Click here to learn more!
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you.
This anxiety was occasioned by the subtle errors prevalent in Colossae. Error cannot come into collision with truth without creating confusion of ideas, mental distraction, and moral restlessness. This anxiety was--
I. Intense. The thought of the preceding verse is here expanded. The conflict refers not so much to outward trial, etc., as to his fervent and importunate wrestling with God. The error must have been serious to occasion this struggle; great souls are not affected with trifles. People little know what their pastors pass through. A knowledge of this anxiety, however, is often necessary to create a responsive sympathy, and to teach the people the care they should have for their own salvation.
II. Disinterested. “As many as have not seen my face”--not only Colossians and Laodiceans.
III. Had reference to the highest spiritual attainments of believers. Paul was solicitous--
1. For the confirmation of their faith, “comforted,” i.e., encouraged, confirmed. He knew how error disintegrated the heart’s confidence and produced trouble, doubt, perplexity.
2. For their union in love. Without this no solid comfort. Error snaps the bond of love and splits the Church into parties.
3. For their enrichment with the unspeakable wealth of the Divine mystery.
(1) This mystery is explained in the unique Person and endowments of Christ.
(2) The believer is privileged to attain to a full knowledge of the Divine mystery.
(3) This understanding is the true enrichment of the mind. “Unto all riches.” This vast store is opposed to the poverty of the mind which has only a few confused unconnected truths about the gospel. “Full assurance” means unclouded perception and firm conviction. This is secured only by diligent study and inner illumination of the Spirit. Every other kind of knowledge is poor and unsatisfying.
IV. Prompted the apostle to faithfully warn the Church. Error is seductive. It is needful to keep a vigilant outlook in regard to its enticing words. The most effectual antidote to any heresy is the simple proclamation of the doctrine of Christ. Lessons--
1. The true minister is anxious to promote the highest good of the people.
2. All truth finds its explanation and error its refutation in Christ, the source of eternal wisdom.
3. False doctrine should be fearlessly and faithfully exposed. (G. Barlow.)
Paul’s striving for the Colossians
The strain of the apostle’s agony for the Colossian Church is here continued. Note the consummate art with which he prepares the way for his warnings.
I. The conflict itself was that of the arena, and “great.”
1. No external conflict can be meant, for he could strike no blows for them; but he could send them ammunition, and this Epistle has been a magazine and arsenal ever since. But the real struggle was in his own heart. In that lonely prison cell, and with burdens enough of his own, like some soldier left behind to guard the base, his thoughts were in the field.
2. For all Christians, sympathy in the battle of God, which is being waged all over the world, is a plain duty. Wheresoever our prison may be, we are bound to take an eager share in the conflict by interest, such help as we can render, and that intercession which may sway the fortunes of the field though the uplifted hands grasp no weapons. The men who bear the brunt of the battle are not the only combatants. In many a quiet home where wives and mothers sit there is an agony as intense as in the battle. It was a law in Israel, “As his part is,” dec. (1 Samuel 30:24). So all Christians who in heart and sympathy have taken part shall be counted as combatants and crowned as victors.
II. Those for whom the conflict was endured. “As many as have not seen,” etc. The Colossians might think that he cared less for them than for those communities he had planted or watered. They had never felt the magnetism of his personal presence, and were at a disadvantage from not having had the inspiration and direction of his personal teaching. But Paul shows them that from this very fact they had a warmer place in his heart. He was not so enslaved by sense that his love could not travel beyond the limits of his eyesight.
III. The object in view.
1. That their hearts might be comforted.
(1) Heart, in Scripture, means thought as well as emotion.
(2) Comfort is more than consolation. The cloud that hung over the Church was not about to break in sorrows needing consolation, but in practical errors needing strength to resist. So Paul desires that they may be encouraged not to quail, but to fight with good cheer. And what we want is the brave spirit and the serene assurance of victory in our struggles. What have we to do with fear, seeing that One fights by our side who teaches our hands to war?
2. The way to secure this is union in love.
(1) Love is the true bond which unites men, and therefore adds to the strength of each. Little faggots bound together are strong. The solitary heart is timid and weak, but many weaknesses brought together make a strength, as slimly built houses in a row hold each other up. Loose grains of sand are moved by a breath; compacted they are a rock against which the Atlantic beats in vain. A real moral defence against even intellectual error is found in the compaction of Christian love. A community so interlocked will throw off many evils, as a Roman legion with linked shields roofed itself over against missiles from the walls of a besieged city, or as the imbricated scales of a fish keep it dry.
(2) But the love is not merely love to one another, but common love to Christ, the bond of union and true strengthener of men’s hearts.
3. This compaction in love will lead to a wealth of certitude in the possession of the truth. It tends to “all riches of the full assurance,” etc.
(1) In times of religious unsettlement Christian men are tempted to lower their own tone, and to say “It is so” with less certainty, because so many are saying “It is not so.” Some are so afraid of being thought narrow that they seek the reputation of liberality by talking as if there were a film of doubt over even the truths “most surely believed.” Few things are more needed now than this full assurance.
(2) This wealth of conviction is attained by living in the love of God. If we love we shall possess an experience which verifies the truth for us. Rich in the possession of this confirmation of the gospel by the blessings it brings, and which witness to their source as verdant banks do to the stream, we shall have a right to oppose to many a doubt the full assurance born of love; and while others are disputing whether there be any Lord, or living Christ, or forgiveness, or providence, we shall know that they are ours because we have felt the wealth and power they have brought into our lives.
4. This unity of love will lead to full knowledge of the mystery of God.
(1) That mystery has its stages. The revelation is finished, but our apprehension of it may grow, and although we shall never outgrow it, reflection and experience will explain and deepen it. Suppose a man could set out from the great planet that moves in the outermost rim of our system, and travel slowly inwards to the great central sun, how the disc would grow, and the light and warmth increase with each million of miles, till what had seemed a point filled the whole sky!
(2) The stages are infinite because in Him are all the treasures, etc. These four words are all familiar on the lips of later Gnostics, and were no doubt in the mouths of the false teachers. The apostle would claim for his Gospel all which they falsely claimed for their dreams.
(a) All wisdom and knowledge are in Christ. He is the Light of men, and all thought and truth of every sort came from Him who is the Eternal Word. All other media of revelation have but uttered broken syllables. Christ still pursues this work.
(b) In Christ, as in a great storehouse, lie all the riches of spiritual wisdom, the massive ingots of solid gold, which when coined into creeds and doctrines are the wealth of the Church.
(c) In Christ these treasures are hidden, but not as the heretic’s mysteries from the vulgar crowd, but only from eyes that will not see them; hidden that seeking souls may have the pleasure of seeking, and the rest of finding; hidden as men store provisions in the Arctic regions, in order that the bears may not find them, and shipwrecked sailors may. Conclusion: Such thoughts have a special message for times of agitation. We are surrounded by eager voices proclaiming profounder truths and wisdom than the gospel gives us. In joyful antagonism Christian men have to hold fast by the confidence that all Divine wisdom is laid up in Christ. The new problems of each generation will find their answers in Him. We need not cast aside the truth learned at our mothers’ knees; but if we keep true to Christ and strive to widen our minds to the breadth of that great message, it will grow as we gaze, even as the nightly heavens expand to the eye which steadfastly looks into them and reveal violet abysses, sown with sparkling points, each of which is a sun. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Three wonderful things
I. A noble anxiety. Paul pictures here his eagerness as that of the racer and wrestler. So far there is nothing very rare, for the spectacle of anxious men struggling with keenest eagerness to gain some purpose of their own is common. But the elements of nobleness here discovered in Paul are--
1. His anxiety for others. He says to the men of Colossae, “My conflict is for you.” It is no self-centred life that Paul lives when he spends himself lavishly for these early churches.
2. His anxiety for the absent. There is a counterfeit coin in current speech, “Out of sight, out of mind.” It is a proverb coined in the mint of a very shallow and selfish life. Such a spirit
(1) limits power,
(2) narrows character.
Whilst real care for the absent--
(1) Increases the power of the mind. It gets strong enough to wing its pinions over oceans, and even to pierce other worlds.
(2) Cultivates spiritual habit. It delivers a man from being the creature of sense.
3. His anxiety for those with whom he had no direct connection. He is caring for a group of churches on the Lycus that he had not even visited. It was pure, disinterested love. Wherein does the modern gospel of altruism excel this gospel Paul believed and practised? and where has altruism the motives with which Christianity pulsates, or the examples that Christianity can cite?
II. A blessed experience. Analyzing these verses we find signs--
1. Of personal comfort. The word “comfort” here, as in the word “Comforter,” points to more than solace, it tells of encouragement and strengthening. What better experience could he desire for the members of this young Church than that their hearts should be comforted? But to that is added the blessing of social security. Few expressions can describe a completer unity than this “knit together.” It means an interweaving of sympathies, an interlinking of destinies; and this is obtained by the highest and surest method “in love.”
3. Of firm conviction, “and all assurance.” There is much more than opinion, there is conviction; and conviction of man’s noblest faculty, the understanding, which is more than the reason alone. And this supreme conviction is, as to the truth, of the supremest importance, viz., the acknowledgment of the open secret about God.
III. An open secret. Paul did not mean by mystery an unknowable, mystical something; but rather a truth once hidden but no longer concealed; a truth fully, freely revealed. The self-revelation of Christ is the revelation of man, of duty, of God, of heaven. In Him were stored away all the riches of truth and love for which men cried. He is the exhaustless storehouse of God’s supplies for man’s higher nature. He is the vast mine of thought, of sympathy, of grace; and only the industrious who sink the shaft of inquiry, fellowship, faith, will know what the mine contains. (U. R. Thomas.)
The full assurance of knowledge
The second Colossian prayer is the sequel of the first (Colossians 1:9-14), inasmuch as it shows at once the end of all practical obedience and the ground of all practical knowledge. The words that introduce it show it to be a supplement, and also that the apostle’s request now deepens into a “great agony” which is akin to our Lord’s. The matter of his supplication is expressed in the form of the end which its answer would obtain, the full assurance of their understanding of Christ, the mystery of God.
I. How this is to be obtained.
1. It is hardly possible to separate the “full assurance” from the process by which it is reached. It is a branch, together with the “knitting together in love” of the one common trunk, “the comfort of the heart.” This last root principle of all religious establishment is the full work of the Paraclete, and the “heart” is the inner man in which the Spirit carries on His renewing work. Hence from this common principle spring two developments--one of charity, the other of knowledge--and these are united. The love of God strong in the heart of each, the bond of perfectness, is as “brotherly love,” the bond of union in which all are edified. Thus while carnal knowledge “puffeth up,” and makes a hollow fellowship, love “buildeth up” both the individual and the community. They have the riches of the knowledge of God imparted to them in the radiations of Divine light through the Word, by the Spirit. These riches are the common heritage of the sacred Treasury; but every one’s individual knowledge is His own.
2. This “full assurance” is the clear, deep, unclouded confidence in the reality of the objects of knowledge which the understanding grasps, excluding hesitation and fortifying against error. This grace comes from the “comfort” of the Spirit, through the diligent study of the mystery hid in Christ. St. Paul speaks of three kinds of assurance.
(1) The full assurance of faith--the deeply wrought conviction of the reality, and the possession of the present object.
(2) The assurance of hope--the full conviction of the reality of its objects as our own in reservation.
(3) The full assurance of understanding is more general in its object, including all the truths of the common salvation, of the unity, harmony, and practical consequences of which the understanding is fully assured. So far as the individual truths of this knowledge are embraced for salvation, the soul exerts its faith in full assurance; so far as they belong to the future, its hope; but so far as they are independent of present and future, and are the possession of the mind and not of the experience, the soul delivers them to the care of the understanding.
II. What it is is itself. The mystery of God which is Christ. This being the precise sentence which St. Paul wrote, we are taught by him that the Person of Christ, God-man, is the central and all-comprehending mystery.
1. The secret as it has been expounded in the previous chapter is impenetrable to human intellect. It is the mystery of God, and He alone can understand it.
2. But it is shown forth in such a manner that we may have a full and distinct knowledge, for this is the word, not acknowledgment. There is a difference between penetrating a mystery and beholding and knowing it. In the richness of its full assurance the understanding collects all the elements that go to the conception of the Divine-human Person, and unites them in one supreme object of knowledge, certitude, assurance.
3. Yet this object contains all other objects. In this are hid “all the treasures,” etc. To the riches of full assurance correspond the riches of the truths of which it is assured. All other intellectual treasures are of phenomena and time, and must pass away. If the vast fabric of things be destroyed or reconstructed, all extant physical science becomes obsolete. Bus the knowledge of Christ is always becoming richer. As the individual grows daily in it, so also does the Church behold more and more the development of “the manifold wisdom of God” in Christ.
III. What it effects. The apostle’s reason for the prayer was his deep desire to defend the Colossians against “oppositions of science,” etc. The full assurance of understanding in the mystery of Christ would be their effectual safeguard. The mind once raised to this region of cloudless certitude would not easily be seduced to descend into the region of scepticism, where doubt chases doubt in never-ceasing restlessness of caprice. Gnosticism under other names is still darkening the counsel of the hypostatic union. Hence the necessity of this prayer to-day. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
St. Paul’s conflict
As gardeners are not satisfied with sowing good seed, but also take care to eradicate weeds, so in spiritual husbandry it is not enough to cast the Word into souls; the soil must be cleansed of the pernicious weeds of error sown privily by an enemy’s hand, or the Divine tillage will be marred. Hence St. Paul in chap. 1, having established the truth, now defends it against heresy, and these verses are the entrance to the controversy.
I. The conflict. What the apostle affirmed at the close of chap. 1. he here particularizes. He means--
1. The solicitude which the consideration of the Churches drew upon him. For though their faith and constancy afforded him satisfaction, the temptations around them and their human weakness led to the apprehension that they might be drawn from piety. Love is never without this, but the apostle’s was so great that he felt as though he had suffered their afflictions himself (2Co 11:29, cf. also verse 3).
2. But more, he comprises here all that he did to avert the danger.
(1) He was perpetually in prayer for them (2 Thessalonians 1:2; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 1:9).
(2) To prayer he added action, and as he assails the enemy, he smartly appeals to the faithful, admonishing and encouraging them to needful firmness.
(3) The combat, however, did not terminate here. He often came to blows, cheerfully suffering persecution. His very chain and prison were part of his conflict, and hence he told them (Colossians 1:24) he suffered for them; because in effect it was for maintaining the liberty of the Gentiles that he was suffering.
3. Admire the zeal and love of this holy man. He stood, as we may say, on the scaffold, yet their danger troubled him more than his own, and neither prison nor death was able to diminish his affection, or make him lay aside the least of his cares.
4. Observe his prudence To dispose their hearts and gain authority for his remonstrances, he sets before them his solicitudes for their salvation.
5. The apostle’s conflict is exemplary. Let ministers learn what they owe to their flocks. Without this strife we cannot avoid the censure of the Supreme Pastor.
II. Its design. Paul fought to secure to them a treasure and to prevent the enemy snatching it away. Therefore he shows that they were in danger of losing it. It consisted of--
1. Comfort of heart which heresy necessarily disturbs, because it shakes the truth and certainty of the evangelical doctrine on which it is founded. This should make us jealous for the purity of the gospel. Food, however wholesome, will kill if mingled with poison.
2. Union in love. Their seducers troubled that by sowing the seeds of doctrinal division. This union is necessary to comfort, for what joy can there be in the trouble of division?
3. The abounding of a full assurance of understanding. The order here is to be noted. These three things are of such a nature that the first depends upon the second, and the second upon the third.
(1) The knowledge of a Christian should be understanding, i.e., he should see in the clearness of heavenly light the verities which God has revealed, not that we are bound to comprehend them, which would be impossible; but we are to know them as far as they are revealed. Here we see how far a blind faith is from the knowledge of a believer. Paul would have the faithful intelligent.
(2) “All riches of understanding.” Abundance of knowledge, so that we may be ignorant of none of the mysteries of Divine truth. If we do not, how shall we distinguish the voice of the shepherd from that of a stranger?
(3) “Assurance.” Though matters of faith are not laid open to the senses or reason, yet the truth of them is so evident, that as soon as the clouds of passion and prejudice are dispersed by the Spirit it shines into our hearts and makes itself to be believed. Thus must it be known with certainty and not with doubting (Ephesians 4:14). Whereby you see how false is the opinion of Rome, which makes the belief of Christianity to depend on the testimony of her prelates.
4. The apostle confines the Christian’s understanding within the bounds of its true subject--the mystery of--
(1) The Father, because He is the author of the gospel, anal has manifested Himself through it.
(2) Of Christ, for He has brought this doctrine from the bosom of the Father and set it in our view; and He is the principal subject of it, without whose teaching and merit we can have no true happiness.
1. Paul’s desire teaches us our duty.
2. Urge not the vain excuse that you are not ministers, and therefore do not need extensive knowledge. The Colossians were no more ministers than you. We are all engaged in the same war and privates need arms as much as officers. (J. Daille.)
I. Its design. “That their hearts might be comforted.” There may be pleasure in which mirth is frolicsome and laughter mad; a thrill of lone delight may sweep across the soul beneath some grand or peaceful scene. There may be brief and dangerous rapture in some wild moment; but no heart was ever comforted amidst scenes like these, either in possession or memory. The word has a hearty English sound about it, and embodies all the unutterable meanings that lie hidden in that word “home.” The leading idea is that of quiet after tempests, a present of peace after a past of trouble. And so no heart can be comforted in Christ which has not agonized in penitence. The great calm comes to the soul after the storm raised by the convincing Spirit, when it finds the atonement sufficient and the Saviour willing. It must spring from faith.
II. Its constituents.
1. “Being knit together in love.”
(1) The word applies to the fitting of the parts of a house in harmony. Modern architecture delights in the symmetry of buildings, different parts are arranged to be mutually strengthening without external aid.
(2) So the heart in love is to be knit together, the strongest and surest of bonds. It is the root of all other graces, the ground on which the temple is to rise; “rooted and grounded in love.” It is the bracelet that clasps the other graces, at once a protection and decoration. “Above all put on charity.” It is the mark of the Divine relationship, indwelling, image.
(3) The necessity of this to comfort is obvious. Without it hope will be a transient emotion, labour an intolerable drudgery, God alienated, the Church rent.
2. “Unto all riches,” etc.
(1) The possession of an assured faith, the importance of an intellectual perception of the truth, and of a decisive grasp of its great principles, is often urged by Paul; and Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail amidst the siftings of Satan. Do not our own hearts witness to the necessity of this? There is comfort in trust, but none in suspicion and misgiving.
(2) Mark the wealthy repetition of the apostle’s words. When Solomon speaks of understanding he can scarcely find imagery sufficiently brilliant to set its value forth. The apostle is not satisfied that that only shall be the believer’s dowry; there is not only understanding, but “assurance”--knowledge deepening into conviction; “full,” no doubt hungering upon the Spirit, the truth so thoroughly appreciated that the principle becomes enfibred with man’s nature, a belonging of his, his riches which no panic can scatter and no thief steal.
(3) The tendency of the present age is to leave old beliefs behind, and it is considered a proof of manliness to have outgrown the faith of our childhood, which yet was the faith upon which the sturdy manhood of our fathers grew. But surely it were a weary world if in this nineteenth century there is nothing settled. Life is all too short to be spent in dreams. Men die while we are battling with problems. And in all doubt there is discomfort, danger, and death. To the sincere and candid Christianity offers her evidences and all her “riches of the full assurance,” etc. Press forward, you shall know if you follow on to know the Lord.
3. There must be testimony if the heart is “knit together in love,” etc.
(1) It is not to be kept within like a concealed treasure, but it is to be “acknowledged.” The duty of confession is parallel with that of faith, and if faith be hid it will die.
(2) The “mystery” is to be acknowledged. The greatest triumph of faith is when proud reason bows, the rebel will submits, and the awed senses fear as they enter into the cloud. This is the mystery of God in Christ. Do not let us do the Saviour the dishonour of denying Him either by the lie of speech or the lie of silence. Bold witness-bearing will be found to be a solid comfort to the soul.
4. In regard to this mystery the apostle’s words are cumulative, and each has a distinct significance.
(1) “Of God.” How much of mystery is here! Yet what a comfort! How sad it would be to sit down in a world like ours without a God, with chance as our creator and circumstances our governor; or with gods like those of heathenism. But while the atheist cannot find a God, and the deist denies His existence, and the pantheist reduces Him to an abstraction, the Christian rejoices to believe that there is around him God, living, acting, personal.
(2) “Of the Father,” a greater mystery. He who is omnipotent, etc., maintains a relationship analogous to that of human fatherhood only, of infinite power and tenderness. What a comfort is this mystery! We live not under a despot’s tyranny, but a Father’s smile; this makes duty light, and sorrow bearable.
(3) “Of Christ.” The mystery deepens as we travel on. This makes God “Immanuel.” God’s own Son stoops to take on Himself a curse that none but Omnipotence could inflict, and none but Omnipotence bear. But vast as is the mystery the comfort is vaster. Heaven and earth reconciled; salvation for the most abandoned. (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)
That their hearts might be comforted.
The triple fruit of evangelical doctrine
The apostle contends that they should persist in this.
I. That their hearts might be comforted. Perseverance in Christian doctrine brings true comfort.
1. Because salvation by Christ alone brings tranquillity to the troubled conscience. For as the modulations of harmony are applied to arouse the mind when sorrowful, so the promises of God in Christ bring peace to men’s hearts (Rom 5:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Philippians 2:1).
2. Because the doctrine of innovators harassed men’s minds with scruples and anxieties. To be exempt from these is a great part of spiritual consolation.
II. Being knit together in love as carpenters fit together two pieces of wood, so that they adhere in indissoluble union. This concord of minds is--
1. A fruit, because the intellect is the leader of the will (Acts 4:32). Unity of faith is the firmest bond of unity of mind. Love is the fruit of unanimity of faith which so binds the minds of the godly, that though some light offences intervene, yet as the boughs of the same tree, driven asunder by the wind, immediately come together again because fixed in one root, so with the minds of the faithful, because still rooted in the same faith.
2. A condition without which spiritual comfort is not obtained. For comfort is not had out of Christ; if any one lives without love, he is without Christ, and vice versa
III. Unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding.
1. The faith of Christians is augmented in richness when they who have learned only the principles and elements proceed to farther attainments. For as in other sciences the principles are few, but contain innumerable conclusions, so here some few necessary principles are presented to tender minds, and afterwards a rich treasury of sacred knowledge is collected for every purpose of salvation by meditation, hearing, and chiefly the internal operation and teaching of the Spirit. They therefore who persevere in the doctrine of the gospel thence obtain all riches. Hence--
(1) The laity should not be content with an elementary knowledge in religious matters (Hebrews 6:1).
(2) When these riches are sought, the means necessary to their attainment should be sought. He who would have treasure must dig.
2. Full assurance denotes that firm and certain adherence to what is believed which springs from the internal operation of the Spirit illuminating the intellect, inclining the will, and firmly stamping the impress of the things believed on the mind itself. This is at length attained by those who remain firm in the doctrine of faith. For as trees newly planted are swayed by the wind, so the early faith of the godly wavers with many doubts; but the same trees in course of time fix their roots deeper, so faith shoots its roots deeper into the mind, and at length, by grace, acquires that steadiness which cannot be overthrown (Ephesians 4:14). Hence we learn--
(1) That the faith of a Christian ought not to depend on others, but be settled by the efficacy of the Spirit, so that if ecclesiastics, or the whole world even, should depart from the faith, yet every one of the laity should hold to it (Galatians 1:9).
(2) How Romanists err who think that the assurance of our faith lies in the breast of the Pope. That cannot give lull assurance to my heart, but the operation of the Spirit can and does (1 John 2:27).
(3) That their complaint is unjust who aver that we cannot arrive at this assurance since there are so many sects and controversies. We attain truth not by disputing, but from Him who alone can both know and teach.
3. The understanding fully assured (Ephesians 1:17; 1 Peter 2:9). Hence that is not a Divine, but animal faith, which has no comprehension of the things believed. Such a faith Staphylus extols in the collier who professed that he believed what the Church believed, and the Church believed what he held, whilst he was ignorant all the time what either the Church or himself held.
4. To the acknowledgment, etc.
(1) Under the word “mystery” the apostle includes the whole doctrine of the gospel which is so called, because human reason of itself would never have found the way of salvation but for it. (Bishop Davenant.)
Knit together in love.--
I. Its nature.
1. There are two kinds of Christian unity.
(1) Among all believers there exists a vital union. By our faith in Christ we are united to Him and to each other as members of our body connected with the living head. This union exists in spite of all diversities of character and creed. The uniting power is faith. Without that we are dead, and death means separation.
(2) But the text speaks of another union, or it is a superfluity. The Colossians were already partakers of the union common to all Christians. Now the apostle prays that they may be knit together in love. This is not a doctrinal union; desirable as that may be, it is only a union of head. Nor is it an ecclesiastical union; desirable as that may be, it is yet mechanical and external. This is eternal, spiritual, vital.
2. The word is translated compacted (Ephesians 4:16), proving (Acts 9:22), assuredly gathering (Acts 16:10), and means to make to come together. The Colossians were not so compacted as the apostle wished them to be. Seducers had disturbed their fraternal concord. So the apostle prays that their affections may intertwine and interlace; or that as a broken joint when reset knits itself to the other members of the body, so the members of the body of believers might be united to one another, love being the uniting power.
3. Each Church should he a confederated body, so consolidated into one as to be invincible in conflict with the powers of evil.
4. We can have this unity without dull uniformity. There is unity in the Godhead, yet not uniformity; unity among the angels, but they have degrees of power and dignity; diversity among the stars, yet they are all related to the central sun. This unity does not destroy our individuality or our right of private judgment. The Church’s vesture may have divers colours, but it must be without seam. Individual members may resemble the rainbow which combines the seven prismatic colours into one glorious arch, or like the ocean in its unfettered flow, “distinct as the billows, but one as the sea.”
II. Its necessity.
1. Being destitute of this unity, no body of Christians can answer the end of its existence. It is only where brethren dwell together in unity that the Lord commands His blessing.
2. This unity is essential to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is only when believers are “builded together” that they are a fit “habitation of God through the Spirit.” Not before the temple was compacted did “the glory of the Lord fill the house.” When “they were all of one accord in one place,” there came the blessings of Pentecost.
3. It is only when united that a Church is powerful for good. Separate the particles of a ponderous hammer, and each atom will fall harmless as a snowflake; but welded into one, and wielded by the arm of the quarryman, it will split granite. Let the waters of Niagara be divided into separate drops, and they are no more than a Scotch mist.
4. Without it a Christian Church may any day be scattered. It is but a heap of sand the separate particles of which may be separated by a gust of wind.
