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MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL TO BE SEARCHED OUT
Colossians 2:1-2. I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts might be. comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.
NOTHING is more odious than a boasting spirit. Yet are there occasions on which it may be proper for a minister to declare to his people the greatness of his affection for them, and of his solicitude in their behalf. St. Paul, than whom no man was ever further from indulging this hateful spirit, judged it right, in almost all his epistles, to assure his converts of his remembrance of them night and day in prayer; and of his willingness to impart to them, not the Gospel only, but even his own soul, because they were dear to him [Note: 1Th 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10.]. This tended to beget in them a reciprocal affection, and to open their ears to his instructions; and, at the same time to commend to them the Gospel, which had generated in his heart these feelings towards them. True it is, indeed, that he abounded in love far beyond any ministers of the present day: but still every faithful minister may, without pride or arrogance, adopt towards his people the language of our text, and say, “I would that ye knew what great conflict I have in my soul for you.”
That we may enter fully into the Apostle’s words, I will shew you,
What he desired in behalf of the Colossian Church—
His object was, “that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus [Note: Colossians 1:28.].” With this view, he sought,
To bring them to a clear knowledge of the Gospel of Christ—
[The Gospel is here called a mystery, even “the mystery of God:” and throughout all his writings he designates it as a great stupendous mystery. It is the mystery of God, even of the Father, and of Christ. It must be viewed as from all eternity concerted between the Father and the Son in the covenant of redemption; wherein the Father agreed to accept the mediation of his Son, in behalf of man; and the Son agreed to assume our nature, and to bear our sins, and to work out a righteousness for us by his own obedience unto death; and so to watch over those whom the Father gave him, that they might all, without exception, attain to everlasting life [Note: John 17:2; John 17:6; John 17:9-12. with 22–24.].
Now all this he would have them “understand;” and not in a mere superficial way, but with such “a full assurance”as should leave not a doubt upon their mind either of its truth or excellency. In it are “riches” that are utterly unsearchable: riches of wisdom, which no finite mind can comprehend: riches of love, which can never be explored: riches of mercy, which eternity will never suffice to celebrate. He would have them see how harmoniously all the divine perfections unite in this mystery, and how wonderfully they are glorified. In a word, he would have them see in it a salvation so worthy of God, and so suited to man, as to carry with it, independently of all other considerations, a satisfactory evidence of its divine origin, and a pledge of the happiness of all who embrace it.
Now this is precisely what every pious minister wishes, and labours to accomplish. Those who are themselves ignorant of this mystery will be satisfied with some loose general statement about Christ, if they do not leave him out altogether. But not so the man who is taught of God: he will endeavour to exhibit to his people ail the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.]: and he never will rest, till God has shined into their hearts, to give them a clear, a rich, an assured knowledge of it.]
To bring them to an open “acknowledgment” of it—
[“With the heart man believeth unto righteousness: but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation [Note: Romans 10:10.].” Whatever we may know of this mystery, it will be ineffectual for eternal happiness, if we do not confess Christ openly before men. He will never acknowledge those who are afraid to acknowledge him; but will surely “deny them in the presence of his Father and of his holy angels.” Hence St. Paul laboured to effect this also; even to impress their minds so deeply with this mystery, that they might rejoice and glory in it, and be willing to bear all the sufferings that could ever be inflicted on them for their adherence to it.
And for this we also would labour. Against a timid concealment of men’s convictions we would bear the most decided testimony. We know, indeed, that a confession of Christ before men will bring persecution with it. But if any man be unwilling to bear his cross after Christ, or even to lay down his life for his sake, we declare that he is not, nor can ever be, accepted of him. “If he love father or mother more than Christ, he cannot be Christ’ disciple:” “if he love his own life,” so as to save it here, “he shall assuredly lose it” to all eternity. Amongst those for whom a place is prepared in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, “the fearful and unbelieving” are no less numbered, than those who have been guilty of idolatry or murder [Note: Revelation 21:8.]. “If we would approve ourselves the servants of Christ, we must not only bear our cross after him, but rejoice that we are accounted worthy to suffer shame, or even death, for his sake.” “We must be faithful unto death, if ever we would obtain the crown of life.”]
To bring them to an union of heart with each other, by means of it—
[“Knowledge,” were it as great as that of angels, would be of no value, without love. Nor would zeal itself, even though it led us to endure the flames of martyrdom for Christ’s sake, be accepted of our God, if it were destitute of love. An union of heart amongst the disciples of our Lord is that by which, in a pre-eminent degree, they are to be distinguished. By love they are to be “knit together;” even as beams of timber, when joined and compacted by the builder of an edifice. In the whole universe, there exists no other bond like this. The ties of nature are feeble, when compared with it. It resembles, as far as any thing can resemble, the union that subsists between the Persons of the Godhead: and by it, more than by any thing else, is the power of religion displayed. “I pray for them,” says our Lord, “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may know that thou hast sent me [Note: John 17:20-21.].” This, then, the Apostle sought: and this would we seek: nor would we ever be satisfied, till we see it attained and exercised amongst you.]
Having seen what the Apostle desired for them, we will proceed to shew,
Why with such intensity he desired it—
In the close of the preceding chapter he speaks of “labouring and striving” according to the working of the Holy Spirit, who wrought in him mightily. The word, before translated “striving,” he here repeats; conveying to us, thereby, the idea that he exerted himself, for the attainment of these things, with such a kind of “conflict” as wrestlers, racers, or fighters, maintained in the Grecian games. His whole heart and soul were engaged in behalf of all his Christian brethren, whether personally known to himself or not, that these great things might be accomplished in them. And for this end he laboured,
Because these things were essential to their comfort—
[In truth, there is no happiness in religion, unless it have its perfect work within us. A superficial and general view of the Gospel calls forth no admiring and adoring thoughts: nor docs it gender in the soul those ardent affections which bind together the members of Christ’s mystical body, and make every one of them ready to “lay down his life for the brethren [Note: 1 John 3:16.].” But when all the riches of the Gospel are opened to our view, and the incomprehensible mystery of redemption, in all its inscrutable provisions, in its execution at the appointed period, in the mode of its application to the soul, and in all its stupendous consequences, is unfolded to us, so that we can behold our own interest in it, and are enabled to bear witness to it before an ignorant and ungodly world—what is all this, but heaven already begun in the soul? The glorified saints around the throne have no higher sources of joy than these, no higher theme of praise: and they are only happier than we, because their discovery of these things is more complete, and they are freed from all those infirmities which, in our present state, interrupt our enjoyment of them. To this I may add: when the soul, by virtue of this mystery, is filled with love, even with such love as Christ himself bears to his saints, such love as is the very image of God within us—this is happiness: the man that lives in the exercise of this divine principle breathes a purer atmosphere than others; and can say, “This is the house of God, this is the gate of heaven”
Now the Apostle was anxious that “the hearts” of all his brethren “might be thus comforted.” And what more can I wish for you? or rather I should say, what less than this should satisfy my desires in your behalf? Brethren, this is the state in which I would have you live: this is the comfort which I would have you all enjoy. And for this end it is, that from time to time [endeavour to unfold the mysteries of the Gospel, and to encourage amongst you that communion of saints which is a foretaste of heaven upon earth.]
Because, by nothing short of this could the full ends of his ministry be attained—
[A parent would not be satisfied if his children continued year after year in a state of infantine weakness: he would desire to see their stature increased, and their faculties enlarged. Thus the Apostle felt, in behalf of all his spiritual children. He longed that they might “grow up into Christ in all things, as their living Head;” daily increasing in the knowledge of God, daily brought into closer communion with him, daily assimilated more and more to his blessed image.
And this is what we would desire in your behalf. We are thankful when “your understandings are opened in any measure to understand the Scriptures;” and, from being blind, you are able to see, though it be only “men, as trees, walking.” But we cannot be satisfied with this: no; we would “put our hands on your eyes again,” till you should “be restored, so as to see every man clearly [Note: Mark 8:24-25.].” In truth, whether in respect of faith or love, we never would rest satisfied, till you have attained “the full measure of the stature of Christ.” We would never cease to labour, till we have “perfected that which is lacking in your faith [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:10.]” and till we sec you “standing perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Colossians 4:12.].”]
Behold, then [Note: If this were a subject at an Ordination or a Visitation, it would be proper to insert here a distinct observation to this effect;—behold what course we ministers are bound to pursue — — —.],
What you should desire for yourselves—
[“Who will shew us any good?” says the Psalmist: and then adds, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us [Note: Psalms 4:6.]!” Truly, there is nothing in the universe worthy of a thought in comparison of this. What can worldly knowledge do for you, in comparison of the knowledge of Christ? or what can the fondest endearments of mere human affection do, in comparison of the love that is divine? If St. Paul’s judgment may be taken, he “counted all things but Joss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.” And this is the mind which I would wish to be in you. This, beloved, is your duty: this is your privilege. O! beg of God, that you may rise to this. Be not satisfied with low attainments, when such prospects are before you. You see what exertions men make for the attainment of knowledge, and the acquisition of honour: and will ye be less earnest in the pursuit of heavenly things? In a contest for earthly honours, you might feel discouraged by a consciousness of your inferiority in point of talent and capacity: but no such discouragement need be felt by any one in the conflict to which I call you. The very babe and suckling stands on a level with the wise and prudent; or rather, is raised above him, in proportion to his docility, and his willing submission to the truth of God. It is the heart, and not the head, that is the seat of divine knowledge, and the region of love. I pray you, brethren, let these things become the objects of your ambition, and never account any labour too great for the attainment of them.]
