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by Joseph Benson
THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS.
Colosse was an ancient and populous city of the Greater Phrygia, an inland country in the Lesser Asia. It was situated near the place where the river Lycus begins to run under ground, before it falls into the river Meander, now called Meinder. Laodicea and Hierapolis, mentioned Col 4:13 of this epistle, were also cities in the same country, situated not far from Colosse, and in them also there were Christian churches at the time this epistle was written. Of these cities, Laodicea was the greatest, being the metropolis of Phrygia; but Colosse, though inferior in rank to Laodicea, was, however, a large and wealthy city, in which the Christian church was probably more considerable than those in Laodicea and Hierapolis, on account of the number and quality of its members; and therefore it merited the peculiar attention which the apostle paid to it in writing this excellent epistle to its members. It is remarkable that, according to Eusebius, these three cities were buried in ruins by an earthquake, about A.D. 66, a year or two after the writing of this epistle.
It has generally been supposed, though St. Paul resided at Ephesus no less than three years, and preached in divers parts of the Lesser Asia, and even in many parts of Phrygia, yet that he had never been in Colosse, but that the Colossians received the gospel by the preaching of Epaphras, who was with St. Paul when he wrote this epistle. This opinion, however, has been much controverted of late, and Dr. Lardner and Dr. Macknight in particular have endeavoured to prove that the churches of Christ, both at Colosse and Laodicea, were founded by Paul. The reader will not expect the arguments which they urge in favour of that opinion to be stated, or a controversy of so little importance to be introduced here. Those who wish for information on the subject, must be referred to the works of those divines; which, when they have consulted, they will probably be of Mr. Scott’s mind, “that the evidence against the apostle’s having been at Colosse is far stronger than any which has been adduced on the affirmative side of the question.”
It has been observed in the preface to the epistle to the Ephesians, that there is a great similarity between that epistle and this, both with respect to their subject matter, and the very form of the expression; and that there is great reason to suppose they were both written at the same time, and sent together by Tychicus, who, however, was attended by Onesimus when he delivered this to the Colossians, Colossians 4:9. Upon maturely considering the contents of this epistle, we shall see reason to conclude that, at the time when the apostle wrote it, the Colossian believers were in danger of being seduced from the simple and genuine doctrine of Christ, by persons who strove to blend Judaism, and even heathen superstitions, with Christianity, pretending that God, because of his great majesty, was not to be approached except by the mediation of angels, and that there were certain rites and ceremonies, chiefly borrowed from the law, whereby these angels may be made our friends.
The apostle, therefore, in this epistle, with great propriety, warns the Colossians against vain philosophy and Jewish ceremonies, and demonstrates the excellence of Christ, the knowledge of whom he shows to be more important than all other knowledge, and so entire and perfect, that no other was necessary for a Christian. He proves also that Christ is above all angels, who are only his servants; and that, being reconciled to God through him, we have free access to him in all our necessities. It is justly observed by Professor Franck, that the controversy treated of in this epistle was the principal one in the apostolic age, and therefore engaged the special attention of this apostle of the Gentiles: and his discussion of it has proved a considerable blessing to posterity, setting in a clear light the mode of obtaining salvation; so that if we weigh the apostle’s scope and design, and attend to the process of his reasoning as he advances to a conclusion, we must necessarily set a high value upon this epistle, as being one that embraces the order, structure, and harmony of the Christian system with such peculiar propriety, that not only the young convert cannot desire a more excellent confirmation of the doctrines he has espoused, but even the more established believers may revert with delight to the first principles here maintained, and find that satisfaction and repose which, in an hour of temptation, they had vainly sought elsewhere. The contents of this epistle may be set forth in order more particularly as follows: We have, I. The inscription, Colossians 1:1-2. II. The doctrine, wherein the apostle pathetically explains the mystery of Christ, by thanksgiving for the Colossians, Colossians 1:3-8; by prayers for them, Colossians 1:9-23; with a declaration of his affection, Colossians 1:24-29; Colossians 2:1-3. III. The exhortation: 1. General, wherein he excites them to perseverance, and warns them not to be deceived, Colossians 2:4-8. Describes again the mystery of Christ in order, Colossians 2:9-15; and in the same order draws his admonitions from Christ the Head, Colossians 2:16-19; from his death, Colossians 2:20-23; from his exaltation, Colossians 3:1-4 Colossians 3:2. Particular, to avoid several vices, Colossians 3:5-9; to practise several virtues, Colossians 3:10-11; especially to love one another, Colossians 3:12-15; and study the Scriptures, Colossians 3:16-17; to the relative duties of wives and husbands, Colossians 3:18-19; children and parents, servants and masters, Colossians 3:20-25; Colossians 4:1. Colossians 4:3. Final, to prayer, Colossians 4:2-4; to spiritual wisdom, Colossians 4:5-6. IV. The conclusion, Colossians 4:7-16.
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