Pledge of the Believer’s Perfection.
Christianity is the true philosophy. Here are its profoundest depths, its loftiest themes, its most substantial discoveries. The philosophy that is not after Christ is vain and misleading. It was a false conception of the Colossian heresy that the divine energy was dispersed among several spiritual agencies. The apostle boldly declares that in Christ dwells the whole πλήρωμα, the entire fulness of the Deity, and that it is in vain to seek for spiritual life in communion with inferior creatures.
I. The divine fulness of Christ.—
1. In Christ is the fulness of the Deity. “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead” (Colossians 2:9). A small text, but a great subject. These words contain the sublimest truth in the narrowest compass. Fulness is a term used to signify all that anything contains. Hence we read of the fulness of the earth, the fulness of the sea, and that the Church is Christ’s body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. In Christ inhere all the perfections, attributes, and qualities that essentially constitute the divine nature—power, wisdom, eternity, self-existence, omnipresence, truth, love, holiness. The deities of the heathen never pretended to possess more than a few divine attributes, some portion of divinity. But Christ contains in Himself the totality of divine powers and excellencies.
2. The fulness of the Deity in Christ is present and permanent.—“Dwelleth.” The present tense is used. It is not as a transient gleam or as a brilliant display to serve a temporary purpose, but as an ever-present and unchanging reality. Mystery of mysteries! the body that hungered and thirsted, that bled and died, that rose and ascended on high, is still the temple of illimitable Deity! The manifestations of God through angels and prophets were brief and partial. The Shekinah, or visible glory, that hovered over the ark of the covenant was a symbol only of a present deity, and disappeared as mysteriously as it came. But in Christ the transcendent fulness of the Godhead finds its permanent home, never to depart, never to vanish.
3. The fulness of the Deity in Christ has a visible embodiment.—“Bodily.” In the person of Christ every moral perfection of the Godhead was enshrined, and brought within the range of human vision. He presented and proved the fact of the divine existence. He embodied and declared the divine spirituality. He delineated the divine disposition and character in the days of His flesh. Gleams of the divine nature occasionally broke forth. “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God.” And now, from that subtle, glorified human form of our exalted Mediator, the splendour of the Deity rays forth, filling the universe with light and glory and joy. In Christ the Godhead is revealed, not as a changing, shadowy phantasm, but as a positive, substantial reality.
II. The supreme authority of Christ.—“Which is the Head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10).
1. Angels are the principalities and powers of the universe.—They are called spirits to express their nature, and angels to designate their office as messengers sent by God. They are called sons of God, to indicate their lofty relationship; cherubim, because of their composite nature, and because they are placed under the presence of Jehovah, whose moving throne they appear to draw; seraphim, because of their burning ardour in executing the commands of God; stars of the morning, to set forth their brightness; a flaming fire, because of the fierceness and celerity with which they carry out the vengeance of Heaven; and they are called principalities and powers on account of their exalted rank and superior endowments.
2. Among the principalities and powers of the universe Christ has supreme authority.—He is the Head of all angelic hierarchies. He called them into being. He endows them with vast intelligence. He designates their rank. He controls their beneficent ministries. He fills the circle of their bliss. To worship angels, or to seek their mediation in the affairs of the soul, is not only gross idolatry, but an insufferable insult to the fulness of the Deity in Christ.
III. The believer’s fulness in Christ.—“And ye are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10).
1. In Christ is the inspiration of the believer’s life.—The soul finds its true life by believing on the Son of God. “He that hath the Son hath life.” In ourselves we are like empty vessels; but in Christ we are filled up to the brim. As there is an original and divine fullness of the Godhead in Christ, so there is a derived fulness communicated to us. Every advance in Christian experience, every aspiration after a more exalted spiritual tone, every yearning of the soul after clearer light, every struggle for victory over self and sin, is prompted and accelerated by the impetuous inflow of the divine life.
2. In Christ is the perfect ideal of the believer’s character.—Christ has exalted human nature. He took not on Him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham. He has shown what human nature can become, and what it can do. In Him we have the illustrious pattern after which our souls are to be fashioned and rounded off into a full-orbed completeness. “Christ is the mirror that glasses God’s image before us, and the spirit is the plastic force within that transfers and photographs that image; and so, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
3. In Christ is the interminable bliss of the believer’s future.—The present life is a training for the future. The more it is in harmony with the will of Christ the happier will it be. Every attempt, amid the multiform relations of life, to do our duty in a Christly spirit, is bringing us into closer sympathy with Christ, and preparing us for a joyous life with Him hereafter. The apostle expressed the condition of the highest conceivable bliss to the believer in the words, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
1. Christ is essentially divine.
2. There is an ineffable fulness of salvation in Christ.
3. All secondary mediators between God and man are superfluous.
4. The soul is complete in Christ only as it believes in Him.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:9-51.2.10. A Presentation of Two Great Truths.
I. That all Christianity centres in Christ.
II. That union to Christ makes the soul independent of others.—Dykes.
Colossians 2:9. The Fulness of Christ.
Christ is full of the power of God.
The love of God.
The grace of God.
The faithfulness of God.
The purpose of God to punish sin.—Preacher’s Magazine.
Colossians 2:10. The Completing of the Soul.
I. We are made complete in Christ by inspirations.
II. We have ideas and ideals in Christ.
III. We are set in a various scheme of relations that we may have a training in virtues equally various and be perfected in them and by means of them—Bushnell.
The Believer Complete in Christ.