With what ardour you should seek after them—
[You have seen “what great conflict” your minister, if faithful, will have for you, in relation to these things: and will ye feel less for yourselves? Go, look at those who are engaged in the race, the wrestling, the combat; do you not see how they put forth their energies? Have they any disposition to look about them, or any time to relax their efforts? Yet is the object of their contest light in comparison of yours, and the consequence of a failure unworthy of a thought. Come, brethren, and be in earnest. Study the sacred volume: study it with much and fervent prayer: entreat of God to reveal his dear Son in your hearts: implore the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all truth:” and see to it, that you “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Thus will you have in yourselves an evidence of the Gospel, which no human learning can give you; and conviction of its excellency, which nothing but experience can impart.]
THE FULNESS THAT IS IN CHRIST
Colossians 2:3. In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
“WISDOM,” we are told, “is the principal thing; and therefore we should get wisdom.” In all civilized countries, wisdom has been held in the highest repute: and institutions have been set on foot for the cultivation of it. How highly it was esteemed amongst our ancestors, we may judge from the provision which they made for the education of youth in all succeeding ages. Not that the establishments in this seat of learning were intended merely to reward those who distinguished themselves by early attainments: they were designed to give them also an opportunity of bestowing an undivided attention to literature and science throughout the remainder of their days: and if they be not improved for this end, the fault is not in the institutions themselves, but in those who have been admitted into them. We can have seen but little of the world, if we have not noticed the superiority which a cultivated mind possesses over one that is rude and uninstructed. And though it must be granted, that human learning will not change and sanctify the heart, yet we assert, that it will give a very great advantage for the understanding and explaining of the Holy Scriptures.
We say not that God could not, or did not, make use of weak and unlettered men for the diffusion of his Gospel: but, as he selected Moses, a man “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” for the instruction and government of the Jewish Church, so he selected Paul, who had “been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel,” to be his messenger of grace to the Gentile world: and, if he was pleased so to adapt the instrument to the work in that age of miracles, much more is such a qualification desirable for his chosen servants, now that miracles have ceased. We must not however forget, that the Scriptures are the fountain of true wisdom. We should ever bear in mind, that the heathen sages, though wiser than their contemporaries, were deplorably ignorant in comparison of those who live under the Christian dispensation: and even the light which some of the most learned amongst them possessed, was most probably obtained, either immediately or remotely, from the inspired volume. There, and there alone, is true wisdom to be found; and therein are contained “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
To open and unfold these to you, is an employment worthy of the occasion on which we are assembled [Note: Preached as a Commemoration Sermon in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.].
St. Paul in my text is expressing his ardent desire in behalf of the Christians at Colosse, whom he had never seen, that they might be fully instructed in the great mystery of the Gospel of Christ, “in whom, he observes, are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” but, in the margin, the word mystery is considered as the antecedent; and the translation is, “wherein;” i. e. “in which mystery are contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” and this we consider as the better rendering, though the sense will amount to nearly the same either way.
In illustration of these words we shall,
Open to you these treasures of wisdom and knowledge—
Commend them to your diligent pursuit—
We are to open to you these treasures of wisdom and knowledge—
But “who is sufficient for such” an undertaking? Who can enter on such a task, without a fear, not only that he shall betray his own ignorance, and disappoint your expectations, but that he may even expose the Gospel itself to contempt? Indeed, if I were capable of doing justice to my subject, such is the impatience of modern auditories, that I could not have time to do more than merely open to you the casket, and give you a superficial view of its contents: but feeling how incompetent I am to unfold all the hidden mysteries of the Gospel, I must entreat you to make up for my deficiencies by your candour; and to be contented with treasuring up for your benefit what you do hear, when you cannot be gratified with all that you would wish to hear.
There are three points to which I will call your attention; and which may give you some little idea, that the subject, however unworthily handled by me, is at least deserving of the deepest investigation. The points I refer to are at all events such as the most enlightened heathens had no idea of; namely, The real state of man—The eternal counsels of God concerning him—and the stupendous effects produced by those counsels. Let these things be for a while considered by us.
The real state of man was altogether unknown to the heathen world. That he was a weak, guilty, and polluted creature, they knew; but how weak, how guilty, how polluted, they had no conception; much less did they know how he was brought into such a state. It is from the inspired volume alone that we learn the perfection of his original nature, and the loss of that perfection through the fall of his first parents. From thence alone do we learn that obvious truth, that we “cannot bring a clean thing out of an unclean.” Behold then, at the very onset, what a stupendous mystery is here! that we died in Adam! that “those who have never sinned after the similitude of his transgression,” are yet partakers both of his guilt and corruption! that we are “born in iniquity, and conceived in sin,” and are “by nature children of wrath!”
To this I beg your particular attention, because it is the very foundation of all spiritual knowledge; it is the very threshold, by stumbling at which, multitudes are kept from ever entering into the deep recesses of the Gospel. You cannot but know, that men in general, and even learned divines, endeavour to soften down the Scripture declarations of man’s guilt and misery: some deny that we are fallen at all; and assert that we come into the world as pure as Adam did from his Creator’s hands. Others allow that we are fallen, but deny that we are involved in the guilt of our first parents, or that the corruption which we inherit from them is any thing more than what we have an innate power to subdue. They think that the descriptions given of us in the inspired volume are not to be taken in a literal sense; and that to say that we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” is only a metaphor, importing that we are not quite so much alive to God and holiness as we ought to be.
And now mark how entirely such sentiments obstruct the way to true wisdom and knowledge: man being in so good a state, there was no occasion for the counsels of the Most High to suggest a method of deliverance from it: a way of deliverance was obvious enough: there was no necessity for God himself to become incarnate, and to expiate the sins of men by his own blood; (man might be saved without any such sacrifice:) there was no need that the third person in the ever-blessed Trinity should undertake to dwell in the hearts of men, to enlighten their minds, to draw them unto Christ, to renew their nature, and to make them meet for heaven; (man of himself, by the aid of his own reason and resolution, was sufficient for these things:) the obligations conferred upon us by this work of redemption are not such as to call for all the powers of our souls to be consecrated to God in the way of holy obedience; (such a life is needless, enthusiastic, and absurd:) in a word, there is no great cause for alarm to any of us; for we are all in the way to heaven; and when we get there, shall have no great wonders to celebrate, but only to thank God for that which he could not justly or consistently have withheld. Yes, brethren, this it is which obstructs the entrance of light into the souls of men: this it is which makes every one suppose that he understands the Gospel well enough: this it is that leads men to deride all idea of mystery, and to reduce the Gospel to a system of heathen ethics. This view of our state by nature supersedes all occasion for the Gospel; every part of which supposes man to be a guilty, polluted, helpless creature; so guilty, that he deserves the everlasting wrath of God; so polluted, that he must be made an entire new creature before he can have any enjoyment of God, either now or in the eternal world [Note: John 3:3.]; and so weak, that he cannot of himself either do a good act, or think a good thought [Note: Joh 15:5. 2 Corinthians 3:5.Philippians 2:13; Philippians 2:13.]: and I do not hesitate to affirm, that the very first step towards true wisdom and knowledge is, to renounce all idea of our being “rich and increased in goods, and in need of nothing;” and to confess, from our inmost souls, that we are “wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
Next, let us contemplate the counsels of the Most High respecting man. From all eternity, God foresaw the state to which the human race would be reduced, and concerted with his only dear Son how to effect their recovery. The Father proposed to his Son to become our Surety and Substitute; to assume our nature; to bear our sins; to expiate our guilt; to fulfil the law which we had broken, and to satisfy the justice which we had offended; and thus to restore us to happiness, without dishonouring God as the Moral Governor of the universe. The Son accepts the proposal, and undertakes to accomplish the redemption of a ruined world [Note: Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 53:4-5; Isaiah 53:10-11.]: and the Holy Spirit also undertakes to impart to the souls of the redeemed all that the Lord Jesus should purchase for them [Note: See the account given us of this in Psalms 40:6-8. “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.”]. To these counsels the Apostle also constantly refers, as the true source of our redemption: “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:7.]:” and he declares that the manifestation of them to the world under the Christian dispensation was eminently committed to him, and was to be a source of knowledge, not to men only, but to the angels themselves: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see, what is the fellowship of this mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Ephesians 3:8-11. See also Colossians 1:26-27.].”
