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SECTION I. INTRODUCTION. The Epistle commences, in St. Paul's manner, with a salutation (Colossians 1:1, Colossians 1:2), followed by thanksgiving (Colossians 1:3-8) and prayer (Colossians 1:9-14). Only in 2 Thessalonians, however, outside of the Epistles of this group, do we find a formal opening prayer. The salutation agrees closely with that of Ephesians.
Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus through God's will, and Timothy the brother (Ephesians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1). The apostle designates himself by his office, as always, except in the Macedonian Epistles and the letter of private friendship to Philemon. Timothy shares also in the greeting of the Epistle to Philemon, probably a leading member of the Colossian Church (comp. Colossians 4:9, Colossians 4:17 with Philemon 1:2, Philemon 1:10-12). During St. Paul's long residence at Ephesus Timothy was with him (Acts 19:22), and there, probably, Philemon had come under his influence (see Introduction, § 2), and made Timothy's acquaintance. There was, therefore, at least one link of acquaintance between "Timothy the brother" and "the saints in Colossae" (comp. Philippians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1-24 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1, where his name appears in the same way). The honourable prominence thus given to Timothy marked him out for future leadership in the Church (1Ti 1:3, 1 Timothy 1:18; 2Ti 2:2; 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 4:5, 2 Timothy 4:6).
To those in Colossae£ (which are) saints and faithful brethren in Christ (Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1). "Saints" in respect of their Divine calling and character (Colossians 3:12; 1Co 1:1-31, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, where this title is formally introduced); "faithful brethren in Christ" (Ephesians 1:1) in view of the errors and consequent divisions threatening them as a Church (Colossians 1:23; Colossians 2:5, Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:19; Colossians 3:15; Ephesians 4:14-16; Ephesians 6:10-18; Philippians 1:27 : 2 Timothy 2:19). Grace to yon, and peace: "as in all his Epistles." This Pauline formula of greeting combines the Greek and Hebrew, Western and Eastern, forms of salutation (comp. "Abba, Father," Romans 8:15). Χάρις is a modification of the everyday χαίρειν, hail! (Acts 15:23; James 1:1; 2 John 1:10); and εἰρήνη reproduces the Hebrew shalom (salam). Grace is the source of all blessing as bestowed by God (Colossians 1:6; Ephesians 1:3-6; Ephesians 2:5; Romans 5:2, Romans 5:17, Romans 5:21; Titus 2:11); and peace, in the large sense of its Hebrew original, of all blessing as experienced by man (Ephesians 2:16, Ephesians 2:17; Luke 2:14; Acts 10:36; Romans 5:1; Romans 8:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:16). From God our Father. Among the apostle's salutations this alone fails to add "and from our Lord Jesus Christ"—a defect which copyists were tempted to remedy. The omission is well established (see Revised Text, and critical editors generally), and cannot surely be accidental. In this and the twin Ephesian letter, devoted as they are to the glory of Christ, the name of the Father stands out with a peculiar prominence and dignity, much as in St. John's Gospel: "honouring the Son," they must needs "honour the Father" also (verses 12, 13; Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 1:17; Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:14; Ephesians 4:6; Ephesians 5:20).
The opening thanksgiving is full and appropriate. Its content is determined by the state of this Church, and by the apostle's relation to it through Epaphras, and his own present position.
We give thanks to God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We; Timothy and I. The Revised Text omits "and" between" God" and "Father," following Lachmann, Westcott and Heft, and Lightfoot (who hesitates), on evidence numerically slight, but sufficient; especially as in every other instance of this combination the conjunction is present. "Father" is also without definite article in the better attested (Revised) reading. The words, "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," bear, therefore, an explanatory, quasi-predicative force. St. Paul wishes his readers to understand that he gives thanks to God on their account distinctly under this aspect, regarded as "Father of Christ." He has just spoken of "our Father," and now adds, "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," suggesting that it is in this relation that we know God as "our Father," the Author of grace and peace, the Object of Christian thanksgiving. So the sovereign and exclusive mediation of Christ, the ruling idea of the whole Epistle, is thrown into bold relief at the outset; and, in this light, the unique omissions of Colossians 1:2 and Colossians 1:3 explain and justify each other. This fatherhood embraces the entire Person and offices of the Son as "our Lord Jesus Christ." Praying always for you (Colossians 1:9; Colossians 2:1-3; Philippians 1:4; Romans 1:9). The apostle had known from the first of the existence of this Church; and had already been in communication with it (see Introduction, § 2). He had, therefore, a general prayerful interest in the Colossians (2 Corinthians 11:28), that has been quickened to joyful thanksgiving by the arrival of Epaphras. "Always" and "for you"—either or both of the phrases—may be joined grammatically to "we give thanks" or to "praying:" the latter connection is preferable (see Alford or Ellicott); similarly in Philemon 1:4; in Ephesians 1:16 the turn of expression is different.
Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have (ἤν ἔχετε, Revised Text) toward all the saints (Ephesians 1:15, B.V.; Philemon 1:5, R.V.; 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1Th 4:10; 1 John 3:23; 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3, 3 John 1:4). "Having heard "more immediately from Epaphras (Colossians 1:8, Colossians 1:9). Note the characteristic recurrence of this word: he had heard of their faith and love, as they had heard before the word of truth (Colossians 1:5); from the day they had heard they had borne fruit (Colossians 1:6), and he, in return, from the day he heard of it, had not ceased to pray for them (Colossians 1:9); see note on Colossians 1:8; and comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2 with 1 Thessalonians 3:6 (Greek). "In Christ Jesus" is attached to "faith" (as to "brethren" in 1 Thessalonians 3:2) so closely as to form with it a single idea; to be "in Christ Jesus" is of the very essence of this faith and brotherhood. "Faith in Christ," "believe in Christ," in our English Bible, commonly represent a different Greek preposition, εἰς (literally, into or unto Christ); only in the pastoral Epistles and in Ephesians 1:15—not in Galatians 3:26 (see Lightfoot) or Romans 3:25 (see Meyer or Beet)—do we find, as here, πίστις ἐν Χριστῷ. In Christ faith rests, finding its abiding ground and element of life. In the Epistles of this period the Christian state appears chiefly as "life in Christ;" rather than, as in the earlier letters, as "salvation through Christ" (comp. e.g. Romans 5:1-21. and Colossians 2:9-15). The "love" of the Colossians evokes thanksgiving, as that which they have "toward all the saints;" for as the Church extended Christian love needed to be more catholic (verse 6; Colossians 3:11), and Colossian error in particular tended to exclusiveness and caste feeling (see note on verse 28). The iteration of "all" in this Epistle is remarkable.
(We give thanks) because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens (Colossians 3:4; Ephesians 1:12-14; Philippians 3:20, Philippians 3:21; Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 2Co 5:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Matthew 6:20; Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33; John 14:2, John 14:3). "Hope" is objective—matter of hope, as in Galatians 5:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 6:18. St. Paul speaks most of heaven and heavenly things in the letters of this period. Hebrews 6:4 gives the nearest grammatical connection for this clause; and many recent commentators, following Greek interpreters, accordingly find here that which "evokes and conditions" the Colossians' "love" (Meyer, Ellicott) or "faith and love" (De Wette, Lightfoot). But this construction we reject. For it makes the heavenly reward the reason of the Colossians' present (faith and) love, reversing the true and Pauline order of thought; while, on the other hand, the heavenly hope is the last and highest ground of the apostle's thanksgivings and encouragements, and the forfeiture or impairing of it the chief matter of his fears and warnings throughout the Epistles of this group. It is better, therefore, with Bengel, Hofmann, Klopper, Conybeare, Eadie, and others, from Athanasius downwards, to refer verse 5 as well as verse 4 to the principal verb, "we give thanks" (verse 3). What the apostle hears of "the faith and love" of the Colossian brethren moves him to give thanks for "the hope which is in store for them in heaven." Of that hope this faith and love are to him a pledge and an earnest, even as the "seal of the Spirit" (Ephesians 1:14) and the "peace of Christ in their hearts" (Colossians 3:15; see note) are to themselves. Similarly, in Philippians 1:27, Philippians 1:28 and 2 Thessalonians 1:4, 2 Thessalonians 1:5, from the present faith and patience of the saints the certainty of their future blessedness is argued. By singling out this hope as chief matter of thanksgiving here, the apostle enhances its certainty and its value in his readers' eyes. From the general occasion and ground of his thanksgiving in the Christian state and prospects of his readers, St. Paul proceeds to dwell on certain special circumstances which enhanced his gratitude to God (verses 56-8). Which (hope) ye heard of before, in the word of the truth of the gospel; or, good tidings (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 23; Colossians 2:7; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:21; Galatians 1:6-9; Galatians 3:1-4; Galatians 4:9; Gal 5:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1Th 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; 1 Peter 5:12). There is a veiled polemic reference in "the word of the truth of the gospel". The word "before" (aforetime) "contrasts their earlier with their later lessons, the true gospel of Epaphras with the false gospel of recent teachers" (Lightfoot). Others interpret, less suitably: heard already (before my writing), or heard beforehand (before the fulfilment of the hope). It is in St. Paul's manner to refer his readers at the outset to their conversion and first Christian experiences (see parallel passages). Their hope was directly at stake in the controversy with Colossian error. Here we meet the first of those cumulative combinations of nouns, so marked a feature of the style of Colossians and Ephesians, which are made a reproach against these Epistles by some critics; but each is appropriate in its place.
That is come unto you, even as also (it is) in all the world, bearing fruit and increasing, as in you also (Romans 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Acts if. 47; Acts 5:14; Acts 6:7; Acts 9:31; Acts 11:21; Acts 12:24; Acts 19:20). The words, "and increasing," are added to the text on the testimony, all but unanimous, of the older witnesses. Their propriety is manifest; for the success of the gospel at Colossae was a gratifying evidence, both of its inherent fruitfulness, and of its rapid progress in the Gentile world. Stationary at Rome (see Introduction, § 3), and with his messengers coming and going, and news reaching him from time to time of the advance of the Christian cause, the strong expression, "in all the world," is natural to St. Paul. From Rome "all the world" is surveyed, just as what takes place at Rome seems to resound "in all the world" (Romans 1:8). Bearing fruit (verb in middle voice, implying inherent energy) precedes growing—the first "describing the inner working," the second" the outward extension of the gospel" (Lightfoot). For "bearing fruit," comp. Ephesians 5:9; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 1:11; John 15:8,John 15:16 : and for "growing," 2 Thessalonians 3:1; Matthew 13:31-33; and parallel passages; see also Matthew 13:11. In the last clause the expression "doubles back upon itself" in a fashion characteristic of St. Paul, whose sentences grow and change their form like living things while he indites them (comp. Col 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:1, R.V.): the coming of the gospel to Colossae suggests the thought of its advent in the world, and this gives place to the fuller idea of its fruitfulness and expansion, which in turn is evidenced by its effect at Colossae. Since the day that ye heard (it), and knew well the grace of God in truth (Matthew 13:5; Colossians 2:6, Colossians 2:7; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:21; 1Th 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1Co 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; 2 Corinthians 1:19; Galatians 1:6, Galatians 1:11; Galatians 3:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:14). For their progress had been continuous (comp. Philippians 1:5). Meyer and Ellicott, with the A.V., better maintain the connection of thought in understanding "the gospel" as object of "heard." The verb ἐπέγνωτε, knew well, with ἐπίγνωσις (Matthew 13:9, etc.), belongs specially to the vocabulary of this group of Epistles. Knowledge, in 1 Corinthians, is denoted by the simple gnosis. But this word became at an early time the watchword of the heretical Gnostics; and the false teachers of Colossae pretended to an intellectual superiority, asserted, we may imagine, in much the same way (comp. Colossians 2:2-4, Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:23). The apostle now prefers the more precise and distinctive epignosis (επίγινώσκω), meaning" accurate" or" advanced knowledge" (see Lightfoot here, and on verse 9). "To hear the gospel" is "to know well the grace of God" (Acts 20:24; Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1; John 1:17); the full knowledge of which "in truth" (verse 5; Ephesians 4:14, Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:20-24) would preserve the Colossians from knowledge falsely so called.
As ye learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant; literally, bondman (Ephesians 4:20; 2 Timothy 3:14). Only in Colossians 4:7 does the epithet "fellow-bondman" appear again in St. Paul. The dominant thought of Christ Jesus "the Lord" (Colossians 2:6; Colossians 3:22-4:1) possibly dictates this expression. That the Colossians had received the gospel in this way from Epaphras, a disciple of St. Paul, was a striking proof of its fruitfulness, and a further cause for thanksgiving on his own part. Who is a faithful minister of Christ on our (or, your) behalf (Colossians 4:12, Col 4:13; 2 Corinthians 8:22; Philippians 2:22). He puts his seal upon the ministry of Epaphras, and vindicates it against all questioning at home. Textual evidence for "on our" or "your behalf" is pretty evenly balanced: most older Greek copies read the first person, while the ancient versions generally adopted the second; and the critical editors are similarly divided. The Revisers, with Tregelles, Alford, Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort, prefer "our," which gives a finer and more fitting sense. It was as St. Paul's representative that Epaphras had ministered in Colossae, and to him he now reported his success; and this justified the apostle in claiming the Colossians as his own charge, and in writing to them in the terms of this letter (Colossians 2:1, Colossians 2:2, Colossians 2:5-7 : comp. Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 10:13-16). "Minister" (διάκονος, deacon, in its official sense found in St. Paul first in Philippians 1:1, then in 1 Timothy) is to be distinguished from the "servant" (δοῦλος, slave) of the last clause, and from "assistant" (ὑπηρέτης: 1 Corinthians 4:1; Acts 13:5; Acts 26:16), and "attendant" (θεράπων: Hebrews 3:5); see Trench's 'Synonyms of the New Testament.' It is a favourite word of St. Paul's, and points to the service rendered, while other terms indicate the status of the servant.
Who also showed us your love in (the) Spirit (2Co 7:7; 2 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; Philippians 4:10); i.e. your love to us. Timothy and myself, especially if we read "in our behalf" in Colossians 1:7 : so, many interprefers, from Chrysostom to Klopper. Epaphras had conveyed the blessings of the gospel from St. Paul to the Colossians, and they now send back the grateful assurance of their love by the same channel (comp, note on "having heard," verse 4, and parallel passages). This was a choice fruit of the gospel in them (comp. Philippians 4:10, Philippians 4:15-18), and such a reference to it gives a kindly conclusion to the thanksgiving. Ellicott and others understand here brotherly love in general—a somewhat pointless repetition of verse 4. Meyer, reading "on your behalf" in verse 7. more suitably suggests the Colossians' love to Epaphras in return for his services to them. The Spirit is the ruling element of the Colossians' love (Galatians 5:22) Love-in-the-Sprat forms a single compound phrase, like "faith-in-Christ-Jesus" (verse 4). The one Spirit dwells alike in all the members of Christ's body, however sundered by place or circumstance (Ephesians 4:1-4), and makes them one in love to each other as to him (John 13:34, John 13:35; 1 John 3:23, 1 John 3:24). "Spirit" occurs besides in this Epistle only in Colossians 2:5 (but see "spiritual," Colossians 2:9), and some find in Colossians 2:1, Colossians 2:5 the explanation of this phrase (sc. "a love formed in absence, without personal intercourse:" but this is forced, and doubtful in point of grammar).
The opening prayer rises cut of the foregoing thanksgiving, and leads up to the chief doctrinal statement of the Epistle (Colossians 1:15-20 : compare, for the connection, Ephesians 1:15-23; Romans 1:8-17). The burden of this prayer, as in other letters of this period, is the Church's need of knowledge (comp. Ephesians 1:17, Ephesians 1:18; Philippians 1:9, Philippians 1:10). Here this desire has its fullest expression, as the necessity of the Colossians in this. respect was the more urgent and their situation, therefore, the more fully representative of the stage in the history of the Pauline Churches now commencing. He asks for his readers
(1) a fuller knowledge of the Divine will (verse 9); to result in
(2) greater pleasingness to God, due
(3) to increased moral fruitfulness and spiritual growth, to
(4) patience under suffering (verse 11), and to
(5) thankfulness for the blessings of redemption (verses 12-14).
For this cause we also (Ephesians 1:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13). Timothy and I, in return for your love to us (Colossians 1:8) and in response to this good news about you (Colossians 1:4-6). From the day that we heard (it); an echo of "from the day that ye heard it" (Colossians 1:6). Do not cease praying for you, and making request. The former is a general expression (Colossians 1:3), the latter points to some special matter of petition to follow. This second verb St. Paul only uses elsewhere of prayer to God in Ephesians 3:13, Ephesians 3:20 (see Trench's 'Synonyms' on αἱτέω, αἵτημα). That ye may be filled with (or, made complete in) the knowledge of his will (Colossians 2:10; Colossians 4:12; Ephesians 3:18, Ephesians 3:19; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 13:21). On "knowledge" (ἐπίγνωσις), see note. to Ephesians 3:6, and Lightfoot's note here. "With the knowledge" represents the Greek accusative of specification (as in Philippians 1:11, where see Ellicott); and the verb πληρωθῆτε (comp. note on plēroma, Ephesians 3:19), as in Colossians 2:10 and Colossians 1:25, denotes "fulfilled" or "made complete," rather than "made full"—"made complete as to the full knowledge," etc. "His will" ("God's will," Colossians 1:1; Colossians 4:12) need not be limited to the original purpose of salvation (Ephesians 1:9), or to his moral requirements respecting Christian believers (Colossians 1:10; so Meyer), but includes "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) made known to us in Christ (Colossians 1:26, Colossians 1:27). In all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 2:2; Ephesians 5:17; Philippians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 14:20). Wisdom, in its highest sense, is the sum of personal excellence as belonging to the mind; it implies a vital knowledge of Divine truth, forming the sentiments and determining the will as it possesses the reason, Hence the word occurs in a great variety of connections:
"Wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3), "and prudence" (Ephesians 1:8), etc. For this Church the apostle asks specially the gift of understanding or comprehension, (comp. Colossians 2:2; only in Ephesians 3:4 and 2 Timothy 2:7 besides, in St. Paul; 1 Corinthians 1:19 from LXX), the power of putting things together (σύν-εσις), of discerning the relations of different truths, the logical bearing and consequences of one's principles. For the errors invading Colossae were of a Gnostic type, mystic at once and rationalistic; against which a clear and well-informed understanding was the best protection (comp. notes on "truth," in Colossians 1:5, Colossians 1:6; also Colossians 2:4, Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:23; Ephesians 4:13, Ephesians 4:14). This "wisdom and understanding" are "spiritual," as inspired by the Divine Spirit (comp. the use of "spirit," "spiritual," in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Galatians 6:1 and Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 1:17; Ephesians 3:16-19), and opposed to all "wisdom of the flesh," the unrenewed nature of man (Col 2:18; 1 Corinthians 2:4-6, 1 Corinthians 2:13-15; James 3:15).
To walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing (Ephesians 4:1; Php 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 1 John 2:6; Revelation 3:4; Hebrews 13:21); so as to please him in every way. "The end of all knowledge, the apostle would say, is conduct" (Lightfoot). Spiritual enlightenment (Colossians 1:9) enables the Christian to walk (a Hebraism adopted also into biblical English) in a way "worthy of the Lord" (Christ, Colossians 2:6; Colossians 3:24; Acts 20:19, etc.), becoming those who have such a Lord and who profess to be his servants. And to be "worthy of Christ" is to "please God" (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 1:9). This is the ideal and the aim of the religious life throughout the Bible. The characteristics of this walk are set forth by three coordinate participial phrases (Colossians 1:10-12), standing in the half independent nominative case instead of the more regular accusative. In every good work bearing fruit (Ephesians 4:28; Galatians 6:9, Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 2Th 2:17; 1 Timothy 5:10; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 13:16; Acts 9:36). "Good work" is that which is beneficial, practically good (see parallel passages). "In every good work" might grammatically qualify the foregoing" pleasing ', but appears to be parallel in position and sense with "in all power" (Colossians 1:11). On"bearing fruit" (active in voice where the subject is personal: comp. ἐνεργέω in Colossians 1:29 and in Philippians 2:13), see note to Colossians 1:6. While doing good to his fellow-men, the Christian is growing by (or, in) the knowledge of God (Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:13-16; 2 Peter 3:18; 1Co 3:1, 1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 14:20; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Hebrews 5:12-14). His own nature becomes larger, stronger, more complete. Here it is individual (internal) growth, in Colossians 1:6 collective (external) growth (of the gospel, the Church) that is implied; the two are combined in Ephesians 4:13-16. The dative τῇ ἐπιγνώσει (so best copies and Revised Text: the Received, unto the knowledge, is a repetition of Ephesians 4:9) is "dative of instrument" (Alford, Lightfoot) rather than "of respect" (in the knowledge; so R.V.).
In all power being empowered, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness (Colossians 1:24, Colossians 1:29; Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:16; Ephesians 6:10; 1Co 16:13; 2 Timothy 1:7, 2Ti 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:1, 2Ti 2:3, 2 Timothy 2:9, 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 5:10). The same word is repeated as noun and verb (δύναμις, δυναμόω, power, empower) with a strong Hebraistic sort of emphasis (otherwise in Ephesians 3:16). In all (every kind of) power gives the mode, according to the might of his glory the measure, and unto all patience, etc., the end of this Divine strengthening. "Might" (κράτος), in distinction from power (δύναμις) and other synonyms (comp. Colossians 1:29; Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 6:10), implies "mastery," "sovereign sway," and, except in Hebrews 2:14 ("might of death"), is used in the New Testament only of the power of God. "Glory," as in Philippians 3:21, bears a substantive meaning of its own, and is not a mere attributive of "might." It is the splendour of God's revelations of himself, in which his might is So conspicuous. Gazing on this glory, especially as seen in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) and the gospel (1 Timothy 1:11, R.V.), the Christian discerns the might of him from whom it streams forth, and understands how that might is engaged in his behalf (Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20; comp. Isaiah 40:28, Isaiah 40:29; Isaiah 42:5, Isaiah 42:6); and this thought fills him with invincible courage and endurance. Patience is steadfastness and stout heartedness under ill fortune (not a mere resigned patience); long suffering is gentleness of temper and magnanimity under ill treatment (comp. Colossians 3:12; and see Lightfoot, in loc., and Trench's 'Synonyms'). Christ, in his earthly life, was the supreme example of patience (2 Thessalonians 3:5, R.V.; 1 Peter 2:21-23; Hebrews 12:3, Hebrews 12:4), which is "wrought by tribulation" (Romans 5:4): long-suffering finds its pattern in God's dealing with "the unthankful and evil" (Rom 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:15). "With joyfulness" belongs to this clause (Theodoret, Calvin, Bengel, Alford, Lightfoot) rather than the next, and lends a more vivid force to the foregoing words, while comparatively needless if prefixed to those that follow (so, however, Chrysostom, Erasmus, Meyer, Ellicott—"with joy giving thanks," etc.). This paradox is genuinely Pauline, and arises from personal experience (comp. verse 24; Philippians 1:29; Rom 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 1:4-8; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10).
Giving thanks to the Father, who made us (or, you) meet for our (or, your) share in the lot (or, portion) of the saints in the light (Colossians 1:3-5; Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18; Titus 3:7; Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:11-14; Galatians 3:29; Romans 8:15-17). The reading "us" is very doubtful. Westcott and Hort, with Tischendorf, prefer "you," as in the two oldest manuscripts: for the transition from first to second person, comp. Colossians 2:13, Colossians 2:14 (Colossians 2:9-12). In the same strain the apostle gave thanks on their account (Colossians 2:5). Thanksgiving" is prominent in this letter (Colossians 2:7; Colossians 3:15, Colossians 3:17; Colossians 4:2), as "joy" in Philippians. The title "the Father" frequently stands alone in St. John's Gospel, coming from the lips of the Son, but St. Paul employs it thus only here and in Ephesians 3:14, R.V.; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; see note on Galatians 4:2. Those "give thanks to the Father" who gratefully acknowledge him in "the spirit of adoption" as their Father through Christ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:1-7; Ephesians 1:5). And the Father makes us meet for the inheritance when he enables us to call him "Father"—"If children, then heirs." "To make meet" (ἱκανόω, the verb found besides only in 2 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 3:6 in the New Testament, "to make sufficient," R.V.) is "to make competent," "to qualify" for sonic position or work. This meetness, already conferred on the Colossians, consists in their forgiveness (verse 14) and adoption (Ephesians 1:5-7), which qualify and entitle them to receive the blessings of Christ's kingdom (verse 13; Romans 5:1, Romans 5:2; Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:5, Ephesians 2:6; Titus 3:7), and which anticipate and form the basis of that worthiness of character and fitness of condition in which they are finally to be presented "perfect in Christ" (verses 10, 22, 28; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Thessalonians 5:24); "not qui dignos fecit (Vulgate), but qui idoneos fecit" (Ellicott). "Called and (made us meet)" is one of the few characteristic readings of the great Vatican Manuscript, which Westcott and Herr reject. "The lot of the saints" is that entire wealth of blessedness laid up for the people of God (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 4:4-7), in which each has his due share or part (Meyer, Ellicott, Lightfoot, less suitably: "parcel of (consisting in) the lot"); comp. verse 28; Ephesians 4:7. Κλῆρος ("lot," Acts 8:21; Acts 26:18), scarcely distinguishable from the more usual κληρονομία ("inheritance," Colossians 3:24; Ephesians 1:14, etc.; Acts 20:32; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4), is used in the Old Testament (LXX) of the sacred land as "divided by lot," and as "the lot" assigned to Israel (Numbers 34:13; Deuteronomy 4:21, etc.), also of Jehovah himself as "the lot" of the landless Levites (Deuteronomy 10:9), and of Israel in turn as "the lot" of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 4:20). It is the divinely allocated possession of the people of God in his kingdom. It belongs to them as "saints" (Ephesians 4:2; Ephesians 2:19; Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18; Psalms 15:1-5.; Numbers 35:34; Jeremiah 2:7); and it lies "in the light," in "the kingdom of the Son of God's love" (Ephesians 4:13) that is filled with the light of the knowledge of God proceeding from Christ (2 Corinthians 4:1-6; John 1:4; John 8:12), light here manifest "in part" and in conflict with Satanic darkness (Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 5:8-14; Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; Romans 13:11-13; John 1:5), hereafter the full possession of God's saints (Colossians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Romans 13:12; John 12:36; Revelation 21:23-25; Isaiah 60:19, Isaiah 60:20).
Ephesians 4:13 and Ephesians 4:14 proceed to show how this qualification has been gained.
Who (sc. the Father) rescued us from the dominion of the darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 6:12; Romans 7:14-8:4; 1Co 15:56, 1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1Th 1:10; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5-7; 1 John 2:7-11). To "rescue" (ῥύομαι: 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 7:24; 2Co 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Timothy 4:18,—to be carefully distinguished from other Greek verbs rendered "deliver") implies the evil state of the rescued, the superior power of the rescuer, and a conflict issuing in deliverance. St. Paul repeatedly associates the figure of darkness with the language of warfare. "Dominion of darkness"—same as "dominion of Satan" (Acts 26:18). Εξουσία, as distinguished from δύναμις ("power," Colossians 1:11, Colossians 1:29), is "right," "authority": the power of Satan is not mere external force, but takes the form of established and (as it were) legalized dominion (1 Corinthians 15:56; Luke 4:6; John 12:31). "The darkness" is precisely opposed to "the light" (Colossians 1:12), being the region of falsehood and hatred, whether in this world or outside of it, where Satan rules (Ephesians 6:12; Ephesians 5:8, Eph 5:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 2:8-11; Matthew 8:12; Luke 22:53; John 3:19, John 3:20; John 12:35). To "translate" (μεθίστημι) is to remove from one place, office, etc., to another; Josephus ('Ant.,' 9:11, 1) uses it of the deportation of the Israelites by the Assyrian king. The Father, rescuing his captive children, brings them "into the kingdom of the Son of his love." Here we touch the central and governing idea of this Epistle, that of the supreme lordship of Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; Colossians 2:6, Colossians 2:10,Colossians 2:19, etc.); and this passage affords a clue which will, we trust, guide us through some of the greatest difficulties which follow. (On "the kingdom of the Son," comp. Ephesians 1:20-23; Philippians 2:6-11; Rom 14:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Hebrews 1:1-4; Hebrews 2:5-10; Revelation 1:5-7, Revelation 1:18; Revelation 5:1-14., etc.; John 5:22-27; John 17:2; John 18:36; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 28:18-20.) Only here and in Ephesians 5:5; 2Ti 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:18; 1 Corinthians 15:24, 1 Corinthians 15:25, does the apostle speak of the kingdom as Christ's; otherwise as God's (and future). The "Son of his love" is not simply the "beloved Son" (Ephesians 1:6; Matthew 3:17, etc.), but the representative and depositary of his love: "Who is his love made manifest", being at once our "Redeemer King "(1 Corinthians 15:13, 1 Corinthians 15:14) and the" Image of the invisible God" (1 Corinthians 15:15).
In whom we have (or, had) our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Ephesians 1:7; Galatians 3:10-13; Romans 3:19-26; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 Peter 3:18, 1 Peter 3:19). Ephesians 1:7 suggested to some later copyists the interpolation "through his blood," words highly suitable in the Ephesian doxology. This verse is the complement of the last: there salvation appears as a rescue by sovereign power, here as a release by legal ransom (ἀπο λύτρωσις). The ransom price Christ had declared beforehand (Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28; comp. Romans 3:24-26; Galatians 2:20; 1 Timothy 2:6; Heb 9:12-14; 1 Peter 1:18; Revelation 1:5, R.V.; Revelation 5:9). "We have redemption" ("had it," according to a few ancient witnesses) in present experience in "the forgiveness of our sins "(Ephesians 1:21, Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 2:13, Colossians 2:14; Colossians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:1-18; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:7-2:2; 1 John 4:10). Romans 3:24 gives its objective ground. The "redemption of the body" (also bought by the same price, 1 Corinthians 6:20) will make the work complete (Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14; Romans 8:19-23; 1 Corinthians 1:30). Lightfoot suggests that the apostle intends to contradict the doctrine of redemption taught by the Gnostics, who made it consist in initiation into their "mysteries" (see note on Romans 3:27); and supposes that this notion may already have existed at Colossae in some incipient form. But such an abuse of the term seems to imply a well established and familiar Christian use. Philo, who speaks the language of the Jewish philosophic mysticism of the first century, has no such usage. In firm, clear lines the apostle has retraced, in Romans 3:12-14 (comp. Romans 3:20-23; Colossians 2:11-14), the teaching of his earlier Epistles on the doctrines of salvation. Here he assumes, in brief and comprehensive terms, what in writing to the Galatians and Romans he had formerly been at so much pains to prove.
SECTION II. THE REDEEMING SON AND HIS KINGDOM. We now approach the real subject of the apostle's letter, and that which is its distinction and glory amongst the Epistles, in the great theological deliverance of Colossians 1:15-20 concerning the Person of Christ. This passage occupies a place in the Christology of St. Paul corresponding to that which belongs to Romans 3:19-26 in regard to his Soteriology. Here he treats directly and expressly of the sovereignty of Christ and the nature of his Person—subjects which elsewhere in his writings are for the most part matter of assumption or mere incidental reference. But the paragraph is no detached or interpolated piece of abstract theology. It depends grammatically and practically on the previous verses (12-14). It sets forth who he is and what place he fills in the universe that Son of God's love in whom we have redemption, and in whose kingdom the Father has placed us; and what cause, therefore, there is for the Colossians to give thanks as having such a Person for their redeeming King. The passage fails into two parts, closely corresponding both in form and sense, and governed, like other of the apostle's more fervid and elevated utterances, by a Hebraistic antithetical rhythm of expression, which should aid us in the difficulties of its interpretation. A twofold headship is ascribed to the Lord Christ—natural (verses 15-17) and redemptional (verses 18-20): the first the source and ground of the second; the second the issue and consequence of the first, its reassertion and consummation. This symmetrical structure we may attempt to exhibit in the following way:—
1 Chronicles 1:151 Chronicles 1:151 Chronicles 1:15
(a) Who is Image of God the invisible, Firstborn of all creation:
(b) For in Him were created all things,
(c) In the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible—whether thrones, whether lordships, whether principalities, whether dominions—
(d) All things through Him and unto Him have been created;
(e) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
II. Col 1:18. (e) And He is the Head of the body, the Church;
(a) Who is (the) Beginning, Firstborn out of the dead, that in all things He might become pre-eminent:
(b) For in Him he was pleased that all the fulness should dwell;
(d) And through Him to reconcile all things unto Him, having made peace through the blood of his cross,—through Him,
(c) Whether the things on the earth, or the things in the heavens.
(a) In virtue of his relation to God, Christ is at once
(b) ground of creation,
(c) both in heaven and on earth, and at the same time
(d) its means and its end; he is, therefore,
(e) supreme over the universe, preconditioning its existence, constituting its unity.
II. In a similar sense he is
(e) Head of the Church,
(a) in virtue of his new relation to man, which makes him
(d) means, and end of reconciliation also,
(c) whether on earth or in heaven.
Who is Image of God the invisible (Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:1-3; Hebrews 11:27; John 1:1-3, John 1:18; John 5:37, John 5:38; 1 Timothy 1:17; Exodus 33:20; Job 23:1-17. Job 23:8, Job 23:9). On "image" (Elsie), see Lightfoot's full discussion; and Trench's 'Synonyms.' The word is well defined by Philo ('On Dreams,' 1. § 40): "The image—no imitation, but the very archetypal representation itself (αὐτὸ τὸ ἀρχέτυπον εἷδος)." This title the apostle had before conferred on Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:4. There it is in the moral and redemptional attributes of the Godhead, manifest in "the illumination of the gospel," that Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6), the incarnate Redeemer, appears as "the Image of God:" hero the title is put upon him as representing the invisible God in all that pertains to nature and creation. The Colossian error rested on a philosophical dualism. It assumed an absolute separation between the infinite God and the finite, material world, which was viewed as the work of lower and more or less evil powers. To counteract it, therefore, the apostle's argument must go down to the foundation of things, and seeks for a true conception of the universe on which to ground itself. Accordingly, in this and the following verses, he bases the redeeming work of "the Word made flesh who dwelt among us," set forth in his previous Epistles, upon that of "the Word who was with God in the beginning, who was God, and through whom all things were made." He avoids, however, the term Loges, which must have been perfectly familiar to him in this connection—possibly to prevent misunderstanding (see Introduction, §§ 4, 7). Firstborn of all creation (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:6; John 1:18; Psalms 89:27). (On "firstborn," see again Lightfoot's invaluable note.) Primogeniture in early ages carried with it the rights of full heirship, involving representation of the father both in his religious and civil capacity, and in his sovereignty within the house (Genesis 25:31; Genesis 27:29; Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17; 1 Chronicles 5:1). But natural precedence, as in the ease of Esau and Jacob, may yield to Divine election, which gives a unique sacredness and separateness to the position and title of the firstborn. So Israel is Jehovah's firstborn among the nations (Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23; Jeremiah 31:9). What belonged to the chosen people under this title is, in the language of Psalms 89:27, concentrated on the person of the Messianic King, the elect Son of David; and firstborn became a standing designation of the Messiah. The apostle has already applied it to Christ in his relation to the Church (Romans 8:29; see below, Romans 8:18), as being not the eldest simply, but one intrinsically superior to and sovereign over those whom he claims for his brethren (comp. Romans 14:9). Here the historical birthright and actual sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ within the Church are affirmed to rest upon an original primacy over the universe itself. He is not the Church's only, but "all creation's Firstborn" (comp. Hebrews 3:3-6, "Son over his own house"—the house of him "who built all things'). The phrase is synonymous with the "Heir of all things" of Hebrews 1:2, and the "Only-begotten" of John 1:18. So far were the titles Firstborn and Only-begotten from excluding each other in Jewish thought that Israel is designated "God's firstborn, only-begotten," in the apocryphal Psalms of Solomon (Psalms 18:4; also 4 Esdr. 6:58); and so entirely had the former become a title of sovereignty that God himself is called "Firstborn of the world" (Rabbi Bechai: see Lightfoot). Philo uses the equivalent πρωτόγονος of the Divine Word as the seat of the archetypal ideas after which creation was framed. This phrase has been a famous battle-ground of controversy. It was a chief stronghold of the Arians, who read "of (out of) all creation" as partitive genitive. This interpretation, while grammatically allowable, is exegetically and historically impossible. For verses 16 and 17 expressly and emphatically distinguish between "him" and "the all things" of creation. The idea of the Son of God being part of creation was foreign to St. Paul's mind (Colossians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Philippians 2:6-8), and to the thought of his day. Had such a misunderstanding occurred to him as possible, he would, perhaps, have expressed himself differently. Some of the early opponents of Arius gave to πρωτότοκος, against all usage, an active sense—"First-begetter of all creation." Athanasius, with ether Greek Fathers of the fourth century, in the stress of the same controversy, were led to propose whatsubsequently became the standard Socinian interpretation, understanding "creation" to mean "the new (moral) creation" (so also Schleiermacher)—against the whole scope of the context, and cutting the very nerve of the apostle's argument. The Jewish theosophy of the day distributed the offices of representing God, and of mediating between him and the creatures, amongst a variable and nebulous crowd of agencies—angels, words, powers—neither human nor strictly Divine. The apostle gathers all these mediatorial and administrative functions into one, and places them in the hands of "the Son of his love." Looking up to God, he is his Image: looking down on creation, he is its primal Head and Lord. "Creation," standing collectively without the article in antithesis to "Firstborn," is used qualitatively, or (as the logicians would say) intensively. This is better than making κτίσις a quasi-proper noun (Winer, Lightfoot), or rendering distributively, "every creature" (Meyer, Ellicott). (On this occasional collective use of πᾶς without article, see Kruger's 'Griech. Sprachlehre,' 1:50. 11.9.)
For in him were created all things (Colossians 1:17; John 1:3, John 1:4). Ἐν is "in," never "by," in St. Paul. Τὰ πάντα (collective plural with singular predicate, literally, was created) corresponds nearly to our "the universe." John 1:4 is the true parallel to this sentence. St. John sees in "the Word" the animating principle of creation; St. Paul in "the Son of God's love" its ground and raison d'etre. "He is the Source of its life, the Centre of all its developments, the Mainspring of all its motions" (Lightfoot). As the spiritual life of believers was formed "in Christ" (Colossians 1:2, Colossians 1:4; Colossians 2:10-15), so, in its measure, the natural life of creation. The added in the heavens and on the earth (verse 20; Philippians 2:10; Matthew 6:10) reduces to the same subordination to the Lord Christ the two worlds so widely separated in common thought and in the religious philosophy of the time. The polemic bearing of this distinction comes out more clearly when to the distinction of sphere is added that of nature—the things visible and the things invisible (Colossians 2:18; 2 Corinthians 4:18; Romans 1:20; Hebrews 11:3); and when amongst the latter are specified those highest orders of invisible beings whose power might be most readily supposed to come into comparison with that of the Son,—whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or dominions (Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:15, Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 4:10; Ephesians 6:12; Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Hebrews 2:5; Revelation 4:4). By their low and vague conceptions of the position of Christ, and by over-exalted notions of that of the angels, the Colossian errorists had all but, if not altogether, identified their powers with his. The apostle, therefore, declares that the invisible beings of the worlds above us, however lofty their names or mighty their powers, are his creatures as much as the lowliest objects within our sight (comp. Hebrews 1:2, where also false views are corrected of the importance of the angels, exaggerated at the expense of Christ). This list of angelic titles is not intended to be exhaustive, or authoritative. It is rather quoted as current at the time, and in a certain tone of "impatience with this elaborate angelology" (Lightfoot). All things through him and unto him have been created (1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2; John 1:3). "In him" carries us back to the beginning of creation (with verb ἐκτίσθη in aorist, indefinite past); "through him" leads us along its process; and "unto him" points us to its end (verb ἔκτισται in perfect tense, of abiding result). Comp. Philo ('On Monarchy,' it. § 5): "Now the image of God is the Word, through which the whole world was framed." Already St. Paul had said, "Through Christ are all things" (1 Corinthians 8:6). Hitherto the "unto (for) him" has been reserved for "the Father" (1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36; comp. Hebrews 2:10). Baur finds in this change of expression a radical theological contradiction and a sign of unauthenticity, as also in the contrast of Colossians 3:11 with 1 Corinthians 15:28. But the apostle speaks from a standpoint different from that of the earlier Epistles. In the Roman and Corinthian passages he is concerned with the relations of God to man, and his dealings with mankind through Christ; here, with the relations of Christ himself to his own kingdom. The final "delivering up of the kingdom to the Father" lies outside the scope of this passage, which begins with the delivering up of us by the Father to "the kingdom of the Son" (1 Corinthians 15:13). Till "the end," which is "not yet," Christ must reign (1 Corinthians 15:25), and all things owe allegiance to him; they are created unto this end (Ephesians 3:9, Ephesians 3:10), and therefore unto him, to serve his kingdom (Philippians 2:10). The apostle asserts of creation what he has already said (2 Corinthians 5:15; Romans 14:9; Acts 20:28) and is about to say again (1 Corinthians 15:20) of the redeemed Church. That both exist for Christ (relatively and proximately) is a truth perfectly consistent with their existing for God (absolutely and ultimately); 1 Corinthians 3:23 gives the unity of the two ideas.