I. Complete in Him with respect to the work which He hath already performed.—
1. His obedience and atonement were precisely what God Himself had prescribed.
2. That He obeyed and atoned, we have the perfect evidence of observation and testimony. He Himself declared, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” “It is finished.” To this the Father and the Spirit have expressly borne testimony: by signs and wonders; His resurrection; His ascension; the descent of the Spirit; conversions; the glorification of His people.
3. Into His righteousness thus perfect the believer is admitted.
II. Complete in Him with respect to the work which He is now performing.—
1. interceding in heaven.
2. Ruling on earth, and thus giving grace and affording protection.
III. Complete in Him with respect to the work which He is hereafter to perform.—
1. As the Resurrection.
2. As the Judges 3:0. As the Glorifier.
4. As the Consummation and Communicator of eternal blessedness.—Stewart.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:11. In whom also ye are circumcised … by the circumcision of Christ.—What to the Jew was a bodily act, at best symbolical and of no value otherwise, was to the Colossian disciple a spiritual renovation, so complete as to render the old symbol of it inadequate.
Colossians 2:12. Buried … risen.—Referring to the definite acts when, as Christian converts, they went beneath the baptismal waters and emerged to live the faith thus publicly confessed. Through the faith of the operation of God.—An obscure phrase. The R.V. is clear: “Through faith in the working of God.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:11-51.2.12
There were two principal errors lying at the root of the heresy that was doing so much damage at Colossæ. One was the theological error of substituting inferior and created angelic mediators for the divine Head Himself. The other was a practical error, in insisting upon ritual and ascetic observances as the foundation of moral teaching. Thus their theological speculations and ethical code alike were at fault. Both errors flowed from a common source—the false conception that evil resides in matter, a fruitful source of many fatal heresies. Some contended the Colossians could not be complete in Christ without submitting to the Jewish rite of circumcision; but the apostle showed that they were the subjects of a superior circumcision.
I. Christian circumcision is inward and spiritual.—“Ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands” (Colossians 2:11). The hand-wrought circumcision of the Jews was simply an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. This is abundantly clear in the language of the Old Testament: “No stranger uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into My sanctuary.” “The Lord Thy God will circumcise thine heart, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and all thy soul.” The argument of the apostle is that the Colossians had secured all the spiritual results aimed at in the ancient rite, and that by a better circumcision, even that made without hands, by the spiritual and almighty power of Christ, so that it was unnecessary for them or any other Gentiles to submit to the abrogated Hebraic ordinance. The true circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter (Romans 2:28-45.2.29).
II. Christian circumcision is complete.—“In putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11); or, as Bengel translates, putting off the body of the sins—that is to say, the flesh. Manual circumcision, according to the law of Moses, was the cutting away of only a small part of the flesh. But the true spiritual circumcision consists in putting off, renouncing, and casting away with disgust the whole body of our corrupt nature—the entire fleshly principle. The whole bulk of sin is fitly compared to a body, because of the weight of guilt there is in it (Romans 7:24), and the soul is completely compassed by it, as it is with our natural body (Genesis 6:5). When the heart is circumcised, the total mass of sin is put off, as the porter puts off his burden, the beggar his rags, the master his false servant, and the serpent its skin. Old things pass away; all things become new.
III. Christian circumcision is divine.—“By the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11). It is wrought, without hands, by the inward, invisible power of the divine Spirit of Christ. It supersedes the external form of the circumcision of the law, and fulfils all its spiritual designs in a far more perfect manner than even the spiritually-minded Jew could adequately conceive. What can never be effected by the moral law, by external, ascetic ceremonies, or by philosophic speculations, is accomplished by the circumcision of Christ. The whole body of sin is mortified, the soul is quickened and renewed, and brought into the possession of the highest moral perfection.
IV. Christian circumcision is realised by the thorough identification of the believer with Christ in His death and resurrection.—“Buried with Him, wherein also ye are risen with Him” (Colossians 2:12). Burial implies previous death; and to secure the true circumcision we must be spiritually identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. It is the familiar teaching of the New Testament that he who believes in Christ is said to die with Him, to be buried with Him, and to rise with Him (Colossians 2:13; Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:5). A circumcised heart, a new nature, cannot be obtained by mere human effort, by stern resolutions, painful processes of self-mortification, or by the most advanced and rigorous mental culture. It is secured only by a complete, vital union and incorporation with Christ, and a sympathetic participation with Him in all He has done and suffered. With Christ the believer enters the grave where the vast body of sin dies, and is buried; and with Christ he emerges into a new and heavenlier life that transforms the soul into a diviner beauty, and fills it with unutterable rapture and melodious praise.
V. Christian circumcision is wrought in the soul by a spiritual baptism.—“Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him” (Colossians 2:12). Baptism by water, like legal circumcision, is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. But it does not appear that there is any allusion here to the ordinance of baptism. The leading ideas and figures used in these two verses refer to spiritual realities: the death, burial, and resurrection, the circumcision without hands, and the putting off of the body of the flesh, are all spiritual; and the baptism is evidently of the same character. It is by the baptism of the Spirit—the quickening and renewing power of the Holy Ghost—that the soul is so united to and identified with Christ that the believer may be said to be buried and to rise with Him. It is possible to die with Christ and to rise with Him without being baptised with water; but it is impossible to do either without the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Spiritual baptism is the grave of the old man and the birth of the new. As he sinks beneath the baptismal waters, the believer buries there all his corrupt affections and past sins; as he emerges thence, he rises regenerate, quickened to new hopes and a new life.