5. It is necessary to Christian comfort. We are so constituted as to be dependent on each other. To preserve a frigid isolation is to create misery.
III. The power which secures it. Love, without which no real union is possible. The universe has no equal force to that of love. We may think alike on doctrines, polity, and methods of work, but unless our hearts are full of love to Christ and one another we are not united. This power is to be obtained at the Cross, the birthplace of Christian love. (W. Williams.)
All riches of the fall assurance of understanding.--
I. The things of which we should be assured.
1. The things done by Christ (Luke 1:1).
2. The knowledge of our liberty in things indifferent.
3. The persuasion of the truth of their ministries to whom we subject our souls (2 Timothy 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:17).
4. The doctrine of the religion we profess.
5. The hope of a better life (Hebrews 6:12).
6. Faith in God’s favour upon the warrant of God’s Word and Spirit.
II. The signs of full assurance.
1. It will receive the Word in affliction with much joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6),
2. It will not be carried about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).
3. It is industrious in the duties of love to God’s children (Hebrews 6:11-12).
4. It is unrebukable, and full of integrity of life. It cannot stand with any presumptuous sin (Hebrews 10:22).
5. It will give glory to God against all sense and reason (Romans 4:20).
6. It mortifies and extinguishes all headstrong affections (Isaiah 11:7; Isaiah 11:9).
7. It is carried with full sails into holy duties, and is faithful in good works.
8. It is able to admonish (Romans 15:14).
III. The riches of full assurance.
1. Our spiritual riches lie--
(1) In the Word of Christ dwelling in us (chap. 3:16).
(2) In the Spirit of Christ (Titus 3:6).
(3) In works of mercy and liberality (Ephesians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 8:1; 2 Corinthians 9:11).
(4) In sufferings and patience.
(5) In prayer (Romans 10:11).
(6) In good works. (1 Timothy 6:18).
(7) In utterance and all holy knowledge (1 Corinthians 1:5).
(8) In our faith (James 2:5).
2. Worthily is full assurance called riches, for it does all that riches can do to men. It comforts the heart and defends from dangers much better than outward riches. It gains the godly truer reputation than houses, lands, or money. It abounds more to mercy and well-doing with more sufficiency than out ward riches, and buys for the soul all necessaries. It settles the heart against all changes, makes a man stand against the rage of tyrants and death itself; yea, it prevails with God, and, knowing Him fully, does not fail to trust Him fully in spite of mysterious providences. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” It brings a man the certain pardon of all his offences, and settles his heart in his religion better than ten thousand arguments and volumes of controversies. Conclusion:
1. This full assurance may be had in this life (1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22; Romans 4:21).
2. Therefore we are bound to labour for it. (N. Byfield.)
The full assurance of understanding
I. The knowledge or understanding to which assurance belongs.
1. Men have two kinds of knowledge respecting Divine things--the one of the intellect alone, which is the fruit of study, just as the natural sciences are; the other a higher knowledge built upon the former, or the former transfigured. It baptizes the understanding with feeling, and the feeling with Divine influences. It is the product of love and obedience more than of inquiry, and is rather the gift of God than the acquisition of man.
2. But although distinguished these are not to be separated. We can possess the lower without the higher, but not the higher without the lower. Intellectual knowledge of the things of God is right as far as it goes. Its objects are true and its apprehension of them is correct. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing implies an understanding of what is heard. This is the window which admits into the soul the light of heaven; and as the room is lighter if the window be large and clear, so also the spiritual knowledge is likely to be more vivid if the natural knowledge of God’s things be abundant. The function of the one is to build the altar, arrange the wood, and plan the sacrifice; the function of the other is to bring the fire from heaven.
3. But this is insufficient, and the super-excellence of spiritual knowledge makes it appear pale and poor in comparison. It is superficial. It does not penetrate down to the heart and will, but lies on the surface of the mind; nor does it pierce beyond the outward aspect of God’s truth, and is not in communion with its glory.
4. Look at the texts which explain the nature of the higher knowledge.
(1) 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. Its fundamental element is love; love comprehending what the most cultured intellect without love cannot receive. The knowledge which is not grounded in love does not build up, but only puffs up.
(2) Colossians 1:9-10. Its nature is spiritual because its source is supernatural, and concerns itself with the highest aspects of God’s truth which are hid from the natural man. It is a power which rules the whole man and results in a walk pleasing to God. The highest degree of it, therefore, constitutes the perfection of the religious life.
(3) Philippians 1:9-11. Here again the chief element is love.
II. The assurance belonging to this knowledge.
1. The assurance is not a property added to the knowledge, but the cream of the knowledge itself, and the higher and more extensive the knowledge the stronger the assurance.
2. Some Christians have an assurance which to some extent is the result of study (Luke 1:4; 1 Peter 3:15). This is not possessed by all the saints. They are not able to impart this assured knowledge concerning things in which they have been but imperfectly instructed. But they have assurance of the greatest personal value. Reasons may be circulated, but not intuitions and experiences. My neighbour must see with his own eyes and feel with his own heart what I see and feel in order to partake of the same assurance. It is a revelation on the one side and an intuition on the other. (J. Hughes, D. D.)
There is no wealth for man’s soul like the spiritual consciousness of the glory of the truth of God.
I. By it every part of our intellectual and moral nature is enriched.
1. It gives light to the mind, such a light as only comes from the Sun of Righteousness, dissipating darkness, clearing away doubts, solving perplexities that nothing else can remove, so that the man illuminated by it becomes a child of light and of the day.
2. It gives’ peace to the conscience, even the peace passing all understanding which the world can neither give nor take away.
3. It sheds abroad in the heart that love which is its true life, the love of God and Christ to man.
4. It gives purity to the life and nobleness to the character, bringing it under the influence of heavenly motives and the Divine operation, so that the man is transformed into the image of God from glory to glory.
5. It gives glory to man hood, making it a partaker of the Divine nature, and enriching it with the prospect of the unfading crown and eternal blessedness.
II. These riches can never perish. Other riches may take to themselves wings and fly away, or otherwise disappoint, but the wealth which the gospel gives forms part of ourselves for ever more. Disease cannot affect it; death cannot invalidate its worth; the cares of time and the trials of life only tend to enhance its value and brighten its possession to the soul. (J. Spence, D. D.)
In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.--
The hidden treasures of wisdom in Christ
Wisdom does not consist in wide and varied knowledge. A student may be a walking encyclopaedia, and yet be far from being a wise man. Wisdom is the practical application of knowledge, the attainment of the highest moral results by the best means. The cry of the human intellect in all ages is for wisdom. The greatest souls have toiled for it and failed. It is a Divine revelation. The world by wisdom knew not God. The wisdom which all need is found only in Christ. Observe--
I. That Christ is the inexhaustible source of the truest wisdom. The false teachers at Colossae, like certain pretentious philosophers of modern times, boasted of the wast range of their wisdom and knowledge. They discussed questions which are reproduced to-day--the wisdom of this world which comes to naught. But it is only in Christ that we find all the treasures which furnish and enrich the mind and guide in the way of salvation. If we classify the principal sources of human knowledge, only in Christ does each department find its fullest explication and derive its worth.
1. He is the loftiest ideal and purest inspiration of the poet. Poetry occupies an important place in human culture. It has been abused, but the true poet pants after the noblest expression of the beautiful and the good. Of this, Christ is the embodiment, and the poet exhausts all his resources in portraying the lineaments of His character.
2. He is the grandest hero of the historian. History would be an unsolvable enigma could the name of Christ be struck out. The story of redemption unites Christ with the destiny of man in all ages.
3. He is prominent among the sublimest themes of the philosopher. A philosophy that does not recognize the Divine plunges its votaries in labyrinthine darkness. Its legitimate office is to conduct to God.
II. That the treasures of Divine wisdom are discoverable by the sincere and earnest seeker. They are hid, but not so as to be beyond our reach. They are intended for discovery and appropriation. Their brilliancy sparkles even in their hiding-place. They are like a mine whose riches, though faintly indicated on the surface, are concealed in the depths. The more diligently the mine is worked the more precious and abundant the ore appears. Lessons--
1. Man universally covets wisdom.
2. The highest wisdom is treasured up in Christ for man.
3. If man finds it not, it is his own fault. (G. Barlow.)
The boundless wealth of wisdom in Christ
“Where shall wisdom be found?” etc. (Job 28:12-20). These sublime words have been echoed by the inquiring spirits of every age; but the only true reply is in the text. There are modern forms of old Colossian error: those who say that there is no reliable truth but in the facts of nature; no religion but in science; no progress but in rejecting revelation.
I. In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
1. They are deposited in Him as the God-man, the image of the invisible God, etc.
2. Knowledge is simply enlightenment, acquaintance with truth; wisdom is the use and result of that enlightenment, the application of the truth. Knowledge is the study, wisdom its fruit.
3. Treasures suggest great value and excellence. All the treasures are in Christ; not select truths, but all kinds of truth.
As all things were made and consist by Christ, so all branches of knowledge for the human soul have a relation to Him and find their truest meaning in Him.
1. Jesus Christ is the key to human history.
(1) The history of ancient nations cannot be considered thoroughly apart from the Jews, with whom they were brought into contact, and every one sees that the Hebrews had relations with Jesus, clear, manifold, and vital. Their ancient records, too, bear constant reference to One, the light of whose promised and expected advent flashed back on Egypt, Assyria, etc., making every page of this history instinct with living interest.
(2) The same holds good in regard to modern nations. The unbeliever may reject Christ, still he has to account for the presence of His religion and to explain its influence as by far the mightiest moral impulse which men or nations have received. The pathway of Christ’s name and influence is easily traced among the nations in the lines of light and liberty.
2. Christ is the ground of all true philosophy.
(1) Nature is hung with all the insignia of Divine skill, power, and glory. Yet experience proves that the light of nature cannot make this impression an abiding principle of action. It is only when we see the material world as the theatre of redemption, and the work of creation the work of the Reconciler, that nature leads up to nature’s God.
(2) The philosophy of mind likewise finds its meaning in Christ. How is it possible to estimate the value of the soul without a knowledge of Him whose death was the price of its redemption? Philosophy teaches something of the prerogatives of reason, of the power of conscience, and of the relation of the animal to the spiritual nature: but what do we find? The harmony of this lofty nature disturbed, its liberty gone, the prerogative of reason overborne by the power of passion. Where is the light or wisdom that can secure the harmony between what man is and what he ought to be? Where is the knowledge or power that can bring beauty out of the chaos which religion discovers? It is in Christ alone: in Him are hid all the treasures of the only wisdom which expounds the lofty relations of man’s mental being and the value and vigour of his spirit.
(3) The philosophy of morals in the relation of man to man, and to society at large, is a perplexing study. We see virtue oppressed and vice triumphant, might supreme over right, etc. The solution is in the gospel. In the knowledge of Christ we see the rule of a “righteous Father”--the triumph of law and of love, the harmony of righteousness and peace, and the evidence that whatever anomalies may appear in society now, all will yet be explained and rectified, and issue in the glory of God and the good of man.
3. Christ is the substance of a true theology.
(1) All saving knowledge of God and our relations to Him we find in Christ.
(2) The peace with God which men have sought everywhere by sacrifice and prayer is secured by Him who is the propitiation for our sins.
(3) The future, which has baffled all human inquiries, has been revealed by Him who has brought life and immortality to light.
II. The relation of Christ generally to all human studies.
1. In Him the mind finds its truest stimulus and healthiest impulse. He is the fosterer and guide of all wise intellectual pursuits. It is in countries where He is known and worshipped that literature and science exercise their widest sway. He emancipates the mind from the bondage of corruption and fear, and as the wisdom of God hallows all wisdom.
(1) If we investigate nature, does it make no difference whether we examine a world without God, or a world which God has made the object of His special interest?
(2) If we study the human mind, will it make no difference whether we view it as a taper to be extinguished or the offspring of an infinite Father?
(3) If we examine the human frame, will it make no difference whether we consider it as destined to rot in the grave, or as the tabernacle of the immortal spirit destined to be restored? Who does not see that the light which Christ brings enhances and elevates every branch of knowledge?
2. The word “hid” implies that wisdom and knowledge are stored up in Him in a hidden manner, suggesting--
(1) Concealment. All these treasures are not seen at once by the bodily or spiritual eye. They are hid from the thoughtless and unbelieving world, from the vain and unassisted intellect (1 Corinthians 2:8). God has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes. Just as many with an uneducated eye traverse a country rich in mineral wealth, and have no idea of what lies under the surface, so the treasures that are hid in Christ are only seen by the eye of faith, and found by the devout and contrite soul taught by the Spirit of God.
(2) But these treasures thus hid are intended for discovery and appropriation. They are gradually unfolded. The number of those enriched daily increases, yet the riches are still inexhaustible, and the oldest disciples are ever discovering some new vein of preciousness in their Lord. So it will ever be. (J. Spence, D. D.)
Earthly and heavenly riches
“This morning,” says Mr. Fuller, “I have read another of Edwards’ sermons, on ‘God, the Christian’s Portion,’ from Psalms 73:25. The latter part comes very close, and I feel myself at a loss what to judge as to God’s being my chief good. He asks, whether we had rather live in this world rich and without God, or poor and with Him? Perhaps I should not be so much at a loss to decide this question as another; namely, had I rather be rich in this world and enjoy but little of God, or poor and enjoy much of God? I am confident the practice of great numbers of professing Christians declares that they prefer the former; and in some instances I feel guilty of the same thing.”
The treasures of Christ in relation to education
When the apostle spoke of the wisdom hid in Christ, he meant by “wisdom” just what his adversaries meant, that is, the know ledge of man in those sublime relations that connect him with God and God’s universal plan. Now this is a sort of knowledge to which everything may be expected to contribute some remote and faint light; but the point here to be observed is, that the revelation of Christ Jesus, alone and unaided, flashes a beam of splendour upon it in which all others are lost and disappear. Nor this only, but as all knowledge is mainly valuable as it helps our efforts for this last and mightiest knowledge of ourselves and God, so when this is attained, through virtue of the Christian truth, it, in its turn, radiates back upon all the departments of knowledge a new and blessed light. And thus the revelation of Christ not merely teaches us in itself a series of truths of inexpressible importance, and without it wholly unattainable, but it also, as a great central discovery, harmonizes all our beliefs, sacred and secular, binds them together as its own servants, gives them a new interest, and position, and colouring, and dignifies the pursuit of them as a labour in the very cause of God Himself,--begun and prosecuted with a view to His glory--for to know the beauty of the temple is to know the glory of the architect. And hence, so far are we who advocate the revelation of Christ as the basis of education, from (as our slanderers have it) restricting or dreading the free search of natural knowledge, that, on the contrary, when once the corner-stone has been fixed in our foundation, we exult in a science and a philosophy that is subservient to the faith of Christ; we hail every bright discovery as a new tribute to the creating and redeeming God whom we adore. Let but the Sun of Righteousness reign in the centre of the soul, and we know that every element of inferior knowledge will dispose itself to revolve harmoniously around it! (W. Archer Butler, M. A.)
This I say lest any man should beguile you.--As men love and desire only those things which have an appearance of good, so they believe only those which have a semblance of truth. This advantage which truth naturally has over falsehood compels its enemies to counterfeit its mask and wear its livery, as coiners give their copper or lead the colour of gold or silver in order to pass it as current coin; otherwise neither error nor base coin have a chance of acceptance. And as Christianity comprises the most important truths, so there never was a system which impostors have so laboured to corrupt; and so, therefore, ought we to strenuously endeavour to sever the falsehood which has been palmed off as the truth. This is one of the most important duties of our lives. It is loss to take bad money for good; it is hurtful to receive an error for truth in the simplest matters; but here the consequence of imposture is irreparable. So here and elsewhere the apostle warns the faithful against it (Romans 16:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 5:14).
I. The danger of the Colossians of being deceived with enticing words. There never was a servant of Christ who was not beset by such a temptation. As soon as Satan sees the truth of the gospel appear he raises up impostors to corrupt it, and to alienate its professors from its purity.
1. The term employed means to deceive by false and ensnaring ratiocination. These bad men, knowing that we are not induced to embrace anything without some reason, our nature demanding that the understanding should precede the will, begin there to effect our ruin. It is a sophism, a false arguing which by its vain appearance and fallacious blaze leads men into error, as those fatuous fires which, rising at night, conduct those who follow them over precipices. Satan, the father of all sophisters, took this course first, attacking our first parents’ understandings in the first place, and beguiling them that he might destroy them. All whom he has since employed have followed the same method. No heretic ever appeared who did not paint over his impostures with specious reasons. Some act maliciously, and in defiance of their own consciences; others through ignorance (Romans 10:2), like most of those of the Roman communion. But we must take heed of both. As poison fails not to kill the man who takes it, though given in ignorance; so error, from whatever hand it come, has a bad effect.
2. The means which false teachers use are “enticing words” (Romans 16:18; 1 Corinthians 2:4). Under this term are comprehended all that attractiveness of discourse which is apt to touch and win hearts. Eloquence too often makes things, as it were by enchantment, appear quite opposite--honey wormwood, black white, and vice versa. It can subvert a cause, however good; and establish it, however bad. It has frequently procured condemnation for the innocent, while the guilty have been acquitted with applause. But among all the busy people who use it none more perniciously employ it than corrupters of religion. Not that eloquence is to be decried. It has done good service to the gospel, and Paul, who here condemns it as a vehicle of error, does not reject it in the service of the truth. But as innocence is not always the best clothed, so truth frequently is not the most richly decked.
II. The means of guarding against it. “This I say”--what? “In Him are hid all the treasures,” etc. None of the wiles of error can stand before these. Whoever has this principle in his heart will receive nothing out of Christ, and so has his ears effectually closed against the seductions of error. (J. Daille.)
The true safeguard against error
Paul fortifies the disciples by exalting the master and urging the inexhaustible significance of His Person and message. To learn the full meaning and preciousness of Christ is to be armed against error. The positive truth concerning Him, by pre-occupying mind and heart, guards beforehand against the most specious teachings. If you fill the coffer with gold, nobody will want, and there will be no room for pinchbeck. A living grasp of Christ will keep us from being swept away by the current of prevailing popular opinion, which is always much more likely to be wrong than right, and is sure to be exaggerated and onesided at the best. A personal consciousness of His power and sweetness will give an instinctive repugnance to teaching that would lower His dignity and debase His work. If He be the centre and anchorage of all our thoughts, we shall not be tempted to go elsewhere in search of the treasures of wisdom. He who has found the one pearl of great price needs no more to go seeking goodly pearls, but only day by day more completely to lose self, and give up all else, that he may win more and more of Christ his all. If we keep our hearts and minds in communion with our Lord, and have experience of His preciousness, that will preserve us from many a snare, will give us a wisdom beyond much logic, will solve for us many of the questions most hotly debated to-day, and will show us that many more are unimportant and uninteresting to us. And even if we should be led to wrong conclusions on some matters, “if we drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt” us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
“This is the devil’s device, first to maze people, aa birds are with a light and a bell in the night, and then to drive them into the net. If you would keep to wholesome doctrine, keep to a form of wholesome words, and do not place religion in conceited speaking.” Would that this advice of Manton’s were heeded. We have those about us who are for ever inventing some new thing, and using the old orthodox terms in an altogether novel sense. Their hearers are first dazzled with the clever candle light, and cannot make out what the novel brilliance means; and when they are thoroughly bewildered, a great noise and tinkling is made of pretended wisdom and deep thought, so that the poor souls are ready to fly anywhere and anyhow. Thus the fowler’s business is effectually done, and by this means, if it were possible, they would ensnare the very elect. The safest way for simple souls is to keep to a definite and decided gospel ministry. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Error is insidious
Error is insidious in its approaches. It flatters by liberality and betrays by sophism. We are not reconciled to it at once. There are disgusts to be allayed and fears to be vanquished. Little by little are we allured. The voyager enters a current which seems propitious, there is no apparent diversion from his course, his bark speeds well, his oar does not toil nor his sail strain. In his confidence all promises success. But while he examines, scarcely does it seem that he has advanced. Much again and again reminds him of what he has noticed just before. A strange familiarity impresses his sense. Still current flows into current, while onward and buoyant is his track. Soon he feels an unnatural vibration. Where he glided, he now whirls along. The truth seizes upon him. He is sweeping a whirlpool. Long since he has entered the verge of a maelstrom, and he is now the sport of its gyrations. No power is left his helm or mast; he is the trembling unresisting prey. He hears the roar; he is drawn into the suck of the vortex. Not only the circle lessens, the very surface slopes. The central funnel and abyss, darkheaving, smooth, vitreous, yawns. The mariner shrieks, the skiff is swallowed up, where the waters only separate to close, where the outermost attraction was but the minister to the famine of this devouring maw. (Dr. R. W. Hamilton.)
Though I be absent in the flesh.
I. The mode of the apostle’s affection towards the Colossians.
1. He shows that he was never so far away: from them but in mind, care, and thought he was with them. This was necessary lest they should think he was ignorant of them and indifferent to them, never having visited them. It is the peculiarity of the lover not to be severed in mind from those whom he loves, although separated by space.
2. He rejoiced at what he beheld in them, and expressed himself thus, lest they should suppose he doubted their constancy since he so earnestly exhorted them to perseverance (Philippians 4:1).
3. Hence we infer that--
(1) A minister ought to be always present with his flock--if not in body, by care and thought and prayer.
(2) A minister’s true joy arises from the fact that his people continue and increase in spiritual blessings, not that he himself is enriched in temporals.
(3) The state which occasions his joy should cause his solicitude; for Paul in consequence of his joy at their state, labours the more earnestly lest they be cast down by impostors.
II. The cause of the apostle’s affection. Note that his praise is most skilful and a strong inducement to perseverance in the thing praised. He who praises what you do declares--
(1) That it is good, for otherwise it would not be fit to be praised.
(2) That it is easy to you, because you have so long effected it.
(3) That it would be disgraceful if you desist, because praise earned is never lost without shame. The apostle rejoiced because of--
1. Their order, which denotes--
(1) The settled manners of the individuals. Goodness of manners is constantly included in “order” in the scriptures, just as, on the contrary, they who are of bad manners are said to walk disorderly (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
(2) The well-appointed discipline of the Church; which teaches ministers to rule well, subjects to obey duly; and compels the negligent and refractory to perform their duty (1 Corinthians 14:40; 1 Timothy 1:3).
(3) Their agreement and concord. “Order” is a military term, and denotes a compact body of soldiers marshalled in due order. He intimates, therefore, that he regarded them as a well arranged phalanx, cleaving together in the unity of the faith, and therefore invincible.
2. Their steadfastness of faith in Christ, which denotes--
(1) That they suffered not the true doctrine to be wrested from them, but remained firm and unmoveable in it like soldiers at their post.
(2) That they did not permit strange doctrines to mingle with it; but filled their minds with sacred truth, the inventions of men being excluded from the business of faith. For that is properly said to be solid which is full of itself alone.
3. Hence we learn--
(1) when the mind wavers and vacillates between various opinions, that is not a steadfast faith, but an empty shadow of it. It is the will of God, therefore that our assent to the cause of religion be without hesitation. A faith suspended between conflicting opinions is reproved (1 Kings 18:11).
(2) That faith also which together with the gospel admits the traditions and inventions of men is not steadfast but hollow. (Bp. Davenant.)
Phases of human nature
I. A power that is common to man as man. “Though I be absent … spirit.” Here is a power of going forth from the body--visiting distant scenes and taking an interest in them. This power we are always using. Our minds are ever away somewhere--they move with lightning rapidity across oceans, continents, and even worlds; they span the ages in a moment. We thank God for this power. Brutes have it not; it makes us indepen dent of time and space, and gives to life an eternal freshness and an infinite variety.
II. A spiritual condition peculiar to some men.
1. Spiritual order- harmony with ourselves, the universe, God.
2. Stability. Steadfastness to Christ, settled in hope, confidence. What a blessed state! how devoutly to be desired!
III. A social delight experienced by Christly men. “Joying,” etc. Though Paul’s body was in Rome, his spirit was in Colossae rejoicing in the happiness of the Christians there. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The separation of friends
I. The condition anticipated--“Though I be absent in the body.”
1. Whatever may be the number and importance of our relations to our fellows, we are unable to be personally in contact with them in every place. Mercifully we are not permitted to be ubiquitous, and are only suffered to be migratory for self-preservation. This restriction promotes the order, improvement, and happiness of society.
2. But is not it a hindrance to the discharge of our relationships to be absent from them? No, or it would not be made the rule for us by an all-wise God. Observe how it is made the law of Providence in regard to our nearest relations: “A man shall leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife.” In how many business necessitates absence in the flesh.
3. God would teach us by this law--
(1) The temporary nature of existing relations in the flesh, so that we are warned not to regard such as our highest ties. Father and mother, husband and wife, are sweet bonds; but the fact that so many circumstances cause absence, and that death will soon close such relations, ought to lead us to seek other and more enduring relations in the spirit. “Who is my mother,” said Jesus. “He that doeth the will of God,” etc.
(2) The duty of improving our relationships while yet present. Did we realize the law of absence would not a greater spirit of kindness, forbearance, and service be excited?
(3) Not to look to the arm of flesh, but to God. The tendency to make much of the human instrument because he is present is natural to man. Christ declared His absence in the flesh to be expedient for His disciples. Who can doubt that one design of Christ in the changes of spheres appointed to His ministers, e.g., is to elevate His Church’s faith and to excite them to rely on His Spirit.
(4) The cultivation of Christian love in its highest exercise. The love exercised when present has to be purified from inferior motives by absence. Absence from his country purifies the fires of a patriot’s love. So instead of loving the Colossians less, Paul loved them the more.
II. The communion maintained. Happily we are so constituted that the law which compels our fleshly separations is abundantly compensated by the liberty of the spirit. Paul was with the Colossians in spirit, praying for them wherever he might be, and meeting them around a common mercy seat. (G. B. Birch.)
Apostolic praise of order and stability
The apostle commended--
I. The external order of the church--“Beholding your order.” This is mentioned first because it first meets the eye, though all external discipline must spring from faith.
II. The apostle cherished a deep, personal interest in their welfare.
1. In spirit He was present with them.
2. While the Church pre serves its order and stability it is invulnerable.
3. It is cause of rejoicing when the Church faithfully maintains the conquests already won. (G. Barlow.)
Order and steadfastness
The apostle looked forth from Rome with that spiritual second sight to which distance is as nothing. He surveyed churches remote in space, the Colossian among the rest. In praising its condition, he uses an image derived from the order and solidity of the soldiers of the Praetorian guard, whom he saw so constantly during his captivity (Philippians 1:13; Ephesians 6:11; Philippians 4:7). “Order” properly consists in the due disposition of parts in reference to the whole; steadfastness” lit. “what is made firm;” hence sometimes the solidified body, the solid strength of an army (1Ma 9:14; 1Ma 10:50). The first is the orderly organization, without which strength evaporates; the second solid strength, without which order is a hollow parade. The Church’s proper organic form and solid definite conviction of the unalterable elements of the Christian creed are closely connected in the apostle’s mind as they have been in the history of the Church. The Colossian Church presents itself to him as an army--as to the Church’s form, in serried order; as to the Church’s creed, solid at the core. (Bp. Alexander.)