And he is before all things (Colossians 1:15; John 1:1; John 8:58; John 17:5; Revelation 3:14; Proverbs 8:22-31). This emphatic "he" (αὐτός) meets us in every clause and in every possible grammatical form, as though in the very grammar of the sentence Christ must be "all in all." "He" is kept ringing in the cars of those who were in danger of forgetting him in the charm of other sounds (Colossians 2:4, Colossians 2:19 : comp. Colossians 2:9-15; Ephesians 2:14-18, for the same rhetorical feature; also Ephesians 4:11; 1 John 2:2; Romans 19:15, Greek). We now pass from the origination (Colossians 1:16 a), through the continuance (Colossians 1:16 b, present perfect ἔκτισται), to the present constitution (Colossians 1:17 b) of the universe as Jesting upon this antecedent and perpetual He Is, which affords the underlying basis uniting in one the redemptional and the creative offices of Christ (Colossians 1:17, Colossians 1:18). In the mouth of a Hebraist like St. Paul, the coincidence of the doubly emphatic "He Is" with the etymological sense of Jehovah (Yahweh; ὁ ὤν, LXX), as interpreted in Exodus 3:6., can scarcely be accidental (see Lightfoot). And Greek readers of the LXX might be reminded of such declarations as those of Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12 (comp. John 1:1, John 1:2; John 8:24, John 8:28, John 8:58; John 13:19; Romans 1:8, Romans 1:17; 21:6). In St. Paul's Christ, as in Isaiah's Jehovah, sovereignty of redeeming, rests upon sovereignty of creative power, and both alike upon that perpetuity of being which "the Son of God's love" shares with the Father. Socinian exegetes give to "before" an ethical sense ("at the head of," "superior to"), in harmony with their reference of verses 15-18 to the relation of Christ to the Church. But πρὸ never has this sense in St. Paul: comp. also the "Firstborn" of verse 15, and again "Beginning," "Firstborn" (verse 18). If verse 15 left us in any doubt as to the writer's intention to assert Christ's pro-mundane existence, this expression ought to remove it. Language can hardly be more explicit. And all things in him consist; i.e. have their common standing, are constituted a whole. The apostle speaks here the language of philosophy. In Plato and Aristotle, the term consist (consistence) is found expressing the essentially philosophical conception of the inherent unity, in virtue of which the universe is such and forms a single, correlated whole. The Alexandrine Judaists had already found this unifying principle in the Loges: "He is the Image of God, to whom alone fulness belongs. For other things of themselves are loose; and if they happen to be consolidated anywhere, it is the Divine Word by which they are tied fast. For it is the cement and the bond of things, that has filled all things with its essence. And having chained and woven together everything, it is itself absolutely full of itself" (Philo, 'Who is Heir of Divine Things?' § 38). St. Paul's declaration meets the questionings indicated by language of this kind (see the more extended references of Meyer and Lightfoot).
The words, And he is the Head of the body, the Church (Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:8-10; Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:16; Hebrews 1:3; John 15:1-6), identify the mediatorial Lord of creation (Colossians 1:15-17) with the redeeming Head of the Church, and claim the prerogatives belonging to him in the former capacity as the basis of his position and offices in the latter (comp. Ephesians 1:22). The Pauline doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ is developed in Colossians and Ephesians, especially in the later Epistle, where it receives its fruitful application. Here the doctrine of the Person of Christ and the doctrine of the Church find their meeting-point as mutually implying each other, and together opposed to the double effect of early Gnosticism, which tended first to lower the dignity of Christ, and then to impair the unity of his Church (see Colossians 2:19, note). In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5 the figure of the body and members is merely a passing illustration of the mutual relation of believers in the Church; now the body of Christ becomes the formal title of the Church, expressing the fundamental and fixed conception of its nature as related to him, who is the centre of its unity, the source of all vital energy and directing control within it (comp. the vine and branches, John 15:1-27.). In Romans 12:16, Romans 12:17 the writer passed from the thought of the origin to that of the constitution of the cosmos; now he proceeds in the reverse order. (He is the head) who is (the) Beginning (Revelation 3:14; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13; Acts 3:15; Acts 5:31; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 12:2). Αρχή is without article, used as a proper noun. It is arbitrary to identify it with ἀπαρχὴ ("firstfruits") of 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23; Romans 11:16. As explained by the following words, it denotes, as in philosophical Greek, a first principle, originating cause, fens et origo (see Lightfoot's note and references). To borrow "of the dead" from the following parallel clause weakens the force of both. His body, the Church, begins in him, dating and deriving from him its "all in all" (Colossians 3:11, Colossians 3:4; 1 John 5:12; Revelation 21:5; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This is quite consistent with the "all things are of God" of 2 Corinthians 5:18; for the apostle is thinking here of the relative, historical beginning of "the kingdom of the Son" (2 Corinthians 5:13), there of the absolute beginning of the Divine work of redemption. St. John, writing to the neighbouring Laodicea, echoes, apparently, this language of our apostle (Revelation 3:14) As Firstborn out of the dead (Colossians 2:12, Colossians 2:13; Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20; Romans 1:4; Romans 6:1-14; 1Co 15:13-18; 2 Corinthians 13:4; Acts 13:30-39; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:21; Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:18; Revelation 2:8; John 11:25), this Beginning actually begins; Christ becomes the source, of a new humanity, a new creation (2 Corinthians 4:14 and Romans 8:21). The apostle derives the whole life and power of Christianity, whether as seen in Christ or proved by his people, from his resurrection (see parallels). The name Firstborn brings over with it into this verse the glory which surrounds it in verse 15. The Divine Firstborn, who is before and over all things, wins his title a second time for his earthly brethren's sake (Hebrews 2:10-15). As he appears "out of the dead," born anew from the dark womb of the grave, the nether abyss (Romans 10:7; Ephesians 4:9; Philippians 2:8), the Father declares to him, "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5); the Church exclaims," My Lord and my God" (John 20:28); "all authority in heaven and on earth" becomes his (Matthew 28:18; John 17:2); he is made "Firstborn over many brethren," who call him Lord (Romans 8:29; Romans 14:9; Revelation 5:12); and proceeds to "subdue all things unto himself" (Philippians 2:9, Philippians 2:10; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 10:13; Revelation 19:11-16). "Firstborn out of the dead" in the source of his new birthright of lordship in the Church, he is" Firstborn of the dead" (Revelation 1:5, R.V.: comp. Revelation 1:15) in his abiding relation to dying humanity. And he won this title so as to carry out an antecedent purpose in his mind (comp. Romans 14:9; "In the mind of the father," say Meyer and others—a thought true in itself, but interpolated here), viz. that he might become in all things pre-eminent (verse 13; Colossians 2:6; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Luke 19:12-27; Luke 22:29, Luke 22:30; John 18:36; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 19:16; Psalms 2:7, Psalms 2:8). The purpose of creation as "unto Christ" (verse 17) had been frustrated, so far as related to man, by the entrance of sin and death, and his rightful pre-eminence denied him (John 1:10). He must, therefore, recover it, must become pre-eminent; and this he does by his death and resurrection (John 12:31, John 12:32; Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:15; Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:6-11; Isaiah 53:12). "To this end Jesus died and lived again".
For in him he was pleased that all the fulness should dwell (Colossians 2:9; Ephesians 1:10; John 1:14, John 1:16; Acts 2:36; Hebrews 7:25; Matthew 28:18). Colossians 1:19, Colossians 1:20 stand to Colossians 1:18 as Colossians 1:16, Colossians 1:17 to Colossians 1:15. The creative work of the Son explains and justifies his supremacy over the natural universe, and his reconciling work accounts for his lordship over the Church, as it establishes his "pre-eminence in all things." In him dwelt the forces and laws of the first creation; in him, likewise, all the fulness engaged in the new creation. It is hard to say what is the grammatical subject of "was pleased."
(1) The great majority of interpreters, both ancient and modern, understand "the Father" as borrowed from Colossians 1:12, Colossians 1:13, and suggested by the apostle's use of this verb elsewhere (see 1 Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 1:15; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:11); so, recently, De Wette, Meyer, Lightfoot, Alford, Klopper, R.V.
(2) Ellicott, Ewald, R. Schmidt, Weiss, R.V. margin, adopt the immediately following "all the fulness."
(3) Conybeare, Hofmann, with a few others, prefer "the Son," the exclusive and all-absorbing subject of Colossians 1:15-18. The second interpretation personifies Plēroma in a manner unsupported by Pauline usage, and more suitable to the second century (see note on "fulness," below); but the considerations urged by its supporters against the common view are of great weight. In favour of the third interpretation given above, are the following reasons: that it supplies the nearest subject, that which the Colossian reader, without the usage of other Epistles in his mind, would naturally assume; that it prepares for the reference of the further predicates, "reconcile," "having made peace," "present you holy," etc. (Colossians 1:20-23), to Christ, in agreement with the closely parallel Ephesians 2:14-16; Ephesians 5:27; further and especially, that this view best harmonizes with the sustained and unique emphasis with which the writer has dwelt on the sovereignty of Christ in every clause from Ephesians 5:14 onwards; and, lastly, that his point of view is historical (note the aorists throughout Ephesians 5:18-20), as concerned not with the "eternal purpose" and absolute initiative of the Father, but with the establishment; of his own kingdom by the Son (Ephesians 5:13; see note on "unto him," Ephesians 5:16). There is nothing in the term "well pleased" ("good pleasure") to prevent the apostle applying it to the Son, if he finds occasion to do so. But "this view confuses the theology of the passage hopelessly" (Lightfoot). Just the same is said by Baur and Pfleiderer of the "unto him" of Ephesians 5:16, and the "all in all" of Colossians 3:11, as compared with the language of 1 Corinthians and Romans; and the same answer holds good in each ease, viz. that the apostle speaks concerning Christ add the Church, and his thoughts move within the circle of their mutual relations, grounded as these are in the Christian constitution of the universe itself. God's good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:9) lay within and behind Christ's choice and action (John 8:29); but it was his own good pleasure too (John 10:30). So in John 10:18 (comp. also Ephesians 5:2 and Galatians 2:20 with Romans 5:8 and Romans 8:32) the initiative of Christ in the work of redemption is recognized along with that of the Father. "He emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7); and again "was pleased" that "all the fulness" should be his: comp. Ephesians 4:8-11 (quite consistent with 1 Corinthians 12:28), Hebrews 1:3 b, where Christ appears regally assuming his own glory. "All the fulness" is not precisely "the fulness of the Godhead" of Colossians 2:9. Had the more definite expression preceded, it would have been fair to interpret this more general one by its aid. Plēroma is a word so varied and elastic in Pauline usage (see Romans 11:12; Romans 13:10; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13) that it can scarcely have hardened suddenly into "a recognized term in theology, denoting the totality of the Divine Person and attributes" (Lightfoot. No earlier example of such a usage is furnished. To import it here is to make the Epistle speak the language of the second century. "All the fulness" ascribed to "the Son of God's love" as "Head over all things to the Church," alike "Beginning of the creation of God" and "Firstborn out of the dead," embraces that entire plenitude of nature and of power residing in him since the time that he ascended to the right hand of power (Col 3:1; 1 Peter 1:21; Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:4; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:28), and in virtue of which he "becomes in all things pre-eminent." Κατοικέω denotes a "fixed dwelling" (Colossians 2:9; Ephesians 3:17); but is aorist in tense here (present in Colossians 2:9) along with εὐδόκησε ("was pleased")—"should make its dwelling in him" (see Acts 7:2, Acts 7:4), pointing to a distinct event, viz. in this case the Ascension which consummated the Resurrection set forth in the last clause. Ephesians 1:20-23 and Ephesians 4:8-10 strongly confirm the correctness of this view; there "the fulness" with which Christ is charged, and wherewith he proceeds to "fill all things," dates from his ascension (John 12:32; Acts 2:32-34; Acts 5:30, Acts 5:31; Romans 8:34). "From henceforth" Christ is a complete Christ, and we are "made complete in him" (Colossians 2:9, Colossians 2:10; see notes). This plenitude qualifies him as plenipotentiary in his work of reconciliation.
And (was pleased) through him to reconcile all things unto him (Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 1:10; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 10:12, Hebrews 10:13; Psalms 2:7, Psalms 2:8). Not "through Christ—unto the Father," as Meyer, Alford, Ellicott, Lightfoot contend. This involves reading "the Father" as subject of Colossians 1:19 (see note). There is nothing in the grammar of this verse to suggest a reference of the same pronoun to two different persons. And the analogy of Colossians 1:16 appears decisive (see note): "Through him and unto him all things were created and reconciled" (De Wette, Conybeare, Hofmann). So Chrysostom: "Lest thou shouldest think that he undertook the office of a minister only, he saith 'unto himself.' And yet he elsewhere says that he reconciled us 'to God.'" English idiom prefers the reflexive "himself" in such a sentence (so in Colossians 1:19); but it is not necessary in Greek. Elsewhere καταλλάσσω ("reconcile") is construed with πρὸς or simple dative; here with εἰς in correspondence with Colossians 1:16, and implying, in contrast with διὰ ("through"), the end for which rather than the person to whom one is reconciled (Colossians 1:18 b; also Romans 14:9; 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Corinthians 3:23). Brought back again to peace with God, we are brought into the kingdom of his Son (Colossians 1:13, Colossians 1:14). The rebels are made to "kiss the Son." He wins back his kingdom in them. And so the design of creation as his dominion is answered at last. "Reconcile" ("reconciliation") in New Testament usage implies previous resentment in him to whom the offender is reconciled (see Cremer's 'Lexicon,' and Meyer on Romans 5:10). For such resentment in Christ, comp. Colossians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 8:12; Luke 19:27; Acts 26:14; Revelation 6:16; Psalms 2:12. Καταλλάσσω is "to take into favour or allegiance," and, with ἀπό, "to take back into favour." This reconciliation to Christ the King concerns the "all things" of Psalms 2:10, restoring the broken unity of creation (see note on "the things in the heavens," below). And there is an actual reconciliation now being carried on by the Son from heaven (Philippians 3:20, Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:25), resting upon the potential reconciliation effected on the cross (compare the same double sense in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Having made peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 2:13, Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:13-18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:1; Romans 3:25; Romans 5:10; Hebrews 9:11-14; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:9; Matthew 26:28). The apostle "glories" only "in the cross" Galatians 6:14), the sole means of salvation, viewed from whatever side (1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 1:24). Peace is made for those who were "alienated and enemies in wicked works" (verse 21), who were under the dominion of the enemy of God and his Christ (Galatians 6:13, Galatians 6:14). It begins as the peace of forgiveness (Galatians 6:14; Galatians 2:13; Galatians 3:13; Romans 3:24-26; Romans 5:1), and continues as an abiding fellowship with God through the Spirit, in obedience to Christ, the one Lord (Galatians 6:13; Colossians 2:6; Romans 5:1, Romans 5:2; Romans 8:5-9, Romans 8:28; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:7; 2Co 10:4, 2 Corinthians 10:5; Acts 2:32-34). There can be peace only when he is Lord (1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 10:13; Revelation 19:11-16). In this all the present blessings of salvation are comprised (Galatians 6:2). "The blood of the cross" is the one all sufficient atonement which brings men into peace with God, and so puts them back into the kingdom of Christ, who is "Prince and Saviour, Priest and King" (Romans 3:25, Romans 3:26; Romans 14:9; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Titus 2:14). Faith, the subjective condition of peace, appears in verse 23 (Romans 5:1; Romans 15:13). "Having made peace," as a single compound verb, occurs only here in the New Testament (comp. Matthew 5:10). The repeated through him is textually doubtful; copyists were more likely to omit than to insert it here. This emphatic repetition suitably introduces the bold and startling words, whether the things on the earth, or the things in the heavens (Galatians 6:16). The things "in the heavens," as in Galatians 6:16, include the whole creation, spiritual or material, other than "the things upon the earth." In Romans 8:19-21 we learned that the earthly creation shares man's fall and his redemption. But "sin entered" (Romans 5:12) here from outside, and how far its influence extends beyond our planet we cannot tell. St. Paul does not positively affirm that the reconciliation of the cross embraces other worlds than ours. He speaks hypothetically. Christ's death is in his eyes an event parallel only to creation in its magnitude, and he can set no limit to its potential efficacy. Its virtue is sufficient to" reconcile all things," wherever such reconciliation is needed and is possible (yet see Hebrews 2:16). The difficulty is not to be evaded by putting a milder sense on "reconcile" as applied to "the things in the heavens" (so Alford and others, referring to Ephesians 3:10); "the blood of the cross" forbids any thought but that of the propitiatory atonement (see Meyer). Nor does the text say anything of a reconciliation between "earth and heaven" (Erasmus), "men and angels" (Chrysostom, Bengel), "Jews and Gentiles," "secular and spiritual affairs," etc.; such glosses are opposed to St. Paul's strict use of the word "reconcile," and to the parallelism of Romans 8:16.
In Romans 8:21-23 the apostle descends, with characteristic boldness and suddenness, from the vast generalizations of Romans 8:15-20 to the closest personal application of his theme—from "all things in earth and heaven" to "you" (comp. Ephesians 1:22-2:1, Ephesians 2:2). With Lightfoot, we place only a comma, or a colon at most, after Romans 8:20.
And you, at one time being (men) alienated, and enemies in your thought, (engaged) in your wicked works, yet now did he reconcile; or, were ye reconciled [so Meyer, Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort, and R.V. margin, following Codex B] (Colossians 2:11; Colossians 3:7; Ephesians 2:1-3, Ephesians 2:11, Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:18; Ephesians 5:5-8; 1 Corinthians 6:4; Rom 6:21; 1 Peter 1:11; 1 Peter 4:3). The combination of ὄντες ("being") with perfect passive participle ("having been alienated") implies a fixed condition, that has become as a part of one's nature (so in Ephesians 4:18, Revised Text). As the opposite of "reconciled," "alienated" is strictly passive, and denotes, not a subjective feeling on the part of the sinner, but an objective determination on the part of God, an exclusion from the Divine favour, from "the kingdom of the Son" and "the lot of the saints" (Colossians 1:12, Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 5:9; Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 2:11-13; Ephesians 4:18; Romans 1:18 : comp. usage of LXX in Psalms 68:9;Psalms 1:0 Esdr. 9:4; Sir. 11:34). "Enemies in your thought" sets forth the disposition of the sinner towards God (Romans 8:7; Philippians 3:18 : so Alford,Ellicott, Lightfoot). Meyer maintains the passive sense of "enemies," as found in Romans 5:10; Romans 11:28; Galatians 4:16. On the latter view, σῇ διανοίᾳ is instrumental dative, "by," "in virtue of your state of mind;" on the former, it is dative of reference or definition. Διανοία (here only and Ephesians 2:3 and Ephesians 4:18 in St. Paul) has possibly a polemical reference. It denotes in Greek philosophy, the faculty of thought, as opposed to the bodily powers. In Philo's teaching it signifies the higher part of human nature, akin to God, and opposed to evil which belongs to the senses: "Thought (διανοία) is the best thing in us" ('On Fugitives,' § 26); "Every man in regard to his intellect (διανοία) is united to the Divine Word, being an impression or fragment or ray of that blessed nature; but in respect of his body he belongs to the entire world" ('On the Creation of the World,' § 51). But here sin is associated With the intellect in man, and redemption with "the body of Christ's flesh" (Galatians 4:22): comp. notes on "reason," Colossians 2:18, and "body," Colossians 2:23; also Ephesians 4:18, where the reason is vain, the intellect darkened. "Wicked [emphasized by its position in the Greek, denoting active evil; see Trench's 'Synonyms,' on πονηρός] works" is a phrase common in St. John, only used here by St. Paul (comp. Colossians 3:7; Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 6:19, Romans 6:20; Galatians 5:19; Hebrews 9:14). These works are the practices of life in which the sinner is abidingly excluded from "the kingdom of Christ and God" (Ephesians 5:5), and manifests the radical antipathy of his mind toward God. "Yet [or, 'but'] now:" comp. verse 26; Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 2:13; Romans 3:21, etc.—a lively form of transition characteristic of St. Paul, primarily temporal, then also logical in sense. "Were ye reconciled" breaks through the grammatical structure of the sentence, as in Romans 3:26, Romans 3:27. If "did he reconcile" (or, "hath he reconciled") be the correct reading, "Christ" is still subject of the verb, as in Romans 3:19-22, and consistently with Ephesians 2:15, Ephesians 2:16. (On "reconcile," see Ephesians 2:20.)
In the body of his flesh (Colossians 1:20; Colossians 2:11; Romans 8:3; Romans 7:4; 1 Timothy 3:10; 1 Peter 2:24; 1Pe 3:18; 1 Peter 4:1; Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:15; Hebrews 10:20; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7; Luke 24:39). With a significant emphasis, the material body of Christ is made the instrument of that reconciliation in the carrying out of which "his whole fulness" is engaged (Colossians 1:19, Colossians 1:20); see note on "thought," Colossians 1:21, and on "body," Colossians 2:23. The necessity of the double expression was shown by the fact that the Gnostic Marcion erased "of his flesh" from the text of this Epistle, and interpreted "the body" as "the Church;" Bengel and others suppose "of his flesh "to be added to prevent this mistake. This phrase was the crux of Docetism, whose principles were indeed implicitly contained in the Alexandrine-Jewish philosophy with its contempt for matter and the physical life, which was now first beginning to leaven the Church. Body is antithetical to soul: flesh to spirit. The former is individual and concrete, the actual physical organism; the latter denotes the material of which it consists, the bodily nature in its essence and characteristics (comp. note on Colossians 2:11; and see Cremer's 'Lexicon' on these words). "In the body" is not "by the body," nor "during his earthly life" (as though opposed to "out of the body," 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; 2 Corinthians 12:3), but "as incarnate." The Epistle to the Hebrews expands the thought of our Epistle in its own way in Heb, Colossians 2:14-18; 10:5-10. That reconciliation is through the (or, his) death (Romans 3:25; Romans 4:25; Rom 5:10; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 9:16; John 11:51, John 11:52; John 10:11; Revelation 1:18; Revelation 2:8) is the fundamental axiom of the gospel (Colossians 2:5), already implied in Colossians 2:14 and Colossians 2:20. And the atoning death presupposes the Incarnation (Hebrews 2:14). The two foregoing phrases belong grammatically to Colossians 2:21. To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him (verse 28; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2Co 4:14; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Acts 17:31); before "Christ" (Colossians 2:19), who is "Judge" (John 5:22, John 5:23) as well as "King" and "Redeemer" (Colossians 2:13, Colossians 2:14): this also belongs to his fulness. He will "himself present the Church to himself" (Ephesians 5:27, Revised Text; also 2 Corinthians 4:14). In this presentation his redeeming work culminates (comp. Philippians 1:6, Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16; and, in view of the connection of Philippians 2:22 and Philippians 2:23, 1 Corinthians 1:6-9). So, in general, Meyer and Alford. Ellicott and Lightfoot refer to God's present approbations, quoting Ephesians 1:4, a parallel much less close than verse 27, and supposing "God" the subject of the verb (see note on Ephesians 1:19). "Holy erga Deum; without blemish respectu vestri; unreprovable respectu proximi" (Bengel). (On "holy," see note, Ephesians 1:2; also Colossians 3:12.) "Apropos is not "without blame," but "without blemish," "immaculate" (Lightfoot, R.V.; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27; Philippians 2:15 : comp. Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19). In the LXX it is the equivalent of the Hebrew tamim ("integer"), "faultless" in bodily condition or in moral character. "Unreprovable," as a judicial term ("without charge that can be preferred"), points to the judgment day, and hence is wanting in Ephesians 1:4.
If at least ye are continuing in the faith, grounded and settled (Colossians 1:4; Colossians 2:6, Colossians 2:7; Ephesians 3:18; Ephesians 6:10-17; Philippians 1:27; 1Th 3:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 1:6; Galatians 5:1). All that Christ has done and will do for the Colossians, yet depends on their continued faith. Εἴγε (only Pauline in New Testament; containing "the volatile particle γε") suggests, actually (Galatians 3:4) or rhetorically (Ephesians 3:2; Ephesians 4:21), a conceivable alternative; if as appears, as one hopes, or fears, or may assume. "Are continuing in" (ἐπιμένετε) is both "abiding by" and "adhering to" (Romans 6:1; Philippians 1:24, R.V.; 1 Timothy 4:16). As present indicative, it implies a (supposed) actual state. "The faith," as regularly in the New Testament, is the act and exercise of faith (subjective), not the content or matter of faith (objective). "Grounded" or "founded," perfect passive, implies a fixed condition (comp. Colossians 2:7; Ephesians 3:18, coupled with "rooted;" 1 Corinthians 3:10-12; Ephesians 2:20; 2 Timothy 2:19; also Luke 6:48). "Settled" (ἑδραῖος, from ἕδρα, a seat) is opposed to "moved away," just as in 1 Corinthians 15:58. The words, and not being moved away (or, letting yourselves be moved away), put the same assumption negatively, and more specifically as he adds, from the hope of the gospel; good tidings (1Co 15:5, 1 Corinthians 15:27; Colossians 3:15, Colossians 3:24; Ephesians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:8; Romans 8:17-25; Hebrews 3:6, Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:11, Hebrews 6:18, Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 10:35, Hebrews 10:36)—that which is its peculiar property and glory, the crown of Christ's redeeming work (1 Corinthians 15:22), the end of his servant's labours (1 Corinthians 15:28), for which, by anticipation, he already gives thanks (1 Corinthians 15:5). but which was directly threatened and brought in question by Colossian error (see notes on Colossians 2:18; Colossians 3:15). (The gospel) which you heard (1 Corinthians 15:5, 1 Corinthians 15:7 : notes), which was preached in all creation that is under the heaven. The transition from "you" to "all creation" resembles that of 1 Corinthians 15:5, 1 Corinthians 15:6. "Preached" is literally" heralded," "loudly and officially announced;" so, frequently in St. Paul (see 2 Timothy 1:11), also in Mark 16:15. Greek usage does not support the interpretation which makes κτίσις ("creation ") equivalent to "humanity." This sense of the word, which, even in Mark, such interpreters as Bengel, Lange, Alford, reject, is quite Hebraistic and exceptional. The phrase, "all creation," the writer has already used in verse 15; here, as there (see here), without the article (Revised Text). The universal meaning it carries there is now limited by "under the heaven." The earthly creation subject as it is to Christ, is the sphere of this proclamation, the preaching room which is to resound everywhere with the glad tidings (comp. Psalms 1:1; Psalms 98:7; Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 55:12; Revelation 10:2; Revelation 14:6). And with this range it was proclaimed, for from the first it claimed universal audience. Whereof I became, I Paul, a minister (verses 24-29; Ephesians 3:1-13; 1Ti 1:11-14; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11; Romans 1:5; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:15-19; 1 Corinthians 3:5, 1Co 3:10; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 1Co 9:2, 1 Corinthians 9:16, 1 Corinthians 9:17; 2Co 4:1-6; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Acts 9:15; Acts 26:16-18). (For "minister," see verse 7.) The later Epistles betray a markedly heightened sense in the apostle of the unique dignity and importance of his own position, and those who question their authenticity press this fact against them. But the difference of tone is what one would expect in "such a one as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus" (Philemon 1:9). As the Gentile Churches grew, reverence for his person deepened; and the success of his life mission became more assured, especially now that the struggle with reactionary Judaism, signalized by the Epistles of the third missionary journey, was to a large extent decided in his favour. The false teachers he is now opposing did not, we should gather, attack the apostle personally; but may rather have claimed to be on his side.
The movement of thought we have followed in verses 15-23 proceeds from Christ's redeeming work to the experience of the Colossians in receiving it, and the labours of the apostle in publishing it; and is parallel to that of Ephesians 1:20-3:13. Here, however, the second of these topics has been made quite subordinate (Eph 3:21 -23: comp. Ephesians it.). The third is the subject of our next section.
SECTION III. THE APOSTLE AND HIS MISSION. Analysis:
(1) The apostle's ministry is at present one of suffering (Colossians 1:24)
(2) Christ, the Hope of the Gentries, the Secret of the ages, is its theme (Colossians 1:25-27);
(3) and its aim the individual perfection of all to whom it is addressed (Colossians 1:28).
(4) In seeking which he is sustained by a supernatural power (Colossians 1:29).
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake (Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 3:1, Ephesians 3:13; Ephesians 6:19,. Ephesians 6:20; Philippians 1:12, Philippians 1:16, Philippians 1:29; Philippians 2:17; Philemon 1:9, Phm 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:11, 2 Timothy 1:12; Acts 9:16; Acts 26:29). "Who" is wanting in the older manuscripts. The abruptness of expression indicates a sudden outburst of feeling. "Now—as these thoughts fill my mind" (Lightfoot); or, better, "In my present position (with the chain round my wrist:" Eadie). St. Paul's sufferings as apostle of the Gentiles and in defence of their rights in the gospel—so "for your sake" (comp. Acts 13:44-50; Acts 22:21, Act 22:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Romans 15:16; Galatians 5:11; 1 Timothy 2:7)—were matter of joy to him as they were of benefit to them. And am filling up in my turn the things that are lacking of the afflictions of Christ (Mark 10:39; John 15:20; Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:12; Philippians 3:10). "Am filling up" (ἀναπληρόω) has the same object (ὑστέρημα) in 1 Corinthians 16:17; Philippians 2:30. Here it is further compounded with ἀντί ("over against"), which implies some sort of correspondence—between defect and supply, say Meyer, Alford, Ellicott; but this is surely contained in the idea of filling up, whereas ἀντὶ bears as a rule, and always in St. Paul, a distinct and pointed reference of its own. "He says not simply ἀναπληρῶ, but ἀνταναπληρῶ, that is, Instead of the Lord and Master, I the slave and disciple" (Photius). Christ, the Head, had borne his part, now the apostle in turn fills up his part, in the great sum of suffering to be undergone on behalf of the body of Christ (see parallels). The verb being so understood, then, with Lightfoot, we infer that "the afflictions of Christ" (a phrase peculiar. to this passage). are:
(1) Christ's own ministerial sufferings, endured at the hands of men. Affliction is a common term for all that Christians suffer as being in "this present evil world" (2 Thessalonians 1:4-6; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 4:17 : comp. John 16:33). Such suffering is common to the Master and his servants (John 15:20), and he leaves behind to each his fitting and correspondent share therein. These afflictions are "the sufferings of the Christ" in their ministerial as distinguished from their mediatorial aspect.
(2) The latter sense is, however, put on the phrase by Romanist divines, who quote the text in support of the doctrine of the merit of the saints, in contradiction to the uniform teaching of St. Paul and the whole New Testament, that the sacrifice of Christ is the sole meritorious ground of salvation for all men, leaving nothing to fill up (Philippians 2:20-22; Ephesians 2:16; Romans 3:25, Rom 3:20; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:19; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 10:14; Acts 4:12; Acts 13:38, Acts 13:39; John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 2:24, etc.). It is worthy of note that, unless it be in the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul never uses the words "suffer," "suffering" (much less "affliction") in connection with the atoning sacrifice. He dwells rather on the objective fact itself—"the death," "the cross," "the blood."
(3) The prevailing interpretation finds here the afflictions of the Church (including Paul's) made Christ's by mystic sympathy (Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:29). But this view identifies Paul's sufferings with his Master's, while he expressly distinguishes them; and the idea, however beautiful in itself, is without Pauline analogy.
(4) Meyer holds the afflictions to be Paul's own afflictions which are Christ's by ethical identity, as belonging to the same class. This approaches (1), but is less simple grammatically, and again confuses the antithesis involved in the pointed ἀντί.
(5) Other modifications of this view—afflictions coming from Christ, on account of Christ, etc.—are less plausible. Dr. Gloag, in the Expositor, first series, vol. 7. pp. 224-236, fully discusses the passage and ably defends (3). In my flesh (2 Corinthians 4:10, 2Co 4:11; 2 Corinthians 7:5; Galatians 4:13, Galatians 4:14); for St. Paul's physical nature felt keenly the pangs of imprisonment, the chafing of "these bonds." And thus he puts honour on the despised flesh, as capable of such high service (see note, Philippians 2:22). On behalf of his body, which is the Church (Philippians 2:18; Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 5:23; 2 Timothy 2:10). The interests of the Church demanded his sufferings. They are "for you" (Colossian Gentiles); but, in his view, the full possession of the gospel by the Gentiles and the existence of the Church itself were vitally bound up together (Ephesians 2:15, Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 2:22; Ephesians 3:6). If "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25), he might well in his turn suffer on the same account. The magnitude of the interests involved are measured by his greatness whose body the Church is (Philippians 2:15-18). (On "body," see note, Philippians 2:18 )
Of which I became a minister (2 Corinthians 4:5; 2Co 6:3-10; 2 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 11:29; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). His sufferings are, therefore, matter of duty, as well as of joy. As the Church's minister, he is bound to toil and to suffer in whatever way her welfare requires. Elsewhere he styles himself "minister of the gospel" (Colossians 1:23; Ephesians 3:7), "of God," "of Christ," "of a new covenant" (2 Corinthians 3:6). (On "minister," see note, Colossians 1:7. According to the stewardship of God, that was given me to you-ward (Ephesians 3:1-13; 1Co 4:1-4; 1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Timothy 1:4, R.V.; 1 Timothy 3:15; Luke 12:42; Luke 16:2-4; Hebrews 3:2-6; 1 Peter 4:10). Οἰκονομία ("economy") is first "house-management," then "administration" generally the οἰκόνομος ("house-steward") was a confidential upper servant, frequently a slave, who controlled the general arrangements of a large establishment, and was responsible immediately to the master. Such an office the apostle holds, along with others (1 Corinthians 4:1), in the Church, "the house of God" (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:20 : this conception, like that of "the body of Christ"—comp. note on 2 Timothy 2:18—is fully developed only in the later Epistles). In this office he "administers the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:17, 1 Corinthians 9:18), "the grace of God" (Ephesians 3:2; 1 Peter 4:10), and here more especially "the mystery" of Colossians 1:26, Colossians 1:27 (comp. Ephesians 3:9, R.V.). In Ephesians 1:10 and Ephesians 3:2, the οἰκονομία is referred to God himself, the supreme Dispenser in his own house. This office "was given" him, and specifically as "toward the Gentiles" (for "you" points to the Colossians as Gentiles, verses 24, 27, notes; Ephesians 3:1,Ephesians 3:2; Romans 11:13), when he first became a servant of Christ (Acts 9:15; Acts 22:21; Acts 26:16-18; Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16; 1 Timothy 1:11-15; Romans 15:15, Romans 15:16). Some interpreters connect "to you-ward" with the word "fulfil," but less suitably (comp. Ephesians 3:2; Romans 15:16). To fulfil the word of God (Romans 15:16-19; Romans 16:25, Romans 16:26). "To fulfil" (see Ephesians 3:9, 24, and "fulness," Ephesians 3:19; also Colossians 2:9, Colossians 2:10; Colossians 4:12) is either "to complete," to give full development and extension to the gospel message (Ephesians 3:5, Ephesians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; Romans 15:19; Acts 20:20, Acts 20:21,Acts 20:27); or "to accomplish" the prophetic word (Romans 9:24-26; —Romans 15:8-12; Acts 15:15-17), as in Acts 13:27, and frequently in the Gospels. This verb πληρόω, however, is not used by St. Paul elsewhere in the latter sense, and the former precisely suits the context (compare parallels from Romans). Other interpretations—"to preach abundantly," "to continue Christ's preaching" (Ephesians 2:17; Hebrews 2:3), "to execute the Divine commission"—miss the sense of the verb. The word which it is the object of the apostle's ministry to fulfil, and in regard to which he had a special stewardship, is none other than—
The mystery which hath been hidden away from the ages and from the generations (Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 3:5, Ephesians 3:9; Romans 16:25, Romans 16:26; Romans 11:25, Romans 11:26, Romans 11:33). The word "mystery" plays a large part in Colossians and Ephesians. It occurs in 1 Corinthians, and twice in the Roman Epistle, written from Corinth. Its use in Romans 16:25 is identical with that of the passage before us. The Greek mysteries were secret religious doctrines and rites made known only to initiated persons, who formed associations statedly assembling at certain sacred spots, of which Eleusis near Athens was the most famous. These systems exercised a vast influence over the Greek mind, and Greek literature is full of allusions to them; but their secret has been well kept, and little is known of their real character. Some of these mystic systems, probably, inculcated doctrines of a purer and more spiritual type than those of the vulgar polytheism. The ascetic and mystical doctrines ascribed to Pythagoras were propagated by secret societies. The language and ideas connected with the mysteries were readily adopted by the Jewish Broad Church of Alexandria, whose endeavour it was to expand Judaism by a symbolical and allegorizing method into a philosophic and universal religious system, and who were compelled to veil their inner doctrine from the eyes of their stricter, unenlightened (or unsophisticated) fellowbelievers. Μυστήριον appears in the Apocrypha as an epithet of the Divine Wisdom (Wis. 2:22; 8:4; etc.): Psalms 49:4; Psalms 78:2 (comp. Matthew 13:34, Matthew 13:35) furnished the Old Testament basis of this usage. (See Philo, 'On the Cherubim,' § 12; 'On Fugitives,' § 16; etc., for the place of mystery in the Alexandrine theology.) St. Paul, writing to men accustomed, either as Greeks or as Hellenistic Jews, to this phraseology, calls the gospel "a mystery," as that which is "hidden from the natural understanding and from the previous searchings of men" (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). But in the words that follow he repudiates the notion of any secrecy or exclusiveness in its proclamation; in his language, "mystery is the correlate of revelation." The thrice-repeated ἀπὸ ("from," "away"), with the double indication of time, "gives a solemn emphasis" (Meyer) to the statement. Ages are successive epochs of time, with their states and conditions (comp. Galatians 1:4); generations are successive races of men, with their traditions and hereditary tendencies. But now it was made manifest to his saints (Colossians 2:2; Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 6:19; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:20). The word "reveal" (Ephesians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 2:10) indicates a process, "make manifest" points to the result of this Divine act (Romans 16:25, Romans 16:26 : comp. Romans 1:17 with Romans 3:21; see Trench's 'Synonyms'). The transition from the participle in the last clause to the strongly assertive finite verb in this almost disappears in English idiom: comp. Psalms 78:5, Psalms 78:6; Ephesians 1:20-22 (Greek); and see Winer's 'N.T. Grammar,' p. 717, or A. Buttmann, p. 382. There is also a change of tense: the manifestation is a single, sudden event (aorist), breaking through the long and seemingly final concealment of all previous time (present perfect participle); similarly in Romans 16:25, Romans 16:26 and 1 Peter 1:20 (comp. Colossians 2:14, note). To his sailors; i.e. to the Church at large (1 Peter 1:2; Colossians 3:12); but this implies a spiritual qualification (1 Corinthians 2:14). "His saints" are the recipients; "his holy apostles and prophets, in the Spirit," the organs (Ephesians 3:5) of this manifestation. The Church had long ago formally accepted this revelation (Acts 11:18); it was St. Paul's office to make it practically effectual.
To whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery amongst the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:5-10; Acts 11:17, Acts 11:18; Romans 11:11, Romans 11:12, Romans 11:25-32; Romans 15:9-12). "Willed" stands emphatically first in the Greek. The revelation was so momentous in its issue, so signal in its method, and so contrary to human foresight and prejudice, that it proceeded evidently from" the will of God" (Colossians 1:1, Colossians 1:9; Colossians 4:12; comp. Romans 9:18): "Who was I," said St. Peter, "that I could withstand God?" The Ephesian letter delights to dwell on God's will as the cause of the whole counsel and work of salvation. The Revisers have rendered the verb by "was pleased," the equivalent of εὐδοκέω (Colossians 1:19; Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:9; etc.). There is no need to seek a reference to free grace in the verb "willed;" the two ideas are concurrent, but distinct (see, however, Lightfoot). The apostle's mind is filled with amazement as he contemplates the boundless riches which the salvation of the Gentiles revealed in God himself (comp. Romans 11:33-36; Romans 16:25-27; Ephesians 3:8-10). "The glory of this mystery" is the splendour with which it invests the Divine character (on "glory," see note, Colossians 1:11; and for "riches of glory," Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:19; Romans 9:23). Amongst the Gentiles: "semi-local clause, defining the sphere in which the riches of the glory is more specially evinced" (Ellicott). At last this mystery is defined: which is Christ in you (Colossians 2:2, Colossians 2:3; 1 Timothy 3:16; Ephesians 3:17; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 4:19; Romans 8:10). By a bold metonymy, the mystery is identified with its subject or content. It is "Christ" himself (see Colossians 2:2, note), the Divine secret of the ages, the burden of all revelation; and "Christ in you" (Colossians 3:11), Christ dwelling in Gentile carts—this is the wonder of wonders! So the "sinners of the Gentiles" receive "the like [equal] gift" with the heirs of the promises (Acts 11:17). By a further and yet bolder apposition, this mystery of Christ in Colossian believers is made one with the hope of glory (Colossians 1:5, Colossians 1:23; Colossians 3:4; Ephesians 1:12-14, Ephesians 1:18; Philippians 3:20, Philippians 3:21; Romans 2:7; Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:43; 1 John 3:2), of which it is a pledge and a foretaste (Colossians 1:4, Colossians 1:5; Colossians 3:15; Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14; Romans 8:10-17). This glory is that which the Christian will wear in his perfected, heavenly state (Colossians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:43; Romans 8:18), when he will fully reflect the glory he now beholds in God through Christ ("the glory of this mystery"): compare the double "glory" of 2 Corinthians 3:18. The rights of the Gentile believer in Christ are therefore complete (Ephesians 3:6). Possessing him now in his heart, he anticipates all that he will bestow in heaven (on "hope," see 2 Corinthians 3:5).
Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16; 1Th 2:4-13; 1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1Co 4:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:11; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:1; Acts 20:18-35; Acts 26:22, Acts 26:23). We (emphatic, like the "I" of Colossians 1:23, Colossians 1:25) includes St. Paul's coadjutors, Epaphras in particular. Καταγγέλλω, to publish, bears a wider sense than κηρύσσω, to herald (Colossians 1:23), St. Paul's favourite word. "Admonishing and teaching" are the two essential parts of the apostle's ministry, related as repentance to faith (Lightfoot, who gives interesting classical parallels). Νουθετέω (radically, "to put in mind"), peculiar to St. Paul in New Testament (including Acts 20:31), may denote reproof for the past, but more especially warning for the future (see 1Co 4:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:15 : comp. note on Colossians 3:16). Thrice in this verse "every man" is repeated, and "in all wisdom" follows "teaching" with a marked emphasis. The Colossian errorists, as we should presume from the general tenor and affinities of their system, sought to form an inner mystical school or circle of discipleship within the Church, initiated into a wisdom and holiness supposed to be higher than that attainable by ordinary Christian faith (see note on "mystery," Colossians 1:26; also Colossians 2:2, Colossians 2:3, Colossians 2:8). An intellectual caste-feeling (see note, Colossians 3:11) was springing up in the Church. In 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 the apostle denounces the pride of reason which claims "the things of God" as its own; here he denounces the pride of intellect which refuses the knowledge of them to those who stand on a lower level of mental culture. To every man the Divine wisdom in Christ is accessible (Colossians 2:3, Colossians 2:10; Colossians 3:10, Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 2:17; Ephesians 3:18, Ephesians 3:19): to none but "the spiritual man" (1 Corinthians 2:6, 12-3:1). "Wisdom" here is not subjective, a quality of the apostle (so Meyer, quoting 1 Corinthians 3:10), but objective, the quality of the truth itself (comp. Colossians 2:2, Colossians 2:23; Colossians 3:16; Eph 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 2:7). That we may present every man perfect in Christ (verse 22; Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 5:25-27; 2 Corinthians 13:7-9; 1Th 2:19, 1 Thessalonians 2:20; 2 Timothy 2:10): the aim alike of Christ's redemption (verse 22) and of the apostle's ministry. "Perfect" (τέλειος) is a word associated with the Greek mysteries, and in common use denoted "full-grown," "grown men," as opposed to" children "(Ephesians 4:13, Ephesians 4:14; Philippians 3:12, Philippians 3:15; Hebrews 5:11-6:1). The philosophic Judaists affected this term considerably. Philo frequently distinguishes between the "perfect" or "fully initiated" (τέλειοι), who are admitted to the sight of God, and the "advancing" (προκόπτοντες: comp. Galatians 1:14), who are candidates for admission to the Divine mysteries; and he makes Jacob a type of the latter, Israel of the former (see 'On Drunkenness,' § 20; 'On Change of Names,' § 3; 'On Agriculture,' §§ 36-38). The apostle makes "perfect" designedly parallel to the "holy and without blemish" of verse 22, holding out a spiritual ideal very different from that of Alexandrine mystics; and declares that it is to be realized "in Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 2:4), as in verse 22 it appeared to be wrought "through Christ" and "for Christ".
To which end also I toil hard, striving according to his working (Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:12, Colossians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 4:11; Philippians 2:16; 1 Timothy 4:10; Acts 20:35). Κοπιῶ, to labour to weariness, often used of manual labour, is a favourite word of St. Paul's (1 Corinthians 4:12; 2Co 11:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:9 : comp. Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; John 4:38). The figurative use of "striving" ("agonizing," i.e. "contending in the arena") is only Pauline in the New Testament: comp. Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:12; Php 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7; also Luke 22:44; in 1 Timothy 4:10 (R.V.) it is again connected with "toil" (κοπιάω). We need not, with Meyer and Ellicott, distinguish inward from outward striving in this word. The apostle's bodily sufferings (verse 21) and his mental anxiety (Colossians 2:1) alike enter into the mighty struggle which he is maintaining on the Church's behalf, and which strains every fibre of his nature to the utmost. "Striving" implies opponents against whom he contends (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 11:26); "toiling hard," the painful efforts he has to make. In this toll he is divinely sustained, for he "strives according to his [Christ's: comp. Philippians 4:13] working." Ενεργεία ("energy," "operative force," "power in action")—another word of St. Paul's vocabulary (frequent also in Aristotle)—is used by him only of supernatural power, "a working of God," "of Satan" (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:11). Which worketh in me with power (Philippians 4:11; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 2:13; Philippians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10). The "energy of Christ" is such that it "effectually works" in the apostle; the same idea is repeated in noun and verb (Philippians 4:11, note). The verb is middle in voice, as this "working" is that in which the Divine "energy of Christ" puts itself forth and shows what it can do; see note on "bearing fruit," Philippians 4:6, and Winer's 'N. T. Grammar,' p. 318 (dynamic middle). So it works unmistakably "in [or, 'with'] power." Never do we find this consciousness of the Divine power dwelling in himself expressed by St. Paul with such joyous confidence as at this period.
Colossians 1:1-14.—Sect. 1
I. THE SALUTATION.
1. Paul and Timothy.
(1) "Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God"—"not of men, nor by men" (Galatians 1:1; Galatians 2:8,1Co 15:9, 1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Timothy 2:7; Acts 9:15), as every true minister of Christ is able to say, holding his office, not by his own seeking or scheming, nor by election of the Church alone, though that is needful in its place (Acts 13:1-3), but by a distinct Divine appointment (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28).
(2) The apostle delights to honour his associates. With every right to speak simply in his own name, yet he adds that of "Timothy the brother" (" my fellow worker," Romans 16:21; "my true child in faith," 1 Timothy 1:1). Not as a matter of courtesy and kind feeling only, but in view of the future needs of the Church, its older and more responsible officers should duly recognize young brother Timothy.
2. Saints and faithful brethren.
(1) All true Christians are saints by their very calling, as persons devoted to God and brought near to him (Col 3:12; 1 Peter 1:15, 1 Peter 1:16; 1Pe 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:3; Exodus 19:3-6) through the blood of atonement (Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:12, Hebrews 10:14; Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:6), and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 3:5), and the continued influence of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13; John 15:3, John 15:4, John 15:7; John 17:17). A spotless moral life is the outcome of this inward sanctity, which belongs to body as well as soul—"as becometh saints" (Eph 5:3; 2 Timothy 2:19-21; 2 Corinthians 6:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
(2) They are brethren to each other "in Christ," having access through him "in one Spirit to the Father," and belonging to "the household of God" (Ephesians 2:18-22; Ephesians 4:1-4; Colossians 3:11-14; Galatians 6:10; 1Th 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:10; John 13:14; John 15:12-17; 1 John 2:7-11; 1 John 3:23); and faithful to Christ the Head and to the brotherhood, when their faith is assaulted and their unity endangered (Colossians 2:7, Colossians 2:19; Colossians 3:15; Colossians 4:3, Colossians 4:15-17; Philippians 1:27).
3. Grace and peace.
(1) All Divine blessing is matter of grace to us as dependent creatures, but especially as fallen and sinful. It is "the grace of God that brings salvation" (Titus 2:11; Ephesians 2:5), which "superabounded where sin abounded" (Romans 5:20), and is the source of all good in man (1 Corinthians 15:10) and of all we hope for (2 Thessalonians 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9, 2 Timothy 1:10; Acts 15:11). It is the outflow of God's love, of his "kindness and philanthropy" (Titus 3:4); and has its supreme expression in "Jesus Christ and him crucified" (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:9; John 1:17; John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). Our everlasting songs will resound "to the praise of the glory of his grace" (Ephesians 1:6; Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:10).
(2) Peace is the effect of grace within the soul—the end of its war with God in forgiveness of sin (Colossians 1:14, Colossians 1:20; Eph 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 5:1), the restoring of inward harmony and health (Romans 8:6), freedom from fear and trouble (Colossians 3:15; Philippians 4:7; John 14:27), bearing fruit in mutual concord and amity (Ephesians 2:14-16; Romans 15:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:16). It is the gift, the legacy of Christ (Ephesians 1:2; Ephesians 2:14, Ephesians 2:17; John 14:27; John 16:33; John 20:19, John 20:26). These all-comprising gifts are primarily "from God our Father." Grace is the outgoing of the Father's love toward his rebel children (Acts 17:28; Ephesians 2:4, Ephesians 2:5; Luke 15:11-32), and peace the reuniting of the child to the Divine family (Ephesians 2:18, Ephesians 2:19).
II. THE THANKSGIVING.
1. The essentials of the Christian life. (Colossians 1:3-5.) "Fides, amor, spes: summa Christianismi" (Bengel). Compare the order and relation of the three graces here and in 1 Thessalonians 1:3; Ephesians 1:15-18; with 1 Corinthians 13:13; also Hebrews 10:22-25, Revised Version.
(1) "To hear of your faith in Christ Jesus" is good news indeed. So in the case of a child or friend; how much more in that of a whole community! What boundless and endless possibilities of good are implied in this single fact! It is the birth of true, eternal life (Colossians 2:12, Colossians 2:13; Romans 6:1-11; John 1:12; John 3:36; John 6:47, John 6:57; John 17:3), the entrance into a fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9) which brings a happiness and power to which there is no measure (1Pe 1:8; 1 John 1:3, 1 John 1:4; John 7:38; John 15:11; John 16:22; Philippians 4:13).
(2) "Faith worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6); hearing of the first, if it he genuine, one is sure to hear of the second. Love is the first "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22), the witness of a Divine life in the soul (1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:1). This love is catholic—a family affection, going out to all the children of God, the saints everywhere and of all times, whenever we see them or hear or read of them; overleaping every national, social, or (alas that we should have to add!) ecclesiastical barrier (Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28).
(3) But the present state and character of Christians call for thanksgiving on their account, most of all, "because of the hope in store for them in heaven." Faith and love are unspeakable blessings even now; but what "if in this life only we had hoped in Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:19)? It is the thought of what awaits the Colossian believers in heaven, the conviction that they have "Christ in them, the hope of glory" (Hebrews 10:27; Colossians 3:4), that fills the apostle's heart with joy (Php 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5; 1 Peter 1:3-7; John 14:2, John 14:3; John 17:24). So in regard to himself (Php 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Finis coronat opus. It is the grand outlook, the glorious prospect beyond death, that gives security and dignity, a serene calmness and a buoyant energy, to the Christian life (Romans 5:1-5; Romans 8:18, Romans 8:35-39; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Philippians 1:20; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 11:13, Hebrews 11:35; Revelation 2:10). This hope will not deceive; it is founded on "the word of the truth of the gospel" (1 Corinthians 15:15; 2 Peter 1:16).
2. The progress of the gospel. (Hebrews 10:6-8.)
(1) It spreads by its inherent fruitfulness, by the living energy with which it works in those who receive it, by the silent contagion of conviction and example, acting continuously as leaven on the surrounding mass of the world (Matthew 13:33). The fruit it produces in the lives of those who receive it becomes seed in its turn for the soil around. Epaphras has heard the gospel from St. Paul; he carries it home and teaches and practises it there, and the Church of Colossae springs up.
(2) At the same time, it has its special messengers and advocates—"servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1); "Ye learnt from Epaphras" (Colossians 4:12; Romans 12:5-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11, Ephesians 4:12). "A faithful minister of Christ:" how honourable the title! how great the reward (1 Peter 5:1-4)! We note the care of the apostle to commend and support his fellow servant, and the grateful and graceful way with which he refers to the love of the Colossians to himself. The progress of the gospel is not a little helped by mutual recognition and confidence of this kind on the part of Christ's servants towards each other.
III. THE OPENING PRAYER.
1. Christian knowledge. (Verses 9, 10.)
(1) We so often find knowledge divorced from action, the head and the heart at variance, that we are apt to exclaim, "Knowledge, alas! 'tis all in vain." But it is, nevertheless, a precondition of all saving faith and all right action. In it lies the beginning of the soul's life (verse 6 b), the means of its growth and advancement (verse 10, "by the knowledge of God"), and the end towards which it strives (Colossians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 13:12; John 17:3). True, "we know in part," and are "rather known by God" than know him (Galatians 4:9); and knowledge, therefore, must go hand-in-hand with the "faith that worketh by love." Otherwise it "puffeth up," and needs to be humbled beneath the supremacy of love (1Co 8:1-3; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.; 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:8; John 13:17; John 14:15-17; John 16:13). But it is possible to exalt love in a one sided, prejudicial way; and then the prayer of Philippians 1:9 should be called to mind.
(2) Knowledge in the form of a sound and manly understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20), an instructed and well ordered comprehension of the system of Christian truth, is necessary for the Church, absolutely necessary for her teachers, and especially in times of mental conflict, such as that on which the Asiatic Churches were then entering, and such as that which is now reaching an acute stage in our modern Christendom. In her contention with heresy and scepticism, the Church's strength depends on the amount of "spiritual wisdom and understanding" possessed by her members. And the understanding is a spiritual faculty, that needs to be informed and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.
(3) Yet Christian knowledge can never be merely abstract, terminating in the intellect; for it is "knowledge of God's will." All its doctrines bear on practice; its principles of truth are laws of life; its teachings, commands. It concentrates reason, feeling, will, in the unity of a spiritual life, where each predominates in turn, and every faculty sustains and quickens every other (comp. Ephesians 4:13-15; John 7:17; John 14:15-17).
2. Christian conduct. (Philippians 1:10-12.)
(1) Advancing to a completer knowledge of God's will, the Christian man more and more "bears fruit in every good work." For he knows that God's will is the well being of men, and that he cannot please him better, or cooperate more effectually with his gracious purposes towards mankind, than by "doing good, as he has opportunity, to all men, and especially to those that are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 2:3, 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 3:8; Heb 13:16; 1 Peter 2:12-15; Matthew 5:14-16, Matthew 5:44-48; Matthew 22:36-40).
(2) And in him" patience has its perfect work." "In all power he is strengthened, according to the might of God's glory"—to what end? In order to do some great thing, one would suppose; but no, it is "unto all patience and long suffering." Patience is the mark of strength. In suffering human nature is most receptive of the power of God. And on that lonely sick bed, where some quiet sufferer lies, may oftentimes be witnessed a display of "the might of his glory" which the grandest achievements of the Christian hero will scarcely equal (2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10; Romans 5:3; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:7-9; Hebrews 12:1-3; James 1:2-4; Revelation 7:13-15). Perhaps imprisonment had helped to teach the ardent and restless spirit of the apostle this lesson. He endures "with joyfulness," not with a mere passive and dumb submission; for he suffers "by the will of God" (Acts 9:16; Acts 5:41; Hebrews 12:5-10; 1 Peter 3:17). "It was granted" him (Philippians 1:29, ἐχαρίσθη, "made matter of grace and favour") "to suffer for Christ's sake;" and thus, at least, he can glorify him, if in no other way (1 Peter 2:19, 1 Peter 2:20). For whatever gifts or means for doing good may be wanting to us, we have at any rate the capacity of suffering.
(3) And whether doing or bearing his Lord's will, the Christian's life will be a constant "thanksgiving to the Father." At the thought of the blessings of redemption (Philippians 1:12-14), as he gains a deeper insight into all "the good and acceptable and perfect will of God," new songs of praise break forth ever and again from his soul. He is a child and heir of God (Romans 8:14-17), joint heir with Christ and with his saints (Ephesians 3:6; Titus 3:7; Galatians 3:29), in the realm of light where his soul already dwells, and whose light will shine for him "more and more unto the perfect day." He rejoices "in hope of the glory of God." How shall he not, therefore, give thanks! So God would have it (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
(4) And so walking, he walks "worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" (Ephesians 5:10; Romans 12:2). God's smile rests upon him from day to day. "The Lord taketh pleasure in his servants." Christ could say, "I do always the things that please him" (John 8:29), and they who are "as he is in this world" can, in their measure and degree, humbly say the same. They abide in their Saviour's love (John 15:9, John 15:10). They have" confidence towards God" (1 John 3:21, 1 John 3:22)—confidence even in the thought of the day of judgment (1 John 4:17). Pleasing God now, they will be accepted then.
3. The nature of salvation. (Philippians 1:12-14, Philippians 1:21, Philippians 1:22.) For that inheritance for which the Christian praises God he was "made meet," and he is grateful for the means, as well as for the end, of his salvation. He holds the title deeds of his heritage in certain acts and transactions on the part of God which make him meet for it, and make it meet for the Divine Father to invest him with it.
(1) His salvation is an act of rescue—a redemption by power. For men were captives, under a dark and cruel tyranny (Ephesians 2:2; Eph 6:12; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 2:26; Acts 26:18; Hebrews 2:14; John 8:34; John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; Luke 4:6, Luke 4:18). When we consider how inbred and inveterate is the power of evil over mankind, how allied with the disordered course of nature, and how its working in this world is a part of a vast, mysterious confederacy of spiritual forces acting powerfully and insensibly upon and around us, we need not wonder that our salvation is represented as a mighty and glorious achievement of Divine power, one with that exhibited in Christ's victory over death (Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12). Delivered, we are at the same time translated—carried over at once into the opposite camp as subjects and soldiers of Christ Jesus; whose kingdom is that where love rules, whose means and ends, counsels and agencies, are all the ministers of love. Light and love are one, as darkness and hate (1 John 2:9-11; 1 John 4:7-5:5).
(2) It is equally an act of ransom—redemption by price. God cannot deny himself.
He is "a just God and a Saviour." His power works on the lines laid down by his righteousness. He would have destroyed rather than saved us, would have violated the human conscience, had he (conceivably) saved us without forgiveness; or without a forgiveness rationally grounded on some act of propitiation that should make amends for the guilty past. This propitiation, as it frees us kern the power of Satan and of death, is our ransom. The Son of God's love, if he would redeem us, must pay the price. What that price should be, Divine justice determines, while Divine love provides it. He bought us with "his own blood" (Galatians 3:13; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19); "gave his life a ransom" (Matthew 20:28; Titus 2:14).
(3) And we may anticipate what follows in Philippians 1:20, Philippians 1:21, by adding that it is, finally, an act of reconciliation. God lays aside his holy resentment against us as sinners, accepting the sacrifice of Christ which he himself has provided, offered on earth and by our Representative, as a just and countervailing satisfaction "for the sins of the whole world" (Romans 3:25; John 1:29; 1 John 2:2); while men thereupon, becoming aware of this (Luke 2:14; Ephesians 2:17), cease from their enmity and strife against him (2 Corinthians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 5:20). So "peace is made through the blood of the cross" (Ephesians 2:16; Romans 5:1, Romans 5:10, Romans 5:11). And meeting God in this peace-making, men meet each other; the broken unity of mankind is restored (Ephesians 2:13-16; Colossians 3:11; John 11:51, John 11:52); and other worlds, it may be, share with our own in the "peace" established "on earth" (Philippians 1:20).
Colossians 1:15-23.—Sect. 2
The redeeming Son and his kingdom.
I. CHRIST THE LORD OF UNIVERSAL NATURE. (Colossians 1:15-17.) Colossian error was undermining the Christian system by introducing into it a false, dualistic theory of nature, then widely prevalent in other quarters. And the leaders of Christian thought can never afford to be indifferent to the current philosophic views of their day. Indeed, in the contact of Christian teaching with philosophy, and in the reflection of thoughtful men at all times, the question was sure to arise and must constantly recur in new forms, "What is the relation of Christ to the universe? At what point does he enter the scheme of things? He who died on Calvary, who claims to save the souls of men, what has he to do with nature and the common world?" If this question could not be answered, or if any inferior and limited position in the world of being must be assigned to him, then, as the Colossian heresy shows, his spiritual authority and the efficacy of his redemption become, in the same degree, limited and uncertain. Hence the teaching of the Epistles of this group (Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians) respecting the Person of Christ is the logical and theological sequel of that of the second (Galatians, Romans, I and 2 Corinthians), respecting our salvation through him. We gather from the apostle's teaching hero:
1. That in Christ God becomes visible, and nature becomes intelligible. To earnest philosophic thought, as to sound religious instinct, it has always been evident that "what is seen hath not been made out of things which do appear" (Hebrews 11:3). An "everlasting power and divinity are clearly seen from the creation of the world"—but as "invisible things" (Romans 1:20). Our latest Agnosticism is but a despairing echo of the cry of Job: "I go towards the east, but he is not there; and westward, but I cannot perceive him; toward the north, where he is working, but I cannot see him; where he veileth himself in the south, but I cannot find him" (Job 28:8, Job 28:9). God effectually hides himself behind his works. All visible point to invisible causes, all finite things lead up to the Infinite, all phenomena to the noumenal; but whither they point we cannot follow. Some of the most profound and minute of modern scientific inquirers testify most strongly to this. From that invisible. Christ comes forth to testify of him whom "no man hath seen nor can see" (John 1:14, John 1:18; John 14:9). We know now what the Maker of the universe is like. The world is no longer orphaned. The unknown God proves to be its Father, and his Son its older Brother. Human thought has a visible centre around which to move, a sun which sheds light and warmth over all its speculations. The incarnation and resurrection of Christ, with the whole course of his miracles (his signs), assure us that natural law is, and must prove itself ultimately to be, subservient to spiritual law, the lower to the higher order, the material world to the moral being of man. His miracles and parables and his general teaching furnish many fruitful hints, some that lie on the surface, others that await our deeper searching or future need, respecting the meaning and use of the natural world. He is, after all, its chief Interpreter, the Master of poets and philosophers of nature who often owe most to him when they are least aware of it, as well as of religious thinkers and social reformers. While we hold fast this faith in the "Image of God the invisible," the "Firstborn of all creation," we may witness science and philosophy pursuing their inquiries without misgiving, and we may follow them, warily indeed, but without mistrust; for they can discover no truth which will not in the end support the "truth as it is in Jesus," and they labour, though they know it not, only to add their own to the "many crowns" that are preparing for the head of our Immanuel.
2. All the relations which nature holds to God centre in Christ.
(1) If the world rests on God, is grounded in him, refers secretly and everywhere to God as the immanent, perpetual Cause of its being and its energy; if in him "we live and move and are;"—then we are to understand all this of Christ. "In him were created, in him consist all things" (verses 16, 17). "God was in Christ" creating the heavens and the earth; is "in Christ" sustaining, coordinating, directing the march of the circling worlds, the evolution of their teeming, endlessly varied forms of life. The "winds and the sea" that "obeyed him," disease and death and the mighty spirits of darkness that fled at his word, knew something of this secret, if men do not.
(2) If through God the universe came to be (Romans 11:36); if he supplied the agencies of creation, the matter and the force (unless matter is really force) out of which it was generated, the laws which shaped its form and governed its development;—then it appears that all this was done through Christ.
(3) If the world moves towards God (Romans 11:36), in spite of all divergence and confusion; and if throughout the unmeasured cycles of its duration past and to come it advances towards the fulfilment of its destiny, "that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28);—then its course is directed also unto Christ. The will of God respecting the kingdom of his Son was the secret of creation (Ephesians 3:9, Ephesians 3:10). Man's sin did not give birth to that purpose. It called for its vindication in new forms of superabounding grace; but from the beginning it was "the Father's will that all should honour the Son as they honour the Father" (John 5:23). He is "the Heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:2), and it is "the glory of God the Father" "that every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:9-11). So far, therefore, as we can trace any Divine working in the course of nature or history, we may refer it to Christ as truly as the forgiveness of sins or the resurrection of the dead. Nature and grace, body and spirit, history and revelation, the secular and sacred, are essentially one, are parts of the same scheme, each being the complement of the other (instance the inseparable connection of Christ's miracles of healing with his spiritual work), and are working under the same management (Matthew 28:18), towards the same issue, that "purpose of the ages which God purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, to sum up all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 3:9-11).
II. CHRIST THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH. (Verses 18-23.)
1. Into the world created to be "the kingdom of the Son of God's love," "sin entered, and death through sin;" and death became king, sin in death (Romans 5:12, Romans 5:13, Romans 5:21), instead of "the Prince of life." Hatred was planted in the human breast, and with it came a darkness that "apprehended not the light of life" (verses 13, 21; John 1:4, John 1:5; 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:12); and men fell under "the dominion of Satan" (Acts 26:18; Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 2:3; Luke 4:6; 1 John 5:19), the "murderer," the "father of lies;" till it came to pass that, though Christ ever "was in the world, the world knew him not" (John 1:10). Men were everywhere "cut off from Christ," "alienated,' "children of wrath" (verse 21; Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 2:12); how rebellious against him, his advent proved. Then, in their "wicked works," they not only denied the Son his pre-eminence, but even said, "Come, let us kill him" (Matthew 21:38; Luke 19:14; Psalms 2:1-12.).
2. And he submits to die, that he may "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The Firstborn of all creation becomes Firstborn out of the dead. So high he was in his Divine, eternal birth, so low he steeped—to the Virgin's womb, to "a servant's form," and "unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (verses 18, 20; Philippians 2:7, Philippians 2:8; Romans 1:3; Rom 9:5; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:5-18), to restore his human brethren, to recover his alienated kingdom, "to reconcile all things unto himself" (verses 18, 20; Romans 14:9; Philippians 2:10, Philippians 2:11; Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:6, Revised Text).
3. So dying, he lives again that he may give its life (Romans 6:4-11); descending, in turn he ascends and lifts us with him (Ephesians 4:8-10; Ephesians 2:5, Ephesians 2:6; John 12:32); emptying himself, he gains a new sovereign fulness (verse 19; Philippians 2:8; Ephesians 4:10; Ephesians 1:20-23) of all that the dark, exiled, broken, miserable world needs to restore it and build it up again (Colossians 2:9, Colossians 2:10; Philippians 4:19).
4. Round himself as the living Centre, he gathers a new humanity and forms a new world, which is his body, the Church (verses 18, 24; Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 5:23; John 15:1-8)—a body wider, and yet narrower, than the visible (Matthew 13:24-30; John 10:16); "a spiritual house," built of those united as "living stones" to the "living Stone" (1 Peter 2:4, 1 Peter 2:5), which "groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord" (Ephesians 2:21). So he is the Beginning (verse 18) of an agelong, world wide process of resurrection and reconstruction. The life that is in him is an organic, formative, spiritual enemy, with a "mighty working" in it that is "able to subdue all things unto itself" (Philippians 3:21; Romans 8:2-11); a leaven destined to leaven the whole lump (Matthew 13:31-33). "The kingdom of this world" must "become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ" (Revelation 11:15; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Daniel 2:34, Daniel 2:35; Daniel 7:13, Daniel 7:14); "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" must penetrate, transform, and dominate every sphere of human thought and activity; "the works of the devil" everywhere, and in every form and shape, must be "destroyed" (1 John 3:8). Then only will he have "reconciled all things on the earth to himself."
5. For ourselves, as individuals, the design of Christ's reconciliation is the perfection of our personal character as approved by himself at the day of judgment (verses 22, 28). This is true also of the Church collectively (Ephesians 5:27). He is Judge as well as Saviour; and his justice is as inflexible as his mercy is compassionate. "The King," for as King he will then appear, desires to be able to say to each of us, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you;" "sit with me in my throne" (Matthew 25:34; Revelation 3:21); but he will only say it to those who are worthy (Revelation 3:4, Revelation 3:5). To this end he redeemed us by his blood, bestowed on us Ms Spirit, brought us into his kingdom, subjects us to its discipline, employs us in its service, instructs us in its wisdom, enriches us with all its spiritual blessings—"to present us (on that day) holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him" (Jude 1:24, Jude 1:25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1Th 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Thessalonians 5:24).
6. How far the influence of this reconciliation extends beyond the things upon the earth; and, if it does so extend, in what direction; whether or how it touches "the principalities and powers in heavenly places,"—we cannot tell, and dare not attempt to guess. Origen, on the warrant of this passage (verse 20), fondly thought that even Satan himself would be ultimately reconciled to God. At any rate, when he "through whom and unto whom all things have been created" is the sacrifice, and when the evil of this world is but a part of the realm of evil above and around us, we may not deny the possibility of others sharing with us, somehow, in the atoning virtue of his death.
7. But all this is so far stated from the Divine side, as matter of God's general purpose and plain in Christ (Eph 1:10; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Acts 3:21); and this plan will certainly be carried out; "all things," as a whole, will certainly be reconciled. But there is nothing here to contradict the possibility of a self-exclusion of individuals, belonging to this world or to other worlds, from the benefits of the Divine amnesty, and of their expulsion from a reconciled universe (2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 25:41; Luke 13:25; John 15:6; Revelation 22:15). Verse 23 intimates as much as this. "All this is yours," the ,apostle virtually says, "if ye continue in the faith, not being moved away from the hope of the gospel;" but if not, what then? Contrast 2 Corinthians 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:20; John 10:10 and John 5:40. Still the distressing question, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" presses on us, and our Lord's reply speaks in the same tones of stern and solemn warning (Luke 13:23-30). For us to whom the message of reconciliation is now addressed, it is clear that "now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). To be a minister of this reconciliation, and so a minister of the Church, a builder of the house of God, the Body of Christ, how high and responsible the office (John 5:23-26; 1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:10)!
Colossians 1:24-29.—Sect. 3
The apostle and his mission.
I. PAUL A MINISTER OF CHRIST. (Colossians 1:24, Colossians 1:25, Colossians 1:28, Colossians 1:29.) In this passage the apostle draws a picture of himself which, taken with the delineations furnished by him elsewhere, stands before the Church for all time as the ideal portrait of the "faithful minister" and the "good soldier of Christ Jesus," The account he gives of himself here concerns his calling, his aim, his work, and his experience.
1. The apostle styles himself
(1) minister of the gospel (Colossians 1:23), of the glad tidings of salvation for all men, from all sin, in Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:68-79; Acts 5:31; Acts 13:38, Acts 13:39, Acts 13:47; 1 Timothy 2:3-7; Titus 2:11-14), "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). It is this that he has to serve—to publish, explain, apply it, to carry it everywhere and to all its practical issues. And in thus serving the gospel, he knows that he is best serving the interests of mankind (Titus 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 5:9; Philippians 4:8, Philippians 4:9). There is no charge so serious and responsible, requiring so high a character (1 Thessalonians 2:4) or so much boldness and power of utterance in its minister (Ephesians 6:19, Ephesians 6:20).
(2) He is also minister of the Church (Colossians 1:25) pastor and teacher as well as evangelist (Ephesians 4:11) And minister, means "servant." The Church does not exist for his sake, but he for the Church s sake: "We preach ourselves your servants [slaves] for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5; comp. verse 24; 1 Thessalonians 2:6-8; 1 Peter 5:2, 1 Peter 5:3; John 10:9-15; Ezekiel 34:1-31.). He has authority, which he does not hesitate to use when need arises (1 Corinthians 4:19-5:5; 2 Corinthians 10:2-6); but it is that "which the Lord gave for edification" (2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 13:10). To the Church he can say, "I seek not yours, but you;" "whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, all are yours;" "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (2 Corinthians 12:14, 2Co 12:15; 1 Corinthians 3:22; Philippians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:8). And well may he do this, for he serves the Church for which the Lord Jesus "gave himself," which he "loves," which he "nourishes and cherishes as his own body" (Colossians 1:24; Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:29). He follows in the steps of "the good Shepherd," who "giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
(3) His ministry is a Divine trust, a stewardship of God (Colossians 1:25; Ephesians 3:2, Eph 3:9; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 9:17). He was "separated from his mother's womb" (Galatians 1:15), was "sent" (Acts 22:21), "was put to ministry" (1 Timothy 1:12), "appointed herald and apostle and teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Timothy 2:7). And in accordance with his inward call, he was "separated" for his particular work by "the Holy Ghost," acting through the officers of the Church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). He is, therefore, a "minister of Christ," a "minister of God," and "steward of the mysteries of God" (2Co 11:23; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 1 Corinthians 4:1). Hence the dignity and authority of his office (Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:11, Galatians 1:12), and the power with which it invests him (Colossians 1:29; 2Co 10:4, 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:12; 2 Corinthians 13:3-6), and his responsibility for the final account (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:11; Php 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 1 Thessalonians 2:20; Hebrews 13:17). His business is to "serve the Church," but "to please God" (Galatians 1:10).
2. The aim of his ministry is twofold.
(1) To fulfil the word of God (Colossians 1:25)—to give it the widest possible extension, (Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:23; Romans 15:17-21; 2 Thessalonians 3:1), to carry it through every "open door" (Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12-14), and "manifest the savour of the knowledge of Christ in every place," and to carry it on to its full issue in the salvation and sanctification of all who hear it (Colossians 1:28; Act 20:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15). And so his aim is
(2) to present every man perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28.) This is his endeavour and hope regarding every man to whom his ministry is addressed, unto which he toils hard and strives (Colossians 1:29). His supreme reward "in the day of Christ;" his "joy and crown of glorying" (1 Thessalonians 2:16; Philippians 2:16), will be found in the saved souls, the perfected and ripened Christian characters, whom he will be able then to present as the fruit of "the grace of God that was with him" (1 Corinthians 15:10; Ephesians 3:2, Ephesians 3:8; Romans 1:13).
3. His work is
(1) the preaching of Christ (Colossians 1:29)—"Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2) and "risen again" (1Co 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:4; Acts 17:18), "made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30); "Christ the Image of God" (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4), the "Firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15), "Head of the Church" (Colossians 1:18), "Lord of both the dead and the living" (Romans 14:9), "all and in all" (Colossians 3:11).
(2) The admonishing and teaching of every man. (Colossians 1:28.) For "all have sinned" and need Christ (Romans 3:23-26), and all have a claim on his salvation (1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Timothy 2:3, 1 Timothy 2:4; Romans 3:29, Romans 3:30; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 2:9; John 3:16, etc.). He "admonishes every man," therefore, often "with tears (Acts 20:31), of the nature and the penalties of sin, of the day of judgment and "the fear of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:11), of the danger of failing from grace, of the special faults or errors he may discern in him (Galatians 3:1-4, etc.; 1 Corinthians 1:11, etc.). He teaches in all wisdom, supplying instruction apt for the simplest understanding and for the weakest babe in Christ, and also speaking wisdom among, the perfect (1 Corinthians 2:6-3:2), seeking to meet every stage and state of the Christian life, and studying the gentleness and patience (2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Thessalonians 2:7), the sympathy and adaptiveness which the teacher's work requires (1 Corinthians 9:20-22), "teaching publicly and from house to house," "keeping back nothing that was profitable," but everything that was unprofitable (1 Timothy 4:6-8; 1Ti 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-23; Titus 3:8, Titus 3:9), and plying every possible means to promote and to increase in all men "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:18-21, Acts 20:27).
4. In this work:
(1) His labour is intense and painful. (Colossians 1:29.) Work is in his eyes the one thing for which the Christian ministry is to be valued and commended (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:13). He is himself "in labours more abundant," and in this respect chiefly is "more a minister of Christ" than some others. No kind of toil comes amiss to him, for Christ's sake. Claiming his "right in the gospel" to "live of the gospel as the Lord ordained," yet on grounds of expediency he cheerfully foregoes it, and "brings himself into bondage to all," "for the gospel's sake" (1 Corinthians 9:1-23). "These hands," as he holds them up hard. and black with working at the coarse sailcloth, show how "in all things he gave us an example" of self-denying toil (Acts 20:34, Acts 20:35).
(2) And now his sufferings surpass even his labours, yet they fill him with constant joy. (Colossians 1:24.) He is a prisoner, and his flesh rebels against "these bonds" (Acts 26:29). He cannot preach abroad, or visit the Churches (Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 6:19, Ephesians 6:20; Philippians 1:25, Philippians 1:26), whose "care" still "presses on him daily" (2 Corinthians 11:28). Many desert him (Colossians 4:11), and some even who "preach Christ" do it to injure and not to help him (Philippians 1:16). Yet even in this he can rejoice (Philippians 1:17, Philippians 1:18). He has learnt the secret of contentment (Philippians 4:11). He is conscious of being "set for the defence of the gospel" (Philippians 1:16). His sufferings are evidently tending to its furtherance (Philippians 1:12-20). The cause of the Gentile Church is being effectually served by the sacrifice he has made (Ephesians 3:1, Ephesians 3:13; Philippians 2:17, Philippians 2:18). Above all, he feels that he is treading in the steps of Christ, suffering in the same interest, carrying on the same cause; and he takes it as a gift of grace (Philippians 1:29) that he has thus assigned to him his special share in that which Christ has been pleased to leave, for his servants to suffer after him. How shall he not rejoice to be "as his Master"! In the two words κοπιῶ ἀγωνιζόμενος (Colossians 1:29), whose full force is untranslatable, the apostle paints himself to the life, as the spiritual athlete, the great Christian champion, never flagging in his efforts nor shrinking from the heavy blows that fall upon him, till the prize of victory is won. But while we look at him with admiration, he cries out, "It is not I, but Christ living in me; and in my poor efforts his mighty energy displays itself" (Col 1:29; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 12:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 2:20).
II. CHRIST THE MYSTERY OF GOD. (Colossians 1:26, Colossians 1:27.) This is the glorious theme of St. Paul's ministry.
1. It is the burden of the old revelation, the secret of ancient history. The great heroes of the Old Testament—patriarchs, lawgivers, prophets, kings—were fragmentary types of him, in their character, achievements, or sufferings (Hebrews 5:10; Acts 7:37, etc.). The highest aspirations and anticipations of "holy men of old, moved by the Holy Ghost," were directed mysteriously all along to him, to his birth, teaching, sufferings, resurrection, to "the glory that should follow," to "the preaching of repentance and remission of sins to all nations in his name" (Luke 24:26, Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-47). The Jewish system of worship and discipline, in its construction and design, prefigured and prepared for his advent, who was himself meanwhile secretly acting in it and speaking through it to his people (John 1:10, John 1:11; 1 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Corinthians 10:9; Hebrews 2:10-12; Hebrews 11:26). The whole history of Israel and the development of the Old Testament system unerringly pointed to this goal, where it met the blindly groping, half articulate desire of all nations. In Christ the lines of promise and of preparation, converging from the most distant ages and widely separated peoples, meet and are focussed, in this "fulness of the times."
2. But the goal was hidden, from the ages and from the generations, who stood with straining sight seeking to pierce the darkness of the future (1 Peter 1:10-12; Matthew 13:17). Seeing but a part of the promise, "afar off," and "at sundry times and in divers manners," they could not forecast its issue, nor piece together its scattered intimations. The Gentiles knew that they needed a Divine Saviour, and their need had become consciously extreme and desperate (1 Corinthians 1:19-21; Ephesians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Acts 17:23, Acts 17:27). The Jews knew that he would come, but little suspected in what guise. They knew not how great and inward was their own need of him. Least of all did they expect or wish that he should be for "a light of the Gentiles, and for salvation unto the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47). those who knew most of his coming were least prepared to believe this. It is, alas! still a mystery to them (Ephesians 3:4-6; Romans 11:1-36.; 2 Corinthians 3:12-16).
3. This mystery brings to God's saints, not only a Christ revealed to them, the open secret of the Old Testament, but a Christ manifested in them (Colossians 1:27; Galatians 1:16), Gentiles and Jews alike (Acts 11:17), which is a deeper secret still. How "rich" is the Divine "glory" displayed in this! With what "might" do our weak hearts need to be "strengthened that Christ may dwell through faith" therein, that so we may be "filled with all this fulness of God" (Ephesians 3:16-19)!
4. And therefore this mystery of God is not finished yet. (Revelation 10:7; Revelation 21:1-8.) "Christ in you is the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). Every saint of God is a new mystery to the world, and even to himself (Colossians 3:3; 1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:2). "The manifestation of the sons of God "(Romans 8:19) has still to come, when their hidden life will be made visible. The soul united to Christ and like to him will be mated with "a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:44), a "body of glory" (Philippians 3:21). Then at last the inward and the outward, character and condition, will harmonize and be fitly matched, and "we shall be manifested with him in glory" (Colossians 3:3, Colossians 3:4). This is the Christian hope, of which "Christ in you" is the abiding pledge (Colossians 3:15, note; Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14; Romans 8:11).
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY.
The apostle's thanksgiving for the spiritual progress of the Colossians.
Notwithstanding the dangerous speculations of a Judaeo-Gnostic philosophy which had sprung up at Colossi, threatening the integrity of their faith, the apostle is yet able to express his thankfulness for the faith and love which animated the Christian brotherhood in the valley of Lycus. He is thankful for their continued allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the one satisfaction of all their yearnings, the one solution both of their speculative questionings and of their religious wants.
I. THANKSGIVING IS A CONSTANT EXERCISE OF THE CHRISTIAN HEART, AS IT IS ALSO A TRUE PART OF PRAYER. "We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you."