Behold then here what treasures of wisdom and knowledge are unfolded to us! We see the veil torn away from before our eyes, and the Sacred Three sitting, as it were, in council, to provide for man’s recovery, myriads of ages before his fall: we behold the Father proposing to lay our iniquities on his only-begotten Son; his Son accepting the office of our Substitute; and the Holy Spirit engaging to render those mysterious plans effectual for the salvation of man! Can we see nothing wonderful in all this? Does not this “love surpass all knowledge,” and all conception? Is there not in it “a length, and breadth, and depth, and height” that can never be explored? Yes; and hence St. Paul speaks of “riches of glory” as contained in this mystery [Note: Colossians 1:27.]; and, in reference even to a subordinate part of it only, exclaims, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [Note: Romans 11:33.]!”
Let us now pass on to the effects of these counsels, and see whether they also do not unfold the most stupendous mysteries.
From these counsels results all the work of Christ. He in due time left the bosom of his Father, took our nature, was born of a pure virgin, fulfilled the law, offered himself a sacrifice for sin, rose from the dead, and ascended up to heaven to carry on and perfect the work which he began on earth. Think of all this as necessary for our salvation: think of it as concerted from eternity, and executed in time, and at this very moment accomplishing by means of his continual intercession at the right hand of God: Is there nothing wonderful in all this?
From these counsels also results the salvation of man. Not a human being to whom the Gospel comes is ever saved, but by virtue of this work which Christ wrought out for him: and by means of this the vilest of the human race are saved. Those who seek an interest in this Saviour are accepted of him, even though they may have committed sins of a scarlet or crimson die: but they “who, going about to establish their own righteousness, will not submit to the righteousness of God,” are rejected; and the very Saviour who would have been a sanctuary to them, becomes a rock of offence, over which they fall to their eternal ruin. Here is a plain way of salvation for all. In vain do men dispute about the efficacy of their own good works to save them: here is a door; and they who will enter in by it are saved; and those who obstinately stand without, perish. The very builders of the ark themselves perished, because they did not enter into it: and so will all who do not flee for refuge to this hope that is set before them. Is this wisdom, or this knowledge of small value?
Further, from these counsels results the glory of God himself. It is in this way alone that God is, or can be glorified, by any child of man. If man were saved in any other way, every one of the Divine perfections would be dishonoured. What evidence would there be that God is holy, if he suffered his laws to be violated with impunity? What would become of all the rights of justice, if no sacrifice were offered for sin? How could the truth of God be preserved, if his threatenings were not executed, either against the sinner himself, or against one who should be substituted in his place? Men speak of God’s mercy as if that was the only attribute to be displayed, and as if it was of no consequence whether his other attributes were honoured or not: but God will not suffer one of his attributes to be exalted at the expense of all the rest: and therefore has he opened for us a way of salvation whereby all might be displayed and all be glorified. Not only is mercy now exalted, but justice too; and that, not only in the condemnation, but in the salvation also of sinful man: nor is it a whit less glorified in the salvation of a penitent believer, than it is in the condemnation of the impenitent, and unbelieving. Is here then no mystery? are here no treasures of wisdom and knowledge? Verily the angels themselves are made wiser by the revelation of them to the Church; and they are justly represented as “desiring daily to look into them,” in order that their admiration of God may be augmented, and their felicity increased.
We have been constrained to speak only summarily on these points; but enough has been said to shew, that in this subject there are treasures which will amply repay the most laborious investigation.
We proceed, therefore,
To commend these treasures to your most diligent pursuit—
Much as we revere human knowledge, we must declare, that, in comparison of that which we have been considering, the wisdom of philosophers is of no account: for this knowledge is at once the most sublime, the most certain, the most attainable, the most useful.
What is there so sublime as this? We grant that many human sciences, and astronomy in particular, are very sublime; and appear to be out of the reach of mortal man: but it is well known that philosophy, in many of its branches, was carried to as high, if not a much higher pitch among the unenlightened heathen, than amongst ourselves. But who amongst the heathen could ever find out God? Who could ever dive into his counsels? Who could account for the actual state of things as they existed in the world? Who could tell how a sinful man might be accepted of his God? Truly, “the world by wisdom knew not God:” this knowledge was “too wonderful and excellent” for unassisted reason to explore: nor can we, even with the Bible in our hands, attain it, unless God by his Spirit open the eyes of our understanding, and shine into our hearts to give it us. We are expressly told, that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things which God bath prepared for us;” and the things there spoken of are those which are revealed to us in the Gospel. It is not of heaven that the Apostle speaks, but of the Gospel, and the mysteries contained in it. These are the things which are called in Scripture τὰ μεγαλεῖα τοῦ Θεοῦ “the wonderful works of God [Note: Acts 2:11.].” And they are “the things of the Spirit, which the natural man cannot receive, nor even know, because they are spiritually discerned.” Well therefore may we covet knowledge which was “hid in God from the foundation of the world,” which the wisest philosophers could never attain, which even the learned among ourselves cannot possess, unless God himself be their teacher, and “open their understandings to understand it.”
In point of certainty, there is nothing that can be compared with it. There are indeed in it many things which we cannot comprehend: but there is much known, and known on the authority of God himself. Most other knowledge is involved in doubt and obscurity; insomuch that hypotheses which have been established for ages, have yet been overthrown by the penetration of a Copernicus or a Newton: but the truth of God is unchangeable; and whether viewed in the promise to Adam, or in subsequent prophecies, or in the types and shadows of the law, or in the fuller revelation of the Gospel, is ever the same; nor can all the subtilty of men or devils invalidate so much as one single point. Indeed, though received on the credit of the inspired writers, it so commends itself to the believer, as to approve to him its divine origin, as soon as ever it is received into his heart: he there finds a counterpart of every truth he has received, and “hath the witness in himself” that it is indeed from God. Now one great discouragement in the pursuit of human knowledge is, that after having laboured for many years, we know not but that we may, after all, be found wrong, in things which we deemed of considerable moment. But here, we never need to fear a disappointment: God’s word, like himself, abideth for ever; nor shall one jot or tittle of it ever fail.
Nor is there any other so attainable. Thousands have not ability to investigate the depths of human science: if they should bestow ever so much labour, for ever so long a time, it would be in vain. But not so the knowledge of the Gospel: for though it is so deep, that no man by the efforts of unassisted reason can enter into it, yet it is so easy of acquisition, that “he who runs may read and understand it.” If God “open our eyes, we shall see wondrous things out of his law:” if he shine into our hearts, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shall be seen by us. The qualification for this knowledge consists, not so much in the head, as in the heart: “God opened the heart of Lydia to attend to the things that were spoken by Paul.” Here then every one is encouraged to pursue it: for “none teacheth like God:” he can “ordain strength in the mouth of babes and sucklings. “I grant indeed that it is a “hidden knowledge;” it is “a treasure hid” in a field. But it is revealed to us in the word, and shall be revealed in us by the Spirit, if we desire to be taught of him. The promise is, “All thy children shall be taught of God:” and, if only we obtain his teaching, we shall “be guided into all truth;” nor shall “a way-faring man, though a fool, be left to err therein.”
Lastly, What can be compared with it in point of utility? We deny not but that knowledge of various kinds is replete with benefit to man: but that benefit is bounded by this world, and the present state of things. Not so the knowledge of which we are speaking: that extends to the eternal world: in the knowledge of God and of Christ, are all our hopes centered. By this we are justified: as it is said, “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” By it also we are sanctified: as it is said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” By it also we shall be exalted to glory; for it is said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” What is there then that can be compared with this? Will earthly knowledge save you? If you could travel the whole round of science, and grasp in your mind all that ever was comprehended by human intellect, would it pacify a guilty conscience? Would it take away the sting of death? Would it enable you to look forward with comfort to the eternal world? Would it prepare you to stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, and to give up your account with joy? No; nothing can do this but the knowledge of God as reconciled to us in the Son of his love: this is the sole property of the Gospel, even of that Gospel which is so neglected and despised. If then you would view these things aright, you must study the Gospel, and “count all! things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord.”