A lofty Church ideal.
I. Outwardly, an orderly disciplined army.
1. Paul was no martinet, anxious about the pedantry of the parade ground, but he knew the need of organization and drill--a place for every man and every man in his place. Order does not merely mean obedience to authority. There may be equal order under widely different forms of polity. The legionaries were drawn up in close ranks, the light armed skirmishers more loosely. In the one case the phalanx was more, and the individual less; in the other, more play was given to the single man; but the difference between them was not that of order and disorder, but that of two systems, each organized but on different principles, and for different purposes.
2. Some Churches give more weight to the principle of authority; others to that of individuality; but the former has no right to reproach the other as necessarily defective in order. Some Churches are all drill; the Churches of looser organization are in danger of making too little of organization. But both need that all their members should be more penetrated with the sense of unity, and should fill each his place in the work of the body. The proportion of idlers in all Churches is a scandal and a weakness. However officered a Church may be, no joy would fill an apostle’s heart in beholding it, if the mass of its members had no share in its activities. Every society of professed Christians should be like a man-of-war’s crew, each of whom knows the exact inch where he has to stand when the whistle sounds, and the precise thing he has to do in gun drill.
II. Inwardly, a stedfast faith.
1. Perfection of discipline is not enough. That may stiffen into routine if there be not something deeper. We want life even more than order. The soldiers who set David on the throne were “men that could keep rank, they were not of a double heart”--discipline and whole-hearted enthusiasm. Both are needed. If there be not courage and devotion, there is nothing worth disciplining. The Church that has the most complete order and not also steadfastness of faith will be like the German armies, all pipe-clay and drill, which ran like hares before the ragged levies which the French revolution flung across the border.
2. If the rendering “steadfastness” be adopted, the phrase will mean “firmness which characterizes your faith.” But some propose “foundation,” that which is made steadfast, in which case the meaning will either be “the firm foundation (for your lives) which consists of your faith,” or, “the firm foundation which your faith has.” Paul rejoices, seeing that their faith towards Christ has a basis unshaken by assaults.
3. Such a rock foundation and consequent steadfastness must faith have, if it is to be worthy of the name, and to manifest its true power. A tremulous faith may be a true faith, but the very idea of faith implies solid assurance and fixed confidence. It should not be like a card castle that the light breath of a scornful laugh will throw down, but “a tower of strength that stands foursquare to all the winds that blow.” We should seek to make it so, nor let the fluctuations of our hearts cause it to fluctuate. And that we may do so we must keep up a true and close communion with Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The faith and order of the gospel recommended.
I. The order of a gospel church. It was the constant custom of the apostles to organize their converts into Churches (Acts 15:36; Acts 15:41). The order may be considered in relation to the whole Church as a body (1 Corinthians 14:40; Titus 1:5), and to its members in their personal behaviour (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:11). Both of these will be taken in ii we consider the order of a Church of Christ.
1. With respect to its constitution.
(1) New Testament Churches consist of such Christians as meet together in a given place for religious worship and discipline. The word Church signifies
(a) the catholic invisible Church which consists of all the elect united to Christ their head (Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:25):
(b) the universal visible Church or kingdom of Christ;
(c) a Christian family all of which are professed believers joining together in the worship of God (Colossians 4:15; Romans 16:3; Romans 16:5; Romans 16:10; Romans 16:15).
(d) But the most common sense is that of particular Churches founded for the celebration of sacred ordinances. Hence we read of the Church at Corinth, at Rome, etc.
(2) These Churches consist of professing believers who, in the judgment of charity, are real saints (Colossians 1:2; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2, etc.)
(3) These professing believers are formed into a Church state, by mutual agreement, for walking together in all the ordinances of Christ according to the will of God (Matthew 18:15-20; 2 Corinthians 8:5; Acts 2:41-42; Acts 2:46; 2 Corinthians 9:13).
2. With respect to its officers. It cannot be completed without these who ate necessary for the regular adminstration.
1. Bishops or Elders (Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:28), whose office is to feed the flock (Acts 20:17; Jeremiah 3:15), to rule well and labour in word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17).
2. Deacons, who have care of the secular affairs of the Church (Acts 6:1-15.)
3. With respect to its worship. A particular Church is the seat of all ordinances, and when it is furnished with proper officers it is in due order for the celebration of them. Churches ought to join in the ordinances of general communion, whether they have a pastor or not (Acts 12:5; Matthew 18:19-20). But preaching, blessing in the name of the Lord, and the administration of the sacraments are a proper province of the pastor, with the agreement of the Church as to time and place. As ministers are not to be lords over God’s heritage (1 Peter 5:3; 2 Corinthians 1:24), so neither they nor the people are to call any man master (Matthew 23:8-10).
4. As to its discipline (Matthew 18:17; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). As any society has the right of including and excluding members, so has the Church. And as for government,Acts 15:1-41; Acts 15:1-41. shows that even when apostles were presiding the Church had a right of being consulted.
5. With respect to the purity of its manners, and the behaviour of its members towards one another and their pastor. They are saints and should be holy; they are brethren and should be kind and helpful; they are under their pastors (Hebrews 13:17) and should encourage, strengthen, and submit to them.
II. The steadfastness of their faith in Christ,
1. Christ is the object of their faith.
2. Faith is the doctrine (Galatians 1:23; Philippians 1:27; Jude 1:3) and the grace of faith. Both are probably meant here (see verses 7, 8, and verse 6).
3. Steadfastness signifies--
(1) The substantial solidity of their faith in opposition to flashy notions and corrupt mixtures (1 Corinthians 2:5, and verses 4, 7, 8.).
(2) Its strength in opposition to weakness (Romans 4:18; Romans 4:21).
(3) Its constancy m opposition to wavering (Hebrews 6:19; Ephesians 4:14-15; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 10:39).
(4) A holy resolution or courage, in opposition to shyness or cowardice in their profession of it (Colossians 1:4; Romans 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 10:23).
III. The joy that attends the beholding of these.
1. On the part of pastor, people, and other Churches.
2. Because thereby Christ is honoured, the Church edified, religion recommended, the faith confirmed, and other believers encouraged. (J. Guyse, D. D.)
The value of steadfast faith
Faith is the standard-bearer in every spiritual conflict; and if the standard-bearer fall, then it is an evil day. If faith fails, everything fails: courage fails, patience fails, hope fails, love fails, joy fails. Faith is the root-grace; and if this be not in order, then the leafage of the soul, which shows itself in the form of other graces, will soon begin to wither. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk ye in Him.
Christian activity the safeguard of the Church
This letter was written under opposite feelings--feelings that never seem absent from the apostle--the most intense faith in the gospel and the most intense fear for it. No shadow of doubt crossed his mind that it was God’s gospel, and that the whole power of God went with it; and yet he was filled with fear for it and its success in the world. This seems a strange contradiction, but it was no difficulty of St. Paul’s day, it is the difficulty of all times. We believe in the gospel, and yet we are constantly seeking to preserve it. Why? We are afraid for the gospel not because it is not Divine, but because it is. The world may be trusted to provide for its own. Its products grow naturally, as weeds grow. But the Divine gift comes from another clime, and because it will not thrive without care and culture we fear. It is because it is the ark of God we carry that we tremble as we put our hands to it. The ark will never perish, but the hands that bear it may falter, and for a time let it fall into the hands of its enemies. The Church shall never perish, but there is no promise that the living branch shall not be scathed by unbelief or godlessness. Because of the preciousness of the treasure we hold in earthen vessels, we rejoice and tremble as we receive it in trust from God. As we send out new missionaries, and as the faith of Christ passes into new recepticles, we think of how the faith shall be preserved. We know of the Divine Word which is a light to our path, and the creeds and sacraments; but our text speaks of another safeguard. If the Colossians were to be rooted and built up and preserved from the corruptions of the world, philosophy, and vain deceits, it was not to be by the possession of the Word, creeds, and sacraments, but in addition by walking in Christ as they had received Him. Activity in Christian life and work serves to defend and preserve the faith.
I. Because it is perpetually proving it. Christianity is a science, the knowledge of God; but it is an applied science, and the application of the science of the knowledge of God is walking with God. Astronomy is a science; navigation is astronomy applied to practice. Every time the sailor unfolds his map at sea, and is enabled to mark the very spot where his ship is, he has a fresh proof that astronomy is true. There is many a captain who carries his vessel into port who is quite sure that his nautical tables are true, who cannot astronomically prove them; but he has practical proofs, and the oftener he avails himself of that, the surer he is.
1. So it is with our faith. The Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, are mysterious things; but we prove them as we find this to be true, that the faith which makes us know Him makes us know ourselves, and brings us into a nearer, living, and deeper communion with Him.
2. Prayer is a mystery. Who can prove to us how and why it is answered? But who knows that prayer is answered? He who has gone down upon his knees and has risen with new light and strength. So walk in Christ, so carry and work the mysteries of faith into your life, and then you will have continued proofs of the truth of your faith.
II. Because use is a means of safety. That which we possess, however precious, we are more likely to lose if we lock it up than if we use it daily. It may be stolen long before we get to know it. But what we constantly use we miss directly it is gone. So with the Christian faith. It is those portions that we live by and in, that as we daily use them it becomes impossible to lose. But let there be any part of your creed that is not woven into daily life, and the adversary may be stealing it before you wist.
III. Because it tends to the sanctification of the soul, If the mystery of the faith is to be held in a pure conscience, then as the conscience grows purer will be the surer grasp of the mystery of faith. It is in the light of the single eye that God’s truth reveals itself. If the treasure be held in earthen vessels, then it depends upon the purity of the vessel whether its contents be preserved in sweetness. And among purifying methods activity is one of the most effective. An article in constant use often keeps itself clean. (Bishop Magee.)
The Christian life
I. The great blessing. “Ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord.”
1. Acceptance of Christ. A voluntary act.
2. Possession of Christ. Having received Him He is ours, and we share all His acts.
(1) Christ died: we die with Him (Galatians 2:20), and so are free from the penalty of sin in the eyes of the law.
(2) Christ was buried (verse 12) and we with Him, and so became dead to our former life (Romans 6:4).
(3) Christ rose, and we rise with Him into newness of life (verse 13).
(4) Christ is at the right hand of God, and we ascend with Him into the honours and safety of the heavenly life (Colossians 3:1-3).
II. The urgent duty.
1. Walk, implying--
(1) Progress, not only motion. There may be motion in the sap of a plant, but the plant is fixed; and in a ball struck by a bat, but that is forced, not voluntary; but 8 walk implies personal activity. So in the Christian walk.
(a) We must not stay at the starting-point.
(b) We must not loiter, “Forgetting the things behind.”
(c) We must not walk as in a circle, “laying again the foundation of repentance,” etc.
(2) Change of scene, in a walk our eyes are ever dwelling on something fresh. So we must ever be finding something new in Christ.
(3) Our walk is to be “in Him.” He is to be seen in us. Others are to know our Master by our life.
2. Rooted in Him.
(1) The root gives stability to the tree. Those trees are most stable whose roots take the largest and deepest hold.
(2) The life of a tree depends upon its rootedness; uproot it and you destroy it. So we die if not rooted in Christ our Life.
3. Built up in Him.
(1) Constant additions.
(2) Growing solidity.
(3) Ultimate perfection.
(4) Exhibition of the Architect’s skill, patience, and power.
4. Stablished in the faith. We must have Christ in us or we shall be overthrown. We are not to be a vane turning at every breath of wind, nor a plant taking such slight hold that some stronger blast will overthrow; but like an oak or a house on a rock, so stablished that no power can move. This is necessary in view of the various influences to which Christian life is exposed.
III. The strong motive.
1. The obligation--“As.” Having received Christ we are bound to walk in Him.
2. The appeal--“Ye.” Think of what you were and what Christ has made you. Show your gratitude by walking in Him. (J. Gill.)
Suggestive features of the Christian life
I. The Christian life begins in a personal reception of Christ. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord.” Religion is the receiving of a Divine gift. It is the growth and development of the supernatural in man. Christ is received--
1. As the Christ. The Colossian heresy aimed at subverting the true idea of the Anointed One, commissioned by the Father to effect the reconciliation of the world to Himself; it interposed a series of angelic mediators. To receive the Son of God effectually is to receive Him in all that He claimed to be, and to do, as the Divine, specially-anointed Son, who is the only mediator between man and God. It is of unspeakable importance to catch the true idea of the character and office of Christ at the beginning of the Christian life.
2. As Jesus the Lord. Our reception of Christ does not place us beyond the reach of law, but creates in us the capacity for rendering an intelligent and cheerful obedience.
3. By an act of faith. To receive Christ is to believe in Him.
II. The Christian life is governed by the law of Christ, To walk in Christ implies--
1. A recognition of Him in all things. In everything that constitutes our daily life--business, home, society, friendships, pleasures, cares, etc., we may trace the presence of Christ and recognize His rule.
2. A complete consecration to Him.
3. A continual approximation to the highest fife in Him.
III. The Christian life is supported and established by faith in fully declared truth,
IV. The Christian life has its most appropriate outflow in thanksgiving. This is the end of all human conduct. Thanksgiving should be expressed in every word and appear in every action. (G. Barlow.)
The threefold growth
I. The Christian’s downward growth. “Rooted in Him.” All of strength and fruitfulness there is in us depends on the depth with which we strike down into the life and love of God. Measuring and grasping the love of God, Paul begins downward. “Rooted and grounded.” We can only reach loftily upward, and broadly outward, as we strike deeply downward. For as the height of a tree is generally in proportion to its depth, the outreaching of its branches according to the down-striking of its roots, so a Christian cannot fail of attaining to a lofty lily, if only he can first attain to a lowly life. We can see at a glance how much depends on this being rooted in Christ.
1. Our fruitfulness. A fruitfulness that continues in spite of surrounding drought, and barrenness, and death--how shall it be maintained? I recently witnessed the effects of long continued drought. The growing corn stood parched and earless. The reason is not simply the long absence of rain in summer, but also the superabundance of rain in spring--that on this account the roots of the corn and wheat ran along on the surface without striking down into the bottom soil. The plants had such prosperous rains in spring that they made no provision for a dry time by going down into the rich depths.
2. Our strength. You have seen the oak smitten by the whirlwind, and how with its giant arms it has caught the tempest in its embrace, and hurled it back, defeated, while itself stood firm and unmoved in its rooted strength. It is pitiful to see a godless man trying to be steadfast in affliction. He has no hidden hold on God by faith and prayer; he has not been sinking his faith deeper and deeper into the heart of Christ as the years rolled on. And now, when the shock comes, he has nothing to hold him. His friends try to prop him up with prudential maxims. But props can never take the place of roots.
3. Purity. “Consider the lily how it grows.” It is in the stream, but not of it. Down deep into the rich and nourishing earth it strikes its roots, and so grows on the nutriment of the hidden soil. If you can reach down into God, and feed altogether on Him, you may present the beautiful spectacle.
II. The Christian’s upward growth. “Rooted and built up in Him.”
1. Not built up as the house is built, with materials gathered here and there, and wrought together from without. The tree builds itself from the heart, and so does the Christian. Morality seeks to overlay men with good works. Its office is to get them to take on goodness in successive layers, by contact with good men and good books. Here is organic growth as against mechanical, vital increase as against artificial.
2. The duty of habitual aspiration after the highest attainments in grace is here urged. It has been said that no man can gaze on the marble statue of the Apollo Belvidere without standing more erect, and dilating his form in unconscious imitation. If the perfect physical form produces such impression, how much more the man who is perfect in spiritual stature and in moral greatness--the man Christ Jesus?
III. The Christian’s outward growth. “Abounding therein with thanksgiving.” This is the branching out into all service, and fruitfulness, and praise.
1. The one significant fact concerning the gifts of God to us is their exceeding abundance. The grace of God which bringeth salvation “was exceeding abundant.” The mercy of God is “abundant mercy.” “The Holy Ghost is shed forth abundantly.” It is “our God who will abundantly pardon.” “An entrance be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of God.” And as though to sum up all, the apostle writes of Him who is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
2. What is the abundance bestowed for except that it may flow out in abounding blessings to others? (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
Retrospection the basis of progress
I. Christian consciousness in its apprehension of Christ. “Ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord.”
1. There are two opposing theories as to the Person of Christ--the rationalistic, which rules out His Godhead; the revealed, which is the basis of the catholic faith. The one holds to Him as the perfection of humanity, the other as the incarnation of Deity.
2. Two systems of theology widely distinct are dependent on these theories. The one puts man at the centre, and is wholly human; the other enthrones God, and is essentially Divine. Two of the widest extremes of religious life flow from these systems. The first is a religion of self-development, and depends on personal culture. In the second, regeneration is a supernatural birth superinduced by a power coming directly from God. The one has its type in education, the other in faith.
3. There is only one Christ. He is not a variable or divisible quantity. His personality is definite, His claims absolute, His work specific.
4. It is within the one or the other of these systems that we must posit our decisions. We cannot accept of both. If the one is true the other is false. We must be for Christ or against Him.
II. Christian consciousness in its reception of Christ. “Ye have received.”
1. There is agreement with some shades of difference in the terms receiving, believing, trusting, Christ. He who intelligently believes the testimony, trusts in the promise and receives the gift. “To as many as received Him,” etc. Here are two things implied.
(1) Faith receives the whole Christ. All that we see of the incarnate Word in His acts, teaching, death, etc., Christian faith accepts. And then a supernatural person necessitates a supernatural mission; and also the system being given, we should expect to find what we do find, a supernatural person its central figure. Christ and His system are co-ordinate and identical. Accept of Christ, and you must receive His truth. Receive the record, and you must accept His person. Faith thus makes all the truth a welcome guest to the Christian heart.
(2) On the side of faith Christ asks and gets the whole of man. The full integrity of the mental and moral life goes over in this act of faith to Christ. Thus there is a virtual exchange of two individual persons, a mutual transfer of relations and interests, out of which comes the sublime unity of a new and indivisible life. “I am crucified with Christ,” etc.
2. The life of faith, as embodied in the moralities of Christian living, is thus provided for, and follows this consecrating act. “Rooted and built up and stablished.”
(1) Life has its genesis in a root--faith in Christ. All life is a feeding thing. From the flower in the wall up to the brain and soul all things live by what they feed upon. In all life there is that into which life strikes its root.
(2) Growth is a result of manifold processes. It is not a mechanical product. You can fabricate material structures: growth is an organic creation. To make an atom or a world or to destroy them may require no more than the instant volition of God. To grow a grain of wheat He employs the grandest forces in the universe; and these are yoked by a thousand subtle laws kept at work by His personal will. How much more grand are the agencies with which He originates, feeds, and glorifies life in the soul of man is seen in this, that in the one service He harnesses law, and in the other He incarnates Himself. “He is our life.”
(3) In the fervid enunciation of figures the apostle appears for a moment to get into a complication of incongruous similitudes--“walking” implying action, “rooted” demanding rest; and yet there is consistency. Progress upward in the corn, e.g., comes out of fixedness of root. Unroot it, and you kill its growth. So we “grow up in all things into Christ” only as we rest in the fixedness of faith.
III. Christian consciousness in its subjection to Christ,
1. The emphasis is on the word “Lord.” What is this sovereign headship of Christ?
(1) In the Church mediatorially, “He is the head of the body”; administratively, “He is Lord of all”; virtually, and in fact, “He is our life.”
(2) Higher up in the ranges of spiritual life “in all things He has the pre-eminence.” God has highly exalted Him. All the angels of God worship Him.
(3) In the material worlds “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” They are what He makes them and where He places them. They get their use and glory as He employs them. All agencies, influences, events, ages, are tributary to Christ.
(4) So in the future of the world’s history “He must reign.” Man’s proud intellect, his enterprise, wealth, art, science, etc., are coming, and must finally come, to serve Him.
2. But there is a more close and vital relation in the faith that gives to Christ the lordship over His people. What, then, is the dominion under which we voluntarily place ourselves in our surrender to Christ?
(1) Its sphere is specific. “The kingdom of God is within you”--where the personality of the man is.
(2) Its claim is absolute. “Ye are not your own.” Christ claims to be monarch absolute over mind, body, etc., because all has been “bought with a price.”
(3) And the mind is free and unconstrained in its surrender. Man’s will is free; and yet how man may exert that freedom, on what objects, for what ends, and with what results, is to be determined by the authority of the Lord Christ. “One is your Master.” (J. Burton.)
Faith is receiving Christ
Suppose that you should go to a baker’s window, and stand there for an hour, and stare at the bread, I do not think that the sight would fill you much. No, you must eat, or else there might be tons of bread within reach, and yet you would die of famine. You might be buried in a grave of bread, and it would be of no use to you. Even manna would not nourish you unless you ate it. You must receive food into yourself, or it is not food to you. The Saviour Himself, if you do not receive Him by faith, will be no Saviour to you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
As and So
There is great safety in going back to first principles. To make sure of being in the right way, it is good to look back at the entrance. Well begun is half done. The Colossians have commenced well; let them go on as they have begun.
I. The fact stated. Sincere believers have “received” Christ. This is the old gospel word. Here is no evolution from within, but a gift from without heartily accepted by the soul. This is free grace language; “received,” not earned or purchased. Not received Christ’s words--though that is true, for we prize every precept and doctrine--but received Christ. Observe--
1. The personality of Him whom they received. “Christ Jesus the Lord,” His person, Godhead, humanity, Himself into their
(5) as their life at their new birth, for when they received Him He gave them power to become the sons of God.
2. The threefold character in which they received Him..
(1) As Christ anointed and commissioned of God;
(2) as Jesus, the Saviour to redeem and sanctify them;
(3) as the Lord to reign and rule over them with undivided sway.
3. The looking away from self in this saving act of reception. It is not said, as ye have fought for Jesus and won Him; or, studied the truth and discovered Christ Jesus; but, as ye have “received” Him. This strips us of everything like boasting, for all we do is to receive.
4. The blessed certainty of the experience of those to whom Paul wrote: “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord.” They had really received Jesus; they had found the blessing to be real: no doubt remained as to their possession of it.
II. THE COUNSEL GIVES: “So walk ye in Him.” There are four things suggested by “walk.”
III. The model which is presented to us. We are to walk in Christ Jesus the Lord “as we received Him.” And how was that? We received Him--
Thus we should continue to walk in Him, evermore in our daily life excelling in all these points. Alas, some have never received Jesus! Our closing words must be addressed to such. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Receiving Christ and walking in Him
It was quite in accordance with Paul’s logical mind that he should often place what he is teaching in a proposition: “As ye have received, so walk.” All true religion lies in that analogy.
I. The reception.
1. As what?
(1) As Christ, the anointed of God;
(2) as Jesus, your Divine Saviour;
(3) as Lord, the King of your heart.
2. How? By an act of faith. Faith was the hand that took the inestimable gift.
3. Whither? Into your hearts.
4. With what consequence? He became united to your very being, and is now your own.
II. The walk.
1. As the reception was an act of faith, so the walk must be a walk of faith.
2. As we received pardon for sin, so we must walk in liberty, free from the bondage of sin and fear.
3. As we received Christ Jesus as Lord, so we must walk in the path of His commandments. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The life and walk of faith
We shall deal with the text--
I. By way of exposition.
1. The life of faith is represented as
(1) receiving. This implies
(a) the opposite of anything like merit.
(b) A sense of realization making the matter a reality. One cannot receive a shadow or a phantom, but only something substantial. While we are without faith Christ is a name or a history merely. By the act of faith Christ becomes a real person in our consciousness.
(c) Grasping it. What I receive becomes my own, so by faith Christ becomes my Christ. Look at some of the senses in which the word is used in Scripture, such as--
(d) Taking--we take Christ into us as the empty vessel takes in water.
(e) Holding--what we take in. A seive does not receive water. The life of faith consists in holding Christ within us the hope of glory. Believing. “He came to His own, and His own received Him not.”
(f) Entertaining. Thus the barbarous people at Melita received Paul. After we have found Christ we entreat Him to come in and sup with us.
(g) Enjoying. We read of receiving the crown of life, which means enjoying heaven and being satisfied with its bliss; and so when we receive Christ we enjoy Him.
(2) Receiving Christ. Salvation may be described as the blind receiving sight, the dead life, etc.; but we have not only received these things, we have received Christ, both as Saviour and Lord, in His Divinity and humanity.
(3) This is a matter of certainty; and the apostle goes on to argue from it. It is not a supposition or a hope, or a trust, but a fact. “Ye have.”
2. The walk of faith.
(1) Walk implies
(a) action. The reception of Christ is not to be made a mere thing of thought for the chamber. We must not sit down in indolence, but carry into practical effect what we believe.
(b) Perseverance; not only being in Christ to-day, but all our life.
(c) Habit. A man’s walk is the constant tenor of his life.
(d) Continuance. It is not to be suspended. How many people think that in the morning and evening they ought to come into the company of Christ, and then they may be in the world all day.
(2) Christ is to be the element in which we are to walk. If a man has to cross a river, he fords it quickly, but just as we walk in the air are we to walk in Christ.
(a) As Christ was when we received Him the only ground of our faith, so long as we live we are to stand to the same point.
(b) We received Christ as the substance of our faith, and just as you then no more doubted the reality of Christ than your own existence, so walk ye in Him.
(c) Then Christ was the joy of your souls; let Him always be so.
(d) He was then the object of your love, and must be for ever.
II. By way of advocacy. Suppose that having been so far saved by Christ we should begin to walk in some one else, what then?
1. What a dishonour to our Lord.
2. What reason is there for the change?
(1) Has Christ proved Himself insufficient?
(2) Can philosophy and vain deceit offer you a wisdom such as His?
(3) Do ceremonies tempt you? You have all that you can require in Christ.
3. What can your heart desire beyond God? Having Christ, you have God, and having God, you have everything.
III. By way of application.
1. To those who complain of a want of communion. If it were worth your while to come to Him at first, it is worth while for you always to keep to Him.
2. To those who complain of a want of comfort. No wonder, if you do not live near the source of consolation.
3. To the inconsistent. When a man walks in Christ, he acts as Christ would act. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christly character
In this statement of fact Paul’s argument culminates. He appeals to their experience. They had received the doctrine of Christ from Epaphras, and He Himself had entered their hearts.