1. It ought to mingle with every prayer. We never pray but we have cause for thankfulness, and we never give thanks but we have cause to pray. And whatever may be the subject of our rejoicing ought to be matter for thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving was the apostle's constant recommendation (Philippians 4:6).
2. It is to be addressed to God the Father in Christ.
(1) Because we are commanded to "enter his gates with thanksgiving," "to be thankful to him and to bless his Name" (Psalms 100:4).
(2) Because it is only from him that we have all good (James 1:17).
(3) Because it is only by him we are preserved from all sin (Psalms 121:7).
(4) Because he only is good in himself (Luke 18:19).
3. Reasons for thanksgiving.
(1) It is the only requital God expects or we can make for his mercies (Psalms 50:10, Psalms 50:14; Psalms 69:30, Psalms 69:31).
(2) We cannot expect a blessing unless we are thankful for it.
(3) The more thankful we are for mercies received, the more ground we have for expecting more of them.
4. We ought to be thankful as well as prayerful for others as well as ourselves. (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Timothy 2:1.) What a treasury of prayers belongs to the saints!
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THE APOSTLE'S THANKSGIVING—THE FAITH AND LOVE OF THE COLOSSIANS. "Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have toward all the saints." It is interesting to remark that the apostle, in the two Epistles written at the same time as this to Colossae, expresses thankfulness for similar blessings (Ephesians 1:15; Philemon 1:5).
1. Their faith in Christ Jesus.
(1) It was not merely faith resting upon him and finding its nurture and support in him.
(2) But it centred in him as the sphere in which it had its due exercise. In this sense, Christ "dwells in the heart by faith" (Ephesians 3:17), and believers "rejoice in him" (Philippians 3:3, Philippians 3:7). Such a faith is a merciful preservative against doctrinal errors.
2.. Their love to all the sabots.
(1) The nature of this love. It includes:
(a) "Doing good to all, especially to those of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10), and "distributing to the necessity of saints" (Romans 12:13).
(b) Loving fellowship (Acts 2:42). "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25).
(c) Bearing with their infirmities. "Love covereth the multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). We are not to grieve our brother with our meat, else "we walk not charitably" (Romans 14:15).
(d) Cherishing a forgiving spirit (Ephesians 4:31).
(2) The manner of this love.
(a) It is to be brotherly. We are "to love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:22).
(b) It is to be sincere. "Without dissimulation" (Romans 12:9); "Not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).
(c) It is to be from "a pure heart" (1 Timothy 1:5).
(d) It is to be fervent. "Have fervent charity among yourselves" (1 Peter 4:8).
(e) It is to be full of labours (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
(f) It is above all to be catholic. "All the saints," without distinction.
(3) The reasons for this love.
(a) Christ's example and command (John 13:34).
(b) It is a sign of grace. It is a token that "we are translated from death to life" (1 John 3:14). David's delight was "in the saints" (Psalms 16:3).
(c) It is the "fulfilling of the Law" (Romans 13:10).
(d) There is comfort in it (Philippians 2:1).
(e) It commends the gospel to the world. We ought, therefore, to be "sound in love" (Titus 2:2), and "to provoke one another to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).
3. The relation between faith and love. They are necessarily joined together; for:
(1) Faith "worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6) and ought never to work without it.
(2) The grace of God abounds in "faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 1:14). Faith and love are the two members of the Christian religion.
4. The graces of the saints are easily known and heard of. The apostle heard of the faith and love of the Colossians. "Since the day we heard of them." They ought, therefore, to be bright in their heavenly lustre.
III. THE MOTIVE OR IMPULSIVE CAUSE OF THESE GRACES. "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens."
1. The nature of this hope.
(1) The sense of the word oscillates, it has been observed, between the subjective feeling and the objective realization; yet the thing hoped for is rather more prominent in the passage. It centres in the inheritance, in "the recompense of the reward," in "the good foundation against the time to come," in "the eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began."
(2) It is Divine in its origin, unlike the false hopes of men. We are "begotten to a living hope" (1 Peter 1:3).
(3) Its true fulcrum, or point of support, is in the merits of Christ (1 Timothy 1:2; Hebrews 6:19, Hebrews 6:20).
2. The security of this hope. "Which is laid up for you in the heavens." It is secure because:
(1) It is laid up in the country where our Father dwells. And who can destroy it in such keeping?
(2) It is linked to "the two immutable things"—the oath and the promise of God, which are fastened within the veil by our Forerunner, even Jesus (Hebrews 6:19).
(3) It is where the devil cannot come.
(4) It is in heaven, not on earth, and therefore free from all the corruptions that the moth and rust of the world may inflict.
3. The quickening power of this hope. It has great influence upon our faith and love. God makes one grace cause another. "It is hope that plucks up the heart of man to a constant desire of union with God by faith, and of communion with man by love." Moses had respect to the recompense of the reward (Hebrews 11:25, Hebrews 11:26). The saints will find that it is not in vain to serve the Almighty. They ought, therefore, to remember
(1) that their hope is not in this world;
(2) that they should walk as "pilgrims and strangers," using the world as if they used it not;
(3) that they should despise the scorn and hate of a world which "will always love his own."
4. How is this hope to be increased? Though it cannot be made more secure, it may be more fully realized. To this end, we need
(1) true grace, for we can only have "a good hope through grace" (2 Thessalonians 2:16);
(2) experience (Romans 5:4);
(3) patience and comfort of the Scriptures (Born. 15:4);
(4) joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13).
IV. THE SOURCE OF OUR DIVINE HOPE. "Whereof ye heard before in the Word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you."
1. It is by the hearing of the Word we learn of our hope. There is no other way of learning it. The Lord has sent us the news of salvation. Nature tells us nothing of a Divine hope. The importance of this hearing is manifest, because:
(1) It is the source of faith. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:14); "Hear, and your soul shall live" (Isaiah 55:4).
(2) It opens men's hearts (Acts 16:14).
(3) It causes the stony heart to melt, and the proud heart to tremble (Isaiah 66:2).
(4) The afflicted conscience is cured by it (Psalms 51:8). Let us, therefore, thank God for it, love his gospel, receive his commands, and submit to his guidance.
2. The preciousness of the Word. It is "the Word of the truth of the gospel." As if to signify the contrast between the simple truth taught them by Epaphras and the errors of the false teachers. Its preciousness lies in its truth.
(1) It reveals to us the true mind of the Lord as to the way of salvation. "It is a true saying, and worthy of all acceptation" (1 Timothy 1:12).
(2) It exhibits to us Jesus Christ as the Truth, as "him that is true," as "the faithful and true Witness."
(3) It reveals to us the gospel; for "it is the Word of the truth of the gospel." This gospel is
(a) the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16).
(b) It brings life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).
(c) It brings abundance of blessings (Romans 15:14).
(d) It is a witness to all nations (Matthew 24:14).
(4) It works truth in us by working knowledge in us and enabling us to do the truth (John 3:22; James 3:17). Therefore believers ought to pray God to give them the Spirit of truth, that "they may come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25), and never think of resting in the mere form of truth (Romans 2:20; John 3:22).
3. The accessibility of the Word. It is "come unto you." It came without their seeking it or sending for it. The Colossians sat in darkness and the shadow of death, estranged "from the life of God through ignorance," till God caused the light to shine into their hearts. We ought, therefore,
(1) to acknowledge the flee grace of God in sending us such good tidings;
(2) to rejoice in the gospel and walk by the light of it.
V. THE FRUIT BEARING POWER AND EXPANSIVENESS OF THE GOSPEL. "Even as it is also in all the world, bearing fruit and increasing." These words set forth at once the efficacy and the rapid growth of the gospel, its inner working and its outward expansion.
1.. Its fruit bearing power.
(1) This was according to promise (Isaiah 55:10, 23).
(2) It was its design—"to gather fruit which might abide to everlasting life" (John 15:16).
(3) It was to produce fruit "in all the world"—in all climates, among all races, in all ages of the world, as if to mark its universal adaptability to the wants of men. In this respect it differed from the false gospels, which were esoteric or limited in their application. It is the grand verification of the gospel that it continues to bear fruit age after age (Ezekiel 48:12).
2. Its expansiveness. Its rapid progress in the days of the apostles is one of the wonders of history; for "the Word of God grew and multiplied" in the face of the opposition of magistrates, the persecution of Jewish zealots, the perversions of false teachers, and the inconsistencies of Christian professors themselves. Though the Word was not yet announced to all nations, the whole world was the area of its increasing power.
VI. THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL, PARTICULARLY AT COLOSSAE. "As it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth."
1. The hearing is necessary to the knowledge of the grace of God, yet there is a hearing that is resultless of all good. To hear with profit, we must
(1) become fools that we may be wise (1 Corinthians 3:18);
(2) come with a purpose to be reformed by it (Psalms 25:14);
(3) listen with a meek and humble spirit (James 1:22);
(4) hear with faith and assurance (Hebrews 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
2. The true knowledge of the grace of God is fruitful in all the growths of righteousness.
(1) The gospel as taught at Colossae was an offer of free grace, as opposed to the false gospels, which were codes of rigorous prescription. We must, therefore, be careful
(a) not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1);
(b) to appreciate "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9);
(c) to avoid those who would "make void the grace of God" (Galatians 2:21);
(d) to find our constant standing in this grace (1 Peter 5:2).
(2) The gospel at Colossae had produced much spiritual fruit to the praise of God's glory. Epaphras makes special mention of their "love in the Spirit." It refers to all the love which is wrought in the heart by the Spirit.
(a) This love is a chief gift of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22; Romans 15:30).
(b) It is of necessity sincere (Romans 12:13), the outcome of a pure heart (1 Timothy 1:5), and practical in its scope (1 John 3:18).
(c) It is inconsistent with the idea of working evil to a neighbour (Romans 13:10) or of offending a brother in a thing indifferent (Romans 14:15).
3. The early and continuous experience of this grace is a good sign of spiritual growth. "Since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth." This language implies that the work of God wrought speedily upon the Colossians, and that it continued to work. Their goodness was not as the morning dew.
VII. THE FOUNDER OF COLOSSIAN CHRISTIANITY—EPAPHRAS. "As ye learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit."
1. His character and position as a minister.
(1) The apostle gives him the right hand of fellowship, and mentions him with loving regard, that he may strengthen his influence among the people of Colossae. He would thus be better beloved and more useful.
(2) The commendation presents Epaphras in a twofold relation.
(a) To the apostle himself,
(α) as "our beloved fellow servant," working in the service of the same Master and in loving relationship to all his servants;
(β) as the representative particularly of the apostle himself, being "a minister of Christ on our behalf," preaching at Colossae instead of the apostle, and, therefore, not to be displaced by the new school of Judaeo-Gnostic sectaries;
(γ) perhaps, also, as "a fellow prisoner," for Epaphras appears in this light in the contemporary Epistle (Philemon 1:23).
(b) To the Colossian Church. "Who is a faithful minister of Christ."
(α) He was called a minister of the Colossians; for Christ is our true Master, and Epaphras is his minister. It is by his authority ministers act in the people's service.
(β) His faithfulness is to be specially noted, he was faithful to Christ, to the truth, to the souls of men. It is "faithful men" who will be "able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). It is necessary for "a steward of the mysteries" to be "found" faithful.
2. His continued interest in their welfare.
(1) Epaphras tells the apostle something that would tend to bind the flock at Colossae more closely together. "He declared unto us your love in the Spirit." A faithful minister is always glad to give a good report of his people, and especially of what good things God has wrought by him. He has, no doubt, to make report of corruptions in opinion and worship at Colossae, but he is careful to make first mention of their spiritual graces.
(2) He labours for them in prayer (Colossians 4:12), that "they may stand fast, perfect and complete in the whole will of God."—T. C.
The apostle's prayer for the enlargement and completion of their spiritual life.
I. THE URGENT SPIRIT OF THIS PRAYER. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you."
1. It is the duty as well as the desire of ministers, not only to teach their flocks, but to pray for them. They must say, like Samuel, "God forbid that I should … cease to pray for you" (2 Samuel 12:23). The prayer of Moses was more influential against Amalek than all the weapons of Israel. "The prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
2.. They ought to be unceasing in their supplications. There must be "perseverance in supplication for all saints" (Ephesians 6:18). We must give God no rest; for he often delays the answer to increase our importunity (Luke 18:3, Luk 18:4; 2 Corinthians 12:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9).
3. The reason for constant supplication. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray … for you." The apostle had heard of their faith and love, and was naturally concerned for their growth in grace, for the free course of the Word among them, and for their freedom from all error. He heard they were good, and he prayed that they might be better.
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE APOSTLE'S PRAYER. "That ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."
1. The Divine will is the supreme subject of knowledge to a believer. It is not mere speculations about God's nature or his counsels, but his will, that we are to study. This is God's will as it is made known to us either in Scripture or experience.
(1) It is his determining will (Ephesians 1:5).
(2) It is his prescribing will, including Law and gospel, and especially the nature of faith and repentance (Acts 22:9; Ephesians 1:9; Romans 12:2.)
(3) It is his will of approval (Galatians 1:4; Matthew 18:14).
(4) It is his providential will (1 Corinthians 1:1; Romans 1:10). We have much to learn concerning God's will in these four respects.
2. The knowledge necessary to understand it is instinct with "spiritual wisdom and understanding." Knowledge is power, but it may work for evil as well as good. It must be regulated by wisdom and understanding.
(1) Wisdom; not that which has "a show of wisdom," and springs from vanity nurtured by the fleshly mind (Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:23); not fleshly wisdom (2 Corinthians 1:12); much less that which is "earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:17); but spiritual wisdom—the knowledge of the true end of life, such as God gives to the simple (Psalms 19:7), enabling them to penetrate the mysteries of Divine truth (1 Corinthians 2:6) and to understand their duty to God and man in all the relations of life. It is "from above" (James 3:17); it presupposes the existence of faith and love; it is a subject of Christian prayer.
(2) Understanding is the faculty of spiritual insight which takes in the bearings of things. It fits us for the service of God on earth and for the glory of God in heaven. As it is spiritual, it is touched with meekness and humility.
3. The measures of this knowledge. "That ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will." There is no limit assigned to it.
(1) We cannot rest with mere rudiments; we must be "filled with all knowledge" (Romans 15:14).
(2) There will always be something wanting in this life. "We know in part" (1 Corinthians 13:11).
(3) Nothing but the knowledge of the will of God will ever satisfy the deep hunger of man's heart.
4. Motives to this fuller knowledge.
(1) It is the glory of the saints to have it (Jeremiah 9:24).
(2) It is their special privilege to have it (Mark 4:11.)
(3) To want it is a sin and a sorrow (Hosea 4:6).
(4) It is the most excellent of all knowledge; for it is eternal life itself (John 17:3).
5. Design of this knowledge. "To walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing by the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to the power of his glory, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness." The design is twofold as it bears respectively upon action and upon suffering.
(1) The knowledge of God's will is to influence conduct. Its true end is practical obedience. We are "to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing."
(a) Walking worthy of the Lord. This is not
(α) with a worthiness of merit, far we are all of us unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10);
(β) but with a worthiness of meekness such as is becoming when we consider the dignity of our calling, the glory of the kingdom of God, the supplies of grace which the gospel affords, and the blessed hopes laid up for us in heaven.
(γ) It is a worthiness "unto all pleasing." We must "so serve God that we may please him" (Hebrews 12:28; 1 Corinthians 7:31).
(i.) He that seeks not to please him in all things seeks not to please him in anything.
(ii.) If we please him he will make our very" enemies at peace with us" (Proverbs 16:7).
(iii.) "Men pleasing" is inconsistent with God pleasing (Colossians 3:22).
(iv.) It would be sinful and ungrateful to displease him.
(v.) Pleasing God is the work of heaven (Psalms 103:20, Psalms 103:21).
(b) A twofold aspect of worthy walking.
(α) Christian fruitfulness. "Bearing fruit in every good work."
(i.) The necessity of it.
(a) It is for God's glory (John 15:18).
(b) As a proof of our faith (James 2:18, James 2:26).
(c) The edification of others (Matthew 5:16; Titus 3:8).
(d) The increase of our final reward (2 John 1:8)
(ii.) The means of it.
(a) We must abide in the true Vine, Jesus Christ (John 15:4; Philippians 1:1-30.).
(b) We must dwell beside the rivers of water (Psalms 1:3).
(iii.) The extent of it—"in every good work." We must be harmoniously developed in our obedience as in our inward experience (Philippians 4:8).
(β) Increase in moral stature—"increasing by the knowledge of God." We grow in grace just as we grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). There is a mutual interaction between knowledge and grace. We are to add to our faith virtue, and to our virtue knowledge (2 Peter 1:5), just as we are to grow in all spiritual graces by knowledge. Knowledge promotes the sanctification of our callings and our food (1 Timothy 4:3), enables us to discern things that differ (Philippians 1:10), and keeps down corrupt affections (Isaiah 11:7, Isaiah 11:9).
(2) The knowledge of God's will tends to strengthen patience in suffering.
(a) The need of abounding strength—"strengthened with all might."
(α) The afflictions of life tend to weaken us.
(β) Our adversaries are many.
(γ) Our faith is fitful.
(δ) We are often unsettled and tossed about by the wind of contrary doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).
(ε) We are, perhaps, "babes in Christ," and unskilful in the word of righteousness (Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 5:13).
(b) The source of our strengths "according to the power of his glory;" his glory being the manifestation of his love to man (Ephesians 3:16). We "can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us" (Philippians 4:13). He "giveth strength to his people" and "strength is of the Lord." (Psalms 62:11). "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31). "Glorious power will be victorious power." It is God's revelation of himself to us that gives us our greatest strength. It is his glory that sets his power to work, as it is by promise pledged to his people. Therefore:
(α) Let us pray for knowledge and faith to discern God's promise and power (Ephesians 1:8).
(β) Let us hold fast the truth of the gospel, eschewing "winds of doctrine." Let us "follow the truth in love."
(c) The fruit of our strength—"unto patience and long suffering with joyfulness."
(α) Patience or endurance.
(i.) It is the grace which does not easily succumb under suffering, and is one of the most blessed fruits of the tree of life. It is the result of the bracing effect of affliction (James 5:11), and is opposed to despondency or cowardice.
(ii.) Our patience will grow
(a) through the word of patience, for the comforts of the Scriptures beget both patience and hope (Romans 15:4).
(b) We must cultivate a humble and constant trust in the Lord (Psalms 37:3).
(c) We must continue instant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
(β) Long suffering is a temper of gentleness and self restraint, closely connected with patience.
(i.) It is the Lord's command that we should suffer long (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:22)
(ii.) There are injuries that befall us in Divine providence (2 Samuel 16:10).
(iii.) A revengeful spirit is a hindrance to prayer (1 Timothy 2:8) and to the due power of the Word (James 1:21), and it lets the devil into the heart (Ephesians 4:21). Therefore, let us practise this grace of long suffering.
(γ) Joyfulness. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." It is possible to be "sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10).
(i.) Our patience and long-suffering must be balanced with joy so as to sustain their true temper.
(ii.) It is possible to be joyful in tribulations (James 1:2).
(iii.) It is commanded by Christ (Matthew 5:12) and enforced by his own example on the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
(iv.) Its ground is our fellowship with Christ in his sufferings (1 Peter 4:13), and the expectation of a heavenly inheritance (Hebrews 10:14).
(v.) It is one of the fruits of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:22).—T. C.
Divine meetness of the saints for their inheritance.
"Giving thanks to the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
I. THE NATURE AND GLORY OF THE INHERITANCE. Whether we understand by it heaven or the blessings of the kingdom is immaterial, but the original suggests the idea of a joint inheritance, of which each individual enjoys a part.
1. It is an ancient inheritance. For "it is a kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). Its "Builder and Maker" is God himself (2 Corinthians 5:1).
2. It is bound up with the coheirship of Christ. (Romans 8:17, Romans 8:18; Psalm it.) God makes us "heirs and rich in faith" (James 2:5). By virtue of the coheirship, it is a free, sure, satisfying, durable inheritance.
3. It is a holy inheritance. It is "with the saints." Only saints enjoy it with one another. "The pure in heart shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). No unclean thing shall enter into God's kingdom (Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
4. It is an inheritance "in light."
(1) The Lamb is the Light of heaven (Revelation 21:23).
(2) There will be clear vision in heaven's light. Whatever "makes manifest is light." "In thy light we shall see light." We shall "know even as we are known." We shall "see face to face." We shall dwell for ever "in the light of God's countenance." There will be no darkness there.
II. THE MEETNESS FOR THE INHERITANCE.
1. It is implied that we have no natural meetness for it. We could not merit it by our righteousness, and our spirits are out of harmony with its joys. There is nothing in us but "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). The spirit which is in moral darkness cares not for the light.
2. The meetness is given to us.
(1) We are made meet by our calling, by our justification, by our adoption.
(2) We are made meet for it by our sanctification. The Father gives us, along with the kingdom, the disposition, inclination, behaviour of heirs, sons, kings, and priests.
III. THE AUTHOR OF THIS MEETNESS. "The Father."
1. It is he who hath begotten us to the inheritance. (1 Peter 1:3.)
2. It is he only who can pardon us and accept us.
3. It is he who is the Fountain of all holiness.
4. It is he who is stronger than all to preserve us to the end and crown us with final glory. (Jud Colossians 1:24; Ephesians 1:17.)
IV. THE DUTY OF THANKSGIVING. "Giving thanks to the Father."
1. A sanctified heart is ready to acknowledge the instrument by which good is received, yet more the Author of blessing.
2. It honours God to thank him. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Psalms 50:23).
3. A thankful heart is sure of a gracious hearing. The more thankful we are for mercies received the more ground have we to expect more mercies.—T.C.
Translation into Christ's kingdom.
The apostle now proceeds to show how the Father makes us meet for the inheritance of saints. "Who delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love."
I. THE ORIGINAL CONDITION OF ALL MEN. They are under "the power of darkness."
1. Consider the meaning of this darkness. There is a darkness that is seasonable; which, in the economy of nature, brings rest and recovery to man. This darkness is far different.
(1) It is the darkness of ignorance apart from "the light of life" (John 8:12; Ephesians 5:13).
(2) It is the darkness of sin (Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 3:14), blinding men against the truth.
(3) It is the darkness of misery (Isaiah 8:22).
(4) It is the darkness of death (Psalms 88:12).
(5) It is the darkness of hell—" utter darkness."
2.. It is darkness organized for the ruin of men. It is "the power of darkness"—an arbitrary, usurped power, and not "a true kingdom." The prince of darkness is at the head of this dreary realm and strives to keep all his slaves in darkness, lest "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus should shine into them" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
II. THE RESCUE FROM THIS POWER OF DARKNESS. "Who delivered us." None but God can do this work. The strong man will keep his own till the stronger come (Luke 11:22). He delivers us in our effectual calling.
1. He enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ, who is "the trite Light." (John 8:12.)
2. He persuades and enables us to embrace Christ as offered in the gospel. (John 6:44; Philippians 2:13.)
3. He renews our wills and causes as to "walk in the light as he is in the light." (1 John 1:7.)
4.. He clothes us "with the armour of light." (Romans 13:12.)
III. THE NEW KINGDOM OF THE RESCUED CAPTIVES AND ITS NEW RELATIONS, "And translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love." The word usually suggests the transplanting of races and the settlement of them in a new territory.
1. The significance of the translation.
(1) It implies separation
(a) from the world,
(b) from sin,
(c) from the devil. "Go out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17).
(2) It implies the assumption of entirely new relations. The believer is a member of a new society—" the kingdom of grace;" is "a fellow-citizen with the saints;" is heir of the kingdom of glory. He has a new name, new hopes, new friends, and works for a new heaven.
2. The new kingdom of the saints. "The kingdom of the Son of his love."
(1) It is not the kingdom of inferior angels, as errorists might fancy (Colossians 2:8), but that of God's own Son.
(2) It is a kingdom already in existence.
(3) It is a kingdom that cannot be shaken like the kingdoms of earth (Hebrews 12:28).
(4) It is a kingdom that will endure to the end (Luke 1:33).
(5) It is a kingdom in which the number of the possessors will not diminish the blessings enjoyed by each.
(6) It is a kingdom in which Christ now reigns by his Word and Spirit; the saints rejoicing to have him reigning over them.
(7) All the subjects of this kingdom are kings (Revelation 1:6).—T. C.
Redemption through the blood of Christ.
"In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins." (See homiletical hints on Ephesians 1:7.)—T. C.
Christ's headship over nature.
The Gnostic errorists at Colossae taught that the gulf between the infinite God and finite man was bridged across by subordinate angelic agencies. The apostle teaches that the gulf is bridged by Jesus Christ, who, being both God and Man, touches both and is the Reconciler of God and man. He shows that Christ has a double sovereignty, a twofold mediatorial function—in relation to the universe and in relation to the Church. Thus we have a most pregnant statement concerning the doctrine of the person of Christ with the view of showing that there is a real mediation between God and creation.
I. HIS RELATION TO THE INVISIBLE FATHER. "Who is the Image of the invisible God." Christ is likewise called "the Brightness of the Father's glory, the express Image of his person" (Hebrews 1:3).
1. The meaning of this image.
(1) Christ is not a mere likeness of the Father, like the head of a sovereign stamped on a coin, or as a son hears the features of his father.
(2) But he is an essential manifestation and embodiment of the Father. Thus the invisible God becomes visible to man, according to our Lord's own words, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him" (John 1:18). "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
(3) It implies his perfect equality with the Father in respect to substance, nature, and eternity. The Son is the Father's Image except in respect that he is not the Father.
2. Lessons to be drawn from this representation of Christ's glory.
(1) If we would know the Father, we must get into Christ by faith (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(2) As it is Christ's glory to be God's Image, be it our honour to be Christ's image, in knowledge (Colossians 3:10), in holiness, in righteousness (Ephesians 4:21). We are "predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29).
(3) How great a sin it is to turn the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible creatures" (Romans 1:23)!
II. CHRIST'S RELATION TO THE UNIVERSE. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." As his being God's Image implies his eternal unity with God, so his being the only begotten Son of God implies the distinctness of his Person. The apostle thus guards the truth on one side against Arianism, on the other side against Sabellianism. There are two ideas involved in this statement.
1. Christ has a priority to all creation. Arians refer to the passage as implying that he is only one, though the very first, of created beings. But
(1) he is said here to be begotten, not created.
(2) He is declared in the context to be "before all things," and therefore he is no part of them.
(3) "All things" are declared to be "made by him," but he is himself necessarily excepted from the number of the things he created.
(4) The Scriptures elsewhere declare his eternal preexistence and Godhead.
2. Christ is sovereign Lord of creation by right of primogeniture. The word "Firstborn" is used of the Messiah almost as his technical designation (Psalms 2:7), as we see by Hebrews 1:6, "When he bringeth the First-begotten into the world." As such he is "Heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:2 : Romans 4:14). There is thus implied a mediatorial function in the world as well as in the Church.
3. Christ is the actual Creator of all things. "For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." These words justify the title of "Firstborn of all creation." They were all created "in him," not merely "by him"—as if the germ of all creative power and wisdom lay in his infinite mind, as the sphere of their operation. The words impliedly exclude the Gnostic idea that Christ was an inferior agent of the infinite God. He was the creative centre of the universe. Mark:
(1) The extent of creation—"things in the heavens and things upon the earth." This includes all creation as described by locality.
(2) The variety of the creation—"whether things visible or invisible." This division would include the sun, moon, stars, the earth with all its visible glories, in one class; the angels and the souls of men in the other class.
(3) The orders of creation, "whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." As Gnosticism placed Christ among the higher intelligences, the apostle places him far above all angelic intelligences of every order. It is not possible to say whether these names represent various grades of a celestial hierarchy, but it is probable that they do; "thrones and dominions" belonging to the first order, "principalities and powers" standing next, as including spirits both good and evil. Christ made the angels.
4. Christ is himself the End or final Cause of creation. "All things have been created through him and for him." All things were created by him as well as for him—for the manifestation of his glory. "He that was the first Cause must be the last End." The final destination of the universe is referred to the Son, just as it is elsewhere ascribed to the Father (Romans 11:36). The Son is the Centre of the world's final unity.
5. Christ is the Sustainer of the universe. "And by him all things consist." The continued existence, as well as the creation, of all things, depends upon him. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). He "upholds all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). The sustaining unity of the creation is in him
(1) because he maintains its order, appointing all things to their respective ends;
(2) because he sustains the operation of all things, correlating means with ends;
(3) because he secures the cooperation of all things, so that all things work together for his glory;
(4) because he maintains the perpetuity of all things. Thus Christ maintains the cohesion of the universe.
III. LESSONS TO BE DRAWN FROM CHRIST'S RELATION TO HIS FATHER AND TO THE UNIVERSE.
1. We delight in the doctrine of Christ's divinity, which is the doctrine of Christendom.
2. If he made angels and men, they may well worship him.
3. His relation to creation encourages us to hope that he will overrule all the power of nature for the growth of his Church. Even wicked men will have no power to destroy his Church. The creation proves his power, and his love proves his good will.
4. The knowledge of his glory ought to deter from all creature worship.
5. We should ever pray that he would direct the work of our hands continually. (Psalms 90:7.)
6. We ought not to fret at Divine providence. (Psalms 37:2, Psalms 37:3.) The creative and administrative work of Christ, in the natural order of things, is the comfort of all believers.—T. C.
Christ's headship of the Church.
He is the head of the new creation as well as of the natural creation. "And he is the Head of the body, the Church: who is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence."
I. CONSIDER WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THIS HEADSHIP OF THE CHURCH. There is a real essential union of the Head and the members.
1. Christ is the Centre of the Church's life. He is its Life. "Because I live ye shall live also" (John 14:19). The union is strictly vital. "The second Adam is a quickening spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45).
2. He is the Centre of its unity. Believers are all one in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:12). We are baptized by the Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).
3. He is the Source of all its blessings and comforts.
(1) He loves it (Ephesians 5:27).
(2) He sympathizes with its distresses (Matthew 18:5).
(3) He supplies it with abundant grace. "Of his fulness have we all received, even grace for grace" (John 1:16).
3. He is the Maid, spring of all its holy activity. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13); "Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).
II. CONSIDER WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THE SUBJECTION OF THE BODY TO THE HEAD.
1. The Church must own no other Head than Christ. There are undercurrents of priestly domination in our day subversive of this headship. The Pope is not and cannot be the head of the Church in any sense. We can be in subjection to no other than Christ.
2. We must do nothing to dishonour our Head either in flesh or spirit. (2 Corinthians 6:15-18.)
3. We must use all means to grow up into our Head in all things, that "there may be increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).
4. We must dwell with our fellow members in love and humility. "Keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). The members must sympathize with one another (1 Corinthians 10:24).
III. THE ORIGIN OF THE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST. "Who is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead."
1. Christ is the Beginning of the new creation. Two ideas are implied in the expression.
(1) Priority in time. He is "the Firstfruits of them that have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20).
(2) The origination of spiritual life. As he is "the Beginning of the creation of God" (Revelation 3:14), he is the Beginning of the new creation. He is the "Prince of life" (Acts 3:14), the "Author of salvation" (Hebrews 2:10).
2. Christ is Head through his resurrection. He is "the First-begotten from the dead." Consider:
(1) That he was among the dead. Thus he made expiation for our sins.
(2) That he was begotten from among the dead, because he was raised from death to life "for our justification" (Romans 4:23, Romans 4:24).
(3) That he was the first so begotten.
(a) Others were translated or died again.
(b) He rose to die no more (Romans 6:9).
(c) His resurrection involves the resurrection of all his saints.
(4) His resurrection is his title to headship (Ephesians 1:20-23).
(5) Let us realize "the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10) in a holy life.
IV. THE DESIGN OF THE FATHER WAS THAT ALIKE IN THE SPIRITUAL AND THE NATURAL ORDER CHRIST MIGHT HAVE THE PRE-EMINENCE. "That in all things he might have the pre-eminence." Both in nature and in the Church he is pre-eminent; and the Father's design will be yet more fully accomplished when all things are put under his feet and "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ" (Revelation 11:15). Thus our Divine Redeemer is "Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, the First and the Last" (Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:17, Revelation 1:18).—T. C.
The fulness of the Godhead in Jesus Christ.
"For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell." The apostle thus explains the headship alike of the Church and of the universe, for he says the indwelling of Deity was the ground of both.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS FULNESS.
1. It is not the mere manifestation of Godhead.
2. It is Godhead itself in the totality of its powers and attributes. It is "the complete fulness and exhaustless perfection of the Divine essence." It is elsewhere described: "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9) Christ is indeed "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16). The Jedaeo-Gnostics taught that the fulness of the Godhead was distributed or dispensed among several spiritual agencies—"thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers"—so as to introduce grades of angelic mediators between God and man. The apostle declares that the fulness of the Godhead rests, not in them, but in Christ as the Word of God. Thus he is no mere emanation from the Divine Being.
II. THERE IS A PERMANENTLY INDWELLING FULNESS IN HIM. "That in him all the fulness should have its permanent abode." This is the force of the original word, which is very suggestive in the light of later Gnostic heresies. The false teachers held that the fulness of the Godhead as dispersed among spiritual agencies was partial like a blurred image, and also temporary. The apostle teaches:
1. That the totality of Divine Towers abides in Christ.
2. That it abides in him permanently and remains for ever, not coming and going like a transient phenomenon. Therefore we have an inexhaustible supply for all the needs of the Church.
III. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THIS INDWELLING FULNESS TO US.
1. It was of the Father's "good pleasure" that it should abide in his incarnate Son for the welfare of the Church.
2. We are to receive "of his fulness and grace for grace." (John 1:16.) We are to grow "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). The standard is nothing short of the fulness of Christ.
3. The Church is his very fulness—"the fulness of him who filleth all in all," because his fulness is communicated to her (Ephesians 1:23).
IV. LESSONS TO BE DRAWS FROM THIS TRUTH.
1. Great is the mystery of godliness. (1 Timothy 3:16.)
2. Great is the comfort of the believer in virtue of this infinite fulness. There is fulness of wisdom to keep us from error, fulness of grace to subdue our sin, fulness of joy to keep us from despair, fulness of mercy and pity to succour us in our distresses. "Therefore let no man take thy crown" (Revelation 3:11); "Cast not away your confidence" (Hebrews 10:35).
3. Great is the security of the believer. It is a permanent fulness.—T. C.
The reconcilation effected by Christ.
"And, having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself."
I. THE NATURE OF THIS RECONCILIATION.
1.. It implies a prior estrangement. Man "departed from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). He is "alienated" from God (Colossians 1:21). "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). Even God himself was angry with man (Psalms 7:11). But this prior estrangement implies an antecedent friendship.
2. Though man was first in the breach of this friendship, God was first in the reconciliation. This blessed restoration of broken relations is traced to "the good pleasure" of the Father. It is a mistake to say that Christ is the cause of his Father making to us the offer of reconciliation. The atonement is not the cause, but the effect, of God's love.
3. There was reconciliation on God's side as well as man's. There is a change in the Divine relation or mood of mind toward us; for he himself "made peace by the blood of the cross," and his reconciliation of all things to himself is represented as based upon the peace thus made. The death of Christ was a true satisfaction to Divine justice for sin, so that God could be "just and the Justifier of the ungodly."
II. THE MEANS OF THIS RECONCILIATION. "Having made peace through the blood of the cross." The reconciliation was not absolute or without mediation. It was "through the blood of the cross"—the first term suggesting a comparison between Christ's death and the Old Testament sacrifices; the second, the penal nature of the Redeemer's death as that of a curse-bearing Substitute. The apostle emphasizes this aspect of truth, because the errorists of his time denied alike a real incarnation and a real atonement.
III. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THIS RECONCILIATION. "By him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.
1. "Things in earth" may include more than man.
(1) It may include the whole visible creation, which is "groaning and travailing together in pain until now," and "waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19-21). The curse passed to the ground through man's sin; through man will the blessing reach it again. It is a significant fact that Christianity in its purest form brings a happy change over those portions of the earth where it prevails.
(2) But, definitely and primarily, "things in earth" refer to man. Man's reconciliation to God is based upon God's reconciliation to man. It was in virtue of Christ's death that the Holy Spirit came to change the hearts, of men and bring them into harmony with God.
2. "Things in heaven." Not angels, as some suppose, for they were never estranged from God and Christ, and the Head of angels as well as men is never represented as the Mediator of angels. A mere increase of knowledge or blessedness on their part, or the confirmation of them in their heavenly obedience, can hardly be covered by the term "reconciliation." The word must be used in its ordinary sense. The apostle has described Christ's mediatorial function as twofold: as exercised in the natural creation and in the spiritual creation—in the universe and in the Church. His object is not to show the extent either of the creation or of the reconciliation, but, the person of the Creator and the Reconciler, and the Church marks the glorious sphere of the reconciliation as it is seen in its two great divisions of living and dead saints. The "things in heaven" seem, therefore, to apply to the saints in glory.—T. C.
Application of the reconciliation to the special case of the Colossians.
I. THE NATURAL STATE OF THE COLOSSIANS. "And you, being in time past estranged and enemies in your mind in evil works,… hath he reconciled."
1. They were estranged from God. The original term denotes that they had fallen from a prior relationship of amity. It points suggestively to the original innocence of man in Eden, and to the deplorable effects of the Fall, as separating between God and man (Isaiah 59:2). They had become strangers to God,
(1) because strangers to the life of God (Ephesians 4:10;
(2) because they followed strange gods (Deuteronomy 32:16; Romans 1:25);
(3) because they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" (Ephesians 2:12).
2. They were hostile to God both in thought and deed. A strange thought that man should cherish a living enmity in a dead heart! It is enmity to God as Lawgiver and Punisher of sin.
(1) Mark the reality of this enmity.
(a) The threatening of the second command asserts it: "Them that hate me" (Exodus 20:5).
(b) The friendship of the world involves it: "Whosoever will be a friend of the world will be an enemy of God" (James 4:4).
(c) The carnal mind is full of it (Romans 8:7).
(d) All scoffs and blasphemies manifest it (Psalms 74:18).
(2) The seat of this enmity. "In your mind." It is an essentially carnal mind. The enmity lies deep down in the heart, which is a "chamber of imagery," full of all shapes of hatred to God and man. Strange that there should be hatred to him who is Author of our being and Fountain of our happiness! We need, indeed, in regeneration to be "renewed in our mind" (Ephesians 4:23), that we may exchange our hatred for love.
(3) The practical sphere of this enmity. "In evil works." The enmity is not caused by evil works, but is manifested through them (Matthew 15:19). They whose "mind and conscience are defiled" are "unto all good works reprobate" (Titus 1:16).
II. THE RECONCILIATION OF THE COLOSSIANS. "Yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death." The reconciliation has been already explained. The means of it are here expressively set forth by the apostle. The passage suggests:
1. That the atonement was a great historic fact; so that no person might conclude that the reconciliation was effected apart from the person of the incarnate Son or after his return to glory.
2. That he was a real man in a human body, as if to refute Gnostic theories as to a phantom body or as to the body being essentially evil. It was a heresy to say that "Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh" (1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3).
3. That he carried about with him on earth a sin-bearing humanity. It was, therefore, a "weak, abased, and suffering humanity" (Romans 8:3).
4. That his life was consummated by death, as the completion of his atoning sacrifice for sin.
III. THE FRUIT OR EFFECT OF THE RECONCILIATION, "To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him."
1. We see that sanctification follows reconciliation and does not precede it. It confounds the relations of things and perverts Christian doctrine to reverse the order.
2. The atonement provides for our sanctification. It purchased for us all the communications of Divine life. Christ is made to us at once "Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30);
3. The nature of this sanctification. "Holy and without blemish and unreprovable." The words point, not to the relative standing before God, but to the externally observable advances in spiritual life. These are represented, first, positively—"holy;" and then negatively—"without blemish and unreprovable."
4. The end of this sanctification. "To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him." Not, as some allege, at the day of judgment, but for his personal approbation, implying
(1) that all we do is in God's presence (Luke 2:18; Luke 13:26; Acts 10:33);
(2) that God is the Witness of all our acts (Luke 8:47; 2 Corinthians 7:12; Galatians 1:20);
(3) that God not only accepts what is in any measure good (Luke 1:75), but highly esteems what is good in the saints (Luke 1:25; 2 Timothy 2:2, 2 Timothy 2:3; 5:4).
IV. AN EXHORTATION TO PERSEVERANCE IN CONNECTION WITH THE PROVISION FOR THEIR RECONCILIATION. "If at least ye continue in the faith grounded and steadfast, and are not constantly shifting from the hope of the gospel, which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven."
1. There is nothing strictly hypothetical in this passage, as the tense clearly indicates; yet warning is needed as the divinely ordered means of averting failure. There were risks to faith in the presence of Judaeo- Gnostic teachers. We need to be reminded that "he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13); but God himself provides for us the grace of continuance.
2. The mode of this continuance. "Grounded and steadfast."
(1) Marking its positive side.