Must we then lay aside our earthly knowledge? you will ask. No; but you must get it sanctified by the Spirit of God. The spoils of the Midianites were consecrated to the Lord; but before they were suffered to be brought into his tabernacle, “every thing that would abide the fire, must pass through the fire; and whatsoever would not abide the fire, must be made to go through the water:” for then only could they be an acceptable offering to him, when they were cleansed and purified from their corruption [Note: Numbers 31:23; Numbers 31:54.]. Thus also must your learning be sanctified: it must not be set in competition with the word of God, but be made subservient to it. Beware then lest it blind your eyes, and fill you with a conceit that you do not need to be taught of God: for what the Apostle says is alike applicable to the philosopher and the peasant, “If any man will be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise.” We must have the docility of “little children, if we would enter into the kingdom of heaven;” and if we will not humble ourselves in that manner, God has told us, that “he will take the wise in their own craftiness.” In subserviency to the Gospel, your learning will be an invaluable blessing: but in opposition to it, it will prove a curse; for God will “confound the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Are we then desirous of attaining these heavenly treasures? Let us seek after them in the Holy Scriptures: and whilst we seek for knowledge as silver, and “search for it as for hid treasures, let us cry to God for it, and lift up our voice to him; since it is the Lord alone that giveth wisdom, and out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding [Note: Proverbs 2:1-6.].” Let us beg of God to “give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; that the eyes of our understanding being enlightened, we may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from from the dead [Note: Ephesians 1:16-20.].” In this way we may hope to “acquaint ourselves with God,” and to attain the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Then we may hope also to “shine as lights in a dark world,” and “be as cities set upon a hill.” Or, if our sphere be circumscribed within narrower limits, we shall at least have this benefit, that we are “made wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
THE CHARACTER OF CHRISTIANS
Colossians 2:6-7. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him; rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
THE greatest joy of a faithful minister is to see his people flourish. The Apostles were eminent examples to us in this respect [Note: St. Paul was no less comforted with the piety of some, 2 Corinthians 7:4. than he was grieved with the want of it in others, Romans 9:2.Galatians 4:19; Galatians 4:19. See also 3 John, ver. 4.]. St. Paul was as solicitous for the welfare of those whom he had only heard of by report, as for those who had been converted by his ministry [Note: ver. 1, 5.]. Hence he took occasion from what they had attained to urge them on to increasing watchfulness and assiduity. Mark here,
The Christian’s character—
Christ is the gift of God to man [Note: John 4:10.]. That gift the Christian has received—
[He has felt his need of it; he has implored of God to bestow it on him, and has received it for all the ends and purposes for which it has been conferred on sinful man — — — He has received Christ in all his offices, as “Christ Jesus, the Lord.”]
He is the only person in the universe that has received it—
[Others regard it not: yea, they rather refuse it, and pour contempt upon it. They would rather earn salvation by some efforts of their own, than stand indebted for it to the free gift of God in Christ Jesus — — — But the Christian values nothing in comparison of it; and, in obtaining it, considers himself richer, than if the whole world were conferred upon him — — — Let him only be able to say, “My Beloved is mine, and I am his,” and he desires no more. In possessing Christ, he possesses all things [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22-23.].”]
In connexion however with this gift we must notice,
Privilege and duty are inseparable. Though we receive all from God as a free gift, we yet have duties to perform. If we have received Christ, we must “walk in him:”
In dependence on him—
[“In Christ is every thing treasured up for us:” and “we must receive every thing out of his fulness.” There must be no dependence whatever upon ourselves, but an entire reliance “on him for wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” Our whole life must be one continued act of “faith in the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us [Note: Galatians 2:20.].”]
In conformity to him—
[As he is to us a source of all spiritual blessings, so is he unto us an example to which we must be conformed. His zeal for God must be transfused into our souls, and his love to man be copied in the whole of our intercourse with mankind [Note: John 4:34. 1 John 3:16.]. If we profess to “abide in him, we must walk in all things as he walked [Note: 1Jn 2:6].”]
But this duty is, in fact,
The diversity of metaphors in this passage greatly enriches the subject, without at all distracting our minds. Our duty and our privilege are to walk in Christ,
[The use of a root is, not only to convey nourishment to the branches, but to keep the tree steadfast amidst all the storms and tempests by which it may be assailed. And we, so far from being cast down by all the storms that may assault us, must take occasion from them to shoot our roots more deeply into this divine soil, and to take more firm hold of him by whom alone we can be upheld.]
[The idea of walking necessarily imports progress, as does that of building also. Now, no man is content with laying a foundation: he will go on to build upon it a superstructure, till at last he has completed the edifice. Thus must we also do when we receive Christ into our souls: we must build upon him all our hopes, and never cease to increase in love to him, till we have attained that complete form and size, which the all-gracious Architect has ordained [Note: Ephesians 2:20-22.].]
[Grounds for sorrow we shall have, no doubt, whilst this great work is carrying forward; but we shall have abundant cause also for praise and thanksgiving. Be it so; our trials are great both from within and from without. But can we reflect on the gift bestowed upon us, and not be thankful? or can we contemplate the blessings attached to that gift, and not be thankful? I say then, that “thanksgiving and the voice of melody” should be heard from us, every step we take, from the beginning of our course even to the end [Note: Isaiah 51:3.].]
To you, even to every one amongst you, is offered this inestimable gift—
[They who have received this gift were once as destitute and unworthy as any of you: and there is not any one amongst you, however destitute and unworthy, but may be enriched with it, if only you cry unto your God, and seek the Saviour with your whole hearts [Note: Isaiah 55:1-3.] — — —]
If you possess it, see that you labour to walk worthy of it—
[Never imagine that privilege either is, or can be, unconnected with duty. Nor ever imagine your course of duly closed, till you shall have attained the full measure of that piety, which your union with Christ was ordained to convey.]
PROPER DEITY OF CHRIST
Colossians 2:9. In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
THE Church of Christ in the first ages was composed of Jews and Gentiles. Now, the Jews were at all times fond of their own superstitions, as the Gentiles were of the dogmas of philosophy: and the two, meeting together upon one common gronud, were ready to incorporate their respective peculiarities with the Gospel of Christ. To what extent this has been done in the Church of Rome, is well known. In truth, the whole system of the Catholics is little better than a mixture of heathen rites with Jewish superstitions. And those corruptions, which have prevailed to such an awful extent in the Church of Rome, began at a very early period to make their way into the house of God. Symptoms of an alarming nature had already appeared in the different Churches of Asia: and against them the Apostle put the Colossian converts on their guard; reminding them, that, whatever they might hope to add to Christ and his Gospel, their efforts would be in vain; since “in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;” and, consequently, without any addition from the conceits of philosophy, or the traditions of Judaism, he was amply sufficient for the work assigned him, and was “able to save to the uttermost all that should come unto God by him.”
From this assertion of the Apostle, I shall take occasion to set before you,
The doctrine of the Divinity of Christ—
It will be proper to consider it,
As expressed in the text itself—
[There are some texts, which, to a superficial observer, bear somewhat of a similar aspect with that before us. For instance, it is said in this very epistle, “It hath pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fulness dwell [Note: Colossians 1:19.].” And, “Oat of his fulness we are said to receive even grace for grace [Note: John 1:16.].” There is yet a stronger expression in the Epistle to the Ephesians, wherein we are exhorted to contemplate the love of Christ, till we are “filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]:” nay, move: we are said ourselves to be “the fulness of Him who filleth all in all [Note: Ephesians 1:23.].” From such Scriptures as these it is argued by many, that the fulness spoken of in my text is only a fulness of gifts committed to Christ for the use of his Church; and that we may as well assume to ourselves the character of the Godhead, as give it to him; since we, no less than he, are said to be “filled with all the fulness of God.” But, on a closer inspection, there will be found a wide difference between all the foregoing passages and our text. The fulness spoken of in the text is the fulness of “the Godhead;” residing in Christ, not symbolically, and for a season, as the Shechinah did in the tabernacle, but corporeally, substantially, permanently. There is no doubt a reference here to the Shechinah, which was a shadowy representation of the Deity. But the reference is rather in a way of contrast than of comparison: for, in my text, it is not God who is spoken of, and who is frequently said to dwell in his people, but the Godhead. Nor is Christ said to “be filed” with it, but to have it essentially dwelling in him; and this, not in a type or shadow, but really, vitally, necessarily, immutably: “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
Suppose, now, the Lord Jesus Christ to be truly and unquestionably God: suppose, too, it is God’s purpose to make this known to us: then, I would ask, can we conceive of any words that would more clearly convey that truth than the language of my text? I must say, that if the words of my text do not clearly and decidedly declare the Godhead of Christ, no words whatever can express it. Nay, more; if Christ be not truly and properly God, the Apostle has done more, by his unguarded expressions, to lead us to idolatry, than all the most impious sophists in the universe could have done by their most ingenious arguments.]
As confirmed by other passages of Holy Writ—
[To enter fully into this subject, would embrace too large a field for one discourse. I shall therefore confine myself to a few passages only, which establish the Divinity of Christ in connexion with his humanity, And here let me call to your remembrance that prophecy of Isaiah, where it is said, “To us a child is born; to us a son is given: and his name shall be called, The Mighty God [Note: Isaiah 9:6.].” This is quite decisive upon the point. Again, in another part of the same prophecy, it is said, “A Virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Emmanel [Note: Isaiah 7:14.];” which St. Matthew informs us, is “God with us [Note: Matthew 1:23.].” In the New Testament, St. John, who seems to have been peculiarly attentive to this point, and, more than all the other inspired writers, anxious to impress it on our minds, says expressly, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us [Note: John 1:14.].” St. Paul also, to the same effect, says, “Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.]. What shall I say more? It is clear, that it was “God, who purchased the Church with his own blood [Note: Acts 20:28.]:” and that He who wrought out for us a righteousness wherein we are to be accepted before God, is Jehovah himself [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.]. Know ye then, assuredly, that the glorious Person spoken of in my text was no other than our incarnate God, even “God over all, blessed for evermore [Note: Romans 9:5.].”]