I. The ORIGIN of the Christly character. “Received Christ.” which means to accept Him--
1. As the supreme object of the soul’s love.
2. As the imperial guide of the soul’s activities.
3. As the only Physician of the soul’s diseases. This is the reception--not merely the reception of His doctrines into the intellect, but Himself into the heart as its moral monarch.
II. Its progress. “Walk in Him.” This implies--
1. A most vital connection with Him. “In Him.” In His ideas, spirit, aims, character.
2. A possibility of walking out of Him. Peter did so. Man’s liberty as a responsible being and the Word of God show this.
3. A real personal exertion. No one can walk for us. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ is the believer’s foundation
The lighthouse tower, that stands among the tumbling waves, seems to have nothing but them to rest on, yet there, stately and stable, it stands, beautiful in the calm, and calm in the wintry tempest, guiding the sailor on to his desired haven, past the rolling reef, through the gloom of the darkest night, and the waters of the gloomiest sea. Why is it stable? You see nothing but the waves, but beneath the waves, down below the rolling, tumbling billows, its foundation is the solid rock. And what that tower is to the house on yon sand-bank Christ’s righteousness is to mine, Christ’s works to my best ones. (T. Guthrie.)
Progress is gradual
Gradual ascent is as necessary to the mind in order to its reaching a great idea, as it is to the body in order to its reaching a great height. We cannot ascend to the pinnacle of a cathedral, which towers aloft in air, without either steps or an inclined plane. We cannot reach the summit of a mountain without first toiling up its base, then traversing its breast, and then successively crossing the limits where verdure passes into crag, and crag into a wilderness of snow. Even when we have gained the highest point, we are still, it is true, at an infinite distance from the blue vault of the firmament which stretches above our heads. Still we have a better and more exalted view of what that firmament is: we have at least risen above the fogs and mists which obscure its glory; and the air which encompasses us is transparent to the eye, and invigorating to the frame. Now, the law of man’s bodily progress is also the law of his mental progress. Both must be gradual. No grand idea can be realized except by successive steps and stages, which the mind must use as landing-places in its ascent. (Dr. Goulburn.)
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.
The spoiler and his implement
See to it, says Paul, lest there be some one--I do not say more, you can guess my meaning--to carry you off as his spoil (not take spoil from you). The expression grasps powerfully the essence of the proselytizing spirit; the proselytizing spoil is the person proselytized. He aims at doing this through that which is at once in its arrogant claims a high philosophy, and in its miserable reality an empty deceit; a philosophy, artful, moulded in accordance with an esoteric system, pervaded by five fatal deficiencies.
I. It is merely traditional, and, therefore, of precarious truth.
II. It is human, and, therefore, deficient in authority.
III. It is elementary, belonging to the “outworn creed,” to the rudiments of religion, and, therefore, unfitted for Christian manhood.
IV. It is material, not connected with the soul’s true home and centre, but with the palpable and external, and is, therefore, deficient in spirituality.
V. And being all this, assuredly, and as matter of fact, it is not after christ. (Bp. Alexander.)
The false teachers aimed at making the Colossians their prey, carrying them off body and soul. They had been rescued from the bondage of darkness; they had been transferred to the kingdom of light; they had been settled there as free citizens (Colossians 1:12-13); and now there was a danger that they should fall into a state worse than their former slavery, that they should be carried off as so much booty (Comp. 2 Timothy 3:6). (Bp. Lightfoot.)
Philosophy, taken in its simplest acceptation, is only a higher degree of good sense, which, not pretending to know all things, desires to have a thorough knowledge of those objects, the knowledge of which has been placed within our reach. It sets no value on names and appearances; prejudice is not the basis of any of its judgments; neither number nor time has the effect of transforming error into truth. It believes not, denies not, affirms not, at hazard, or on slight grounds. Not trusting to a first look, it searches for differences under resemblances, and resemblances under differences; alternately uniting what the vulgar separate, and separating what they unite. While all facts are isolated to the inattentive eye, they are connected and linked together by the eye of philosophy, which does what it can to trace the chain which unites them. In every case fixing on what is essential, and throwing aside what is merely accidental, it comes at last to recognize a common nature, a common principle, a common origin, in objects which seemed at first to have nothing in common. It thus reduces the innumerable facts of the moral and physical world to a small number of ideas, and these to a smaller number still, always gravitating towards the unity which it will never reach, but to which a mysterious power constrains it always to aspire. To say all in one word, philosophy differs from vulgar reason, in applying itself to penetrate from the exterior of things or their envelope, to their principle, or at least to the idea which explains the greatest number of possible facts, and before which it is constrained to stop as if out of breath. When shall it stop? What is its legitimate sphere? This question is of more importance than any other. Philosophy does not gain more honour by extending its search, than by recognizing its limits. It reigns in this apparent dethronement. It is its glory to know how to restrict itself, just as in the domain of morality it is the glory of the will to stop in proper time and make an effort upon itself. But in order to know what it is able and what unable to do, it takes account of its processes and instruments, compares its means with its end, and not being able to place all its greatness in knowledge finds part of it in confessing its ignorance, and so to speak, in knowing certainly that it does net know. St. Paul did not repudiate this philosophy, and could have no intention to repudiate it. He knew as well as we, that in matters of religion, and even of revealed religion, there may be either a good or a bad philosophy, but that at all events there is philosophy. We cannot condemn philosophy without condemning ourselves to silence on the subject of religion which presupposes it, and guides it, and would create it if it did not previously exist. Accordingly St. Paul has not condemned it; and when he warns his disciples against a science “falsely so called,” his words imply the existence of a science that is true. Now philosophy is a part of science, or rather is itself the science of science. Nor, moreover, could he have condemned it, without condemning himself who has made such happy and frequent use of it. It were vain to deny that the writings of St. Paul and of St. John are full of the highest philosophy. Let us be understood. We do not say full of sublime truth, but of that philosophy which we have endeavoured to characterize, which rises from appearances to reality, from accident to essence, from the particular to the general, from variable facts to immutable principles. (A. Vinet, D. D.)
St. Paul’s attitude towards philosophy
The apostle does not condemn “philosophy” absolutely: the philosophy and vain deceit of this passage corresponds to what he says in 1 Timothy 6:20. But though it is not condemned it is disparaged by the connection in which it is placed. The term was doubtless used by the false teachers to describe their system. Though essentially Greek as a name and an idea it had found its way into Jewish circles. Philo used it in speaking of the Hebrew religion and Mosaic law, and also of Essenism, which was probably the progenitor of the Colossian heresy. So, too, Josephus speaks of three Jewish sects as philosophies. It should be remembered also, that in this later age, owing to Roman influence, the term was used to describe practical not less than speculative systems, so that it would cover the ascetic life as well as the mystic theosophy of the Colossian heretics. Hence the apostle is here flinging back at these false teachers a favourite term of their own--“their vaunted philosophy, which is hollow and misleading.” The word, indeed, could claim a truly noble origin; for it is said to have arisen out of the humility of Pythagoras who called himself “a lover of wisdom.” In such a sense the term would entirely accord with the spirit and teaching of St. Paul; for it bore testimony to the insufficiency of the human intellect and the need of a revelation. But in his age it had come to be associated generally with the idea of subtle dialectics and profitless speculation; while in this particular instance it was combined with a mystic cosmogony and angelology which contributed a fresh element of danger. As contrasted with the power and fulness and certainty of revelation, all such philosophy was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:20). It is worth observing that this word, which to the Greeks denoted the highest effort of the intellect, occurs here alone in St. Paul, just as he uses “virtue,” which was their term to express the highest moral excellence, in a single passage only (Philippians 4:8). The reason is much the same in both cases. The gospel had deposed the terms as inadequate to the higher standard, whether of knowledge or of practice, which it had introduced. The attitude of the fathers towards philosophy while it was a living thing was various. Clement, who was followed in the main by the earlier Alexandines, regards Greek philosophy not only as a preliminary training for the gospel, but even as in some sense a covenant given by God to the Greeks. Others, who were the great majority, and of whom Tertullian may be taken as an extreme type, set their forces directly against it, seeing in it only the parent of all heretical teaching. St. Paul’s speech at Athens, on the only occasion when he is known to have been brought into direct personal contact with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:18), shows that his sympathies would have been at least as much with Clement’s representations as with Tertullian’s. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
Philosophy true and false
I. True philosophy is not condemned by St. Paul. We cannot under stand this concerning any branch or the whole body, lest God be called into judgment. For philosophy is the offspring of right reason; and this light of reason is infused into the mind by God. We, therefore, judge not the discipline of the Platenists, etc., to be true philosophy, but the principles of every one which agree with truth and morals. The errors of theologians do not pertain to theology, nor do those of philosophers and philosophy. These we are free to condemn, but not truth discovered by natural reason.
II. What kind of philosophy is excluded by the apostle. That which is vain and deceitful, viz., the product of reason carried beyond its bounds. Philosophy is to be listened to when it pronounces about things subject to itself, but when it would determine concerning the worship of God and salvation, etc., which are beyond the grasp of reason and depend wholly on revelation, it brings nothing solid or true. St. Paul alleges the cause of this in 1 Corinthians 2:14. As animals can judge very well concerning things which relate to sense, yet cannot judge of human affairs, neither can men pronounce by natural light respecting heavenly doctrine, although they may determine by it what is good and right in human concerns. This was the error of the false teachers who, in speculating about the method of approach to God and of redemption, went beyond the declarations which God had made on these matters.
III. The abuse and use of philosophy.
1. Its abuse.
(1) When it attempts to deduce the fundamentals of religion from its own principles. These principles may be true, but there cannot be elicited from them what is to be determined respecting the Trinity, e.g., which is to be deduced from higher principles, viz., the will of God revealed in His Word.
(2) When it opposes its own principles which are true in the order of nature to theological principles which are above the order of nature. Thus it is true that out of nothing, nothing can be made; but philosophers err when they think they can hence conclude against creation which the Scriptures teach as done not by virtue of natural causes, but by the power of God.
(3) When it obtrudes for legitimate conclusions its errors drawn sometimes by false consequences from true premises.
2. Its uses.
(1) For the clear understanding of many passages of Scripture. Although the principles of our religion are derived from God, yet there are many examples and illustrations which cannot be understood without the aid of human literature. Its references to the heavenly bodies require the knowledge of astronomy; to animals, of natural history, etc.
(2) For discriminating between and treating religious controversies; for appreciating the coherence and mutual establishment of heavenly doctrine, and for determining what is consistent and inconsistent with them. Our faith ascends above reason, but not irrationally. I believe the resurrection, because reason proves the doctrine to be delivered in the Bible. I do not believe in purgatory because reason can collect it from no part of Scripture according to the rules of sound logic. This use of reason in sacred things God approves and requires (Ephesians 5:17; Eph 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Acts 17:11).
(3) For the instruction of those who have not yet embraced Christ, and for resistance if they should oppose religion. He who has lived in darkness is not to be drawn directly into the sunlight lest he should be overpowered rather than enlightened; so they, who have been educated in paganism are first to be awakened by reasons drawn from natural light (Acts 17:24). And then it is to be employed as a rampart and weapon against opponents. Julian the apostate said “We are caught by our own wings” when he saw the philosophers routed by the Christians through the advantages of philosophy.
(4) For Christian education, since the mind is prepared and rendered more acute by philosophical studies, and our discourses on sacred things are much enriched by the good sayings of philosophers.
(5) For the delight of hearers. As Clemens says, “The truth which is sought from Scripture is as necessary to the life as bread; but that which is sought from other instruction is as sauce And sweetmeats.” (Bp. Davenant.)
Philosophy and its counterfeit
I. The counterfeit of a good thing.
1. The good thing--“philosophy.” Etymologically it means love of wisdom, but in modern use it stands for a system of knowledge. When applied to any particular department of knowledge, it stands for the collection of general laws or principles under which all the subordinate phenomena of facts relating to that subject are comprehended. It is a good thing because--
(1) Christ’s spirit is good. Christ’s spirit is a love of truth, a desire to find out the first principles or reason of things; a desire to penetrate all phenomena and to enter in and study that invisible region where all the hidden forces of the universe are at work.
(2) Its process is good--observation, comparison, generalization. Such a process is soul-quickening, invigorating, and ennobling.
(3) Its results are good. All the arts that bless and adorn the civilized world are but ideas reached by philosophy.
2. The counterfeit. There is a false philosophy, a miserable imitation of the true.
(1) It is deceptive, “vain deceit.” It is mere fiction, guesses, castles in the air. Its light, such as it is, is a mere ignis fatuus rising out of the muddy marshes of a vain imagination.
(2) It is ill founded “after the tradition,” etc. It has its origin in mere human guesses, and the rough undigested elements of a mere worldly knowledge. It is built on crudities.
(3) It is anti-Christian--“not after Christ.” Not after the subject, style, and spirit of His teaching.
II. The counterfeit of a good thing is dangerous. What thousands in all ages have been made a prey of by counterfeit philosophy! They have been plundered and borne away into confusion and ruin by wrong ideas of God, the universe, and man and his nature, obligations, and destiny. “Beware” of it.
1. It has many forms. It appears--
(1) In natural sciences.
(2) In ontological theories.
(3) In theological creeds.
(4) In ethical enactments.
2. It has fascinating aspects. It often comes in the stateliness of the scholar, in the force of the reasoner, in the grandeur of the rhetorician, in the sublimity of the poet.
3. It works insidiously. It instils its errors quietly; and silently as the laws of nature they often work out their own ends. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The marks of a false philosophy
It is known--
I. By its profitless speculations.
II. By its purely human origin. “After the tradition of men.”
1. The human mind is limited.
2. All human knowledge is imperfect. “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
III. By its undue exaltation of elementary principles. “After the rudiments of the world.” A true philosophy, while starting necessarily with elementary principles, conducts to increasing knowledge and spiritual exaltation and liberty. A false philosophy fetters the mind by exaggerating the importance of first principles and insisting on their eternal obligation.
IV. By its Christlessness. “And not after Christ.”
V. By its destructive influence. “Spoil you”--not strip off, but carry away as spoil (Genesis 14:12-16). Man is never so grievously despoiled as when his soul is robbed by error. “The thief cometh not,” etc. (John 10:10).
VI. Against a false philosophy the Church must be faithfully warned.
1. Because it is seductive in its pretensions.
2. Because it is baneful in its effect. (G. Barlow.)
The bane and the antidote
I. The poison. “Take heed” implies a real, not an hypothetical danger. Paul is not crying “wolf.” “Any one,” i.e., somebody; as if he had said, “I name no names--it is not the persons, but the principles I fight against--but you know whom I mean.” “Maketh spoil of you.” He sees the converts taken prisoners, and led away with a cord round their necks, like the strings of captives on the Assyrian monuments. He had spoken in chap. 1:13 of the conqueror who had translated them; now he fears lest a robber horde, making a raid upon the peaceful colonists in their happy new homes, may sweep them again into bondage. The cord whose fatal noose will be tightened round them if they do not take care is “philosophy and vain deceit.” If Paul had been writing in English he would have put philosophy in inverted commas, to show that he was quoting the heretical teachers’ own name for their system. For true love of wisdom neither Paul nor Paul’s Master have anything but praise. The thing spoken of here has no resemblance, except in name, to what the Greeks in their better days called philosophy, and nothing warrants the representation that Christianity is antagonistic to it.
1. “Empty deceit” describes this system. It is like a bladder full of wind. Its lofty pretension is that it is a love of wisdom, but if we look at it closely it is a fraud.
2. It is “after the traditions of men.”
(1) It is significant that the expression is a word of Christ’s (Mark 7:8). The portentous and smothering under growth of such traditions is preserved in the Talmud, where for thousands of pages we get nothing but Rabbi So-and-so said this, but Rabbi So-and-so said that, until we feel stifled, and long for one Divine word to still all the babble. The oriental element in the heresy, on the other hand, prided itself on a hidden teaching too sacred to be entrusted to books, and was passed hem lip to lip in some close conclave. The fact that all this had no higher source than man’s imaginings, seems to Paul the condemnation of the whole system. His theory is that in Christ every man has the full truth. What an absurd descent then to “turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven” to human voices and thoughts.
(2) These special forms of tradition trouble no man now. But the tendency to give heed to human teachers, and to suffer them to come between us and Christ is deep in us all. There is at one extreme the man who believes in no revelation, but pays his teacher a deference as absolute as that which he regards superstition when rendered to Christ. At the other are the Christians who will not let Christ and the Scripture speak unless the Church be present at the interview, like a jailer, with a bunch of man-made creeds jingling at its belt.
3. It is “after the rudiments of the world.”
(1) Rudiments means the letters of the alphabet, and hence “elements, first principles,” the A, B, C, of a science. They boasted of mysterious doctrines for the initiated, of which the plain truths Paul preached were but “milk for babes.” Paul retorts that the true mystery is the Word he preached, and that the poverty-stricken elements were in that swelling inanity which called itself wisdom and was not. He brands it as rudiments of “the world,” which is worse, as belonging to the outward and material, and not to the higher region of the spiritual, where Christian thought ought to dwell. Its use in Galatians 4:3, points to a similar meaning here. He regards it as a retrogression to childish things, and as a pitiable descent to a lower sphere.
(2) The forms which were urged on the Colossians are long since antiquated, but the tendency to turn Christianity into ceremonial is running with a powerful current to-day. But enlisting the senses as allies of the spirit in worship is risky work. The theory that such aids make a ladder, by which the soul may ascend to God, is perilously apt to be confuted by experience, which finds that the soul is quite as likely to go down the ladder as up. Stained windows are lovely, and white windows are “barnlike”; but perhaps if the object is to get light these solemn purples and glowing yellows are rather in the way. A lesson for the day is Paul’s principle here, that a Christianity making much of ceremonies is a retrogression.
4. Paul sums up his indictment in one damning clause--“not after Christ.” He is neither its origin, substance, rule, nor standard.
II. The antidote (verses 9-10).
1. These words may be a reason for the warning, “take heed for;” or they may be a reason for the exclusion of Christless teaching. Anything not after Christ is ipso facto wrong. “In Him” is placed with emphasis at the beginning, and implies “nowhere else.” “Dwelleth,” i.e., has its permanent abode. “All the fulness of the Godhead,” i.e., the whole unbounded attributes of Deity. “Bodily” points to the incarnation, and is an advance on Colossians 1:19. So we are pointed to the glorified humanity of Christ as the abode now and for ever of all the fulness of the Divine nature which is thereby brought very near to us. This truth shivers all the dreams about angel-mediators, and brands as folly every attempt to learn God anywhere but in Him.
2. If He be the sole temple of Deity why go anywhere else to see or possess God? “In Him ye are full,” which sets forth their living incorporation in Christ, and consequent participation in His fulness. Every one may enter into that union by continuous faith. All the fulness of God is in Him, that from Him it may pass to us. According to our need it will vary itself, being to each what the moment most requires--wisdom, or strength, or beauty, or patience.
3. The process of receiving all the Divine fulness is a continuous one. We can but be approximating to the possession of the infinite treasure, and since the treasure is infinite, and we can indefnitely grow in capacity of receiving God, there must be an eternal continuance of the filling, and an eternal increase of the measure of what fills us. The indwelling Christ will “enlarge the place of His habitation,” as the walls stretch and the roof soars. He will fill the greater house with the light of His presence and the fragrance of His name.
4. From such thoughts Paul would have us draw the conclusion--how foolish it must be to go to any other source for the supply of our needs. Christ is “the Head of all princi pality,” etc. Why then go to the ministers when we have access to the King? Why leave the fountain of living water for the broken cisterns? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The gospel to be preached in its purity
Astronomers tell us that the light of the sun is pure white light, but when it comes in contact with the atmosphere of our earth it becomes discoloured, simply because the medium through which it passes is impure. So it is with the light of heaven when it passes through the traditions of men. (S. H. Leary, D. C. L.)
The pure milk of God’s Word
is not to be adulterated with the chalk of human opinions. (S. H. Leary, D. C. L.)
The gospel to be preached simply
Of the works of a famous alchymist of the thirteenth century, it is said that, “whoever would read his book to find out the secret would employ all his labour in vain.” All the gold makers who have written upon their favourite mystery are in the like predicament, no one can comprehend what the secret is which they pretend to divulge. May we not shrewdly guess that if they had any secret to tell they would put it in intelligible language, and that their pompous and involved sentences are only a screen for their utter ignorance of the matter? When we hear preachers talking of Divine things in a style savouring more of metaphysical subtlety than of gospel plainness; when the seeking sinner cannot find out the way of salvation because of their philosophical jargon, may we not with justice suspect that the preacher does not know the gospel, and conceals his culpable ignorance behind the veil of rhetorical magniloquence? Surely if the man understood a matter so important to all his hearers as the way of salvation, he would feel constrained to tell it out in words which all might comprehend. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
I. The house, or place of residence--“in Him.” In the man Christ Jesus, or in that human nature in which He carried on the business of our salvation; as despicable and abject as it was in the eyes of men, yet it was the temple and seat of the Godhead.
II. The inhabitant--“the fulness of the Godhead;” not a portion of God only, or His gifts and graces (as we are made partakers of the Divine nature, 1 Peter 1:4.), but the whole Godhead.
III. The manner--“bodily.’’ The word may relate--
1. To the shadows and figures of the law, and so it signifieth essentially, substantially. God dwelt in the tabernacle, temple, or ark of the covenant, συμβολικῶϚ, because of the figures of His presence. In Christ, σωματικῶϚ, as His human nature was the true tabernacle or temple in which He resideth. Christ calls His human nature a temple (John 2:19), or else--
2. With respect to the intimacy and closeness of the union. So σωματικῶϚ, may be rendered personally; for body is often put for a person. The two natures were so united in Him, that He is one Christ. (T. Manton, D. D.)
The fulness of Christ
Ships have been wrecked by mistaking one light for another. Men in life’s voyage often make the same terrible blunder. Signals of danger, however, are set up by God to save us from so tragic an end. False teachers were proclaiming fantastic doctrines, but of such death-luring lights the apostle bids the Colossians beware. We need the same warning. Error confronts us in magazines, newspapers, and pulpits. Paul would have us know that all doctrine is false which does not radiate from Christ. Note--
I. Man’s condition is a necessitous one.
1. He has Divinely implanted longings for whose satisfaction he has to go out of himself. He has
(1) Social cravings. He was not designed for loneliness but for companionship.
(2) Mental cravings, which sometimes show themselves in the form of curiosity; but the more cultured a man becomes, his mental longings assume a higher form. The journeys taken, libraries collected, the efforts made to ransack past and present witness to these.
(3) Moral and spiritual cravings. What efforts he has made to know God and be at peace with Him.
2. These longings distinguish man from the animal creation, and witness to the grandeur of His soul.
3. Their existence implies that there is somewhere that by which they may be satisfied.
II. Man’s necessitous condition is completely met by the Divine fulness. This fulness is--
1. The plenitude of the Godhead. Who can describe this? It is a fathomless ocean and a limitless sky. All we can say is that it is a fulness out of which all our need may be supplied. But we may know of boundless wealth, and yet remain destitute because not able or permitted to approach it. Is this so here? No. As the beams flow from the sun’s fulness within the reach and for the use of every tree and hedgerow, so the Divine fulness has come down to us all,
2. In the person of Christ, not typically but really.
(1) He meets our social cravings. He has become one with us in sharing our common life, with its sorrows and joys. No one need now be lonely, since here is One who has everything for which we yearn.
(2) He meets our mental cravings. He is the Truth, the Light of the world, the Wisdom of God.
(3) He meets our moral cravings in His revelation of the Father, and in His atonement for sin. Why, then, go to philosophy or sacraments which can only disappoint.
3. Present and unchanging. The Colossian heretics held a temporary fulness; Paul affirms the Divine fulness “dwells” in Him now and for ever. Earthly things filter away with pitiless haste, but He is “the same to-day,” etc. Then while we should avoid going elsewhere we should flee to Him at once. His willingness is equal to His ability to distribute. (E. H. Palmer.)
The fulness of God dwelling in Christ
I. The import of the text.
1. All the fulness of the Godhead. The original signifies that by which a thing is filled, completed, or made perfect. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof,” i.e., all it contains. So the text means all the natural and moral attributes, everything which renders the Divine nature complete. It cannot mean anything less, for if one perfection were taken away there would be something wanting to, and therefore destructive of the fulness of the Godhead.
2. All this fulness dwells in Christ. The word is not that used in John 1:14, to dwell in a tabernacle--a temporary residence, but one which signifies to live in a house, a permanent habitation. So then all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ abidingly.
3. Bodily means real and substantial as against shadowy and figurative. The Mosaic law was a shadow, Christ was the body.
II. This import corresponds with other scriptures.
1. We are taught in many places that the Father and the Spirit dwelt in Christ. Our Lord often declared that the Father dwelt in Him, and added “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” He is also represented as having the Spirit without measure. Now the whole Godhead is included in Father, Son, and Spirit. Wherever these dwell there is the Divine fulness. They dwell in Christ.
2. Christ is represented as possessing all the perfections of Deity--omnipotence in creation and Providence; omniscience in His knowledge of the Father, and of the heart of man; omnipresence in being with His disciples alway. In fact, He is all in all, and therefore has the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
III. Inferences. If all the fulness of the Godhead is in Christ, then--
1. In Him alone can God be found. Men have forsaken God; but they must find Him again or be lost for ever. It is His will that men should seek after Him if haply they may find Him. Now if we wish to find any one we must go to His residence. So since the whole Godhead resides in Jesus as in a permanent habitation, we must repair to Him to find God. “I am the Way, the Truth,” etc. “No man knoweth the Father but the Son,” etc. Men may seek Him in the works of creation, in providence, in His Word; but they will never find Him till they come to Christ, for even the Scriptures can only make us wise unto salvation through Him. But if we come to Him, God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness will give us the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
2. No man can obtain a portion of that fulness except by applying to Christ. Did all the light of the universe dwell in the sun; none could obtain light except from the sun. Were all the water that exists collected into one reservoir none could obtain water but by applying to that reservoir. Now, unless we obtain some of this fulness, we must pine in eternal want. The mercy which pardons sin, the light which illumines the mind, the grace which purifies the heart, the strength which resists and overcomes, the consolation which supports, bright hope and everlasting joy flow from this, and no man can partake of them without partaking of it. Infinitely better to be destitute of everything else than to want this. For it the Saviour invites us to apply to Him.
3. The necessity and worth of faith in Him. Look first at Him and see in Him an inexhaustible fulness of blessing; look next at mankind wanting everything and therefore wretched. Now what is wanted is a channel of communication through which this fulness may flow, so as to be filled with it. Such a channel is faith. Hence John says of believers, and of those only, “Of His fulness we have received.” (E. Payson, D. D.)
Ye are complete in Him.