(a) We must be built on the true Foundation (Ephesians 2:20). We must be grounded in the doctrines of grace as well as "built as living stones" on "the precious Cornerstone" laid in Zion (1 Peter 2:6). Otherwise we shall be swept away in the rising floods of judgment (Luke 6:48, Luke 6:49).
(b) We must be steadfast as the result of this grounding. An ungrounded Christian cannot be a growing Christian. It is well to be settled in the faith if we would make progress in Christian life. Suffering has its influence in increasing our stability. Therefore our apostle prays that the God of grace, "after that ye have suffered a while," may "make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you" (1 Peter 5:10).
(2) Marking its negative side. "And are not constantly shifting from the hope of the gospel, which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven."
(a) The apostle points to the danger of drifting. When the anchors are lifted, it is impossible to know where the ship may go on a dangerous shore. The false teachers were subtle and plausible and speculative. It may have been hard to resist their logic. But the end of their speculations was death—the sacrifice of the hope of the gospel.
(b) He points to a sure anchorage—"the hope of the gospel, which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven."
(α) This hope may have been that of the resurrection, of which the false teachers said it "was past already" (2 Timothy 2:18), and thus cut up by the roots the true expectations of the Christian.
(β) It was more probably the "hope of the gospel" generally, which is described in Ephesians 1:18 as "the hope of our calling," including all the blessings of redemption with resurrection itself.
(γ) It was a hope
(i.) made known by the gospel;
(ii.) imparted to them by Epaphras, the delegate of the apostle—"which ye heard;"
(iii.) and proclaimed as the universal hope of man to all creation.
It was not, therefore, reserved for a select coterie of men. "Its universal tendency was already realized," and its wide publicity was not to be called in question.
(3) Consider the importance of religious steadfastness. "We must hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6). Let us, therefore, bless God that "he has begotten us to a lively hope" (1 Peter 1:3).
(4) Seek wisdom from on high "to know what is the hope of our calling" (Ephesians 1:18).
(5) Let us read the Scriptures prayerfully, that "through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope" (Romans 15:4).
(6) Let us acknowledge that "truth that is according to godliness" (Titus 1:1, Titus 1:2).—T. C.
The mission, sufferings, gospel, and preaching of the apostle.
He introduces here a somewhat abrupt reference to himself, not to vindicate his authority as an apostle, which was not challenged at Colossae, but to emphasize his mission as the apostle of the Gentiles, and to draw the Colossians into closer relations of sympathy with himself.
I. THE APOSTLE'S SUFFERINGS FOR THE CHURCH "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church."
1. The nature of his sufferings. These are to be understood by his frequent reference to the afflictions of Christ.
(1) The afflictions of Christ are not
(a) afflictions borne on account of Christ;
(b) nor afflictions imposed by Christ;
(c) nor afflictions which resemble those of Christ;
(d) nor the afflictions which the apostle endures instead of Christ, as supplementing his afflictions; but the afflictions which Christ endures in his suffering Church. The Messiah was "to be afflicted in all their afflictions" (Isaiah 63:9).
(2) How the apostle filled up that which was lacking of Christ's afflictions. Not as if Christ did not suffer all that was necessary to the salvation of men, but left something to be suffered by members like the apostle as a means contributory to their own salvation. Roman Catholics base upon this passage their doctrine of supererogatory merit and indulgences. Some Protestant divines think this position is to be met by distinguishing part of Christ's sufferings as vicariously satisfactory and part as merely edifying by way of example, and represent the apostle as supplementing, not the first, but the last kind of suffering. This view is subject to the grave objection that there were no sufferings of Christ that were not vicariously satisfactory, as there were none that were not likewise designed for edification, comfort, and example. The Roman Catholic view is unsound,
(a) because it contradicts the whole tenor of Scripture (John 19:30; Hebrews 10:1-15);
(b) because it is absurd, for if the apostle supplied in his suffering what Christ failed to supply, nothing remains for other saints to supply by their sufferings.
(3) The apostle shows in the context that his work was not to redeem, but to edify the Church. What, then, is the meaning of the apostle's statement? That the sufferings of the members of Christ are the sufferings of Christ; for the Church is his body, in which he exists, lives, and therefore suffers. All the tribulations of the body are Christ's tribulations.
2. The design or intent of the apostle's sufferings. "For his body's sake, which is the Church." It was for the extension and edification of the Church. He suffers in his natural body—"in my flesh"—for the mystical body. He teaches us:
(1) That we are to seek the advancement of the cause of Christ above our own personal comfort.
(2) That we ought to endure sufferings because they concern the good of others more than ourselves.
(3) That we are not to take care for the flesh or serve the flesh. (Romans 13:14; Galatians 6:8.)
3. The spirit in which the apostle bore his varied sufferings, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you."
(1) Because they were the means of unspeakable blessing to the Gentiles;
(2) because they would confirm the faith of the Colossians and encourage them to bear suffering with like patience;
(3) because they would contribute to the apostle's own ultimate blessedness (Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 1:6, 1 Peter 1:7).
II. THE SPECIAL DISPENSATION ASSIGNED TO THE APOSTLE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE GENTILES. "Whereof I was made a minister according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the Word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations, but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the Hope of glory."
1. The apostle's peculiar mission to the Gentiles. He calls himself here "a minister of the Church," as he has just called himself "a minister of Christ." His commission is from God himself. "A dispensation of God is given to me." God is the Dispenser of all good things to his Church. Hence we infer
(a) that the efficacy of the Word depends much upon God's appointment of his servants;
(b) that his servants ought to be regarded with confidence and love, because they are God's ambassadors and make the Word of God their supreme rule in dispensing the things of God;
(c) that the commission ought to be executed with all faithfulness and diligence (2Ti 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:2; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2).
2. The design of the dispensation given to the apostle. "To fulfil the Word of God." That is, to give its complete development to the Word of God—"to give its fullest amplitude to, to fill up the measures of, its foreordained universality." Every minister is bound "to fulfil the Word of God" in his ministry,
(1) by preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27);
(2) by rightly dividing the Word of truth according to the wants of the hearers;
(3) by the application of the promises of the Word (Luke 4:21);
(4) by bringing men to fulfil it in a gospel obedience (Romans 15:18).
3. The long hid but now revealed mystery of the gospel.
(1) It is "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." Here is the true mystery of godliness. It is not Christ, but Christ freely given to the Gentiles.
(a) Christianity is Christ in the heart. "He dwells in our hearts by faith" (Ephesians 3:18). He lives in us (Galatians 2:20). He is in us (2 Corinthians 13:5) if we are not reprobates. If he is in us, then
(α) we must continue to live by faith (Galatians 2:20);
(β) we may expect to receive "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" that are "hid in him" (Colossians 2:3);
(γ) we may look for larger measures of his love (Ephesians 3:18);
(δ) we must keep holy hearts, for he will not dwell in an "evil heart of unbelief"—"The heart is Christ's chamber of presence: shall we not, therefore, keep it with all diligence?"
(ε) the grace of Christ will be efficacious against all temptations (2 Corinthians 12:9).
(b) Christ in the heart is the Hope of glory.
(α) He is expressly called "our Hope" (1 Timothy 1:2; Colossians 1:4, Colossians 1:23).
(β) He is the Hope of glory because he has, as our Forerunner, carried the anchor of our hope within the veil, and fastened it to the two immutable things—the oath and the promise of God—in which it was impossible that he should lie.
(γ) The resurrection of Christ establishes this hope (1 Corinthians 15:19), We should be of "all men most miserable" without it.
(δ) We should read the Word, that "through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope" (Romans 15:4), seeing Christ therein as the ground of our hope for eternity.
(ε) There is no hope. for man apart from Christ.
(2) The mystery was long hid from the world. Hid from ages and from generations."
(a) This does not mean that the future salvation of the Gentiles was unknown in ancient times; for the prophets are full of it (Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 54:1-3).
(b) But the mystery was that the Gentiles should be admitted to the blessings of salvation on equal terms with the Jews.
(3) The mystery was at last made known to the saints
(a) by revelation to the apostle (Ephesians 3:5);
(b) by preaching (Colossians 4:4; Titus 1:3);
(c) by prophetic exposition (Romans 16:26); and
(d) by the actual conversion of the Gentiles themselves without their conformity to Jewish usages.—T. C.
Colossians 1:28, Colossians 1:29
The manner in which the apostle discharged his divinely given trust.
"Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ: whereunto I labour also, striving according to his working who worketh in me mightily."
I. THE DUTY OF MINISTERS. It is to preach Christ.
1. It is not to preach morality. Though it is right and necessary to exhibit moral duties in the light of the cross.
2. It is not to preach a philosophy or a thaumaturgy.) 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.)
3. It is to preach Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:3.) Some preach Christ's incarnation as the grand hope of man, but this is to present a broken hope, if it is not supplemented by the death of Christ.
4. It is to preach Christ as the only Saviour. "Neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4:12). There is no salvation in ordinances, in saints, in angels, in images, in pictures, in works of righteousness.
5. It is to preach Christ as a sufficient Saviour. He is mighty to save, and "able to save to the uttermost."
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH CHRIST IS TO BE PREACHED.
1. "Admonition." "Admonishing every man." This implies:
(1) The duty of rebuke in the case of those who repair to other saviours than Christ. Preachers must, likewise, rebuke sin (Isaiah 58:1; 2 Timothy 3:17; Hebrews 9:10).
(2) Preaching is to set forth examples of admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11).
(3) Great is the profit of admonition to those who receive it aright (Proverbs 28:13).
(4) It implies that all men need admonition, for all are apt to err or sin.
2. Teaching. Christianity is not a thaumaturgy, not a spectacular religion; it is the exhibition of Christ through the gospel of truth. The understanding must be informed.
(1) There is the promise of the Spirit to lead us into all truth (John 14:26).
(2) There is the Word of truth, which preachers are rightly to divide (2 Timothy 2:15).
(3) We need to be instructed, for we are ignorant and prejudiced.
(4) There is immense variety in truth. "In all wisdom." Preachers must preach wisely—not in the "wisdom of words" (1 Corinthians 1:17), but in the truly Divine wisdom which enables us "to understand our own way" (Proverbs 14:8), which teaches us humility—"becoming fools that we may be wise (1 Corinthians 3:18); to walk not as fools, but as wise (Ephesians 5:15); and "to consider our latter end, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalms 90:12).
III. THE DESIGN OF THIS PREACHING OF CHRIST. "That we may present every man perfect in Christ."
1. Perfection is the aim. It will be attained in glory. It implies perfection in knowledge as well as holiness. We are to seek perfection
(1) in doctrine (Hebrews 6:1);
(2) in faith (James 2:22);
(3) in hope (1 Peter 1:13);
(4) in love (1 John 4:18);
(5) in understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20).
2. Perfection is only to be realized in Christ.
(1) Its ultimate realization comes through him (Philippians 1:6).
(2) This thought ought to make saints seek a closer intercourse with Christ.
3. It is a perfection designed for all saints. "Every man." It is not for an inner circle of disciples, an initiated few, but for "every man." This universality of blessing marks the distinction between the gospel of Christ and the schools of Judaeo-Gnostic speculation.
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH MINISTERS OUGHT TO LABOUR IN THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST.
1. They must labour and strive. The ministry is a severe labour to body, mind, and spirit. The apostle "laboured more abundantly than they all." The Lord's work cannot be done negligently (2 Timothy 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:12).
2. Ministers must labour, not in their own strength, but in the Lord's strength. "Striving according to his working, who worketh in me mightily." It is the Lord who works in his ministers for the salvation of souls. Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but "it is God that giveth the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6).—T. C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The hope laid up in heaven.
This Epistle, written from Rome to meet and overmaster the "Colossian heresy," begins with a salutation somewhat similar to those at the beginning of other Epistles. There is the assertion of Paul's apostleship as direct from Christ; there is the statement of the brotherhood of Timothy, and the desire that grace and peace may be the constant portion of the saints and faithful brethren at Colossal. But, having thus started, Paul immediately passes to an account of their character as he had got it from Epaphras, and how this character had been produced. He is thankful for it, and he wishes them to remember how it had been formed within them. And here we have to notice that—
I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE OBJECT OF THE COLOSSIANS' FAITH. (Colossians 1:4.) They had happily been led to this—to trust in the personal Saviour. It is not the promises, but the Promiser; not the proposition, but the Person pledging himself to the fulfilment of the proposition, in whom we believe. Now, the heresy, which will appear more clearly afterwards, made a good deal of angelic and intermediate personages; there was, in fact, a tendency to a mystic peopling of the unseen with needless, forms, explanatory, as the Colossians supposed, of the mysteries of creation. It was important in these circumstances to state with precision that Jesus Christ is the great Object of faith. Faith in such a Being becomes a glorious simplicity. It is a simple extension of that trust to him which we extend to our fellow men. But his glorious personality, embracing a Divine as well as human nature, makes all the difference between faith in men and faith in him. The latter is true saving faith.
II. THE SAINTS WERE THE SPECIAL OBJECTS OF THE COLOSSIANS' LOVE. (Verse 4.) While faith goes out to a personal Saviour, it worketh by love towards all the saints. For it cannot but be that, in trusting and loving the perfect Saviour, we learn almost instinctively to love those in his image. The saints, all the saints, are seen to have their claim upon the believer's love. The love of good men is the note of a true Christian.
III. HEAVEN WAS INDISPENSABLE TO THE CONSUMMATION OF THEIR HOPE. (Verse 5.) It is the characteristic of the Christian system to relegate a goodly portion of its promise to the world to come. It has certainly a promise for the life that now is, but chiefly has it a promise for that which is to come. In heaven the hope is laid up. And into this hope the Colossians heartily entered. They looked for more to follow—for a purity, for a power, for a perfection impossible in the present life. There is thus a faith, a love, and a hope characteristic of the saints at Colossae as well as elsewhere.
IV. THIS HOPE HAD BEEN COMMUNICATED THROUGH THE PREACHED GOSPEL. (Verses 5-8.) Had the Colossians not had the gospel preached to them, they would never have entered into such glorious, heavenly hopes. The word of the gospel is fruit-bearing. It kindles the hopes of men. Everywhere it has the same blessed effects in lifting men's hearts to heaven. It would seem that Epaphras had been the instrument in the Lord's hand in evangelizing the Colossians. He had, as a faithful minister of Christ, preached the Word to them, and they had received it and become the loving disciples he represented them to be in his report to Paul. "Love in the Spirit" was the leading idea in their lives. All this was matter for profound gratitude to God, and so the apostle pours out his thanksgiving to God the Father (verse 3) because of it. In such circumstances it surely becomes us to see that we rise on the wings of hope to heaven and appreciate the glorious consummation which there awaits us. We need such a hope to complete the demands of our immortal being. We cannot be satisfied with the seen, with the present life, with the present world; we must have more. And this the gospel gives us in that hope which is laid up for us in heaven.—R.M.E.
The kingdom of God's dear Son.
From the thanksgiving presented because of the faith, hope, and love of the Colossians, Paul next proceeds to intercession for their spiritual progress There is considerable similarity between the intercession he makes for the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:14-21) and the intercession he here makes for the Colossians. In both he appeals to the Father that the most intimate and loving relations may be established between the persons prayed for and "his dear Son." He gives, however, in the case before us a magnificence to his conception of Christ which is not found in the longer Epistle. In this way he could best meet and overcome the Gnostic tendency at Colossal. Let us consider the truth embodied in the intercession in the following order:—
I. WE SHALL CONSIDER THE KING HERE REFERRED TO. (Verse 13.) Paul has already presented Jesus Christ as the Object of the Colossians' faith. But in the present section he presents him as "God's dear Son," or "the Son of his love" (υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ), in possession of a kingdom. This kingdom is the antithesis of "the power of darkness;" it is, in fact, a kingdom of light. The sphere of the inheritance of the saintly subjects is said to be light (verse 12). Hence Jesus is brought before us in this prayer much as he is brought before us in the Apocalypse, as the light giving Lamb (Revelation 21:23). "I am the Light of the world," he said; and as the greater light rules the day, so does Jesus rule in his kingdom (John 8:12; Genesis 1:16). The sun is now known to be the source of all the light and heat enjoyed on the earth; to his genial beams we owe spring and summer and autumn, and all the precious fruits of the earth; so is it to Jesus Christ we owe all the procession of seasonable blessing which his kingdom affords. He is King, then, over such a realm as Pilate could not appreciate—over a kingdom of truth, whose rights interfered not with the rights of Caesar (John 18:33-38; Matthew 22:21). The light in which our spirits are bathed is truth—the truth as it is in Jesus. From his glorious Person there radiates the benign and healing beams which enable the recipients to grow even as the calves of the stall (Ma Colossians 4:2).
II. LET US CONSIDER THE SUBJECTS SECURED FOR THIS KING. (Verses 13, 14.) Now, Paul in this prayer speaks of the Father providing subjects for his dear Son. And, strange to say, he finds them in the kingdom of darkness, and by translation he populates the kingdom of his Son. He finds the raw material in sinners who need redemption and pardon, and they become Christ's subjects through receiving at his hands these indispensable blessings. Truly it is a strange arrangement that the King, God's dear Son, should, before entering upon his reign, first die and provide through the shedding of his blood the redemption and forgiveness the subjects need. Yet so it is. The Father sent his Son to be the Sacrifice to take away sin, and from the altar he passes to the throne. We here can see how endeared the King must be to his subjects. Having lived and died to redeem us, we feel it to be only just that we should live, and, if need be, die for him. Hence the consecration of the blood of the Son of God is upon all the subjects. It is a kingdom of redeemed and pardoned and blood-bought souls over whom Jesus reigns.
III. CONSIDER NEXT THE OCCUPATIONS OF THIS KINGDOM. (Verses 9-11.) We can now see clearly that the duty of the blood bought subjects of King Jesus is, in one word, to do his will. But, before we can do his will, we must know it. Hence Paul prays that these Colossians may be "filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." The cry of the blood bought soul is "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" We place ourselves at the disposal of our King and ask him to show us his will. As a rule, we shall not be left long in doubt regarding it. In the darkest hour the light ariseth for the upright (Psalms 112:4). If we straight fowardly want to know what Christ's will is, we shall soon find it. But this knowledge of Christ's will is that the Colossians may "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." Jesus indicates his will that his blood bought people may walk worthily. High moral principle is to characterize them constantly. And every good work will find in them willing hands. The servants of Christ have been always in the van of philanthropic effort. And this morality and zeal will not be allowed to hinder progress in the knowledge of God. Education is not withheld from any of Christ's subjects by reason of the multiplicity of other claims. The real education, which is in the knowledge of God—for the world and all that it contains constitute in the last analysis simply a revelation of his power and Godhead (Romans 1:20)—goes hand-in-hand with moral earnestness and effort. But yet again, the subjects of Christ's kingdom find the need of patience and long suffering; they cannot get along without bearing a good deal from worldly people—sneers, insolence, persecution, and in extreme eases death. Yet the King strengthens his people with might according to his glorious power, so that they are able joyfully to bear and suffer what is sent. It is here that the occupations of the kingdom constitute a power. The world wonders at the saints who can be so joyful in their King, in spite of the drawbacks and difficulties to which they are exposed.
IV. CONSIDER AGAIN THE COMPENSATIONS OF THE KINGDOM. (Verse 12.) What is "the inheritance of the saints in light"? Does it mean a heavenly world where light such as only shines on tropical lands shall bathe emancipated men, and they shall be enabled to lie like lotus eaters amid the glory, and never further roam? It is to be feared that the current notions of heaven partake of the dreamy "sofa religion," which to earnest worldly natures is so repulsive. Let us, on the contrary, remember that the doing of our Lord's will is its own reward. Heaven will afford no higher enjoyment than this. Our souls are not rightly balanced when they look for something else or more. "We are saved," says Archer Butler, "that we may for eternity serve God; salvation itself would be misery if unaccompanied by a love for that service." In the pleasing of our King, therefore, all the compensations of the kingdom lie. The outward conditions and circumstances would be changed in vain if we were not animated by this loyal and loving spirit. May such meetness for the inheritance be our present experience, as it was that of the Colossians.—R.M.E.
The glories of King Jesus.
The apostle, having in his prayer pleaded for the Colossians that they may be worthy members of the kingdom of Christ, proceeds to speak of the glories which belong to their King. His purpose, like that of every true preacher, is to make Christ pre-eminent. The central thought of the passage is that God is invisible, but Christ is the visible Manifestation of the Father's perfections. In him as the perfect "Image" we may "see God."
I. JESUS AS THE GLORIOUS CREATOR REVEALED THE MIND OF GOD. (Verses 15, 16.) We are apt to think of Christ's revelation of the Godhead solely in his incarnation. Doubtless it was the climax of the "exegesis" of the invisible God (cf. John 1:18, ἐξηγήσατο). But there were previous revelations, and this is Paul's idea here that creation is a revelation of God through the power of. Christ. Now, one thing is certain about the creation, that it addresses itself to mind. If men imagined it was thoughtless, they would not spend two minutes more in its investigation. All science proceeds on the postulate of creation being thinkable, intelligible, an appeal to mind. If creation, then, embodies thought, we have further to notice that it is thought of the same order as human thought. After all the weary investigation, therefore, which tries to blink the fact of creation being a revelation of God, we are reduced in the last analysis exactly to this idea. Of course, we have not succeeded in interpreting the revelation in nature with either accuracy or fulness; but every year's honest work carries us on towards the fuller understanding of the Divine Thinker who speaks to his creatures in all the work of his hands. The fascination of science lies in the fact that a deeper Thinker than any of the investigators is behind the work, and is calling for interpreters. The wonderful creation is from end to end, in heaven above and in earth beneath, Christ's exposition of the mind of God.
II. HISTORY IS ALSO AN EXPOSITION BY CHRIST OF THE DIVINE MIND. (Verse 17.) For not only did Christ as Creator give the system a start, but as the Upholder of the system he makes it a continuous revelation. The philosophy of history lies in the assurance of the great procession of facts being under the constant control and direction of Divinity. Of course, as in the former case of the interpretation of nature, we may be and are very far from a full grasp of the significance of history. Yet undoubtedly a reverential study of the course of events brings us daily nearer the understanding of the whole. It adds to our interest to take with us this assurance—that Jesus Christ is at the back of all being, upholding it, sustaining the system, and reducing it to an orderly exposition of the Divine thought. Amid the apparently chaotic course of events, in consequence of the freedom and frailty of the creature, there is the really orderly procession of the whole towards that "one Divine event to which the whole creation moves."
III. CHRIST'S ECCLESIASTICAL HEADSHIP IS A FURTHER REVELATION OF GOD. (Verse 18.) For not only has Christ been Creator, not only has he been and is the Preserver of the system, but he has also been constituted Head of a special class of beings, united in what is called "the Church." Many of his creatures do not recognize either him or his relations to the universe. They act as if he were not, and his control of them is without their leave and in spite oftentimes of their opposition. But others happily have come to recognize him as Lord of all, and consequently of themselves as well. Believers in him, adorers of him, they have learned to look on life as simply a longer or shorter opportunity of doing his will or of suffering" his good pleasure." And as Christ comes lute tenderer and closer relations to the believers of the world than he can come into towards the unbelievers, he is as closely bound to his believing people as the ruling and sovereign "head" is to the subject and obedient "members "of the one body. And this headship of Christ is a revelation unto men of the mind of God. Of course, in this case, as in the previous cases, there is only an approximation to the understanding of God's mind and will as thus revealed. But we are progressing steadily towards the ideal of perfect light and perfect submission. The Churches may but imperfectly grasp what God in Christ means; they may be very wayward and arbitrary in many of their interpretations; but the desire to know and obey Christ brings them along the line of privilege and duty with increasing appreciation and success.
IV. IS CHRIST'S RECONCILIATION OF ALL THINGS UNTO GOD HE FURTHER REVEALS TO THE UNIVERSE THE MIND OF GOD. (Verses 18-20.) Now, just as philosophy is the reduction of the multiform in fact to the uniform in idea, so is there in the system administered by Christ provision made for the reconciliation of all things to the Supreme, that the unity of all things may be the last thought of God. This is the meaning of the cross and the blood shed upon it, and all the redemptive system which centres around it. This is the purpose of Christ's resurrection to immortal life the first, that, as the pre-eminent One, he might gather in his embrace a reconciled universe and lay it at the Father's feet. Of course, the prerogative of creaturely freedom is such as to refuse the reconciliation and to crystallize into hostility in some sad cases. It would be contrary to the Divine plan to force the will and ride rough shod over the determinations of the creature. Some consequently, it would seem, are to be allowed to take their own course and remain incorrigible; yet in the unifying idea of God their discord, as in the music of the great masters, will be made to contribute to and to emphasize the general harmony. Meanwhile, how grand the idea is of the unity of all things! Surely we should not allow ourselves to conflict consciously with it in our dealings with men. We should back it up as the goal and far off Divine event to which all things are made to move. The blood of the cross cries really for the reconciliation of the universe to God.—R.M.E.
The indwelling Christ the believer's Hope of glory.
The apostle now passes from the general idea of the reconciliation in Christ of all things, to its particular application to the Colossians. We may allow the idea, by its very vastness and grandeur, to become indefinite. We need, therefore, to see its application to the individual soul. Paul consequently brings the reconciliation home to every heart. And here we notice—
I. THE COLOSSIANS' NATURAL STATE. (Verse 21.) They were "alienated," and the alienation passed into downright enmity, which manifested itself in "wicked works." Not only were they alienated from God, but from one another and even from themselves. For sin is such a separating power that it not only cuts us off from God and from our fellow-men, but also from ourselves, so that we are divided and dissipated in the faculties and energies of our souls. Hence we find ourselves incurring, not only the Divine anger and the anger of our fellows, but we become angry with ourselves. It will be seen, therefore, that the reconciliation needed is a very wide one.
II. THEIR GRACIOUS RECONCILIATION. (Verses 22-27.) The reconciliation has been brought about at no less a cost than the death of the Son of God. It must be precious. And now we are to notice how real it is. For just as the alienation and enmity have been towards God and men and self, so the reconciliation brings us into unity with God, unity with men, and unity with self. We are reconciled to God; we are reconciled to our fellow men; we are reconciled to ourselves. This is secured by Christ's indwelling, so that he becomes our Hope of glory (verse 27) and the Source of that holiness and blamelessness which are the characteristics of redeemed men. Let us look at this reconciliation through atonement and indwelling.
1. We are reconciled to God by it. The Divine hatred to sin found fitting outlet in the cross of Jesus, and in consequence Christ's Spirit comes and dwells in the believer as the Source and Fountain of a holy character. The inspired, Christ-inhabited soul becomes the object of restored fellowship and complacency; God looks down in love, and he and man are one.
2. We are reconciled to our fellow men by it. The indwelling Christ leads us to peace-making, and we refuse to continue at war with those around us. We rather rejoice in the assurance that the atonement and inspiration of Christ are intended to bring about peace and concord among men.
3. We are reconciled to ourselves by it. For in sin, as we have seen, we are divided and dissipated; but grace comes and we are united to fear God's Name. We doubtless battle with our sins, but we realize that this is the way to regain our true selves and put internal discord away.
III. THEIR EXPECTED PERSEVERANCE AND PERFECTION. (Verses 23-28.) This faith in Christ, this body of truth through which we have been brought into such intimate relations to Christ, is that in which we are grounded and settled. We expect to continue therein, and this is the meaning of our perseverance. Now, if Christ dwells within us by his Spirit, our progress is assured through his inspiration, and perfection in him is the goal we are to reach at last. This perfection which Paul aims at for the Colossians is not the imputed perfection which "completeness in him" implies, but the perfection of sanctification which his inspiration secures in due season. Only thus are we brought into complete harmony with the universe of God.
IV. THE APOSTLE'S PAINFUL MINISTRY IN SECURING THIS. (Verses 24-29.) As the minister or servant of the Colossian Church, he had taken "pains" to instruct them properly. In this respect every good and noble work is painful; unless we take pains we cannot do it well. But over and above this, Paul was called upon to suffer special trials. He was a prisoner at this time at Rome. He was a suffering member in Christ's mystical body. Now, one member often suffers in the interests of other members. The atonement of Christ was the suffering of the Head in the interests of all the members. In this none of the members can have any share. But Christ's afflictions had a wider meaning than simply atonement. He was perfected in experience by them, so as to be sympathetic in a degree impossible otherwise. In this department Paul could have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Now, the Colossians profited by Paul's sufferings for them at Rome. All his pain, all his agonizings for them, all the devotedness of spirit he had manifested for them during many years, went to make up the needful basis for their spiritual progress. If he had not suffered as he did, he could not have composed these Epistles of the captivity. To this painful ministry all earnest souls are called. It is part of our heritage, and the experiences found within it are altogether glorious.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
Colossians 1:1, Colossians 1:2
Address and salutation.
It is common to compare the Epistle to the Colossians with the Epistle to the Ephesians. Written about the same time (both conveyed by Tychicus), there are many coincidences in thought. But there is this difference—that the thought in this Epistle does not centre round the Church of Christ (the word occurs only twice, as compared with nine times in the Epistle to the Ephesians), but round the Person of Christ. There is also this difference—that this Epistle has not the catholic form of the Epistle to the Ephesians, but has a certain controversial form, with reference to the peculiar state of the Colossian Church. In order to understand the Colossian heresy, it is necessary to bear in mind that the type of religion to which the Eastern mind was inclined was mysticism. One feature was the belief in a good and a bad principle (Isaiah refers to them as light and darkness), the latter having its abode in matter. Another feature is the postulation of emanations, or intermediate agencies between heaven and earth. This mysticism seems to have had congenial soil in Phrygia, to which Colossae belonged. It had an ascetic side (communication with matter being to be eschewed), and, readily combining with Judaism, it formed Essenism. In the Galatian Churches it was Judaism that was struggling to modify Christianity. In the Colossian Church it was rather this Essenism that was the modifying element. The modification of Christianity by Eastern philosophy (its finding a place for redemption and the Person of Christ) was afterward known as Gnosticism.
1. The writers. "Paul." He is the principal writer. The thought has a distinctively Pauline character. We cannot mistake its coming from the writer of the Epistle to the Ephesians. He has a relation to two personalities, who are yet one (Jesus being the Christ of God).
(1) His relation to Christ. "An apostle of Christ Jesus." That gave him unquestionable authority in all matters which he discussed. He gave the mind of Christ. He was under the infallible direction of the Spirit. And his statements were to be accepted in the face of all statements to the contrary.
(2) His relation to God. "Through the will of God." It was not that he had light in himself more than any ordinary writer. It was simply that God graciously willed that he should communicate the mind of Christ to them and to others. And that was his support in every word he dictated. "And Timothy." He is subordinated to Paul in the writing of the Epistle; and his personality is, after a few introductory verses, lost sight of. He is brought into relation, not directly to Christ or God, but to the brethren. "Our brother." A member of the Christian brotherhood Timothy was. And that really contained more in it (title to everlasting life) than "apostle" by itself. "Apostle" would cease, but "brother" would remain. Apostle though Paul was, in a brotherly way he consulted with Timothy regarding the Church of Colossal. The ground of his consulting with him would naturally be his acquaintance with that Church. That active brother, it may be presumed, had ministered to them and had won their affection. And so Paul associates him with himself in writing to Colossal, that, beyond the "apostolic," there might be the "personal," in which personal Timothy was partly his representative. He might expect to have influence with Colossae, when there was both apostolic authority and personal affection combined.
2. The persons addressed.
(1) Generic designation. "To the saints." The holy people had formerly been those connected with the holy land; but here were they, many of them Gentiles, receiving the ancient title of honour.
(2) Specific designation. "And faithful brethren in Christ." The corresponding designation in Ephesians is "And the faithful in Christ Jesus." The apostle goes a point here beyond their believing, viz. to their being, in virtue of their believing, a brotherhood, and a brotherhood subsisting in (as created by) Christ, therefore distinctively the Christian brotherhood. Locality. "Which are at Colossae." This town was situated in Phrygia, in the interior of Asia Minor. There were three towns connected with the valley of the Lycus (a tributary of the Ms, under). Overhanging the valley on opposite sides, and facing each other, with the mountains rising behind and the Lycus flowing between, about six miles apart, were Laodicea and Hierapolis, the two towns which are referred to at the close of this Epistle. Further up the river, and intersected by it, distant about twelve miles both from Laodicea and Hierapolis, was the third town of Colossal. With a certain historical character, it was the least important place to which any Epistle of Paul's was sent. The attention of the apostle was drawn to it at the time by the presence at Rome of two Colossians—Epaphras, who is referred to in the seventh and eighth verses, and Onesimus, the runaway slave about whom Paul writes in his Epistle to Philemon.
II. THE SALUTATION.
1. The two words of salutation.
(1) Grace. "Grace to you." This is the universal word of salutation in the Epistles which bear Paul's name (it is wanting in the Epistle to the Hebrews). It points to this—that we must not look to our friends being blessed on the ground of their deservings. If they are to be blessed, as we would wish them, then there must be the outflowing of Divine favour toward them.
(2) Peace. "And peace." This also is the universal word in salutation with Paul. If we were dealt with according to our deservings, there would be constant cause for dispeace. But being dealt with according to infinite grace (upon which we can ever fall back under a sense of our ill deservings), there should then be a calming of the mind and an ultimate complete deliverance from all disturbing influences.
2. Source to which we look in salutation. "From God our Father." In the Revised translation the usual addition is omitted, "and the Lord Jesus Christ." It does not enter into the plan of the apostle to connect his thought with the Father and the Spirit in this Epistle, as in the Epistle to the Ephesians (they are named twenty-four times in Ephesians, and only six times in Colossians). But here in the forefront prominence is given to the Father (all the more because of the unusual omission) as the original Source whence all blessings flow. The Divine fatherhood (not apart from Christ) is the natural guarantee for provision being made for ourselves and for our friends, for individuals and for Churches.—R.F.
I. THANKSGIVING. This forms a suitable introduction (in Ephesians the apostle starts with a sublime but less personal doxology).
1. The facts of thanksgiving. There may be said to be two facts, but the other is subordinated to this (which accordingly is assigned the first place), "We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." In this exercise Timothy was conjoined with Paul. Being a thing about which they were agreed, they could thank God, not only separately, but unitedly. This is a holy partnership on which God looks down with special pleasure. Where did they go to with their thanksgivings? It was to the First Source, through the Second Source. Our Lord as the Saviour anointed (Jesus Christ) dispenses blessings; but he has got them from the Father ("He has received gifts for men"), and therefore we trace them up, in others as well as in ourselves, through Christ to his Father. "Praying always for you." This is stated to show the abundance of his opportunity for thanksgiving. He was always praying for the Colossian Church as for other Churches. This was one form which his care for all the Churches (a daily care) took. And Timothy, it seems, was not behindhand, but was copying the comprehehsiveness of his instructor. And as, in their like mindedness, they had daily prayers together, when they came to thanksgiving Colossae was never forgotten.
2. On what their thanksgiving was founded. "Having heard." He (Paul) was not (never had been) an eyewitness of the Church at Colossae, but his ear was open to all information from that quarter, by Colossian visitors, or by special deputy (from himself), or through less direct channels. Timothy had probably been at Colossae, but his knowledge, too, had been added to by hearing. And, as the two talked over matters, they found subject for thanksgiving It is one reason for our extending our knowledge of missionary operations (not confining them to one society or field) that, by doing so, we get a multiplicity of subjects for thanksgiving.
3. For what specially they thanked God.
(1) Faith. "Of your faith in Christ Jesus." It was faith (subjectively) that made them a Church. When Paul and Timothy thanked God for the faith of the Colossians, they had in view the activity of their faith. It was not only there (that is supposed in their being addressed as "faithful brethren"), but it was strongly operating. The element in which it operated, and in which it admitted of endless expansion, was Christ Jesus (a saving element being in him that was inexhaustible).
(2) Love. "And of the love which ye have toward all the saints." Their love to be thus signalized must have been more than ordinarily active. There is a vague kind of love which does not amount to much. If it is really the Christian principle of love (of the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians) and if it is sufficiently active, it will show itself, not only in the absence of jealousy, but in the presence of positive interest. These Colossians did not confine their affections within their own circle, but let them go out toward all the saints. They acquainted themselves with the condition of other Churches, and in many ways were helpful to them. Faith and love are here referred to generally, but when Paul and Timothy gave thanks, they would be able to fix upon this and upon that as evidencing the reality and vitality of their faith and love.
II. THE LOVE (WHICH FORMED MATTER OF THANKSGIVING) WAS CAUSED BY HOPE. "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens." This hope had a certain objective character. It was something outside of them which was safely laid past for their future enjoyment. At the same time, it had a certain subjective character. It was something operating within their own breasts. They were kind to the saints of their day (without exception). Why? Because they looked beyond the present. The time would come when (removed from under earthly conditions) they would meet them in the heavens. They might get no reward here (their catholicity might bring them persecution), but it would be reward enough to see there those whom they had done their duty by, and to receive from Christ words of approval It was because of this hope, then (so sure), that their love flourished.
III. THE HOPE WAS COMMUNICATED IN THE GOSPEL. "Whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel." We owe it to God that he has given us "the truth" (and the gifts of God are without repentance). We may well prize this gift of God when we think of the erroneous ideas which men (unaided by revelation) have entertained. This is the Promethean fire, not stolen, but, in infinite love, sent down from heaven. God has placed us under additional obligation by giving us the truth in the form of "the Word." Considering the conditions of language and our earthly necessities, this form is perfect. "The Law of the Lord is perfect." It is an abiding form. There may be movements of thought away from "the Law and the testimony," but here always is the truth in the form in which God wishes us to have it, if only we can bring our minds up to it. The whole Word of truth is precious; but there is that which is to be regarded as singularly precious (being singled out here), viz. the gospel, or the good message, God's special message (of a glad nature), to sinners in need of salvation. It was this gospel that the Colossians at a former period had heard. By this the burden of their sin had been removed, and the hope of immortality enkindled within them.
IV. HOW THE GOSPEL (THROUGH WHICH THE HOPE WAS COMMUNICATED) WAS PRESENTED.
1. There was a general gospel movement. "Which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing." The parting command of the Master was, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation [every creature]." And the command had been carried out (as time allowed) in its wideness. The gospel-trumpet had been heard, not merely in Palestine, but had sounded out to all lands. And everywhere an efficacy had attended the preaching of the gospel. False forms of religion are limited by certain climatic conditions, by certain temperaments. What would do in Phrygia might not do in Rome. But the gospel (unmodified) had been proved to be worldwide in its adaptation, adapted for Jew and Gentile, for Eastern and Western alike. As the apostle represents it here, in all the world the gospel tree had been bearing fruit and increasing, in a healthy fruit tree there is a double effort going on. There is an effort after fruit producing, which is crowned when in autumn there are seen the ripe apples or rich clusters of grapes. But at the same time, there is an effort after the producing of more wood, which has a view to future fruit producing. And so with regard to the gospel in the Church; if it is vital, then there will be produced the fruits of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit (a rich cluster) which is described in Galatians. And not only so, but there will at the same time be produced an increased sphere of fruit producing. And the two processes can go on without their interfering with each other. The gospel in the Church may be producing its rich clusters, and at the same time enlarging the sphere where such clusters may grow.
2. The movement in Colossae partook of the characteristics of the general movement. "As it doth in you also." The gospel was as a tree (on a small scale) in Colossae. And there, as in all the world, it was bearing fruit and increasing. Three fruits have already been mentioned, these the three Christian graces—faith, hope, and charity. And we may gather from the second word that the numbers of Christian converts were increasing at Colossae. And also Christians may have gone forth from Colossae to spread the gospel in other places.
3. This was to be accounted for by two circumstances.
(1) The gospel had been rightly presented to them. "Since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth." The movement is traced back to its very commencement. He (the writer, Timothy assenting) calls to mind the very day when the gospel was first preached to them. It was a red-letter day in the history of Colossae (though viewed differently by some there), more famous than the day when Xerxes halted there on his march against Greece, or the day when Cyrus with his Greeks passed through it on his march against his brother at Babylon. It was really Christ entering the town, to take possession of those for whom he had died. And no spurious gospel had been preached to them. There were spurious gospels, which consisted in cold moralities and rigorous prohibitions. But the gospel (the true gospel) which had been preached to them was the grace of God. It told of salvation wrought out, not in answer to man's call, but to satisfy the yearnings of Divine love. It was salvation offered, not to human merit, but freely, on the ground of the infinite merits of the Saviour. And this gospel (as evidence that it had been rightly presented) they knew, from their own consciousness of salvation, to be the truth of God.
(2) The gospel had been rightly presented to them by Epaphras. "Even as ye learned of Epaphras." His character more generally. "Our beloved fellow servant." He was a servant of Christ (ready to go anywhere at the Master's bidding). That was his general fitness for service. That was what Paul and Timothy were as well as he. For he is called their "fellow servant." And he was a fellow servant whom they had learned to regard with the warmest affection. His character with special reference to the Church at Colossae. "Who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf." He represented Christ in minis-teeing the gospel at Colossae; and testimony is borne to his having faithfully represented him. He had not shrunk from declaring unto them the whole counsel of God. He had preached unto them grace which, while free, bore good fruit. We may, therefore, regard him (and not Paul directly) as the founder of the Colossian Church. At the same time, he represented Paul (and his coadjutors). He was acting on their behalf. There were friendly relations between Colossae and Ephesus. In connection with the sojourn of the apostle for three years at that Asian centre, it is said that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." Among those who had occasion to visit Ephesus during that period, and were led to hear the Word, was probably Epaphras. Converted by the apostle, we can understand him charged by him to preach the gospel at his native Colossae. And thus, though Paul had never visited Colossae, yet he claimed an interest in the Church as having led to its formation, in having given them Epaphras.