The peculiar caution given by the Apostle, in relation to this doctrine, leads me to shew you,
The importance of it to the welfare of our souls—
“Beware,” says the Apostle, “lest any man spoil or rob you, through philosophy and vain deceit.” So will I say to you: “Beware, lest any deceiver rob you of your hope founded on the divinity of your Lord and Saviour:” for,
On that depends the efficacy of his atonement—
[Supposing the Lord Jesus Christ to have been a creature, how could he make atonement for sin, or work out a righteousness that should be imputable to us? He could do no more than what, by the law of his creation, he was bound to do; and, after having done it, he would have been only “an unprofitable servant.” Supposing him to be capable of meriting any thing, he could have merited only for himself. If it be said, that the Divine appointment was sufficient to make his sufferings available for us also, I answer, that, according to that argument, the same value might as easily have been stamped on the sacrifices of the Mosaic law, if God had seen fit to do so. But the Apostle has said, that “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sins.” And why not possible? If a Divine appointment were to stamp on one sacrifice a value which it possessed not, it might as well do so on another. But, if the impossibility arise from the inefficacy of a creature’s blood, then it must attach to one creature as well as to another. For how remote soever two creatures may be asunder, their distance is but finite: whereas, to take away sin, the value of a sacrifice must be infinite: it must satisfy the demands of infinite justice, and entail upon the sinner all the blessings of infinite love and unbounded mercy. The divinity, of our blessed Lord renders all tins practicable to him. And it is this consideration which emboldens us to deliver our message to sinful men. We believe “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them:” and therefore, “as ambassadors from God, we beseech men, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:19-20.].”]
From that arises his ability to supply our every want—
[To Him is committed the entire government of his; Church [Note: Ephesians 1:22.]. But if He be not God, we shall be in a state little better than the worshippers of Baal. It may be, that he is occupied about the concerns of some other person at the opposite side of the globe; and I must wait till he can hear me, and come to me, and help me: but, whilst he is delaying, I may perish. If he be a mere creature, he cannot be omnipresent, nor omniscient, nor omnipotent. These are the perfections, the incommunicable perfections, of Deity: and if he be not God, he does not possess them: and, if he possess them not, he cannot be sufficient for my wants. But he does possess them. He knows every want and every desire of my soul, “Unto Him all things, both in heaven and earth, are naked and opened:” and there can be no possible situation wherein “his grace shall not be sufficient for me [Note: 1 John 5:20.].” “He is the true God; and therefore he is, and shall be, to me eternal life.”]
It is that which will give the chief zest to all our blessedness for evermore—
[If my sins were pardoned, though by a mere act of sovereign mercy, I should be happy any where. But when in heaven I contemplate every thing as the fruit of redeeming love, as procured for me through the blood and righteousness of my incarnate God; with what wonder must I be filled! I see now, why all the glorified saints fall upon their faces before God. They have reason to do so: they would be unworthy of a place in heaven, if they did not. How can they sing, “To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood;” and remember, that He who so loved them was “King of kings and Lord of lords;” how can they sing thus, I say, and not be lost in wonder and amazement? And what are those hosannas which I hear offered to “God and to the Lamb?” What! is a creature joined in one common song of praise with the Creator? and that in heaven, too, in the very presence of the Deity? No; the Lamb is no other than our. incarnate God, “the first and the last, who lived, and was dead, and is alive for evermore [Note: Revelation 1:17-18.].”]
Let this doctrine, then, be deeply fixed in your minds—
[Hold it not slightly and superficially; but acquaint yourselves with it, and with the irrefragable proofs whereby it is established. Those who are adverse to it, will bring forward passages which speak of him as inferior to the Father. But we must remember, that the Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of under different characters in Scripture, as God, as man, and as Mediator between God and man. As God, he is altogether, in the highest sense, “one with the Father [Note: John 10:30.].” In the two latter characters he was inferior to the Father; and must, of course, be spoken of in that light. But these passages no more disprove his divinity, than the passages which speak of him as God disprove his humanity. Man himself is mortal, and immortal; mortal in his body, and immortal in his soul. Who ever thought of putting these in opposition to each other, and of making an affirmation of the one to be a denial of the other? Yet this is what is done by those who deny the divinity of our Lord. But be on your guard against them: and let neither men nor devils rob you of a truth so essential to your happiness both in time and in eternity.]
Let it make a suitable impression on your hearts—
[So astonishing is this truth, that it is a wonder we can ever think of any thing else. O, what prostration of soul is it calculated to produce! What admiring and adoring thoughts of God! What a zeal in his service! What a contempt of every thing that can come into competition with him! What boasting of him to our fellow-creatures! What commending of him to all! Verily, if we lived under a suitable impression of this truth, we should, as far as human infirmity would admit of it, resemble the very hosts around the throne. Let us, then, aspire after this experience. Let admiration, and love, and gratitude, and thanksgiving, occupy, as it were, our whole lives. And let us be looking forward to that blissful period, when we shall see him as we are seen; and “know him, even as we are known.”]
THE CHRISTIAN’S COMPLETENESS IN CHRIST
Colossians 2:10-12. Ye are complete in him, which is the Head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
MAN is prone to corrupt whatever proceeds from God. He himself came pure out of his Maker’s hands: hut he soon corrupted his way; as it is said, “God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:29.].” As man has effaced the law originally written upon his heart, so has he, by imaginations of his own, obscured the revelation which God has given to the world. The Mosaic code was perverted by the Jews: the Christian code has been no less perverted by those who have called themselves Christians. Even in the apostolic age, and whilst the Apostles were yet in the full exercise of their ministry, persons arose to mutilate and destroy the faith of Christ. The very professors of Christianity, instead of receiving implicitly the truth as it was revealed, introduced into it their own corrupt notions: the heathen converts retaining their predilection for their former idolatry; and Jewish converts striving to encumber it with their former superstitions. It is against such persons that St. Paul is cautioning the Colossian Church: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ [Note: ver. 8.].” The heathen philosophers having multiplied their deities, and assigned to them a variety of ranks and offices, those who had been converted from amongst them still felt inclined to look to subordinate deities as their mediators and protectors: whilst others from among the Jews, who had, or pretended to have, a great veneration for Moses, could not part with the traditions which they had received from their fathers, and which they supposed to he highly conducive to their spiritual benefit. But St. Paul tells both the one and the other, that they needed no help from the creature, since “in Christ dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead;” and no created power could do any thing for them, any farther than he was expressly commissioned by Christ to do it: in a word, that “they were complete in Christ;” and all attempts to add any thing to him, would retard, rather than advance, their conformity to his will, and would ultimately deprive them of all the benefits which they were thus erroneously labouring to secure.
This being the scope of the whole passage, we will draw your attention to the two things mentioned in our text; namely
The Christian’s completeness in Christ—
In Christ we have all that we can possibly need or desire—
[As God, he has “all the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily;” and consequently is an almighty and all-sufficient Saviour. But as man also, he has, by virtue of his mediatorial office, a fulness committed to him for the supply of his believing people; according as it is said, “It hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell [Note: Colossians 1:19.].” In our corporeal frame there is, if I may so say, a fulness imparted to the head for the use of all the members, that being the chief depository of all the senses: so there is in Christ, for the use of all his members: all that we need is treasured up in him: and he of God is made unto us “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]” — — —]
Nor can the creature add any thing to us—
[What, I would ask, can “philosophy, with all its vain deceits,” add to us? Can it suggest one single truth which is not contained in the Holy Scriptures, or give us one atom of spiritual discernment? — — — Can it devise any other way for a sinner’s justification before God, besides that which the Scripture reveals, through the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ? — — — Can it add any thing to the operations of the Holy Spirit for the transformation of our souls into the Divine image? — — — Can it further, in any one respect, the everlasting redemption of our souls, so that we shall say, this is the work of philosophy, and not of Christ? — — — If the maxims of philosophy cannot effect any thing, can its deities? Can they help us, either by their personal efficiency, or by their mediation with any other? I ask further, can Jewish rites, whether those that have been devised by man, or those which were originally ordained of God, add to us in any of these respects! No; we confidently say, that the Christian is “complete in Christ:” he has in Christ all that he can stand in need of; and to confide in any other is to rob him of his glory, and fatally to deceive our own souls.]
But besides the Christian’s completeness in Christ, we are called to notice,
His conformity to Christ—
That Christ is an example to us, is what every Christian well knows. But there is a distinction which is not generally adverted to, which yet it is of importance to remark; namely, that as he is an example to us in his life, so is he also, if we may so express it, an exemplar or pattern to us in his work. We will explain our meaning.
Christ having undertaken to redeem our souls, submitted to all that was necessary for that end: he was circumcised, as being made under the law for us: he died under the curse of that law; and after having been buried in the grave, he rose again for our justification before God. Now all this which was done in him corporeally, is to be done in us spiritually: the one was intended to be a pattern of the other. This is very minutely set forth by the Apostle Paul, who tells us that the power exercised towards us who believe, exactly accords with that which was exercised towards our Lord Jesus Christ in all the fore-mentioned particulars: his quickening from the dead, his rising from the grave, his ascension to heaven, and his session at the right hand of God far above all the principalities and powers of heaven or hell, have all a counterpart in us, wrought by the same divine Agent [Note: Compare attentively Ephesians 1:19-22; Ephesians 2:4-6.].