The false teachers at Colossae were Jews, but not Judaizers. They were philosophers. They designed to substitute philosophy for Christianity, not by denying the latter, but by explaining it. They distinguished between faith and knowledge. Faith was for the people, knowledge for the educated few. The objects of faith were the historical and doctrinal statements of the Bible. The objects of knowledge were the speculative truths underlying those statements, and into which they were to be sublimated. Paul’s object is to prove
I. That philosophy was an utter failure. He pronounces it--
1. Vain, i.e., void
(1) of truth;
(2) of reality;
(3) of worth and power.
2. Deceit. It disappointed expectation, and betrayed those who trusted to its guidance. This was no slight matter, and so he warned his readers lest any man in this way should make a prey of them to their utter destruction.
II. That all the objects which philosophy vainly attempted were effectually accomplished in Christ.
1. What does Paul mean by philosophy? Some say heathen as opposed to Christian philosophy; others that particular system that prevailed at Colossae--the Gnostic. Every one would say false and not true, yours and not mine. There must be some way of deciding this question. The apostle decides for us.
(1) By what he says of the system he opposes. By philosophy he means systems of that nature. This system undertook to determine a priori and from the principles of reason.
(a) The nature of God, or of absolute Being.
(b) His relation to the world, or what the world was in relation to Him.
(c) What the origin, nature, and destiny of man.
(d) What Christ is, and how he effects the restoration of man.
(2) By the arguments he uses against it. He includes in philosophy every system against which those arguments legitimately bear.
(a) He argues that these are matters about which, from the nature of the case, we can know nothing. They are matters of revelation (1 Corinthians 2:9-11; John 1:18).
(b) He shows that God in the Scriptures has declared the wisdom of this world to be folly (1 Corinthians 1:20).
(c) Experience has proved that the world by wisdom knows not God.
(d) God has determined to save man not by philosophy, but by the gospel.
2. Paul does not depreciate reason. The senses have their sphere; so has reason. But there is a supernatural or spiritual sphere into which reason cannot enter. We might as well judge of a syllogism by the tongue. This conclusion is sustained by consciousness. What do you know? There lies the grave! Where does it lead to?
3. We see, therefore, that Paul by philosophy does not mean--
(1) Exclusively the Oriental philosophy; for what he says here he says to the Corinthians.
(2) Not natural, mental, or moral philosophy.
(3) But any attempt to solve the great problems above mentioned a priori.
III. All that philosophy vainly pretends to do is done in Christ.
1. As to knowledge. That is necessary, even of these supreme problems. In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and He is the only source of knowledge. The knowledge He gives is sure, satisfying, sanctifying.
(1) It is objective--pardon, reconciliation. This is accomplished by Christ’s atoning work.
(2) It is subjective--delivery from inward sin and restoration of Divine life. This Christ does because in Him dwells the fulness of the Godhead, etc. We are filled with God in Him.
3. Restoration to our former status, to the kingdom of light: it is exaltation. This is done by being made partakers of the glory of Christ.
4. All this depends on our union with Him, which is--
(3) Voluntary, by faith.
1. We must not trust to our own reason or to that of others for instruction in these great points.
2. We have sure knowledge in the gospel, and to reject it is certain perdition. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Ye are complete in Him
1. Christ is the one infallible Teacher of the Church. Elsewhere you tread on the deceptive sand or treacherous marsh which by an appearance of solidity lures you to proceed and then sinks under your weight. His teaching alone places you on the rock. Ancient mariners sailed by the light of the stars, but when clouds intervened they were beset with dangers. Taking the words of Jesus you shall cross the sea of life with safety, but if you allow human philosophy, tradition, priesthoods, etc., to intervene, your course must be perilous.
2. He is the Head of the Church, and alone has a right to command in spiritual things. We honour the Fathers, love the names of saints and reformers, but we must not make them lords. “One is your Master.”
(1) The constitution of His Person qualifies Him for this spiritual throne. Divine knowledge, wisdom, power, dwell in Him, united to tenderest human sympathies.
(2) Moreover He purchased us with His own blood, and His people are made willing subjects by the power of His Spirit.
3. The spiritual increase of the Church is derived from Him. Religious progress is a growing up into Him in all things. Christ is our life. Reject Him, and you are cast forth as a severed branch and burned; but united to Him a Divine virtue shall pass into your soul, and you shall be made “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
4. These things being so, the teaching that has a tendency to draw us away from Christ is to be rejected. The apostle warns the Colossians against errors which would have this effect. The things he names are still in the world under different forms, and his advice is as needful as ever. They were in danger from--
1. St. Paul does not speak against love of knowledge, for this is as natural as the desire for food. Nor did he suppose that the gospel had anything to fear from it. False religions may thrive in ignorance as bats in the dark, but: pure Christianity, like the eagle, delights to look the sun in the face. Be philosophers if you will, explore the wonders of nature, and the gospel will no more suffer than the finding of new planets will extinguish the sun.
2. But the Colossian philosophy was the vain and bewildering theories of men. Speculations concerning God are of little value, for He is found not by our searching, but by his revealing, and that in Him in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead. Extinguish this light and hold in your hand the torch of philosophy, and what do you make of the black expanse before you--the many gods of the heathen, the no-God of the atheist, the blind necessity of the fatalist, or nothing but matter with the materialist, or nothing bat God with the pantheist?
3. Three things are certain.
(1) Man must have a religion.
(2) He cannot discover a satisfying one by himself.
(3) He should receive thankfully that provided by Christ, who is our life and in whom we are complete.
II. The traditions of men.
1. By tradition we mean doctrine, precept, custom not named in the Word of God. Jewish traditions, embodied in the Talmud, were mingled at Colossae with mental philosophy and the truths of the gospel. This Paul regarded as injurious to spiritual life.
2. The belief in tradition is not extinct. The Greek and Roman Churches receive it as a rule of faith co-ordinate with the Bible. And other Churches, more pure and enlightened, are not entirely free.
(1) There are traditional systems of spiritual truth. Men of other days melted the Divine doctrines and cast them in human moulds. The gospel bears the same relation to these forms as a painting to its frame. We may change the frame, but must not efface a single feature of the picture.
(2) There is a traditional mode of speech with which you must clothe the truth or be suspected of heresy.
3. Tradition is at best an uncertain guide. It may be a pillar of fire, or an ignis fatuus. But we have the words of Jesus, the glorious and everlasting gospel; and our faith should rest in that, and not in fairy tales of Jewish, Roman, or Protestant tradition. “Ye are complete in Him.”
III. The sacred sites and seasons of a former dispensation (verse 16). Many are still Jewish in their feelings.
1. To many the Lord’s day is still the Jewish Sabbath. Yet its very name shews it to be a different day, and can we fear for its sancitity while we regard it as commemorative of the resurrection. Moreover, it is necessary for rest and devotion. Keep it, then, as given, not by Moses, but by Christ.
2. Baptism as set forth in the New Testament is beautiful and instructive. It acknowledges our sinfulness, symbolizes the purification of the Spirit, and puts a seal on the baptized that he belongs to Christ. But when it is regarded as regenerative, and as creating a relation which it only recognizes, the sign is mistaken for the thing signified, and a simple ordinance converted into a fruitful error.
3. The Lord’s Supper, in its simplicity, is an impressive representation of Christ’s sufferings, a vivid expression of His love, an historical evidence for the gospel. Men have built monuments to keep their names in human memory, but time has blotted them out. Therefore our Saviour ordained for His memorials productions of nature that will last as long as the world. Penetrate their meaning, and you will understand what Christ is to you. But when the idea of spiritual magic is introduced, instead of being helpful to piety, it becomes a stumbling-block and an offence.
IV. The worship of angels (verse 18). This old error still lives. The honour paid by Rome to angels exceeds that paid to Christ. It was an error to think that we in England had done with her for ever. She is very busy in this land, and wherever her teaching is received angels are worshipped. We should avoid her and repudiate her claims. Begone, spirit of error; that we may behold God in Jesus Christ. We are “complete in Him.” (T. Jones, D. D.)
Complete in Christ
“Complete” is carried on from verse 9. “The fulness of the Godhead,” “and ye are full (same word) in Him.”
I. Fulness in Christ. If you had heard Christ speak you would have said nothing can be taken away or added to those words without diminishing their force or beauty. If you had seen Christ act you would have felt that His action came up to the fulness of which that action was capable. His heart was nothing but love; and His work, although confined to a few years, fulfilled the infinite counsel of the Trinity. The Father looked down and saw no flaw and was satisfied.
II. This fulness was to be the one treasure-house of the Church for ever (John 1:16; Ephesians 4:7). And every believer being separately endowed, the whole Church is made His body, “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” So we are filled, complete; and the Church is the complement of Jesus.
III. The process by which the completeness is effected is union with Christ.
1. The union is a simple, positive fact once for all. The Holy Spirit enters a man’s mind and unites his thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., with those of Christ, and that Spirit in both is union.
2. If there be union the completeness will follow, just as a vessel must fill itself from the fountain with which it is connected.
IV. We naturally yearn and strive for completeness, but fail everywhere.
1. No man ever yet came up to the point of which he knew his powers were capable.
2. None of those sources of gratification with which God has furnished us ever gave entire satisfaction.
3. There is not a man who has not his weak points; but above all men the Christian feels his incompleteness. The better he prays the more he feels his prayer deficient. The higher his attainments the farther off he seems from what he wants. And no Christian friend, no Church, no ordinance, no grace, is all he once expected they would be.
4. Life is one vast incompleteness.
V. We are complete in Him.
1. From His cross our Lord said “It is finished.” From the time of creation down to that hour those words could not have been spoken about any human undertaking. But He said it, and mark the consequence. You have to do with a salvation which is perfectly complete. If you think you are to do anything you detract from the completeness of Christ.
2. We have a twofold completeness.
(1) That which we draw from Christ. The whole disposal of God’s gifts is delegated to Christ. In Him all things are treasured up for our sakes. Hence He will supply
(a) our temporal needs. The Christian, therefore, must not be anxious about them.
(b) Strength and wisdom for every work we have to do. The Christian, then, must not despair about his weakness and ignorance.
(c) Grace for Christian growth and comfort. The Christian must not despond when deprived of outward means and help.
(2) That in which we stand in Christ. God sees all who believe in Christ, and accepts Christ for them. Hence everything we do in faith loses itself in some corresponding thing that Christ has done. Our prayer, e.g., mingles with Christ’s intercession. What is wanting He supplies, what is redundant He deducts. His perfume gives it sweetness, and so it goes to the throne, how different from when it left us, “complete.” He is “made unto us wisdom and righteousness,” etc. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Complete in Christ
1. Every valuable mechanism represents a principle peculiar to itself. It may have many important adjuncts, but there must be one principle which imparts its force to all the rest.
2. In the same manner men are of large or small account as they recognize their individuality. Each stone is hewed for its special place, and to fail to appreciate our purpose is to degrade our manhood and to insult the prescience of the Divine Architect.
3. The claim of Christianity to be is that it, in like manner, embodies one distinctive fact. Ethically considered it has much in common with other systems; but its central feature or force is, as its name indicates, the Christ element. The degree in which Christ is present in the heart marks the purity of the Christianity.
4. The declaration, “Ye are complete in Him,” goes much further than the recognition of Christ as an historic character as we associate Mahomet with Islam, etc. It is Christ interpenetrating Christianity at every point. The Scriptures assert for Christ comprehensive, all-filling character and capacities. “I am the Way,” etc. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead,” etc. Observe--
I. This completeness in Christ in contrast with all others.
I. No life is or can be in itself alone. We sustain a multitude of important relations, family, civil, He., but it would not be possible to apply the language of the text to them. Of no relation, even the most valuable, can it be said, “This is essential.” It seems to be the destiny of man to grow out of existing states, and use them only as the oar employs the water that it dips as a leverage for progress. And we may thank God that in a world where death spares nothing that there is no person or condition wherein our completeness lies. The king, hero, father dies; the nation, community, family mourns as if nature had stopped in its courses; but to-morrow the world moves on unchanged save that one grave more has furrowed its surface. That any of us is essential to the place he occupies is but a fiction of his own weakness or a flattering adulation of his admirers. Only in God all things consist.
2. The reason of this, and as marking the essential difference between our relations to any other and to Christ, is that the former are in a sense conventional. We found them, we have become habituated to them, nevertheless they are not essential. Of one only can this be said. That we are complete in Christ renders necessary the preceding declaration which shows that what God can do for us Christ can do.
II. That we are complete in Christ necessarily implies that apart from Him we have no moral standing place.
1. I care not to argue the question of degrees. Incompleteness where perfection is demanded, where the judgment is by an infinitely holy standard, is as condemnatory and destructive of our moral basis as any degree of sin. Some years ago a large object glass was prepared for a telescope. With all the care employed, a single defective spot was found upon the otherwise perfect lens. It was not broken, there was no flaw, but it was condemned. Its purpose was to be a clear undeviating eye turned towards the heavens accurately to determine localities, etc. That single imperfection was its entire condemnation. This is the idea of human depravity. The defect in the web of the cloth renders the whole piece unmarketable. Slight incompleteness is still incompleteness, and when the judgment is upon righteousness the ground is taken from our feet.
2. It would be curious to investigate by what process so many cooly conclude to risk the great ordeal upon their personal moral standing, which even their fellow-men pronounce defective. A principle that may well command this easy-going complacency to halt is that the nature of sincere virtue is ever discontent with attainments. As eminence with the pencil or chisel leads to the detection of manifold deficiencies and desire for a higher ideal, so the advance towards holiness, instead of satisfying, always reveals a disheartening lack, and as invariably leads to a search for some other mode of satisfying the requirement of conscience.
3. May it not be that this failure to perceive our own incompleteness, and the necessity of a better justifying righteousness, is rather to be ascribed to moral blindness than accepted as an evidence of superior virtue? For if once our incompleteness out of Christ be admitted, then the neglect to obey the gospel is reduced to a childish trifling with our eternal interest.
4. Yet how can one more fully commend the completeness there is in Christ than to point to that spotless life consummated by the sacrificial death of the cross? For all the way through--where the suffering by innocence must either mean injustice on the part of God, or justice receiving satisfaction for us--there is not a step or act which is not eloquent with the perfection of that sacrifice. You are asked to trust a Saviour of whom it is asked, “Who is he that condemneth,” etc. Here is your completeness. It pleads no weak abandonment by God of His holiness. Redemption in Christ is the crown of that holiness as it is the expression of God’s love.
III. This completeness gathers in the circle of its embrace every conscious want. It keeps as well as saves. Christ’s intercessory prayer is not a supplication such as we offer, but a claim and recapitulation of what had been secured by His expiation. And in virtue of that Christ will bring with Him His saints, and stand at heaven’s gates claiming for them admission by His victory over the grave. Christ’s completeness must be one which does not exhaust itself on a past forgiveness. It must not only cleanse, but keep me clean.
2. The independence of God of every human condition, for the success of Christ’s kingdom, and the completeness for all its requirements, is found in Christ. Men have come and gone; some have seemed so important that hope almost expired in their departure, as Melancthon felt when Luther died. Yet how local are all such influences. God uses men, and so do we; but even with us how inconsiderable is a man. How quickly is the gap filled. God’s Church is not complete in man, but in Christ. (E. P. Terhune, D. D.)
Christians complete in Christ
I. What is meant by Christians being complete?
1. The word means “full, wanting nothing”; and as applied to Christians, it means that they have everything necessary for life and godliness, happiness and immortality.
2. The things needed in order to being complete.
(1) Wisdom and knowledge--meeting natural ignorance of, and conflicting theories about, God and the way of salvation.
(2) Pardon and righteousness. As sinners men cannot stand before God in judgment. They are unclean in His sight, and without forgiveness and acceptance they must perish.
(3) Holiness and purity. The heart is naturally evil, and by habit and indulgence acquires strength for evil. Unless this is cleansed there can be no meetness for heaven.
(4) Consolation and peace. Forgiveness is not enough, there must be a consciousness of it, so that the sense of shame, the deepest of our discomforts, may be banished, and the sense of reconciliation with God take its place.
(5) Support and strength in view of trials, labours, enemies.
(6) Deliverance from the power of death and the grave.
II. How Christians become complete. “In Christ.” Because being God and man all fulness dwells in Him, and out of this fulness all our need is supplied.
1. “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” By His Word He instructs, by His providence He guides, and by His Spirit He opens the mind to instruct both.
2. “He is the propitiation for our sins,” and has thus brought in an everlasting righteousness, by means of which believers are accepted.
3. His grace creates the heart anew, subdues sin, and developes in holiness.
4. He brings peace to the troubled conscience and consolation to the broken heart.
5. He is the strength, defence, and support of His people.
6. He hath abolished death. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
Believers complete in Christ
I. On earth.
1. In their union to Christ.
2. In their justification.
3. In Christ’s fulness.
4. In their title to heaven.
II. In heaven.
1. As regards their persons--the union of body and soul with the perfection of nature and grace.
2. As regards their mental faculties--in receptivity and memory.
3. As regards the graces of the Spirit- faith lost to sight, hope in fruition, love in God.
4. As regards their fellowship- undivided, uninterrupted, with our predecessors, contemporaries, followers, God.
5. As regards their happiness--perfect enjoyment, perfect service. (A. Fletcher, D. D.)
We are to look to Christ alone.
I. For the freeing of our spirit from all evil. But how shall this great purification and perfecting be attained? The appeal is to Omnipotent Grace. And God’s response is made known in Jesus Christ: “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell” of pardoning and cleansing grace. In Him “who is the head of all principality and power” are we to look for the sin-expelling force--the force to correct, to purify our deepest life.
1. And we must not call in any foreign aid; we are “complete in Him.” These Colossians were tempted by Gentile philosophy on one side, and Jewish ecclesiasticism on the other, but the apostle reminds them that everything they wanted was in Christ, and they were to confine themselves severely to His fellowship.
2. And Christ can save us completely, “Whiter than snow.” Let us remember that Christ aims at our “completeness,” and let us not rest short of that ideal. It is a present blessing.
II. For the perfecting of our nature in all its powers. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.” In Christ we behold the fulness of “the Godhead bodily,” and also the fulness of humanity.
1. We need not travel beyond Christ--He is the ideal and the perfecter of the race. All colours are in the sun, and all the infinite differentiations of colour found on the landscapes of nature, in the vapours of the firmament, in the play of the sea--all are in the light. And in Jesus we have the full-orbed humanity, all the graces by which man can be adorned. When we study the character of ordinary men it is like entering an ordinary garden, in which are a few fair flowers with an unfortunate admixture of weeds; when we study the moral character of extraordinary men it is like entering the grounds of some great rose-grower or orchid connoisseur--many delightful things greeting our eyes. But on beholding Christ, it is like being set down in Kew Gardens, where the vegetation of the whole earth blooms. In these days certain critics are very anxious to send us to the sacred writings of China, India, Arabia, Persia. Very valuable indeed are those writings from certain points of view, but they have nothing to add to the ideal of humanity given in Christ.
2. In Christ we are to attain the perfection of our nature. We have not only completeness in Him, but we arc to become complete in Him. Men talk about the narrowness of Christianity, its commandments and prohibitions; they want a system of religion, wider, freer. Now, the tree on the heath or in the street may rebel against the iron bars which girdle it. Says the grumbling sapling, “I don’t like this iron cage; I want liberty, I want room.” Room l it has plenty of room at the top. It has room for its branches to stir with every wind of heaven, to catch all the dew of the morning, all the light of the sun, all the wealth of the shower; room for the singing birds, room to leaf, to blossom, to fruit. Room! The iron bars protect you from beneath, but a whole sky is waiting for you up above. So, whilst the New Testament rings us round with protective prohibitions, Jesus Christ stands over us like a sky, pouring down upon us richest influence, and drawing forth all the powers of our nature to their fullest perfection. There is room for our whole personality, our bodily instincts, mental faculties, imagination, wit, judgment, logic, speculation; for our social instincts, all the sensibilities of kinship, friendship, patriotism; for our ethical sense, for our heart with all its wealth of affection. Christianity is not wide enough for a theatre at one end and a prize ring at the other, but wide enough for whatever is true and pure in knowledge, science, art, pleasure, patriotism, business, love. We are not straitened in Christ; let us not be straitened in ourselves, but so live in the faith of the Lord Jesus that all the riches of our nature may be realized, that we may “come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
III. For the strengthening of our life in all righteousness.
1. In Christ we attain completeness alike in spiritual and in practical virtue. Holiness is that side of goodness which looks towards God; morality is that side which looks towards society. And in both Christ perfects us--filling us with reverence, admiration, love toward God, and strengthening us to fulfil all practical virtue.
2. In Christ we attain completeness in universal virtue. If we have the Spirit of Christ, it will display itself in every possible virtue--that Spirit being the essence of universal virtue. Just as in the doctrine of the convertibility of force, we are taught that heat may become light, and light electricity, and electricity magnetism, and magnetism chemical affinity, and chemical affinity be changed into motion--one force with many manifestations--so the Spirit of Christ displays itself, now as meekness, now as courage, now as temperance, now as purity, just as circumstances require, but yet is all the time the one same Divine force. It makes of one a good master, another a good servant; one a good prince, another a good subject; one a good husband, another a good wife; one a good parent, another a good child. The Spirit of Christ fits men for every rank, adorns them with every grace. Ye “are complete in Him.” Conclusion: We must feel condemned for our incompleteness; and yet from time to time how near we come to a life altogether full, rich, glorious 1 One of our magazines had a striking paragraph, entitled, “I have touched the gold,” and it went on to relate how a diver uttered these words on coming up from a sunken gold ship, and the writer proceeded to show how in religion we often touch the gold and yet never quite realize it. Oh! how often have we touched the gold--the strength that more than overcomes, the perfect peace, the faith which asks and receives, the love that many waters cannot quench, the purity that keeps itself pure, the joy that is unspeakable, the hope full of glory--we touch the gold, we always know when we touch gold it is such a pleasant feeling, and yet fail to possess it. Let us trust in Christ- with all our heart; let us do it now, so shall every man be presented perfect in Him. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The completing of the soul
If we are only to be complete in Christ, then we must be incomplete without Him. It follows then that a soul after being made is still to be completed. It may be a germ to be developed, or a blasted germ to be restored. Here then is the true work of Christ’s salvation, the completing of the soul.
I. What do we mean by the completing of the soul?
1. We constantly assume the necessity of a great afterwork to be done on the soul of our child to make it the complete man or woman we desire it to be. What we call education is only our attempt to bring it to completeness. The result is a being in higher quantity and finer quality, and of enlarged capacity for action and enjoyment.
2. But it is not to be assumed that we are right in all our conceptions of what takes place in the training of minds.
(1) They will not be complete if only fully educated intellectually. Sometimes they will be hampered by scholarly attainments, drugged by great authorities, and incapacitated by the overload they have taken. Perhaps one hour with God would have done more in the widening of consciousness and the kindling of divinist fires than whole years of school drill.
(2) Sometimes we think our child is only going to be complete when educated away from certain ranges of employment. If he can only be a blacksmith, or a school teacher even, we think that we have not made enough of him. Were he a qualified commander, physician, lawyer, etc., we should think him more nearly up to the measure of his possibilities. But God does not grade our completeness by any such law. He may have rated Bezaleel the brazier far above Aaron the priest. Whoever came nearer to being mated with Shakespeare than the tinker Bunyan? A great soul can be fashioned anywhere if only God is with him. God nowhere allows that souls are kept back from completeness by their employments.
3. No mere schooling, to whatever grade of life or social estimation it may lead, is any but the faintest approximation to the completion of the soul.
II. How does it appear to need any such completion? If this were a question relating to Adam in his innocence, we should say that he was a full-grown, beautiful child, but yet a child; that his perceptions are all to be gotten, his will trained, habits formed, etc. Until then he is so incomplete that he will not stand fast in good, but plunge into wrong. Our first man, commonly thought so grandly perfect, is put on probation only that he may get his nature so matured in good that he will come out able to stand. Our question after this relates to him under the conditions of moral disaster into which he has fallen.
1. The soul scarcely at all answers its true end. There is a feeling everywhere that souls are going wide of the mark. A watch is complete when it keeps time, not when it quarrels with the notations of suns and dials and almanacks. A vintage process is complete when it makes wine, not when it makes vinegar. Souls in like manner are complete when they make the good they were made for.
2. Their enjoyment is not full, but confessedly a great way short of it. Their instincts are unfulfilled, their wants unsupplied, their objects not found. They are tormented with a general unrest. It would not be so if they were complete. They would be exactly full of enjoyment, just as by their inborn necessity they crave to be. No bee misses the shape of its cells, no bird the direction of its flight, no plant the colour and kind of its flower. No more will a soul its enjoyment unless incomplete, sweltering in some torment of inbred disorder.
3. Souls do not fulfil the standards of beauty, truth, and right. These are standards we all admit, just as all flowers and fruits have standard colours and figures of their kind. An apple is not complete when it comes out a gourd; nor a rose when it comes forth blue. When a soul, then, misses its kind, and puts forth itself in deformity, falsity, and wrong, it is a witness to its incompleteness.
4. Take a more surface view, and let the question settle itself under mere first impressions. How then is it that there is so much meanness, passion, want of self-government in individuals; and so many quarrels, acts of injustice, and bloodshed in society? Who can imagine mere creatures complete in their order? Suppose all the grains in a bushel of wheat were to act on themselves and towards one another thus! And the reason why they do not do so is because they are complete creatures, resting in their own perfect mould, and in harmony with each other--they that are at the top lying just as heavily, and those at the bottom supporting the weight just as bravely as they must. Souls completed in their order would do the same, just as all God’s finished worlds and societies in glory do, without one rasping of a bad thought, or pang of mutual accusation.
5. We have a way of saying concerning a man that he is rained or blasted by his vices: in which we refer mentally to the incomplete state of the flower which we say is blasted when it does not come to fruit. And the figure is rightly chosen. Such men are incomplete.
6. It is a very curious distinction of souls that, being finite, they have yet infinite wants and aspirations; their very longing is to be completed in the outspreading of some infinite possession. What a falling short, therefore, is it when they fall short of God.
III. How in Christ they can be made complete. Here we discover three great agencies provided for the purpose.
(1) Separated from God man is nothing. Existing in mere self-hood he cannot push himself out in any way so as to be complete as from himself. A sponge might as well complete itself in dry air; it must let in and possess the sea. Just so a soul must have God’s properties flowing in and through--liberty and life in His life, power in His power; it must be true in His truth, righteous in His righteousness.
(2) Now, it is in this inspiration force that Christ arranges for in His gift of the Spirit. He enters the soul to fill out every lack, configuring it inwardly to all that is most perfect in Himself, turning its very liberty towards all it wants and needs to receive.