VI. Christian circumcision is received by faith.—“Through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Faith is not a natural production of the human heart. It is a divine gift, and is bestowed on man by a divine operation. Man can believe because God has given him the power to believe. No unbeliever can receive the baptism that effects the spiritual resurrection. The faith specially referred to is to be fixed on the power of God as exerted and displayed in the resurrection of Christ from the tomb. The same power is employed in that mysterious baptismal process by which the soul throws off its mass of moral vileness and rises into newness of life. Faith opens every gateway of the soul, so that it gratefully welcomes and exults in the transforming operations of the divine energy.
1. All external ordinances are powerless to change the heart.
2. The true circumcision is accomplished by the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
3. To realise the renewing power of God faith is indispensable.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:11. The True Circumcision—
I. Is not an outward rite, but an inward change.
II. Is an excision of the body of sin by our union with Christ, who has conquered sin.
III. Is not an external observance, but a spiritual experience and a holy life.
Colossians 2:12. The True Baptism—
I. Is spiritual regeneration.
II. Is being buried and raised again with Christ.
III. Is secured by an active, realising faith in the power of God.
IV. Renders circumcision and all outward rites valueless as means of salvation.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:14. Blotting out the handwriting.—“Wiping out the old score,” as we might say. All that bond which was valid against them Christ had for ever rendered nugatory whilst they confided in His salvation. Against us, which was contrary to us.—We have here the author of those hot protests against work-righteousness. The threatening aspect of the law is expressed in this reiteration. The law not only menaces wrong-doers; it proceeds against them with punishment. Nailing it to His cross.—The bond is discharged and may be filed. We are reminded of St. Peter’s equally bold expression: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body [to, and] on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
Colossians 2:15. Having spoiled principalities.—R.V. “having put off from Himself.” The authorities are divided between the A.V. and R.V. The English reader must not conclude that he has again the word and idea of Colossians 2:8. The apostle says that Christ had flung off from Himself the powers of wickedness. As these Colossians needed no intercessions of good angels, so, on the other hand, they need fear nothing from the maleficent powers of darkness, now vanquished.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:13-51.2.14
The Transition from Death to Life.
In relation to man, the physical order is a descent from life to death, the spiritual order an ascent from death to life. The soul of man is held captive in the dark and dismal prison-house of sin, and the divine law—at once its judge and gaoler—has declared its condemnation to death. The great Mediator offers Himself a ransom for human sin. He is accepted. The sentence of condemnation is cancelled, and spiritual liberty proclaimed.
I. That the natural condition of humanity is one of moral and spiritual death.—
1. Man is in a condition of spiritual insensibility. “You, being dead in your sins” (Colossians 2:13). The dead know not anything. They are as unconscious as the dust in the midst of which they slumber. The sweetest sounds or the brightest scenes appeal in vain to the locked-up senses. This figure strikingly depicts the moral condition of man. The soul may be keenly alive to the relations and interests of the outer world, and at the same time dead to the grandest spiritual realities. He is insensible to the character and claims of God, to the sublimest truths, to the most ravishing prospects. With faculties to appreciate all that is lovely in nature and wonderful in art, he is insensible and unresponsive to the highest moral beauty.
2. Man is in a condition of moral corruption.—“And the uncircumcision of your flesh” (Colossians 2:13). Death unbinds the forces that brace up the body in life and health, and leaves it a prey to the ever-active power of corruption. The flesh is the carnal principle—the old corrupt nature; and its uncircumcision indicates that it has not been cut off, mortified, or conquered. It is the loathsome, putrid fruit of a nature spiritually dead—the outworkings of a wicked, unrenewed heart, through all the channels of unchecked appetites and passions—moral putrescence fattening on itself. No description of sin can surpass the revolting spectacle of its own self-registered results.
3. Man is in a condition of condemnation.—
(1) The divine ordinances record an indictment against the transgressor. “The handwriting of ordinances that was against us” (Colossians 2:14). A handwriting imports what any one writes with his own hand, and is usually applied to a note of hand, a bond, or obligation, as having the signature of the debtor or contracting party. The primary reference in the terms used is to the Jews, who might be said to have signed the contract when they bound themselves, by a curse, to observe all the enactments of the law (Deuteronomy 27:14-5.27.26). Ordinances, though referring primarily to the Mosaic ordinances, include all forms of positive decrees (ordinances) in which moral or social principles are embodied or religious duties defined. Man everywhere is under law, written or unwritten; and he is morally obligated to obey it. That law has been universally violated, and its ordinances and sanctions are against us. We are involved in legal condemnation; we owe to God what we can never pay.
(2) The divine ordinances are hostile towards the transgressor. “Which was contrary to us” (Colossians 2:14). We are often painfully reminded of our broken bond, as the debtor is often distressingly reminded of his undischarged obligation. Our peace is disturbed, our conscience troubled, our prospects darkened. The sense of condemnation pursues us in every part of life; and haunts us with visions of terrible vengeance to come.
II. That the believer is raised into a condition of spiritual life.—
1. Spiritual life begins in the consciousness of liberty. “Having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). Sin enthrals the soul in an intolerable bondage, and smites it with a deathly blow. There is no return to life until liberty is bestowed. Forgiveness confers that liberty. Pardon is the point at which spiritual life begins. The sense of liberty is the first glad thrill in the soul of a new and nobler life. The pardon is ample; it is all-comprehensive—having forgiven you all trespasses. Every legal barrier is removed. All guilt is cancelled. Every stain is purged away. Every vestige of corruption disappears. The divine mercy triumphs in the prompt, generous, loving, full forgiveness of sins.