Consider distinctly wherein this conformity consists—
[Was he circumcised? We have the true circumcision of the heart; that “which is made without hands, and which consists in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh:” and this we have by virtue of our own union with Christ, in whom we have experienced this mystically, and through whom we derive it spiritually. Was he buried? We also, in our baptism, were, as it were, buried with him; and coming up also from the water, (for here immersion seems to be referred to, as sprinkling evidently is in other places, the mode being not determinate to either, but left optional according to circumstances,) we are risen with him to a new and heavenly life. That this is the true import of the passage is beyond all doubt; as any one will see by comparing what the same writer has stated in his Epistle to the Romans [Note: Romans 6:3-11.] — — — Here, I say, the parallel between what was corporeally wrought in Christ, and spiritually to be wrought in his members, is clear and manifest: we, “by faith in that power which raised him from the dead,” experience a similar resurrection to newness of life — — —]
In reference to this then, as well as to the former, we ask,
What can philosophy add to us?
[Has philosophy any principles whereby we can be stimulated more entirely to crucify the flesh with it? affections and lusts, than we are led by the Gospel of Christ; or can it impart to us any strength beyond that which we derive from Christ? Did it ever operate thus in any instance from the foundation of the world? No; it never did, nor ever can. We further ask, Is there any such virtue in Judaizing principles, that we should have recourse to any of them for aid? No; we are expressly told, that by seeking aid from philosophical conceits or Jewish superstitions we shall not only not add to our safety, but shall actually be “beguiled and robbed of our ultimate reward [Note: ver. 18.].” It is to Christ alone that we must look, and from Christ we must receive all that is necessary for the carrying on and perfecting of our everlasting salvation.]
To improve this subject, we say to all,
Be thankful to God that your lot is cast where the Gospel is plainly and faithfully dispensed—
[The corruptions which began in the apostolic age have since been carried to such an extent as altogether to subvert the Gospel of Christ. If I be asked before God, what popery is; I am constrained to answer, that, whatever it be in theory, it is in practice little better than a compound of Pagan idolatry and Jewish superstition. For want of seeing it before our eyes, we are apt to conceive of it as differing but little from the religion we profess: but it is in all its masses, penances, indulgences, such a system of delusion and impiety as makes one’s very blood run cold. It is inconceivable how such a system of tyranny and imposture should have ever gained footing in the world. Little do the Protestants of the present day reflect on the obligations which they owe to their forefathers, and on the responsibility attaching to them for the advantages they enjoy. But could your eyes see in what darkness and bondage those who are of the Roman Catholic persuasion are held, you would never cease to bless God, that you have been born in a Protestant land, and been brought up members of a Church that is alike free from the errors of fanaticism, and the bonds of superstition. I know indeed that even in our Protestant Church there is still, in some places, as there was even in the apostolic age, a leaven of these deadly evils: but we speak, to those who have learned to seek a completeness in Christ and a conformity to Christ, as the unalienable privilege, not of themselves only, but of every true believer.]
Beware of that false humility which would lead you to intrench upon the sufficiency of Christ—
[It was a false humility that led those in the apostolic age to seek other mediators or protectors besides Christ, and other means of obtaining his blessings than by faith alone. But whilst they assumed this “voluntary humility,” they in reality were “vainly puffed up with a fleshly mind [Note: ver. 18.].” So it is with those in the present day, who look for something to recommend them to Christ, whilst they should be receiving all out of his fulness as a free unmerited gift. Their principle is precisely that of which the Apostle complained in the Colossian Church. They think it would be presumption in them to go directly to Christ, and to expect to be admitted by him with such a load of guilt and corruption as they feel: and therefore they hope to make themselves better before they go, that so they may find a readier acceptance with him. But this is to dishonour Christ, and to take from him both the sovereignty, and the riches, of his grace. We must never forget the terms on which alone we are to obtain the blessings of his salvation: we are to buy them, it is true; but we are to “buy them all without money and without price” — — —]
Live simply by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—
[It is “through faith in the Divine power” that all our completeness in Christ, or conformity to Christ, is to be obtained; and to exercise that faith, we are encouraged by the recollection of what that power has effected “in raising Christ from the dead [Note: The text.].” Take a view then of the Lord Jesus after his crucifixion: see him dead, and buried, and guarded by a host of enemies who were determined in a few hours to prove him an impostor. Is he beyond the reach of Divine power? No; at the appointed moment he rises, and ascends to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, far above all the principalities and powers of earth and hell. Are you then in a more desperate state than he? or is not the power of God alike able to effect this change for you? Yea, is it not as much pledged for you as it was for him? Fear not then, “nor stagger at the promises of God through unbelief;” but as Abraham before you was, “be strong in faith, giving glory to God.”]
TRIUMPHS OF THE CROSS
Colossians 2:13-15. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 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; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
THERE is one great mystery spoken of throughout the Scriptures, connected indeed with innumerable other truths, but itself the centre and substance of them all: this mystery is Christ crucified. St. Paul in particular insists upon it in all his epistles; he declares that it was the one only thing which he deemed necessary for him to preach, or for his people to be acquainted with. He takes every occasion of magnifying its importance, and of urging his converts to maintain the strictest regard to it. This appears remarkably in the preceding context [Note: See Colossians 1:27-28; Colossians 2:1-4; Colossians 2:6-7.]; wherein not only the mystery itself is stated, but the rich benefits arising from it are largely recited. Having in general terms said, “We are complete in Christ,” he enters more minutely into the subject, and declares that we have communion with him in the whole of his humiliation and exaltation, being “circumcised in him, and buried with him, and risen with him,” and, in short, partakers of all his victories and triumphs.
In the text, three benefits are enumerated as conferred by him upon his believing people, and which we propose for our present consideration. If we were to adhere strictly to the order of time in which these benefits were procured for us and imparted to us, we must take the latter clauses of the text first: but, as this is not necessary, we shall rather notice them as they stand; and observe,
He has “quickened us when dead”—
The state of the Gentile world fitly represents the state of every unregenerate man—
[We are dead before God, and doomed to everlasting death, on account of our sins [Note: Galatians 3:10.] — — — We are also under the habitual influence of the most corrupt desires, the mortifying of which was signified by the rite of circumcision, and the indulgence of which characterizes those who are uncircumcised in heart [Note: Titus 3:3.Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 2:3.] — — — We have no spiritual life whatever; nor are we even conscious of our own guilt and corruption; so justly may we be said to be altogether “dead in our sins.”]
But God has quickened us with, and by, his Son—
[There is a federal relation subsisting between Christ and his people; so that when he was circumcised, they were circumcised; when he died, they died; when he rose, they rose. In all that he did and suffered, he was their representative, and they had communion with him as members with their head.
But besides this, they have a vital union with him, so as actually to receive life and vigour from him, whereby they rise to newness of life [Note: Galatians 2:20.] — — — In this restoration to life they are conformed to his likeness; they come forth from the grave of sin and corruption, and soar in their affections to the highest heavens, where from thenceforth their conversation is, and where they shall have their everlasting abode.]
In addition to this benefit,
He has cancelled our obligation to punishment—
This he has done in reference to,
[The trespasses which we commit in our unregenerate state are as numerous as the sands upon the sea shore: yet, on our believing in Christ, they are all forgiven. Whether they have been more or less heinous, they are all pardoned. This is not spoken of as a blessing that shall be enjoyed in the eternal world, but as actually possessed at this time. God has “cast our sins behind him into the very depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:19.]” — — —]
[We must not be understood to say that believers have obtained a licence to commit sin with impunity; for nothing can be more contrary to truth: this would make “Christ himself a minister of sin.” But our meaning is this: the moral law denounces a curse against every one that transgresses it even in the smallest point. The ceremonial law illustrates and confirms those penal sanctions. The very sacrifices which were the appointed means of expiating sin, declared that the offerer deserved to die, and that he could not be saved but by the sufferings and death of an innocent victim. From hence it appears, that “the hand-writing of ordinances,” which, in its external obligation, related only to the Jews, did, in its spiritual and more enlarged sense, declare the state of all mankind, whether Jews or Gentiles: and in this view it was equally “against us, and contrary to us.”
Now this hand-writing Christ has “blotted out,” and, by “nailing it to his cross,” has “taken it out of the way.” There were different ways of cancelling a bond: sometimes it was blotted out; and sometimes it was pierced with a nail, and rendered thereby of no effect. Both these ways, if we may so speak, has Christ adopted, that we might have the fullest security that we shall never be dealt with according to the rigour of the law; and that the debt we owe on account of our unhallowed infirmities shall never be required at our hands.]