V. EPAPHRAS CONVEYED TO ROME THE TIDINGS OF THEIR LOVE (FOR WHICH GOD WAS THANKED). "Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit." He not only had conveyed the gospel from them to the Colossians, but had also conveyed to them now at Rome the tidings of their love. It was the love for which God was thanked, and it is here characterized as "in the Spirit" (one of the two references to the Spirit in an Epistle which is largely taken up with the Person of Christ). It was a love within that sphere in which the Spirit works (and wide as it), and sustained by the Spirit. Epaphras had acted a kindly part toward them. In giving an account of matters relating to the Colossian Church, he had not concealed what was to their credit. The whole of the allusion to Epaphras (so honourable to him) was fitted and intended to establish his influence at Colossae, which may have been shaken by false teachers. This paragraph, so remarkable, bears a resemblance in form to the Sorites in logic. It is a series of propositions, in which the predicate of one becomes the subject of the next, and in which in the last there is a reference back to the first. The propositions are these:
1. We thank God especially for your love.
2. Your love, for which we thank God, was caused by hope.
3. The hope, which caused your love, was communicated in the gospel.
4. The gospel, which communicated the hope, was rightly presented by Epaphras.
5. Epaphras, who rightly presented the gospel, gave us tidings of your love (for which we thank God). These propositions (if with some loss of clearness, yet with gain of force) are (with considerable detail) all compacted by the apostle into one unbroken paragraph.—R. F.
Prayer leading up to the Person of Christ.
I. MAKING REQUEST.
1. Impulse under which request was made for the Colossians. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you." It was formerly praying and giving thanks; it is now praying and making request.
(1) It was an impulse with a sufficient cause, viz. the same which led to the thanksgiving. It was an impulse, not founded on fiction, but on matter of fact, on well-accredited testimony. Information received regarding the faith and love of the Colossians had led to praying and thanking God on their behalf. This information also (such is the force of "also," it is wrong to connect it with "we ") led to praying and making request on their behalf.
(2) It was a united impulse. We; i.e. Paul and Timothy. So that here it is literally the carrying out of the Lord's words, "If two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."
(3) It was a well-sustained impulse. It did not spend itself in a day (as is sometimes the case); but, commencing with the day when the first hearing had taken place, it had continued without interruption and was still operative. How much, then, did all this represent of availing prayer, of influence going forth on behalf of the Colossian Church! Blessed is the Church that has two such men from day to day mingling their prayers together in its interest.
2. For what request was made.
(1) For knowledge. There is the same notable petition in the Epistle to the Ephesians and in the Epistle to the Philippians. There can be no doubt that the apostle was the friend of enlightenment. If ignorance is the mother of superstition, then knowledge is the mother of true religion.
(a) It is a request for progressive knowledge. "That ye may be filled with the knowledge." We are not born with our minds full of knowledge. Rather are our minds like empty vessels that need to be filled. There is our capacity of knowing, over against the vastness of the knowable. This filling process begins soon, and the prayer is that it may go on toward fulness.
(b) It is a request for the progressive knowledge of God's will. "Of his will." This is very wide as it stands. It is by his will that things have been made as they are made. And, therefore, this may be taken as a prayer for the advance of science. It is not by his will that he is, or that he is love, or that there is a distinction between right and wrong. But it is his will that we should justly conceive of him, and that we should act in a manner consistent with his holy character. It is by his will that Christ became our Substitute and died for our salvation. And it is his will that we should believe on Christ, and, as we shall presently see, take after him in our characters.
(c) It is a request for the progressive knowledge of God's will within the spiritual sphere. "In all spiritual wisdom and understanding." In Ephesians "wisdom" is conjoined with "prudence;" here it is conjoined with "understanding." We are happily in the position of having exact definitions of these three words. Aristotle, in his 'Nicomachean Ethics,' treats of them at length. All are characterized as intellectual virtues. "Wisdom" is conversant with universals, or things eternal and immutable. "Prudence "and "understanding" are conversant with particulars, or details, or applications of principles or things about which deliberation is needed. Prudence is practical (has to do with lines of action, what is to be done or not to be done). Understanding is critical (has to do with processes of thought, how things are to be viewed or not to be viewed). This account of the three words is quite in accordance with Pauline usage. "Wisdom" has evidently with Paul to do with the everlasting verities—the character of God, the principles of his government, the mystery of redemption. And "understanding" has to do with subjects of thought which admit of doubt and which have to be presented in their relations to the great entities. And his wisdom and understanding are of the spiritual kind, such as unspiritual men are strangers to. There must be a penetrating with the Spirit if we would rightly apprehend eternal principles and understand their application to subjects that come up for consideration. And it is this that is asked for the Colossians as necessary for the filling with the knowledge (the clear, certain, experimental knowledge) of God's will.
(2) For the Christian form of character. This is emphatically here the will of God, the knowledge of which is asked.
(a) Generally. It is a request for a worthy Christian walk. "To walk worthily of the Lord." Christ is Lord; we are his servants. And we are like those servants whose ears were bored, as bound to serve this Master for ever. He is no common Master; for (in connection with his doing of God's will) it is said that his ears were bored. Conduct worthy of him, then, how shall we get the conception of it, and, when we have got the conception, put it into execution? "Unto all pleasing." It is implied in this language that he is uninterruptedly observant of our conduct, and that be forms an estimate of it as we proceed—an estimate which must be according to truth. It is implied also that, if we would bring our conduct up to what is worthy of Christ, we must seek his universal approval, we must seek to please him in every moment that we live, in every step that we take.
(b) Under a special aspect.
(α) It is a request for progressive fruitful. ness following upon progressive knowledge. "Bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." It it better to read, "by the knowledge of God." The advantage of this translation (which is grammatically correct) is that "knowledge" is used as before, viz. as that which leads to good conduct as its fruit. There is a taking up here of language which has already been employed. It was said that the gospel-tree was bearing fruit and increasing in Colossae as in all the world. Now, Christians are trees, whose fruit is every good work. A work is good which has Christian principle in it. If for the sake of Christ we are industrious, eager to learn, contented, slow to anger, humble, ready to give up what is hurtful,—then we are fruitful in good works. Especially are we fruitful in good works if, after the example and for the sake of Christ, we live for the good of ethers, try to make all around us happy, are kind to the poor, pity the sinful. If a tree is in a healthy state, it not only bears fruit, but increases (in wood) so that it bears more fruit another year. So, if we are in a healthy spiritual state, we shall not only bear fruit, but as we go on in life we shall increase (in quality of being, in aptitude) so that we ever bring forth more fruit. This progressive fruitfulness is brought about by the knowledge of God, which has already been characterized as progressive. The more we get into our minds of Divine truth, the fuller our knowledge of God, the richer will be the fruit which we produce.
(β) It is a request for increased strength. "Strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and long suffering with joy." If a tree is to bear fruit, it must be supplied with nourishment. So, if we are to produce every good work, we must be strengthened by God. The measure according to which strength can be supplied is infinite. It is "according to the might of his glory." "Might" is an attribute of the glorious majesty of God. "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God." Power can be communicated from this source to us. We have already been strengthened with some power, but we need to ask for ourselves, and others need to ask for us, that we may be strengthened with more power. We need to be strengthened in prosperity to make a right use of our powers; but especially do we need to be strengthened in times of trial unto all patience and long suffering. "Patience," in so far as it is to be distinguished from "long suffering," has reference to trials as laid upon us by God. "Long suffering," in so far as it is to be distinguished from "patience," has reference to trials caused, and as caused by others. We never need to bear with God, we have to bear up under what he (directly or indirectly) lays upon us; but we have to bear with others who are unreasonable or do us injury. And the power communicated from the Divine glory is efficient to make us endure with joy. This is the Christian, as distinguished from the mere Stocial, relation to sufferings. We can rise in triumph over our sufferings. "Let us also," says the apostle, "rejoice in our tribulations." "In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
(γ) It is a request for thankfulness. Alike in prosperity and in adversity, we have three causes for joy, for which we pour out our souls in gratitude.
(i.) Thankfulness for the loving purpose of God. "Giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." This is not a meetening for heaven in the way of holy habits. The words cannot bear that interpretation which is commonly put upon them. The historical parallel is to be kept in view. The Jews had their allotment (it is literally here "the portion of the lot," i.e. the portion which fell to them by lot) in the land of Canaan. God counted it a meet thing (so we would translate) that they should have this allotment. This was, in point of time, antecedent to the deliverance from Egypt, which is referred to in the next verse. It was true that in Abraham God counted it a meet thing that they, his descendants, should possess the land of Canaan. So for us saints, i.e. the successors of the holy people (not merely Jewish Christians, but Gentile Christians, who are referred to at the close of this paragraph), there is in store an allotted inheritance. This is to be in the world of light (when the shadows have fled away, when the light of God is all-penetrative), and with this in prospect there would need to be a meetening, in the expelling of all impurity, of all darkness, from our natures. But still it is true that this was the loving purpose of God from all eternity. The Father (it was his love that was at the root of it) counted it a meet thing in Christ that we should be partakers of the inheritance in light. And thus what is expanded and made prominent in Ephesians regarding the purpose of God, we have here in brief and incidentally.
(ii.) Thankfulness for the deliverance effected in Christ. "Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love." The historical parallel is still kept up. Egypt was, to the Israelites, a house of bondage. They were under power, not power in its purity, power in the service of light, but power in the service of darkness—harsh, oppressive power. But out of that they were brought with a strong arm, and were translated into a new orderly state of things, which is expressed by the word "kingdom" (the theocracy). So there is an Egypt behind us all. Sin was the tyranny of darkness. But the Father effected for us a deliverance. How it was effected is not stated here. But, to carry out the historical parallel, it was by the sacrifice of the Son of his love. The power of darkness came upon him in all its horrors. He was the Firstborn, slain in the land of Egypt, that Israel might escape. And this deliverance involved a complete changing of our state. It was a bringing us in Christ into a true kingdom, a kingdom presided over by Christ, a kingdom whose law is love.
(iii.) Thankfulness for the enjoyment of redemption. "In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins." We are yet in our wilderness state; we have not come to our full redemption, to our possession of the lot. But we have the feeling of emancipation. We have the first and characteristic blessing of redemption, viz. the forgiveness of our sins. We feel happy in the enjoyment of the Divine favour. And that is only part of the redemption we have here. For, as is brought out in Ephesians, we have the Spirit as the Earnest of the inheritance. We have thus, under all circumstances, causes for thankfulness to God; and therefore prayer may always go up for this.
II. THE PERSON OF CHRIST.
1. In relation to the universe. His having the preeminence.
(1) As arising out of his relation to the Father. "Who [i.e. the Son of his love] is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation." First part of the designation. Image is to be distinguished from mere likeness. There is a likeness between members of the same family, but the parental features are imaged in the child. In "image" there is the idea of derivation from an original. So it is not mere likeness that is predicated of the First and Second Persons of the Godhead; but God is represented as the original, and Christ as the copy. In 1 Corinthians 11:7 man is said to be the image of God, so that this way of designating the Second Person does not necessarily imply his divinity. At the same time. it may be employed in consistency with his divinity, if (admitting the mystery of the relationship, viz. that one should be original or prototype, and another copy or impress) we think of him as the perfect Image of God. The designation "invisible" is here applied to God, and when Christ is said to be the Image of the invisible God, the apparent meaning is that the essential idea of his existence is that he is God manifest, and that antecedent to his being God manifest in the flesh. From all eternity he manifests, is in visible form, that God whom no man hath seen nor can see. And this, as we shall presently see, accounts for his connection with the work of creation. Second part of the designation. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." As we must first think of original and then of copy, so we must first think of Father and then of Son. The Father is imaged in the Son. In relation to the Father, the Second Person is strictly the Only-begotten. The firstborn has always reference to some coming after. Christ is the "Firstborn" among many brethren, i.e. Brother leading others after him. He is styled in this passage "the Firstborn from the dead" i.e. the first to rise from the dead himself, and bringing others after him. If the expression had been "the first-created of creation," the Arian interpretation (Christ's creatureliness) might have been pressed. But there is an expression used which seems to make Christ stand out from all creation, as not created himself, but born. If it had been Christ's relation to the Father that had been solely in question, the expression would probably have been not "born," but "begotten" (only begotten). But it is rather Christ's relation to all that might be thought of as in the family. And therefore the ordinary word in such a relation is used, "firstborn" (as distinguished from after born by same mother). And it is intended to bring out emphatically the thought that he has the rights of the firstborn. Philo had applied the name "First-begotten" (relative to Father) to the Loges. But the Messianic name was "Firstborn" (relative to other members of a family). "I will make him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (Psalms 89:27). Kings of the earth, by virtue of primogeniture, are placed over their portions of the earth. As God's Firstborn, Christ is higher, as absolutely placed over all creation.
(2) As arising out of his causal relation to the universe.
(a) Conditional cause. "For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." We are taught here, in opposition to the Arian idea, that Christ stood out from all things created as their Cause. He is thus placed in a different category from creation. As Cause, he was very closely connected with creation. There seems to be a catching up of the thought that he is essentially the Manifester of God. In him, as such, creation had its origin. God is manifested (comes out of invisibility) in creation. "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity." If, then, it was to be made to appear (outside of Godhead) what God was in his wisdom, power, goodness, to whom did this belong but to the Second Person? It was in him as Manifester that it necessarily inhered. There was an emphatic universality connected with his work of creating. In him were all things (equivalent to the universe) created. But, as if that were not enough, a comprehensive division is added: "in the heavens and upon the earth." As if this, again, were not enough, a different division (for stars are in the heavens and visible, the human spirit is upon the earth and invisible), but an equally comprehensive division, is added: "things visible and things invisible." As if these two divisions in locality were not enough, essences are next brought in, but not all essences, only the highest—angelic beings, that might be thought of as in rivalry with the Son: "whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." Great prominence was given in Jewish speculations to the not very profitable subject of the grades of the celestial hierarchy. These speculations were mixed up with the non-scriptural doctrine of seven heavens. And Judaizing Christians speculated in the same line. These angels became the intermediate beings of Eastern theosophy. The idea was that, matter being the evil principle, God could not create it immediately. But there was a descending scale from God to matter. God created a being at a certain remove from himself. This first created being created another, still further removed; and so it went on, till one was created far enough down to create matter. It is quite likely, from the reference afterward to the worshipping el angels, that in Colossae there was danger of the idea gaining ground that the angels in their several grades were to be regarded, in the light of Eastern theosophy, as beings having to do with creation, and on that ground to be worshipped. The apostle certainly clears the whole ground here for the Colossians. He does not profess to know what the several grades are. He gives the common (not the inspired) names with a certain impatience (as associated with much that was rash). But this he asserts that, whatever they are, they have nothing to do with creating. In him all of them, from the highest to the lowest, were created. No part of creation was the work of an inferior angel, but every part of it was immediately in him.
(b) Instrumental cause. "All things have been created through him." Creation can be ascribed to God, as it is in Romans 11:36. But it is true that God never acts immediately; he always acts through the agency of the Son. New Testament language is very explicit on this subject. "All things were made by him [the Word], and without him was not anything made that was made." "Through whom [his Son] also he made the worlds." So here the present (no longer the past) fact of creation is attributed to the instrumentality of the Son. And this is not the passive instrumentality the Alexandrian Jew thought of in attributing creation to the Loges. Neither is the agent in creation the dark, hard, limited demiurge of the Gnostics; but he is distinctly a Divine Person, One who with an intelligence, with an interest, with a plastic power, that are all infinite, has done his work.
(c) Final cause. "And unto him." One Agent and one End; so the Christian doctrine of creation proceeds. And how grandly does it rise above all mere human speculations about creation! Why has this totality been brought into existence? There are subordinate ends which are served by the various parts. A plant has an end in its own development and fruit bearing. It has an end beyond that, in its service to man and to beast. Man—the microcosm, as he has been called—has an end in his own development. He has an end beyond himself, in the mastering of the world. And each member of the race has an end in helping the development of his neighbour. But when we think of the presence of so much evil, we still ask—Why have we and all things been made? It is a satisfaction to have, as the answer, that the one reason which determined the existence of the whole, as the one Bringer into existence, is Christ as the Manifestation of God. It was no cold necessity, it was the Son, who is here the subject, freely, filially, and in view of all that now exists to mar creation, bringing out what was in the heart of the Divine Father. And in that answer, here given, faith can rest.
(d) Pre-existent cause. "And he is before all things." It was very necessary clearly to think, of Christ as preexistent to his incarnation. Christ himself said in memorable words, "Before Abraham was, I am." His pre-existence is here carried forward to a much earlier point. There is that totality now which is called the universe. The time was when there was nothing outside of God. There were no materials lying from all eternity (as some have vainly imagined) out of which a universe could be constructed. There were no germs out of which a universe could be developed. There was simply the creative energy of the Word, who had himself to create all the materials and germs of things. We have, then, to go back to him as the pre-existent Creator. And not only was he before all things; but, as it is here put, he is (absolutely exists) before all things. For time itself is his creation; and before it, and outside of it, he in himself exists.
(e) Permanent cause. "And in him all things consist." But for him, all things would fall asunder and go back into nothingness. There are laws, indeed, which regulate and give stability to things; but these laws subsist in Christ, are non existent out of him. His continued existence is really the guarantee for the sun rising every morning. It will rise so long as he, who made it, has an end in its rising. And all things have consistence and persistence only in his existence and in his ends. There is no other basis on which things can proceed toward the consummation.
2. In relation to the Church.
(1) His headship over the Church. "And he [who has the pre-eminence in the universe] is the Head of the body, the Church." As Christ, as God's Firstborn, has rights over all creation, so has he the headship over the Church. In Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23 the thought turns more on the Church as the body of Christ; here it turns more on Christ as the Head. Through the brain, in its connection with the nerves, the mind can be present in all the body; so Christ is present in all the members of the Church. From the brain as a centre the movements of the body can be originated, guided, combined, controlled; so from Christ as a Centre the movements of the Church are originated, guided, combined, controlled. This domination of the brain, being so complete, is well fitted to set forth the supremacy of Christ over the Church.
(2) As arising out of his relation to the Church.
(a) Originating cause. "Who is [seeing he is] the Beginning." He gives origin to the Church. It belonged to Christ, as the Manifester of God, to bring the universe into existence; so it belongs to Christ, as the Manifester of God, to bring the Church into existence. The connection is very close. It is as though we created and then guided and controlled the movements of our body. A king rules over those with whose existence he has had very little connection. Christ in the Church rules and by strongest right over those whom he has created and again created.
(b) Inaugurating cause. "The Firstborn from the dead." It is difficult to get a word to express the whole meaning. There is this idea—that he exists in that in which he operates. He is the great Energizer incarnate. And as incarnate (in the carrying out of his work) he was numbered among the dead. But he rose from the dead, the possessor of a new life. He is not only the possessor of a new life himself, but he is regenerative cause to those that come after him. As regenerative cause to those that come after, he has the right of the Firstborn over them. Thus is his authority established in the Church as in the universe.
(1) His being Mediator in both spheres. "That in all things he might have the pre-eminence." There was dualism (a good and a bad principle) at the root of the doctrine of intermediate beings or angelic mediators. The apostle teaches the existence of one Mediator presiding over the two spheres—the universe and the Church. This is a cardinal point in the Christology of the New Testament. There are some who have mistakenly or confusedly the idea that it is God in nature and Christ in the Church. It is really Christ in both, as the Mediator of God. He mediated in creation before he mediated in redemption. It belongs to the very idea of his being to be Mediator. This absolute pre-eminence of Christ implies a unity of meaning, a harmony of working, between the two spheres. It is comforting so far as the universe is concerned. For it implies that we are as in a Christian temple. It is our Saviour who is working around us. We can feel that there is behind all works of creation, not iron law, but infinite love—the love that bled on Calvary. It is comforting so far as the Church is concerned. For it implies, as is taught in Ephesians, that all things can be placed at the service of the Church. All the forms of things (even the evil forms) are for the education of the Church. All the products of the earth are for the support of the Church. The worldly powers are controlled for the Church. The very stars in their courses fight for the Church.
(2) His qualifications as Mediator. "For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell," In the fact of Christ being Mediator there is implied a certain subordination, his being Second in relation to the First. There is the same subordination implied in his being represented as the copy of the great Original, and also in his being represented as Son which cannot be thought without first thinking "Father." With the First, here as elsewhere, there is associated the idea of good pleasure. It is as fitting for the Father to have his good pleasure as for Christ to carry it out. The remarkable thing here is that this good pleasure is represented as extending to the qualifications which Christ possessed as Mediator. "It was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell." To the word plēroma, translated "the fulness," may be attached the idea of "filled-up receptacle." The word "plenitude" seems nearer the meaning. It is applied to the full complement for manning a ship. As applied to Christ, it means the totality of the Divine perfections. There were some who had the idea that the agent employed in creating had only a portion of the plēroma, as much as was needed for his work. It is asserted of Christ as Mediator that he exhausted in himself the Divine perfections. There were some who had the idea that there was a separation from (in human semblance), and afterward a return to, the plēroma. It is asserted of Christ that the Divine plenitude did not sojourn, but necessarily dwelt, in him. Thus were the Colossian believers guarded against all actual or possible philosophizings that would have dimmed the glory of the great Mediator.
(3) The issue of his work as Mediator. "And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens." This relates to the doctrine of the last things. The word "reconcile" is stronger than "adjust," or "rectify." It is applied to the reconciliation of enemies. It is applied to our reconciliation, as sinners, to God. It is not so strong as the expression, "summing up in Christ," which is used in Ephesians. But it is stronger than the word translated "reconcile" in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians. It is intensive here, and means reconciliation (after a breaking of the harmony) back to the pristine or intended condition of things. This reconciliation is to extend to all things, viz. all things to which the Mediator gave being. This universal reconciliation is to be not merely between the different parts, but unto the Father. It is to be effected through the Son. More specifically it is stated that it is to be on the ground of God having made peace through the blood of Christ's cross. The blood shed on the cross, the blood of atonement for sin, was the procuring cause of reconciliation. There the reconciling efficacy all centred. And it is to go out to the widest circumference, for it is added, "Through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens." What are the contents of the universal reconciliation which is here taught? We must guard, on the one hand, against a dilution of the language of Scripture. We must guard, on the other hand, against a dogmatic fixing of the form which this universal reconciliation is to take. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children." It belongs to us to take advantage of the revealed way of reconciliation, viz. faith in Christ.
III. APPLICATION TO THE COLOSSIANS.
1. Gentilism. "And you, being in time past." The Colossians are reminded of what they were in time past, to emphasize their present participation in reconciliation.
(1) Gentile in position. "Alienated." In their heathen state they were among the "things "needing to be reconciled to God. They were away from him, as the Greek word indicates. They were in the position of aliens. They were without external privileges such as the covenant people had. And they were without the inward helps that were necessary for their living the life of God.
(2) Gentile in their thoughts. "And enemies in your mind." The mind is the seat of the thoughts. It is where we reflect, come to our conclusions, form our resolutions. It was in this sphere that the Colossians manifested hostility to God. If a right conception of God had been presented to them, it would not only have been uncongenial to them, but it would have called forth active, virulent hostility. As it was (with God very much as a lost thought), their hostility showed itself rather in their pleasing themselves in their thoughts, in their forsaking the rays of light that still lingered in their reason and conscience.
(3) Gentile in their works. "In your evil works." This was the outcome of their God-hating thoughts. Hating good (if not so directly God) in their mind, they did not, and indeed could not, keep their hatred there. Their actions took a complexion from their thoughts. Those who love God have more or less of the Divine form in their actions. But the actions of these Colossians in heathenism were evil. They were not done out of love to God. That alone was sufficient to give them a character of evil. Of positive forms of evil, from what is warned against in this Epistle, we may particularize sensuality, covetousness, deceitfulness, revengefulness.
2. The historical element in reconciliation. "Yet now hath he [God] reconciled in the body of his [Christ's] flesh through death."
(1) God in bodily form. It is true that we must separate from God his having a body. He is a Spirit; "he consists not of various parts extended one without and beyond another." The ground on which the Jews were forbidden to represent God under any bodily form was that he had no bodily form. He was in the fifteenth verse declared to be the invisible God. "Now, if he had a body and hid it from our eyes, he might be said not to be seen, but could not be said to be invisible" (Charnock). And yet he whose divinity (from language in preceding verses) is indubitable has here ascribed to him a body. He appeared in Old Testament times in what was the semblance of a body; but it is a real body that is here ascribed to him. That is to say, we have what we cannot understand—the Divine spirituality, and yet a body.
(2) God in the form of flesh. The Second Person did not receive a body unique in kind. He did not receive our body in its paradisical or ideal state; but as it was actually, inheriting the effects of the Fall. He received it from Mary. If there was a purifying (from the Holy Ghost), what he received was none the less flesh. He appeared in flesh in the midst of human history. That is to say, he whose existence formed the ground upon which history went forward, became himself part of history, became himself an historical Personage.
(3) God in the experience of death. Flesh is a weak thing. It cannot well stand the shocks of time. Its transitoriness is being ever evidenced. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." "And the Word became flesh," it is said, and that carried with it a weak, transitory existence. In flesh he had to pass through the experience of death. That is to say, we have this as the climax of the mystery—that he, who is the absolutely Living One, in experience went round to the opposite pole of death. In accordance with this, we can pray in such words as these: "Good Lord, deliver us: by the mystery of thy holy incarnation; by thy holy nativity and circumcision; by thy baptism, fasting, and temptation; by thine agony and bloody sweat; by thy cross and passion, Good Lord, deliver us." This is said by unitarians to be a materializing of God. God came into time, assumed humanity nineteen hundred years ago. That is what Christianity says, what stamps it as an historical religion. It is only to be scouted as a lowering of God on the supposition that it is impossible for God to descend. But if it is possible for God, impelled by love, to descend (and the possibilities of love are matter of revelation), then we have a grand historical commencement in God descending through the infinite interval into time and into humanity. He descended, according to the teaching here, in the Father's Name to make reconciliation. The foundation of this reconciliation was laid principally in the great historical fact of his death. It was death in perfect submission to the will of God. It was death as the desert of sin. It was death deriving infinite value from the fact that the Person dying was the Son of God. To this Reconciler in humanity all can cling. His reconciliation would seem to have a universality extending beyond humanity. Within humanity Gentiles as well as Jews were included. "I am a man, and there is nothing human foreign to me." All alike can cling to God appearing in humanity and can participate in the benefits of his work performed in humanity.
3. The ultimate of reconciliation. "To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him." "Before him" is to be understood as before God, and points to a time when we shall be in the presence of God in a sense in which we are not now in the presence of God. It is God also who presents here; but, as God reconciles through Christ, so also he presents through Christ (in accordance with Ephesians 5:27).
(1) Positively. Holy. This is to be taken in its full contents. We are now consecrated to God (as ancient Israel). At our presentation we shall have all the inward dispositions that correspond to our outward consecration. Our spiritual susceptibilities, affinities, aspirations, will correspond to the presence of God into which we come.
(2) Negatively. Without blemish. This is the constant sacrificial expression. Whatever was offered to God was to be without blemish. It would belong to the officiating priest to pronounce upon the fitness of an animal for sacrifice. There is a Greek word which means "blemish examiner." Such Christ is to those who are to be presented to God. In his inspection of the seven Churches he discovered blemishes in them. We shall not be in a fit state for presentation to God until all blemishes have been removed from us. Unreprovable. This is a following up of the previous expression. Pronounced upon by Christ, our position before God is for ever secured, our character is unimpeachable. No one can come in after him to reverse his decision. There cannot be ground for any subsequent charge being brought against us.
4. Gentle exhortation to steadfastness.
(1) In faith. "If so be that ye continue in the faith." To have so much done for us as is implied in our fitness for presentation to God, we must persevere, and persevere in the right way. Our position is to be faith toward Christ. Within ourselves we have not the elements of strength. We are powerless to form character. We are not only to come into the position of faith, but we are to rest in it. However our outward position may be altered, our inward position is to remain unaltered. Result. "Grounded." "My soul hath found the steadfast ground." We try other foundations, only to find them insufficient. When we have got past our own doings and the services of the Church down to Christ, then we feel that we have found the immovable Foundation, the steadfast ground for our being. "And steadfast." A building even by its own weight gets steadied when it is upon a secure foundation. So by faith are we to get steadied upon the Foundation. We are to become like the Foundation. The immovableness that is in Christ is to come up into us.
(2) In hope. "And not moved away from the hope of the gospel." Believing in Christ we have hope toward God—we have hope in view of the future. We have hope of being presented holy and without blemish and unreprovable before God. This is the hope communicated in, evoked by, the gospel. From this hope we are not to be moved away (which is the negative corresponding to the positive connected with faith). We are not to be of two moods, hoping and desponding, but we are to keep to the one mood, hoping. Circumstances may arise in which we are tempted to despond or despair; but our hope is to partake of the immovableness of its object. The inexcusableness of being moved away from the hope of the gospel.
(a) From their having heard the gospel. "Which ye heard." Left to themselves, they would have been in heathenism and its hopelessness: "Having no hope, and without God in the world," as is said in Ephesians. Such had been their melancholy state, but by the grace of God the gospel had been preached to them in Colossae. It became them, then, to present a contrast to the hopelessness of heathenism, to be inspired with the hope of future presentation and everlasting continuance before God.
(b) From the universality which characterized the gospel. "Which was preached in all creation under heaven." The form of the command was: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation." The apostle, writing not many years after the giving forth of the command, regards its universal character as already established. It had already obtained this seal of its Divine authorship. It was not a partial provincial thing, but, preached in all creation under heaven, it had been proved to be adapted to the wants of men. They were not, then, to abandon its peculiar hope.
(c) From Paul's personal relation to the gospel. "Whereof I Paul was made a minister." Of this gospel, the universal hope bringer, he had the high privilege of being a minister. He had no claim to the position. He was only Paul, one who had been a persecutor and had obtained mercy. But the gospel was dear to him, and, in writing to them and in introducing his personal relation to them, he puts that forward as a reason for their not being moved away from their hope.—R. F.
"Now." This is the connecting word, and serves to bring down the time from the past (when he was made a minister) to the present when he contemplates his sufferings.
I. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS, BECAUSE THEY WERE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COLOSSIANS. "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake." He adopts a triumphant key with regard to his sufferings. He is not merely reconciled to them, but he finds them a sphere in which he has occasion for rejoicing. He does not rejoice in them as sufferings, for they wore no more pleasant to him than to others. Nor does he rejoice in them here because they were helpful to self-discipline. But he rejoices in them because they were beneficial to the Colossians. He was suffering as a witness to the gospel.
1. His sufferings may have been as prayers. The Lord looking down on them, in response to them, may have showered blessings on the Colossians.
2. His sufferings may have been as the sending of the gospel to them. Because he stood in the breach, others may have been left free to give them the gospel.
3. His sufferings may have been as a stimulus to them. Because he was courageous in enduring sufferings, their courage may have been strengthened.
II. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS BECAUSE THEY WERE CONNECTED WITH THE AFFLICTIONS OF CHRIST. "And fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake." The language employed is very remarkable. "That which is lacking" is properly "deficiencies." The word is distributive—one deficiency after another. The verb which governs "deficiencies" is a double compound. The simple verb would give this meaning, "I fill the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ." The single compound would give this meaning, "I fill up the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ" (stress being laid on the fact that what the apostle supplied in suffering after suffering met deficiency after deficiency in the afflictions of Christ). The double compound gives this meaning, "I on my part with suffering after suffering meet deficiency after deficiency on the part of Christ in his afflictions" (stress being laid on the opposition of persons). Protestant commentators (with the exception of Dr. Lightfoot) seem to have settled down into regarding the afflictions of Christ as those endured by Christ in the sufferings of his people. It is quite scriptural to identify Christ with the sufferings of his people (Matthew 25:31-46); but the bringing in of this identification (with nothing in the language to point to it) has the effect of obscuring the antithesis between the two persons to which the language gives prominence. It is more natural, then, with Dr. Lightfoot, to adopt the Roman Catholic exegesis, and to regard the afflictions of Christ, not as those which he endures mystically in the Church, but as those which he endured personally in his day. He did not complete these so as to preclude his people suffering after him; but Paul and others, with suffering after suffering, were meeting deficiency after deficiency in them. The Roman Catholic conclusion from this is that saints, by the merits of their sufferings, supplement the merits of the Saviour. But that is an utterly un-Pauline idea (coming in after Christ and making up the deficiencies of his merits), and certainly it is not borne out by the language which is employed here.
1. The sufferings of the apostle can be classed with the sufferings of Christ as afflictive (not meritorious). In 2 Corinthians 1:5 it is said that the sufferings of Christ abounded to the Corinthians (or overflowed on them). If our sufferings are the overflowings (or surplus) of the Master's sufferings, then they are in the same class, only, however, under the aspect in which they are presented in that passage as sufferings for which consolation is provided. The exclusion of meritoriousness is secured here by the use of the word "afflictions" (not. "cross," or "death," or "suffering of death"). It is true that in all his afflictions (and not merely in his death) he was accumulating merits for his people. But it is quite consistent with that to regard them separately (compared with ours) as providentially appointed.
2. The sufferings of the apostle can be classed with the sufferings of Christ as edifying (not meritorious). There is a generalization of the previous thought. The sufferings of the apostle were edifying, not merely to the Colossians, but to the body of Christ, which is the Church. They were as prayers, as the sending of the gospel, as stimulus for the whole body of the faithful. Even we at this day are sharing in the benefit. And, though Christ by the meritoriousness of his sufferings actually gave rise to the Church, yet we can separate (for the sake of comparison) the edifying aspects of them.
III. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS BECAUSE THEY WERE CONNECTED WITH HIS OFFICE,
1. He was a minister of the Church. "Whereof I was made a minister." It is consonant to a Christian to suffer loss that others may be advantaged. It is certainly consonant to a minister of the Church to be afflicted (in soul and in body) that others may rejoice. He is not so much the holder of a benefice as one who wears himself out for souls. It is said of the greatest Minister of the Church that he came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. And Paul, in the spirit of service, was closely assimilated to Christ. He was sowing that others might reap, labouring that others might enter on his labours.
2. He was charged with the mystery relating to the Gentiles. " According to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the Word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints." As a minister of the Church, he held an office of trust. He was a steward in the house of God. His office was of Divine appointment. It had reference to the Colossians, but not to them exclusively, only to them as representatives of the Gentile world. In this office he was charged to fulfil (to complete the round of) a Divine declaration. This was the mystery hid from the ages and from the generations (making up the ages), but manifested (brought into the clear light) to the saints of that day.
3. This mystery was a glorious manifestation. "To whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the Hope of glory." There is glory in nature; the sun is a glorious object. There was glory in the Mosaic economy (with all its limitations). But in this mystery God was pleased, and had it in view, to make known the riches (the highest form, the greatest affluence) of glory. This was a display such as was not given elsewhere. The sphere of this display was among the Gentiles. The darkness of the background, therefore, added to the glory; but it was a glorious thing in itself. It is here described as "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." Stress is not to be laid on "in you." The first meaning is "among you," and "in you" only comes in under that. The stress of the thought is to be laid on this—that to them, in the hopelessness of heathenism, Christ came as the great Hope-bringer. In Christ (not in his doctrine here, but in his Person) they had the forgiveness of sins, they had the beginning of redemption. But what they had of Christ was only the earnest of what they would yet have. What they looked forward to in the future with hope was glory (differing from the glory previously mentioned only in that it respects persons and not things). This glory is to be thought of as the highest efflorescence of our being, from the Christ within, which is synonymous with full redemption.
4. The breadth of his duties as charged with the mystery. "Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ? There was the broadest of all subjects, viz. Christ, who has already been presented as the First, the Midst, the Last, in the universe and in the Church. This Christ they spoke of, not in a whisper (or only to the initiated), but proclaimed that men widely might hear. This bold presentation of Christ was not one sided. There was the preparing the way for Christ in admonishing (showing the need for repentance and urging to repentance), and then, as complementary to that, there was the building up in Christ in teaching (presenting Christ for faith in his qualifications and in his work). And in this they observed a universality; for it is said, with the emphasis of repetition, "admonishing every man and teaching every man." And having emphasized" every man," it is added (still having respect to universality)," with all wisdom." It was a point with the Gnostics that wisdom was to be kept back from the many. According to the apostle's teaching, there was no oligarchy of intellect (the few who had perception). There were no exclusive possessors of the Divine wisdom. There was universality in the Divine offer and intention. Another point with the Gnostics (as with others)was that only the few, the select spirits, could come to perfection; the many must be content with a lower attainment, a lower heaven. But the apostle did not go upon such principles. He saw perfection (the highest form of human existence)opened up for every man in Christ (the ideal Man), and therefore he sought to present (under God, to whom pre-eminently it belongs to present) every man perfect in Christ.
5. The spirit in which he discharged his duties. "Whereunto I labour also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." There is a recurrence from "we" to "I" (with individualizing effect). The apostle introduces a favourite metaphor of his. He painfully exercised himself in training for the conflict, and then he went down to the arena and engaged in the conflict. Thus he comes back to the sufferings with which he started. The proclamation of the gospel (so broad) was a proceeding with painful accompaniments. But, in the midst of all, he rejoiced because he was not left to his own strength, but was supernaturally supported. There was an unseen Master beside him, nerving him as he laboured (in training) and strove (in the lists); and so he laboured and strove, not according to his own poor working, but according to his (Christ's) working that worked in him mightily.—R. F.
HOMILIES BY U.R. THOMAS
Introduction. Throughout this Epistle St. Paul is dealing with the twofold evil that had arisen in the Colossian Church—an error half Judaic, half Gnostic; an error that was theological and practical. It arose from the wrong conception of matter as inherently evil, and as consequently demanding intervening mediators between the material system of things and God, and as making abstinence from contact with material things, as far as might be possible, very incumbent on the godly. This error has its modern analogies in sacerdoalism and in pietism. To combat the error then and now the plenitude of Christ must be preached—Christ the Fulness; therefore the all-sufficient Mediator; therefore, too, the all-sufficient Consecrator of the material system. The errors of the ritualist and of the recluse are both met by this great fact of the plenitude of Christ.—U. R.T.
Colossians 1:1, Colossians 1:2
The apostolic salutation.
Pondering this salutation, we ask about it three questions.
I. WHAT IT REVEALS ABOUT THE APOSTLE, It indicates:
1. His dignity. "An apostle … by the will of God." This was a title
(1) divinely derived;
(2) directly derived from God;
(3) abundantly justified,
(a) by supernatural visions and experiences,
(b) by seals of success.
This title was used here, though not in his salutation to all the Churches, because here
(1) he was dealing with error and erroneous teachers, and so needed a claim of authority;
(2) he was personally an entire stranger to the Colossians;
(3) he writes from prison, and it was well he should remind himself and them of his true dignity. He was a prisoner, yet none the less an apostle.
2. His condescension. "Timotheus our brother." He was no fellow apostle, yet his brother; he was his boyish, not to say childish, convert, yet his brother. Great souls never patronize; they elevate true men, of whatever station or age, into brotherhood with them. The Greatest said, "I have called you not servants, but friends." "He is not ashamed to call them brethren."
II. WHAT IT IMPLIES ABOUT THE CHURCH. It recalls to us:
1. Its locality and its associations. One of the historic Churches in the valley of the Lycus; the town, too, had been famous, though its glory was waning. Xerxes and Cyrus had made it famous, but Paul's letter has made its name known where Xerxes and Cyrus have never been heard of.
2.. Its character. This indeed ought to be the character of every Church. For its members were:
(1) "Saints." The Old Testament description of Israel thus applied to Christians to indicate their union with God.
(2) "Faithful brethren." indicating their union with each other. All free masonries, guilds, etc., are but hints of what the Church is meant to be in this aspect of it.
III. WHAT IT SUGGESTS ABOUT TRUE BLESSEDNESS. "Grace and peace" is Paul's customary greeting; it is a blended Greek and Hebrew salutation. It expresses the Apostle's best wish for a Church. What is it?
1. "Grace." It is a Greek thought Christianized. It takes the conception of grace of form, of gesture, of tone, into the spiritual realm. It has on Paul's pen and lips two meanings.
(1) It is to be enjoyed as the attitude of God in Christ towards men. It is thus the Divine pity, gentleness, favour, the bearing of a forgiving, condescending, loving God. That is infinite grace.
(2) It is to be possessed as the spirit of a Christian. It is thus "the grace of life "moral beauty, spiritual loveliness. It is the indwelling in human character of more than all that the Greeks conceived in their "three Graces."
2. "Peace." It may include:
(1) Freedom from persecution, then a great desideratum.
(2) Absence of internal dissension. This was the one main purpose of his letter.