2. We have ideals in Christ, who lives God in human figure and relation, so that we have in Him all that requires to be completed in us. Christ is the mirror that glasses God’s image before us, and the Spirit is the plastic force within that transfers and photographs that image, so that “beholding as in an image,” etc. (2 Corinthians 4:6).
3. To make the provision perfect, we are set in a various scheme of relations that we may have a training in duties and qualities, and be perfected by means of them. And we have as our remarkable advantage Christ the Divine man with us in these relations, so that trying to do the exact Christly thing in them all we are to get benefit in so many forms and degrees, and be brought when all is done and suffered to a completeness in the will of God. In this wondrous mill every blemish is to be removed, till at last there will be no spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
IV. The gospel of Christ is the only power able to bring men thus forward.
1. We try education, getting much from it, but never anything which approaches a standard of completeness.
2. What we call self-improvement is a poor desultory affair, polishing one thing, while another goes rough by neglect, and all issuing in a great self-consciousness painful to behold, and in itself how dry.
3. We try self-government under the standards of morality, but the most we obtain is to pile up what we think good acts on one another, as a man piles his day’s wages, but then they will be as dry and with as little continuity.
4. There is another way greatly praised--philosophy. But its ideals are for ever out-running its possible attainments, and the fine philosophic consciousness will be only a kind of equilibrium under dryness and felt limitation. And the wars of the mind are perhaps kenneled by it but not composed.
5. There is nothing, in short, but religion that can be looked to for the completing of the soul; because as nothing else does--
(1) It takes hold of the soul s eternity and its sin, to raise up, harmonize, purify, and settle it in a rest of everlasting equilibrium in God.
(2) It takes hold of all possible conditions, completing as truly the menial as the employer, the unlettered as the scholar.
(3) It completes one degree of capacity as certainly as another, preparing the feeblest to fill out his measure as roundly and blissfully as the highest. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Every need of man supplied in Christ
I. The errors Paul desires to counteract. These were the current “philosophy” of the day. There were many forms of thought which preceded Christianity. For hundreds of years men had been indulging in speculation, groping after light, and weaving systems; and the Colossian philosophy seems to have been an amalgamation of the four principal.
1. The philosophy of Plato, with its mystic doctrine of everything having an archetypal model.
2. Jewish fables and endless genealogies picked up by the exiles in Babylon.
3. Ceremonialism and the observing of days, etc.
4. Gnosticism, the affectation of superior knowledge.
II. The doctrine with which he would counteract these errors. “Ye are complete in Him.”
1. Note who and what Christ is. The glory of Christ is set over against these speculations.
(1) He possesses the loftiest ideal--“All the fulness of the Godhead,” not one of His emanations, and that fulness “bodily,” brought within the comprehension of man.
2. He has done a great work (Colossians 1:20). It is not matter that is sinful, but man, and from this Christ redeems him.
(3) He sustains a glorious relation to the universe (Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19). He is not one of an illustrious order, but Creator and Head of all.
4. He maintains a close union to the man who accepts Him (Colossians 1:27).
2. If Christ is all this to a man, then that man is complete in Him.
(1) If a man be striving after the knowledge of God, he is complete in Christ. This has been the problem of philosophy from Thales till now. What is the first principle? Water, air, fire, mind, love, have each in turn been the answer. And now a “philosophy” is confessing the problem insoluble, calling God by a name more hopeless than that on the Athenian altar--the Unknowable. But who that knows Christ can ever be thus in the dark (John 14:9).
(2) If a man would approach God he is complete in Christ. Afar from God man cannot rest, but sin keeps him away. But through Christ we have access (John 14:6; Hebrews 10:19) and close fellowship.
(3) If a man is anxious about his standing before God he is complete in Christ. Through Him we may have a better and firmer one than Adam’s. In Christ a man stands accepted and welcomed with nought wanting to the fulness of his redemption.
(4) If a man wants to lead a holy life he is complete in Christ. This was the aim of the Gnostics; not holiness indeed, but freedom from the impurities of matter. Hence they tried asceticism. But sin is not to be purged by scourging the body. Christ however can kill it by the power of a new life which His Spirit implants.
(5) If a man is longing for light on the great questions of destiny he is complete in Christ, who has brought life and immortality to light.
(6) Do we ask for a bond of brotherhood in the human race? We are complete in Christ in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, etc.
(7) Do we ask for a redemption that shall perfect body, as well as soul and spirit? We are complete in Him who is “the Saviour of the body” and “the resurrection and the life.”
III. The suitability of this doctrine for counteracting modern errors. The true method of meeting false doctrine is to show that all our nature craves is to be found in Christ. But since Christ is enough in Himself He must be accepted as being so, and not as the mere complement of some other system.
1. Are you in peril of Rationalism? Learn what Jesus is, and you will find reason and conscience to say, “Here is one at whose feet we can sit to be their enlightener and lord.”
2. Are you attracted by Positivism? Here in Christ is all that is attractive in its assertions, and nought of its dismal negations. They worship they know not what in worshipping “Humanity.” But no one who has ever caught a glimpse of Christ can ever barter a living Saviour for that. One in the race and yet over it. Over it, that He might redeem, educate, and glorify it; and yet who can give to each member eternal life.
3. Do the claims of a so-called priesthood attract you? If you knew what Christ is you would let no one have the impertinence to come between you and Him. We need a mediator between God and man; but none between us and Jesus. Con clusion: This doctrine is grand enough for the philosopher, yet simple enough for us all. We are complete in Christ for living or dying; for time or eternity. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Manton says “He that is in a journey to heaven must be provided for all weathers: for though it be sunshine when ha first sets forth, a storm will overtake him before he cometh to his journey’s end.” Have faith in Christ and you are ready for anything, thankful for everything, afraid of nothing. “Ye are complete in him.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Which is the head of all principality and power.
I. In themselves. For their excellency of nature, as they are here called principalities, so elsewhere they are called “stars of the morning,” “sons of God,” yea, “Gods.”
II. In relation to Christ so they are implied to be of the body, and Christ to be their Head. Now we may not marvel at it, that Christ should be the head of angels, for there be divers distinct benefits, which angels from thence do receive, which by natural creation they had not.
1. They are vouchsafed a place in the mystical body under Christ, that they might be received, as it were into the new order in Christ.
2. A peace is made between them and man in Christ.
3. The room of angels fallen is supplied by the elect, the society of angels being much maimed by their fall.
4. They are refreshed with singular joy for the conversion of the elect; besides the enlarging of their knowledge, that they are vouchsafed the understanding of the secrets of the gospel.
5. They receive from Christ confirming grace, and so assurance that they shall never fall: which is their chief benefit.
6. Their obedience in its own nature is imperfect, though not sinful, and therefore may need to be covered by Christ’s perfections.
III. In relation to the body of Christ.
1. They are like masters and tutors, to whom the great King of heaven sends out His children to nurse. God doth adopt children, and after commit them to be kept by those most noble citizens of heaven.
2. They execute judgment upon the enemies of the Church. They attend us at the hour of death, and carry our souls to heaven. They shall gather our bodies together at the last day.
3. For the accomplishment of all designments for our good, they stand always looking on the face of God to receive commandments.
Conclusion: Inasmuch as Christ is the head of all principalities and powers, we may comfort ourselves divers ways.
1. If Christ fill the angels, how much more can He out of His fulness fill us in the supply of all our wants.
2. Shall we not rejoice in the grace here is done to us, in that we are united into communion with angels under our Head? yea, and that such glorious creatures, are appointed to be our attendants, why should we fear when Christ and His angels will be so ready about us.
3. This may also instruct us, we need not be ashamed of Christ’s service, seeing the very angels follow Him and depend upon Him. A prince that kept great princes to be his domestic servants, were like to be much sought to for preferment of such as would follow him. Oh! how should we long after Christ who is Head over such glorious creatures as the angels are! (N. Byfield.)
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.
I. Is inward and spiritual.
II. Is complete. Manual circumcision was the cutting away of only a small part of the flesh. But the spiritual circumcision consists in putting off the whole body of our corrupt nature--the entire fleshly principle.
III. Is Divine. “By the circumcision of Christ.” It is wrought, without hands, by the inward power of the Divine Spirit of Christ.
IV. Is realized by the thorough identification of the believer with Christ in His death and resurrection.
V. Is wrought in the soul by a spiritual baptism. “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him.”
VI. Is received by faith. “Through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.” Faith is not a natural product of the human heart. It is a Divine gift, bestowed on man by a Divine operation. (G. Barlow.)
The circumcision of Christ
I. Every real Christian has experienced the true circumcision. The argument is that circumcision was unnecessary, since the Colossians had undergone the new birth which it signified.
1. It is spiritual, and plainly distinguished from that which was made with hands. The idea was not a novel one (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7; Acts 7:51; Romans 2:28-29).
2. The true character of the operation is the putting off of the body of the flesh, “the old man,” corrupt human nature, with all its carnal instincts and tendencies. Manual circumcision cut off only a small part of the flesh, the spiritual is an entire transformation of the whole man. Old habits are abandoned, evil associations forsaken, and the soul is ushered into a new life, with new thoughts, affections, etc. It is a putting on of the new man.
3. It is Divine, “the circumcision of Christ,” ordained and communicated by Him, with Him for its author and model.
II. This true circumcision is realized only in union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
1. The Saviour died for us, and when the anxious sinner trusts Christ he is regarded as having died with Him.
2. The reality of death is evinced by burial, and the death of the believer with Christ is the casting off of the body of the flesh. The old man is sepulchred.
3. The soul in regeneration arises with Christ to a new and holy life.
III. This union is realized in the baptism. It is generally assumed that the allusion here is to immersion.
1. But it is difficult to see any resemblance between this and the depositing of Christ’s body in a rock-hewn sepulchre. The reference is to the baptism of the Spirit--the Washing of regeneration (1Co 12:13, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:14). The theory of immersion is that it is the profession of a regeneration which has already taken place; but with St. Paul the burial and resurrection are coincident with the baptism. It is quite possible to die and rise with Christ without water baptism, but not without the baptism of the Spirit.
2. Why does Paul speak disparagingly of “hand-wrought” circumcision, and proclaim its needlessness, if he is to pass immediately to speak of the efficacy of “hand-wrought” baptism? To introduce that would be to introduce the very element of ceremonialism which he is denouncing.
IV. The principle through which this spiritual baptism is received--“through faith.”
1. It is surprising that so many should regard the baptism in which the disciple is said to rise with Christ as that of water. No one is raised out of water by faith, but by the arms which immersed him. The baptism of the Spirit is received by faith: an unbeliever cannot receive it.
2. “In the operation of God” does not mean that that is the origin but the object of faith. If I believe in the power that raised Christ, I believe in the power which has accepted His suretyship for me. This faith regards Christ’s resurrection as the keystone of Christianity, the centre of confidence, the only basis of hope. (J. Spence, D. D.)
The true circumcision
There are two tendencies ever at work to corrupt religion. One is of the intellect, the temptation of the cultured few, which turns religion into theological speculation; the other of the senses, that of the vulgar many, which turns religion into a theatrical spectacle. But opposite as these are they were united at Colossae. To the teaching of the necessity of circumcision--
I. The apostle opposes the position that all Christian men by virtue of their union with Christ have received the true circumcision, of which the outward rite was the shadow, and therefore now obsolete.
1. The language points to a definite past time. When they became Christians a change passed over them parabled by circumcision,
(1) It is not made with hands, i.e., it is not a rite but a reality, not transacted in the flesh but in the Spirit, not a removal of ceremonial impurity, but a cleansing of the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6).
(2) It consists in the putting off of the body of the flesh “the sins of” is an interpolation--a complete stripping off from oneself, as of clothes, in contrast with a removal of a small part of the body. It is true that Christian men, alas! realize this by slow degrees; but on the Divine side it is complete. Christ gives perfect emancipation, and if it is only partial it is because we have not taken the things that are freely given. The foe may keep up a guerilla warfare after he is substantially defeated, but his entire subjugation is certain if we keep hold of the strength of Christ.
(3) It is of Christ; not that He submitted to it, but instituted it.
2. What is the bearing of this statement on the apostle’s purpose? That circumcision is an anachronism, “as if a flower should shut, and be a bud again.”
(1) The true centre of gravity, of Christianity, then, is in moral transformation. Surely Christ who gives men a new life by union with Himself by faith has delivered man from the “yoke of bondage,” if He has done anything at all. How far away from Paul’s conception, then, are those which busy themselves with punctilios of observance! But the hatred of forms may be as completely a form as the most elaborate ritual. We need to have our eyes turned away to the far higher thing, the service of the transformed nature.
(2) The conquest of the animal nature is the certain outcome of union with Christ and that alone. Paul did not regard matter as evil, as the Colossian teachers did, nor the body as the source of all sin. But he knew that the fiercest temptations came from it, and that the foulest stains upon the conscience were splashed from the mud which it threw. It is a matter of life and death to find some means of taming the animal that is in us all. We all know of wrecked lives which have been driven on the rocks by the wild passions of the flesh; and when we come to add its weaknesses, limitations, and needs, and remember how high purposes are frustrated by its shrinking from toil, and how often mists born from its undrained swamps darken the vision of truth and God, we do not need to be Gnosties to believe that goodness requires the flesh to be subdued. But no asceticisms or resolves will do what we want. Much repression may be affected by force of will, but it is like a man holding a wolf by the jaws. The arms begin to ache and the grip to grow slack, and he feels his strength ebbing, and knows that as soon as he lets go the brute will be at his throat. Nothing tames the wild beast in us but Christ. He binds it in a silken lash, and that gentle constraint is strong because the fierceness is gone. Christianity would be easy were it a round of observances. Anybody can fast or wear a hair shirt, but the putting off of the body of the flesh is a harder thing. Emotion, theology, ceremonial, may have their value, but a religion that includes them all and leaves out the subjugation of the flesh is worthless. If we are in Christ we shall not live in the flesh.
II. Paul meets the false teaching by a reference to Christian baptism as being the Christian sign of the inward change.
1. The form of expression in the Greek implies that the circumcision and burial with Christ in baptism are contemporaneous. You have been baptized--does not that express all that circumcision meant and more?
(1) This reference is quite consistent with the subordinate importance of ritual. Some forms are necessary to a visible Church, and Christ has given us two: one symbolizing the initial spiritual act of Christian life, and the other the constantly repeated process of Christian nourishment.
(2) The form here presupposed is immersion.
(3) There are but two theories: the one is that baptism effects the change, and elevates it into more than the importance of which Paul sought to deprive circumcision, confuses the distinction between the Church and the world, lulls men into a false security, obscures the central truth of Christianity that faith makes a Christian, gives the basis for a portentous sacer-dotalism, and is shivered to pieces against the plain facts of daily life. But it is conclusively disposed of by the words, “through faith in the operation,” etc. What remains, then, but that baptism is associated with the change, because in the Divine order it is meant to be its outward symbol?
2. Note the thoroughness of the change. It is more than a circumcision; it is burial and resurrection.
(1) We partake of Christ’s death inasmuch as--
(a) we ally ourselves to it by our faith as the sacrifice for our sins;
(b) by the power of His Cross we are drawn to slay our old nature, dying to the habits, desires, etc., in which we lived.
(2) If we are thus made conformable to His death, we shall know the power of His resurrection.
(a) It will be a guarantee of our own.
(b) The seal of His perfect work on the Cross, and shall know it as a token of God’s acceptance;
(c) the type of our spiritual resurrection now. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Buried with Him.
The believer’s identification with Christ
It was with St. Paul a principle that the whole Christian life is a following of the blessed steps of one holy life, an imitation of Christ. We are in Him--
I. Conceived and born (Galatians 4:19).
II. Crucified (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:5).
III. Dead (Romans 6:3; Romans 7:4; cf. 1 Peter 4:1).
IV. Buried (Romans 6:4).
V. Risen (Romans 6:5; Colossians 3:1).
VI. Ascended and reigning (Ephesians 2:4-6).
What is done or suffered by Him historically is done in us analogously and mystically now, and will be completed historically and actually hereafter. This is the underlying principle of the order of the Christian year. (Bishop Alexander.)
And you being dead in your sins.
I. To what extent and to what persons this condition applies.
1. The terms of the text include Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were spiritually dead notwithstanding the ordinance of circumcision; the Gentiles in their uncircumcision. The great error of Judaism as the rabbis made it was to mistake religious ordinances for religion; equally fatal is the same error in its pseudo-Christian shape.
2. It is clear that this state is not predicated of heathen and profligates only; it is the normal condition in which men are born, and in which they live and die without grace. This is clear from Colossians 1:13; Matthew 21:1-46; Matthew 22:1-46; John 6:53-63; 1 John 3:14.
3. Whatever privileges of pious parentage, godly training, gospel ministrations, etc., we may have been favoured, over and above these we “must be born again.”
II. Some of the particulars involved in this condition. In death is implied--
1. Deprivation--there is something lost. We do not say that a stone is dead, it never lived. Hence the view of a stone on the highway excites no emotion or sympathy; but how different with regard to a dead bird, much more a dead man or a dead friend. Once there was spiritual life in man. He was made a living soul; now he is dead in trespasses and sins, having lost it. And yet how strange that the spectacle of this most terrible of deaths scarcely moves us.
2. Corruption. Life has its degrees: vegetable, animal, rational, but in death there are no degrees; all the dead are equally corrupt. There are differences in the sight of man, comparing man with man; there are some better characters than others, of more natural virtue, and society owes them reverence; but society was not our maker and is not our judge. This reflection should humble us. “Who maketh thee to differ from another?”
3. Helplessness. “A living dog is better than a dead lion,” who is as incapable as his own shadow. The dead soul is equally helpless; without foreign aid it must lie like the tree where it has fallen. Spiritual life must be communicated before the soul can move.
4. Resurrection. The decayed vegetable dies, but to be reproduced in another form. Every falling leaf that strews the earth in autumn with the silent evidences of the fall of man, seems to catch a whisper from the breeze, “Thou shalt rise again.” So when man dies the principle of his existence is not destroyed but withdrawn. But, alas for the soul that has lain in the death of sin before the body has reached the grave; that shall indeed rise again, but “to shame and everlasting contempt.” (J. B. Owen, M. A.)
The dead soul
The dead, as insusceptible as their kindred dust, cannot be won back to the activities of life. No voice reaches them, no spectacle arouses them, no terror seizes them. The analogies of death in souls spiritually dead are full of painful truth. They are insensible to the attractions and momentousness of Divine and eternal realities. They are not touched by that which is tender in Divine love nor awed by that which is terrible in Divine law. Alienation from God ever produces spiritual callousness. With an eye to discern sensible beauty in the marvels of creation and the triumphs of art, there is no perception of the grander beauties of holiness, no apprehension of the character and glory of the Almighty. With an ear to hear and a taste to appreciate the rich harmonies of sound, and the eloquence of human tongues, there is no ear to hear the voice of God or the whisperings of His gracious Spirit, the only true and saving Teacher of men. With a heart that can feel for the woes and miseries of our fellow-creatures, and that can cherish kindness towards them, there is no conscious love to God, and no cheerful response to His claims. The mind may be acute, the disposition amiable, the character virtuous, and yet the soul be dead, alien from God, and blind to its own greatest needs. (J. Spence, D. D.)
The transition from death to life
The physical order is a descent from life to death; the spiritual order an ascent from death to life.
I. The natural condition of humanity is one of spiritual death. Man is in a condition of--
1. Spiritual insensibility. The dead know nothing, appreciate nothing; nor does the sinner of the things of God.
2. Moral corruption. “And the uncircumcision of your flesh.” Death unbinds the forces that brace up the body in life, and leaves it a prey to the power of corruption.
(1) The Divine ordinances record an indictment against the transgressor.
(a) Handwriting. The primary reference is to the Jews, who might be said to have signed the contract when they bound themselves, by a curse, to observe all the enactments of the law (Deuteronomy 27:14-26.
(b) Ordinances, though referring primarily to the Mosaic ordinances, include all forms of positive decrees in which moral or social principles are embodied or religious duties defined. Man everywhere is under law, written or unwritten; and he is morally obligated to obey it.
(2) The Divine ordinances are hostile towards the transgressor. “Which was contrary to us.” We are often painfully reminded of our broken bond, as the debtor is often reminded of his undischarged obligation.
II. The believer is raised into a condition of spiritual life.
1. This life begins in the consciousness of liberty. “Having forgiven you all trespasses.”
2. It implies a freedom from all condemnation.
III. The transition of the soul from death to life is a Divine work.
1. God only can raise the dead.
2. He does so by a blessed union with Christ.
3. Which issues in immortal life. (G. Barlow.)
Characteristics of the new life
I. Spontaneity. Life is neither mechanical nor forced, but proceeds from the principle of vitality within. When man by grace begins to live anew, what was formerly a burden, if it received any attention at all, becomes a pleasure. Commandments which were grievous are now joyous, and the newborn energy finds its spontaneous manifestation in loving loyalty to God’s will.
II. Assimilation. Life is nourished by that which may seem foreign to its nature. The rose can draw beauty and fragrance from pestilent manure, juices of the soil, radiance of sunshine and showers from heaven. So the new life derives strength even from trial and the bread of sorrow. All things work together for its good, not excepting the entanglements of the flesh and the cares of the world.
III. Growth. All life grows, and the Christian who does not has an unhealthy life. His privilege is to be like a tree (Psalms 1:3).
IV. Aspiration. Life everywhere seeks to reach the perfection of its nature. Spiritual life comes from above and seeks to rise to the level of its source. It cannot rest satisfied with the world, but puts forth its tendrils Godwards.
V. Individuality. No two plants, blades of grass, animals, men, are exactly alike. God loves variety in grace as well as nature. So some Christians are intellectual, some emotional, some practical; yet all are one in Christ. (J. Spence, D. D.)
The great deliverance
I. The miserable condition of our nature.
1. All the children of Adam are reckoned as dead.
(1) Because Divine grace, the soul, as it were, of the soul, being withdrawn, a polluting mass of deadly vices succeeded in their room.
(2) Because they lie under the sentence of eternal death (Ephesians 2:3).
2. The causes of this death are--
(1) Actual transgressions of the Divine law--“The wages of sin is death,” “The soul that sinneth it shall die.”
(a) This is the death of grace inasmuch as sin by its impurity dissolves the gracious union of the soul to God in which our life consists (Isaiah 59:2).
(b) The death of hell (Romans 2:9).
(2) The uncircumcision of your flesh, i.e., original sin, which is derived by carnal propagation and renders the very soul, as it were, carnal (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 9:25). Every natural man is dead in this his native corruption.
(a) The understanding, which is the eye of the soul, is darkened and blinded as to spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14), and rushes into errors and deceivings (Galatians 5:20).
(b) The will is depraved, its good desires weak, its unlawful desires strong (Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:1-31.).
(c) The inferior powers of the soul are disordered, so that they refuse to obey the law of the mind (Romans 7:23). Hence the affections control, and are not controlled by reason.
(1) Since every man in a state of nature is dead, it is not in the power of free will, by its own strength, to prepare for conversion, even as a dead man cannot dispose himself for his resurrection (Lamentations 5:21).
(2) No man can dispose himself to any motion to quicken himself unless his mind be formed to the life of grace by God. For as every natural operation supposes a natural power, so every spiritual motion a spiritual power (Ezekiel 11:19).
(3) Since the cause of death is sin, the; madness of men is discovered who administer that deadly poison to the soul and are guilty of its murder.
II. The Deliverer; God in Christ, by Christ, and with Christ. God alone could impart animal life to this earth; He alone, therefore, can impart spiritual life to carnal men, which is a greater work than creation (Ephesians 2:10). Hence we may learn--
1. The eternal love of God the Father. We shudder to touch the dead bodies of our friends; but God is not only ready to touch but to embrace and restore our dead souls. This should inflame us with love to Him.
2. The infinite guilt of sin which could not be acquitted, and we justified but by the death and resurrection of Christ. This should excite our hatred and avoidance of sin.
III. The deliverance.
1. The forgiveness of our trespasses. In this it is to be noticed that it is--
(1) Gratuitous, χαρισαμενοϚ, being derived from grace itself. It is gratuitous on our part, for we are absolved without any price paid by ourselves; but on the part of Christ we are redeemed with the price of His precious blood (Romans 3:24), and indeed either a gratuitous remission or none at all must be admitted. As to ourselves, we are not able to pay, since the debt is infinite; nor can we blot out our sins by suffering, because no suffering of the guilty is deletive of sin.
(2) Universal--“All trespasses.” For it does not accord with Divine majesty and goodness to remit some of our debts and require the rest from us. Because--
(a) The blood of Christ being received as a ransom, it would be unjust not to remit all, since that outweighs all.
(b) To forgive is an act of paternal love and cannot dwell with enmity; but enmity remains with unremitted sin, and those who admit a partial remission make God at once reconciled and hostile.
(c) Unless we reckon on full remission, remission is vain; for its end is life eternal, which a partial remission cannot yield the hope of, because death is the wages of even one sin (Jeremiah 33:8; Micah 7:19; 1 John 1:9).
2. Hence we derive these corollaries--
(1) To forgive sins is the property of God alone; for who can forgive another his debt while the will of the creditor is not yet understood (Isaiah 43:25).
(2) As universal remission is granted on God’s part there ought to be a universal detestation of it on ours.
(3) Troubled consciences may be sustained, for though sin be not destroyed upon faith it is forgiven. (Bishop Davenant.)
The Holy Spirit is the quickener
The same shower blesses various lands in different degrees, according to their respective susceptibilities. It makes the grass to spring up in the mead, the grain to vegetate in the field, the shrub to grow on the plain, and the flowers to blossom in the garden; and these are garnished with every hue of loveliness--the lily and the violet, the rose and the daisy: all these worketh the same Spirit that renews the face of the earth. The influences of the Holy Spirit, descending on the moral soil, produce “blessing in variety”--convictions in the guilty, illumination in the ignorant, holiness in the defiled, strength in the feeble, and comfort in the distressed. As the Spirit of holiness, He imparts a pure taste; as the Spirit of glory, He throws a radiance over the character; as the Spirit of life, He revives religion; as the Spirit of truth, He gives transparency to the conduct; as the Spirit of prayer, He melts the soul into devotion; and, as the Spirit of grace, He imbues with benevolence, and covers the face of the earth with the works of faith and labours of love. (T. W. Jenkyn, D. D.)
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances.
I. The handwriting.
1. It is often the practice of Scripture to liken a sin to a debt: whence remitting it is equivalent to pardoning it (Matthew 6:12; cf. Luke 11:4). Indeed the Chaldees and Syrians used the words sinner and debtor interchangeably. The reason is that there is a resemblance between the two. As the one obliges the debtor to payment, the other obliges the sinner to punishment. As a debt gives the creditor power over his debtor, so sin consigns the offender to God.