A further obligation he has conferred upon us, in that,
He has defeated all our spiritual enemies—
Satan and all his hosts are combined against us—
[They have usurped a power over us, and governed us with most despotic sway [Note: Eph 2:2 and 2 Timothy 2:26.] — — —]
But Christ has completely triumphed over them upon his cross—
[As a conqueror, he invaded the empire of Satan, and rescued millions of the human race from his dominion. He “spoiled the principalities and powers” of hell, and seized as his prey the souls of which they had so long held an undisturbed possession [Note: Luke 11:22.Isaiah 53:12; Isaiah 53:12.]. It was upon his cross that he effected this: for there it was that he satisfied divine justice; there it was he fulfilled and cancelled the obligations of the law; there it was that he paid the price of our salvation. “He redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us [Note: Galatians 3:13.].” His triumph was then complete. Like a victorious general leading in chains the distinguished personages whom the chance of war had put into his hands, our blessed Lord exhibited, as it were, to the view of God, of angels, and of his believing people, the vanquished powers of darkness: “he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them upon his cross.” He did not indeed, like earthly conquerors, exult in victories gained by the sword of others, and at the expense of their blood: his triumphs were gained by no sword but his, and with the loss of no blood but his: “His own arm brought salvation; and he trod the wine-press of God’s wrath alone [Note: Isaiah 63:3; Isaiah 63:5.].”]
What a wonderful sight is the cross of Christ!
[The eye of sense can behold nothing in it but an instrument of punishment, and a person suffering upon it as a malefactor. But what will the eye of faith behold? It will discern, not a sufferer, but a conqueror; not one raised on an accursed tree, but exalted on a triumphant car: not one crowned with thorns, but wearing a wreath of victory: not one nailed and bleeding, but one blotting out with blood, and cancelling with nails, the bonds that were against his chosen people: not one himself a spectacle, but exhibiting to view his vanquished enemies: not the despised Nazarene, but “the Lord of glory.” Strange as it may sound, we affirm, that it was not Jesus, but the prince of this world that was then judged [Note: John 16:11.], cast out [Note: John 12:31.], destroyed [Note: Hebrews 2:14.]: for it was then that Jesus “bruised the serpent’s head [Note: Genesis 3:15.]:” “by death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered them who till that hour had been all their life-time subject to bondage [Note: Heb 2:14 and Psalms 68:18.].” Prostrate before him lay the principalities and powers of hell. Yes, Satan, it was thy power that was then broken, thy shame that was then exposed, thy doom that was then irrevocably sealed. Thou art now an object of our contempt; and the weakest amongst us will set his feet upon thy neck, and tremble at thee no more [Note: Joshua 10:24.]. “Thou art fallen, O Lucifer, son of the morning;” “thou art fallen from heaven like lightning;” and lower still shalt thou fall; for we thy once infatuated vassals can triumph over thee now; and thou shalt “ere long be bruised under our feet [Note: Romans 16:20.].”
Beloved brethren, “turn aside and see this great sight,”—your triumphing Lord, and your despoiled enemies! Nor cease to contemplate it, till you are filled with admiration, and gratitude, and joy.]
What folly is it to suffer ourselves to be diverted from it!
[This is the particular improvement which the Apostle himself makes of the passage. He had guarded the Colossians against the sceptical pride of philosophers [Note: ver. 8.]; and he proceeds to guard them against the self-justifying pride of Judaizing teachers [Note: ver. 16.]. To the one of these the cross of Christ was a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness; but to those who viewed it aright, it was “the power of God and the wisdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.].” Thus at this time we are particularly in danger of being led away from the simplicity of the Gospel, either by the conceits of philosophy, falsely so called, or by the observance of a formal round of duties. But let nothing draw your attention from the cross of Christ. It is by that only that you can be quickened: by that only you can be forgiven: by that only you can obtain deliverance from the penal sanction of the law, or victory over the enemies of your salvation. When you can find another object, or other principles, that can effect these things, then we consent that you shall disregard the cross of Christ. But till then, determine to know nothing [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:2.], trust in nothing [Note: Philippians 3:9.], glory in nothing [Note: Galatians 6:14.], but Christ, and him crucified.]
THE NATURE AND USE OF THE TYPES
Colossians 2:17. Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
MAN is naturally addicted to superstition; partly from a consciousness of his needing mercy from God, and partly from a desire of reconciling himself to God by some meritorious services of his own. The Jewish economy had rather a tendency to foster this disposition, inasmuch as it prescribed many rites and ceremonies as means of acceptance with God. But from these the Gospel has set us free; and, in so doing, has introduced a more free and liberal spirit. Nevertheless, even under the light of the Gospel, we are prone to indulge the same servile desires, and to prefer a yoke of bondage to the freedom of God’s children. Such was the case with many even in the apostolic age. St. Paul is cautioning the Colossians against two sorts of teachers, who were endeavouring to mislead them; against the advocates for heathen philosophy [Note: ver. 8.], and against the Judaizing brethren, who insisted on the observance of the Mosaic ritual [Note: ver. 16.]. In opposition to the latter of these, he bids the Christians to assert their liberty from the observances of the ceremonial law, that being, in fact, no more than a shadow, of which they now possessed the substance.
We shall take occasion from his words to shew,
The nature of the types—
The Scripture sets before us several kinds of types—
[Christians are in general but little acquainted with the types: yet the scripture abounds with them, and mentions various kinds of them. They may be reduced to three classes; natural, historical, and legal. The natural are such as may be seen in the works of nature (in this view, the creation of the universe is a type of the new creation, which the regenerate soul experiences through the word and Spirit of God;) the historical are such as Moses, Joshua, David, and others; and the legal are all the ceremonies of the Jewish law.]
These are shadowy representations of Christ and his benefits—
[All of them relate to Christ in some view or other; either to his person and offices, or to his Church and the benefits he confers upon it. They are the shadow, whereof he is the substance: and as a shadow represents, though but faintly, the image of the substance, so they portray, though in a very indistinct manner, the character and work of Christ.]
In fact, they were instituted of God for this end—
[The paschal feast, with all its attendant observances, was not merely commemorative of a deliverance that was past: it was to shadow forth an infinitely greater deliverance that was to come; as St. Paul says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth [Note: Hebrews 8:5. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.].” In like manner, we are told, that all the ordinances relative to the priestly office “served unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: For, see, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewn to thee in the mount [Note: Hebrews 8:5.].” The Law was the shadow; the Gospel the substance: the Law was the model; and the Gospel the edifice erected in perfect accordance with it [Note: We are not at liberty to consider every common similitude as a type, or to launch into the boundless ocean of conjecture: in some instances indeed observations drawn from analogy may be almost as convincing as the declarations of God himself: but it is safest to adhere to those points which Scripture has determined for us: in them we are in no danger of erring, and therefore can speak with precision and authority. Nor should we ever forget, that, as those things alone are sacraments to us which God has appointed to be so, so those things alone were types to the Jewish church, which God instituted for that express purpose.].]
The text, in connexion with the context, leads us further to declare,
God would not have appointed them, if they had not been beneficial to his Church. But with respect to the Jewish and the Christian Church, we shall, as they subserved different purposes, notice their use to each:
To the Jews—
[The types served to shew them what sort of a person their Messiah should be: he was to be a Prophet, like unto Moses, a Priest, like Aaron, a King, like David. He was to be a suffering no less than a reigning Messiah. They further kept up the expectation of him in the world. The first promise had been nearly forgotten; and most probably the repetition of it would have made but a transient impression: but the multitude of observances, daily repeated, and continually directing the eyes of the worshippers to him, could not fail of exciting a general and increasing expectation of his advent. They moreover led the people to exercise faith on him. Every intelligent worshipper must see that the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin; and therefore (as we are sure Abraham, David, and others did) the devout Jews must look through the ordinances to Christ, and rely on him who was to come, just as we rely on him who is come.]
[The types are of signal use to us, in that they testify of Christ as the person promised from the foundation of the world, and prefigured in the whole of the Mosaic ritual. When we compare the account of Christ in the New Testament with the various ordinances of the Old, we see how impossible it was that such a coincidence of character should ever happen, but by the express ordination and appointment of God. But they are of further use to us also, in that they wonderfully illustrate the fulness and excellency of Christ. As there are myriads of stars, yet all of them together are no more than a taper in comparison of the sun; so all the typical exhibitions of Christ are but a shadow in comparison of him: and “though they are exceeding glorious in themselves, yet have they no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth [Note: 2Co 3:9-11].” To this effect the Apostle says, “If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14.]!” This is the view which we are to take of the types, this the improvement we are to make of them. We could not have formed any adequate idea of Christ’s work and offices, if we had not been assisted by the typical institutions: these serve to embody our notions, and to make them, like a picture, visible to the eyes of men, and therefore intelligible to the meanest capacity: whereas, if we could not thus invest them, as it were, with matter, we could only offer to our bearers some abstract ideas, which, after all, would convey but little meaning, and leave no abiding impression.]
How great are the privileges of the Christian Church!
[The Jews were oppressed with a yoke of ceremonies, which they were not able to bear—the import of which they could very faintly discern—and the observance of which yielded no permanent satisfaction to their consciences [Note: Hebrews 10:1-2.]: but we are freed from that yoke, and enjoy a dispensation of light, and liberty — — — Let us be thankful for our privilege, and “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.”]
What spirituality of mind should we possess!
[Our superior privileges doubtless demand a correspondent pre-eminence in our spirit and conduct. If we are “no longer servants but sons,” we ought to manifest a filial affection towards God, and a delight in his service. But do not many of the pious Jews reproach us? O let us walk worthy of our high vocation, and shew forth the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].]
HOLDING THE HEAD
Colossians 2:19. Not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
WHILST the Apostles were yet in the full exercise of their ministry, all manner of heresies sprang up in the Church. The Jewish converts brought with them their partiality for the Mosaic ritual, and insisted on the continued observance of it: and the heathen converts introduced the dogmas of their philosophy; on which they insisted, as rendering Christianity more conformable with the sentiments to which they had been accustomed. Hence the Apostle Paul, in the chapter before us, repeatedly cautioned the Colossian saints against both the one and the other of these heretical deceivers. “Beware,” says he, “lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ [Note: ver. 8.].” Again, “Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath-days; which are a shadow of things to come: but the body is of Christ [Note: ver. 16, 17.].” And then, in reference to both the characters, he says, “Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head.” It seems that some of the Jewish converts were inclined to rely on angels, as their mediators with God; for God having employed them in the dispensation of his law, they thought it probable that he would make use of them as his instruments also in communicating the blessings of the Gospel. With the heathen converts, the idea of an intermediate kind of deity was quite familiar; and, consequently, coalescing easily with the Jewish teachers in their veneration of angels, they formed, in the Church, a party, which it required all the zeal and authority of the Apostle to suppress. It was to counteract their influence that the Apostle suggested, in the words of my text,
A solemn caution not to depart from Christ—
It is here taken for granted, that Christians are all united to Christ by faith, as their living Head. But the Apostle declared, that the persons who were thus endeavouring to subvert the faith of the Colossians did not hold Christ as their Head; and that to embrace their sentiments would, in effect, be to renounce Christ. And
This was true with respect to them at that time—
[To worship angels, and employ them as mediators with God, was indeed proposed under an idea of “humility;” since it was supposed, that it would be presumptuous in man to apply directly to God, except through the intervention of some creatures of a higher stamp and order; but if they came to him through them as their mediators, they could not then fail of obtaining the Divine favour. But, whilst this was recommended as an indication of humility, it proceeded, in fact, from nothing but pride: for, by “intruding into things which they had not seen,” and presuming to go beyond what God had revealed, they shewed that they were “vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind.” And, in recommending the adoption of these sentiments, they did eventually “rob men of their reward,” instead of securing it to them by any additional bonds. In truth, they did not themselves “hold fast the Head,” the Lord Jesus Christ; and, so far as they prevailed, they actually severed persons from Christ; and thereby ruined their immortal souls.]
And it is equally true with respect to many at this time—
[The whole Romish Church sanctions the worshipping both of saints and angels: and, not content with having Christ as their mediator, they make use of the Virgin Mary as their intercessor; and place as much confidence in her, as in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Need I say, what is the origin of this, or what its effect will be? It is recommended under a pretence of “humility:” but it is the offspring of pride and carnality; it is recommended in order to secure the reward of heaven; but it beguiles of that reward all who embrace so fatal a system.
And what are they better, who require some internal qualifications in us, as a warrant for us to apply to Christ? The Papists commend new mediators to us, in order to our obtaining of acceptance with Christ; and these other deceivers require new qualifications in us for the same end. And these, no less than the former, go beyond the Scriptures, requiring of us what God himself has never required. All the qualification which God requires for our approach to Christ is, that we thirst after him, and be willing to accept his proffered benefits: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink;” and “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” The substitution of any other terms, whatever men may pretend, is the fruit of pride: for it is an avowal, that we look for mercy at his hand as the reward of some kind or degree of goodness in ourselves; and, in effect, it transfers a portion at least of his glory to ourselves. It denies the entire freeness of divine grace, and makes salvation in part to be of works. The consequence of this will be, that all who are thus led to renounce their hold of Christ, must perish. They are beguiled of their reward, and betrayed to their everlasting ruin.]
To this solemn caution is annexed,
A most urgent reason for adhering to him—
It is by union with the Lord Jesus Christ that the whole Church subsists—
[There is the same union betwixt Christ and his Church as there is betwixt the head and members of the natural body. From the head the vital spirits may be said to flow throughout the whole body: nourishing every part, diffusing strength throughout the whole system, and combining all the members, so as to call forth and concentrate their respective offices for the good of the whole. Thus it is that all the members of Christ’s mystical body receive life and strength from him: all are fitted for the discharge of their several duties: all are made to possess one common interest, and to act for one common end. There is not one life in the head, and another in the members: it is one life that pervades them all: and this, too, in the mystical body of Christ, no less than in our own natural body. It is “not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us [Note: Galatians 2:20.]:” yea, “Christ himself is our life: [Note: Colossians 3:4.]:” and by his continued agency within us, we “increase with the increase of God.”
What then must be the event, if we be cut off from him? We perish of necessity, as the members when severed from the head. Is this, then, no reason why we should guard against the introduction of error, especially of such errors as will have the effect of separating us from him?
But we may further observe, that,]
It is by union with Christ that the whole work of grace is carried on in the soul of every believer—
[As there is “a body of sin, called the old man,”in us by nature, so is there “a new man” in us by grace: and all the different graces, of which this new man consists, are nourished by the same divine principle; and either decline or grow together, according as this is communicated to us, or withheld. A man may have in his natural body a greater measure of force and vigour in some one organ or member than in others: the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, may possess some appropriate and distinguished excellence: but, whatever affects the system generally, must affect the body in every part, and produce a corresponding diminution or increase of its powers. Now, if our connexion with the Lord Jesus Christ is kept close, and our communications from him abound, we shall have all our graces lively, and vigorous, and active: but if there be any thing to intercept the communications of his grace, every grace will languish and decay.
Say, then, whether in this view also we are not concerned with all care and diligence to “hold fast the Head?” Whether we consider the interests of the Church collectively, or the welfare of every individual believer, there does appear a necessity to watch against any interruption of our union with Christ, and to seek from him incessant supplies of grace and strength: for “through him we can do all things [Note: Philippians 4:13.];” but “without him we can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.].”]
Behold from hence,
How wonderfully simple is the Gospel of Christ!
[If we enter into the deep mysteries of religion in an abstract way, the wisest and most acute are soon out of their depth: but if we take them as represented by Scripture images, the weakest and most ignorant Christian has as clear a conception of them as the most learned in the universe. The connexion between the head and the body, and the dependence of the members on the head, may be more scientifically described by a learned man; but they are not a whit more justly apprehended by him, than by the poorest of mankind. Yet does this image contain the whole of vital Christianity; which consists in this one thing, “a life of faith on the Son of God, as having loved us, and given himself for us.” Beloved brethren, take with you this image: conceive of the Lord Jesus Christ as your head, from whom all vital influence proceeds. Look to him for a communication of that influence to your soul. Bear in mind, that, except as aided by power from him, you can do no more than your members could if separated from your head. Remember, that as every member of your body is alike under the influence of your head, so must every disposition of your soul be under the controul and influence of Christ: and, as there is no schism in the body, no member affecting independence, or living regardless of the head, so let there be no want of attention to any individual grace; but go to Him for a supply of all, that all may be strengthened, and that you may grow up in all things into Christ, your living head. Let your wisdom, your righteousness, your sanctification, your complete redemption, be all viewed as in him, and all be derived continually from him, according to the measure of the gift which he sees fit to impart.]
The danger of departing from it in the least degree—
[The persons who proposed the worshipping of angels did not mean to renounce Christ; and had they been told that their conceit was in reality a separation of themselves from him, they would have denied that any such consequences could follow. And so it is when persons are looking for some goodness of their own whereon to found their hope, or to warrant their application to Christ; they have as little idea of the evil which they commit, or of the consequences that must ensue. But remember, that self must he altogether renounced; must be renounced by us, as much as it must by the fallen angels, if salvation were at this moment offered to them. All that we ever can have, is in Christ: it is treasured up in him for our use, and must be received from him. There is not any thing which must not be “received out of his fulness:” and, if you will not come to him for it, you must inevitably and eternally perish. He is a jealous God: he will not admit of rivals: he will not endure that his glory should in any respect or degree be given to another. Whatever, therefore, any man may pretend, or whatever specious appearance any sentiment may assume, whether of superior wisdom, or deeper humility, or more ardent zeal, admit nothing, for one moment, that may interfere with the honour of the Lord Jesus: but be contented to receive all from him, to depend altogether upon him, and to give him the glory of all that you either receive or do. In a word, be to him what your members are to your head. This idea is extremely simple. Suffer nothing to set it aside, or to interfere with it. Carry it into effect in your daily life and conversation: and fear not, but that if you glorify him in this world, you shall be glorified with him in the world above.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Colossians 2". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29