2. Spiritual life implies a freedom from all condemnation.—
(1) The indictment recorded in the divine ordinances is cancelled and abolished. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross” (Colossians 2:14). Every assurance is given to the trembling believer that his guilt is pardoned and his condemnation removed. The handwriting is blotted out—as it were, cross-strokes are drawn through it; and that all suspicion it may again become legible, may be allayed, it is added, “and took it out of the way”; it is entirely removed. But lest, haply, it should again be found and produced, it is declared—it is destroyed, torn, nailed to the cross, and so made utterly useless ever to witness anything against the believer. “Now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held” (Romans 7:6). The handwriting against us is removed and destroyed by the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. There we behold the cancelled sentence torn and rent by the very nails that pierced the sacred body of the world’s Redeemer.
(2) Freedom from condemnation is effected by the cross. “His cross.” Much as the doctrine of salvation through the vicarious sufferings of Christ may be misunderstood and despised, it is the only method by which pardon can be bestowed, condemnation removed, and spiritual life imparted. “Christ hath reedeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.”
III. That the transition of the soul from death to spiritual life is a divine work.—“You hath He quickened together with Him” (Colossians 2:13). God only can raise the dead. He who first fashioned us in His own image, who raised from the dead Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, rescues man from the gloomy domain of spiritual death, and inspires him with a new and holier life. It is a life of blessed union with the divine. Its activities are spontaneous and Godward in their tendencies. It has the power of growth and endless development. Its aspirations are the purest and noblest. It is intensely individual. It is the movement of the divine in the sphere of the human, not defacing or destroying the human, but exalting and perfecting its worthiest traits.
1. All men are dead in sin.
2. Law condemns but cannot deliver.
3. Pardon of sin is the gateway of spiritual life.
4. Pardon is obtained only by looking to the cross.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:13. Death and Spiritual Life.
I. Man by sin is spiritually dead and disabled from exercising spiritual acts.
II. Man is quickened into spiritual life by virtue of the resurrection of Christ.
III. Spiritual life is obtainable only by the pardon of sin.
Colossians 2:14. The Handwriting of Ordinances—
I. Describes our condemnation.
II. Must be cancelled in order to pardon.
III. Cancelled by the sufferings on the cross.
IV. Is blotted out against us when we accept the Crucified.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Colossians 2:15
The Triumph of the Cross.
The apostle has shown the worthlessness of the Jewish ceremonies and the galling tyranny of their yoke. He has exposed the emptiness of the philosophy that was of human fabrication, with its illusive theories about angel mediators, its vast accretions of conflicting traditions, and its intolerable impositions. He has declared that they are all transfixed to the cross—torn, lacerated, illegible, cancelled—and exhibited there as a spectacle for the perpetual consolation and assurance of the believer. And now the apostle, rising with the grandeur of his theme, compares the scene of the cross to the splendid triumph of a Roman general, in which the captives taken in battle were led in gorgeous procession through the city as substantial trophies of the victor.
I. The triumph of the cross was over the powers of evil.—“Principalities and Powers.”
1. The existence of evil is a painful fact.—We meet with it everywhere and in everything. It mars the beauty of external creation, and loads it with a burden of unutterable woe. It flings its shadow over the brightest sky, transforms the music of life into a doleful monotone, and translates the softest zephyrs into sighs. It impregnates man’s moral nature, deflects the purest principles, shatters the noblest powers, arrests the loftiest aspirations, and drags the soul down to the lowest hell.
2. Evil is embodied in invisible and potent personalities.—They are here called principalities because of their excellency, their deep penetration, vast knowledge, and exalted station. They are called powers because of their ability, the mighty influence they can wield, and the terrible havoc they can work. Their dominion extends over the whole realm of sin. They exist in vast numbers (2 Peter 2:2; Jude 1:6), but they are inspired and guided by one great master-spirit—the prince of the power of the air. They are animated and bound together by one spirit—a spirit of bitter hatred and savage hostility towards God, and of contemptuous scorn for His authority. They are eager to obey the slightest behest of their malignant leader.
“He spake: and to confirm his words outflew
Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs
Of mighty cherubim: the sudden blaze
Far round illumined hell: highly they raged
Against the Highest, and fierce with grasped arms
Clashed on their sounding shields the din of war,
Hurling defiance towards the vault of heaven.”
These hosts of evil spirits are the great foes of man with which he has incessantly to contend (Ephesians 6:12). The struggle would be hopeless had not Christ defeated them.
II. The triumph of the cross was achieved after severe conflict.—“Having spoiled.”
1. The conflict was continuous.—It was fought from the earliest period between Satan and man, and the day was lost. The woeful issues of that conquest are with us to-day. The battle has been raging ever since. The enmity existing between the serpent and the seed of the woman is still active. The symbols and foreshadowings of the great strife appeared on many occasions during the Mosaic period. But when Christ assumed our humanity and stepped upon the field as the great Captain of our salvation, the conflict reached its climax.
2. The conflict was fierce.—Hosts of demons swarmed around the solitary Warrior, and with incredible fury sought to gain a victory over the human nature He had assumed. Again and again they rushed to the attack; but each fresh assault ended with a new defeat. In the wilderness He was tempted by Satan; but the arch-tempter was compelled to retire, baffled and conquered. Through the voice of His chief disciple the temptation was renewed, and He was urged to decline His appointed sufferings and death (Matthew 16:23). But Satan was again foiled.