2. The word “handwriting” signifies an acknowledgement signed by us that we owe a certain sum and bind ourselves to pay. It is an authentic testimony of our debt, and makes our body and goods liable. The handwriting of the text is the instrument of our condemnation, and subjects us to the justice of God.
3. This handwriting was the old law, as the word “ordinances,” the following context, and the purpose of the apostle to show that Judaism was not binding on the Colossians, prove.
4. This handwriting in itself is good and profitable, but it became “contrary” through sin.
(1) It serves to convict us, as an obligation produced in judgment stops the mouth of an unfaithful debtor.
(2) It is against our inclinations, which are lawless.
(3) It threatens punishment, which we feel to be deserved and which we cannot evade.
II. What is done with it? It is made void by the Cross.
1. It is blotted out, as it is usual with men when a debt is paid to efface the name of the creditor and the amount he owed. So God has erased the handwriting of this debt which was written in His law for our consciences.
2. The means employed is some fluid, as ink, which is drawn over the page; so our obligation is made void by the effusion of Christ’s blood.
3. Men who are exact not only efface their debtors’ writings but tear them up, that no sign of the debt may remain. So God has so effaced the handwriting against us that not even the erasures appear; it is rent by the nails of the cross.
1. This furnishes us with a clear proof of Christ’s satisfaction. If Christ’s death is merely an example the law could sustain no injury, and if these words can be applied to Him they can be applied to other martyrs; but who would dare to do that?
2. This shows us the error of the doctrine of human merit: for God can exact nothing now that Christ has paid all.
3. The enjoyment of this privilege wrought on the cross is conditional upon faith. (J. Daille.)
The handwriting blotted out
I. What is meant by handwriting?
1. Opinions are various; yet all agree in this that something is intended which by force of testimony may prove us guilty before God. Some assert it to be--
(1) The covenant of God with Adam (Genesis 2:17), for this being violated, Adam and his posterity were held guilty of death as by a bond.
(2) The stipulation of the Jews (Exodus 19:7-8), by which they bound themselves to perfect obedience, by the non-performance of which they might be justly condemned by their own hand.
(3) The remembrance of our sins in the Divine mind and in our own conscience (Isaiah 43:25), by which we are convicted, as by a bond. The Divine law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord,” etc. Conscience suggests, “I have not done so, and am, therefore, cursed.
(4) Ceremonial rites which testified to guilt, circumcision to depravity, purifications to the filthiness of sin, sacrifices to the heinousness of guilt.
2. I explain it to mean the moral law binding to perfect obedience and condemning defect, laden with rites as appendages.
II. How is it against us?
1. As to the moral law, it is holy, just, and good; nevertheless it has become deadly to us through sin (Romans 7:12-13), because--
(1) It propounds decrees contrary to human nature (Romans 7:12-13).
(2) It arraigns, convicts, and brings us in guilty of sin (Romans 3:20).
(3) It denounces against us the sentence of condemnation (Galatians 3:10).
2. As to ordinances, they were contrary, because
(1) They were almost infinite as to number, and most burdensome as to observance Hence the appeal, Galatians 5:1.
(2) By their signification and testimony. For although they seemed to promise the destruction of sin, yet there entered into them a confession rather than expiation thereof.
III. How it is made void.
1. Universally and sufficiently as it respects God; because by the blood of Christ such satisfaction is made to God that according to His own justice He is engaged to acquit those debtors who flee by faith to the Deliverer.
2. Particularly and efficaciously when it is blotted out from the conscience of those who lay hold of God by faith (Romans 5:1). There is no peace to a man who sees himself overwhelmed in debt and entangled by a bond; but when Christ’s deliverance is accepted the soul enters into peace.
3. Notice the beautiful gradation. Not content with telling us we are forgiven, Paul subjoins that the handwriting is blotted out; but lest any should think that it is not so, but that a new charge may be raised, he adds it is “taken out of the way”; and lest it should be thought to be preserved somewhere, and may yet be preferred, he says it is nailed to the Cross, rent in pieces.
Conclusion: We learn--
1. From the handwriting.
(1) Since every man through it is guilty of death, how dreadful is the condition of those who trample on the blood by which alone the handwriting can be blotted out. God will require from them the uttermost farthing.
(2) We see the insane pride of those who think they can satisfy God, yea, pay Him more than is due by works of supererogation. But what need then of blotting out the handwriting by the Cross?
2. From its contrariety.
(1) The depravity and corruption of our nature; for at its institution it was friendly and wholesome.
(2) The error of those who would restore ceremonies and rob us of our liberty in Christ.
3. From the abolition.
(1) Since it is deprived of its condemning force we infer that it still retains its directing force, and so we have not a licence to sin but a motive to obey (Luke 1:74-75).
(2) Since the comfort of a troubled conscience consists in its being blotted out, we must labour to maintain by faith not only that Christ has procured that but that it is blotted out as respects ourselves. A debtor does not consider himself safe until he has seen with his own eyes that his bond is cancelled. (Bp. Davenant.)
Our indictment cancelled by the Cross
Liberty is the way to true life for man. A slave has nothing to live for: but proclaim his freedom, and he becomes another being. So with the man whom God sets free. Quickening from God comes in forgiveness of sins.
I. The indictment against us--the law of God as expressed in the ten commandments and written in the heart (Romans 2:14).
1. Here we hate man’s moral obligation, of which men everywhere have been more or less conscious. Moral sense of the two great duties of love to God and our neighbour is everywhere diffused. The handwriting is so on every man’s soul that he knows and feels that some things ought to be done while others are forbidden as wrong. Many attempt to efface the handwriting, as well as to defy it, but that only confirms the fact that it exists in all the fulness of its claim.
2. This handwriting is “against us” because we have broken it. The law is for the lawless, and its verdict is only against the sinful. It commands our supreme love to God, and we have not loved Him, This is the debt we owe to God as our Creator and Father; we have not paid it and now cannot.
3. It is also “contrary to us.” The terms are not exactly equivalent. The one expresses silent condemnation, the other a positive hostility. A man may owe a debt he cannot pay, and this fact is an obligation against him, even though there be no positive demand for payment. But if by the process of “dunning” the debt is often brought before him, and he is unpleasantly reminded of it, then the obligation is not only against him, it is contrary to him: it disturbs his peace and fills him with dread. So the Divine law acting on the law of our mind is constantly reminding us of our obligation, and is hostile to our peace. Its spirituality is against us, for we are carnal; its purity, for we are unholy; its justice, for we have kept back God’s due. Such is the indictment, “that every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19).
II. The indictment cancelled. The verdict against sinful men is erased or wiped out. This idea often recurs in Scripture in reference to sin--“blot out all my iniquities.”
2. It is taken out of the way; not that the law and moral obligation are abolished, but the verdict is removed so that it cannot be adduced for our condemnation. Literally it is “taken out of the midst,” as if the handwriting had lain between God and His people--a barrier to their approach to Him, and to their peace with Him.
3. The means. Nailing to the cross and so destruction. Its condemning force was exhausted on Christ, so that it is powerless against all who are in Him. This is our discharge: the law has been fulfilled, and its finding against us for ever taken away. (J. Spence, D. D.)
The Cross the death of law
I. The handwriting or bond.
1. “Law” means primarily the ceremonial law which was being pressed on the Colossians. The early controversies on this matter are difficult for us to understand. It is harder to change customs than creeds, and religious observances live on, as every Maypole on a village green tells us, long after the beliefs which animated them are forgotten. So there was a party Who refused the admittance of Gentile converts to the Church except through the old doorway of circumcision. This was the point at issue between Paul and these teachers.
2. But the modern distinction between moral and ceremonial had no existence in Paul’s mind, nor in the Old Testament, where we find the highest morality and the merest ritual inter-stratified. The law was a homogeneous whole.
3. And the principles laid down are true about all law. Law, as such, is dealt with by Christianity in the same way as the God-given code.
4. Law, Paul tells us, is antagonistic. It stands opposite, frowning at us and barring our road.
(1) Is it then become our enemy because it tells us the truth? This conception is a strange contrast to the rapturous delight of Psalmists in it. Surely God’s greatest gift to man is the knowledge of His will, and law is beneficent, a light, and a guide, and even its strokes are merciful.
(2) Nevertheless the antagonism is very real. As with God, so with law--if we be against Him, He cannot but be against us. We make Him our dearest friend or our foe. The revelation of duty to which we are not inclined is ever unwelcome. Law is against us because--
(a) It comes like a taskmaster bidding us do, but neither putting the inclination into our hearts nor the power into our hands.
(b) The revelation of unfulfilled duty is the accusation of the defaulter.
(c) It comes with threatenings and foretastes of penalty. Thus, as standard, accuser, and avenger, it is against us.
(3) We all know this. Each of us has seen that apparition like the sword-bearing angel that Balaam saw, blocking our path when we wanted to “go frowardly in the way of our heart.” The law of the Lord should be “sweeter than honey,” etc., but the corruption of the best is the worst, and we can make it poison. Obeyed, it is as the chariot of fire to bear us heavenward; disobeyed, it is an iron car crushing all who set themselves against it.
II. Its destruction in the cross.
1. The Cross ends the law’s power of punishment. Paul believed that the burden and penalty of sin had been laid on Christ, and trusting ourselves to the power of that great sacrifice, the dread of punishment will fade from our hearts, and the law will have to draw the bolts of the prison and let the captive go free.
2. The Cross is the end of the law as ceremonial. The Jewish ritual had the prediction of the Great Sacrifice for its highest purpose. When the fruit has set there is no more need for petals. We have the reality and do not need the shadow.
3. The Cross is the end of the law as moral rule. Of course it is not meant that Christian men are freed from the obligations of morality, but that we are not bound to do “the things contained in the law” because they are there. Duty is duty now because we see the pattern of conduct and character in Christ. The weakness of law is that it has no power to get its commandments obeyed; but Christ puts His love in our hearts, and so we pass from the dominion of an external commandment into the liberty of an inward spirit. The long schism between duty and inclination is at an end. So a higher morality ought to characterize the partakers of the life of Christ. Law died with Christ on the cross that it might rise and reign in our inmost hearts. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Cancelled and nailed up
There is a beautiful oriental custom which illustrates the Atonement. When a debt had to be settled either by payment or forgiveness, the creditor took the cancelled bond and nailed it over the door of him who had owed it, that all passers by might see that it was paid. So there is the Cross, the door of grace, behind which a bankrupt world lies in hopeless debt to the law. See Jesus our bondman and brother, coming forth with a long list of our indebtedness in His hand. He lifts it up where God and angels and men may see it, and there as the nail goes through His hand it goes through the bond of our transgressions to cancel it for ever. Come to that Cross! Not in order that you may wash away your sins by your tears or atone for them by your good works, or efface them by your sophistries and self-deceptions. But come rather that you may read the long black list that is against you, and be pierced to your heart by sorrow that you have offended such a Being; and then that lifting up your eyes you may see God turning His eyes at that same cross at which you are looking, and saying, “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions,” etc. (New Testament Anecdotes.)
The law is against sinners
There are stronger things in the world than force. There are powers more difficult to overcome than strong or brazen gates. Suppose we found a prisoner condemned to die, and locked up in his ceil, and we were to ask ourselves how he could be saved from execution. There would appear great difficulty in getting him out of prison. That iron door, with its great bolt; that high window, with its guard of strong bars; those thick, strong walls; those heavy gates outside; that watchful jailer, how impossible it seems to overcome them all! Yet these are not the only difficulties, nor the greatest. There is another thing, stronger than all these, holding the poor prisoner to death: there is the sentence of the law. For, unless he would himself become a criminal, no man dares to help the condemned one out. Get the sentence repealed, and the other difficulties are removed. (J. Edmond, D. D.)
Having spoiled principalities and powers, or, having stripped off and put away the powers of evil.
Christ took upon Himself our human nature with all its temptations (Hebrews 4:15). The powers of evil gathered about Him. Again and again they assailed Him, but each fresh assault ended in a new defeat. In the wilderness He was tempted by Satan; but Satan retired for a time baffled and defeated (Luke 4:13). Through the voice of His chief disciple the temptation was renewed, and He was entreated to decline His appointed sufferings and death. Satan was again driven off (Matthew 16:23; comp. 8:31). Then the last hour came. This was the great crisis of all, when the power of darkness made itself felt (Luke 22:53), when the prince of this world asserted his tyrrany (John 12:31). The final act in the conflict began with the agony in Gethsemane, and ended with the cross of Calvary. The victory was complete. The enemy of man was defeated. The powers of evil, which had clung like a Nessus robe about His humanity, were torn off and cast aside for ever. And the victory of man is involved in the victory of Christ. In His death we too are divested of the poisonous clinging garments of temptation, and sin, and death. For this image of the garments see Isaiah 64:6, but especially Zechariah 3:1-10. In this prophetic passage the image is used of His type and namesake, the Jesus of the Restoration, not in His own person, but as the High Priest and representative of a guilty, but cleansed and forgiven people, with whom He is identified. The “powers” specially meant are those of Ephesians 6:12. “Displayed” as a victor displays his captives or trophies in a triumphal procession. Nowhere does the word convey the idea of making an example, but signifies to display, publish, proclaim. “Boldly,” not publicly, although the latter idea may be sometimes connected with the word as a secondary notion (John 7:4). “Leading them in triumph,” the same metaphor as in 2 Corinthians 2:14. Here, however, it is the defeated powers of evil; there the subjugated persons of men who are led in public, chained to the triumphal car of Christ. “In the Cross.” The violence of the metaphor is its justification. The paradox of the crucifixion is thus placed in its strongest light--triumph in helplessness, glory in shame. The convict’s gibbet is the victor’s car. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
To the eye of reason the Cross is the centre of sorrow, the lowest depth of shame; to the Jew a stumbling-block, and to the Greek foolishness. How different, however, to the eye of faith--a token of glory, a field of triumph, the chariot in which Christ rode when He led captivity captive.
I. Christ making a spoil of principalities and powers.
1. The contest. Satan, leagued with sin and death, had made this world the home of woe. He found our first parents in Eden; they became his slaves. Yet the voice of mercy was heard even while the fetters were being rivetted--“Ye shall be free.” The earth groaned and travailed in its bondage. In the fulness of time, the Deliverer came forth born of a woman. Then came the Temptation; eventually the Passion; at last the Cross. Hark how the Conqueror cries, “It is finished.” Where are now His enemies? All defeated.
2. The division of the spoil.
(1) He disarmed His enemies. Satan had in his hand a sharp sword called the Law. This was wrested from his hand. Death was deprived of his darts, which were broken in two, and the feather end returned that he might never destroy the ransomed. Sin, Satan’s armour bearer, was despoiled of his shield.
(2) Victors carry away all the treasures belonging to the vanquished. Satan had taken away all our possessions--Paradise with all its joy and peace--not that he could enjoy them--but Christ has gotten them all back.
(3) Victors take away all the ornaments from the enemy, the crown and jewels. Satan’s crown is taken away, his sovereignty is gone. He may tempt, but he cannot compel, threaten but not subdue.
3. What says this to us? If Christ has spoiled Satan, let us not be afraid to encounter him.
(1) If he accuse you, reply, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?”
(2) Ii he condemn you, ask, “Who is he that condemneth? “
(3) If he threaten to divide you, shout, “I am persuaded,” etc.
(4) If he let loose your sins upon you, dash the hell dogs aside with this, “If any man sin,” etc.
(5) If death should threaten you, exclaim, “Oh death, where is thy sting?” etc. Your battles shall turn to your advantage. The more numerous they are the greater the spoil. Your tribulation shall work patience, etc.
II. The triumph.
1. Most of the old commentators refer this to the resurrection and the ascension; Paul refers it to the Cross, but the Cross as the ground of the ultimate triumph when Christ shall enter on His reign over an undisputed universe.
2. Picture this triumph. The pearly gates open, angels crowd on the battlements.
(1) The vanguard of the redeemed approach the city. Abel comes in alone, and then follow the patriarchs, prophets, heroes, of four thousand years.
(2) The Prince of the House of David, with Satan, sin, and death in eternal captivity.
(3) Then the great mass of His people--fathers, reformers, etc.
(4) I might describe the mighty pictures at the end of the procession, for in the old Roman triumphs the deeds of the conqueror were depicted in paintings, the towns he had taken, the battles he had fought. I might present hell destroyed; heaven’s gates opened by the golden lever of Christ’s atonement; the grave despoiled. Conclusion: Where will you be? Among the captives or in the Conqueror’s train? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The triumph of the Cross
I. Was over the powers of evil.
1. The existence of evil is a painful fact, we meet with it everywhere.
2. Evil is embodied in invisible and potent personalities, called--
(1) Principalities, because of their excellency, knowledge, and station.
(2) Powers, because of the mighty influence they wield and the terrible havoc they work. They exist in vast numbers (1 Peter 4:2; Jude 1:6), and are the bitter foes of man (Ephesians 6:12).
II. Was achieved after severe conflict. The conflict was--
1. Continuous from the Fall to the Cross.
3. Deadly (Luke 22:53; John 12:30).
III. Was signal and complete. Lessons:
1. Christ has conquered the powers of evil.
2. To the believer ultimate victory is certain.
3. Keep up a brave heart in the fiercest conflict. (G. Barlow.)
The shock that buried Lisbon in 1755 never ceased to vibrate till it reached the wilds of Scotland and the vineyards of Madeira. It was felt among the islands of the Grecian Archipelago, and it changed the level of the solitary lakes that sleep beneath the shadows of the North Alps. Even so the shock that Satan’s kingdom sustained when Christianity was established will not cease to vibrate till it move the whole world. (Christ and other Masters.)
Believers share the triumph of Christ
“I belong to death’s Master,” was the expression of a Christian woman lately, who at length died of internal cancer. She was attended by a Roman Catholic nurse, who was very much astonished at the calm patience and peace of the poor sufferer. A lady called to see her one day. The door was opened by the nurse. “How is Mrs. Bristow to-day?” inquired the visitor. “She is very ill, sir,” was the reply. The nurse then gave the following details:--“Last night she was seized with violent pain, and I thought she was dying. I said to her, ‘Ye are dying; shall I send for a clergyman to prepare you for death?’ ‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘I want no minister, for I am ready to die at any moment.’ ‘But,’ I said, ‘are you not afraid to die?’ ‘No, indeed, not a bit,’ she replied. ‘Tell me why you are not afraid to die, when you have not been prepared by your clergyman, nor received the rites of your Church?’ I said. ‘Because,’ she replied, joyously, ‘I belong to death’s Master. I am a poor sinner saved by grace, and His blood has washed away my sin, and secured me a title to glory.’”
The triumph of Christ
I do not admire Napoleon, except in the matter of his cool courage, but for that he was noteworthy. They always represent him in the midst of the battle with folded arms. His eagle eye is on the conflict, but he is motionless as a statue. Every soldier in the imperial army felt that victory was sure, for the captain was so self-possessed. If he had been hurrying too and fro, rushing here, there, and everywhere, and making a great fuss about everything, they would have inferred that defeat was impending. But see him yonder! All is well. He knows what he is at. It is all right, for he does not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard; he is calm, for he can see that all is well. There stands the Crucified this day, upon the vantage ground, at the right hand of God, and He surveys the battle-field in calm expectancy until His enemies are made His footstool. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Let no man therefore Judge you.
I. The points in which that liberty is to be exercised.
1. Those which, in addition to circumcision, were principally in question were--
(1) Meat and drink, which refers to unclean things, things offered to idols, and perhaps the Nazarite vow. As there were few Jewish regulations as to drink, probably other ascetic practices were in question.
(2) Sacred seasons--annual festivals, the monthly feast of the new moon, and the weekly Sabbath.
2. The relation of the Gentile converts to these was really the question whether Christianity was to be more than a Jewish sect, and the main force which, under God, settled the contest was the vehemence and logic of Paul.
3. He lays down the ground on which the whole matter was to be settled. They are a “shadow,” etc. “Coming events cast their shadows before.” The great work of Christ whose “goings forth have been from everlasting,” may be thought of as having set out from the Throne as soon as time was, like the beams of some far-off star that have not yet reached a dark world. The light from the Throne is behind Him as He advances across the centuries, and the shadow is thrown far in front.
II. This involves the purely prophetic and symbolic character of the old testament order.
1. Sacrifice, altar, priest, temple, spoke of Christ.
(1) The distinctions of meats were meant to familiarize men with the conceptions of purity and impurity, and so, by stimulating conscience to work the need of a Purifier.
(2) The yearly feasts set forth various aspects of Christ’s work, and the Sabbath showed in outward form the rest into which He leads His people who cease from their own works and wear His yoke. And all are like outriders who precede a prince on his progress, and as they gallop through sleeping villages rouse them with the cry, “the king is coming.”
2. And when the king has come where are the heralds? When the reality, who wants the shadows? And if that which threw the shadow forward has arrived, how shall the shadow be visible too?
III. Therefore the cessation of all these observances is involved in their prophetic character.
1. The practical conclusion is not, “let no man observe these any more,” but “let no man judge you” about them. He does not quarrel with the rites, but with men insisting on them.
2. His own practice is the best commentary on his meaning. When they said to him, “You must circumcise Titus,” he said, “Then I will not.” When nobody tried to compel him he circumcised Timothy to avoid scandals.
3. In times of transition, wise supporters of the new will not be in a hurry to break with the old. The brown sheaths remain on the twigs alter the tender green leaf has burst from within them, but there is no need to pull them off, for they will drop presently.
4. The bearing of Paul’s principles on the religious observance of Sunday.
(1) The obligation of the Jewish Sabbath has passed away, but the institution of a weekly day of rest is put in Scripture independently and prior to the Mosaic institution. That is the natural conclusion from the narrative in Genesis, the fact that Sabbath was made for man, i.e., for the race, and the traces of a pre-Mosaic Sabbath, e.g., in Assyria. It is a physical and moral necessity, and that is a mistaken benevolence which on the plea of culture or amusement for the many, compels the labour of the few.
(2) The gradual growing up of the practice of observing “the Lord’s day” is in accordance with the whole spirit of the New Covenant, which has next to nothing to say about externals, but leaves the new life to shape itself. The necessity of a day of rest is not less now than at the first. I distrust the spirituality which professes that all life is a Sabbath, and therefore holds itself absolved from special seasons of worship; but it is better to think of the day as a great gift for the highest purposes, than to keep it as a mere commandment. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The ceremonial and the real in religion
Ceremonial in religion--
I. Can form no just basis for individual condemnation. “Let no man judge you.” The essence of religion does not consist in the outward form, but the inward spirit.
II. Is typical of the real. Rites have their place in the culture of the race, and in their proper sphere are important. They sketch the outlines of truths, and are valuable only as they conduct to the realities they predict and typify.
III. Is abolished and rendered nugatory by the real. It is a dangerous infatuation to snatch at the shadow when we may embrace the substance. Lessons:
1. Learn to exercise forbearance in externals.
2. Christ alone can satisfy the deepest craving of the soul. (G. Barlow.)
The shadow and the substance
“Therefore” marks the connection. The handwriting is destroyed, Christians are free; why then go back to the elements of bondage.
I. The admonition.
1. Eating and drinking have reference to the dietetic injunctions of Mosaism. These had a strong hold of the Jewish mind (Acts 10:9-16). The distinctions of days point collectively to the periodical feasts and sacred seasons. And the idea was that all this was essential to salvation, and so obligatory on Gentile Christians.
2. Against this notion Paul asserts the great principle of Christian liberty. Such things ought never to be a criterion of piety. Yet how strong is the tendency to-day to forbid certain kinds of food at certain seasons, and to insist on saints’ days. The doctrine here is that one kind of food is as lawful, and one day as sacred, as another. All these distinctions have passed away, and are no longer binding. That we are at liberty to observe certain days, such as those on which we commemorate the great redemptive facts, e.g., Christmas, Easter, etc., there can be no doubt, but they are not obligatory (Romans 14:6).
3. The great practical question is that which relates to the Sabbath. The seventh day was long kept along with the first; but this was condemned as Judaizing by the Council of Laodicea (a.d. 864). The apostle declares that a Christian’s true piety is not to be judged by his regard of the Jewish Sabbath any more than to the other festivals. That was a shadow of the Lord’s day. That a seventh portion of our time should be specially given to God is based on considerations as old as creation; but the foundation and character of the Lord’s day are altogether changed from those of the Jewish Sabbath. Its true principle is allegiance to a living Saviour whose resurrection on that day it commemorates, as laying the foundation of a new spiritual creation. The Saviour’s appearances on that day subsequent to His resurrection, and the usage of the apostles, hallow the first day of the week, and make it with a Divine fitness and beauty the Christian’s day of rest.
II. The argument. The coming Saviour as the Sun of Righteousness, in the establishment of the Jewish economy, flung a shadow of His approaching advent and dispensation down on the descendants of Abraham, that they might walk in it, and conserve the worship and truth of God. As a shadow it was--
1. Predicted and foretold that something grander was coming.
2. It was prefigurative. A shadow is s likeness, however faint, and the truths embodied in Christ were dimly typified in Judaism.
3. But as a shadow is evanescent, it was made to vanish away when that which was perfect had come. Then it answered its purpose and disappeared. The reality was reached in the Son of God. (J. Spence, D. D.)
Religion, freedom, and joy
Religion is not like the prophet’s roll, sweet as honey when it was in his mouth, but as bitter as gall in his belly. Religion is no sullen stoicism, no sour Pharisaism: it does not consist in a few melancholy passions, in some dejected looks or depressions of mind; but it consists in freedom, love, peace, life, and power; the more it comes to be digested: into our lives, the more sweet and lovely we shall find it to be. Those spots and wrinkles which corrupt minds think they see in the face of religion are, indeed, nowhere else but in their own deformed and misshapen apprehensions. It is no wonder, when a defiled fancy comes to be the glass, if you have an unlovely reflection. (John Smith.)
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility.
It is evident that “humility” here is degraded and discoloured by the tinge which is given it by its close connection with the words “in a voluntary.” This is a rendering in the LXX. of a Hebrew word signifying “taking a delight in, having one’s own inclination gratified in.” θέλω is used of that which a man does of his own notion, and passes over into the notion of sheer self-will and arbitrariness. Thus we learn the important lesson that virtues and graces are too delicate for the rough admeasurement of mere hard and fast moral lines. Their beauty and acceptability depart, and may even turn into their opposites. Wilful self-complacency in humility is censured by St. Paul as inconsistent with the sweet unconsciousness of true humility. It becomes the worst pride, or the most abject meanness--the pride or the meanness which apes humility. The word “will worship” in Colossians 2:23 shows that a strong sense of θέλω, as intense self-will, was present to St. Paul’s mind. There as here, self-will imparts a contamination to the virtue with which it is associated. Humility and worship themselves become pride and superstition. Hence in Luke 1:48 the word should be rendered “low estate,” not humility. One who says, “I am humble,” is not humble. Mary does not profess humility, she practices it. (Bp. Alexander.)