(3) inward calm of heart and quiet confidence in God. This is ideal peace. Christ's peace and the wish of Paul is the gift of Jesus; for he said, "My peace give I unto you."—U. R.T.
The apostolic thanksgiving.
We notice here—
I. THE SPIRIT OF THIS THANKSGIVING. Whatever is in it is so beautiful that we may well imitate it. Observe:
1. It is unselfish. We hear the prisoner praise, the chained captive exult, for the joys of others. Arthur Helps says, "That man is very strong and powerful, who has no more hopes for himself, who looks not to be loved any more, to be admired any more, to have any more honour and dignity, but whose sole thought is for others, and who only lives for them." That is what you have before you here.
2. It is ungrudging. Paul is about to deal with their errors, but nevertheless how willing and, indeed, eager he is first to recognize what is good and laudable in this Colossian Church! There are two sets of men with regard to art, scenery, and society: those who first see the blemish, then the beauty; and those who flint of all rejoice in the admirable, if afterwards they have to criticise any drawback. To the second of these Paul belonged.
3. It is constant. Like a perennial fountain, his praise and prayer for them shall be poured forth.
II. THE SUBJECT OF THIS THANKSGIVING. He thanks God:
1. For the spiritual possessions of the Church. Here is the familiar triad of his thought and description—faith, love, hope. Sometimes he views faith and love as leading up to hope; here he depicts hope as kindling faith and love.
(1) The faith is Christ centred. "In Christ Jesus."
(2) The love is practical. It distributes "to the necessities of saints."
(3) The hope is secure. It is stored up—"laid up in heaven." So it is above fire and flood and all destructive forces.
2. For the means by which these possessions had been obtained. For:
(1) The gospel;" Word of truth," etc. He rejoices in its reality—"Word of truth;" universality—"whole world;" and in its fertility. He shows not only its vitality, but its inherent reproductiveness. It "multiplies itself again."
(2) The preacher. He thanks God, not only for their possessions, and the means by which they had been acquired; but:
3. For the source and sphere of their possession. "Love is its spirit." Love is the life of the saints.—U. R.T.
The apostolic prayer.
The maxims of the Church as well as those of the world often throw a glamour round much that is worthless—a glamour that stirs our desire of possession. But neither the world nor a worldly Church can teach us what is really worth aiming at, struggling after, praying for. A man like Paul can. What he asks for it must be good to have. His prayer may well guide us. We ought to wish for what he sought for Christians; and, more than that, we are encouraged to hope for it. He prays—
I. THAT THEIR KNOWLEDGE MAY INCREASE. Partly because of the error by which many of the Colossian Church were being misled, but also because increase of knowledge is good for any Church, Paul here says he prays for it, and even at times afterwards urges it on them. No Greek had more veneration for the blue-eyed Athena, no Roman for wondrously equipped Minerva, than Paul had for knowledge. There are three expressions here to describe this knowledge, expressions that are very often used in combination both in the Old and New Testaments. They describe, generally, the science, the philosophy, and the art of religion.
1. Knowledge, which in the Greek is not the simple word for knowledge, but intensified, large, and thorough knowledge. In this case full acquaintance with the Law of God, the precepts of Christ, the doctrine of the apostles, which is essential as a beginning, a basis of Christian culture, but is only a beginning and a basis.
2. Wisdom, which is higher than knowledge and includes both knowledge and understanding. It is not mere additional information, the acquaintance with more facts, or even more laws, or even more principles. Wisdom is digested knowledge, knowledge wrought into a system; or, as Cardinal Newman well puts it, "reason exercised upon knowledge." In this case it is the calm comprehensive view of the information attained—information about God's Law, Christ's precepts, the apostle's doctrine.
3. Spiritual understanding, using a word that denotes the application of knowledge to detail, following its processes as applied to daily life and separate actions. It means a keen, quick understanding of the bearing of God's will on all their conduct, all their conversation, all their life. Such a knowledge, with wisdom and understanding, would not only save the Colossians, but save us. It is, thank God, a wisdom recorded for us in Scripture, incarnate in Jesus, interpreted by the Holy Spirit. But we must acquire it. Is half an hour a day too much to give? Is earnest study too much? Is persistent prayer too much? "Wisdom is the principal thing;… with all thy getting get understanding."
II. That, as the result of their knowledge, THEIR CHARACTER MAY RIPEN. This we should expect from prayer for knowledge of the will of God; not His essence, nature, attributes, but will. Religion is not a system for speculation, but for the regulation of life. What the apostle here taught, viz. that the end of all knowledge is conduct, Jesus Christ made gloriously clear in his words, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." No more than you would be satisfied if your vines year after year only "made wood," or your apple trees simply grew in height and in far-reaching branches would St. Paul or Christ, the great Husbandman himself, have been satisfied if there had been only mental growth, intellectual growth—"culture," as the modern phrase is—in this or any Church. Hence his prayer seeks blessing for character; he looks, as you on the vine, for clusters of the grape—for fruit. In the description of character the apostle prays for, we notice:
1. A walking worthily of the Lord. A walk, a progress, an activity, worthy of the follower of him who "has left us an example that we should follow in his steps."
2. An increasing knowledge of God. So knowledge recurs, and this time it is more than a knowledge of God's will; it is a knowledge of God himself. This is a result of such walking, such conduct. Obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge. We are divinely assured that they who "do the will shall know of the doctrine."
3. The being strengthened with all might according to the power of his glory. Inner strength, producing not only endurance, but gentle patience in sorrow.
4. Giving thanks to the Father. Thus life shall have a glow on it, a music in it. Praying that their life may have this glow, this music, "with joyfulness," the apostle is led to recall the reasons for their profound joy.
(1) Meetness for blessedness: "Made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
(2) Deliverance from tryanny: "Delivered us from the power of darkness."
(3) Settlement in liberty and honour: "Translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son." And all this is through Christ, our Ransom, our Rescuer; but now not a victor rescuing by force of arm, but a philanthropist by payment of ransom. Thus Paul strikes the keynote of his message to Colossae—Jesus Christ the King of the kingdom in which Christians already are; the Source of their deliverance from the guilt and from the power of sin; Jesus Christ the Fulness, the Plenitude of God's presence and grace.—U. R.T.
Christ all in all.
The truth taught in our text is that Christ is all and in all, the one absolute Mediator between God and man, the only Reconciler of heaven and earth. We notice—
I. THE DIVINE PRE-EMINENCE OF CHRIST. This includes:
1. His supremacy in relation to God. He is his Image, Likeness, Representation. Heathen idolatries utter the longing of the soul for him. To the prayer, "Show us the Father," Christ answers, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
2. His supremacy in relation to nature. He is "the Firstborn." To all creation he stands as Heir. We notice:
(1) His creative agency. Christ is the Wisdom of God; Christ is the Word of God; Christ is the Arm of God.
(2) His sustaining energy. He binds all things together.
(3) His consummating glory. He is the End of creation, the Alpha and the Omega. As the bow of Ulysses could only be bent by its master, so creation only fully responds to the touch of Christ.
3. His supremacy in relation to the Church. He is the Head. This implies sovereignty and sympathy—vital union. We say that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." In an infinitely higher sense the blood of Christ is the seed of the Church.
4. His supremacy in relation to the Resurrection. He is "the Firstborn from the dead." The risen Christ is the life of the Church.
II. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS DIVINE PRE-EMINENCE IS THE DIVINE PLENITUDE, Christ is as supreme as the apostle has been describing because he is so lull of God. He is the Plēroma. This, as Archdeacon Farrar shows, is the keynote of the Epistle. When we say this, we mean that in Jesus is found "the 'totality of Divine attributes and powers." For in him there is:
1. Fulness of might. He is manifested in his miracles and in his own resurrection as the Lord of nature. Its forces are subject to him.
2. Fulness of wisdom. He claims, and as far as can be these claims are verified, to reveal God and to know what is in man. He did not misinterpret the Divine nor misunderstand the human.
3. Fulness of love. God is love. But could there be an amplitude of love beyond that which is manifested in Jesus Christ? Where is the love of God and where the God of love, if not in Jesus?
III. THE WORK OF CHRIST IN HIS PRE-EMINENCE AND PLENITUDE IS THE WORK OF RECONCILIATION. Our Lord is thus set forth as in his supremacy and fulness the great Reconciler. This is God's purpose; nay, God's passion. But all words are faint in describing any emotion in the infinite heart. The clear teaching here is, not that God loves because Christ died, but that Christ died because God loves. Reconciliation is the Father's desire, the Father's work. Much is left in necessary mystery, but Paul's words here answer for us two great questions.
1. What is God reconciling to himself through Christ? We must not be afraid of the assertion—"all things." By that I read all things
(1) in this world's activities and institutions;
(2) in human hearts and minds. The whole universe of being is to find its lapsed harmony in Jesus Christ; to be set again in its right relation to the righteous Father.
2. How is God reconciling all things to himself through Jesus Christ? Such a work involves even Divine effort; such a work is worth accomplishing at a tremendous cost. Hence "the blood of the cross," i.e. life poured out in a sacrifice of utmost pain and darkest shame. The highest can only serve through suffering; the mightiest can only save by sacrifice. Three practical questions.
(1) Has Christ pre-eminence in all things with us? Do all our sheaves make obeisance to his in the great field of life and love?
(2) Is Christ the Plenitude of all things to us? Kepler felt, in studying the laws of nature, that he was thinking over again the thoughts of God. Is it so with us in duty, thought, and love? Is Christ all in all?
(3) Has Christ reconciled us to God? Are we
(b) resigned; and
(c) most difficult of all, ceaselessly obedient to God?—U. R.T.
The ministry of the mystery
In these words the apostle dwells on his own part in carrying out Christ's work of reconciling men to God. That he does this in no boastful spirit goes without saying; but that he does so without any affectation of reserve or of modesty is equally plain. Indeed, he sets forth with unusual oral basis the glory of the Word the apostle has to proclaim, and the greatness of the work that proclamation involves: that Word, he shows, is a sublime mystery; that work a manifold ministry.
I. THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY IS THE PROCLAIMING OF A BLESSED MYSTERY, The term "mystery," as Paul here twice uses it, and often in this Epistle, does not describe what is essentially incomprehensible, but rather what was hidden but is now revealed. The gospel is a mystery, but a mystery that is to be preached fully, as Bishop Lightfoot renders the word "fulfil;" a mystery that is made manifest, a mystery into which (as the word borrowed from the ancient mysteries, in Colossians 1:28, suggests) every man may be initiated.
1. The gospel a mystery. All religion deals with mystery. Genuine mystery is the stamp of a religious divinity; false mystery is the counterfeit superstition stamps. In its aspect towards the vast, the infinite, the Divine, religion must always have some mystery to man.
2. The gospel a mystery that was long secret from man. "Hidden things belong to God." There are hidden facts and laws in nature that science has only gradually discovered or is now only gradually discovering; hidden moral meanings in nature and history that poet's sight only can descry and poet's song only describe. There were hidden things in religion that only holy men of old moved by the Holy Ghost could reveal.
3. The gospel is a mystery that is now fully revealed. Whatever may have been the guesses of nobler pagans, or the anticipations of patriarchs, or the predictions of prophets, all was only the pale light of very early dawn upon the hills of ancient time. It was noon when Christ lived, taught, died. The seal was broken, the secret was revealed. What secret?
4. The gospel is the revealed secret of God's universal redeeming love. Christ is fully proclaimed. And Christ is the Mystery. In him are all the treasures, all the wealth, of God stored away.
(1) All the mystery is revealed in Christ. As the rainbow has all possible colors in its wondrous arc, as the fabled music of the spheres has all possible tones in its chord, so in Christ is all the wisdom, all the righteousness, all the love, of God.
(2) All men may receive the blessings of this mystery. Christ, and Christ freely given to the Gentiles, and Christ freely given to be an indwelling Power in them, is the great Mystery, which, as Paul dwelt on it, made him proclaim it with newer and deepening joy. "Now," when I see the full extent of God's mercy—"now," when I ponder his mighty, all-sufficient, all-embracing love, I rejoice, not only to proclaim, but to suffer untold sacrifices in proclaiming it to men. Anything, Paul felt and said, was worth doing, anything was worth suffering, if he might but preach the whole gospel without reserve, to all men without restriction. This leads us to notice—
II. THIS WORK INVOLVES COMPLETE CONSECRATION ON THE PART OF ITS MINISTERS. This consecration may, indeed often does, involve:
1. Intensity of suffering. Very bold does the assertion of the apostle seem about "filling up what is behind of the sufferings of Christ." Were his sufferings incomplete, then? No and yes. Yes; for he left work to be done that involves suffering. There must be suffering sympathy, suffering self denial, sometimes suffering death, in carrying on the work of bringing men to God. This consecration will involve:
2. Manifoldness of labour. There is the threefold function of the Christian worker denoted here. This consecration is the result of:
3. The highest constraint.—U.R.T.
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
Colossians 1:1, Colossians 1:2
We propose to offer brief hints towards a consecutive exposition of this invaluable Epistle, taking the Revised Version as our text. In this opening sentence we learn four things respecting the writer and his fellow Christians to whom reference is made.
I. PAUL'S CONSCIOUSNESS OF AUTHORITY AS AN APOSTLE. Observe how quietly Paul takes for granted his apostolical authority. Where it was assailed, as at Corinth or in Galatia, be was prepared to defend it. His credentials were every whir as valuable as those of the eleven. Were they witnesses of the risen Christ (Acts 1:21, Acts 1:22)? So was he (1 Corinthians 9:1). Were they selected and called by Christ himself (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13)? So was he (Acts 9:15; Acts 26:16-18). Were they inspired by his Spirit (John 16:13; John 20:21, John 20:22)? So was he (Galatians 1:11-16; 1 Corinthians 7:40; 1 Corinthians 14:37). Had they power to proclaim the gospel with authority, to bind and loose, to perform "the signs of an apostle" (Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:12; John 20:23)? So had he (1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 1 Corinthians 9:16, 1Co 9:17; 2 Corinthians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 12:12). We can hardly overrate the importance, in the present day, of maintaining the authority of all the apostles as inspired by the Spirit of Christ to teach the doctrines of Christ, and of the authority of St. Paul among the rest. Such a consciousness of a Divine mission and authority on the part of any Christian "sent" "by the will of God" may be:
1. Admonitory. "What manner of persons ought we to be?" "It is scandalous to be compelled to say of ministers what Tacitus writes of Licinius, 'Such a torpor had invaded his mind that, unless others had reminded him that he was a prince, he would have forgotten it.'" Dr. Payson tells us that as he went about his work he could sometimes hardly restrain himself from shouting aloud from very joy, "I'm a minister of Christ; I'm a minister of Christ."
2. Encouraging. For if we are sent "by the will of God" to preach or teach that gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," we may go and proclaim it, expecting it will be made a blessing, and making the watchword of the Crusaders our own, "God wills it." And we may emulate Paul's enthusiasm in preaching "the Word of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:13-21).
II. PAUL'S FELLOWSHIP WITH TIMOTHY. The relations of Timothy to Paul are described by various suggestive terms.
1. He was the apostle's spiritual child, his "own son in the faith" (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2). But here and in the inscriptions of other Epistles he recognizes him as:
2. A brother in the same "household of faith," the family of God, in which the Colossians too had their place, in which "one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." Elsewhere he recognizes him as:
3. A fellow steward of the mysteries of God." Well instructed from a child in the Scriptures, he preached the gospel at Corinth in company with Paul (2 Corinthians 1:19), and could be trusted to preach the same truth in his absence (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). And he highly commends him as:
4. A devoted and most unselfish fellow worker in the Church of Christ (1Co 16:10, 1 Corinthians 16:11; Philippians 2:19-22). Further illustrations may be found in the Epistles to Timothy. Such notices as these show the humility of the apostle. There is no pomp of office or pride of power. He acts in the spirit of his own precept (Philippians 2:3). He delights to honour a brother, though confessedly his inferior, by associating his name with his own, thus vouching for his faith and commending him to the confidence of brethren who did not know him.
III. PAUL'S ESTIMATE OF THE COLOSSIANS. Here, as elsewhere, the apostle assumes that the Christian community he addresses is, in the main, worthy of the titles "saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus." These words imply that all who are members of a Church should be expected to be "saints," i.e. persons consecrated to the service of Christ; to be "brethren," adopted into the family of God and therefore "members one of another," and as brethren to be "faithful," to "show all good fidelity in all things," to "hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end." But such a character can only be maintained "in Christ Jesus," by union with him. One of the Fathers tells us that a saint, sanctus, is so called from two words sanguinne tinctus, i.e. as it were tinged with blood, "because anciently they who wished to be purified were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice." The lesson suggested is valuable, though the etymology may not be correct (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:22). Augustine, commenting on Psalms 86:2, says, "If thou shalt say that thou art holy of thyself, thou art proud; but being a believer in Christ and a member of Christ, if thou shalt not acknowledge thyself to be holy, thou art ungrateful. Say unto God, 'I am holy; for thou hast sanctified me.'" Our names are a perpetual appeal to us to consecration, purity, and fidelity, or they are witness against us. It is not enough to be called "faithful;" "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24).
IV. PAUL'S AFFECTIONATE GREETING TO THEM. "Grace" is the initial good and "peace" the final good. Grace is "the well spring of all mercies, peace the crown of all blessings." The old Hebrew salutation, "peace," expands under the light and love of Christ to "grace and peace" in many of Paul's Epistles, and to "grace, mercy, and peace" in some of the later ones (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). These blessings come from God our Father the Fountain (Psalms 36:9; James 1:17); they are treasured up in Christ the Reservoir, ever full of "living water" (verse 19; John 4:10, John 4:14), and conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit as a channel; one yet manifold ("the seven Spirits," Revelation 1:4), because distributing to the necessities of each individual believer. We can wish for one another no better blessings than God's grace and God's peace; for "in his favour is life; the peace of God passeth all understanding."—E.S.P.
Good news from Colossae had been brought to Paul at Rome by Epaphras. This devoted servant of Christ (Colossians 4:12) had probably been the first evangelist sent by Paul to Colossal, and the founder of the Church there (Colossians 1:7, Revised Version). He brought also news which caused the apostle much anxiety (Colossians 2:1, Colossians 2:2, Colossians 2:8, etc.). But before he utters cautions he pours forth thanksgivings. We are thus reminded of two things.
1. Paul's largeness of heart. Love "rejoiceth in the truth" and "envieth not" those who have either more spiritual gifts or more temporal blessings (Romans 12:15). The fruit of Epaphras' ministry was a source of joy to him. He felt grateful for the gifts in money from the Philippians brought by Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:17, Philippians 4:18), but more for "the love in the Spirit" of the Colossians reported by Epaphras.
2. Paul's sympathy with the mind of his Master. Christ also dictated Epistles. Wherever there is anything to commend in the Churches of Asia, the Lord mentions this before he utters a word of censure. The apostle, writing earlier, but taught by the same Spirit of Christ, pursues a similar course in nearly all his Epistles (Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Php 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). "The meekness and gentleness of Christ" enable him to praise and congratulate even the disorderly Church at Corinth. The apostle blends thanksgivings with his prayers, especially on account of that triad of graces, faith, love, hope, which elsewhere he rejoices in (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Their faith worked by love and was sustained by hope. Their permanent fruitfulness proved the reality of their spiritual life. We must, however, observe that the term "hope" is used here in a sense somewhat different to that in the other passages quoted above. It is the object of hope (as in Galatians 5:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 6:18), implying subjective hope. That "hope set before us" "we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil." Following the suggestions of this figure, we may notice some of the links of the chain of spiritual blessings by which the souls of converts are connected with that anchor, and on account of which ministers may give thanks on behalf of Christians who in these respects resemble the Colossians.
I. WE HAVE HEARD "THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL." No gospel, no hope (Ephesians 2:12). We did not come to the gospel; it "is come unto" us. The Physician sought the patient, the Saviour the sinner (Isaiah 65:1; Luke 19:10). The gospel in its triumphant progress throughout all the world reached Great Britain, an Ultima Thule, brought by unknown missionaries who "for his Name's sake went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." We ourselves have heard "the joyful sound," the genuine gospel, "the grace of God in truth" (Galatians 2:5; 1 Peter 5:12), the gospel of Christ which alone is "the power of God unto salvation."
II. WE. HAVE TRUSTED OURSELVES TO CHRIST. "Your faith in Christ Jesus;" We have not only heard, but we know,"the grace of God in truth." We know it because we have had a Divine Teacher. "In coelo cathedram habet qui corda docet". Our faith is the gift of God; it rests not "in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." Thus we "know whom we have believed," etc. (2 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 5:13, 1 John 5:19, 1 John 5:20). Belief conducts to knowledge (John 6:69).
III. WE ARE BRINGING FORTH FRUIT. Wherever the gospel comes, i.e. comes home to men's consciences and hearts, it must be a fructifying power. "Even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit," etc. Ours is not a faith which "is dead in itself because it has not works." "Can that faith save" us (James 2:17, James 2:14)? Ours is a "faith working through love." The quickening Spirit within us will bring forth "fruit after his kind" (Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23). One of the most characteristic fruits is love. "The love which ye have toward all the saints." We cherish love toward them because, in spite of all their failings, they are beloved children of our Father God (1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1).
IV. OUR FRUITS ARE VISIBLE AND PERMANENT. They are such as an Epaphras could discern and report. Our lights shine; our good works are seen (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 3 John 1:6). This fruit bearing is prompt. "Since the day," etc. The fruit itself multiplies; the gospel is "bearing fruit and increasing." Side by side with the outward growth of the gospel, there is the ripening of Christian character (2 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10) and the leavening influence of the gospel on modern society. For all these things we thank God, but especially if our fruit is permanent. The gospel still is bearing fruit in us (Psalms 1:3). Our hearts are not the stony or thorny ground. Christ's object is being fulfilled (John 15:16). We have not forgotten our first love; our last works are more than our first. "The past things perish if those things which were begun cease to go on to perfection" (Cyprian). Growth and persistence are causes for sincerest thanks.
V. "THE HOPE WHICH IS LAID UP IN THE HEAVENS" SUSTAINS OUR FAITH AND LOVE. "Faith... and love... because of the hope." This hope laid up is itself one of the things "hoped for." It is a reserved blessing, part of that great goodness of God "laid up for them that fear thee" (Psa 31:19; 1 Peter 1:4, 1 Peter 1:5). But the links in the chain of spiritual blessings we have examined unite our souls here to the inheritance yonder (Romans 8:24, Romans 8:25). Such hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:5; Jud Romans 1:20, Romans 1:21). If our souls are not firmly moored to that object of hope "laid up for us in the heavens," let us ask—Which is the missing link?—E.S.P.
The news brought by Epaphras had a further effect on the apostle? It prompted him, not only to thanksgivings, but to intercessions. In the Christian life some prayers receive definite answers and need not be repeated. But new subjects are perpetually coming before us. Thus there is a call on us to "pray (προσεύχομαι) without ceasing" and to "make request (αἰτέομαι)" with perseverance for definite blessings till they are granted, and petitions are charged into thanksgivings or are clearly refused. Note how Paul, while "in labours more abundant," found time for prayers "without ceasing" also (Romans 1:9; Philippians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:3). As a specimen of his intercessions take this prayer. The requests end with the words, "Giving thanks unto the Father," though the prayer may be said to include the statements of sublime truth which follow (Colossians 1:12-14), which suggest motives for seeking the blessings asked on their behalf. And the prayer itself comes to no definite end, but may be said to lose itself in adoration as the apostle unveils the mystery of the person and glory of Christ. The key to the somewhat involved clauses of the sentence is in Colossians 1:10, "to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing." And the objects of the prayer are—
I. FULLER KNOWLEDGE WITH A VIEW TO A MORE CONSISTENT CHARACTER. Paul prays that the Colossians may receive what they already possess (verses 6, 9; cf. Psalms 116:2; Matthew 13:12). The more God gives, the more we should ask of him. God's "will" includes doctrines to be believed and duties to be discharged (cf. John 6:40; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). The two questions put by Paul on the day of his conversion, "Who art thou, Lord?" and "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" are the two great questions of the Christian life. An uneducated conscience is a more serious obstacle to growth in grace than an unenlightened intellect. Our "wisdom and understanding" need to be "spiritual" (Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:14; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12) as contrasted with "philosophy and vain deceit" and mere worldly policy (Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:23). The Holy Spirit can make us discriminating as well as sensitive. The wisdom needed may be had for the asking (James 1:5). For all the knowledge gained is in order to enable us "to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing." The end of all knowledge is conduct (John 13:17).
II. A CONSISTENT CHARACTER IN ALL ITS VARIOUS ASPECTS. Three signs of a full-orbed, consistent Christian character are mentioned in three clauses (see Greek, verses 10-12). They are comprehensive enough to describe a completely sanctified life.
1. Fruitfulness. This is the natural, as it is also the appointed, end of spiritual life (John 15:16); "fruit after its kind." But whereas a fruit tree can bring forth only one variety of fruit, we are to be "bearing fruit in every good work"—all manner of fruit, like the tree of life in the Paradise of God. "Twelve manner of fruits" are said to be borne by that celestial tree. And no less than nine varieties of "the fruit of the Spirit" (note "fruit," not "fruits," unity in diversity) are enumerated in a single passage (Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23). Any manifestation of Christian consistency may be fruitful, though here the reference is chiefly to the active Christian life. While bearing fruit, we ourselves shall be "growing" and "increasing." A fruitful life is a healthy life. The "spiritual wisdom and understanding" already asked for will be means of grace and of growth, like rain and dew to the plant (Deuteronomy 32:2; Hosea 14:5). We shall increase "by the knowledge of God". Such spiritual fruitfulness and growth will be most "pleasing" to God (John 15:8).
2. Patience. (Verse 11.) The reference here is to the passive virtues. "Patience and long-suffering" remind us of the heroic endurance and the superhuman self restraint by which suffering Christians may glorify God. To enable us to suffer patiently and to suffer long, the omnipotence of God is put forth. His almighty and everlasting arms are placed beneath us to prop up our poor feeble patience. So great are "the riches of his glory" and "the might of his glory," that he can enable us to endure, not only with patience, but even "with joy" (Rom 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10). Suffering may be as high a vocation as preaching. Notice how our Lord, passing over all the active labours of Peter with a word ("Feed my sheep"), fixes attention on his last sufferings and death as the special means by which (in St. John's words) "he should glorify God" (John 21:18, John 21:19).
3. Thankfulness. (Verse 12.) Some of the causes for thankfulness are brought before our thoughts in the clauses that follow. But we need go no further than that name "the Father," for hallelujahs to rise to our lips. (Illustrate this from some of the Father's names, "Father of mercies," "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc., and some of the statements respecting him—"The Father himself loveth you;" "Your Father knoweth," etc.) Such thankfulness strengthens patience. (Illustrations: German Reformers, in times of special trouble, cheering one another by singing the forty-sixth psalm. Some Malagasy Christians, during the persecution, when meeting with the late Revelation W. Ellis and enjoying secret Christian fellowship, on one occasion said, "We are so happy we must sing." Warned of the danger of being heard, they restrained themselves for a time, but soon said again, "We must sing;" and they sang in a whisper. If this prayer is answered in our experience, we enjoy the three elements of a consistent and robust Christian life described by our Lord in John 13:17, viz. knowing, doing, feeling: "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."—E.S.P.
The love of the Father.
We have seen that the apostle's prayer loses itself in utterances of adoring gratitude to the Fountain of all good. In the work of our salvation we have proofs of the love of the Father (John 3:16; Romans 8:32), the love of the Son (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2), and the love of the Spirit (Romans 15:30; Ephesians 4:30), of the one "God of our salvation." In Colossians 1:12-14 Paul reminds the Colossians of the love of the Father, and that the blessings which this love secures to us are powerful motives for gratitude and for seeking to attain to that character for which he has been praying. The blessings which the Father's love procures for us includes four changes—a change of place, of character, of kingdom, and of state.
I. A CHANGE OF PLACE. There is an "inheritance" which has been "prepared" and is "reserved" for us (Matthew 25:34; 1 Peter 1:5). It is not here, but "in heaven;" not here, amid darkness and ignorance, "the shadow of death," and, what is worse, the stern realities of sin and of death itself; but "in light"—note various uses of this figure (Isaiah 60:19, Isaiah 60:20; Ephesians 5:8, Eph 5:9; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 2:8-10; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5, etc.). That inheritance is possessed only by God's "saints," whether angelic or human. The sanctity needed for this inheritance is something more than that "consecration" of heart to God which even we sinful children of God may enjoy as we render service in the lower sanctuary of "this present evil world." The "saints in light" are "without blemish," "faultless." God, who is himself "light," is our pledge, that in that inheritance there shall be "no darkness at all," nothing "that defileth," etc. (Revelation 21:27).
II. A CHANGE OF CHARACTER, "Who made us meet," etc. The reference is not here to that growth in the elements of spiritual mindedness by which we become increasingly fitted for the employments and enjoyments of the heavenly inheritance. Paul has been praying for these (verses 9-11); but here he recognizes that the new nature which God has bestowed on us has already qualified us "to be partakers," etc. A king's child is already, by his birth, capable of taking some part in the life and the engagements of the palace. The penitent robber could take a place in Paradise on the day of his conversion. If we are partakers of the Divine nature we are meet for the Divine inheritance. Already we are "children of the light." Our darkness is past, never to return; the light shineth, and when we change our place it must needs be to an inheritance suited to our new natures and present characters (John 17:24). Without the new birth we shall be as unfit for our inheritance above as a boorish peasant, who had suddenly come to a peerage, for his new position, and as incapable of enjoying and really "inheriting" it as one who had no taste for art or sacred music would be if admitted to a picture gallery or an oratorio; he could not "see the kingdom of God." What a glorious gift our new nature is! It is only by means of it we are made capable of receiving the blessings offered to us; as though a monarch could not only give us a high place in his service, but at the same time could endow us with power to discharge its duties, without which the mere position would be a burden rather than a blessing. Thus God deals with us (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 2:10).
III. A CHANGE OF KINGDOMS. (Verse 13.) The change of nature is accompanied by a twofold deliverance—we are rescued from a lawless tyranny (verse 13) and delivered from a lawful condemnation (verse 14). We speak of a change of kingdoms, for elsewhere we read of the "kingdom" of Satan who is "the prince of this world." But here the term suggests mere power ("the power of darkness," spoken of by Christ, Luke 22:53). The agents of Satan are described as "the powers, the world rulers of this darkness' (Ephesians 6:12). We were under their power and under the tyranny of" the prince of the power of the air," who is at their head (Luke 11:21; Ephesians 2:2). The mental anarchy of demoniacal possession is a fit symbol of the lawless tyranny of the kingdom of Satan. From that tyranny the Father, with a strong hand, rescued us, emancipated us, and transferred us into a Divine kingdom, of which "the Son of his love" is the Head. Love is as much the essence of the only begotten Son as it is of the Father (1 John 4:8-10). So that his kingdom is a kingdom where love is the ruling power, and where promises, privileges, and benedictions are the main motives for wearing his easy yoke. We are made free citizens of that kingdom and shall share in its triumphs here and in its final glory.
IV. A CHANGE OF STATE. (Verse 14.) The kingdom which Christ established in our hearts is based on his work as a Redeemer (Romans 14:9; Philippians 2:7-11). The pardon of sins and the translation into the kingdom are inseparable. Each blessing would be incomplete and insufficient without the other. Pardoned sinners left under the power of Satan can no more be thought of than subjects of Christ's kingdom still under wrath. We were under a lawful condemnation as well as a lawless tyranny. From that merited curse we have been ransomed by the Father's love through the redeeming work of Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Titus 3:5-7). The fundamental facts and doctrines of the gospel are all implied here (Romans 4:25; Romans 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:4; Galatians 3:10-13, etc.). We thus enjoy a change of state, being justified and no longer condemned. Note the words, "in whom," etc. Luther remarks that there is a good deal of divinity in the pronouns; so is there also in the prepositions. Christians not only receive blessings through Christ, but in Christ (verse 19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 John 5:20, etc.); from whose fulness we receive (like the air, in which we live and move and draw our breath without limitation or restraint; not like water, supplied to us from time to time in a limited cistern). Notice too the necessity of all these four blessings to us, and how absolutely dependent we are for them upon the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our enfranchisement in the kingdom of Christ includes free forgiveness, secures for us, by the work of the Spirit, "the sanctification, without which no man can see the Lord," and ensures our admission to the heavenly inheritance. "Blessed are they that wash their robes," etc. (Ro 22:14; see also Acts 20:32; Acts 26:17,Acts 26:18; Romans 8:29, Romans 8:30; Philippians 3:20). What motives for "giving thanks unto the Father" arise from the reception of such glorious gifts!—E.S.P.
The glory of the Son.
The blessings which flow to us from the love of the Father (Colossians 1:12-14) are only enjoyed by union with "the Son of his love," "in whom" we are (1 Corinthians 1:30), and "in whom we have our redemption" and all its allied blessings. Who is this Son of God? In answering this question the apostle unfolds the true doctrine of the Christ, and meets one of the errors that was seeking a home in the Colossian Church. The error of the heretical teachers was twofold—"They had a false conception in theology and a false basis of morals. These two were closely connected together and had their root in the same fundamental error—the idea of matter as the abode of evil and thus antagonistic to God. As the two elements of the heretical doctrine were derived from the same source, so the reply to both was sought by the apostle in the same idea—the conception of the person of Christ as the one absolute Mediator between God and man, the true and only Reconciler of heaven and earth." The practical error is dealt with in the second chapter; the doctrinal heresy is refuted here. The false teachers seem to have believed in a variety of angelic or superhuman mediators who had some place in the works of creation and redemption. Paul teaches that both in the universe and in the Church, in creation and redemption, Christ is the one and all-sufficient Mediator. He alone could fill the void between God and man; he alone could be the great Reconciler; and to him alone was due the homage which these false teachers were diverting to angels or other beings standing in the place which God claims for "the Son of his love." The apostle's teaching is "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence"—in relation to God; to the universe, the natural creation; and to the Church, the moral creation (Colossians 1:15-18).
I. THE GLORY OF THE SON IN RELATION TO GOD. "Who is the Image of the. invisible God." The two chief ideas seem to be representation and revelation. Elsewhere the Son is called "the Effulgence of his glory [revelation], and the very Image of his substance [representation]" (Hebrews 1:3). We may find an important application of this truth in the life and character of the Incarnate Word. Christ's words, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," seem to require this. The Father's perfections were represented and reflected in the sinless character of the Man Christ Jesus, as the brightness of the midday sun, on which we cannot gaze, may be reflected in a lake or mirror, and under certain limitations its rays may be examined and analyzed. Through the words and conduct of Jesus we may learn much concerning the truthfulness, the unselfishness, the indignation, and the love of God. But while this truth may have been a thought in Paul's mind, the truth he teaches here is part of the revelation which Scripture gives respecting the nature of the Triune Jehovah. That the term "Image" refers to the pro-incarnate Christ, we infer from
(1) the creation being ascribed to him; and
(2) the term "Firstborn," etc., being coupled with it—a term which includes both priority and supremacy. Notice:
1. There is that in the Divine nature which is both invisible and incomprehensible. (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:15,1 Timothy 6:16.) As we cannot see "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" with mortal eyes, neither can we fully comprehend a Divine Being who is absolute, infinite, without beginning and without end.
2. Yet God hath been seen by mortal eyes. (Genesis 18:22-33; Genesis 32:28-30; Exodus 24:10,Exodus 24:11; Exodus 33:23; Joshua 5:13-15; Joshua 6:2, etc.) And men have learned to see God by the eye of faith, to know him as their own God. The doctrine of the Word of God, who is "the Image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4), "the Life" and" the Light of men" (John 1:4; 1 John 1:2), is the reconciling truth. There is a glory in God which no creature can behold; but the Divine Word is a ray of that glory. There is a Divine personality which is invisible; but the Word is the express image of that Person. There is a Divine silence respecting mysteries we cannot comprehend; but there is also a Divine" Word" which breaks the silence and reveals to us something of the infinite and incomprehensible (John 1:1, John 1:14, John 1:18). Every manifestation in time has been through him who is "the Image of the invisible God." But "who by searching can find out God" etc. (Job 11:7-9)?
"Thought, repress thy weak endeavour!
Here must reason prostrate fall;
Oh, the ineffable for ever,
And the eternal all in all!"
II. THE GLORY OF THE SON IN RELATION TO THE CREATION. This is unfolded by four truths respecting him.
1. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." In the New Testament the term "Firstborn" is applied five times to Christ (Colossians 1:15 and Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5). Its use here figuratively reminds us of the place which the firstborn occupied in a Hebrew family. Having priority, he had also a certain supremacy over the other members and a double portion of the inheritance. Our Lord Christ has priority; "before Abraham," before all creation (John 1:1, John 1:2); absolute pre-existence, "before all things" (Colossians 1:17). He has supremacy. If Paul here alludes to Psalms 89:27, we are reminded that the Messiah is "higher than the kings of the earth, King of kings," "Lord of all," etc. And he enjoys more than the firstborn's double portion (John 3:34, John 3:35; John 5:22, John 5:23, John 5:26, John 5:27).
2. He is the means of all creation. The sixteenth verse confutes the notion of the Son of God being himself a creature, though the highest. He is the Creator, not of "the rest" of the universe, but of "all things." Who can adequately interpret that mysterious term "in him," etc.? We can only venture to suggest such truths as these: Apart from Christ there would have been no creation at all. He was the reason for it. He was the First Cause and the Final Cause, the Alpha and the Omega of creation. The term "in him" includes both the following truths "by him" and "for him," "through him and unto him." The same preposition (ἐν), which the apostle so often uses to describe the relations between the Saviour and his people, he here employs to teach us the relations between Christ the Creator and the universe. But these are but guesses towards an interpretation (Luke 10:21). We are at any rate expressly taught that all things were created "through him" or "by him" (John 1:3); "in the heavens" (revelations of the telescope, Isaiah 40:26) "and upon the earth" (revelations of the microscope, making "things invisible" become visible),—all were created by Christ. From the world of matter we turn to the world of spirits, to things strictly "invisible." The false teachers may have indulged speculations as to the ranks and power and authority of angels. Without discussing the subject, Paul teaches that, whoever they may be and whatsoever their authority, they are all created by and subordinated to Christ, the "Firstborn of all creation."
3. He is the object of all creation. We need not dissociate the human nature of our Lord in his present glory from the Divine nature when we reflect on the truth that all things were created "for him," "unto him." It is a sublime thought that everything in creation and in history was planned for the glory of our blessed Redeemer. This world with its mountains and lakes and cataracts, its flowers and fruits and birds, was made so beautiful because it was Christ's world. Other worlds, peopled by the heavenly hosts, were created that his glory might be revealed to them and through them. Man was created and the ages of history were all arranged for him. Sin was permitted for him (like a dark cloud showing more clearly the glory of the rainbow). The eternal purposes of redemption and their fulfilment in time were all for him. What a proof of the Deity of Christ is supplied by comparing Psalms 89:16 with Romans 11:36!
4. He is the upholder of all creation. (Romans 11:17.) Being "before all things" from the moment of creation down to the present time, he had upheld all things by the word of his power, and "in him all things consist," i.e. hold together. He is the Corner-stone of the universe no less than of the Church. Behind the laws of nature we see the mind of Christ. If he were to cease to uphold things they could not "hold together;" their harmony, nay more, their very existence, would cease; for in him all things live and move and have their being. But "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John 5:17, John 5:19; John 10:30). All these truths respecting the glory of Christ remind us of the supreme claims over each one of us of that Divine Son who created us for his own glory and redeemed us by his own precious blood, that he might reign over us for our salvation (Acts 5:31; Romans 14:7-9).—E.S.P.
The supremacy of Christ in the moral universe.
So supreme is the glory of Christ, that he occupies a similar position in the moral as he does in the material universe. We may linger on the exhaustless theme of the glory of Christ us we see further illustrations of it—
I. IN HIS RELATION TO THE CHURCH.
1. "He is the Head of the body, the Church." For he is its Founder; the Church is his creation (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17-20). Having "all power in heaven and earth," his glory and grace are so great that he can sustain the whole Church in life, and rule and guide each member of it. Our life is bound up with his life; our interests are made his own by the sympathy of our living Head. (Illustrate from Acts 7:56; Acts 9:4; Acts 18:9, Acts 18:10; Acts 23:1-35. Acts 23:11; Acts 27:23, Acts 27:24; 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Timothy 4:18.)
2. "Who is the Beginning"—the first in time and the first in power in relation to the Church. Because he is "the First and the Last," "the Beginning of the creation of God," he is also the Fountain, "the Prince [or, 'Author'] of life" (Acts 3:14) to his Church. Every act of pardon granted, every shower of reviving grace bestowed, every interposition of Providence, is from him. (Illustrate from Jesus Christ's use of "I" and "me" in John 14-16.)