3. The conflict was deadly.—Then came the final hour—the great crisis when the power of darkness made itself felt, when the prince of this world threw his last fatal shaft and asserted his tyranny (Luke 22:53; John 12:30). The closing act in the conflict began with the agony of Gethsemane; it ended with the cross of Calvary. The Son of God expires on the accursed tree. But, lo! strange reversal of all human conflicts—the moment of apparent defeat is the moment of victory! By dying Christ has conquered death, and wrested from the enemy his most potent weapon of terror. The principalities and powers of evil, that clung around the humanity of Christ like a fatal Nessus tunic, were spoiled—torn off and cast aside for ever. Evil assailed the great Redeemer from without, but never penetrated Him as it does humanity. In the act of dying the crucified One stripped off and flung to the ground the great potentates of evil never more to be in the ascendant.
III. The triumph of the cross was signal and complete.—
1. It was signal. “He made a show of them openly.” The overthrow of the principalities and powers of evil was boldly declared to the universe. They were declared to be liars, traitors, deceivers, usurpers, and murderers! It was not a private but a public victory, in which the universe was interested, and in which all men may well rejoice. The victory of mankind is involved in the victory of Christ. In His cross we too are divested of the poisonous, clinging garments of temptation, sin, and death—we spoil, strip off, put away from us the powers of evil, and are liberated from the dominion of the flesh.
2. It was complete.—“Triumphing over them in it.” Christ proved Himself on the cross the Conqueror of death and hell. Here the paradox of the Crucifixion is placed in the strongest light—triumph in helplessness, glory in shame, the vanquished become the conqueror. The gloom of the convict’s gibbet is transformed into the splendour of the victor’s chariot. In the cross we see the greatest triumph of our Immanuel—the law fulfilled; God’s moral government vindicated; death robbed of its prey; Satan, “the prince of this world” cast out; principalities and powers dragged in procession as captives; a show of them boldly made; the imprisoned world set free; and the final victory over every enemy assured.
1. Christ has conquered the powers of evil.
2. To the believer ultimate victory is certain.
3. Keep up a brave heart in the fiercest conflict.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:16. Let no man therefore judge you.—They could not well prevent an adverse judgment being given on their disregard of what the ritualists thought to be of supreme moment, but they could refuse to argue about such trifles.
Colossians 2:17. Shadow … body.—The relationship is indicated here of the old ceremonial worship to the worship of the Spirit. To confound shadow and substance, or mistake the shadow for the substance, has ever been the fatal error of ritualism.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:16-51.2.17
The Ceremonial and the Real in Religion.
After dealing with the speculative theories so busily propagated by the false teachers at Colossæ, the apostle descends from the height of his lofty argument, and with incomparable force sweeps away the whole group of errors which overrated an excessive ritualism and insisted on a rigorous asceticism. The existence of the ceremonial in religion is a confession of the imperfection of our nature; and the more rudimentary the ceremonial, the lower it supposes our condition. The ceremonial foreshadows the real, and is intended to help in attaining it. In the nature of things, therefore, the ceremonial is but temporary. When it puts man in possession of the real it vanishes. The shadow is absorbed in the substance. To compel man to find salvation in the ceremonial, when he already possesses the real, is a retrogression and an injustice. The liberty of the gospel places the believer above the slavery of external ordinances, and furnishes him with a law—the law of a christianised conscience—as to their use or neglect.
I. That the ceremonial in religion can form no just basis for individual condemnation.—“Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat,” etc. (Colossians 2:16). The Mosaic law enforced certain injunctions concerning eating and drinking. It gave minute directions as to the animals that were to be eaten, making a distinction between the clean and the unclean. As to drinking, the priests were strictly forbidden the use of wine on the eve of solemn public duty; and the vow of the Nazarites required entire abstinence from the fruit of the vine. The tendency of the Jews was to multiply these distinctions and prohibitions, and to exalt them into undue importance. The reference to special days embraces the collective periodical feasts and sacred seasons of the Levitical ritual—the yearly, monthly, and weekly celebrations. The term holy day would include the festivals of the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles respectively. The new moon alludes to the monthly celebrations mentioned (Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11). The Sabbath days refer to the weekly solemnities and services of the seventh day. The Jews assumed that the obligation of these regulations was permanent, and their observance essential to the salvation of the Christian believer. The gospel teaches that the observance or non-observance of these ceremonial rites is no just ground for judging each other. We are not justified in condemning any one for neglecting them, or to think any better of one who reverently observes them. The essence of religion does not consist in the outward form, but in the inward spirit—not in the ceremonial, but in the real. “Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:17).
II. That the ceremonial in religion is typical of the real.—“Which are a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:17). Ceremonies have their place in the culture of mankind, and in their legitimate sphere they are important. They are adapted to the infant stage in the development of the race. They sketch out the bold, rough outlines of truths that are in a half-formed, embryotic state. They are shadows projected across the disc of our mental vision—of grand realities which are ever advancing into clearer view. They are typical of the existence and certain manifestation of deeper and unchangeable truths. They are predictive of things to come. The great yearly festival of the Passover typified the forgiveness of sins by the shedding of the precious blood of Christ. The Pentecost, or feast of the firstfruits, sets forth the sustenance and ample provision God has made for the soul. The feast of the Tabernacles was a significant reminder of God’s providential guidance and fatherly care of human life. The new moon, or first day of the month, with its usual service, impressed on the minds of the people the truth that Jehovah, the Ruler of the seasons, was the God of providence as well as of creation. The weekly Sabbath, with its grateful rest, was expressly instituted to commemorate the rest of God after the exercise of His creative energy. Then the ordinary sacrifices were doubled, and the shewbread renewed, to indicate that God is the source and sustenance of our life. And so the whole Mosaic law was a type and presage of the gospel. The spiritually enlightened look through the outward and visible symbol to the great truth signified. The ceremonial is valuable only as it conducts to the real.