Speculative and practical error
I. The speculative side of the Colossian heresy. In the Authorized Version the apostle is made to bring a charge of presumption against the false teachers “intruding into the things which he hath not seen.” But this is a strange argument for one whose whole walk was by faith and not by sight, and who would hardly count it an answer to a professed revelation to say “you are intruding into that which you have not seen, and therefore you cannot know” with modern materialists. But this difficulty is removed in the Revised Version, which, on high authority, omits the “not,” and inverts the argument. Again, the Greek word “intruding into” means “dwelling in” or “taking his stand upon,” and the charge now becomes that of self-complacent self-conceit.
1. This man has “seen things,” the exact equivalent of our “a man has views,” a phrase of which obscure thinkers are very fond. The Colossian speculator may have professed to see visions and revelations of the Lord, and to bare come back from the third heaven to reveal them; or, if not this, to have seen things in the tone of an arrogant thinker, who gives his notions the style of certainties, verified with the eye of the mind, “dwelling in” them with complacent satisfaction as the whole of truth.
2. Or we may take the marginal reading, “taking his stand upon” his views; regarding them as land which he has won with his intellectual bow and spear, and from which he can go on to move or conquer the universe.
3. These new thinkers spoke much of the mind, made knowledge the bait of their enticements, endeavoured to establish an aristocracy of intellect within that Christian society which was free to all comers, and in which the wise and prudent are set side by side with babes. How striking is St. Paul’s language, “idly inflated with the mind of his flesh.” So far from being edified into the spiritual realm it was merely puffed up, and had its moving power in the repudiated sphere of matter. That Paul would so describe all so-called modern thought which sets aside Christ is certain.
II. We pass on to verse 23 to the practical side of the new heresy.
1. Here we have its treatment of matter, how its teachers sought by ceremonial prohibitions (verse 21) to counteract the deadly influence of sense in spirit, and to mortify the body as an enemy of the spiritual life. It was a plausible, and perhaps, in its origin, a well-intentioned effort. It was nobler than that which treats matter as of no moment. But the two perversions have one root. Asceticism and licence both rob the body of its dignity as the servant of the spirit.
2. St. Paul admits that the ascetic rules have a show of wisdom; they speak plausibly, and promise largely by their will worship, i.e., their religion of self-imposed observances; by their humility, i.e., their obsequiousness; and by their severity to the body, i.e., their mortifying restrictions.
3. Thus far both versions agree. But now the Authorized Version says, “not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” This leaves out a particle which demands a contrast. But without this is it in accordance with St. Paul’s teaching to blame a system for not satisfying the flesh? Indeed, the Greek word is “indulgence.” But the Revised Version has inserted the particle of antithesis, and reads, “but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.” The language is borrowed from the medical profession. What is good for it? What is a valuable remedy for such and such a disease? Indulgence of the flesh is the disease; can asceticism cure it? St. Paul says no! It sounds well, professes loudly, but has no real value.
4. Rules of abstinence, regulations as to food or drink--lawful, indeed, but from which it is an act of religion to abstain--have a show of wisdom; they point to a terrible evil and profess to cure it; they are well sounding words, “temperance” and the like; they talk of the value of humility in bending the neck to discipline. St. Paul does not deny that the conquest of the body is good, and that the means have something to say for themselves; but he declares as a man of large experience who has tried all means, and who is taught of God that all such regulations will fail.
III. The true principle of Christian thinking and living.
1. In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. They who do not hold fast the Head therefore, whatever they may think or see or dream, cannot but be puffed up and not edified.
2. In Christ with whom our life is hid in God (chap. 3:1) can alone be found the secret of the victory over the flesh which is the professed object of every system of ethics. If ye are dead what need of “touch not,” etc.? If ye are risen the chains of flesh shall fall off by the influence of the spiritual life. (Dean Vaughan.)
The angels and the Head
I. The warning.
1. “Let no man rob you of your prize.” The metaphor is that of the race or wrestling ground; the judge is Christ, the reward is the crown, not of fading bay leaves, but of sprays from the “tree of life” which dower with blessedness the brows round which they are wreathed. The tendency of the heresy is to rob them of this. No names were mentioned, but the portrait of the robber is drawn with four rapid but accurate strokes of the pencil.
(1) “Delighting in humility and the worshipping of angels”--
(a) The humility has not a genuine ring about it. Self-conscious humility in which a man takes delight is not the real thing. A man who knows that he is humble and is self-complacent about it, glancing out of the corners of his downcast eyes at any mirror where he can see himself, is not humble at all. “The devil’s darling vice is the pride that apes humility.”
(b) So very humble were these people that they would not venture to pray to God. The utmost they could do was to lay hold of the lowest link of a long chain of angel mediators in hope that the vibration might run upwards through all the links, and perhaps reach the throne at last. Such fantastic abasement which would not take God at His word, nor draw near to Him through Christ, was the very height of pride.
(2) “Dwelling in the things he hath seen,” i.e., by visions, etc. The charge against the false teachers was of “walking in a vain show “of unreal imaginations.
(3) “Vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” The self-conscious humility was only skin deep, and covered the utmost intellectual arrogance. The false teacher was like a blown bladder, dropsical from conceit of “intellectual ability” which was after all only the instrument of the flesh, the sinful self. Of course, such could have no grip of Christ, from whom such tempers were sure to detach.
(4) Therefore, the damning indictment closes with “not holding the head.”
2. The special forms of these errors are gone; but the tendencies which underlay them are as rampant as ever.
(1) The worship of angels is dead, but we are often tempted to think that we are too sinful to claim our portion of the promises. The spurious humility is by no means out of date, which knows better than God whether He can forgive, and grasps at others as well as Christ, the one Mediator.
(2) We do not see visions and dream dreams, except that here and there some one is led astray by “spiritualism,” but plenty of us attach more importance to our speculations than to the clear revelation of God in Christ. The “unseen world” has for many an unwholesome attraction. The Gnostic spirit is still among us which despises the foundation truths of the gospel as milk for babes, and values its baseless artificial speculations about subordinate matters which are unrevealed because they are subordinate, and fascinating to some minds because unrevealed, far above the truths which are clear because they are vital, and inspired because clear.
(3) And a swollen self-conceit is, of all things, the most certain to keep a man away from Christ. We must feel our utter helplessness and need before we shall lay hold of Him; and whatever slackens our hold of Christ tends to deprive us of the final prize. “Hold fast that thou hast; let no man take thy crown.”
II. The source and manner of all true growth is set forth in order to enforce the warning and to emphasize the need of holding the head.
1. Christ is not merely represented as supreme and sovereign, but as the source of spiritual life.
2. That life which flows through the head is diffused through the whole body by the various and harmonious action of all the parts. The body is “supplied and knit together,” i.e., the functions of nutrition and compaction into a whole are performed by the “joints and bands,” in which last word are included muscles, nerves, tendons. Their action is the condition of growth, but the Head is the source of all. Churches have been bound together by other bonds, such as creeds, polity, nationality; but an external bond is only like a rope round a bundle of faggots.
3. The blessed results of supply and unity are effected through the action of the various parts. If each organ is in healthy action the body grows. There is diversity in offices; the same life is light in the eyes, beauty in the cheek, strength in the hand, thought in the brain. The effect of Christianity is to heighten individuality, and to give to each man his own proper “gift from God.” The perfect light is the blending of all colours.
4. A community where each member thus holds firmly by the Head will increase with the increase of God. There is an increase not of God. These heretical teachers were swollen with dropsical self-conceit. The individual may increase in apparent knowledge, in volubility, in visions and speculations, in so-called Christian work; the Church may increase in members, wealth, influence, etc., and it may not be sound growth, but proud flesh that needs the knife. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The seductive peril of a false philosophy
A false philosophy--
I. Threatens to rob the reliever of his reward. Many erroneous opinions may be held without invalidating salvation; but any error that depreciates our estimate of Christ, and interrupts the advance of our Christian life, is a robbery.
II. Advocates the most presumptuous and perilous speculations.
1. It affects a spurious humility. God is unknowable to the limited powers of man, so it reasons. But this humility was voluntary, self-induced, and was in reality another form of spiritual pride.
2. It invents a dangerous system of angelolatry.
3. It pretends to a knowledge of the mysterious. Locke says a work in the drawer of a cabinet might as well pretend to guess at the construction of the universe, as man venture to speculate about the unseen world.
III. Ignores the Divine source of all spiritual increase.
1. Christ is the great Head of the Church--the centre of its unity, the source of its life, authority, and influence.
2. The Church is vitally and essentially united to Christ.
3. The vital union of the Church with Christ is the condition of spiritual increase. Lessons: A false philosophy--
1. Distorts the grandest truths.
2. Substitutes for truth the most perilous speculations.
3. Against its teachings be ever on your guard. (G. Barlow.)
I. The apostle brands the seducers and concludes that no regard is to be paid to them.
1. Because in sacred things they arrogated to themselves, by no right whatever, a power of determining as the judges were accustomed in contests. These voluntary umpires decreed the reward of eternal life to none who were unwilling to subscribe to their doctrines. Therefore, as St. Paul struck at this usurpation, we must understand that no such power is granted to man that he should determine anything in religion of his own will; but is bound to judge according to Scripture (Isaiah 8:20). Hence estimate Romish tyranny which claims this very power.
2. They abused their power to deceive Christians. A director of the games, if he should order any one to run outside the course, would deprive him of his prize; because he would never that way arrive at the goal. So they who direct Christians to seek salvation apart from Christ, endeavour to beguile them of their reward (Hebrews 3:14). This condemnation rests on all who would lead us from the simplicity of Christ.
II. He shows in what instance they abused their usurped authority. The foolish lowliness of mind which would seek the mediation of angels rather than that of Christ, is rebuked because Christ is more united to us than the angels (Romans 5:2; Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:12).
1. Because from this and similar places there arises between us and the Papists a great controversy about the worship of angels and deceased saints who are equal to the angels (Luke 20:36); let us see with whom the truth lies.
(1) Religious worship, whether it be called latria or dulia, is given to God alone, and not to angels or saints. “Religion,” says Cicero, “is that which is comprised in the pious worship of the gods,” and Hilary says that “religion paid to the creature is accursed.” With this Scripture agrees (Deuteronomy 6:13; Galatians 4:8; Revelation 19:10). The foundation of religious worship is infinite excellence apprehended under the consideration of our first cause and chief good; it is not a sufficient reason therefore, for offering to them, that angels and saints are endowed with supernatural gifts, or procure for us many good things, unless they are the first and chief cause to us of our chief good.
(2) The Papists ascribe to angels and even to saints supreme religious worship no less than these seducers here censured.
(a) Prayer is an act of latria or highest worship; for where we pray we acknowledge that its object can hear, deliver, and answer (Psalms 50:15). But this is offered to saints.
(b) To make a vow to another is an act of latria, due to God alone (Isaiah 19:21; Psalms 50:14). But vows are made to angels and saints.
(c) To erect a house of prayer, to raise altars and offer incense upon them to any one is to pay Divine honour to him (Exodus 30:37; Matthew 21:13). But this is done wholesale by Rome to the angels and saints.
2. Paul rejects this doctrine, because
(1) it proceeded from those who are accustomed rashly to invent and speak about matters unknown to them (1 Timothy 1:7). For they cannot trace angel or saint worship to the Word of God, or learn it from the example of prophets or apostles. Hence we may infer--
(a) That their bold curiosity is not to be endured who intrude themselves into the determining of things, the investigation of which surpasses human wit (Romans 12:3).
(b) Concerning religious matters nothing should be determined without a sure foundation, i.e., the Word of God, for whatever things we see relating to our salvation we find here. He who obtrudes anything not found there, hath not seen it but imagined it.
(c) They, therefore, exercise tyranny over the Church who anathematize all who reject commandments of men for articles of faith.
(2) The authors of this doctrine are puffed up with pride, and thence presume that their inventions are the dictates of truth. The fleshly mind denotes the animal man, or perspicacity, unenlightened by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). (Bp. Davenant.)
One of the saddest incidents connected with the disastrous fire at Chicago is that so many trusted not only their goods, but their lives, to buildings that were regarded as fireproof, and that they perished together. Dr. Goodall records similar incidents connected with the great fire at Constantinople in 1831, and makes a suggestive reflection: “We, like many others, fared the worse for living in houses which were considered fire-proof. In the great burning day may no such false confidence prove our ruin.” (Christian Age.)
Humility before God
Thomas a Becket wore coarse sackcloth made of goats’ hair from the arms to the knees, but his outer garments were remarkable for splendour and extreme costliness, to the end that, thus deceiving human eyes, he might please the sight of God. (Hoveden.)
How self-will may be lost
A person who had long practised many austerities, without finding any comfort or change of heart, was once complaining to the Bishop of Alst of his state. “Alas!” said he, “self-will and self-righteousness follow me everywhere. Only tell me when you think I shall learn to leave self. Will it be by study, or prayer, or good works?” “I think,” replied the bishop, “that the place where you lose self will be that where you find your Saviour.”
Not holding the Head.--
The union between head and body
The discoveries of modern physiology have invested the apostle’s language with far greater distinctness and force than it can have worn to his own contemporaries. Any exposition of the nervous system more especially reads like a commentary on his image of the relations between the body and the head. At every turn we meet with some fresh illustration which kindles it with a flood of light. The volition communicated from the brain to the limbs, the sensations of the extremities telegraphed back to the brain, the absolute mutual sympathy between the head and the members, the instantaneous paralysis ensuing on the interruption of continuity, all these add to the completeness and life of the image. Bearing in mind the diversity of opinion among ancient physiologists, we cannot fail to be struck in the text, not only with the correctness of the image, but also with the propriety of the terms; and we are forcibly reminded that among the apostle’s most intimate companions at this time was one whom he calls “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). (Bp. Lightfoot.)
The Head and the body
I. The head supplies all things necessary to its members. In worshipping angels the seducers diminished the dignity of Christ, for they took away from Him the prerogative of the Head, and incorrectly judged of His virtue and sufficiency. For Christ, the God Man, is Head of the Church. If they acknowledged Him as God they would seek from Him alone grace and salvation; if as man, they would not solicit angels to intercede for them, since Christ, our Elder Brother, sits continually at the right hand of God. Hence we may infer--
1. That they who are concerned about their salvation, ought never to turn their eyes from their Head in whom alone is salvation.
2. Christians are seduced to do so, and do not hold the Head, whenever they embrace new doctrines, worship, means of salvation never prescribed by Christ and His apostles (1 Timothy 6:3-4).
II. The head binds and knits together the same. To itself and to each other.
1. The effect obtained from cleaving to Christ is that the whole body has by joints nourishment ministered.
(1) The joints are
(a) The Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). As that member is not united to the head which is not animated by the same essence as the head itself, neither is that Christian united to Christ who lacks His Spirit.
(b) The gifts of the Spirit, e.g., faith by which as a secondary mean we are united to Christ, and receive the remission of sins and all the grace promised in the gospel (John 6:35).
(2) The whole body thus adhering to Christ hath nourishment ministered. The Greeks called him “minister” who supplied all the apparatus to the leaders of the sacred dances. By a metaphor derived from this he is said “to supply the expenditure” who furnishes to another the things necessary for any particular object; and the word used by Paul signifies the doing of this copiously and abundantly by Christ, who supplies all the means of salvation. For whether we regard the grace making grateful, or grace gratuitously given, Christ abundantly supplies both to His Church by His Spirit.
(a) Of that grace which has reference to justification and sanctification, Paul testifies (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 8:9) that it is ministered to all His members by Christ.
(b) The same with that which relates to the edification of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:7, etc.; Ephesians 4:11).
(3) We may here observe--
(a) That in the whole body of the Church is not a single dry member, but all are watered by streams of grace flowing from the Head.
(b) To adhere to the Pope as a visible head, does not constitute membership, but adherence to Christ. Therefore the ungodly are not true members, to whatever visible Church joined, unless by the joints of the Spirit and faith they are united to Christ.
(c) As to doctrine and salvation the Church is supplied from its. Head, not one member from another.
(d) The Papists err, who will have the Church to draw the doctrine of salvation, not alone from Christ, but from tradition; who will have her receive holiness, merit, etc., not from Christ alone, but the saints. If this be so, the text is not true.
2. By virtue of the Head, the whole body is knit together (Romans 12:5). The “bands” are the same- the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. For the same Spirit who unites us to Christ is the principal band by which we are united to each other (1 Corinthians 12:13), and after He is infused into all the ligaments of the Church, He enkindles in every one that excellent gift of charity which is also the firmest bond of cohesion. The other ties are diversities of gifts and callings emanating from the same Spirit (Ephesians 4:11-12).
III. The fruit of this union.
1. While united to Christ by faith, and knit together by love, the whole body of the Church increaseth in faith, love, holiness, and all saving grace. This growth is said to be of God as He is the primary agent (1 Corinthians 3:6), and because it tends to His glory as the ultimate end.
2. Observe of this increase--
(1) As there is a growth in the natural body in all its parts, so in the mystical body all the members increase spiritually.
(2) Not every increase is approved. A member of the body is not said to increase when it is inflated with any bad humour. So the piety of a Christian man is not increased when his mind is filled with tradition and will worship, which proceed not from the Spirit, but from the empty mind of ignorance and pride.
(3) Be not deceived by that incongruous mass of opinions of the Romish Church. The kingdom of the Pope may be increased, viz., by temporal things, traditions, superstitions, not by the knowledge of God and piety. (Bp. Davenant.)
(See also on chap. 1:18, and Ephesians 4:16.)
If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world.
Two final tests of the false teaching
I. The Christian’s death with Christ.
1. To Paul the Cross of Christ was the altar on which the oblation had been offered which took away his sin, and because of that the law of his own life, and the power which assimilated him to his Lord.
(1) We talk of an old man being dead to youthful follies and passions and ambitions, and we mean that they have ceased to interest him, that he is separated from, and insensible to them. So if we have got hold of Christ as our Saviour, that will deaden us to all which was our life.
(2) Strong emotion, too, makes us insensible to things around. Many a man amid the excitement of the battlefield “receives, but recks not of the wound.” Absorption of thought and interest leads to “absence of mind” when surroundings are entirely unfelt. Higher tastes drive out lower ones, as some great stream turned into a new channel will sweep it clear of mud. So if we arc joined to Christ He will fill our souls with strong emotions and interests which will deaden our sensitiveness to things around.
2. To what shall we die if we are Christians?
(1) To sin (Romans 6:11).
(2) To self (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
(3) To the law (Romans 7:6).
(4) To the world (Galatians 6:14).
Here it is to “the rudiments of the world” (Colossians 2:8). Elementary precepts, fit for babes, moving in the region of the material. Why then, triumphantly asks Paul, do you subject yourselves to ordinances (Colossians 2:4) such as “handle not, nor taste, nor touch,” vehement reiterations of the ascetic teachers with an increasing intolerance--don’t lay hold of, don’t touch with the tip of your finger. So asceticism grows by indulgence. And, then, the whole thing is out of date, and a misapprehension of the genius of Christianity. Man’s work in religion is ever to confine it to the surface. Christ’s work is to focus it on the inner man of the heart, knowing that if that be right the visible will come right.
3. Paul goes on to show (Colossians 2:22) that these meats and drinks, of which so much is said, are perishable. You cannot use them without using them up. Is it fitting for men who lave died with Christ to this perishable world to make so much of its perishing things? But we may widen the thought so as to make it include sybaritic luxury as well as asceticism. Dives in his purple and the monk in his hair shirt, both make too much of “what they should put on.” The one with his feasts and the other with his fasts, both think too much of what they shall eat and drink. The man who lives on high with his Lord puts all these things in their right place. There are things which do not perish with the using. All Christlike graces grow with exercise.
4. The final inconsistency between the Christian position and these practical errors is glanced at in “after the commandments of men,” A quotation, used by our Lord, from Isaiah 29:13. It is not fitting for those in union with Christ to be under the authority of men. Here is the true democracy of the Christian society--“Ye were redeemed with a price; be not servants of men.” We are bound to take our orders from one Master.
II. The failure of the false teaching to attain its end (verse 23).
1. The apostle admits that it had a show of wisdom, and was very fascinating. It had the look--
(1) Of devotion and zealous worship; but on closer examination it is the indulgence of the will and not surrender to God. They are not worshipping Him as He has appointed, and therefore not at all. Whether offered in a cathedral or a barn, in a cope or a fustian jacket, such service is not accepted.
(2) Of humility. It looked very humble to say, We cannot suppose that such flesh-encompassed creatures can have fellowship with God; but it was a great deal more humble to take Him at His word and allow him to settle possibilities.
(3) Of discipline. Any asceticism is a great deal more to men’s taste than abandoning self. They will rather stick hooks in their backs than give up their sins or yield up their wills. Our poor human nature travesties Christ’s solemn command to deny ourselves into doing something unpleasant to recommend ourselves to God.
2. The conclusive condemnation, however, lies in the fact that they “are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh” (see on verse 18). This is one great end of all moral and spiritual discipline, and if practical regulations do not secure it they are worthless. By “flesh” is meant the entire unrenewed self which thinks, and feels, and wills apart from God. To indulge and satisfy it is to die, to slay and suppress it is to live. A man may be keeping the whole round of “ordinances” and seven devils may be in his heart. They distinctly tend to foster some of the “works of the flesh,” such as self-righteousness and uncharitableness, and they as distinctly fail to subdue any of them. A man may stand on a pillar like Simon Stylites for years and be none the better. The world and the flesh are willing that Christianity should shrivel into a religion of prohibitions and ceremonials, because all manner of vices and meannesses may thrive and breed under them like scorpions under stones. There is only one thing that will put the collar on the neck of the animal within us, and that is the power of the indwelling Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Ritualism described and condemned
I. The appeal--
1. Was to their position and profession as Christians. They had died with Christ, and, therefore, to that which was ful filled in His death.
2. Was based upon their Christian liberty. What had they to do with those things from which they were delivered by Christ’s death--the mere material alphabet of religion? It was as ridiculous as if an educated man should go back to his spelling book; or a liberated slave fear his task master.
3. Described the character of the bondage of which they were in danger. “Touch not,” etc., are not Paul’s words, but the mottoes of the heretical teachers, and refer to distinctions in meats and drinks. True Christians ought to be far above the region of such carnal commandments, for to them all things are pure, and every creature of God good. Moreover, they perish in the using, and how then can they benefit the soul? (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 8:8). And lastly they are based on human authority, whereas the Christian owes allegiance to none but Christ.
II. The argument.
1. The ordinances are pretentious. They have a show of wisdom.
(1) In will worship, or some mode of worship God has not required.
(2) In humility. But it is an affectation of lowliness which cannot look up directly to God in Christ, but thinks it necessary to find some subordinate mediators. Such prevails now.
(3) In neglecting the body. The fleshly tabernacle may indeed be weakened without the slightest effect in conquering any sinful tendency in the soul.
(4) How these rudiments of the world had a show of wisdom is not difficult to see. To go beyond the Divine requirement in self-denial, and do works of supererogation has the appearance of magnanimity.
2. These ordinances are really worthless.
(1) Negatively--“Not in any honour”--they are of no spiritual efficacy.
(2) Positively--they gratify the flesh, and prop up the fleshly mind with notions of its self righteousness and sufficiency. Lessons:
1. The vanity and error of asceticism.
2. The sacredness of Christian liberty. (J. Spence, D. D.)
The ceremonial in religion
I. Is simply elementary. “The rudiments of the world.” It is in its nature transitory and imperfect. It conveys knowledge but in part; and when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part is done away.
II. Is unworthy the submission of the Christian believer. The believer is liberated from the slavery of the ceremonial.
III. In its main features is universally the same.
1. It is the same in its dictatorial prohibitions. “Touch not,” etc.
2. It is the same in its undue exaltation of the external and the transitory, “Which perish,” etc.
3. It is the same in its human origin. “After the commandments and doctrines of men.” The ceremonial in religion is an accumulation of the commandments and doctrines of men. Depending on human authority, it has no value in itself; and when it is made obligatory in order to salvation, it is an insult to Christ, and an intolerable servitude to man.
IV. Can never satisfy the many-sided wants of humanity.
1. It pretends to a wisdom it does not possess.
(1) In self-imposed methods of worship. The enthusiast for the ceremonial argues that he who only does what God positively demands does only what is common; but he who goes beyond reaches a higher degree of saintliness.
(2) In the affectation of a spurious humility. It is a pretence of wisdom to renounce all worldly splendour, and profess to live in poverty and seclusion.
(3) In an unjustifiable indifference to bodily wants. The body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and is to be honoured, and all its just wants satisfied, in order that its best powers may be employed in the service of God. But the abuse of the body in starvation and neglect is a folly and a sin.
2. It is of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh. “Not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” The radical error of the ascetic lies in his belief that evil resides in matter. Not the body, but in the soul is the source of sin. (G. Barlow.)
Religion does not consist, in bodily neglect
John Wesley, before his conversion, anxiously seeking rest for his soul, proposed to himself a solitary life in one of the Yorkshire dales. His wise mother interposed, admonishing him prophetically “that God had better work for him to do.” He travelled some miles to consult “a serious man.” “The Bible knows nothing of a solitary religion,” says this good man, and Wesley turned about his face toward that great career which was to make his history a part of the history of his country and of the world. (R. Stevens.)
The soul’s true freedom in Christ alone
Let me tell you again my old story of the eagle. For many months it pined and drooped in its cage, and seemed to have forgotten that it was of the lineage of the old plumed kings of the forest and the mountain; and its bright eye faded, and its strong wings drooped, and its kingly crest was bowed, and its plumes were torn and soiled amid the bars and dust of its prison-house. So, in pity of its forlorn life, we carried its cage out to the open air, and broke the iron wire and flung wide the lowly door; and slowly, falteringly, despondingly, it crept forth to the sultry air of that cloudy summer noon and looked listlessly about it. But just then, from a rift in an overhanging cloud, a golden sunbeam flashed upon the scene. And it was enough. Then it lifted its loyal crest, the dim eye blazed again, the soiled plumes unfolded and rustled, the strong wings moved themselves, with a rapturous cry it sprang heavenward. Higher, higher, in broader, braver circles it mounted toward the firmament, and we saw it no more as it rushed through the storm-clouds and soared to the sun. And would, O ye winged spirits! who dream and pine in this poor earthly bondage, that only one ray from the blessed Sun of Righteousness might fall on you this hour! for then would there be the flash of a glorious eye and a cry of rapture, and a sway of exulting wings, as another redeemed and risen spirit sprang heavenward unto God! (C. Wadsworth, D. D.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Colossians 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30