3. "The Firstborn from the dead." He is the supreme Lord from among all who have entered the grave, by virtue of his being the first to rise to the new life from the dead. Note the contrast between the resurrection of Christ and of others. Dying voluntarily, though sinless (John 10:17, John 10:18), he rose by his own power (John 2:20), not to die again (Romans 6:9), in an immortal body (Romans 1:18). Thus he is the Cause, the Pledge, and the Pattern of our resurrection, and has supremacy over his Church in both worlds (Romans 14:9). Already we have seen that he is Firstborn, and Lord of the material creation; and he has the same position in the spiritual creation, "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." He is the Image and Manifestation of God, the First Cause and the Final Cause, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, the Head and Lord of the Church, the Author and Pattern of our glorious resurrection. Yes; and in all things he shall have the pre-eminence (Psalms 72:17; 1 Corinthians 15:25). The day will come when commerce, science, art, literature, shall all be consecrated to him; when the minority shall become a majority, and an innumerable multitude shall "honour the Son even as they honour the Father" (John 5:23; Revelation 7:9-17).
II. IN HIS WORK AS THE UNIVERSAL RECONCILER. Whichever of the alternative renderings of Colossians 1:19 in the Revised Version we adopt, the precious practical truth is the same. The pre-eminence of Christ is assured by "the fulness" that abides in him. All the Divine perfections are his (Colossians 2:9). We may take the term in its widest signification—a fulness of life and power and glory, of goodness and grace, without limit and without end. Thus the Man Christ Jesus, full of a Divine life (John 3:34; John 5:26), was qualified to be the Agent by which the great reconciliation in the universe should be accomplished (Colossians 1:20). "The well is deep;" the place is "holy ground." The reconciliation of "things upon the earth" is a mystery; how much more of "things in the heavens"! Notice:
1. Sin introduced discord into the universe, which spread to this earth. It not only separates men from God, but brings thereby calamities to "the whole creation." Sin left to itself works universal ruin; "when it is full grown it bringeth forth death." God must stand in a different relation to sinners and to the unfallen. If the guilty are to be saved, a new relation must be established between them and God. This is" the reconciliation" (Romans 5:11). The change in man's heart is a result, but the sequel of the change of relations established by "the reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:19).
2. To effect this reconciliation a propitiatory sacrifice was needed. To show righteous grace to the guilty both the holiness and the love of God called for a Divine sacrifice. No theory can fully clear up this mystery of Divine mercy; but faith accepts it and Christian experience attests it (Luke 7:35). No sacrifice less than "the death," "the blood of the cross," could effect this reconciliation (Romans 5:6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). O paradox of mercy! The shedding of human blood stirs up strife; Christ's blood brings down peace. Innocent blood cries for vengeance; the blood of the cross pleads for pardon (Hebrews 12:24).
3. But what is meant by the reconciliation of the things in the heavens? It is not universal restoration of the devils and the damned; for Paul is speaking of what God has already done by the blood of the cross, and in Colossians 1:23 he speaks of the final salvation of believers as conditional. The passage which best illustrates ours is Ephesians 1:10. We can only throw out hints as to the meaning. We know that angels are intensely interested in the work of redemption (Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12). The entrance of sin and its spread among the human race may have produced, though not distrust, yet something like dismay. But the death of Christ revealed the majesty and mercy of God as they had never been combined before. The very fact that the lost sons of men could be "made nigh" by the death of Christ brought these celestial sons of God still nearer. The bends which unite these unfallen yet finite creatures to God become firmer than ever, and thus the harmony of the universe becomes more complete. Such are some of the jewels in the crown of our Divine Mediator and Redeemer.
1. The glory of the cross. Though "all the fulness" dwelt in Christ, even he could not effect a reconciliation except by death (Galatians 6:14).
2. The efficacy of the cross. Though erected on this tiny globe, its power extends throughout the universe.
3. The motives from the cross (2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 2 Corinthians 5:20).—E.S.P.
The apostle's comprehensive view of salvation.
The work of Christ, though comprehensive enough to affect the whole universe, is so penetrative and personal that not a single human soul is overlooked in it. Note how Paul narrows his range of view from the universe to the individual: "To reconcile all things … you hath he reconciled … I was made a minister." But in his view of what the salvation of each individual was, there was no narrowness. In Colossians 1:21-23 he gives us a comprehensive view of salvation. He speaks of the past, the present, and the future.
I. WHAT WE WERE. "Alienated." True in an especial sense of the heathen Colossians (Ephesians 2:11, Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:17-19), we yet must not shrink from recognizing this as a description of the natural state of all sinful men who have not yet accepted the offer of reconciliation. It thus agrees with our Lord's verdict on humanity (John 3:3). If we do not relish communion with God or conversation about him, and have no eager desire to do his will and enjoy his favour, these are clear signs of alienation, that there is a gulf between us and our Father. Such alienation does not end in mere indifference; it leads to positive enmity (Romans 8:7). This "hard saying" of Scripture can easily be justified in the court of conscience, and needs to be impressed on the hearts of the unconverted. They may feel a complacent regard towards a God of their own imagining, but a positive aversion to the living and true God, who hates iniquity and "is angry with the wicked every day." Are they subject to the Law of God?—that is the test. They are not. Both hearts and acts are in antagonism to him; "enemies in your mind in your evil works." Not to speak of those sins of the flesh from which they may have been restrained, selfishness and all its kindred sins of the Spirit are sufficient proofs of the alienation and enmity of mind in its relations to God. The lamentable indifference of men to Christ and his salvation is the crowning proof of the enmity of the heart towards God (John 3:18, John 3:19).
II. WHAT WE ARE. "Reconciled." The work of reconciliation is twofold. There was a reconciliation effected on the cross (verse 23; 2 Corinthians 5:19). There is a reconciliation still to be accomplished in the heart of every impenitent sinner (2 Corinthians 5:20). For there are two obstacles in the way of complete reconciliation—the one is in the character of God; the other, in the character of man. The first arises from God's holiness; the second, from man's wilfulness. The first was removed by the work of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice—"that he might himself be just, and the Justifier of hint that hath faith in Jesus; the second is taken away, immediately by the work of the Holy Spirit on man's heart, but mediately through the death and resurrection of Christ and all the spiritual powers that flow therefrom (John 16:7-11; Romans 5:10). What a manifestation of" the riches of his grace which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence," thus to open a pathway by which a holy God might righteously make the first overtures of mercy to a reluctant rebel race! And was it not equally glorious to be able, without destroying man's freedom or doing any violence to his nature, to overcome his own unwillingness, and open a pathway into his sinful heart for "the peace of God which passeth all understanding"? But at what a cost this has been done! Paul never shrinks from "the offence of the cross." In the face cf false teachers at Colossae and amongst ourselves, he affirms the reality of the sacrificial death of the Divine Son in whom "all the fulness" dwelt. None but incarnate God could effect this reconciliation, and even he only "in the body of his flesh through death (Hebrews 10:5-10).
III. WHAT WE SHALL BE. "Presented faultless." That the apostle is looking forward to the future we infer from verse 23. He holds out before us the prospect of attaining that perfection of character which we are striving to attain to, but which, as an ideal, is perpetually rising and receding as we reach after it (Philippians 3:12-14). We shall gain that holiness which we now "follow" (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:13-16). We shall be "unblamable," or "without blemish" (a sacrificial term). The precept in Romans 12:1-21. I will be perfectly fulfilled then. The confession in 1 Corinthians 4:3 will be needless then. We shall be "unreprovable." Now Christ must at least say, "I have a few things against thee," and we confess Job 9:20, etc. But then neither the accuser of the brethren, nor our own enlightened consciences, nor God himself, will reprove us (Romans 8:33, Romans 8:34). And all this "before him." We shall be pure enough to bear the scrutiny and to be happy in the presence of that God whose holiness is a consuming fire and whose presence would therefore be intolerable to a sinful soul (1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:2; Jude 1:24, Jude 1:25). But there is a condition attached. Paul describes it in terms of generous confidence:" If, as I would take for granted," etc.) cf. Philippians 1:6). There is a truth to be believed ("the gospel"), a confidence to be maintained (your "faith," 2 Corinthians 1:24), and an expectation to be cherished ("hope;" cf. Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:11; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Jud 1 Peter 1:20, 1 Peter 1:21). Learn:
1. Our steadfastness in Christ is the best evidence of our reconciliation by Christ, and our earnest of a presentation in glory. The loss of faith is the knell of hope.
2. Our assurance of reconciliation and our hope of final perfection are both bound up with the glorious gospel, and may be the privilege of all; for that gospel is a message of salvation for every creature under heaven.—E.S.P.
The privilege of suffering.
Following the Revised Version, and omitting "who," we notice that there is an abruptness in the way in which the apostle breaks forth into thanksgiving at the thought of his sufferings. "Now I rejoice," etc. The underlying thought seems to be this: "If ever I have been disposed to repine at my lot, if ever I have felt my cross almost too heavy to bear, yet now, now when I contemplate the lavish wealth of God's mercy, now when I see all the glory of bearing a part in this magnificent work, my sorrow is turned into joy" (Lightfoot). In a measure every Christian labourer may enter into Paul's joy because he may share his motives also. We note two reasons for regarding suffering as a privilege.
I. WE MAY THUS KNOW THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS. "I fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh." The oneness of Christ and his people is the key to these mysterious words. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 even the name "Christ" is given to the body as well as the Head. The sufferings which Christians endure are endured by Christ their Head in them; e.g. Matthew 25:35, etc.; Acts 9:4; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Hebrews 13:13. Jesus Christ during his earthly life endured sufferings which were peculiar to himself. They were vicarious, propitiatory, and meritorious. They are "finished" (Romans 6:9, Romans 6:10). But the time of suffering is not yet past (Romans 8:23). Till the period of education and probation is past, there are afflictions of Christ yet to be filled up (cf. Revelation 21:4, Revelation 21:5). They are needful for the accomplishment, not of the atoning, but of the saving work of Christ. And if he selects us to be members in whom he is pleased to fill up some of his sufferings, we may regard it as a privilege rather than as an infliction. The term for "fill up" is very emphatic. It suggests the thought of completing, in response to or in exchange for something else; as though Paul meant" He suffered for my redemption; shall I not in my turn suffer for his glory and the good of his Church?" All sufferings which we endure as Christians may be privileges because promoting the work of full salvation in our own souls (John 15:2; 1 Peter 5:10, etc.). But when the apostle expresses his ardent desire to "know the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:8-10), we think he desired to share sufferings like those of Christ so far as a saved sinner can enter into fellowship with the sinless Saviour. This may be the case:
1. When our sufferings arise from the same cause, viz. sin, whether in ourselves (2 Corinthians 7:9) or in others. Our Lord's three recorded weepings were occasioned directly or indirectly by sin (Luke 19:41; John 11:33-35; Hebrews 5:7-9). Paul wept in sympathy with his Master (Acts 20:19, Act 20:31; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18).
2. When they are endured for the same end (1 John 3:8). In seeking to rescue souls from sin we must needs undergo self denial and suffering. But thus in an especial manner shall we be "filling up," etc., so that Christ may the sooner "see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied."
II. WE MAY THUS RENDER VALUABLE SERVICE TO OUR FELLOW CHRISTIANS. Paul's present sufferings as an apostle and as an ambassador in bonds at Rome were especially "for you" Gentiles. And already they were the means of conferring great benefits on his fellow Christians (Philippians 1:12-14). This was a motive with the apostle at other times (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 4:8-15; 2 Timothy 2:10). It may be enjoyed by others—by the persecuted (Acts 5:41; Philippians 1:27-29), by the self-denying missionary whose heroism kindles the flame of zeal in other hearts, by earnest workers (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8) and self-denying givers (2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:2), by the invalid who can say 2 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:4; 2Co 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 4:11-13. Some of the best blessings have come to Christ's "body, the Church," through those members of it who are selected for especial suffering. So long as Christ's purposes are fulfilled in us we may well leave the method of our ministry calmly in his hands. Suffering may be, not a release from service or a substitute for it, but the highest form of it. We may enjoy the sacred indifference of the apostle (Philippians 1:20), and look forward to an ample "recompense of reward" (2 Corinthians 4:17, 2Co 4:18; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 4:12, 1 Peter 4:13).—E.S.P.
St. Paul's view of His ministry.
In these verses we have a comprehensive view of the ministry of the apostle, which suggests truths respecting the nature, subject, and object of every ministry that claims to be apostolic in its spirit. He teaches us the following truths:—
I. THAT HIS:MINISTRY WAS A STEWARDSHIP OF THE WORD OF GOD. Twice we find the personal claim, "I;" "I Paul was made a minister." But far from the spiral of egotism, we hear in these words the echo of such expressions of grateful humility as we find in 1 Corinthians 15:8.-10; Ephesians 3:7, Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:12-14. For his ministry was a "stewardship." He was entirely dependent for it on another. He went forth, not to publish the thoughts excogitated in his own mind, but to "deliver" testimonies and doctrines which he had received (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The "mysteries" he had to deal with were not sacraments, but truths; and he was not a priest, but a preacher "of the gospel, whereof I Paul was made a minister" (verse 23). The stewardship was entrusted to him at his conversion (Acts 26:17, Acts 26:18). From it he could not escape (1 Corinthians 9:17). But he gloried in it (1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 4:2; Ephesians 3:8). Being a minister of Christ, he was a minister for the whole Church; "whereof," i.e. of which Church, "I was made a minister." And as such he willingly recognized himself even as a bondservant of the Church as well as of Christ (δούλος) "for Jesus' sake"(2 Corinthians 4:5; see also 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). His one aim was to be faithful, "to fulfil the Word of God" (Romans 15:19; 2 Timothy 4:17).
II. THAT THE WORD ENTRUSTED TO HIM WAS A MYSTERY. A mystery, according to St. Paul, is a truth which was once hidden but is now revealed. It is not discovered by men, but revealed to men. This applies:
1. To the whole gospel (Ephesians 6:20). Who could have discovered or even conceived God's "way of salvation"? It was a mystery of mercy. But it is now an open secret, revealed by Christ's own lips and through his apostles and committed to our trust (1 Timothy 1:11; Jud 1 Timothy 1:3).
2. To the precious truth that was especially entrusted to St. Paul as the apostle of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-7). The admission of us Gentiles to all the blessings of the gospel on terms of perfect equality with the Jews was a truth which, in spite of such predictions as Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 56:1-12., 60., etc., was "hid from all ages and generations," even from the apostles of Christ during his earthly life (Matthew 10:5; Matthew 15:24). Before his conversion Paul would have been shocked at it as a blasphemous heresy. But God had revealed his Son in him (Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16).
III. THAT THIS MYSTERY FOUND ITS SOLUTION IN CHRIST.
1. When in the fulness of time God, transcending the hopes of the most sanguine anticipants of a glorious future, "sent forth his Son," "his unspeakable gift," it would have been unlike God to confine so great a blessing to such a fraction of humanity as the Jews.
2. The appearing of Christ was the greatest vindication of God's dealings with the heathen nations which in time past were suffered "to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16).
3. The atonement of Christ explained the forgiveness of sins among Gentiles as well as Jews in all ages (Romans 3:25, Romans 3:26).
4. The resurrection of Christ brought life and immortality to light in a world which sorrowed over its dead as having "no hope."
5. The ideal humanity of Christ (" the Son of man") pointed him out as "the Way to the Father" for all men apart from the hedges and barriers of the Jewish fold (John 10:16).
6. The reception of Christ in any soul brings a new life and love and a new "hope of glory." No wonder, then, that here and elsewhere the apostle adds term to term ("riches of his glory," "exceeding riches of his grace," etc.) to describe God's mystery of mercy for us Gentiles, "which is Christ in you the Hope of glory."
IV. THAT THE PREACHING OF CHRIST AIMS AT THE PERFECTION OF MEN. (Verses 28, 29.) We set before ourselves the highest standards. We aim to present men "perfect," in the manifold senses in which that word is used in the New Testament—perfect in condition (Hebrews 5:9), in knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:12), in character (Jud Isaiah 1:24), because perfect "in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:30). But for this end:
1. We must preach "Christ" in all his fulness, as our Immanuel, our atoning Priest, our Divine Head, our perfect Pattern, our final Judge, as "the Way and the Truth and the Life," as "all and in all."
2. We must be discriminative in our preaching—"warning" "teaching," "every man" "in all wisdom."
3. We must be earnest and "labour," "striving," etc.
4. We must be dependent, trusting to Christ's "working which worketh in me mightily."—E.S.P.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADNENEY
The fruitfulness of the gospel
I. THE GOSPEL IS FRUITFUL. It is not a barren doctrine. It is a living truth that produces effects in the hearts of men which are made manifest through the influence of them on external conduct. It is fruitful in two ways.
1. In increase. The truth spreads like leaven; the mustard seed grows into a great tree; the two or three in an upper room multiply into the thousands of Pentecost and into the millions, the Churches of modern Christendom.
2. In good influences. The tree not only puts forth new shoots and so grows in size, it blossoms and bears fruit. The fruits of the gospel are the same graces as are elsewhere called "the fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23). Christianity makes happier and better men of us. These fruits are as visible as the fact of the numerical increase of the Church. All modern history bears witness to them, especially in the elevation of woman, the abolition of slavery, the recognition of national justice, the spread of a spirit of humanity, the creation of institutions of charity, and, better still, the doing of innumerable nameless deeds of kindness.
II. THE FIELD OF THE GOSPEL'S FRUITFULNESS IS THE WORLD. It was not preached in the whole world in St. Paul's day, nor is it even yet. But the process of bearing fruit throughout the world then began and still continues.
1. The fruit is seen in this world. The ripest fruit may not be perfected here, but if there is no fruit on earth there will be none in heaven. The gospel is first of all good news of peace on earth—it promises blessings for the present life (1 Timothy 4:8).
2. The gospel brings blessings to the whole earth. It is suited to all kinds of men, of all nations and in all ages, because it speaks to the common heart of mankind, offering the supply of universal wants and conferring graces that are universally good.
3. The gospel bears fruit throughout the world by first of all bearing fruit in the Church. "As it doth in you also." We can only enjoy the fruits of the gospel by entering the kingdom of Christ. The fruitfulness of the Church is the direct cause of the spread of Christianity throughout the world. Thus God is glorified in our fruitfulness (John 15:8).
III. THE SECRET OF THE GOSPEL'S FRUITFULNESS IS THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GRACE OF GOD OF WHICH IT IS THE DECLARATION.
1. The energy of fruit bearing resides in the grace of God. When men feel that grace they become new creatures. The constraining love of Christ works the miracle.
2. The receipt of this energy defends on the knowledge of Divine grace. It does not work by magic, but through an understanding of its truths. Therefore it is vain to pray for the increased fruitfulness of the gospel without also preaching the gospel.
3. A true understanding of the grace of God is necessary for its fruitfulness. It must be known "in truth." Perversions of the gospel hinder the fruitfulness of Christianity. The gospel tells of facts. Let us see those facts clearly separated from the errors and imaginations of human theology.—W.F.A.
Colossians 1:9, Colossians 1:10
The knowledge of God's will.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL IS THE KNOWLEDGE WHICH IS MOST SUPREMELY IMPORTANT.
1. The knowledge of God is the most important knowledge attainable. Many are eager in pursuing the investigation of curious questions of human affairs who are quite indifferent to the truth about the Being who fills heaven and earth. Others are busily searching into the mysteries of the works of God, while quite forgetful of the Maker of them. But to know God is to know the Highest and Best.
2. The knowledge of the will of God is the most important knowledge of God.
(1) It is the highest knowledge of God; for the disposition of the will is the chief characteristic of a spiritual being.
(2) It is the knowledge of God with which we have most concern; for, though there must be glories and wonders in all the great thoughts of God, for us it is most needful that we 'should understand what he is purposing to do and what he wishes us to do.
(3) It is the most attainable knowledge of God. The abstract ideas of the mind of God are far above our reach. The practical thoughts and laws and commandment of his will are what he has most clearly revealed.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL MAY BE ACQUIRED THROUGH SPIRITUAL WISDOM.
1. It may be acquired. This branch of theology is within our reach. In our darkest moments, when we cannot understand the thoughts and plans of God, we may discover what God wills us to do.
2. It is to be got at through spiritual wisdom. We have it not by nature. We cannot reach it by efforts of bare human intelligence. Philosophy will not reveal it. A higher wisdom than the earthly, a purer wisdom than the carnal, heavenly and spiritual wisdom is necessary for this knowledge.
3. This spiritual wisdom is a Divine inspiration. St. Paul prays for it. It is not a product of experience like our knowledge of the world. The man of the world learns much about evil by his experience, but little about goodness. Goodness and the will of God with which it is identical are only seen by a spiritual light which little children may have more clearly than learned men and experienced observers. It is an inward light, a spiritual inspiration.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL IS FRUITFUL IN GREAT PRACTICAL RESULTS. This is not a barren knowledge acquired only for the satisfaction of idle curiosity, nor even merely a worthy object of contemplation.
1. We must know the will of God in order that our life may be worthy of Christ. This is an important point not sufficiently considered by those people who slight the contemplative side of Christianity. The practical side will be a blundering failure without the due cultivation of the contemplative. A lame man with good eyes can walk more straightly than a man with sound limbs who is blind. To please God we must first of all know his will.
2. This knowledge helps us to be fruitful in good works to men. We can never benefit men so much as by doing God's will. Our duty to God and our duty to men are mutually inclusive. We must study the will of God more carefully in order that our work amongst men may be more wise and successful. We often fail in our conscientious efforts to benefit men because we do not work Recording to the method of God's will.—W.F.A.
The inheritance of the saints.
I. CHRISTIANS ARE HEIRS OF A RICH INHERITANCE.
1. The gospel offers Divine wealth. Its blessings are not confined to bare deliverance from ruin. They include hidden treasures, pearls of great price, princely feasts, a whole kingdom of glory.
2. This wealth is, for the most part, prospective. It is an inheritance not yet possessed. The heir may be in severe straits before he comes into his property. We have foretastes of the future blessedness, but the chief part of this blessedness is yet to come.
3. The possession is to be had without any action of ours in acquiring it. The heir does not seize his estate and hold it by right of conquest; he does not purchase it; he does nothing to earn the worth of it; he simply receives it by bequest from another. We do nothing to win or earn our Christian heritage. Christ obtains it and bequeaths it, and as his heirs we simply enter into possession as the son of a great warrior peaceably takes possession of the kingdom won by the sword of his father.
4. Still, the inheritance is received by right. The heir has a right to his estate. Laws and documents secure it to him. The Divine covenant of grace is the Christian's title deed, giving him no precarious hope, but a certain promise and right to his future blessedness.
III. CHRISTIANS ARE BEING TRAINED FOR THEIR GREAT INHERITANCE. The heir of a nobleman must be educated so as to be fitted for his position in society. The heir of a throne needs a special training in order that he may enter upon the duties as well as the privileges of royalty. It would be useless to bequeath a library to a man who had no interest in literature, or to leave an art collection to a man of boorish tastes. The heir must be suited to the inheritance. We hear much of the acquisition of our inheritance, and some seem to think that their great task is thus to secure it for them- selves. But we should remember that this thing is done, the kingdom won by the victory of Christ, the riches bought by his sacrifice of himself. Now, the sole requisite is that we should be ready to enter into possession. And this is a great and essential requisite. An impure soul could not be admitted into heaven; but, if admitted, such a soul would find no joy there. Note:
1. God is making us meet for the great inheritance by the present discipline of life.
2. There are those who may be said to have been made thus ready, because, although not yet perfect, they are new creatures and have characters and sympathies fitted for the enjoyments of the pure delights of heaven.
3. It may be remarked by the way that St. Paul knew of no purgatorial fires which were to keep Christians out of the joys of heaven for some intermediate period.
III. THE REQUISITE FITNESS FOR THE CHRISTIAN INHERITANCE DEPENDS ON THE CHARACTER OF THAT INHERITANCE.
1. The inheritance is in light. It lies in the clearer realm of eternal truth; it is characterized by the purity that excludes all dark blots and stains of sin; it is radiant with the summer sunshine of heavenly joy.
2. Such an inheritance requires saintliness as a suitable condition of enjoying it. It is an inheritance of saints. Only those who are forgiven, cleansed, and purified can stand in the searching light of eternal truth; and they only can enjoy the blessings of a kingdom of holiness and find therein true gladness. Nevertheless, this is no reason for discouragement. St. Paul thanks God for accomplishing the necessary preparation. It is his work, and he will perfect it with all who trust to his grace and the power of his Spirit.—W.F.A.
(See on Ephesians 1:7.)—W.F.A.
Christ in his relations to God and to the world.
This Epistle to the Colossians is conspicuous among the writings of St. Paul for its enthusiastic assertion of the supreme glory and divinity of Jesus Christ. In opposition to an incipient Gnosticism which would lose the solitary rank of the Son of God in a crowded hierarchy of angels, it exalts that rank with an elevation and a distinctness not to be met with in any previously written portion of the New Testament. It is impossible to read the words of the apostle impartially without seeing that he taught the full divinity and pre-existence of Jesus Christ. The old unitarianism that appealed to scriptural authority for confirmation was simply blind with prejudice. Modern unitarianism is more consistent when it rejects the inspiration of the book which plainly contains the doctrine it repudiates. It is true that the ideas of St. Paul are expressed in accordance with the notions of his times, especially in relation to the "Loges" doctrine of Alexandrian philosophy, and therefore that if we interpret them into the language that fits our modern conception of things, they may appear to change their form. But however expressed, the truths taught by the great apostle concerning the Divine, pre-existent, and supreme Christ are essential to the gospel of the New Testament.
I. CHRIST IN HIS RELATION TO GOD. He "is the Image of the invisible God." This implies two facts.
1. Resemblance. The likeness is not external and accidental, "as one egg is like another"—the "homoiousion" of the semi-Arians. The image is produced by the prototype as the seal by the die; it is "the impress of his substance," as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes it (Hebrews 1:3). The language of the apostle refers to the Divine nature of Christ. But it remains true after the Word has been made flesh. Thus we may see that, as at the creation man was made in the image of God, so in the Incarnation the perfection of humanity is identical with the exact likeness of God. Christ became no less human because he was the Image of God, but, on the contrary, just perfectly human. Our highest conception of divinity is our ideal of manhood.
2. Expression. Christ is the Image of the invisible God. "No man hath seen God at any time," etc. (John 1:18). God is invisible because he is pure spirit. No change of place and no change of state will ever enable us to see God with our physical eyes. The light which suffuses the air is invisible except where it shines on some object and is reflected to us. God's universally diffused presence requires such reflection for us to see it. We have this in some degree in the works of nature—star, sea, and flower reflecting God's glory. But it is only in Christ the perfect Image that we can have the perfect manifestation of God. He only can say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
II. CHRIST IN HIS RELATION TO THE WORLD. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." That this expression refers, not to the Incarnation, but to the Divine pre-existence of Christ, is plain if only from the language of the following verse (verse 16). It expresses two facts.
1. Pre-existence. We have no reason for thinking that the human soul of Christ existed before the Incarnation. But it is plainly taught by St. Paul that that which is Divine in him did so exist. Our Lord said the same of himself (John 8:58). Without attempting to understand the mystery of the nature of God, we may gather this important lesson—that all those Divine characteristics which are so beautifully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth were not produced for the first time in the New Testament days. Though less known, they were as really existing in the age of Moses and even at the first creation of the world. Therefore the very scheme of nature and the whole government of the world must be in accordance with what we know of Christ. As Christ will finally judge the world, and all that we know of his Spirit will lead us to be thankful that such a one is the Judge, so we may rejoice that the same Spirit of love and gentleness has been from the first eternally pervading all things.
2. Pre-eminence. The firstborn has the chief honour. Christ's rank is not only above that of the highest archangels; it is distinctive in kind. He is not the first creature of many creatures, but the first born of all creation, in the deepest sense the only begotten Son of the Father.
(1) Thus he who is most pure and good is most noble.
(2) He who humbled himself and sacrificed himself the most was the most highly exalted.
(3) All who trust in Christ may have the assurance that they could have no greater security for their confidence.
(4) Christ is worthy of worship.—W.F.A.
"The Firstborn from the dead."
I. RESURRECTION IS BIRTH. Christ rising the first from the dead is called the first born. Death looks ugly to us because we only see the earthly side. The experience of Christ should help us to look on to the other side and the issue of death in birth in the heavenly sphere. Thus the sunset of the east is the sunrise of the west. The Christian future is not merely rest; it is life. It is not a repetition of the old weary life of earth; it begins afresh in birth.
II. CHRIST INSTITUTES A NEW ORDER OF LIFE. He is the new Adam. Mankind began its old life in the garden of Eden; it begins its new life in Joseph of Arimathsea's garden. The sins, sorrows, and failures of the past are crucified with Christ, dead and buried. To the old weary earth Christ brings a new spring-time, and with it the birth of new hopes and energies. But the perfect development of this new order of things is only possible after death. Christ has begun it, and as one by one his people follow him they too enter into its growing glories.
III. CHRIST IS SUPREME IN THE NEW LIFE. On earth he was lowly, despised, rejected, and slain. Proud enemies seemed to triumph over him. A Tiberius sat on the throne of the world and the Son of God was nailed to the cross. But in the new order he who was the Firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15) resumes his rightful rank and becomes the Firstborn from the dead. Therefore "he is the Head of the body, the Church." From this fact we may derive some important inferences; e.g.:
1. Christ being supreme in the heavenly world, his Spirit of purity and love will pervade and rule all its life.
2. They who follow Christ most closely in obedience to his will and in imitation of his character will enjoy the highest places in heaven.
3. Christ is worthy of the highest adoration now and through all eternity.
IV. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST IS THE EARNEST OF THE FUTURE LIFE OF HIS PEOPLE. He is the Firstborn, not the Only begotten from the dead; and he is "the Firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29).
1. The historical fact of the resurrection of Christ demonstrates by one instance the fact that death does not necessarily end all and indicates the possibility of a similar birth for us into a future life.
2. The character, teaching, mission, and work of Christ all teach us that he is not content to enjoy the resurrection life by himself, but will bring many sons to glory.
3. The risen life of Christ is the type and pattern of the future life of his people.—W. F. A,
(See on Colossians 2:9.)—W.F.A.
The great reconciliation.
The world wants not only education, improvement, and development; it has a sorer need—the necessity of forgiveness, reconciliation to God, renewal, and restoration. It is the glory of the gospel that it recognizes this deep fact, too often ignored by philosophic schemes of life, and that it provides for it by offering the satisfaction of the world's great need in reconciliation through Christ and his atonement.
I. IT IS GOD WHO BRINGS ABOUT THE GREAT RECONCILIATION. Two errors in regard to this glorious truth are very prevalent.
1. The error of attempting to effect the reconciliation for ourselves. Costly sacrifices, hard penance, prayers, and almsgiving have been resorted to, but in vain. The work is God's, not man's. The first mistake is closely associated with another, viz.:
2. The error of supposing that God needs to be reconciled to us. It is commonly thought that the great work is to move God into a favourable consideration for us. But the first step in the reconciliation began with God. He desired it and prepared the way for it before men took any steps towards realizing it. For this reason he first of all sent his Son into the world (John 3:16), and is now sending ambassadors and beseeching us by them to be reconciled. We began the separation, for ours was the offence, but God begins the reconciliation. He does not need to be reconciled to us. He waits to be gracious. The necessary reconciliation is on our side. We need to be reconciled to God.
II. ALL THINGS IN EARTH AND HEAVEN ARE THE SUBJECTS OF THE GREAT RECONCILIATION.
1. The reconciliation is to be universal. It is God's good pleasure to reconcile all things. Nothing short of that complete restoration would satisfy him. If ninety and nine sheep are safe, the shepherd will not rest until he has found the hundredth. Nevertheless, though this universal restitution is God's desire, there is a dark and difficult question as to how far the imperious will of man may stand out against it.
2. The reconciliation begins with things on earth. Here is the great wrong. In this life we become reconciled to God. The full success of Christ will involve the creation of a new earth. Though the laws of nature may not be altered, yet to us the wilderness will become a garden when we become reconciled to the God of nature.
3. The reconciliation reaches up to t/tings in heaven. It unites earth to heaven. Through union with God all beings and all things become united among themselves. Thus peace is established on earth, heavenly mindedness becomes a sympathetic link between the toilers and sufferers in this world and the angels and spirits of the just in the higher world.
III. CHRIST AND HIS ATONEMENT ARE THE MEANS THROUGH WHICH THIS RECONCILIATION IS EFFECTED.
1. Christ is the Mediator in the quarrel between us and God, the Peacemaker (Ephesians 2:14), the "Daysman" who lays his hand on God and on us. The angel mediators of Colossian Gnosticism could not do this, being neither Divine nor human. Because all fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, he brings God to us in merciful loving kindness; and because he is also" very Man," he, as our Representative, brings us back to God.
2. The sacrifice made by Christ in his death is the atonement which accomplishes our reconciliation. "The blood of his cross" signifies, not merely the fact that Christ died on the cross, but also the peculiar value of his death in the shedding of his precious blood, i.e. in the giving up of his life for us with all its wealth of purity and love.—W.F.A.
St. Paul had just been describing the great universal reconciliation. He now directs attention to the enjoyment of a share in it by himself and his readers. It is useless to think of a grand and glorious restoration if we lie outside its blessings, dead and lost. Yet there is a constant danger lest we should be merely interested in the contemplation of the riches of redemption from the outside. Especially when we are considering very large, sublime truths, we are tempted to ignore our own experience. It is instructive to observe that St. Paul always connects his most abstract speculations with practical results, and descends from soaring visions of truth to personal experience.
I. A PAST ALIENATION. This was the early condition of the Colossians; it is the condition of all of us before we are renewed in Christ.
1. The alienation arises out of wicked works. We cannot keep our sins to ourselves. They affect our relations with God; they separate us from him. This is the worst result of them.
2. The alienation consists in the state of our minds. The deeds of the hand react on the thoughts of the heart. He who begins by breaking God's Law ends by separating his whole inner life from God.
3. The alienation results in enmity to God. It cannot remain in passive neglect of the will of God. He who is not with Christ is against him. He who does wicked works may think that his deeds have no relation to God; but, in truth, he is fighting against God.
II. A PRESENT RECONCILIATION.
1. It is accomplished at a great cost. Nothing less than death—the death of the Son of God—could bring it about. How stubborn must have been our enmity! How great must the love of God be! How highly should we value the reconciliation which God has provided at such a fearful price!
2. It is enjoyed through our union with Christ. The reconciliation is "in the body of his flesh." As we eat his flesh, spiritually, by faith and communion, we receive the blessing of reconciliation.
3. It is a present condition. "Yet now hath he reconciled." Reconciliation is accomplished at once, fully, perfectly, and ungrudgingly, with no hints or reminders of the old sins ever again brought up. In the strength of the reconciliation we go on to the working out of the salvation that is only perfected when all sin is conquered.
III. A FUTURE PERFECTION. Though reconciled, we are not yet presented to God. A process of preparation is necessary for this.
1. The reconciled must be made holy. Forgiveness is the first step; but it is not the last. Without holiness no man can see God. The whole of life should be a cleansing and purifying and preparing for the unblemished condition in which only Christ can present us to God. But the reconciliation is a necessary preliminary, an important beginning, and a constraining motive for the perfect purification.
2. We must do ore-Tart to realize the future perfection. It depends on our continuing in the faith.—W.F.A.
Christ, the Hope of glory.
I. CHRISTIANITY BRINGS A HOPE OF GLORY.
1. It brings a hove. All men who live at all live in the future. The past is irretrievable. The present is but a passing moment. Life reaches out to what lies before it. For this we need to be buoyed up by some hope—
"Ever by a mighty hope
Pressing on and bearing up."
The man without a hope is as good as dead. Who will care to walk on over the weary path of his pilgrimage if no light cheers him in the distance, if only deepening gloom besets his uncertain footsteps? It is the glory of the gospel that it speaks of a hope of glory.
2. The object of the Christian hope is glory. It is more than bare escape from ruin; more than mere gladness. There is something ennobling and elevating in the best sense of the word "glory." It not only includes the greatest blessings; it calls us off from low, selfish, epicurean conceptions of future happiness, and points to a pure and lofty aim for our aspirations.
II. THIS CHRISTIAN HOPE IS FOR ALL. The emphasis of the phrase lies on the word "you." "Christ in you," etc.
1. All nations are included. The narrower Jew kept the glory of redemption to himself, though he would allow some of its minor blessings, overflowing from his own full cup, to spread among the Gentries. Christ brings the richest blessings to all peoples without distinction.
2. All characters are included. St. Paul has just been describing the early conditions of the Colossians. They had been alienated and enemies to God in their mind (verse 21). Yet these men have the hope of glory. Thus there is a wonderful revelation of the love of God in the thought—even to you, Colossians, once great enemies to God, Christ is the Hope of glory. And so always the worst sinners, when redeemed by Christ, may anticipate, not only pardon, but the highest glory.
III. CHRIST IS THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHRISTIAN HOPE OF GLORY.
1. It is first of all based on the atonement of Christ. By his shame comes our glory. He first reconciles us to God and then leads us on to glorification.
2. The hope of glory for Christians is dependent on the glory of Christ. He wins glory through his triumph over sin and death. But he does not keep the glory to himself; he freely shares it with his people. Then the Christian glory is just a share of this glory of Christ's. It is no selfish thing, much less is it an earthly, corrupt thing like much that degrades the name of glory among men.
3. Christ himself is the Centre of this glory. Christ is the Hope of glory, not merely the teachings of Christ, the work of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ. In him is glory—the glory of the Only begotten from the Father (John 1:14). He is the glory of his Church.
IV. WE ENJOY THE HOPE OF GLORY BY RECEIVING CHRIST SPIRITUALLY, Christ in you is the hope of glory. So long as we are separated from Christ we dwell in darkness and no ray of his glory is ours. No external relations with Christ will make the hope ours. We must enter into personal relations with Christ; we must receive him into our hearts. When he dwells in our hearts by faith he brings to us his own life, and with this the glory that belongs to it.—W.F.A.
Colossians 1:28, Colossians 1:29
The mission of Christian preaching.
In describing his own practice St. Paul describes the model mission of the Christian preacher. Nothing less than this great ideal should satisfy a Christian minister. But nothing outside it should be assumed by or expected of him. The apostle is but a preacher and teacher, not a priestly authority.
I. THE SUBJECT OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING IS CHRIST. It does not consist in vague speculations on religion. It is clear, positive, definite, and concrete. The preacher is to uphold Christ. He is to tell the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; to draw the portrait of Christ (Galatians 3:1); to proclaim the grace of Christ; to set forth the claims of Christ; and to show the relation of Christ to everything in life.
1. There is a unity in this preaching. It all centres in Christ.
2. There is a breadth in it. Christ has grace and authority in regard to all aspects of life.
3. There is power in it. The charm and spell of the gospel dwell in Christ himself. In proportion as he is lifted up does he draw all men to himself, and in proportion as the preacher wanders into side issues does he lose the secret of his influence.
II. THE FIELD OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING IS ALL MANKIND. Three times does the apostle express the universality of this truth as against the Jew who would limit the best treasures to his nation, and the Gnostic who would keep the higher truths for the more instructed. "Admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom."
1. Christ is for all: for
(1) none are so good, or wise, or safe, or happy as to afford to do without him; and
(2) none are so ignorant, or foolish, or guilty as to be beyond the reach of his blessings.
2. In Christ all wisdom is for all men. There is no reserve, at least of the highest wisdom, since the Christ who is preached to all men freely is the Word and the Wisdom of God.
III. THE METHOD OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING IS PRACTICAL INSTRUCTION.
1. Proclaiming Christ. The first requisite is information on the main points of the gospel. The Christian preacher is a herald and a witness (Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15).
2. Admonishing. Men must be charged with the guilt of their sins, as well as encouraged by the offers of the gospel. An earnest, faithful dealing with individuals according to their personal condition is a necessary though painful part of a minister's work.
3. Teaching. Thorough instruction must follow the general proclaiming of the gospel. Growth in grace depends largely on growth in knowledge, Neglect of this laborious, unexciting part of the preacher's mission, careful teaching, is sure to be avenged by ultimate weakness, if not by disastrous lapses into practical errors.
IV. THE END OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING IS TO PRESENT MEN PERFECT IN CHRIST. We are not to be satisfied with such abstract teaching as simply informs the minds of people. The great work is most practical. It is to mould lives, to develop characters, to perfect souls.
1. It is to bring men into living union with Christ. We preach Christ in order that men may live Christ. The great result is the effecting of a vital union with Christ.
2. It is also to lead men on to perfection in Christ. The preacher will be expected, at the return of his Master, to present, as the fruit of his life's work, not a crowd of raw converts, but a body of ripe Christians. The work is not finished in conversion. It only begins with that. Line upon line, and precept upon precept, often with sad iteration as old lessons unlearnt need to be repeated, characterizes the necessary task of the Christian preacher. And it is not done till perfection is reached.
V. SUCCESS IN THIS MISSION DEPENDS UPON WORKING HARD IN THE POWER OF CHRIST.
1. It requires hard work. St. Paul "labours," "striving." The words in the Greek suggest the athlete who trains himself into great vigour for some severe enterprise. Men are not to be won for Christ and perfected in Christ by indolent, self-indulgent preachers. No work is harder than that of the Christian preacher when it is faithfully discharged.
2. Success is also only attainable through the power of Christ. He works mightily in the preacher as well as in the hearer. With this secret of strength the feeblest preacher may succeed where a Demosthenes would fail.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Colossians 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16