III. That the ceremonial in religion is abolished and rendered nugatory by the real.—“But the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:17). When the substance appears, the shadow is swallowed up. As the shadows are to the body, so were the types and ceremonies of the law to Christ. They were figures of evangelical blessings; but the truth, the reality, and abiding substance of them are found in the person, work, and salvation of Christ. All the grand truths prefigured by the ancient Mosaic ritual are embodied in Christ. He gives the fullest personal representation of Jehovah as the God of nature, providence, and redemption, at once the Author and the Ruler of the spiritual life. In Christ, therefore, as the substance and antitype, all shadow and symbol disappear. It is a dangerous infatuation to snatch at the shadow and cling to it, when we may embrace and rest in the sufficiency of the substance. This is to restore the cancelled handwriting and nullify the splendid triumph of the cross. In Christ the ceremonial is effete, powerless, dead. He only is the changeless, eternal, all-satisfying real.
1. Learn to exercise the spirit of Christian forbearance in external observances.
2. Be careful not to rest in the ceremonial.
3. Christ alone can satisfy the deepest craving of the soul.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:16-51.2.17. The Shadow and the Substance of the Sabbath.
I. The transient shadow which has passed away.—The Sabbath as a sign between God and the Israelites, marking them off from all other nations by its observance—as a mere Jewish institution.
II. The permanent substance which cannot pass.—“The body is of Christ”—the Spirit of Christ is the fulfilment of the law. To have the Spirit of Christ is to have fulfilled the law. Apply this to Sabbath observance.—F. W. Robertson.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:18. Let no man beguile you of your reward.—R.V. “let no man rob you of your prize.” There seems to be implied some such thought as this: Do not allow these heretical teachers to lay down for you the conditions on which the prize shall be yours; for when they pronounce in your favour, “the Lord, the righteous Judge,” pronounces against you. In a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.—In acts of self-imposed abasement in the presence of invisible beings. St. John tells us of the rebuke administered by the angel before whom he prostrated himself: “See thou do it not: … worship God.” But there are men who would say, “Nay, my Lord,” and continue their forbidden worship. Intruding into those things which he hath not seen.—The change in the R.V. is considerable: “dwelling in the things which he hath seen.” The apostle is apparently speaking ironically of the boasted manifestations made to the Gnostic teachers.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:18-51.2.19
The Seductive Peril of a False Philosophy.
The apostle had warned the Colossians against the dangerous consequences of attaching too much importance to the ceremonial in religion, inasmuch as it was the substitution of the shadow for the substance. He now reveals the peril of being seduced by the theological error that insisted on interposition of angel mediators, which was the preference of an inferior member to the Head. In this verse the writer distinctly warns the Colossian Christians against the peril that threatened them, and exposes the presumptuous speculations of a false philosophy.
I. That the teachings of a false philosophy threaten to rob the believer of his most coveted reward.—“Let no man beguile you of your reward” (Colossians 2:18). The Christian’s career is a race; the present world is the stadium, or racecourse; Christ is the umpire—the dispenser of rewards; eternal life is the victor’s prize. The Colossians were in a fair way for winning the prize; they had duly entered the lists; they were contending bravely; but the false teachers unhappily crossed their path, sought to impede their progress, and to rob them of their reward. Error is subtle in its influence and pernicious in its effects. Many erroneous opinions may possibly be held without invalidating the salvation of the soul; but any error that in any degree depreciates our estimate of Christ and interrupts the advance of our Christian life is a robbery. It may be said that the dangerous speculations of a false philosophy are confined only to a few—the higher circle of thinkers. That is bad enough. But what is damaging the higher order of intellects will by-and-by reach the lower and work its mischief there. There is need for uninterrupted vigilance.
II. That a false philosophy advocates the most presumptuous and perilous speculations.—
1. It affects a spurious humility. God is unknowable to the limited and uncertain powers of man; He is too high to be accessible, and too much absorbed in loftier matters to concern Himself about individual man. He can be approached only through inferior beings, and their assistance should be humbly sought. So it reasons. But this humility was voluntary, self-induced, and was in reality another form of high spiritual pride. Humility, when it becomes self-conscious, ceases to have any value.
2. It invents a dangerous system of angelolatry.—“Worshipping of angels” (Colossians 2:18). The Jews were fond of philosophising about the dignity, offices, and ranks of the angelic powers; and many held the opinion that they were messengers who presented our prayers to God. The false teachers made the most of the authority they could derive from Jewish sources. They would tell how the law was given by the disposition of angels—that angels conducted the Israelites through the wilderness, and on various occasions appeared to patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. They would dwell on the weakness of man and his distance from God, and insist that homage should be paid to these angelic messengers as necessary mediators. Alas, how fatal has been the influence through the centuries of this delusive angelolatry! The apostle here condemns it, and thus sweeps away all ground for the Christ-dishonouring practices of invocation of saints and the worship of the Virgin.
3. It pretends to a knowledge of the mysterious.—“Intruding into those things which he hath not seen” (Colossians 2:18). Man is everywhere circled with mystery. It is one of the saddest moments of life when he first becomes conscious of the limitation of his own powers, and of his utter inability to fathom the mysteries which seem to invite his inquiry while they baffle his attempt. Locke somewhere says, a worm in the drawer of a cabinet, shut up in its tiny enclosure, might as well pretend to guess at the construction of the vast universe, as mortal man venture to speculate about the unseen world, except so far as revealed for purposes of salvation. But fools will rush in where angels fear to tread. The boast of possessing a profound knowledge of the mysterious is one of the marks of a false philosophy.
4. It is inflated with an excessive pride.—“Vainly puffed up by its fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18). The carnal mind, which is enmity against God, rises to a pitch of reckless daring in its inventions, and, revelling in its own creative genius, is vainly puffed up with a conceit of novelty and with a fancied superiority over the humbler disciple. There is no state more dangerous than this or more difficult to change. It is proof against every ordinary method of recovery. The proud man lives “half-way down the slope to hell.” God only can break the delusive snare, humble the soul, and revoke its threatened doom.
III. That a false philosophy ignores the divine source of all spiritual increase.—
1. Christ is the great Head of the Church. He is the centre of its unity, the primal source of its life, authority, and influence. He founded the Church, and gave it shape, symmetry, and durableness. He alone is supreme—the Alpha and Omega—the living and only Head. To ignore Him is to forfeit the substantial for the shadowy—the rock for the precarious footing of the crumbling shale.
2. The Church is vitally and essentially united to Christ.—“From which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together” (Colossians 2:19). As the members of the human frame are joined to the head, and derive life, motion, and sensation from it by means of arteries, veins, nerves, and other attachments, so the spiritual members of Christ are knit to Him by invisible joints and bands, and depend on Him for sustenance, character, and influence.
3. The vital union of the Church with Christ is the condition of spiritual increase.—“Increaseth with the increase of God” (Colossians 2:19). Christ is the divine source of increase, and the Church can grow only as it receives nourishment from Him. The growth corresponds with its nature—it is divine; it increaseth with the increase of God. There may be a morbid increase, as there may be an unnatural enlargement of some part of the human body; but it is only the excessive inflation of worldly splendour and ecclesiastical pretension. Like Jonah’s gourd, such a growth may disappear as rapidly as it came. The true increase is that which comes from God, of which He is the source, and active, sustaining influence, and which advances in harmony with His will and purpose. Such an increase can be secured only by vital union with Christ.
1. A false philosophy distorts the grandest truths.
2. A false philosophy substitutes for truth the most perilous speculations.
3. Against the teachings of a false philosophy be ever on your guard.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:18. Philosophic Vagaries—
I. Making pretence of superior knowledge.
II. Affecting a spurious humility in worship.
III. Inflated with pride.
IV. Dangerous to those sincerely seeking the truth.
Colossians 2:19. How a Church lives and grows.
I. The source of all the life of the body.—Christ is the Head, therefore the source from which all parts of the body partake of a common life. There are three symbols employed to represent the union of Christ with His Church—the vine, the body, and the marriage bond.
II. The various and harmonious action of all the parts.—
1. From Jesus comes all nourishment of the divine life, even when we think that we instruct or stimulate each other.
2. From Jesus comes the oneness of the body.
III. The consequent increase of the whole.—
1. The increase of life in the Church, both as a community and in its separate elements, depends on the harmonious activity of all the parts.
2. Is dependent on the activity of all, and sadly hampered when some are idle.
3. Depends on its vitality within and on the concurrent activity of all its members.
4. Depends not only on the action of all its parts, but on their health and vitality.
5. There is an increase which is not the increase of God.
IV. The personal hold of Jesus Christ which is the condition of all life and growth.—A firm, almost desperate clutch in which Love and Need, like two hands, clasp Him and will not let Him go. Such tenacious grip implies the adhesive energy of the whole nature—the mind laying hold on truth, the heart clinging to love, the will submitting to authority.—A. Maclaren.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Colossians 2:20. Dead … from the rudiments of the world.—Such as are given in Colossians 2:21. Subject to ordinances.—Why do you consent to receive these “burdens grievous to be borne”?
Colossians 2:21. Touch not; taste not; handle not.—“These three prohibitions apply probably
(1) to marriage,
(2) to the use of certain foods,
(3) to contact with material objects” (Godet). The rigour of the prohibitions is greatest in the last of the three. Note the change in R.V: “handle not, nor taste, nor TOUCH.”
Colossians 2:23. Neglecting of the body.—A.V. margin, “punishing or not sparing.” R.V. text, “severity to the body.” No doubt the apostle felt that on this subject he would need to tread cautiously, for he himself had beaten his body into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27). Not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.—The R.V. gives light on the obscurity: “not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.” This is the evidence which for ever disqualifies asceticism in its many forms. We can understand how a Lenten fast or a hair-shirt may make a man irritable. If they are of any value in themselves, monastic annals need revision and expurgation, and the Christian finds himself far outdone by the dervish.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Colossians 2:20-51.2.23
The Ceremonial in Religion Transitory and Unsatisfying.
The apostle returns again to the question of outward observances. He saw the extreme danger with which the Colossians were threatened from that source, and before turning to other matters in his epistle he lifts up a warning voice as for the last time.
I. That the ceremonial in religion is simply elementary.—“The rudiments of the world” (Colossians 2:20). The ceremonial in religion is the alphabetical stage, suited only to the world’s infancy and to the crudest condition in human development. It is the childish period which, with all its toys and pictures and gewgaws, is put away when spiritual manhood is attained. It is in its nature transitory and imperfect. It conveys knowledge but in part; and when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part is done away.
II. The ceremonial in religion is unworthy the submission of the Christian believer.—
1. The believer is liberated from the slavery of the ceremonial. He is “dead with Christ” (Colossians 2:20). As Christ by His death cancelled the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and vanquished Satan and all his hosts, so the believer, united with Christ in His death, shares in the triumph of that death. He is free; he rises into a new life, not under the tyranny of the old law, with its demands and penalties, but in allegiance to Christ. He has passed into another sphere of existence. Worldly ordinances have ceased to have any value for him, because his worldly life is ended. They belong to the realm of the transitory and perishable; he has been translated into the realm of the free and the eternal.
2. To return to the ceremonial is to forfeit Christian liberty.—“Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?” (Colossians 2:20). It is to ignore all progress, to impugn the reality of the change wrought in the soul by spiritual baptism, to close one’s eyes to the altered state of things into which he has been introduced, and to submit again to the galling yoke of legal observances and human traditions which never had divine sanction and from which he had been emancipated. It is a denial of his Christianity to subject himself again to their tyranny—to return once more to the dominion of the world. It is giving up the substance for the shadow. It is a deliberate self-degradation to the most abject and pitiable slavery. It is supposed that many of the ascetic practices of the false teachers at Colossæ were borrowed from the Pythagoreans. Their philosophy was all on the side of prohibitions, abstinences, a forced celibacy, the unlawfulness of animal food, the possibility of attaining perfection by neglecting the body, under the delusion that evil resided in matter.
III. The ceremonial in religion, in its main features, is universally the same.—
1. It is the same in its dictatorial prohibitions. “Touch not; taste not; handle not” (Colossians 2:21). Such is the arrogant language of a narrow, bigoted, and imperious superstition. It is an instruction to observe the gradual and insidious manner in which it obtains the mastery over the human conscience. Touch not: it prohibits even a light partaking of some meat or drink. Taste not: the prohibition is extended, so that it becomes a crime even to taste, though refusing to eat. Handle not: to come in contact with the forbidden object, even in the handling, is a dreadful sacrilege. So is it ever with the clamorous demands of a proud, assumptious ritualism. There is no end to the unauthorised prohibitions with which it seeks to bind the conscience.
2. It is the same in its undue exaltation of the external and the transitory.—“Which all are to perish with the using” (Colossians 2:22). The very eating and drinking of them destroys them. They are consumed in the using; and in order to nourish us they themselves perish—a plain proof that all the benefit we receive from them respects only our physical and mortal life. What folly is it to insist on a scrupulous avoidance or observance of externals in order to salvation! You claim an affinity with the eternal, and it is unworthy of your glorious destiny to be absorbed with the worship of the perishable.
3. It is the same in its human origin.—“After the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:22). A commandment is a precept; a doctrine is the principle or truth on which it is based. The one furnishes a direction, the other the reason on which the direction rests. The ceremonial in religion is an accumulation of the commandments and doctrines of men. Depending on human authority, it has no value in itself; and when it is made obligatory in order to human salvation, it is an impious insult to Christ and an intolerable servitude to man. The commandments of men, having no solid doctrines to rest upon, are transitory and illusory.
IV. The ceremonial in religion can never satisfy the many-sided wants of humanity.—
1. It pretends to a wisdom it does not possess.
(1) In self-imposed methods of worship. “Which things have, indeed, a show of wisdom in will-worship” (Colossians 2:23). It insists on certain distinctions of meats and drinks; on abstinence from this or that kind of food; on certain ritual observances as necessary in order to render due homage to God. The enthusiast for the ceremonial argues that he who only does what God positively demands does only what is common; but he who goes beyond, and submits to additional observances, reaches a higher degree of saintliness. This is will-worship, which has peculiar charms for the corrupt tendencies of our depraved nature. The works of supererogation it invents are pleasanter than the holy, humble, adoring worship of God through the blood of the cross.
(2) In the affectation of a spurious humility. “In humility” (Colossians 2:23). It is a pretence of wisdom to renounce all worldly splendour and profess to live in poverty and seclusion. But at the root of this profession the most pernicious pride may lurk. A self-conscious and dramatically acted humility is the most degrading and detestable.
(3) In an unjustifiable indifference to bodily wants. “And neglecting of the body” (Colossians 2:23). The body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and is to be honoured and cherished, and all its just wants satisfied, in order that its best powers may be employed in the service of God. But the abuse of the body in starvation, painful macerations, and squalid neglect is a folly and a sin.
2. It is of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh.—“Not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). The radical error of the ascetic lies in his belief that evil resides in matter. Not the body, but the soul, is the source of sin: the body is depraved because the soul is depraved. Sin exists as a thought and conception of the heart before it exists as an act of the flesh. No amount of outward flagellation, or of abstinence from needful food, will satisfy the natural wants of the body, or destroy its sinful tendencies. The attempt to be virtuous by afflicting the body is like battering the outwork while the main citadel remains untouched. The outward can never satisfy the complicated needs of man’s nature. First bring the soul into a right relation to God, and, with the aid of divine grace, it will control all the outgoings of the flesh.
1. The ceremonial has its place in religion, and therefore should not be despised.
2. The believer is raised above the power of the ceremonial in religion, and therefore should not be subject to it.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Colossians 2:20. Principles above Rules; or, Wheat is better than Bread.—Bread may feed us for the moment, but when once eaten it is gone for ever. Wheat on the contrary will bear seed, increase, and multiply. Every rule is taken from a principle, as a loaf of bread is made from wheat. It is right to enforce the principle rather than the action, because a good principle is sure of producing good actions. Seeming goodness is not better than religion; precept is not better than principle.—A. W. Hare.
Colossians 2:21-51.2.23. Asceticism—
I. Multiplies unnecessary restrictions.
II. Is a species of self-worship.
III. Is unjust to the body.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Colossians 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany