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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Colossians 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

Chapter 1

THE WRITER AND THE READERS

Colossians 1:1-2 (R.V.)

We may say that each of Paul’s greater epistles has in it one salient thought. In that to the Romans, it is justification by faith; in Ephesians, it is the mystical union of Christ and His Church; in Philippians, it is the joy of Christian progress; in this epistle, it is the dignity and sole sufficiency of Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Head of all creation and of the Church. Such a thought is emphatically a lesson for the day.

The Christ whom the world needs to have proclaimed in every deaf ear and lifted up before blind and reluctant eyes, is not merely the perfect man, nor only the meek sufferer, but the Source of creation and its Lord, Who from the beginning has been the life of all that has lived, and before the beginning was in the bosom of the Father. The shallow and starved religion which contents itself with mere humanitarian conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth needs to be deepened and filled out by these lofty truths before it can acquire solidity and steadfastness sufficient to be the unmoved foundation of sinful and mortal lives. The evangelistic teaching which concentrates exclusive attention on the cross as "the work of Christ," needs to be led to the contemplation of them, in order to understand the cross, and to have its mystery as well as its meaning declared. This letter itself dwells upon two applications of its principles to two classes of error which, in somewhat changed forms, exist now as then-the error of the ceremonialist, to whom religion was mainly a matter of ritual, and the error of the speculative thinker, to whom. the universe was filled with forces which left no room for the working of a personal Will. The vision of the living Christ Who fills all things, is held up before each of these two, as the antidote to his poison; and that same vision must be made clear today to the modern representatives of these ancient errors. If we are able to grasp with heart and mind the principles of this epistle for ourselves, we shall stand at the centre of things, seeing order where from any other position confusion only is apparent, and being at the point of rest instead of being hurried along by the wild whirl of conflicting opinions.

I desire, therefore, to present the teachings of this great epistle in a series of expositions. Before advancing to the consideration of these verses, we must deal with one or two introductory matters, so as to get the frame and the background for the picture.

(1) First, as to the Church of Colossae to which the letter is addressed.

Perhaps too much has been made of late years of geographical and topographical elucidations of Paul’s epistles. A knowledge of the place to which a letter was sent cannot do much to help in understanding the letter, for local circumstances leave very faint traces, if any, on the Apostle’s writings. Here and there an allusion may be detected, or a metaphor may gain in point by such knowledge; but, for the most part, local colouring is entirely absent. Some slight indication, however, of the situation and circumstances of the Colossian Church may help to give vividness to our conceptions of the little community to which this rich treasure of truth was first entrusted. Colossae was a town in the heart of the modern Asia Minor, much decayed in Paul’s time from its earlier importance. It lay in a valley of Phrygia, on the banks of a small stream, the Lycus, down the course of which, at a distance of some ten miles or so, two very much more important cities fronted each other, Hierapolis on the north, and Laodicea on the south bank of the river. In all three cities were Christian Churches, as we know from this letter, one of which has attained the bad eminence of having become the type of tepid religion for all the world. How strange to think of the tiny community in a remote valley of Asia Minor, eighteen centuries since, thus gibbeted forever! These stray beams of light which fall upon the people in the New Testament, showing them fixed forever in one attitude, like a lightning flash in the darkness, are solemn precursors of the last Apocalypse, when all men shall be revealed in "the brightness of His coming." Paul does not seem to have been the founder of these Churches, or ever to have visited them at the date of this letter. That opinion is based on several of its characteristics, such, for instance, as the absence of any of those kindly greetings to individuals which in the Apostle’s other letters are so abundant, and reveal at once the warmth and the delicacy of his affection: and the allusions which occur more than once to his having only "heard" of their faith and love, and is strongly supported by the expression in the second chapter where he speaks of the conflict in spirit which he had for "you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." Probably the teacher who planted the gospel at Colossae was that Epaphras, whose visit to Rome occasioned the letter, and who is referred to in verse 7 of this chapter (Colossians 1:7) in terms which seem to suggest that he had first made known to them the fruit-producing "word of the truth of the gospel."

(2) Note the occasion and subject of the letter. Paul is a prisoner, in a certain sense, in Rome; but the word prisoner conveys a false impression of the amount of restriction of personal liberty to which he was subjected. We know from the last words of the Acts of the Apostles, and from the Epistle to the Philippians, that his "imprisonment" did not in the least interfere with his liberty of preaching, nor with his intercourse with friends. Rather, in the view of the facilities it gave that by him "the preaching might be fully known," it may be regarded, as indeed the writer of the Acts seems to regard it, as the very climax and top stone of Paul’s work, wherewith his history may fitly end, leaving the champion of the gospel at the very heart of the world, with unhindered liberty to proclaim his message by the very throne of Caesar. He was sheltered rather than confined beneath the wing of the imperial eagle. His imprisonment, as we call it, was, at all events at first, detention in Rome under military supervision rather than incarceration. So to his lodgings in Rome there comes a brother from this decaying little town in the far off valley of the Lycus, Epaphras by name. Whether his errand was exclusively to consult Paul about the state of the Colossian Church, or whether some other business also had brought him to Rome, we do not know; at all events, he comes and brings with him bad news, which burdens Paul’s heart with solicitude for the little community, which had no remembrances of his own authoritative teaching to fall back upon. Many a night would he and Epaphras spend in deep converse on the matter, with the stolid Roman legionary, to whom Paul was chained, sitting wearily by, while they two eagerly talked.

The tidings were that a strange disease, hatched in that hotbed of religious fancies, the dreamy East, was threatening the faith of the Colossian Christians. A peculiar form of heresy, singularly compounded of Jewish ritualism and Oriental mysticism-two elements as hard to blend in the foundation of a system as the heterogeneous iron and clay on which the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream stood unstably-had appeared among them, and though at present confined to a few, was being vigorously preached. The characteristic Eastern dogma, that matter is evil and the source of evil, which underlies so much Oriental religion, and crept in so early to corrupt Christianity, and crops up today in so many strange places and unexpected ways, had begun to infect them. The conclusion was quickly drawn: "Well, then, if matter be the source of all evil, then, of course, God and matter must be antagonistic," and so the creation and government of this material universe could not be supposed to have come directly from Him. The endeavour to keep the pure Divinity and the gross world as far apart as possible, while yet an intellectual necessity forbade the entire breaking of the bond between them, led to the busy working of the imagination, which spanned the void gulf between God Who is good, and matter which is evil, with a bridge of cobwebs-a chain of intermediate beings, emanations, abstractions, each approaching more nearly to the material than his precursor, till at last the intangible and infinite were confined and curdled into actual earthly matter, and the pure was darkened thereby into evil.

Such notions, fantastic and remote from daily life as they look, really led by a very short cut to making wild work with the plainest moral teachings both of the natural conscience and of Christianity. For if matter be the source of all evil, then the fountain of each man’s sin is to be found, not in his own perverted will, but in his body, and the cure of it is to be reached, not by faith which plants a new life in a sinful spirit, but simply by ascetic mortification of the flesh. Strangely united with these mystical Eastern teachings, which might so easily be perverted to the coarsest sensuality, and had their heads in the clouds and their feet in the mud, were the narrowest doctrines of Jewish ritualism, insisting on circumcision, laws regulating food, the observance of feast days, and the whole cumbrous apparatus of a ceremonial religion. It is a monstrous combination, a cross between a Talmudical rabbi and a Buddhist priest, and yet it is not unnatural that, after soaring in these lofty regions of speculation where the air is too thin to support life, men should be glad to get hold of the externals of an elaborate ritual. It is not the first nor the last time that a misplaced philosophical religion has got close to a religion of outward observances, to keep it from shivering itself to death. Extremes meet. If you go far enough east, you are west.

Such, generally speaking, was the error that was beginning to lift its head in Colossae. Religious fanaticism was at home in that country, from which, both in heathen and in Christian times, wild rites and notions emanated, and the Apostle might well dread, the effect of this new teaching, as of a spark on hay, on the excitable natures of the Colossian converts.

Now we may say, "What does all this matter to us? We are in no danger of being haunted by the ghosts of these dead heresies." But the truth which Paul opposed to them is all-important for every age. It was simply the Person of Christ as the only manifestation of the Divine, the link between God and the universe, its Creator and Preserver, the Light and Life of men, the Lord and Inspirer of the Church, Christ has come, laying His hand upon both God and man, therefore there is no need nor place for a misty crowd of angelic beings or shadowy abstractions to bridge the gulf across which His incarnation flings its single solid arch. Christ has been bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, therefore that cannot be the source of evil in which the fulness of the Godhead has dwelt as in a shrine. Christ has come, the fountain of life and holiness, therefore there is no more place for ascetic mortifications on the one hand, nor for Jewish scrupulosities on the other. These things might detract from the completeness of faith in the complete redemption which Christ has wrought, and must becloud the truth that simple faith in it is all which a man needs.

To urge these and the like truths this letter is written. Its central principle is the sovereign and exclusive mediation of Jesus Christ, the God-man, the victorious antagonist of these dead speculations, and the destined conqueror of all the doubts and confusions of this day. If we grasp with mind and heart that truth, we can possess our souls in patience, and in its light see light where else are darkness and uncertainty.

So much then for introduction, and now a few words of comment on the superscription of the letter contained in these verses.

I. Notice the blending of lowliness and authority in Paul’s designation of himself.

"An Apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God."

He does not always bring his apostolic authority to mind at the beginning of his letters. In his earliest epistles, those to the Thessalonians, he has not yet adopted the practice. In the loving and joyous letter to the Philippians, he has no need to urge his authority, for no man among them ever gainsaid it. In that to Philemon, friendship is uppermost, and though, as he says, he might be much bold to enjoin, yet he prefers to beseech, and will not command as "Apostle," but pleads as "the prisoner of Christ Jesus." In his other letters he put his authority in the foreground as here, and it may be noticed that it and its basis in the will of God are asserted with greatest emphasis in the Epistle to the Galatians, where he has to deal with more defiant opposition than elsewhere encountered him.

Here he puts forth his claim to the apostolate, in the highest sense of the word. He asserts his equality with the original Apostles, the chosen witnesses for the reality of Christ’s resurrection. He, too, had seen the risen Lord, and heard the words of His mouth. He shared with them. the prerogative of certifying from personal experience that Jesus is risen and lives to bless and rule. Paul’s whole Christianity was built on the belief that Jesus Christ had actually appeared to him. That vision on the road to Damascus revolutionised his life. Because he had seen his Lord and heard his duty from His lips, he had become what he was.

"Through the will of God" is at once an assertion of Divine authority, a declaration of independence of all human teaching or appointment, and a most lowly disclaimer of individual merit, or personal power. Few religious teachers have had so strongly marked a character as Paul, or have so constantly brought their own experience into prominence; but the weight which he expected to be attached to his words was to be due entirely to their being the words which God spoke through him. If this opening clause were to be paraphrased it would be: I speak to you because God has sent me. I am not an Apostle by my own will, nor by my own merit. I am not worthy to be called an Apostle. I am a poor sinner like yourselves, and it is a miracle of love and mercy that God should put His words into such lips. But He does speak through me; my words are neither mine nor learned from any other man, but His. Never mind the cracked pipe through which the Divine breath makes music, but listen to the music.

So Paul thought of his message; so the uncompromising assertion of authority was united with deep humility. Do we come to his words, believing that we hear God speaking through Paul? Here is no formal doctrine of inspiration, but here is the claim to be the organ of the Divine will and mind, to which we ought to listen as indeed the voice of God.

The gracious humility of the man is further seen in his association with himself, as joint senders of the letter, of his young brother Timothy, who has no apostolic authority, but whose concurrence in its teaching might give it some additional weight. For the first few verses he remembers to speak in the plural, as in the name of both-"we give thanks," "Epaphras declared to us your love," and so on; but in the fiery sweep of his thoughts Timothy is soon left out of sight, and Paul alone pours out the wealth of his Divine wisdom and the warmth of his fervid heart.

II. We may observe the noble ideal of the Christian character set forth in the designations of the Colossian Church, as "saints and faithful brethren in Christ."

In his earlier letters Paul addresses himself to "the Church"; in his later, beginning with the Epistle to the Romans, and including the three great epistles from his captivity, namely, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, he drops the word Church, and uses expressions which regard the individuals composing the community rather than the community which they compose. The slight change thus indicated in the Apostle’s point of view is interesting, however it may be accounted for. There is no reason to suppose it done of set purpose, and certainly it did not arise from any lowered estimate of the sacredness of "the Church," which is nowhere put on higher ground than in the letter to Ephesus, which belongs to the later period; but it may be that advancing years and familiarity with his work, with his position of authority, and with his auditors, all tended to draw him closer to them, and insensibly led to the disuse of the more formal and official address to "the Church" in favour of the simpler and more affectionate superscription, to "the brethren."

Be that as it may, the lessons to be drawn from the names here given to the members of the Church are the more important matter for us. It would be interesting and profitable to examine the meaning of all the New Testament names for believers, and to learn the lessons which they teach; but we must, for the present, confine ourselves to those which occur here.

"Saints"-a word that has been woefully misapplied both by the Church and the world. The former has given it as a special honour to a few, and "decorated" with it mainly the possessors of a false ideal of sanctity-that of the ascetic and monastic sort. The latter uses it with a sarcastic intonation, as if it implied much cry and little wool, loud professions and small performance, not without a touch of hypocrisy and crafty self-seeking.

Saints are not people living in cloisters after a fantastic ideal, but men and women immersed in the vulgar work of everyday life and worried by the small prosaic anxieties which fret us all, who amidst the whirr of the spindle in the mill, and the clink of the scales on the counter, and the hubbub of the market place and the jangle of the courts, are yet living lives of conscious devotion to God. The root idea of the word, which is an Old Testament word, is not moral purity, but separation to God. The holy things of the old covenant were things set apart from ordinary use for His service. So, on the high priest’s mitre was written Holiness to the Lord. So the Sabbath was kept "holy," because set apart from the week in obedience to Divine command.

Sanctity, and saint, are used now mainly with the idea of moral purity, but that is a secondary meaning. The real primary signification is separation to God. Consecration to Him is the root from which the white flower of purity springs most surely. There is a deep lesson in the word as to the true method of attaining cleanness of life and spirit. We cannot make ourselves pure, but we can yield ourselves to God and the purity will come.

But we have not only here the fundamental idea of holiness, and the connection of purity of character with self-consecration to God, but also the solemn obligation on all so-called Christians thus to separate and devote themselves to Him. We are Christians as far as we give ourselves up to God, in the surrender of our wills and the practical obedience of our lives-so far and not one inch further. We are not merely bound to this consecration if we are Christians, but we are not Christians unless we thus consecrate ourselves. Pleasing self, and making my own will my law, and living for my own ends, is destructive of all Christianity. Saints are not an eminent sort of Christians, but all Christians are saints, and he who is not a saint is not a Christian. The true consecration is the surrender of the will, which no man can do for us, which needs no outward ceremonial, and the one motive which will lead us selfish and stubborn men to bow our necks to that gentle yoke, and to come out of the misery of pleasing self into the peace of serving God, is drawn from the great love of Him Who devoted Himself to God and man, and bought us for His own by giving Himself utterly to be ours. All sanctity begins with consecration to God. All consecration rests upon the faith of Christ’s sacrifice. And if, drawn by the great love of Christ to us unworthy, we give ourselves away to God in Him, then He gives Himself in deep sacred communion to us. "I am thine" has ever for its chord which completes the fulness of its music, "Thou art mine." And so "saint" is a name of dignity and honour, as well as a stringent requirement. There is implied in it, too, safety from all that would threaten life or union with Him. He will not hold His possessions with a slack hand that negligently lets them drop, or with a feeble hand that cannot keep them from a foe. "Thou wilt not suffer him who is consecrated to Thee to see corruption." If I belong to God, having given myself to Him, then I am safe from the touch of evil and the taint of decay. "The Lord’s portion is His people," and He will not lose even so worthless a part of that portion as I am. The great name "saints" carries with it the prophecy of victory over all evil, and the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God, or pluck us from His hand.

But these Colossian Christians are "faithful" as well as saints. That may either mean trustworthy and true to their stewardship, or trusting. In the parallel verses in the Epistle to the Ephesians (which presents so many resemblances to this epistle) the latter meaning seems to be required, and here it is certainly the more natural, as pointing to the very foundation of all Christian consecration and brotherhood in the act of believing. We are united to Christ by our faith. The Church is a family of faithful, that is to say of believing, men. Faith underlies consecration and is the parent of holiness, for he only will yield himself to God who trustfully grasps the mercies of God and rests on Christ’s great gift of Himself. Faith weaves the bond that unites men in the brotherhood of the Church, for it brings all who share it into a common relation to the Father. He who is faithful, that is, believing, will be faithful in the sense of being worthy of confidence and true to his duty, his profession, and his Lord.

They were brethren too. That strong new bond of union among men the most unlike, was a strange phenomenon in Paul’s time, when the Roman world was falling to pieces, and rent by deep clefts of hatreds and jealousies such as modern society scarcely knows; and men might well wonder as they saw the slave and his master sitting at the same table, the Greek and the barbarian learning the same wisdom in the same tongue, the Jew and the Gentile bowing the knee in the same worship, and the hearts of all fused into one great glow of helpful sympathy and unselfish love.

But "brethren" means more than this. It points not merely to Christian love, but to the common possession of a new life. If we are brethren, it is because we have one Father, because in us all there is one life. The name is often regarded as sentimental and metaphorical. The obligation of mutual love is supposed to be the main idea in it, and there is a melancholy hollowness and unreality in the very sound of it as applied to the usual average Christians of today. But the name leads straight to the doctrine of regeneration, and proclaims that all Christians are born again through their faith in Jesus Christ, and thereby partake of a common new life, which makes all its possessors children of the Highest, and therefore brethren one of another. If regarded as an expression of the affection of Christians for one another, "brethren" is an exaggeration, ludicrous or tragic, as we view it; but if we regard it as the expression of the real bond which gathers all believers into one family, it declares the deepest mystery and mightiest privilege of the gospel that "to as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the Sons of God." They are "in Christ." These two words may apply to all the designations or to the last only. They are saints in Him, believers in Him, brethren in Him. That mystical but most real union of Christians with their Lord is never far away from the Apostle’s thoughts, and in the twin Epistle to the Ephesians is the very burden of the whole. A shallower Christianity tries to weaken that great phrase to something more intelligible to the unspiritual temper and the poverty-stricken experience proper to it; but no justice can be done to Paul’s teaching unless it be taken in all its depth as expressive of that same mutual indwelling and interlacing of spirit with spirit which is so prominent in the writings of the Apostle John. There is one point of contact between the Pauline and the Johannean conceptions on the differences between which so much exaggeration has been expended: to both the inmost essence of the Christian life is union to Christ, and abiding in Him. If we are Christians, we are in Him, in yet profounder sense than creation lives and moves and has its being in God. We are in Him as the earth with all its living things is in the atmosphere, as the branch is in the vine, as the members are in the body. We are in Him. as inhabitants in a house, as hearts that love in hearts that love, as parts in the whole. If we are Christians, He is in us, as life in every vein, as the fruit-producing sap and energy of the vine are in every branch, as the air is in every lung, as the sunlight in every planet.

This is the deepest mystery of the Christian life. To be "in Him" is to be complete. "In Him" we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings." "In Him," we are "chosen." "In Him," God "freely bestows His grace upon us." "In Him" we "have redemption through His blood." "In Him all things in heaven and earth are gathered." "In Him we have obtained an inheritance." In Him is the better life of all who live. In Him we have peace though the world be seething with change and storm. In Him we conquer though earth and our own evil be all in arms against us. If we live in Him, we live in purity and joy. If we die in Him, we die in tranquil trust. If our gravestones may truly carry the sweet old inscription carved on so many a nameless slab in the catacombs, "In Christo," they will also bear the other "In pace" (In peace). If we sleep in Him, our glory is assured, for them also that sleep in Jesus, will God bring with Him.

III. A word or two only can be devoted to. the last clause of salutation, the apostolic wish, which sets forth the high ideal to be desired for Churches and individuals: "Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father." The Authorised Version reads, "and the Lord Jesus Christ," but the Revised Version follows the majority of recent text critics and their principal authorities in omitting these words, which are supposed to have been imported into our passage from the parallel place in Ephesians. The omission of these familiar words which occur so uniformly in the similar introductory salutations of Paul’s other Epistles, is especially singular here, where the main subject of the letter is the office of Christ as channel of all blessings. Perhaps the previous word, "brethren" was lingering in his mind, and so instinctively he stopped with the kindred word "Father."

"Grace and peace"-Paul’s wishes for those whom he loves, and the blessings which he expects every Christian to possess, blend the Western and the Eastern forms of salutation, and surpass both. All that the Greek meant by his "Grace," all that the Hebrew meant by his "Peace," the ideally happy condition which differing nations have placed in different blessings, and which all loving words have vainly wished for dear ones, is secured and conveyed to every poor soul that trusts in Christ.

"Grace"-what is that? The word means first-love in exercise to those who are below the lover, or who deserve something else; stooping love that condescends, and patient love that forgives. Then it means the gifts which such love bestows, and then it means the effects of these gifts in the beauties of character and conduct developed in the receivers. So there are here invoked, or we may call it, proffered and promised, to every believing heart, the love and gentleness of that Father whose love to us sinful atoms is a miracle of lowliness and longsuffering; and, next, the outcome of that love which never visits the soul empty handed, in all varied spiritual gifts, to strengthen weakness, to enlighten ignorance, to fill the whole being; and as last result of all, every beauty of mind, heart, and temper which can adorn the character, and refine a man into the likeness of God. That great gift will come in continuous bestowment if we are "saints in Christ." Of His fulness we all receive and grace for grace, wave upon wave as the ripples press shoreward and each in turn pours its tribute on the beach, or as pulsation after pulsation makes one golden beam of unbroken light, strong winged enough to come all the way from the sun, gentle enough to fall on the sensitive eyeball without pain. That one beam will decompose into all colours and brightnesses. That one "grace" will part into sevenfold gifts and be the life in us of whatsoever things are lovely and of good report.

"Peace be unto you." That old greeting, the witness of a state of society when every stranger seen across the desert was probably an enemy, is also a witness to the deep unrest of the heart. It is well to learn the lesson that peace comes after grace, that for tranquillity of soul we must go to God, and that He gives it by giving us His love and its gifts, of which, and of which only, peace is the result. If we have that grace for ours, as we all may if we will, we shall be still, because our desires are satisfied and all our needs met. To seek is unnecessary when we are conscious of possessing. We may end our weary quest, like the dove when it had found the green leaf, though little dry land may be seen as yet, and fold our wings and rest by the cross. We may be lapped in calm repose, even in the midst of toil and strife, like John resting on the heart of his Lord. There must be, first of all, peace with God, that there may be peace from God. Then, when we have been won from our alienation and enmity by the power of the cross, and have learned to know that God is our Lover, Friend, and Father, we shall possess the peace of those whose hearts have found their home, the peace of spirits no longer at war within-conscience and choice tearing them asunder in their strife, the peace of obedience which banishes the disturbance of self-will, the peace of security shaken by no fears, the peace of a sure future across the brightness of which no shadows of sorrow nor mists of uncertainty can fall, the peace of a heart in amity with all mankind. So living in peace, we shall lay ourselves down and die in peace, and enter into "that country, afar beyond the stars," where "grows the flower of peace."

"The Rose that cannot wither, Thy fortress and thy ease."

All this may be ours. Paul could only wish it for these Colossians. We can only long for it for our dearest. No man can fulfil his wishes or turn them into actual gifts. Many precious things we can give, but not peace. But our brother, Jesus Christ, can do more than wish it. He can bestow it, and when we need it most, He stands ever beside us, in our weakness and unrest, with His strong arm stretched out to help, and on His calm lips the old words" My grace is sufficient for thee," "My peace I give unto you."

Let us keep ourselves in Him, believing in Him and yielding ourselves to God for His dear sake, and we shall find His grace ever flowing into our emptiness and His settled "peace keeping our hearts and mind in Christ Jesus."


Verses 3-8

Chapter 1

THE PRELUDE

Colossians 1:3-8 (R.V.)

THIS long introductory section may at first sight give the impression of confusion, from the variety of subjects introduced. But a little thought about it shows it to be really a remarkable specimen of the Apostle’s delicate tact, born of his love and earnestness. Its purpose is to prepare a favourable reception for his warnings and arguments against errors which had crept in, and in his judgment were threatening to sweep away the Colossian Christians from their allegiance to Christ, and their faith in the gospel as it had been originally preached to them by Epaphras. That design explains the selection of topics in these verses, and their weaving together.

Before he warns and rebukes, Paul begins by giving the Colossians credit for all the good which he can find in them. As soon as he opens his mouth, he asserts the claims and authority, the truth and power of the gospel which he preaches, and from which all this good in them had come, and which had proved that it came from God by its diffusiveness and fruitfulness. He reminds them of their beginnings in the Christian life, with which this new teaching was utterly inconsistent, and he flings his shield over Epaphras, their first teacher, whose words were in danger of being neglected now for newer voices with other messages.

Thus skilfully and lovingly these verses touch a prelude which naturally prepares for the theme of the epistle. Remonstrance and rebuke would more often be effective if they oftener began with showing the rebuker’s love, and with frank acknowledgment of good in the rebuked.

I. We have first a thankful recognition of Christian excellence as introductory to warnings and remonstrances.

Almost all Paul’s letters begin with similar expressions of thankfulness for the good that was in the Church he is addressing. Gentle rain softens the ground and prepares it to receive the heavier downfall which would else mostly run off the hard surface. The exceptions are, 2 Corinthians; Ephesians, which was probably a circular letter; and Galatians, which is too hot throughout for such praises. These expressions are not compliments, or words of course. Still less are they flattery used for personal ends. They are the uncalculated and uncalculating expression of affection which delights to see white patches in the blackest character, and of wisdom which knows that the nauseous medicine of blame is most easily taken if administered wrapped in a capsule of honest praise.

All persons in authority over others, such as masters, parents, leaders of any sort, may be the better for taking the lesson-"provoke not your"-inferiors, dependents, scholars-"to wrath, lest they be discouraged"-and deal out praise where you can, with a liberal hand. It is nourishing food for many virtues, and a powerful antidote to many vices.

This praise is cast in the form of thanksgiving to God, as the true fountain of all that is good in men. How all that might be harmful in direct praise is strained out of it, when it becomes gratitude to God! But we need not dwell on this, nor on the principle underlying these thanks, namely that Christian men’s excellences are God’s gift, and that therefore, admiration of the man should ever be subordinate to thankfulness to God. The fountain, not the pitcher filled from it, should have the credit of the crystal purity and sparkling coolness of the water. Nor do we need to do more than point to the inference from that phrase "having heard of your faith," an inference confirmed by other statements in the letter, namely, that the Apostle himself had never seen the Colossian Church. But we briefly emphasise the two points which occasioned his thankfulness. They are the familiar two, faith and love.

Faith is sometimes spoken of in the New Testament as "towards Christ Jesus," which describes that great act of the soul by its direction, as if it were a going out or flight of the man’s nature to the true goal of all active being. It is sometimes spoken of as "on Christ Jesus," which describes it as reposing on Him as the end of all seeking, and suggests such images as that of a hand that leans or of a burden borne, or a weakness upheld by contact with Him. But more sweet and great is the blessedness of faith considered as "in Him," as its abiding place and fortress home, in union with and indwelling in whom the seeking spirit may fold its wings, and the weak heart may be strengthened to lift its burden cheerily, heavy though it be, and the soul may be full of tranquillity and soothed into a great calm. Towards, on, and in-so manifold are the phases of the relation between Christ and our faith.

In all, faith is the same, -simple confidence, precisely like the trust which we put in one another. But how unlike are the objects!-broken reeds of human nature in the one case, and the firm pillar of that Divine power and tenderness in the other, and how unlike, alas! is the fervency and constancy of the trust we exercise in each other and in Christ! "Faith" covers the whole ground of man’s relation to God. All religion, all devotion, everything which binds us to the unseen world is included in or evolved from faith. And mark that this faith is, in Paul’s teaching, the foundation of love to men and of everything else good and fair. We may agree or disagree with that thought, but we can scarcely fail to see that it is the foundation of all his moral teaching. From that fruitful source all good will come. From that deep fountain sweet water will flow, and all drawn from other sources has a tang of bitterness. Goodness of all kinds is most surely evolved from faith- and that faith lacks its best warrant of reality which does not lead to whatsoever things are lovely and of good report. Barnabas was a "good man," because, as Luke goes on to tell us by way of analysis of the sources of his goodness, he was "full of the Holy Ghost," the author of all goodness, "and of faith" by which that Inspirer of all beauty of purity dwells in men’s hearts. Faith then is the germ of goodness, not because of anything in itself, but because by it we come under the influence of the Divine Spirit whose breath is life and holiness.

Therefore we say to everyone who is seeking to train his character in excellence, begin with trusting Christ, and out of that will come all lustre and whiteness, all various beauties of mind and heart. It is hard and hopeless work to cultivate our own thorns into grapes, but if we will trust Christ, He will sow good seed in our field and "make it soft with showers and bless the springing thereof."

As faith is the foundation of all virtue, so it is the parent of love, and as the former sums up every bond that knits men to God, so the latter includes all relations of men to each other, and is the whole law of human conduct packed into one word. But the warmest place in a Christian’s heart will belong to those who are in sympathy with his deepest self, and a true faith in Christ, like a true loyalty to a prince, will weave a special bond between all fellow subjects. So the sign, on the surface of earthly relations, of the deep-lying central fire of faith to Christ, is the fruitful vintage of brotherly love, as the vineyards bear the heaviest clusters on the slopes of Vesuvius. Faith in Christ and love to Christians-that is the Apostle’s notion of a good man. That is the ideal of character which we have to set before ourselves. Do we desire to be good? Let us trust Christ. Do we profess to trust Christ? Let us show it by the true proof-our goodness and especially our love. So we have here two members of the familiar triad, Faith and Love, and their sister Hope is not far off. We read in the next clause, "because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens." The connection is not altogether plain. Is the hope the reason for the Apostle’s thanksgiving, or the reason in some sense of the Colossians’ love? As far as the language goes, we may either read "We give thanks because of the hope," or "the love which ye have because of the hope." But the long distance which we have to go back for the connection, if we adopt the former explanation, and other considerations which need not be entered on here, seem to make the latter the preferable construction if it yields a tolerable sense. Does it? Is it allowable to say that the hope which is laid up in heaven is in any sense a reason or motive for brotherly love? I think it is. Observe that "hope" here is best taken as meaning not the emotion, but the object on which the emotion is fixed; not the faculty, but the thing hoped for; or in other words, that it is objective, not subjective; and also that the ideas of futurity and security are conveyed by the thought of this object of expectation being laid up. This future blessedness, grasped by our expectant hearts as assured for us, does stimulate and hearten to all well doing. Certainly it does not supply the main reason; we are not to be loving and good because we hope to win heaven thereby. The deepest motive for all the graces of Christian character is the will of God in Christ Jesus, apprehended by loving hearts. But it is quite legitimate to draw subordinate motives for the strenuous pursuit of holiness from the anticipation of future blessedness, and it is quite legitimate to use that prospect to reinforce the higher motives. He who seeks to be good only for the sake of the heaven which he thinks he will get for his goodness-if there be any such a person existing anywhere but in the imaginations of the caricaturists of Christian teaching-is not good and will not get his heaven; but he who feeds his devotion to Christ and his earnest cultivation of holiness with the animating hope of an unfading crown will find in it a mighty power to intensify and ennoble all life, to bear him up as on angels’ hands that lift over all stones of stumbling, to diminish sorrow and dull pain, to kindle love to men into a brighter flame, and to purge holiness to a more radiant whiteness. The hope laid up in heaven is not the deepest reason or motive for faith and love-but both are made more vivid when it is strong. It is not the light at which their lamps are lit, but it is the odorous oil which feeds their flame.

II. The course of thought passes on to a solemn reminder of the truth and worth of that Gospel which was threatened by the budding heresies of the Colossian Church.

That is contained in the clauses from the middle of the fifth verse to the end of the sixth, and is introduced with significant abruptness, immediately after the commendation of the Colossians’ faith. The Apostle’s mind and heart are so full of the dangers which he saw them to be in, although they did not know it, that he cannot refrain from setting forth an impressive array of considerations, each of which should make them hold to the gospel with an iron grasp. They are put with the utmost compression. Each word almost might be beaten out into a long discourse, so that we can only indicate the lines of thought. This somewhat tangled skein may, on the whole, be taken as the answer to the question, Why should we cleave to Paul’s gospel, and dread and war against tendencies of opinion that would rob us of it? They are preliminary considerations adapted to prepare the way for a patient and thoughtful reception of the arguments which are to follow, by showing how much is at stake, and how the readers would be poor indeed if they were robbed of that great Word.

He begins by reminding them that to that gospel they owed all their knowledge and hope of heaven-the hope "whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel." That great word alone gives light on the darkness. The sole certainty of a life beyond the grave is built on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the sole hope of a blessed life beyond the grave for the poor soul that has learned its sinfulness is built on the Death of Christ. Without this light, that land is a land of darkness, lighted only by glimmering sparks of conjectures and peradventures. So it is today, as it was then; the centuries have only made more clear the entire dependence of the living conviction of immortality on the acceptance of Paul’s gospel "how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was raised again the third day." All around us we see those who reject the fact of Christ’s resurrection finding themselves forced to surrender their faith in any life beyond. They cannot sustain themselves on that height of conviction unless they lean on Christ. The black mountain wall that rings us poor mortals round about is cloven in one place only. Through one narrow cleft there comes a gleam of light. There and there only is the frowning barrier passable. Through that grim canyon, narrow and black, where there is only room for the dark river to run, bright-eyed Hope may travel, letting out her golden thread as she goes, to guide us. Christ has cloven the rock, "the Breaker has gone up before" us, and by His resurrection alone we have the knowledge which is certitude, and the hope which is confidence, of an inheritance in light. If Paul’s gospel goes, that goes like morning mist. Before you throw away "the word of the truth of the gospel," at all events understand that you fling away all assurance of a future life along with it.

Then, there is another motive touched in these words just quoted. The gospel is a word of which the whole substance and content is truth. You may say that is the whole question, whether the gospel is such a word? Of course it is; but observe how here, at the very outset, the gospel is represented as having a distinct dogmatic element in it. It is of value, not because it feeds sentiment or regulates conduct only, but first and foremost because it gives us true though incomplete knowledge concerning all the deepest things of God and man about which, but for its light, we know nothing. That truthful word is opposed to the argumentations and speculations and errors of the heretics. The gospel is not speculation, but fact. It is truth, because it is the record of a Person who is the Truth. The history of His life and death is the one source of all certainty and knowledge with regard to man’s relations to God, and God’s loving purposes to man. To leave it and Him of whom it speaks in order to listen to men who spin theories out of their own brains is to prefer will-o’-the-wisps to the sun. If we listen to Christ, we have the truth; if we turn from Him, our ears are stunned by a Babel. "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."

Further, this gospel had been already received by them. Ye heard before, says he, and again he speaks of the gospel as "come unto" them, and reminds them of the past days in which they "heard and knew the grace of God." That appeal is, of course, no argument except to a man who admits the truth of what he had already received, nor is it meant for argument with others, but it is equivalent to the exhortation, "You have heard that word and accepted it, see that your future be consistent with your past." He would have the life a harmonious whole, all in accordance with the first glad grasp which they had laid on the truth. Sweet and calm and noble is the life which preserves to its close the convictions of its beginning, only deepened and expanded. Blessed are they whose creed at last can be spoken in the lessons they learned in childhood, to which experience has but given new meaning! Blessed they who have been able to store the treasure of a life’s thought and learning in the vessels of the early words, which have grown like the magic coffers in a fairy tale, to hold all the increased wealth that can be lodged in them! Beautiful is it when the little children and the young men and the fathers possess the one faith, and when he who began as a child, "knowing the Father," ends as an old man with the same knowledge of the same God, only apprehended now in a form which has gained majesty from the fleeting years, as "Him that is from the beginning." There is no need to leave the Word long since heard in order to get novelty. It will open out into all new depths, and blaze in new radiance as men grow. It will give new answers as the years ask new questions. Each epoch of individual experience, and each phase of society, and all changing forms of opinion will find what meets them in the gospel as it is in Jesus. It is good for Christian men often to recall the beginnings of their faith, to live over again their early emotions, and when they may be getting stunned with the din of controversy, and confused as to the relative importance of different parts of Christian truth, to remember what it was that first filled their heart with joy like that of the finder of a hidden treasure, and with what a leap of gladness they first laid hold of Christ.

That spiritual discipline is no less needful than is intellectual, in facing the conflicts of this day. Again, this gospel was filling the world: "it is in all the world bearing fruit, and increasing." There are two marks of life-it is fruitful and it spreads. Of course such words are not to be construed as if they occurred in a statistical table. "All the world" must be taken with an allowance for rhetorical statement; but making such allowance, the rapid spread of Christianity in Paul’s time, and its power to influence character and conduct among all sorts and conditions of men, were facts that needed to be accounted for, if the gospel was not true.

That is surely a noteworthy fact, and one which may well raise a presumption in favour of the truth of the message, and make any proposal to cast it aside for another gospel a serious matter. Paul is not suggesting the vulgar argument that a thing must be true because so many people have so quickly believed it. But what he is pointing to is a much deeper thought than that. All schisms and heresies are essentially local, and partial. They suit coteries and classes. They are the product of special circumstances acting on special casts of mind, and appeal to such. Like parasitical plants, they each require a certain species to grow on, and cannot spread where these are not found. They are not for all time, but for an age. They are not for all men, but for a select few. They reflect the opinions or wants of a layer of society or of a generation, and fade away. But the gospel goes through the world and draws men to itself out of every land and age. Dainties and confections are for the few, and many of them are like pickled olives to unsophisticated palates, and the delicacies of one country are the abominations of another; but everybody likes bread and lives on it, after all.

The gospel which tells of Christ belongs to all and can touch all, because it brushes aside superficial differences of culture and position, and goes straight to the depths of the one human heart, which is alike in us all, addressing the universal sense of sin, and revealing the Saviour of us all, and in Him the universal Father. Do not fling away a gospel that belongs to all, and can bring forth fruit in all kinds of people, for the sake of accepting what can never live in the popular heart, nor influence more than a handful of very select and "superior persons." Let who will have the dainties, do you stick to the wholesome wheaten bread.

Another plea for adherence to the gospel is based upon its continuous and universal fruitfulness. It brings about results in conduct and character which strongly attest its claim to be from God. That is a rough and ready test, no doubt, but a sensible and satisfactory one. A system which says that it will make men good and pure is reasonably judged of by its fruits, and Christianity can stand the test. It did change the face of the old world. It has been the principal agent in the slow growth of "nobler manners, purer laws" which give the characteristic stamp to modern as contrasted with pre-Christian nations. The threefold abominations of the old world-slavery, war, and the degradation of woman-have all been modified, one of them abolished, and the others growingly felt to be utterly un-Christian. The main agent in the change has been the gospel. It has wrought wonders, too, on single souls; and though all Christians must be too conscious of their own imperfections to venture on putting themselves forward as specimens of its power, still the gospel of Jesus Christ has lifted men from. the dungheaps of sin and self to "set them with princes," to make them kings and priests; has tamed passions, ennobled pursuits, revolutionised the whole course of many a life, and mightily works today in the same fashion, in the measure in which we submit to its influence. Our imperfections are our own; our good is its. A medicine is not shown to be powerless, though it does not do as much as is claimed for it, if the sick man has taken it irregularly and sparingly. The failure of Christianity to bring forth full fruit arises solely from the failure of professing Christians to allow its quickening powers to fill their hearts. After all deductions we may still say with Paul, "it bringeth forth fruit in all the world." This rod has budded, at all events; have any of its antagonists’ rods done the same? Do not cast it away, says Paul, till you are sure you have found a better.

This tree not only fruits, but grows. It is not exhausted by fruit bearing, but it makes wood as well. It is "increasing" as well as "bearing fruit," and that growth in the circuit of its branches that spread through the world, is another of its claims on the faithful adhesion of the Colossians. Again, they have heard a gospel which reveals the "true grace of God," and that is another consideration urging to steadfastness.

In opposition to it there were put then, as there are put today, man’s thoughts, and man’s requirements, a human wisdom and a burdensome code. Speculations and arguments on the one hand, and laws and rituals on the other, look thin beside the large free gift of a loving God and the message which tells of it. They are but poor bony things to try to live on. The soul wants something more nourishing than such bread made out of sawdust. We want a loving God to live upon, whom we can love because He loves us. Will anything but the gospel give us that? Will anything be our stay, in all weakness, weariness, sorrow, and sin, in the fight of life and the agony of death, except the confidence that in Christ we "know the grace of God in truth"? So, if we gather together all these characteristics of the gospel, they bring out the gravity of the issue when we are asked to tamper with it, or to abandon the old lamp for the brand new ones which many eager voices are proclaiming as the light of the future. May any of us who are on the verge of the precipice lay to heart these serious thoughts! To that gospel we owe our peace; by it alone can the fruit of lofty devout lives be formed and ripened; it has filled the world with its sound, and is revolutionising humanity; it and it only brings to men the good news and the actual gift of the love and mercy of God. It is not a small matter to fling away all this.

We do not prejudge the question of the truth of Christianity; but, at all events, let there be no mistake as to the fact that to give it up is to give up the mightiest power that has ever wrought for the world’s good, and that if its light be quenched there will be darkness that may be felt, not dispelled, but made more sad and dreary by the ineffectual flickers of some poor rushlights that men have lit, which waver and shine dimly over a little space for a little while, and then die out.

III. We have the Apostolic endorsement of Epaphras, the early teacher of the Colossian Christians. Paul points his Colossian brethren, finally, to the lessons which they had received from the teacher who had first led them to Christ. No doubt his authority was imperilled by the new directions of thought in the Church, and Paul was desirous of adding the weight of his attestation to the complete correspondence between his own teaching and that of Epaphras.

We know nothing about this Epaphras except from this letter and that to Philemon. He is "one of you," a member of the Colossian Church, [Colossians 4:12] whether a Colossian born or not. He had come to the prisoner in Rome, and had brought the tidings of their condition which filled the Apostle’s heart with strangely mingled feelings-of joy for their love and Christian walk [Colossians 1:4, Colossians 1:8], and of anxiety lest they should be swept from their steadfastness by the errors that he heard were assailing them. Epaphras shared this anxiety, and during his stay in Rome was much in thought, and care, and prayer for them. [Colossians 4:12] He does not seem to have been the bearer of this letter to Colossae. He was in some sense Paul’s fellow servant, and in Philemon he is called by the yet more intimate, though somewhat obscure, name of his fellow prisoner. It is noticeable that he alone of all Paul’s companions receives the name of "fellow servant," which may perhaps point to some very special piece of service of his, or may possibly be only an instance of Paul’s courteous humility, which ever delighted to lift others to his own level-as if he had said, Do not make differences between your own Epaphras and me, we are both slaves of one Master. The further testimony which Paul bears to him is so emphatic and pointed as to suggest that it was meant to uphold an authority that had been attacked, and to eulogise a character that had been maligned. "He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf." In these words the Apostle endorses his teaching, as a true representation of his own. Probably Epaphras founded the Colossian Church and did so in pursuance of a commission given him by Paul. He "also declared to us your love in the Spirit." As he had truly represented Paul and his message to them, so he lovingly represented them and their kindly affection to him. Probably the same people who questioned Epaphras’ version of Paul’s teaching would suspect the favourableness of his report of the Colossian Church, and hence the double witness borne from the Apostle’s generous heart to both parts of his brother’s work. His unstinted praise is ever ready. His shield is swiftly flung over any of his helpers who are maligned or assailed. Never was a leader truer to his subordinates, more tender of their reputation, more eager for their increased influence, and freer from every trace of jealousy, than was that lofty and lowly Soul.

It is a beautiful though a faint image which shines out on us from these fragmentary notices of this Colossian Epaphras-a true Christian bishop, who had come all the long way from his quiet valley in the depths of Asia Minor, to get guidance about his flock from the great Apostle, and who bore them. on his heart day and night, and prayed much for them, while so far away from them. How strange the fortune which has made his name and his solicitudes and prayers immortal! How little he dreamed that such embalming was to be given to his little services, and that they were to be crowned with such exuberant praise!

The smallest work done for Jesus Christ lasts forever, whether it abide in men’s memories or no. Let us ever live as those who, like painters in fresco, have with swift hand to draw lines and lay on colours which will never fade, and let us, by humble faith and holy life, earn such a character from Paul’s Master. He is glad to praise, and praise from His lips is praise indeed. If He approves of us as faithful servants on His behalf, it matters not what others may say. The Master’s "Well done" will outweigh labours and toils, and the depreciating tongues of fellow servants, or of the Master’s enemies.


Verses 9-12

Chapter 1

THE PRAYER

Colossians 1:9-12 (R.V.)

WE have here to deal with one of Paul’s prayers for his brethren. In some respects these are the very topmost pinnacles of his letters. Nowhere else does his spirit move so freely, in no other parts are the fervour of his piety and the beautiful simplicity and depth of his love more touchingly shown. The freedom and heartiness of our prayers for others are a very sharp test of both our piety to God and our love to men. Plenty of people can talk and vow who would find it hard to pray. Paul’s intercessory prayers are the high water mark of the epistles in which they occur. He must have been a good man and a true friend of whom so much can be said. This prayer sets forth the ideal of Christian character. What Paul desired for his friends in Colossae is what all true Christian hearts should chiefly desire for those whom they love, and should strive after and ask for themselves. If we look carefully at these words we shall see a clear division into parts which stand related to each other as root, stem, and fourfold branches, or as fountain, undivided stream, and "four heads" into which this "river" of Christian life "is parted." To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will is the root or fountain source of all. From it comes a walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing-the practical life being the outcome and expression of the inward possession of the will of God. Then we have four clauses, evidently coordinate, each beginning with a participle, and together presenting an analysis of this worthy walk. It will be fruitful in all outward work. It will be growing in all inward knowledge of God. Because life is not all doing and knowing, but is suffering likewise, the worthy walk must be patient and long suffering, because strengthened by God Himself. And to crown all, above work and knowledge and suffering it must be thankfulness to the Father. The magnificent massing together of the grounds of gratitude which follows, we must leave for future consideration, and pause, however abruptly, yet not illogically, at the close of the enumeration of these four branches of the tree, the four sides of the firm tower of the true Christian life.

I. Consider the Fountain or Root of all Christian character:

"that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."

One or two remarks in the nature of verbal exposition may be desirable. Generally speaking, the thing desired is the perfecting of the Colossians in religious knowledge, and the perfection is forcibly expressed in three different aspects. The idea of completeness up to the height of their capacity is given in the prayer that they may be "filled," like some jar charged with sparkling water to the brim. The advanced degree of the knowledge desired for them is given in the word here employed, which is a favourite in the Epistles of the Captivity, and means additional or mature knowledge, that deeper apprehension of God’s truth which perhaps had become more obvious to Paul in the quiet growth of his spirit during his life in Rome. And the rich variety of forms which that advanced knowledge would assume is set forth by the final words of the clause, which may either be connected with its first words, so meaning "filled so that ye may abound in wisdom, and understanding"; or with "the knowledge of His will," so meaning a "knowledge which is manifested in." That knowledge will blossom out into every kind of "wisdom" and "understanding," two words which it is hard to distinguish, but of which the former is perhaps the more general and the latter the more special, the former the more theoretical and the latter the more practical; and both are the work of the Divine Spirit whose sevenfold perfection of gifts illuminates with perfect light each waiting heart. So perfect, whether in regard to its measure, its maturity, or its manifoldness, is the knowledge of the will of God, which the Apostle regards as the deepest good which his love can ask for these Colossians. Passing by many thoughts suggested by the words, we may touch one or two large principles which they involve. The first is, that the foundation of all Christian character and conduct is laid in the knowledge of the will of God. Every revelation of God is a law. What it concerns us to know is not abstract truth, or a revelation for speculative thought, but God’s will. He does not show Himself to us in order merely that we may know, but in order that, knowing, we may do, and, what is more than either knowing or doing, in order that we may be. No revelation from God has accomplished its purpose when a man has simply understood it, but every fragmentary flash of light which comes from Him in nature and providence, and still more the steady radiance that pours from Jesus, is meant indeed to teach us how we should think of God, but to do that mainly as a means to the end that we may live in conformity with His will. The light is knowledge, but it is a light to guide our feet, knowledge which is meant to shape practice.

If that had been remembered, two opposite errors would have been avoided. The error that was threatening the Colossian Church, and has haunted the Church in general ever since, was that of fancying Christianity to be merely a system of truth to be believed, a rattling skeleton of abstract dogmas, very many and very dry. An unpractical heterodoxy was their danger. An unpractical orthodoxy is as real a peril. You may swallow all the creeds bodily, you may even find in God’s truth the food of very sweet and real feeling: but neither knowing nor feeling is enough. The one all-important question for us is-does our Christianity work? It is knowledge of His will, which becomes an ever active force in our lives! Any other kind of religious knowledge is windy food; as Paul says, it "puffeth up"; the knowledge which feeds the soul with wholesome nourishment is the knowledge of His will.

The converse error to that of unpractical knowledge, that of an unintelligent practice, is quite as bad. There is always a class of people, and they are unusually numerous today, who profess to attach no importance to Christian doctrines, but to put all the stress on Christian morals. They swear by the "Sermon on the Mount," and are blind to the deep doctrinal basis laid in that "sermon" itself, on which its lofty moral teaching is built. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Why pit the parent against the child? why wrench the blossom from its stem? Knowledge is sound when it moulds conduct. Action is good when it is based on knowledge. The knowledge of God is wholesome when it shapes the life. Morality has a basis which makes it vigorous and permanent when it rests upon the knowledge of His will.

Again: Progress in knowledge is the law of the Christian life. There should be a continual advancement in the apprehension of God’s will, from that first glimpse which saves, to the mature knowledge which Paul here desires for his friends. The progress does not consist in leaving behind old truths, but in a profounder conception of what is contained in these truths. How differently a Fijian just saved, and a Paul on earth, or a Paul in heaven, look at that verse, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son"! The truths which are dim to the one, like stars seen through a mist, blaze to the other like the same stars to an eye that has travelled millions of leagues nearer them, and sees them to be suns. The law of the Christian life is continuous increase in the knowledge of the depths that lie in the old truths, and of their far-reaching applications. We are to grow in knowledge of the Christ by coming ever nearer to Him, and learning more of the infinite meaning of our earliest lesson that He is the Son of God who has died for us. The constellations that burn in our nightly sky looked down on Chaldean astronomers, but though these are the same, how much more is known about them at Greenwich than was dreamed at Babylon!

II. Consider the River or Stem of Christian conduct.

The purpose and outcome of this full knowledge of the will of God in Christ is to "walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing." By "walk" is of course meant the whole active life; so that the principle is brought out here, very distinctly, that the last result of knowledge of the Divine will is an outward life regulated by that will. And the sort of life which such knowledge leads to is designated in most general terms as "worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing," in which we have set forth two aspects of the true Christian life.

"Worthily of the Lord!" The "Lord" here, as generally, is Christ, and "worthily" seems to mean, in a manner corresponding to what: Christ is to us, and has done for us. We find other forms of the same thought in such expressions as "worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called," [Ephesians 4:1] "worthily of saints," [Romans 16:2] "worthy of the gospel," [Philippians 1:27] "worthily of God," [1 Thessalonians 2:12] in all of which there is the idea of a standard to which the practical life is to be conformed. Thus the Apostle condenses into one word all the manifold relations in which we stand to Christ, and all the multifarious arguments for a holy life which they yield.

These are mainly two. The Christian should "walk" in a manner corresponding to what Christ has done for him. "Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people, and unwise?" was the mournful wondering question of the dying Moses to his people, as he summed up the history of unbroken tenderness and love on the one side, and of disloyalty almost as uninterrupted on the other. How much more pathetically and emphatically might the question be asked of us! We say that we are not our own, but bought with a price. Then how do we repay that costly purchase? Do we not requite His blood and tears, His unquenchable, unalterable love, with a little tepid love which grudges sacrifices and has scarcely power enough to influence conduct at all, with a little trembling faith which but poorly corresponds to His firm promises, with a little reluctant obedience? The richest treasure of heaven has been freely lavished for us, and we return a sparing expenditure of our hearts and ourselves, repaying fine gold with tarnished copper, and the flood of love from the heart of Christ with a few niggard drops grudgingly squeezed from ours. Nothing short of complete self-surrender, perfect obedience, and unwavering, unfaltering love can characterise the walk that corresponds with our profound obligations to Him. Surely there can be no stronger cord with which to bind us as sacrifices to the horns of the altar than the cords of love. This is the unique glory and power of Christian ethics, that it brings in this tender personal element to transmute the coldness of duty into the warmth of gratitude, so throwing rosy light over the snowy summits of abstract virtue. Repugnant duties become tokens of love, pleasant as every sacrifice made at its bidding ever is. The true Christian spirit says: Thou hast given Thyself wholly for me: help me to yield myself to Thee. Thou hast loved me perfectly: help me to love Thee with all my heart.

The other side of this conception of a worthy walk is, that the Christian should act in a manner corresponding to Christ’s character and conduct. We profess to be His by sacredest ties: then we should set our watches by that dial, being conformed to His likeness, and in all our daily life trying to do as He has done, or as we believe He would do if He were in our place. Nothing less than the effort to tread in His footsteps is a walk worthy of the Lord. All unlikeness to His pattern is a dishonour to Him and to ourselves. It is neither worthy of the Lord, nor of the vocation wherewith we are called, nor of the name of saints. Only when these two things are brought about in my experience-when the glow of His love melts my heart and makes it flow down in answering affection, and when the beauty of His perfect life stands ever before me, and though it be high above me, is not a despair, but a stimulus and a hope-only then do I "walk worthy of the Lord."

Another thought as to the nature of the life in which the knowledge of the Divine will should issue, is expressed in the other clause-"unto all pleasing," Which sets forth the great aim as being to please Christ in everything. That is a strange purpose to propose to men, as the supreme end to be ever kept in view, to satisfy Jesus Christ by their conduct. To make the good opinion of men our aim is to be slaves; but to please this Man ennobles us and exalts life. Who or what is He, whose judgment of us is thus all-important, whose approbation is praise indeed, and to win whose smile is a worthy object for which to use life, or even to lose it? We should ask ourselves, Do we make it our ever-present object to satisfy Jesus Christ? We are not to mind about other people’s approbation. We can do without that. We are not to hunt after the good word of our fellows. Every life into which that craving for man’s praise and good opinion enters is tarnished by it. It is a canker, a creeping leprosy, which eats sincerity and nobleness and strength out of a man. Let us not care to trim our sails to catch the shifting winds of this or that man’s favour and eulogium, but look higher and say, "With me it is a very small matter to be judged of man’s judgment." "I appeal unto Caesar." He, the true Commander and Emperor, holds our fate in His hands; we have to please Him and Him. only. There is no thought which will so reduce the importance of the babble around us, and teach us such brave and wholesome contempt for popular applause, and all the strife of tongues, as the constant habit of trying to act as ever in our great Taskmaster’s eye. What does it matter who praise, if He frowns? or who blame, if His face lights with a smile? No thought will so spur us to diligence, and make all life solemn and grand as the thought that "we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be well pleasing to Him." Nothing will so string the muscles for the fight, and free us from being entangled with the things of this life, as the ambition to "please Him who has called us to be soldiers."

Men have willingly flung away their lives for a couple of lines of praise in a despatch, or for a smile from some great commander. Let us try to live and die so as to get "honourable mention" from our captain. Praise from His lips is praise indeed. We shall not know how much it is worth, till the smile lights His face, and the love comes into His eyes, as He looks at us, and says, "Well done! good and faithful servant."

III. We have finally the fourfold streams or branches into which this general conception of Christian character parts itself.

There are four participial clauses here, which seem all to stand on one level, and to present an analysis in more detail of the component parts of this worthy walk. In general terms it is divided into fruitfulness in work, increase in knowledge, strength for suffering, and, as the climax of all, thankfulness.

The first element is-"bearing fruit in every good work." These words carry us back to what was said in Colossians 1:6 about the fruitfulness of the gospel. Here the man in whom that word is planted is regarded as the producer of the fruit, by the same natural transition by which, in our Lord’s Parable of the Sower, the men in whose hearts the seed was sown are spoken of as themselves on the one hand, bringing no fruit to perfection, and on the other, bringing forth fruit with patience. The worthy walk will be first manifested in the production of a rich variety of forms of goodness. All profound knowledge of God, and all lofty thoughts of imitating and pleasing Christ, are to be tested at last by their power to make men good, and that not after any monotonous type, nor on one side of their nature only.

One plain principle implied here is that the only true fruit is goodness. We may be busy, as many a man in our great commercial cities is busy, from Monday morning till Saturday night for a long lifetime, and may have had to build bigger barns for our "fruits and our goods," and yet, in the high and solemn meaning of the word here, our life may be utterly empty and fruitless. Much of our work and of its results is no more fruit than the galls on the oak leaves are. They are a swelling from a puncture made by an insect, a sign of disease, not of life. The only sort of work which can be called fruit, in the highest meaning of the word, is that which corresponds to a man’s whole nature and relations; and the only work which does so correspond is a life of loving service of God, which cultivates all things lovely and of good report. Goodness, therefore, alone deserves to be called fruit-as for all the rest of our busy lives, they and their toils are like the rootless, lifeless chaff that is whirled out of the threshing floor by every gust. A life which has not in it holiness and loving obedience, however richly productive it may be in lower respects, is in inmost reality blighted and barren, and is "nigh unto burning." Goodness is fruit; all else is nothing but leaves.

Again: the Christian life is to be "fruitful in every good work." This tree is to be like that in the apocalyptic vision, which "bare twelve manner of fruits," yielding every month a different sort. So we should fill the whole circuit of the year with various holiness, and seek to make widely different forms of goodness our own. We have all certain kinds of excellence which are more natural and easier for us than others are. We should seek to cultivate the kind which is hardest for us. The thorny stock of our own character should bear not only grapes, but figs too, and olives as well, being grafted upon the true olive tree, which is Christ. Let us aim at this all round and multiform virtue, and not be like a scene for a stage, all gay and bright on one side, and dirty canvas and stretchers hung with cobwebs on the other.

The second element in the analysis of the true Christian life is-"increasing in the knowledge of God." The figure of the tree is probably continued here. If it fruits, its girth will increase, its branches will spread, its top will mount, and next year its shadow on the grass will cover a larger circle. Some would take the "knowledge" here as the instrument or means of growth, and would render "increasing by the knowledge of God," supposing, that the knowledge is represented as the rain or the sunshine which ministers to the growth of the plant. But perhaps it is better to keep to the idea conveyed by the common rendering, which regards the words "in knowledge" as the specification of that region in which the growth enjoined is to be realised. So here we have the converse of the relation between work and knowledge which we met in the earlier part of the chapter. There, knowledge led to a worthy walk; here, fruitfulness in good works leads to, or at all events is accompanied with, an increased knowledge. And both are true. These two work on each other a reciprocal increase. All true knowledge which is not mere empty notions, naturally tends to influence action, and all true action naturally tends to confirm the knowledge from which it proceeds. Obedience gives insight: "If any man wills to do My will, he shall know of the doctrine." If I am faithful up to the limits of my present knowledge, and have brought it all to bear on character and conduct, I shall find that in the effort to make my every thought a deed, there have fallen from my eyes as it were scales, and I see some things clearly which were faint and doubtful before. Moral truth becomes dim to a bad man. Religious truth grows bright to a good one, and whosoever strives to bring all his creed into practice, and all his practice under the guidance of his creed, will find that the path of obedience is the path of growing light.

Then comes the third element in this resolution of the Christian character into its component parts -"strengthened with all power, according to the might of His glory, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness." Knowing and doing are not the whole of life: there are sorrow and suffering too.

Here again we have the Apostle’s favourite "all," which occurs so frequently in this connection. As he desired for the Colossians all wisdom, unto all pleasing, and fruitfulness in every good work, so he prays for all power to strengthen them. Every kind of strength which God can give and man can receive, is to be sought after by us, that we may be "girded with strength," cast like a brazen wall all round our human weakness. And that Divine power is to flow into us, having this for its measure and limit-"the might of His glory." His "glory" is the lustrous light of His self-revelation; and the far-flashing energy revealed in that self-manifestation is the immeasurable measure of the strength that may be ours. True, a finite nature cart never contain the infinite, but man’s finite nature is capable of indefinite expansion. Its elastic walls stretch to contain the increasing gift. The more we desire the more we receive, and the more we receive the more we are able to receive. The amount which filled our hearts today should not fill them tomorrow. Our capacity is at each moment the working limit of the measure of the strength given us. But it is always shifting, and may be continually increasing. The only real limit is "the might of His glory," the limitless omnipotence of the self-revealing God. To that we may indefinitely approach, and till we have exhausted God we have not reached the furthest point to which we should aspire.

And what exalted mission is destined for this wonderful communicated strength? Nothing that the world thinks great: only helping some lone widow to stay her heart in patience, and flinging a gleam of brightness, like sunrise on a stormy sea, over some tempest-tossed life. The strength is worthily employed and absorbed in producing "all patience and long suffering with joy." Again the favourite "all" expresses the universality of the patience and long suffering. Patience here is not merely passive endurance. It includes the idea of perseverance in the right course, as well as that of uncomplaining bearing of evil. It is the "steering right onward," without bating one jot of heart or hope; the temper of the traveller who struggles forward, though the wind in his face dashes the sleet in his eyes, and he has to wade through deep snow. While "patience" regards the evil mainly as sent by God, and as making the race set before us difficult, "long suffering" describes the temper under suffering when considered as a wrong or injury done by man. And whether we think of our afflictions in the one or the other light, God’s strength will steal into our hearts, if we will, not merely to help us to bear them with perseverance and with meekness as unruffled as Christ’s, but to crown both graces-as the clouds are sometimes rimmed with flashing gold-with a great light of joy. That is the highest attainment of all. "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." Flowers beneath the snow, songs in the night, fire burning beneath the water, "peace subsisting at the heart of endless agitation," cool airs in the very crater of Vesuvius-all these paradoxes may be surpassed in our hearts if they are strengthened with all might by an indwelling Christ.

The crown of all, the last of the elements of the Christian character, is thankfulness-"giving thanks unto the Father." This is the summit of all; and is to be diffused through all. All our progressive fruitfulness and insight, as well as our perseverance and unruffled meekness in suffering, should have a breath of thankfulness breathed through them. We shall see the grand enumeration of the reasons for thankfulness in the next verses. Here we pause for the present, with this final constituent of the life which Paul desired for the Colossian Christians. Thankfulness should mingle with all our thoughts and feelings, like the fragrance of some perfume penetrating through the common scentless air. It should embrace all events. It should be an operating motive in all actions. We should be clear sighted and believing enough to be thankful for pain and disappointment and loss. That gratitude will add the crowning consecration to service and knowledge and endurance. It will touch our spirits to the finest of all issues, for it will lead to glad self-surrender, and make of our whole life a sacrifice of praise. "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice." Our lives will then exhale in fragrance and shoot up in flashing tongues of ruddy light and beauty, when kindled into a flame of gratitude by the glow of Christ’s great love. Let us lay our poor selves on that altar, as sacrifices of thanksgiving; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.


Verses 12-14

Chapter 1

THE FATHER’S GIFTS THROUGH THE SON

Colossians 1:12-14 (R.V.)

WE have advanced thus far in this Epistle without having reached its main subject. We now, however, are on its verge. The next verses to those now to be considered lead us into the very heart of Paul’s teaching, by which he would oppose the errors rife in the Colossian Church. The great passages describing the person and work of Jesus Christ are at hand, and here we have the immediate transition to them.

The skill with which the transition is made is remarkable. How gradually and surely the sentences, like some hovering winged things, circle more and more closely round the central light, till in the last words they touch it "the Son of His love"! It is like some long procession heralding a king. They that go before cry Hosanna, and point to him who comes last and chief. The affectionate greetings which begin the letter, pass into prayer; the prayer into thanksgiving. The thanksgiving, as in these words, lingers over and recounts our blessings, as a rich man counts his treasures, or a lover dwells on his joys. The enumeration of the blessings leads, as by a golden thread, to the thought and name of Christ, the fountain of them all, and then, with a burst and a rush, the flood of the truths about Christ which he had to give them sweeps through Paul’s mind and heart, carrying everything before it. The name of Christ always opens the floodgates in Paul’s heart.

We have here then the deepest grounds for Christian thanksgiving, which are likewise the preparations for a true estimate of the worth of the Christ who gives them. These grounds of thanksgiving are but various aspects of the one great blessing of "Salvation." The diamond flashes greens and purples, and yellows and reds, according to the angle at which its facets catch the eye.

It is also to be observed that all these blessings are the present possession of Christians. The language of the first three clauses in the verses before us points distinctly to a definite past act by which the Father, at some definite point of time, made us meet, delivered and translated us, while the present tense in the last clause shows that "our redemption" is not only begun by some definite act in the past, but is continuously and progressively possessed in the present.

We notice, too, the remarkable correspondence of language with that which Paul heard when he lay prone on the ground, blinded by the flashing light, and amazed by the pleading remonstrance from heaven which rung in his ears. "I send thee to the Gentiles that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins, and an inheritance among them which are sanctified." All the principal phrases are there, and are freely recombined by Paul, as if unconsciously his memory was haunted still by the sound of the transforming words heard so long ago.

I. The first ground of thankfulness which all Christians have is, that they are fit for the inheritance. Of course the metaphor here is drawn from the "inheritance" given to the people of Israel, namely, the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, our use of "heir" and "inheritance" confines the idea to possession by succession on death, and hence some perplexity is popularly experienced as to the force of the word in Scripture. There, it implies possession by lot, if anything more than the simple notion of possession; and points to the fact that the people did not win their land by their own swords, but because "God had a favour unto them." So the Christian inheritance is not won by our own merit, but given by God’s goodness. The words may be literally rendered, "fitted us for the portion of the lot," and taken to mean the share or portion which consists in the lot; but perhaps it is clearer, and more accordant with the analogy of the division of the land among the tribes, to take them as meaning "for our (individual) share in the broad land which, as a whole, is the allotted possession of the saints." This possession belongs to them, and is situated in the world of "light." Such is the general outline of the thoughts here. The first question that arises is, whether this inheritance is present or future. The best answer is that it is both; because, whatever additions of power and splendour as yet unspeakable may wait to be revealed in the future, the essence of all which heaven can bring is ours today, if we live in the faith and love of Christ. The difference between a life of communion with God here and yonder is one of degree and not of kind. True, there are differences of which we cannot speak, in enlarged capacities, and a "spiritual body," and sins cast out, and nearer approach to "the fountain itself of heavenly radiance"; but he who can say, while he walks amongst the shadows of earth, "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance," will neither leave his treasures behind him when he dies, nor enter on the possession of a wholly new inheritance, when he passes into the heavens. But while this is true, it is also true that that future possession of God will be so deepened and enlarged that its beginnings here are but the "earnest," of the same nature indeed as the estate, but limited in comparison as is the tuft of grass which used to be given to a new possessor, when set against the broad lands from which it was plucked. Here certainly the predominant idea is that of a present fitness for a mainly future possession.

We notice again-where the inheritance is situated-"in the light." There are several possible ways of connecting that clause with the preceding. But without discussing these, it may be enough to point out that the most satisfactory seems to be to regard it as specifying the region in which the inheritance lies. It lies in a realm where purity and knowledge and gladness dwell undimmed and unbounded by an envious ring of darkness. For these three are the triple rays into which, according to the Biblical use of the figure, that white beam may be resolved.

From this there follows that it is capable of being possessed only by saints. There is no merit or desert which makes men worthy of the inheritance, but there is a congruity, or correspondence between character and the inheritance. If we rightly understand what the essential elements of "heaven" are, we shall have no difficulty in seeing that the possession of it is utterly incompatible with anything but holiness. The vulgar ideas of what heaven is hinder people from seeing how to get there. They dwell upon the mere outside of the thing, they take symbols for realities and accidents for essentials, and so it appears an arbitrary arrangement that a man must have faith in Christ to enter heaven. If it be a kingdom, of light, then only souls that love the light can go thither, and until owls and bats rejoice in the sunshine, there will be no way of being fit for the inheritance which is light, but by ourselves being "light in the Lord." Light itself is a torture to diseased eyes. Turn up any stone by the roadside and we see how unwelcome light is to crawling creatures that have lived in the darkness till they have come to love it.

Heaven is God and God is heaven. How can a soul possess God, and find its heaven in possessing Him? Certainly only by likeness to Him and loving Him. The old question, "Who shall stand in the Holy Place?" is not answered in the gospel by reducing the conditions, or negativing the old reply. The common sense of every conscience answers, and Christianity answers, as the Psalmist does, "He that hath clean hands and a pure heart."

One more step has to be taken to reach the full meaning of these words, namely, the assertion that men who are not yet perfectly pure are already fit to be partakers of the inheritance. The tense of the verb in the original points back to a definite act by which the Colossians were made meet, namely, their conversion; and the plain emphatic teaching of the New Testament is that incipient and feeble faith in Christ works a change so great, that through it we are fitted for the inheritance by the impartation of new nature, which, though it be but as a grain of mustard seed, shapes from henceforth the very inmost centre of our personal being. In due time that spark will convert into its own fiery brightness the whole mass, however green and smokily it begins to burn. Not the absence of sin, but the presence of faith working by love, and longing for the light, makes fitness. No doubt flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, and we must put off the vesture of the body which has wrapped us during the wild weather here, before we can be fully fit to enter the banqueting hall; nor do we know how much evil which has not its seat in the soul may drop away therewith-but the spirit is fit for heaven as soon as a man turns to God in Christ. Suppose a company of rebels, and one of them, melted by some reason or other, is brought back to loyalty. He is fit by that inward change, although he has not done a single act of loyalty, for the society of loyal subjects and unfit for that of traitors. Suppose a prodigal son away in the far off land. Some remembrance comes over him of what home used to be like, and of the bountiful housekeeping that is still there; and though it may begin with nothing more exalted than an empty stomach, if it ends in "I will arise and go to my Father," at that instant a gulf opens between him and the riotous living of "the citizens of that country," and he is no longer fitted for their company. He is meet for the fellowship of his father’s house, though he has a weary journey before he gets there, and needs to have his rags changed, and his filth washed off him, ere he can sit down at the feast. So whoever turns to the love of God in Christ, and yields in the inmost part of his being to the power of His grace, is already "light in the Lord." The true home and affinities of his real self are in the kingdom of the light, and he is ready for his part in the inheritance, either here or yonder. There is no breach of the great law, that character makes fitness for heaven-might we not say that character makes heaven?-for the very roots of character lie in disposition and desire, rather than in action. Nor is there in this principle anything inconsistent with the need for continual growth in congruity of nature with that land of light. The light within, if it be truly there, will, however slowly, spread, as surely as the grey of twilight brightens to the blaze of noonday. The heart will be more and more filled with it, and the darkness driven back more and more to brood in remote corners, and at last will vanish utterly. True fitness will become more and more fit. We shall grow more and more capable of God. The measure of our capacity is the measure of our possession, and the measure in which we have become light is the measure of our capacity for the light. The land was parted among the tribes of Israel according to their strength; some had a wider, some a narrower strip of territory. So, as there are differences in Christian character here, there will be differences in Christian participation in the inheritance hereafter. "Star differeth from star." Some will blaze in brighter radiance and glow with more fervent heat because they move in orbits closer to the sun.

But, thank God, we are "fit for the inheritance," if we have ever so humbly and poorly trusted ourselves to Jesus Christ and received His renewing life into our spirits. Character alone fits for heaven. But character may be in germ or in fruit. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Do we trust ourselves to Him? Are we trying, with His help, to live as children of the light? Then we need not droop or despair by reason of evil that may still haunt our lives. Let us give it no quarter, for it diminishes our fitness for the full possession of God; but let it not cause our tongue to falter in "giving thanks to the Father who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."

II. The second ground of thankfulness is, the change of king and country. God "delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." These two clauses embrace the negative and positive sides of the same act which is referred to in the former ground of thankfulness, only stated now in reference to our allegiance and citizenship in the present rather than in the future. In the "deliverance" there may be a reference to God’s bringing Israel out of Egypt, suggested by the previous mention of the inheritance, while the "translation" into the other kingdom may be an illustration drawn from the well known practice of ancient warfare, the deportation of large bodies of natives from conquered kingdoms to some other part of the conqueror’s realm.

We notice then the two kingdoms and their kings. "The power of darkness," is an expression found in Luke’s Gospel, [Luke 22:18] and it may be used here as a reminiscence of our Lord’s solemn words. "Power" here seems to imply the conception of harsh, arbitrary dominion, in contrast with the gracious rule of the other kingdom. It is a realm of cruel and grinding sway. Its prince is personified in an image that Aeschylus or Dante might have spoken. Darkness sits sovereign there, a vast and gloomy, form on an ebon throne, wielding a heavy sceptre over wide regions wrapped in night. The plain meaning of that tremendous metaphor is just this-that the men who are not Christians live in a state of subjection to darkness of ignorance, darkness of misery, darkness of sin. If I am not a Christian man, that black three-headed hound of hell sits baying on my door step.

What a wonderful contrast the other kingdom and its King present! "The kingdom of"-not "the light," as we are prepared to hear, in order to complete the antithesis, but-"the Son of His love," who is the light. The Son who is the object of His love, on whom it all and ever rests, as on none besides. He has a kingdom in existence now, and not merely hoped for, and to be set up at some future time. Wherever men lovingly obey Christ, there is His kingdom. The subjects make the kingdom, and we may today belong to it, and be free from. all other dominion because we bow to His. There then sit the two kings, like the two in the old story, "either of them on his throne, clothed in his robes, at the entering in of the gate of the city." Darkness and Light, the ebon throne and the white throne, surrounded each by their ministers; there Sorrow and Gloom, here Gladness and Hope; there Ignorance with blind eyes and idle aimless hands, here Knowledge with the sunlight on her face, and Diligence for her handmaid; here Sin, the pillar of the gloomy realm, there Righteousness, in robes so as no fuller on earth could white them. Under which king, my brother?

We notice the transference of subjects. The sculptures on Assyrian monuments explain this metaphor for us. A great conqueror has come, and speaks to us as Sennacherib did to the Jews, [2 Kings 18:31-32] "Come out to me and I will take you away to a land of corn and wine, that ye may live and not die."

If we listen to His voice, He will lead away a long string of willing captives and plant them, not as pining exiles, but as happy naturalised citizens, in the kingdom which the Father has appointed for "the Son of His love."

That transference is effected on the instant of our recognising the love of God in Jesus Christ, and yielding up the heart to Him. We too often speak as if the entrance ministered at last to "a believing soul into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour," were its first entrance therein, and forget that we enter it as soon as we yield to the drawings of Christ’s love and take service under the king. The change then is greater than at death. When we die, we shall change provinces, and go from an outlying colony to the mother city and seat of empire, but we shall not change kingdoms. We shall be under the same government, only then we shall be nearer the King and more loyal to Him. That change of king is the real fitness for heaven. We know little of what profound changes death may make, but clearly a physical change cannot effect a spiritual revolution. They who are not Christ’s subjects will not become so by dying. If here we are trying to serve a King who has delivered us from the tyranny of darkness, we may be very sure that He will not lose His subjects in the darkness of the grave. Let us choose our king. If we take Christ for our heart’s Lord, every thought of Him here, every piece of partial obedience and stained service, as well as every sorrow and every joy, our fading possessions and our undying treasures, the feeble new life that wars against our sins, and even the very sins themselves as contradictory of our deepest self, unite to seal to us the assurance, "Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty. They shall behold the land that is very far off."

III. The heart and centre of all occasions for thankfulness is the Redemption which we receive in Christ.

"In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins." The Authorised Version reads "redemption through His blood," but these words are not found in the best manuscripts, and are regarded by the principal modern editors as having been inserted from the parallel place in Ephesians, [Ephesians 1:7] where they are genuine. The very heart then of the blessings which God has bestowed, is "redemption," which consists primarily, though not wholly, in "forgiveness of sins," and is received by us in "the Son of His love."

"Redemption," in its simplest meaning, is the act of delivering a slave from captivity by the payment of ransom. So that it contains in its application to the effect of Christ’s death, substantially the same figure as in the previous clause which spoke of a deliverance from a tyrant, only that what was there represented as an act of Power is here set forth as the act of self-sacrificing Love which purchases our freedom at a heavy cost. That ransom price is said by Christ Himself to be "His life," and His Incarnation to have the paying of that price as one of its two chief objects. So the words added here by quotation from the companion Epistle are in full accordance with New Testament teaching; but even omitting them, the meaning of the clause is unmistakable. Christ’s death breaks the chains which bind us, and sets us free. By it He acquires us for Himself. That transcendent act of sacrifice has such a relation to the Divine government on the one hand, and to the "sin of the world," as a whole, on the other, that by it all who trust in Him are delivered from the most real penal consequences of sin and from the dominion of its darkness over their natures. We freely admit that we cannot penetrate to the understanding of how Christ’s death thus avails. But just because the rationale of the doctrine is avowedly beyond our limits, we are barred from asserting that it is incompatible with God’s character, or with common justice, or that it is immoral, and the like. When we know God through and through, to all the depths and heights and lengths and breadths of His nature, and when we know man in like manner, and when, consequently, we know the relation between God and man as perfectly, and not till then, we shall have a right to reject the teaching of Scripture on this matter, on such grounds. Till then, let our faith lay hold on the fact, though we do not understand the "how" of the fact, and cling to that cross which is the great power of God unto salvation, and the heart changing exponent of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.

The essential and first element in this redemption is "the forgiveness of sins." Possibly some misconception of the nature of redemption may have been associated with the other errors which threatened the Colossian Church, and thus Paul may have been led to this emphatic declaration of its contents. Forgiveness, and not some mystic deliverance by initiation or otherwise from the captivity of flesh and matter, is redemption. There is more than forgiveness in it, but forgiveness lies on the threshold; and that not only the removal of legal penalties inflicted by a specific act, but the forgiveness of a father. A sovereign pardons when he remits the sentence which law has pronounced. A father forgives when the free flow of his love is unhindered by his child’s fault, and he may forgive and punish at the same moment. The truest "penalty" of sin is that death which consists in separation from God; and the conceptions of judicial pardon and fatherly forgiveness unite when we think of the "remission of sins" as being the removal of that separation, and the deliverance of heart and conscience from the burden of guilt and of a father’s wrath.

Such forgiveness leads to that full deliverance from the power of darkness, which is the completion of redemption. There is deep meaning in the fact that the word here used for "forgiveness," means literally, "sending away." Pardon has a mighty power to banish sin, not only as guilt, but as habit. The waters of the Gulf Stream bear the warmth of the tropics to the icy north, and lave the foot of the glaciers on its coast till they melt and mingle with the liberating waves. So the flow of the forgiving love of God thaws the hearts frozen in the obstinacy of sin, and blends our wills with itself in glad submission and grateful service.

But we must not overlook the significant words in which the condition of possessing this redemption is stated: "in Whom." There must be a real living union with Christ, by which we are truly "in Him" in order to our possession of redemption. "Redemption through His blood" is not the whole message of the Gospel; it has to be completed by "In Whom we have redemption through His blood." That real living union is effected by our faith, and when we are thus "in Him," our wills, hearts, spirits joined to Him, then, and only then, are we borne away from "the kingdom of the darkness" and partake of redemption. We cannot get His gifts without Himself. We observe, in conclusion, how redemption appears here as a present and growing possession. There is emphasis on "we have." The Colossian Christians had by one definite act in the past been fitted for a share in the inheritance, and by the same act had been transferred to the kingdom of Christ. Already they possess the inheritance, and are in the kingdom, although both are to be more gloriously manifested in the future. Here, however, Paul contemplates rather the reception, moment by moment, of redemption. We might almost read "we are having," for the present tense seems used on purpose to convey the idea of a continual communication from Him to Whom we are to be united by faith. Daily we may draw what we daily need-daily forgiveness for daily sins, the washing of the feet which even he who has been bathed requires after each day’s march through muddy roads, daily bread for daily hunger, and daily strength for daily effort. So day unto day may, in our narrow lives, as in the wide heavens with all their stars, utter speech, and night unto night show knowledge of the redeeming love of our Father. Like the rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness, according to Jewish legend, and poured out water for their thirst, His grace flows ever by our sides and from its bright waters we may daily draw with joy.

And so let us lay to heart humbly these two lessons; that all our Christianity must begin with forgiveness, and that, however far advanced we may be in the Divine life, we never get beyond the need for a continual bestowal upon us of God’s pardoning mercy.

Many of us, like some of these Colossians, are ready to call ourselves in some sense followers of Christ. The speculative side of Christian truth may have attractions for some of us, its lofty morality for others. Some of us may be mainly drawn to it by its comforts for the weary; some may be looking to it chiefly in hope of a future heaven. But whatever we are, and however we may be disposed to Christ and His Gospel, here is a plain message for us; we must begin by going to Him for pardon. It is not enough for any of us to find in Him "wisdom," or even "righteousness," for we need "redemption" which is "forgiveness," and unless He is to us forgiveness, He will not be either righteousness or wisdom.

We can climb a ladder that reaches to heaven, but its foot must be in "the horrible pit and miry clay" of our sins. Little as we like to hear it, the first need for us all is forgiveness. Everything begins with that. "The inheritance of the saints," with all its wealth of glory, its immortal life and unfading joys, its changeless security, and its unending progress deeper and, deeper into the light and likeness of God, is the goal, but the only entrance is through the strait gate of penitence. Christ will forgive on our cry for pardon, and that is the first link of a golden chain unwinding from His hand by which we may ascend to the perfect possession of our inheritance in God. "Whom He justified, them," and them only, He will glorify.


Verses 15-18

Chapter 1

THE GLORY OF THE SON IN HIS RELATION TO THE FATHER, THE UNIVERSE, AND THE CHURCH

Colossians 1:15-18 (R.V.)

As has already been remarked, the Colossian Church was troubled by teachers who had grafted on Jewish belief many of the strange speculations about matter and creation which have always had such a fascination for the Eastern mind. To us, they are apt to seem empty dreams, baseless and bewildering; but they had force enough to shake the early Church to its foundation, and in some forms they still live.

These teachers in Colossae seem to have held that all matter was evil and the seat of sin; that therefore the material creation could not have come directly from a good God, but was in a certain sense opposed to Him, or, at all events, was separated from Him by a great gulf. The void space was bridged by a chain of beings, half abstractions and half persons, gradually becoming more and more material. The lowest of them had created the material universe and now governed it, and all were to be propitiated by worship.

Some such opinions must be presupposed in order to give point and force to these great verses in which Paul opposes the solid truth to these dreams, and instead of a crowd of Powers and angelic Beings, in whom the effulgence of Deity was gradually darkened, and the spirit became more and more thickened into matter, lifts high and clear against that background of fable, the solitary figure of the one Christ. He fills all the space between God and man. There is no need for a crowd of shadowy beings to link heaven with earth. Jesus Christ lays His hand upon both. He is the head and source of creation; He is the head and fountain of life to His Church. Therefore He is first in all things, to be listened to, loved, and worshipped by men. As when the full moon rises, so when Christ appears, all the lesser stars with which Alexandrian and Eastern speculation had peopled the abysses of the sky are lost in the mellow radiance, and instead of a crowd of flickering ineffectual lights there is one perfect orb, "and heaven is overflowed." "We see no creature any more save Jesus only."

We have outgrown the special forms of error which afflicted the Church at Colossae, but the truths which are here set over against them are eternal, and are needed today in our conflicts of opinion as much as then. There are here three grand conceptions of Christ’s relations. We have Christ and God, Christ and Creation, Christ and the Church, and, built upon all these, the triumphant proclamation of His supremacy over all creatures in all respects.

I. We have the relation of Christ to God set forth in these grand words:

"the image of the invisible God."

Apparently Paul is here using for his own purposes language which was familiar on the lips of his antagonists. We know that Alexandrian Judaism had much to say about the "Word," and spoke of it as the Image of God: and probably some such teaching had found its way to Colossae. An "image" is a likeness or representation, as of a king’s head on a coin, or of a face reflected in a mirror. Here it is that which makes the invisible visible. The God who dwells in the thick darkness, remote from sense and above thought, has come forth and made Himself known to man, even in a very real way has come within the reach of man’s senses, in the manhood of Jesus Christ. Where then is there a place for the shadowy abstractions and emanations with which some would bind together God and man?

The first thought involved in this statement is, that the Divine Being in Himself is inconceivable and unapproachable. "No man hath seen God at any time nor can see Him." Not only is He beyond the reach of sense, but above the apprehension of the understanding. Direct and immediate knowledge of Him is impossible. There may be, there is, written on every human spirit a dim consciousness of His presence, but that is not knowledge. Creatural limitations prevent it, and man’s sin prevents it. He is "the King invisible," because He is the "Father of Lights" dwelling in "a glorious privacy of light," which is to us darkness because there is in it "no darkness at all."

Then, the next truth included here is, that Christ is the perfect manifestation and image of God. In Him we have the invisible becoming visible. Through Him we know all that we know of God, as distinguished from what we guess or imagine or suspect of Him. On this high theme, it is not wise to deal much in the scholastic language of systems and creeds. Few words, and these mainly His own, are best, and he is least likely to speak wrongly who confines himself most to Scripture in his presentation of the truth. All the great streams of teaching in the New Testament concur in the truth which Paul here proclaims. The conception in John’s Gospel of the Word which is the utterance and making audible of the Divine mind, the conceptions in the Epistle to the Hebrews of the effulgence or forth shining of God’s glory, and the very image, or stamped impress of His substance, are but other modes of representing the same facts of full likeness and complete manifestation, which Paul here asserts by calling the man Christ Jesus, the image of the Invisible God. The same thoughts are involved in the name by which our Lord called Himself, the Son of God; and they cannot be separated from many words of His, such as "he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." In Him the Divine nature comes near to us in a form that once could be grasped in part by men’s senses, for it was "that of the Word of life" which they saw with their eyes and their hands handled, and which is today and forever a form that can be grasped by mind and heart and will. In Christ we have the revelation of a God who can be known, and loved, and trusted, with a knowledge which, though it be not complete, is real and valid, with a love which is solid enough to be the foundation of a life, with a trust which is conscious that it has touched rock and builds secure. Nor is that fact that He is the revealer of God, one that began with His incarnation, or ends with His earthly life. From the beginning and before the creatural beginning, as we shall see in considering another part of these great verses, the Word was the agent of all Divine activity, the "arm of the Lord," and the source of all Divine illumination, "the face of the Lord," or, as we have the thought put in the remarkable words of the Book of Proverbs, where the celestial and pure Wisdom is more than a personification, though not yet distinctly conceived as a person, "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way. I was by Him as one brought up- or as a master worker-with Him, and I was daily His delight and My delights were with the sons of men." And after the veils of flesh and sense are done away, and we see face to face, I believe that the face which we shall see, and seeing, shall have beauty born of the vision passing into our faces, will be the face of Jesus Christ, in which the light of the glory of God shall shine for the redeemed and perfected sons of God, even as it did for them when they groped amid the shows of earth. The law for time and for eternity is, "I have declared Thy name unto My brethren and will declare it." That great fathomless, shoreless ocean of the Divine nature is like a "closed sea"- Christ is the broad river which brings its waters to men, and "everything liveth whithersoever the river cometh."

In these brief words on so mighty a matter, I must run the risk of appearing to deal in unsupported statements. My business is not so much to try to prove Paul’s words as to explain them, and then to press them. home. Therefore I would urge that thought, that we depend on Christ for all true knowledge of God. Guesses are not knowledge. Speculations are not knowledge. Peradventures, whether of hope or fear, are not knowledge. What we poor men need is a certitude of a God who loves us and cares for us, has an arm that can help us, and a heart that will. The God of "pure theism" is little better than a phantom, so unsubstantial that you can see the stars shining through the pale form, and when a man tries to lean on him for support, it is like leaning on a wreath of mist. There is nothing. There is no certitude firm enough for us to find sustaining power against life’s trials in resting upon it, but in Christ. There is no warmth of love enough for us to thaw our frozen limbs by, apart from Christ. In Him, and in Him alone, the far off, awful, doubtful God becomes a God very near, of Whom we are sure, and sure that He loves and is ready to help and cleanse and save.

And that is what we each need. "My soul crieth out for God, for the living God." And never will that orphaned cry be answered, but in the possession of Christ, in Whom we possess the Father also. No dead abstractions-no reign of law-still less the dreary proclamation, "Behold we know not anything," least of all, the pottage of material good, will hush that bitter wail that goes up unconsciously from many an Esau’s heart-"My father, my father!" Men will find Him in Christ. They will find Him nowhere else. It seems to me that the only refuge for this generation from atheism-if it is still allowable to use that unfashionable word-is the acceptance of Christ as the revealer of God. On any other terms religion is rapidly becoming impossible for the cultivated class. The great word which Paul opposed to the cobwebs of Gnostic speculation is the word for our own time with all its perplexities-Christ is the Image of the Invisible God.

II. We have the relation of Christ to Creation set forth in that great name, "the firstborn of all creation," and further elucidated by a magnificent series of statements which proclaim. Him to be agent or medium, and aim or goal of creation, prior to it in time and dignity, and its present upholder and bond of unity.

"The firstborn of all creation." At first sight, this name seems to include Him in the great family of creatures as the eldest, and clearly to treat Him as one of them, just because He is declared to be in some sense the first of them. That meaning has been attached to the words; but it is shown not to be their intention by the language of the next verse, which is added to prove and explain the title. It distinctly alleges that Christ was "before" all creation, and that He is the agent of all creation. To insist that the words must be explained so as to include Him in "creation" would be to go right in the teeth of the Apostle’s own justification and explanation of them. So that the true meaning is that He is the firstborn, in comparison with, or in reference to, all creation. Such an understanding of the force of the expression is perfectly allowable grammatically, and is necessary unless this verse is to be put in violent contradiction to the next. The same construction is found in Milton’s

"Adam, the goodliest man of men since born, His sons, the fairest of her daughters, Eve," where "of" distinctly means "in comparison with," and not "belonging to."

The title implies priority in existence, and supremacy. It substantially means the same thing as the other title of "the only begotten Son," only that the latter brings into prominence the relation of the Son to the Father, while the former lays stress on His relation to Creation. Further it must be noted, that this name applies to the Eternal Word and not to the incarnation of that Word, or to put it in another form, the divinity and not the humanity of the Lord Jesus is in the Apostle’s view. Such is the briefest outline of the meaning of this great name.

A series of clauses follow, stating more fully the relation of the firstborn Son to Creation, and so confirming and explaining the title.

The whole universe is, as it were, set in one class, and He alone over against it. No language could be more emphatically all comprehensive. Four times in one sentence we have "all things"- the whole universe-repeated, and traced to Him as Creator and Lord. "In the heavens and the earth" is quoted from Genesis, and is intended here, as there, to be an exhaustive enumeration of the creation according to place. "Things visible or invisible" again includes the whole under a new principle of division-there are visible things in heaven, as sun and stars, there may be invisible on earth, but whatever and of whatever sort they are. He made them. "Whether thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers," an enumeration evidently alluding to the dreamy speculations about an angelic hierarchy filling the space between the far off God, and men immersed in matter. There is a tone of contemptuous impatience in Paul’s voice as he quotes the pompous list of sonorous titles which a busy fancy had coined. It is as if he had said, You are being told a great deal about these angel hierarchies, and know all about their ranks and gradations. I do not know anything about them; but this I know, that if, amid the unseen things in the heavens or the earth, there be any such, my Lord made them, and is their master. So he groups together the whole universe of created beings, actual or imaginary, and then high above it, separate from it, its Lord and Creator, its upholder and end, he points to the majestic person of the only begotten Son of God, His Firstborn, higher than all the rulers of the earth, whether human or superhuman.

The language employed brings into strong relief the manifold variety of relations which the Son sustains to the universe, by the variety of the prepositions used in the sentence. The whole sum. of created things (for the Greek means not only "all things," but "all things considered as a unity") was in the original act, created in Him, through Him, and unto Him. The first of these words, "in Him," regards Him as the creative centre, as it were, or element in which as in a storehouse or reservoir all creative force resided, and was in a definite act put forth. The thought may be parallel with that in the prologue to John’s Gospel, "In Him was life." The Word stands to the universe as the incarnate Christ does to the Church; and as all spiritual life is in Him, and union to Him is its condition, so all physical takes its origin within the depths of His Divine nature. The error of the Gnostics was to put the act of creation and the thing created as far away as possible from God, and it is met by this remarkable expression, which brings creation and the creatures in a very real sense within the confines of the Divine nature, as manifested in the Word, and asserts the truth of which pantheism so called is the exaggeration, that all things are in Him, like seeds in a seed vessel, while yet they are not identified with Him.

The possible dangers of that profound truth, which has always been more in harmony with Eastern than with Western modes of thought, are averted by the next preposition used, "all things have been created through Him." That presupposes the full, clear demarcation between creature and creator, and so on the one hand extricates the person of the Firstborn of all creation from all risk of being confounded with the universe, while on the other it emphasises the thought that He is the medium of the Divine energy, and so brings into clear relief His relation to the inconceivable Divine nature. He is the image of the invisible God, and accordingly, through Him have all things been created. The same connection of ideas is found in the parallel passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the words, "through Whom also He made the worlds," stand in immediate connection with "being the effulgence of His glory."

But there remains yet another relation between Him and the act of creation. "For Him." they have been made. All things come from and tend towards Him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending. All things spring from His will, draw their being from that fountain, and return thither again. These relations which are here declared of the Son, are in more than one place declared of the Father. Do we face the question fairly - what theory of the person of Jesus Christ explains that fact?

But further, His existence before the whole creation is repeated, with a force in both the words, "He is," which can scarcely be given in English. The former is emphatic-He Himself-and the latter emphasises not only pre-existence, but absolute existence. "He was before all things" would not have said so much as "He is before all things." We are reminded of His own words, "Before Abraham was, I am."

"In Him all things consist" or hold together. He is the element in which takes place and by which is caused that continued creation which is the preservation of the universe, as He is the element in which the original creative act took place of old. All things came into being and form an ordered unity in Him. He links all creatures and forces into a cooperant whole, reconciling their antagonisms, drawing all their currents into one great tidal wave, melting all their notes into music which God can hear, however discordant it may sometimes sound to us. He is "the bond of perfectness," the keystone of the arch, the centre of the wheel.

Such, then, in merest outline is the Apostle’s teaching about the Eternal Word and the Universe. What sweetness and what reverential awe such thoughts should cast around the outer world and the providences of life! How near they should bring Jesus Christ to us! What a wonderful thought that is, that the whole course of human affairs and of natural processes is directed by Him who died upon the cross! The helm of the universe is held by the hands which were pierced for us. The Lord of Nature and the Mover of all things is that Saviour on whose love we may pillow our aching heads.

We need these lessons today, when many teachers are trying hard to drive all that is spiritual and Divine out of creation and history, and to set up a merciless law as the only God. Nature is terrible and stern sometimes, and the course of events can inflict crushing blows; but we have not the added horror of thinking both to be controlled by no will. Christ is King in either region, and with our elder brother for the ruler of the land, we shall not lack corn in our sacks, nor a Goshen to dwell in. We need not people the void, as these old heretics did, with imaginary forms, nor with impersonal forces and laws-nor need we, as so many are doing today, wander through its many mansions as through a deserted house, finding nowhere a Person who welcomes us; for everywhere we may behold our Saviour, and out of every storm and every solitude hear His voice across the darkness saying, "It is I be not afraid."

III. The last of the relations set forth in this great section is that between Christ and His Church. "He is the head of the body, the Church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead." A parallel is plainly intended to be drawn between Christ’s relation to the material creation and to the Church, the spiritual creation. As the Word of God before incarnation is to the universe, so is the incarnate Christ to the Church. As in the former, He is prior in time: and superior in dignity, so is He in the latter. As in the universe He is source and origin of all being, so in the Church He is the beginning, both as being first and as being origin of all spiritual life. As the glowing words which described His relation to creation began with the great title "the Firstborn," so those which describe His relation to the Church close with the same name in a different application. Thus the two halves of His work are as it were moulded into a golden circle, and the end of the description bends round towards the beginning.

Briefly, then, we have here first, Christ the head, and the Church His body. In the lower realm the Eternal Word was the power which held all things together, and similar but higher in fashion is the relation between Him and the whole multitude of believing souls. Popular physiology regards the head as the seat of life. So the fundamental idea in the familiar metaphor, when applied to our Lord, is that of the source of the mysterious spiritual life which flows from Him into all the members, and is sight in the eye, strength in the arm, swiftness in the foot, colour in the cheek, being richly various in its manifestations but one in its nature, and all His. The same mysterious derivation of life from Him is taught in His own metaphor of the Vine, in which every branch, however far away from the root, lives by the common life circulating through all, which clings in the tendrils, and reddens in the clusters, arm is not theirs though it be in them.

That thought of the source of life leads necessarily to the other, that He is the centre of unity, by Whom the "many members" become "one body," and the maze of branches one vine. The "head," too, naturally comes to be the symbol for authority-and these three ideas of seat of life, centre of unity, and emblem of absolute power, appear to be those principally meant here.

Christ is further the beginning to the Church. In the natural world He was before all, and source of all. The same double idea is contained in this name, "the Beginning." It does not merely mean the first member of a series who begins it, as the first link in a chain does, but it means the power which causes the series to begin. The root is the beginning of the flowers which blow in succession through the plant’s flowering time, though we may also call the first flower of the number the beginning. But Christ is root; not merely the first flower, though He is also that. He is head and beginning to His Church by means of His resurrection. He is the firstborn from the dead, and His communication of spiritual life to His Church requires the historical fact of His resurrection as its basis, for a dead Christ could not be the source of life; and that resurrection completes the manifestation of the incarnate Word, by our faith in which His spiritual life flows into our spirits. Unless He has risen from the dead, all His claims to be anything else than a wise teacher and fair character crumble into nothing, and to think of Him as a source of life is impossible.

He is the beginning through His resurrection, too, in regard of His raising us from the dead. He is the first fruits of them that slept, and bears the promise of a mighty harvest. He has risen from the dead, and therein we have not only the one demonstration for the world that there is a life after death, but the irrefragable assurance to the Church that because He lives it shall live also. A dead body and a living head cannot be. We are knit to Him too closely for the Fury "with the abhorred shears" to cut the thread. He has risen that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. So the Apostle concludes that in all things He is first-and all things are, that He may be first. Whether in nature or in grace, that preeminence is absolute and supreme. The end of all the majesty of creation and of all the wonders of grace is that His solitary figure may stand clearly out as centre and lord of the universe, and His name be lifted high over all.

So the question of questions for us all is, What think ye of Christ? Our thoughts now have necessarily been turned to subjects which may have seemed abstract and remote-but these truths which we have been trying to make clear, and to present in their connection, are not the mere terms or propositions of a half mystical theology far away from our daily life, but bear most gravely and directly on our deepest interests. I would fain press on every conscience the sharp pointed appeal-What is this Christ to us? Is He anything to us but a name? Do our hearts leap up with a joyful Amen when we read these great words of this text. Are we ready to crown Him Lord of all? Is He our head, to fill us with vitality, to inspire and to command? Is He the goal and the end of our individual life? Can we each say-I live by Him, in Him, and for Him? Happy are we, if we give to Christ the preeminence, and if our hearts set "Him first, Him last, Him midst and without end."


Verses 19-22

Chapter 1

THE RECONCILING SON

Colossians 1:19-22 (R.V.)

These words correspond to those which immediately precede them, inasmuch as they present the same sequence, and deal with Christ in His relation to God, to the universe, and to the Church. The strata of thought are continuous, and lie here in the same order as we found them there. There we had set forth the work of the pre-incarnate Word as well as of the incarnate Christ; here we have mainly the reconciling power of His cross proclaimed as reaching to every corner of the universe, and as culminating in its operations on the believing souls to whom Paul speaks. There we had the fact that He was the image of God laid as basis of His relation to men and creatures; here that fact itself apprehended in somewhat different manner, namely, as the dwelling in Him of all "fulness," is traced to its ground in the "good pleasure" of the Father, and the same Divine purpose is regarded as underlying Christ’s whole reconciling work. We observe, also, that all this section with which we have now to deal is given as the explanation and reason of Christ’s preeminence. These are the principal links of connection with the previous words, and having noted them, we may proceed to attempt some imperfect consideration of the overwhelming thoughts here contained.

I. As before, we have Christ in relation to God.

"It was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell."

Now we may well suppose from the use of the word "fulness" here, which we know to have been a very important term in later full blown Gnostic speculations, that there is a reference to some of the heretical teachers’ expressions, but such a supposition is not needed either to explain the meaning or to account for the use of the word.

"The fulness"-what fulness? I think, although it has been disputed, that the language of the next chapter, [Colossians 2:9] where we read "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," should settle that.

It seems most improbable that with two out of three significant words the same, the ellipse should be supplied by anything but the third. The meaning then will be-the whole abundance, or totality of Divine powers and attributes. That is, to put it in homelier words, that all that Divine nature in all its sweet greatness, in all its infinite wealth of tenderness and power and wisdom, is embodied in Jesus Christ. We have no need to look to heavens above or to earth beneath for fragmentary revelations of God’s character. We have no need to draw doubtful inferences as to what God is from the questionable teachings of nature, or from the mysteries of human history with its miseries. No doubt these do show something of Him to observant hearts, and most to those who have the key to their meaning by their faith in a clearer revelation. At sundry times and in divers manners, God has spoken to the world by these partial voices, to each of which some syllables of His name have been committed. But He has put His whole name in that messenger of a New Covenant by whom He has finally declared His whole character to us, even His Son, in whom "it was the good pleasure of the Father that all the fulness should dwell."

The word rendered "dwell" implies a permanent abode, and may have been chosen in order to oppose a view which we know to have prevailed later, and may suspect to have been beginning to appear thus early, namely, that the union of the Divine and the human in the person of Christ was but temporary. At all events, emphasis is placed here on the opposite truth that that indwelling does not end with the earthly life of Jesus, and is not like the shadowy and transient incarnations of Eastern mythology or speculation-a mere assumption of a fleshly nature for a moment, which is dropped from the re-ascending Deity, but that, for evermore, manhood is wedded to divinity in the perpetual humanity of Jesus Christ.

And this indwelling is the result of the Father’s good pleasure. Adopting the supplement in the Authorised and Revised Versions, we might read "the Father pleased"-but without making that change, the force of the words remains the same. The Incarnation and whole work of Christ are referred to their deepest ground in the will of the Father. The word rendered "pleased" implies both counsel and complacency; it is both pleasure and good pleasure. The Father determined the work of the Son, and delighted in it. Caricatures intentional or unintentional of New Testament teaching have often represented it as making Christ’s work the means of pacifying an unloving God and moving Him to mercy. That is no part of the Pauline doctrine. But he, as all his brethren, taught that the love of God is the cause of the mission of Christ, even as Christ Himself had taught that "God so loved the world that He sent His Son." On that Rock foundation of the will- the loving will of the Father, is built the whole work of His Incarnate Son. And as that work was the issue of His eternal purpose, so it is the object of His eternal delight. That is the wonderful meaning of the word which fell gently as the dove descending on His head, and lay on His locks wet from His baptism, like a consecrating oil-"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." God willed that so He should be; He delighted that so He was. Through Christ, the Father purposed that His fulness should be communicated to us, and through Christ the Father rejoices to pour His abundance into our emptiness, that we may be filled with all the fulness.

II. Again, we have here, as before, Christ and the Universe, of which He is not only Maker, Sustainer, and Lord, but through "the blood of His cross" reconciles "all things unto Himself." Probably these same false teachers had dreams of reconciling agents among the crowd of shadowy phantoms with which they peopled the void. Paul lifts up in opposition to all these the one Sovereign Mediator, whose cross is the bond of peace for all the universe.

It is important for the understanding of these great words to observe their distinct reference to the former clauses which dealt with our Lord’s relation to the universe as Creator. The same words are used in order to make the parallelism as close as may be. "Through Him" was creation; "through Him" is reconciliation. "All things"-or as the Greek would rather suggest, "the universe"-all things considered as an aggregate-were made and sustained through Him and subordinated to Him; the same "all things" are reconciled. A significant change in the order of naming the elements of which these are composed is noticeable. When creation is spoken of the order is "in the heavens and upon the earth"-the order of creation; but when reconciliation is the theme the order is reversed, and we read "things upon the earth and things in the heavens"-those coming first which stand nearest to the reconciling cross, and are first to feel the power which streams from it.

This obvious intentional correspondence between these two paragraphs shows us that whatever be the nature of the "reconciliation" spoken of here, it is supposed to affect not only rational and responsible creatures who alone in the full sense of the word can be reconciled, as they only in the full sense of the word can be enemies, but to extend to things, and to send its influence through the universe. The width of the reconciliation is the same as that of the creation; they are conterminous. That being the case, "reconciliation" here must have a different shade of meaning when applied to the sum total of created things from what it has when applied to persons. But not only are inanimate creatures included in the expression; it may even be made a question whether the whole of mankind is not excluded from it, not only by the phrase "all things," but also from the consideration that the effect of Christ’s death on men is the subject of the following words, which are not an explanation of this clause, but an addition to it, introducing an entirely different department of Christ’s reconciling work. Nor should we lose sight of the very significant omission in this section of the reference to the angelic beings who were named in the creation section. We hear nothing now about thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. The division into "visible and invisible" is not reproduced. I suggest the possibility that the reason may be the intention to represent this "reconciliation" as taking effect exclusively on the regions of creation below the angelic and below the human, while the "reconciliation," properly so called, which is brought to pass on alienated men is dealt with first in the following words.

If this be so, then these words refer mainly to the restitution of the material universe to its primal obedience, and represent Christ the Creator removing by His cross the shadow which has passed over nature by reason of sin. It has been well said, "How far this restoration of universal nature may be subjective, as involved in the changed perceptions of man thus brought into harmony with God, and how far it may have an objective and independent existence, it were vain to speculate."

Scripture seems to teach that man’s sin has made the physical world "subject to vanity"; for, although much of what it says on this matter is unquestionably metaphor only, portraying the Messianic blessings in poetical language never meant for dogmatic truth, and although unquestionably physical death reigned among animals, and storms and catastrophes swept over the earth long before man or sin were here, still-seeing that man by his sin has compelled dead matter to serve his lusts and to be his instrument in acts of rebellion against God, making "a league with the stones of the field" against his and their Master-seeing that he has used earth to hide heaven and to shut himself out from its glories, and so has made it an unwilling antagonist to God and temptress to evil-seeing that he has actually polluted the beauty of the world and has stained many a lovely scene with his sin, making its rivers run red with blood-seeing that he has laid unnumbered woes on the living creatures-we may feel that there is more than poetry in the affirmation that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together," and may hear a deep truth, the extent of which we cannot measure, in Milton’s majestic lines:

"Disproportioned Sin

Jarred against Nature’s chime, and with harsh din

Brake the fair music that all creatures made

To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed."

Here we have held forth in words, the extent of which we can measure as little, the counter hope that wherever and however any such effect has come to pass on the material universe, it shall be done away by the reconciling power of the blood shed on the cross. That reconciling power goes as far as His creative power. The universe is one, not only because all created by the one personal Divine Word, nor because all upheld by Him, but because in ways to us unknown, the power of the cross pierces its heights and depths. As the impalpable influences of the sun bind planets and comets into one great system, so from Him on His cross may stream out attractive Dowers which knit together far off regions, and diverse orders, and bring all in harmonious unity to God, who has made peace by the blood shed on the cross, and has thereby been pleased to reconcile all things to Himself.

"And a Priest’s hand through creation Waveth calm and consecration."

It may be that the reference to things in heaven is like the similar reference in the previous verses, occasioned by some dreams of the heretical teachers. He may merely mean to say: You speak much about heavenly things, and have filled the whole space between God’s throne and man’s earth with creatures thick as the motes in the sunbeam. I know nothing about them; but this I know, that, if they are, Christ made them, and that if among them there be antagonism to God, it can be overcome by the cross. As to reconciliation proper, -in the heavens, meaning by that, among spiritual beings who dwell in that realm, it is clear there can be no question of it. There is no enmity among the angels of heaven, and no place for return to union with God among their untroubled bands, who "hearken to the voice of His word." But still, if the hypothetical form of the clause and the use of the neuter gender permit any reference to intelligent beings in the heavens, we know that to the principalities and powers in heavenly places the cross has been the teacher of before unlearned depths in the Divine nature and purposes, the knowledge of which has drawn them nearer the heart of God, and made even their blessed union with Him more blessed and more close.

On no subject is it more necessary to remember the limitations of our knowledge than on this great theme. On none is confident assertion more out of place. The general truth taught is clear, but the specific application of it to the various regions of the universe is very doubtful. We have no source of knowledge on that subject but the words of Scripture, and we have no means of verifying or checking the conclusions we may draw from them. We are bound, therefore, if we go beyond the general principle, to remember that it is one thing, and our reckoning up of what it includes is quite another. Our inferences have not the certainty of God’s word. It comes to us with "Verily, verily." We have no right to venture on more than Perhaps.

Especially is this the case when we have but one or two texts to build on, and these most general in their language. And still more, when we find other words of Scripture which seem hard to reconcile with them, if pressed to their utmost meaning. In such a case our wisdom is to recognise that God has not been pleased to give us the means of constructing a dogma on the subject, and rather to seek to learn the lessons taught by the obscurity that remains than rashly and confidently to proclaim, our inferences from half of our materials as if they were the very heart of the gospel.

Sublime and great beyond all our dreams, we may be sure, shall be the issue. Certain as the throne of God is it that His purposes shall be accomplished-and at last this shall be the fact for the universe, as it has ever been the will of the Father-"Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever." To that highest hope and ultimate vision for the whole creation, who will not say, Amen? The great sight which the seer beheld in Patmos is the best commentary on our text. To him the eternal order of the universe was unveiled-the great white throne, a snowy Alp in the centre; between the throne and the creatures, the Lamb, through Whom blessing and life passed outwards to them, and their incense and praise passed inwards to the throne; and all around the "living creatures," types of the aggregate of creatural life, the "elders," representatives of the Church redeemed from. among men, and myriads of the firstborn of heaven. The eyes of all alike wait upon that slain Lamb. In Him they see God in clearest light of love and gentlest might-and as they look and learn and are fed, each according to his hunger, from the fulness of Christ, "every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them," will be heard saying, "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him, that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever."

III. Christ, and His Reconciling Work in the Church. We have still the parallel kept up between the reconciling and the creative work of Christ. As in Colossians 1:18, He was represented as the giver of life to the Church, in a higher fashion than to the universe, so, and probably with a similar heightening of the meaning of "reconciliation." He is here set forth as its giver to the Church. Now observe the solemn emphasis of the description of the condition of men before that reconciling work has told upon their hearts. They are "alienated"-not "aliens," as if that were their original condition, but "alienated," as having become so. The same thought that man’s sin and separation from God is a fall, something abnormal and superinduced on humanity, which is implied in "reconciliation" or restoration to an original concord, is implied in this expression.

"And enemies in your mind"-the seat of the enmity is in that inner man which thinks, reflects, and wills, and its sphere of manifestation is "in evil works" which are religiously acts of hostility to God because morally they are bad. We should not read "by wicked works" as the Authorised Version does, for the evil deeds have not made them enemies, but the enmity has originated the evil deeds, and is witnessed to by them.

That is a severe indictment, a plain, rough, and as it is thought nowadays, a far too harsh description of human nature. Our forefathers no doubt were tempted to paint the "depravity of human nature" in very black colours-but I am very sure that we are tempted just in the opposite direction. It sounds too harsh and rude to press home the old-fashioned truth on cultured, respectable ladies and gentlemen. The charge is not that of conscious, active hostility, but of practical want of affection, as manifested by habitual disobedience or inattention to God’s wishes, and by indifference and separation from Him in heart and mind.

And are these not the habitual temper of multitudes? The signs of love are joy in the company of the beloved, sweet memories and longings if parted, eager fulfilment of their lightest wish, a quick response to the most slender association recalling them to our thoughts. Have we these signs of love to God? If not, it is time to consider what temper of heart and mind towards the most loving of Hearts and the most unwearied of Givers, is indicated by the facts that we scarcely ever think of Him, that we have no delight in His felt presence, that most of our actions have no reference whatever to Him and would be done just the same if there were no God at all. Surely such a condition is liker hostility than love.

Further, here, as uniformly, God Himself is the Reconciler. "He"-that is, God, not Christ, "has reconciled us." Some, indeed, read "ye have been reconciled," but the preponderance of authority is in favour of the text as it stands, which yields a sense accordant with the usual mode of representation. It is we who are reconciled. It is God who reconciles. It is we who are enemies. The Divine patience loves on through all our enmity, and though perfect love meeting human sin must become wrath, which is consistent with love, it never becomes hatred, which is love’s opposite.

Observe finally the great means of reconciliation: "In the body of His flesh" that is, of course, Christ’s flesh-God has reconciled us. Why does the Apostle use this apparently needless exuberance of language-"the body of His flesh"? It may have been in order to correct some erroneous tendencies towards a doctrine which we know was afterwards eagerly embraced in the Eastern Churches, that our Lord’s body was not truly flesh, but only a phantasm or appearance. It may have been to guard against risk of confounding it with His "body the Church," spoken of in the 18th verse (Colossians 1:18), though that supposes a scarcely credible dulness in his readers. Or it may more naturally be accounted for as showing how full his own mind was of the overwhelming wonder of the fact that He, Whose majesty he has been setting forth in such deep words, should veil His eternal glories and limit His far-reaching energies within a fleshly body. He would point the contrast between the Divine dignity of the Eternal Word, the Creator and Lord of the universe, and the lowliness of His incarnation. On these two pillars, as on two solid piers, one on either continent, with a great gulf between, the Divinity of Christ on one side, His Manhood on the other, is built the bridge by which we pass over the river into the glory.

But that is not all. The Incarnation is not the whole gospel. The body of His flesh becomes the means of our reconciliation "through death." Christ’s death has so met the requirements of the Divine law that the Divine love can come freely forth, and embrace and forgive sinful men. That fact is the very centre of the revelation of God in Christ, the very secret of His power. He has died. Voluntarily and of His own love, as well as in obedience to the Father’s loving will, He has borne the consequences of the sin which He had never shared, in that life of sorrow and sympathy, in that separation from God which is sin’s deepest penalty, and of which the solemn witness comes to us in the cry that rent the darkness, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and in that physical death which is the parable in the material sphere of the true death of the spirit. We do not know all the incidents of Christ’s death. The whole manner of its operation has not been told us, but the fact has been. It does not affect the Divine heart. That we know, for "God so loved the world, that He sent His Son." But it does affect the Divine government. Without it, forgiveness could not have been. Its influence extends to all the years before, as to all after, Calvary, for the fact that Man continued to be after Man had sinned, was because the whole Divine government from the first had respect to the sacrifice that was to be, as now it all is moulded by the merit of the sacrifice that has been. And in this aspect of the case, the previous thoughts as to the blood of the cross having power in the material universe derive a new meaning, if we regard the whole history of the world as shaped by Christ’s sacrifice, and the very continuance of humanity from the first moment of transgression as possible, because He was "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world," whose cross, as an eternal fact in the Divine purpose, influenced the Divine government long before it was realised in time.

For us, that wondrous love-mightier than death, and not to be quenched by many waters-is the one power that can change our alienation to glad friendship, and melt the frost and hard-ribbed ice of indifference and dread into love. That, and that alone, is the solvent for stubborn wills, the magnet for distant hearts. The cross of Christ is the keystone of the universe and the conqueror of all enmity.

If religion is to have sovereign power in our lives, it must be the religion built upon faith in the Incarnate Son of God, who reconciles the world to God upon His cross. That is the only faith which makes men love God and binds them to Him with bands which cannot be broken. Other types of Christianity are but tepid; and lukewarm water is an abomination. The one thing that makes us ground our rebellious arms and say, Lord, I surrender, Thou hast conquered, is to see in Christ’s life the perfect image of God, and in His death the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. What does it avail for us that the far-reaching power of Christ’s cross shoots out magnetic forces to the uttermost verge of the heavens, and binds the whole universe by silken blood-red cords to God, if it does not bind me to Him in love and longing? What does it avail that God is in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, if I am unconscious of the enmity, and careless of the friendship? Each man has to ask Himself, Am I reconciled to God? Has the sight of His great love on the cross won me, body and soul, to His love and service? Have I flung away self-will, pride, and enmity, and yielded myself a glad captive to the loving Christ who died? His cross draws us, His love beckons us. God pleads with all hearts. He who has made peace by so costly means as the sacrifice of His Son, condescends to implore the rebels to come into amity with Him, and "prays us with much entreaty to receive the gift." God beseeches us to be reconciled to Himself.


Verse 22-23

Chapter 1

THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF RECONCILIATION AND ITS HUMAN CONDITIONS

Colossians 1:22-23 (R.V.)

THE Apostle has been sketching in magnificent outline a vast system, which we may almost call the scheme of the universe. He has set forth Christ as its Lord and centre, through Whom all things at first came into being, and still continue to be. In parallel manner he has presented Christ as Lord and Centre of the Church, its life giving Head. And finally he has set forth Christ as the Reconciler of all discords in heaven and earth, and especially of that which parts sinful men from God.

And now he shows us here, in the first words of our text, the purpose of this whole manifestation of God in Christ to be the presenting of men perfect in purity, before the perfect judgment of God. He then appends the condition on which the accomplishment of this ultimate purpose in each man depends-namely, the man’s continuance in the faith and hope of the Gospel. That leads him to gather up, in a series of clauses characterising the Gospel, certain aspects of it which constitute subordinate motives and encouragements to such steadfastness. That is, I think, the outline connection of the words before us, which at first sight seem somewhat tangled and difficult to unravel.

I. We have then, first, to consider the ultimate purpose of God in the work of Christ.

"To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before Him." It may be a question whether these words should be connected with "now hath He reconciled," or whether we are to go farther back in the long paragraph, and make them dependent on "it was the good pleasure of the Father." The former seems the more natural-namely, to see here a statement of the great end contemplated in our reconciliation to God; which, indeed, whatever may be the grammatical construction preferred here, is also, of course, the ultimate object of the Father’s good pleasure. In the word "present" there is possibly a sacrificial allusion, as there is unquestionably in its use in Romans 12:1, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice"; or there may be another and even more eloquent metaphor implied, that of the bringing of the bride to the husband by the friend of the bridegroom. That lovely figure is found in two instances of the use of the word in Paul’s epistle (2 Corinthians 2:2, "to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ," and Ephesians 5:27, "that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church"), and possibly in others. It certainly gives an appropriate and beautiful emblem here if we think of the presentation of the bride in virginal beauty and purity to her Lord at that last great day which is the bridal day of the perfected Church.

There is, however, no need to suppose any metaphor at all, nor any allusion beyond the general meaning of the word-to set in the presence of. The sacrificial reference is incongruous here, and the bridal one not indicated by anything in the context, as it is in the instances just quoted. One thing is clear, that the reference is to a future presentation in the day of judgment, as in another place, where Paul says, "He shall raise up us also and shall present us". [2 Corinthians 4:14] In the light of that revealing day, His purpose is that we shall stand "holy," that is, devoted to God and therefore pure-"without blemish," as the offerings had to be, and "unreprovable," against whom no charge can be brought. These three express a regular sequence; first, the inward principle of consecration and devotion to God, then its visible issue in stainless conduct and character, and then its last consequence, that in the judgment of God and of men we shall stand acquitted of blame, and every accusation drop away from our dazzling purity, like muddy water from the white wing of the sea bird as it soars. And all this moral perfectness and unblamableness is to be not merely in the judgment of men, but "before Him," the light of whose "pure eyes and perfect judgment" discovers all stains and evils. They must be spotless indeed who are "without fault before the throne of God."

Such, then, is the grand conception of the ultimate purpose and issue of Christ’s reconciling work. All the lines of thought in the preceding section lead up to and converge in this peak. The meaning of God in creation and redemption cannot be fully fathomed without taking into view the future perfecting of men. This Christian ideal of the possibilities for men is the noblest vision that can animate our hopes. Absolute moral purity which shall be recognised as perfect by the, perfect Judge, and a close approach to God, so as that we shall be "before Him" in a manner unknown here-are hopes as much brighter than those which any other systems of belief print on the dim canvas curtain of the future, as the Christian estimate of man’s condition apart from Christ is sadder and darker than theirs. Christianity has a much more extended scale of colours than they have. It goes further down into blackness for the tints with which it paints man as he is, and further up into flashing glories of splendour for the gleaming hues with which it paints him as he may become. They move within narrow limits of neutral tints, The Gospel alone does not try to minimise man’s evil, because it is triumphantly confident of its power to turn all that evil into good.

Nothing short of this complete purity and blamelessness satisfies God’s heart. We may travel back to the beginning of this section, and connect its first words with these, "It pleased the Father, to present us holy and spotless and blameless." It delights Him. thus to effect the purifying of sinful souls, and He is glad when He sees Himself surrounded by spirits thus echoing His will and reflecting His light. This is what He longs for. This is what He aims at in all His working-to make good and pure men. The moral interest is uppermost in His heart and in His doings. The physical universe is but the scaffolding by which the true house of God may be built. The work of Christ is the means to that end. and when God has got us, by such lavish expenditure, to be white like Himself, and can find nothing in us to condemn, then, and not till then, does He brood over us satisfied and glad at heart, resting in His love, and rejoicing over us with singing.

Nor will anything short of this complete purity exhaust the power of the Reconciling Christ. His work is like an unfinished column, or Giotto’s Campanile, all shining with marbles and alabasters and set about with fair figures, but waiting for centuries for the glittering apex to gather its glories into a heaven-piercing point. His cross and passion reach no adequate result, short of the perfecting of saints, nor was it worth Christ’s while to die for any less end. His cross and passion have evidently power to effect this perfect purity, and cannot be supposed to have done all that is in them to do, until they have done that with every Christian.

We ought then to keep very clear before us this as the crowning object of Christianity: not to make men happy, except as a consequence of holiness; not to deliver from penalty, except as a means to holiness; but to make them holy, and being holy, to set them close by the throne of God. No man understands the scope of Christianity, or judges it fairly, who does not give full weight to that as its own statement of its purpose. The more distinctly we, as Christians, keep that purpose prominent in our thoughts, the more shall we have our efforts stimulated and guided, and our hopes fed, even when we are saddened by a sense of failure. We have a power working in us which can make us white as the angels, pure as our Lord is pure. If it, being able to produce perfect results, has produced only such imperfect ones, we may well ask where the reason for the partial failure lies. If we believed more vividly that the real purpose and use of Christianity was to make us good men, we should surely labour more earnestly to secure that end, should take more to heart our own responsibility for the incompleteness with which it has been attained in us, and should submit ourselves more completely to the operation of the "might of the power" which worketh in us.

Nothing less than our absolute purity will satisfy God about us. Nothing less should satisfy ourselves. The only worthy end of Christ’s work for us is to present us holy, in complete consecration, and without blemish, in perfect homogeneousness and uniformity of white purity and unreproachable in manifest innocence in His sight. If we call ourselves Christians let us make it our life’s business to see that that end is being accomplished in us in some tolerable and growing measure.

II. We have next set forth the conditions on which the accomplishment of that purpose depends:

"If so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the Gospel."

The condition is, generally speaking, a steadfast adherence to the Gospel which the Colossians had received. "If ye continue in the faith," means, I suppose, if ye continue to live in the exercise of your faith. The word here has its ordinary subjective sense, expressing the act of the believing man, and there is no need to suppose that it has the later ecclesiastical objective sense, expressing the believer’s creed, a meaning in which it may be questioned whether the word is ever employed in the New Testament. Then this continuance in the faith is further explained as to its manner, and that first positively, and then negatively. They are to be grounded, or more picturesquely and accurately, "founded," that is, built into a foundation, and therefore "steadfast," as banded into the firm rock, and so partaking of its fixedness. Then, negatively, they are not to be "moved away"; the word by its form conveying the idea that this is a process which may be continually going on, and in which, by some force constantly acting from without, they may be gradually and imperceptibly pushed off from the foundation-that foundation is the hope evoked or held out by the Gospel, a representation which is less familiar than that which makes the Gospel itself the foundation, but is substantially equivalent to it, though with a different colour.

One or two plain lessons may be drawn from these words. There is an "if," then. However great the powers of Christ and of His work, however deep the desire and fixed the purpose of God, no fulfilment of these is possible except on condition of our habitual exercise of faith. The Gospel does not work on men by magic. Mind, heart, and will must be exercised on Christ, or all His power to purify and bless will be of no avail to us. We shall be like Gideon’s fleece, dry when the dew is falling thick, unless we are continually putting forth living faith. That attracts the blessing and fits the soul to receive it. There is nothing mystical about the matter. Common sense tells us, that if a man never thinks about any truth, that truth will do him no good in any way. If it does not find its road into his heart through his mind, and thence into his life, it is all one as if there were no such truth, or as if he did not believe it. If our creed is made up of truths which we do not think about, we may just as well have no creed. If we do not bring ourselves into contact with the motives which the Gospel brings to bear on character, the motives will not mould our character. If we do not, by faith and meditation, realise the principles which flow from the truth as it is in Jesus, and obtain the strength which is stored in Him, we shall not grow by Him or like Him. No matter how mighty be the renewing powers of the Gospel wielded by the Divine Spirit, they can only work on the nature that is brought into contact with and continues in contact with them by faith. The measure in which we trust Jesus Christ will be the measure in which He helps us. "He could do no mighty works because of their unbelief." He cannot do what He can do, if we thwart Him by our want of faith. God will present us holy before Him if we continue in the faith. And it must be present faith which leads to present results. We cannot make an arrangement by which we exercise faith wholesale once for all, and secure a delivery of its blessings in small quantities for a while after, as a buyer may do with goods. The moment’s act of faith will bring the moment’s blessings; but tomorrow will have to get its own grace by its own faith. We cannot lay up a stock for the future. There must be present drinking for present thirst; we cannot lay in a reserve of the water of life, as a camel can drink at a draught enough for a long desert march. The Rock follows us all through the wilderness, but we have to fill our pitchers day by day. Many Christians seem to think that they can live on past acts of faith. No wonder that their Christian character is stunted, and their growth stopped, and many a blemish visible, and many a "blame" to be brought against them. Nothing but continual exercise of faith, day by day, moment by moment, in every duty, and every temptation, will secure the continual entrance into our weakness of the strength which makes strong and the purity which makes pure. Then again, if we and our lives are to be firm and stable, we must have a foundation outside of ourselves on which to rest. That thought is involved in the word "grounded" or "founded." It is possible that this metaphor of the foundation is carried on into the next clause, in which case "the hope of the Gospel" would be the foundation. Strange to make a solid foundation out of so unsubstantial a thing as "hope"! That would be indeed to build a castle on the air, a palace on a soap bubble, would it not? Yes, it would, if this hope were not "the hope produced by the Gospel," and therefore as solid as the ever-enduring Word of the Lord on which it is founded. But, more probably, the ordinary application of the figure is preserved here, and Christ is the foundation, the Rock, on which builded, our fleeting lives and our fickle selves may become rock like too, and every impulsive and changeable Simon Bar Jonas rise to the mature steadfastness of a Peter, the pillar of the Church.

Translate that image of taking Christ for our foundation into plain English, and what does it come to? It means, let our minds find in Him, in His Word, and whole revealing life, the basis of our beliefs, the materials for thought; let our hearts find in Him their object, which brings calmness and unchangeableness into their love; let our practical energies take Him as their motive and pattern, their strength and their aim, their stimulus and their reward; let all hopes and joys, emotions and desires, fasten themselves on Him; let Him occupy and fill our whole nature, and mould and preside over all our actions. So shall we be "founded" on Christ.

And so "founded," we shall, as Paul here beautifully puts it, be "steadfast." Without that foundation to give stability and permanence, we never get down to what abides, but pass our lives amidst fleeting shadows, and are ourselves transient as they. The mind whose thoughts about God and the unseen world are not built on the personal revelation of God in. Christ will have no solid certainties which cannot be shaken, but, at the best, opinions which cannot have more fixedness than belongs to human thoughts upon the great problem. If my love does not rest on Christ, it will flicker and flutter; lighting now here and now there, and even where it rests most secure in. human love, sure to have to take wing some day, when Death with his woodman’s axe fells the tree where it nestles. If my practical life is not built on Him, the blows of circumstance will make it reel and stagger. If we are not well joined to Jesus Christ, we shall be driven by gusts of passion and storms of trouble, or borne along on the surface of the slow stream of all-changing time like thistle down on the water. If we are to be stable, it must be because we are fastened to something outside of ourselves that is stable, just as they have to lash a man to the mast or other fixed things on deck, if he is not to be washed overboard in the gale. If we are lashed to the unchangeable Christ by the "cords of love" and faith, we too shall, in our degree, be steadfast. And, says Paul, that Christ-derived steadfastness will make us able to resist influences that would move us away from the hope of the Gospel. That process which their steadfastness would enable the Colossians successfully to resist is described by the language of the Apostle as continuous, and as one which acted on them from without. Intellectual dangers arose from false teachings. The ever-acting tendencies of worldliness pressed upon them, and they needed to make a distinct effort to keep themselves from being overcome by these.

If we do not take care that imperceptible, steady pressure of the all-surrounding worldliness, which is continually acting on us, will push us right off the foundation without our knowing that we have shifted at all. If we do not look well after our moorings we shall drift away down stream, and never know that we are moving, so smooth is the motion, till we wake up to see that everything round about is changed. Many a man is unaware how completely his Christian faith has gone till some crisis comes when he needs it, and when he opens the jar there is nothing. It has evaporated.

When white ants eat away all the inside of a piece of furniture, they leave the outside shell apparently solid, and it stands till some weight is laid upon it, and then goes down with a crash. Many people lose their Christianity in that fashion, by its being nibbled away in tiny flakes by a multitude of secretly working little jaws, and they never know that the pith is out of it till they want to lean on it, and then it gives under them.

The only way to keep firm hold of hope is to keep fast on the foundation. If we do not wish to slide imperceptibly away from Him who alone will make our lives steadfast and our hearts calm with the peacefulness of having found our All, we must continuously make an effort to tighten our grasp on Him, and to resist the subtle forces which, by silent pressure or by sudden blows, seek to get us off the one foundation.

III. Then lastly, we have a threefold motive for adherence to the Gospel.

The three clauses which close these verses seem to be appended as secondary and subordinate encouragements to steadfastness, which encouragements are drawn from. certain characteristics of the Gospel. Of course, the main reason for a man’s sticking to the Gospel, or to anything else, is that it is true. And unless we are prepared to say that we believe it true, we have nothing to do with such subordinate motives for professing adherence to it, except to take care that they do not influence us. And that one sole reason is abundantly wrought out in this letter. But then, its truth being established, we may fairly bring in other subsidiary motives to reinforce this, seeing that there may be a certain coldness of belief which needs the warmth of such encouragements. The first of these lies in the words, "the Gospel, which ye heard." That is to say, the Apostle would have the Colossians, in the face of these heretical teachers, remember the beginning of their Christian life, and be consistent with that. They had heard it at their conversion. He would have them recall what they had heard then, and tamper with no teaching inconsistent with it. He also appeals to their experience. "Do you remember what the Gospel did for you? Do you remember the time when it first dawned upon your astonished hearts, all radiant with heavenly beauty, as the revelation of a Heart in heaven that cared for you, and of a Christ Who, on earth, had died for you? Did it not deliver you from your burden? Did it not set new hope before you? Did it not make earth as the very portals of heaven? And have these truths become less precious because familiar? Be not moved away from the Gospel ‘which ye have heard."’

To us the same appeal comes. This word has been sounding in our ears ever since childhood. It has done everything for some of us, something for all of us. Its truths have sometimes shone out for us like suns, in the dark, and brought us strength when nothing else could sustain us. If they are not truths, of course they will have to go. But they are not to be abandoned easily. They are interwoven with our very lives. To part with them is a resolution not to be lightly undertaken.

The argument of experience is of no avail to convince others, but is valid for ourselves. A man has a perfect right to say, "I have heard Him myself, and I know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." A Christian may wisely decline to enter on the consideration of many moot questions which he may feel himself incompetent to handle, and rest upon the fact that Christ has saved his soul. The blind man beat the Pharisees in logic when he sturdily took his stand on experience, and refused to be tempted to discuss subjects which he did not understand, or to allow his ignorance to slacken his grasp of what he did know. "Whether this man be a sinner or no, I know not one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." There was no answering that, so by excommunicating him they confessed themselves beaten.

A second encouragement to steadfast adherence to the Gospel lies in the fact that it "was preached in all creation under heaven." We need not be pedantic about literal accuracy, and may allow that the statement has a rhetorical colouring. But what the Apostle means is, that the gospel has spread so widely, through so many phases of civilisation, and has proved its power by touching men so unlike each other in mental furniture and habits, that it had showed itself to be a word for the whole race. It is the same thought as we have already found in Colossians 1:6. His implied exhortation is, "Be not moved away from what belongs to humanity by teachings which can only belong to a class." All errors are transient in duration and limited in area. One addresses itself to one class of men, another to another. Each false, or exaggerated, or partial representation of religious truth, is congenial to some group with idiosyncrasies of temperament or mind. Different tastes like different spiced meats, but the gospel, "human nature’s daily food," is the bread of God that everybody can relish, and which everybody must have for healthy life. What only a certain class or the men of one generation or of one stage of culture can find nourishment in, cannot be meant for all men. But the great message of God’s love in Jesus Christ commends itself to us because it can go into any corner of the world, and there, upon all sorts of people, work its wonders. So we will sit down with the women and children upon the green grass, and eat of it, however fastidious people whose appetites have been spoiled by high-spiced meat, may find it coarse and insipid. It would feed them too, if they would try-but whatever they may do, let us take it as more than our necessary food.

The last of these subsidiary encouragements to steadfastness lies in, "whereof I Paul was made a minister." This is not merely an appeal to their affection for him, though that is perfectly legitimate. Holy words may be holier because dear lips have taught them to us, and even the truth of God may allowably have a firmer hold upon our hearts because of our love for some who have ministered it to us. It is a poor commentary on a preacher’s work if, after long service to a congregation, his words do not come with power given to them by old affection and confidence. The humblest teacher who has done his Master’s errand will have some to whom he can appeal as Paul did, and urge them to keep hold of the message which he has preached.

But there is more than that in the Apostle’s mind. He was accustomed to quote the fact that he, the persecutor, had been made the, messenger of Christ, as a living proof of the infinite mercy and power of that ascended Lord, whom his eyes saw on the road to Damascus. So here, he puts stress on the fact that he became a minister of the gospel, as being an "evidence of Christianity." The history of his conversion is one of the strongest proofs of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. You know, he seems to say, what turned me from being a persecutor into an apostle. It was because I saw the living Christ, and "heard the words of His mouth," and, I beseech you, listen to no words which make His dominion less sovereign, and His sole and all-sufficient work on the cross less mighty as the only power that knits earth to heaven.

So the sum of this whole matter is-abide in Christ. Let us root and ground our lives and characters in Him, and then God’s inmost desire will be gratified in regard to us, and He will bring even us stainless and blameless into the blaze of His presence. There we shall all have to stand, and let that all-penetrating light search us through and through. How do we expect to be then "found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless"? There is but one way-to live in constant exercise of faith in Christ, and grip Him so close and sure that the world, the flesh, and the devil cannot make us loosen our fingers. Then He will hold us up, and His great purpose, which brought Him to earth, and nailed Him to the cross, will be fulfilled in us, and at last we shall lift up voices of wondering praise "to Him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy."


Verses 24-27

Chapter 1

JOY IN SUFFERING, AND TRIUMPH IN THE MANIFESTED MYSTERY

Colossians 1:24-27 (R.V.)

There are scarcely any personal references in this Epistle, until we reach the last chapter. In this respect it contrasts strikingly with another of Paul’s epistles of the captivity, that to the Philippians, which is running over with affection and with allusions to himself. This sparseness of personal details strongly confirms the opinion that he had not been to Colossae. Here, however, we come to one of the very few sections which may be called personal, though even here it is rather Paul’s office than himself which is in question. He is led to speak of himself by his desire to enforce his exhortations to faithful continuance in the gospel; and, as is so often the case with him in touching on his apostleship, he, as it were, catches fire, and blazes up in a grand flame, which sheds a bright light on his lofty enthusiasm, and evangelistic fervour.

The words to he considered now are plain enough in themselves, but they are run together, and thought follows thought in a fashion which makes them somewhat obscure; and there are also one or two difficulties in single words which require to be cleared up. We shall perhaps best bring out the course of thought by dealing with these verses in three groups, of which the three words, Suffering, Service, and Mystery, are respectively the centres. First, we have a remarkable view taken by the prisoner of the meaning of his sufferings, as being endured for the Church. That leads him to speak of his relation to the Church generally as being that of a servant or steward appointed by God, to bring to its completion the work of God; and then, as I said, he takes fire, and, forgetting himself, flames up in rapturous magnifying of the grand message hid so long, and now entrusted to him to preach. So we have his Sufferings for the Church, his service of Stewardship to the Church, and the great Mystery which in that stewardship he had to unveil. It may help us to understand both Paul and his message, as well as our own tasks and trials, if we try to grasp his thoughts here about his work and his sorrows.

I. We have the Apostle’s triumphant contemplation of his sufferings. "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church."

The Revised Version, following the best authorities, omits the "who" with which the Authorised Version begins this verse, and marks a new sentence and paragraph, as is obviously right.

The very first word is significant: "Now I rejoice." Aye; it is easy to say fine things about patience in sufferings and triumph in sorrow when we are prosperous and comfortable; but it is different when we are in the furnace. This man, with the chain on his wrist, and the iron entering into his soul, with his life in danger, and all the future uncertain, can say, "Now I rejoice." This bird sings in a darkened cage.

Then come startling words, "I on my part fill up that which is lacking (a better rendering than ‘behind’) of the afflictions of Christ." It is not surprising that many explanations of these words have tried to soften down their boldness; as, for instance, "afflictions borne for Christ," or "imposed by Him," or "like His." But it seems very clear that the startling meaning is the plain meaning, and that "the sufferings of Christ" here, as everywhere else, are "the sufferings borne by Christ."

Then at once the questions start up, Does Paul mean to say that in any sense whatever the sufferings which Christ endured have anything "lacking" in them? or does he mean to say that a Christian man’s sufferings, however they may benefit the Church, can be put alongside of the Lord’s, and taken to eke out the incompleteness of His? Surely that cannot be! Did He not say on the cross, "It is finished"? Surely that sacrifice needs no supplement, and can receive none, but stands "the one sacrifice for sins forever"! Surely His sufferings are absolutely singular in nature and effect, unique and all-sufficient and eternal. And does this Apostle, the very heart of whose gospel was that these were the life of the world, mean to say that anything which he endures can be tacked on to them. a bit of the old rags to the new garment?

Distinctly not! To say so would be contradictory of the whole spirit and letter of the Apostle’s teaching. But there is no need to suppose that he means anything of the sort. There is an idea frequently presented in Scripture, which gives full meaning to the words, and is in full accordance with Pauline teaching; namely, that Christ truly participates in the sufferings of His people borne for Him. He suffers with them. The head feels the pangs of all the members; and every ache may be thought of as belonging, not only to the limb where it is located, but to the brain which is conscious of it. The pains and sorrows and troubles of His friends and followers to the end of time are one great whole. Each sorrow of each Christian heart is one drop more added to the contents of the measure which has to be filled to the brim, ere the purposes of the Father, who leads through suffering to rest, are accomplished; and all belong to Him. Whatsoever pain or trial is borne in fellowship with Him is felt and borne by Him. Community of sensation is established between Him and us. Our sorrows are transferred to Him. "In all our afflictions He is afflicted," both by His mystical but most real oneness with us, and by His brother’s sympathy. So for us all, and not for the Apostle only, the whole aspect of our sorrows may be changed, and all poor struggling souls in this valley of weeping may take comfort and courage from the wonderful thought of Christ’s union with us, which makes our griefs His and our pain touch Him. Bruise your finger, and the pain pricks and stabs in your brain. Strike the man that is joined to Christ here, and Christ up yonder feels it. "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye." Where did Paul learn this deep lesson, that the sufferings of Christ’s servants were Christ’s sufferings? I wonder whether, as he wrote these words of confident yet humble identification of himself the persecuted with Christ the Lord, there came back to his memory what he heard on that fateful day as he rode to Damascus, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" The thought so crushing to the persecutor had become balm and glory to the prisoner, -that every blow aimed at the servant falls on the Master, who stoops from amid the glory of the throne to declare that whatsoever is done, whether it be kindness or cruelty, to the least of His brethren, is done to Him. So every one of us may take the comfort and strength of that wonderful assurance, and roll all our burdens and sorrows on Him.

Again, there is prominent here the thought that the good of sorrow does not end with the sufferer. His sufferings are borne in his flesh for the body’s sake, which is the Church, -a remarkable antithesis between the Apostle’s flesh in which, and Christ’s body for which, the sufferings are endured. Every sorrow rightly borne, as it will be-when Christ is felt to be bearing it with us, is fruitful of blessing. Paul’s trials were in a Special sense "for His body’s sake," for of course, if he had not preached the gospel, he would have escaped them all; and on the other hand they have been especially fruitful of good, for if he had not been persecuted, he would never have written these precious letters from Rome. The Church owes much to the violence which has shut up confessors in dungeons. Its prison literature, beginning with this letter, and ending with "Pilgrim’s Progress," has been among its most cherished treasures.

But the same thing is true about us all, though it may be in a narrower sphere. No man gets good for himself alone out of his sorrows. Whatever purifies and makes gentler and more Christlike, whatever teaches or builds up-and sorrows rightly borne do all these-is for the common good. Be our trials great or small, be they minute and every day-like gnats that hum about us in clouds, and may be swept away by the hand, and irritate rather than hurt where they sting-or be they huge and formidable, like the viper that clings to the wrist and poisons the life blood, they are meant to give us good gifts, which we may transmit to the narrow circle of our homes, and in ever widening rings of influence to all around us. Have we never known a household, where some chronic invalid, lying helpless perhaps on a sofa, was a source of the highest blessing and the centre of holy influence, that made every member of the family gentler, more self-denying and loving? We shall never understand our sorrows, unless we try to answer the question, What good to others is meant to come through me by this? Alas, that grief should so often be self-absorbed, even more than joy is! The heart sometimes opens to unselfish sharing of its gladness with others; but it too often shuts tight over its sorrow, and seeks solitary indulgence in the luxury of woe. Let us learn that our brethren claim, benefit from our trials, as well as from our good things, and seek to ennoble our griefs by bearing them for "His body’s sake, which is the Church." Christ’s sufferings on His cross are the satisfaction for a world’s sins, and in that view can have no supplement, and stand alone in kind. But His "afflictions"-a word which would not naturally be applied to His death-do operate also to set the pattern of holy endurance, and to teach many a lesson; and in that view every suffering borne for Him and with Him may be regarded as associated with His, and helping to bless the Church and the world. God makes the rough iron of our natures into shining, flexible, sharp steel, by heavy hammers and hot furnaces, that He may shape us as His instruments to help and heal.

It is of great moment that we should have such thoughts of our sorrows whilst their pressure is upon us, and not only when they are past. "I now rejoice." Most of us have had to let years stretch between us and the blow before we could attain to that clear insight. We can look back and see how our past sorrows tended to bless us, and how Christ was with us in them: but as for this one, that burdens us today, we cannot make it out. We can even have a solemn thankfulness not altogether unlike joy as we look on those wounds that we remember; but how hard it is to feel it about those that pain us now! There is but one way to secure that calm wisdom, which feels their meaning even while they sting and burn, and can smile through tears, as sorrowful and yet always rejoicing; and that is to keep in very close communion with our Lord. Then, even when we are in the whitest heat of the furnace, we may have the Son of man with us; and if we have, the fiercest flames will burn up nothing but the chains that bind us, and we shall "walk at liberty" in that terrible heat, because we walk with Him. It is a high attainment of Christian fortitude and faith to feel the blessed meaning, not only of the six tribulations which are past, but of the present seventh, and to say, even while the iron is entering the quivering flesh, "I now rejoice in my sufferings," and try to turn them to others’ good.

II. These thoughts naturally lead on to the statement of the Apostle’s lowly and yet lofty conception of his office-"whereof (that is, of which Church) I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God, which was given me, to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God." The first words of this clause are used at the close of the preceding section in Colossians 1:23, but the "whereof" there refers to the gospel, not as here to the Church. He is the servant of both, and because he is the servant of the Church he suffers, as he has been saying. The representation of himself as servant gives the reason for the conduct described in the previous clause. Then the next words explain what makes him the Church’s servant. He is so in accordance with, or in pursuance of, the stewardship, or office of administrator, of His household, to which God has called him, "to you-ward," that is to say, with especial reference to the Gentiles. And the final purpose of his being made a steward is "to fulfil the word of God"; by which is not meant "to accomplish or bring to pass its predictions," but "to bring it to completion," or "to give full development to it," and that possibly in the sense of preaching it fully, without reserve, and far and wide throughout the whole world.

So lofty and yet so lowly was Paul’s thought of his office. He was the Church’s servant, and therefore bound to suffer cheerfully for its sake. He was so, because a high honour had been conferred on him by God, nothing less than the stewardship of His great household the Church, in which he had to give to every man his portion, and to exercise authority. He. is the Church’s servant indeed, but it is because he is the Lord’s steward. And the purpose of his appointment goes far beyond the interests of any single Church; for while his office sends him especially to the Colossians, its scope is as wide as the world.

One great lesson to be learned from these words is that Stewardship means service; and we may add that, in nine cases out of ten, service means suffering. What Paul says, if we put it into more familiar language, is just this: "Because God has given me something that I can impart to others, I am their servant, and bound, not only by my duty to Him, but by my duty to them, to labour that they may receive the treasure." That is true for us all. Every gift from the great Householder involves the obligation to impart it. It makes us His stewards and our brethren’s servants. We have that we may give. The possessions are the Householder’s, not ours, even after He has given them to us. He gives us truths of various kinds in our minds, the gospel in our hearts, influence from our position, money in our pockets, not to lavish on self, nor to hide and gloat over in secret, but that we may transmit His gifts, and "God’s grace fructify through us to all." "It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful"; and the heaviest charge, "that he had wasted his Lord’s goods," lies against every one of us who does not use all that he possesses, whether of material or intellectual or spiritual wealth, for the common advantage.

But that common obligation of stewardship presses with special force on those who say that they are Christ’s servants. If we are, we know something of His love and have felt something of His power; and there are hundreds of people around us, many of whom we can influence, who know nothing of either. That fact makes us their servants, not in the sense of being under their control, or of taking orders from them, but in the sense of gladly working for them., and recognising our obligation to help them. Our resources may be small. The Master of the house may have entrusted us with little. Perhaps we are like the boy with the five barley loaves and two small fishes; but even if we had only a bit of the bread and a tail of one of the fishes, we must not eat our morsel alone. Give it to those who have none, and it will multiply as it is distributed, like the barrel of meal, which did not fail because its poor owner shared it with the still poorer prophet. Give, and not only give, but "pray them with much entreaty to receive the gift"; for men need to have. the true Bread pressed on them, and they will often throw it back, or drop it over a wall, as soon as your back is turned, as beggars do in our streets. We have to win them. by showing that we are their servants, before they will take what we have to give. Besides this, if stewardship is service, service is often suffering; and he will not clear himself of his obligations to his fellows, or of his responsibility to his Master, who shrinks from seeking to make known the love of Christ to his brethren, because he has often to "go forth weeping" whilst he bears the precious seed.

III. So we come to the last thought here, which is of the grand Mystery of which Paul is the Apostle and Servant. Paul always catches fire when he comes to think of the universal destination of the gospel, and of the honour put upon him as the man to whom the task was entrusted of transforming the Church from a Jewish sect to a worldwide society. That great thought now sweeps him away from his more immediate object, and enriches us with a burst which we could ill spare from the letter.

His task, he says, is to give its full development to the word of God, to proclaim a certain mystery long hid, but now revealed to those who are consecrated to God. To these it has been God’s good pleasure to show the wealth of glory which is contained in this mystery, as exhibited among the Gentile Christians, which mystery is nothing else than the fact that Christ dwells in or among these Gentiles, of whom the Colossians are part, and by His dwelling in them gives them the confident expectation of future glory.

The mystery then of which the Apostle speaks so rapturously is the fact that the Gentiles were fellow heirs and partakers of Christ. "Mystery" is a word borrowed from the ancient systems, in which certain rites and doctrines were communicated to the initiated. There are several allusions to them in Paul’s writings, as for instance in the passage in Philippians 4:12, which the Revised Version gives as "I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry," and probably in the immediate context here, where the characteristic word "perfect" means "initiated." Portentous theories which have no warrant have been spun out of this word. The Greek mysteries implied secrecy; the rites were done in deep obscurity; the esoteric doctrines were muttered in the ear. The Christian mysteries are spoken on the housetop, nor does the word imply anything as to the comprehensibility of the doctrines or facts which are so called.

We talk about "mysteries," meaning thereby truths that transcend human faculties; but the New Testament "mystery" may be, and most frequently is, a fact perfectly comprehensible when once spoken. "Behold I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." There is nothing incomprehensible in that. We should never have known it if we had not been told; but when told it is quite level with our faculties. And as a matter of fact, the word is most frequently used in connection with the notion, not of concealment, but of declaring. We find too that it occurs frequently in this Epistle, and in the parallel letter to the Ephesians, and in every instance but one refers, as it does here, to a fact which was perfectly plain and comprehensible when once made known; namely, the entrance of the Gentiles into the Church.

If that be the true meaning of the word, then "a steward of the mysteries" will simply mean a man who has truths, formerly unknown but now revealed, in charge to make known to all who will hearken, and neither the claims of a priesthood nor the demand for the unquestioning submission of the intellect have any foundation in this much abused term.

But turning from this, we may briefly consider what was the substance of this grand mystery which thrilled Paul’s soul. It is the wonderful fact that all barriers were broken down, and that Christ dwelt in the hearts of these Colossians. He saw in that the proof and the prophecy of the worldwide destination of the gospel. No wonder that his heart burned as he thought of the marvellous work which God had wrought by him. For there is no greater revolution in the history of the world than that accomplished through him, the cutting loose of Christianity from Judaism and widening the Church to the width of the race. No wonder that he was misunderstood and hated by Jewish Christians all his days!

He thinks of these once heathens and now Christians at Colossae, far away in their lonely valley, and of many another little community-in Judea, Asia, Greece, and Italy; and as he thinks of how a real solid bond of brotherhood bound them together in spite of their differences of race and culture, the vision of the oneness of mankind in the Cross of Christ shines out before him, as no man had ever seen it till then, and he triumphs in the sorrows that had helped to bring about the great result.

That dwelling of Christ among the Gentiles reveals the exuberant abundance of glory, To him the "mystery" was all running over with riches, and blazing with fresh radiance. To us it is familiar and somewhat worn. The "vision splendid," which was manifestly a revelation of hitherto unknown Divine treasures of mercy and lustrous light when it first dawned on the Apostle’s sight, has "faded" somewhat "into the light of common day" for us, to whom the centuries since have shown so slow a progress.

But let us not lose more than we can help, either by our familiarity with the thought, or by the discouragements arising from the chequered history of its partial realisation. Christianity is still the only religion which has been able to make permanent conquests. It is the only one that has been able to disregard latitude and longitude, and to address and guide conditions of civilisation and modes of life quite unlike those of its origin. It is the only’ one that sets itself the task of conquering the world without the sword, and has kept true to the design for centuries. It is the only one whose claims to be worldwide in its adaptation and destiny would not be laughed out of court by its history. It is the only one which is today a missionary religion. And so, notwithstanding the long centuries of arrested growth and the wide tracts of remaining darkness, the mystery which fired Paul’s enthusiasm is still able to kindle ours, and the wealth of glory that lies in it has not been impoverished nor stricken with eclipse.

One last thought is here, -that the possession of Christ is the pledge of future blessedness. "Hope" here seems to be equivalent to "the source" or "ground" of the hope. If we have the experience of His dwelling in our hearts, we shall have, in that very experience of His sweetness and of the intimacy of His love, a marvellous quickener of our hope that such sweetness and intimacy will continue forever. The closer we keep to Him, the clearer will be our vision of future blessedness. If He is throned in our hearts, we shall be able to look forward with a hope, which is not less than certainty, to the perpetual continuance of His hold of us and of our blessedness in Him. Anything seems more credible to a man who habitually has Christ abiding in him, than that such a trifle as death should have power to end such a union. To have Him is to have life. To have Him will be heaven. To have Him is to have a hope certain as memory and careless of death or change. That hope is offered to us all. If by our faith in His great sacrifice we grasp the great truth of "Christ for us," our fears will be scattered, sin and guilt taken away, death abolished, condemnation ended, the future a hope and not a dread. If by communion with Him. through faith, love, and obedience, we have "Christ in us," our purity will grow, and our experience will be such as plainly to demand eternity to complete its incompleteness and to bring its folded buds to flower and fruit. If Christ be in us, His life guarantees ours, and we cannot die whilst He lives. The world has come, in the persons of its leading thinkers, to the position of proclaiming that all is dark beyond and above. "Behold! we know not anything," is the dreary "end of the whole matter"-infinitely sadder than the old Ecclesiastes, which from "vanity of vanities" climbed to "fear God and keep His commandments," as the sum. of human thought and life. "I find no God; I know no future." Yes! Paul long ago told us that if we were "without Christ" we should "have no hope, and be without God in the world." And cultivated Europe is finding out that to fling away Christ and to keep a faith in God or in a future life is impossible.

But if we will take Him for our Saviour by simple trust, He will give us His own presence in our hearts, and infuse there a hope full of immortality. If we live in close communion with Him, we shall need no other assurance of an eternal life beyond than that deep, calm blessedness springing from the imperfect fellowship of earth which must needs lead to and be lost in the everlasting and completed union of heaven.


Verse 28-29

Chapter 1

THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY IN ITS THEME, METHODS, AND AIM

Colossians 1:28-29 (R.V.)

THE false teachers at Colossae had a great deal to say about a higher wisdom reserved for the initiated. They apparently treated the Apostolic teaching as trivial rudiments, which might be good for the vulgar crowd, but were known by the possessors of this higher truth to be only a veil for it. They had their initiated class, to whom their mysteries were entrusted in whispers. Such absurdities excited Paul’s special abhorrence. His whole soul rejoiced in a gospel for all men. He had broken with Judaism on the very ground that it sought to enforce a ceremonial exclusiveness, and demanded circumcision and ritual observances along with faith. That was, in Paul’s estimate, to destroy the gospel. These Eastern dreamers at Colossae were trying to enforce an intellectual exclusiveness quite as much opposed to the gospel. Paul fights with all his might against that error. Its presence in the Church colours this context, where he uses the very phrases of the false teachers in order to assert the great principles which he opposes to their teaching. "Mystery," "perfect" or initiated, "wisdom,"-these are the keywords of the system which he is combating; and here he presses them into the service of the principle that the gospel is for all men, and the most recondite secrets of its deepest truth the property of every single soul that wills to receive them. Yes, he says in effect, we have mysteries. We have our initiated. We have wisdom. But we have no whispered teachings, confined to a little coterie; we have no inner chamber closed to the many. We are not muttering hierophants, cautiously revealing a little to a few, and fooling the rest with ceremonies and words. Our whole business is to tell out as fully and loudly as we can what we know of Christ, to tell to every man all the wisdom that we have learned. We fling open the inmost sanctuary, and invite all the crowd to enter.

This is the general scope of the words before us which state the object and methods of the Apostle’s work; partly in order to point the contrast with those other teachers, and partly in order to prepare the way, by this personal reference, for his subsequent exhortations.

I. We have here the Apostle’s own statement of what he conceived his life work to be.

"Whom we proclaim." All three words are emphatic. "Whom," not what-a person, not a system; we "proclaim," not we argue or dissertate about. "We" preach-the Apostle associates himself with all his brethren, puts himself in line with them, points to the unanimity of their testimony -"whether it were they or I, so we preach." We have all one message, a common type of doctrine.

So then the Christian teacher’s theme is not to be a theory or a system, but a living Person. One peculiarity of Christianity is that you cannot take its message, and put aside Christ, the speaker of the message, as you may do with all men’s teachings. Some people say: "We take the great moral and religious truths which Jesus declared. They are the all-important parts of His work. We can disentangle them from any further connection with Him. It matters comparatively little who first spoke them." But that will not do. His person is inextricably intertwined with His teaching, for a very large part of His teaching is exclusively concerned with, and all of it centres in, Himself. He is not only true, but He is the truth. His message is, not only what He said with His lips about God and man, but also what He said about Himself, and what He did in His life, death, and resurrection. You may take Buddha’s sayings, if you can make sure that they are his, and find much that is beautiful and true in them, whatever you may think of him; you may appreciate the teaching of Confucius, though you know nothing about him but that he said so and so; but you cannot do thus with Jesus. Our Christianity takes its whole colour from what we think of Him. If we think of Him as less than this chapter has been setting Him forth as being, we shall scarcely feel that He should be the preacher’s theme; but if He is to us what He was to this Apostle, the sole Revealer of God, the Centre and Lord of creation, the Fountain of life to all which lives, the Reconciler of men with God by the blood of His cross, then the one message which a man may be thankful to spend his life in proclaiming will be, Behold the Lamb! Let who will preach abstractions, the true Christian minister has to preach the person and the office-Jesus the Christ. To preach Christ is to set forth the person, the facts of His life and death, and to accompany these with that explanation which turns them from being merely a biography into a gospel. So much of "theory" must go with the "facts," or they will be no more a gospel than the story of another life would be. The Apostle’s own statement of "the gospel which he preached" distinctly lays down what is needed-"how that Jesus Christ died." That is biography, and to say that and stop there is not to preach Christ; but add, "For our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was raised again the third day,"-preach that, the fact and its. meaning and power, and you will preach Christ.

Of course there is a narrower and a wider sense of this expression. There is the initial teaching, which brings to a soul, which has never seen it before, the knowledge of a Saviour, whose Cross is the propitiation for sin; and there is the fuller teaching, which opens out the manifold bearings of that message in every region of moral and religious thought. I do not plead for any narrow construction of the words. They have been sorely abused, by being made the battle cry for bitter bigotry and a hard system of abstract theology, as unlike what Paul means by "Christ" as any cobwebs of Gnostic heresy could be. Legitimate out, growths of the Christian ministry have been checked in their name. They have been used as a cramping iron, as a shibboleth, as a stone to fling at honest and especially at young preachers. They have been made a pillow for laziness. So that the very sound of the words suggests to some ears, because of their use in some mouths, ignorant narrowness.

But for all that, they are a standard of duty for all workers for God, which it is not difficult to apply, if the will to do so be present, and they are a touchstone to try the spirits, whether they be of God. A ministry of which the Christ who lived and died for us is manifestly the centre to which all converges and from which all is viewed, may sweep a wide circumference, and include many themes. The requirement bars out no province of thought or experience, nor does it condemn the preacher to a parrot-like repetition of elementary truths, or a narrow round of commonplace. It does demand that all themes shall lead up to Christ, and all teaching point to Him; that He shall be ever present in all the preacher’s words, a diffused even when not a directly perceptible presence; and that His name, like some deep tone on an organ, shall be heard sounding on through all the ripple and change of the higher notes. Preaching Christ does not exclude any theme, but prescribes the bearing and purpose of all; and the widest compass and richest variety are not only possible, but obligatory for him who would in any worthy sense take this for the motto of his ministry, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

But these words give us not only the theme, but something of the manner of the Apostle’s activity. "We proclaim." The word is emphatic in its form, meaning "to tell out," and representing the proclamation as full, clear, earnest. "We are no muttering mystery mongers. From full lungs and in a voice to make people hear, we shout aloud our message. We do not take a man into a corner, and whisper secrets into his ear; we cry in the streets, and our message is for ‘every man."’ And the word not only implies the plain, loud earnestness of the speaker, but also that what he speaks is a message, that he is not a speaker of his own words or thoughts, but of what has been told him to tell. His gospel is a good message, and a messenger’s virtue is to say exactly what he has been told, and to say it in such a way that the people to whom he has to carry it cannot but hear and understand it.

This connection of the Christian minister’s office contrasts on the one hand with the priestly theory. Paul had known in Judaism a religion of which the altar was the centre, and the official function of the "minister" was to sacrifice. But now he has come to see that "the one sacrifice for sins forever" leaves no room for a sacrificing priest in that Church of which the centre is the Cross. We sorely need that lesson to be drilled into the minds of men today, when such a strange resurrection of priestism has taken place, and good, earnest men, whose devotion cannot be questioned, are looking on preaching as a very subordinate part of their work. For three centuries there has not been so much need as now to fight against the notion of a priesthood in the Church, and to urge this as the true definition of the minister’s office: "we preach," not "we sacrifice," not "we do" anything; "we preach," not "we work miracles at any altar, or impart grace by any rites," but by manifestation of the truth discharge our office and spread the blessings of Christ.

This conception contrasts on the other hand with the false teachers’ style of speech, which finds its parallel in much modern talk. Their business was to argue and refine and speculate, to spin inferences and cobwebby conclusions. They sat in a lecturer’s chair; we stand in a preacher’s pulpit. The Christian minister has not to deal in such wares; he has a message to proclaim, and if he allows the "philosopher" in him to overpower the "herald," and substitutes his thoughts about the message, or his arguments in favour of the message, for the message itself, he abdicates his highest office and neglects his most important function.

We hear many demands today for a "higher type of preaching," which I would heartily echo, if only it be preaching; that is, the proclamation in loud and plain utterance of the great facts of Christ’s work. But many who ask for this really want, not preaching, but something quite different; and many, as I think, mistaken Christian teachers are trying to play up to the requirements of the age by turning their sermons into dissertations, philosophical or moral or aesthetic. We need to fall back on this "we preach," and to urge that the Christian minister is neither priest nor lecturer, but a herald, whose business is to tell out his message, and to take good care that he tells it faithfully. If, instead of blowing his trumpet and calling aloud his commission, he were to deliver a discourse on acoustios and the laws of the vibration of sonorous metal, or to prove that he has a message, and to dilate on its evident truth or on the beauty of its phrases, he would scarcely be doing his work. No more is the Christian minister, unless he keeps clear before himself as the guiding star of his work this conception of his theme and his task- Whom we preach-and opposes that to the demands of an age, one half of which "require a sign," and would again degrade him into a priest, and the other calls for "wisdom," and would turn him into a professor.

II. We have here the varying methods by which this one great end is pursued.

"Admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom."

There are then two main methods-"admonishing" and "teaching." The former means "admonishing with blame," and points, as many commentators remark, to that side of the Christian ministry which corresponds to repentance, while the latter points to that side which corresponds to faith. In other words, the former rebukes and warns, has to do with conduct and the moral side of Christian truth; the latter has chiefly to do with doctrine, and the intellectual side. In the one Christ is proclaimed as the pattern of conduct, the "new commandment"; in the other, as the creed of creeds, the new and perfect knowledge.

The preaching of Christ then is to be unfolded into all "warning," or admonishing. The teaching of morality and the admonishing of the evil and the end of sin are essential parts of preaching Christ. We claim for the pulpit the right and the duty of applying the principles and pattern of Christ’s life to all human conduct. It is difficult to do, and is made more so by some of the necessary conditions of our modern ministry, for the pulpit is not the place for details; and yet moral teaching which is confined to general principles is woefully like repeating platitudes and firing blank cartridges. Everybody admits the general principles, and thinks they do not apply to his specific wrong action; and if the preacher goes beyond these toothless generalities, he is met with the cry of "personalities." If a man preaches a sermon in which he speaks plainly about tricks of trade or follies of fashion, somebody is sure to say, going down the chapel steps, "Oh, ministers know nothing of business!" and somebody else to add, "It is a pity he was so personal," and the chorus is completed by many other voices, "He should preach Christ, and leave secular things alone."

Well! whether a sermon of that sort be preaching Christ or not depends on the way in which it is done. But sure I am that there is no "preaching Christ" completely, which does not include plain speaking about plain duties. Everything that a man can either do rightly or wrongly belongs to the sphere of morals, and everything within the sphere of morals belongs to Christianity and to "preaching Christ."

Nor is such preaching complete without plain warning of the end of sin, as death here and hereafter. This is difficult, for many people like to have the smooth side of truth always put uppermost. But the gospel has a rough side, and is by no means a "soothing syrup" merely. There are no rougher words about what wrongdoers come to than some of Christ’s words; and he has only given half his Master’s message who hides or softens down the grim saying, "The wages of sin is death."

But all this moral teaching must be closely connected with and built upon Christ. Christian morality has Jesus for its perfect exemplar, His love for its motive, and His grace for its power. Nothing is more impotent than mere moral teaching. What is the use of perpetually saying to people, Be good, be good? You may keep on at that forever, and not a soul will listen, any more than the crowds on our streets are drawn to church by the bell’s monotonous call. But if, instead of a cold ideal of duty, as beautiful and as dead as a marble statue, we preach the Son of man, whose life is our law incarnate; and instead of urging to purity by motives which our own evil makes feeble, we reecho His heart-touching appeal, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments"; and if, instead of mocking lame men with exhortations to walk, we point those who despairingly cry, "Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?" to Him who breathes His living spirit into us to set us free from sin and death, then our preaching of morality will be "preaching the gospel" and be "preaching Christ."

This gospel is also to be unfolded into "teaching." In the facts of Christ’s life and death, as we ponder them and grow up to understand them, we get to see more and more the key to all things. For thought, as for life, He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the ending. All that we can or need know about God or man, about present duty or future destiny, about life, death, and the beyond, -all is in Jesus Christ, and to be drawn from Him by patient thought and by abiding in Him. The Christian minister’s business is to be ever learning and ever teaching more and more of the "manifold wisdom" of God. He has to draw for himself from the deep, inexhaustible fountains; he has to bear the water, which must be fresh drawn to be pleasant or refreshing, to thirsty lips. He must seek to present all sides of the truth, teaching all wisdom, and so escaping from his own limited mannerisms. How many ministers’ Bibles are all dog-eared and thumbed at certain texts, at which they almost open of themselves, and are as clean in most of their pages as on the day when they were bought!

The Christian ministry, then, in the Apostle’s view, is distinctly educational in its design. Preachers and hearers equally need to be reminded of this. We preachers are poor scholars ourselves, and in our work are tempted, like other people, to do most frequently what we can do with least trouble. Besides which, we many of us know, and all suspect, that our congregations prefer to hear what they have heard often before, and what gives them the least trouble. We often hear the cry for "simple preaching," by which one school intends "simple instruction in plain, practical matters, avoiding mere dogma," and another intends "the simple gospel," by which is meant the repetition over and over again of the great truth, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." God forbid that I should say a word which might even seem to underestimate the need for that proclamation being made in its simple form, as the staple of the Christian ministry, to all who have not welcomed it into their hearts, or to forget that, however dimly understood, it will bring light and hope and new loves and strengths into a soul! But the New Testament draws a distinction between evangelists and teachers, and common sense insists that Christian people need more than the reiteration of that message from him whom. they call their "teacher." If he is a teacher, he should teach; and he cannot do that, if the people who listen to him suspect everything that they do not know already, and are impatient of anything that gives them the trouble of attending and thinking in order to learn. I fear there is much unreality in the name, and that nothing would be more distasteful to many of our congregations than the preacher’s attempt to make it truly descriptive of his work. Sermons should not be "quiet resting places." Nor is it quite the ideal of Christian teaching that busy men should come to church or chapel on a Sunday, and not be fatigued by being made to think, but perhaps should be able to sleep for a minute or two and pick up the thread when they wake, quite sure that they have missed nothing of any consequence. We are meant to be teachers, as well as evangelists, though we fulfil the function so poorly; but our hearers often make that task more difficult by ill concealed impatience with sermons which try to discharge it.

Observe too the emphatic repetition of "every man" both in these two clauses and in the following. It is Paul’s protest against the exclusiveness of the heretics, who shut out the. mob from their mysteries. An intellectual aristocracy is the proudest and most exclusive of all. A Church built upon intellectual qualifications would be as hard and cruel a coterie as could be imagined. So there is almost vehemence and scorn in the persistent repetition in each clause of the obnoxious word, as if he would thrust down his antagonists’ throats the truth that his gospel has nothing to do with cliques and sections, but belongs to the world. To it philosopher and fool are equally welcome. Its message is to all. Brushing aside surface diversities, it goes straight to deep-lying wants, which are the same in all men. Below king’s robe and professor’s gown, and workman’s jacket and prodigal’s rags, beats the same heart with the same wants, wild longings, and weariness. Christianity knows no hopeless classes. But its highest wisdom can be spoken to the little child and the barbarian, and it is ready to deal with the most forlorn and foolish, knowing its own power to "warn every man and to teach every man in all wisdom."

III. We have here the ultimate aim of these diverse methods.

"That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."

We found this same word "present" in Colossians 1:22. The remarks made there will apply here. There the Divine purpose of Christ’s great work, and here Paul’s purpose in his, are expressed alike. God’s aim is Paul’s aim too. The Apostle’s thoughts travel on to the great coming day, when we shall all be manifested at the judgment seat of Christ, and preacher and hearer, Apostle and convert, shall be gathered there. That solemn period will test the teacher’s work, and should ever be in his view as he works. There is a real and indissoluble connection between the teacher and his hearers, so that in some sense he is to blame if they do not stand perfect then, and he in some sense has to present them as in his work-the gold, silver, and precious stones which he has built on the foundation. So each preacher should work with that end clear in view, as Paul did. He is always toiling in the light of that great vision. One sees him, in all his letters, looking away yonder to the horizon, where he expects the breaking of its morning low down in the eastern sky. Ah! how many a formal pulpit and how many a languid pew would be galvanised into intense action if only their occupants once saw burning in on them, in their decorous deadness, the light of that great white throne! How differently we should preach if we always felt "the terror of the Lord," and under its solemn influence sought to "persuade men"! How differently we should hear if we felt we must appear before the Judge, and give account to Him of our profitings by His word!

And the purpose which the true minister of Christ has in view is to "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." "Perfect" may be used here with the technical signification of "initiated," but it means absolute moral completeness. Negatively, it implies the entire removal of all defects; positively, the complete possession of all that belongs to human nature as God meant it to be. The Christian aim, for which the preaching of Christ supplies ample power, is to make the whole race possess, in fullest development, the whole circle of possible human excellences. There is to be no one-sided growth, but men are to grow like a tree in the open, which has no barrier to hinder its symmetry, but rises and spreads equally on all sides, with no branch broken or twisted, no leaf worm eaten or wind torn, no fruit blighted or fallen, no gap in the clouds of foliage, no bend in the straight stem, -a green and growing completeness. This absolute completeness is attainable "in Christ," by union with Him of that vital sort brought about by faith, which will pour His Spirit into our spirits. The preaching of Christ is therefore plainly the direct way to bring about this perfecting. That is the Christian theory of the way to make perfect men.

And this absolute perfection of character is, in Paul’s belief, possible for every man, no matter what his training or natural disposition may have been. The gospel is confident that it can change the Ethiopian’s skin, because it can change his heart, and the leopard’s spots will be altered when it "eats straw like the ox." There are no hopeless classes in the glad, confident view of the man who has learned Christ’s power.

What a vision of the future to animate work! What an aim! What dignity, what consecration, what enthusiasm, it would give, making the trivial great and the monotonous interesting, stirring up those who share it to intense effort, overcoming low temptations, and giving precision to the selection of means and use of instruments! The pressure of a great, steady purpose consolidates and strengthens powers, which, without it, become flaccid and feeble. We can make a piece of calico as stiff as a board by putting it under a hydraulic press. Men with a fixed purpose are terrible men. They crash through conventionalities like a cannon ball. They, and they only, can persuade and arouse and impress their own enthusiasm on the inert mass. "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" No Christian minister will work up to the limits of his power, nor do much for Christ or man, unless his whole soul is mastered by this high conception of the possibilities of his office, and unless he is possessed width the ambition to present every man "perfect in Christ Jesus."

IV. Note the struggle and the strength with which the Apostle reaches toward this aim.

"Whereunto I labour also, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily." As to the object, theme, and method of the Christian ministry, Paul can speak, as he does in the previous verses, in the name of all his fellow workers: "We preach, admonishing and teaching, that we may present." There was substantial unity among them. But he adds a sentence about his own toil and conflict in doing his work. He will only speak for himself now. The others may say what their experience has been. He has found that he cannot do his work easily. Some people may be able to get through it with little toil of body or agony of mind, but for himself it has been laborious work. He has not learned to "take it easy."’ That great purpose has been ever before him, and made a slave of him. "I labour also"; I do not only preach, but I toil-as the word literally implies-like a man tugging at an oar, and putting all his weight into each stroke. No great work for God will be done without physical and mental strain and effort. Perhaps there were people in Colossae who thought that a man who had nothing to do but to preach had a very easy life, and so the Apostle had to insist that most exhausting work is brain work and heart work. Perhaps there were preachers and teachers there who worked in a leisurely, dignified fashion, and took great care always to stop a long way on the safe side of weariness; and so he had to insist that God’s work cannot be done at all in that fashion, but has to be done "with both hands, earnestly." The "immortal garland" is to be run for, "not without dust and heat." The racer who takes care to slack his speed whenever he is in danger of breaking into a perspiration will not win the prize. The Christian minister who is afraid of putting all his strength into his work, up to the point of weariness, will never do much good.

There must be not only toil, but conflict. He labours, "striving"-that is to say, contending-with hindrances, both without and within, which sought to mar his work. There is the struggle with oneself, with the temptations to do high work from low motives, or to neglect it, and to substitute routine for inspiration and mechanism for fervour. One’s own evil, one’s weaknesses and fears and falsities, and laziness and torpor and faithlessness, have all to be fought, besides the difficulties and enemies without. In short, all good work is a battle.

The hard strain and stress of this life of effort and conflict made this man "Paul the aged" while he was not old in years. Such soul’s agony and travail are indispensable for all high service of Christ. How can any true, noble Christian life be lived without continuous effort and continual strife? Up to the last particle of our power, it is our duty to work. As for the sleepy, languid, self-indulgent service of modern Christians, who seem to be chiefly anxious not to overstrain themselves, and to manage to win the race set before them without turning a hair, I am afraid that a large deduction will have to be made from it in the day that shall "try every man’s work, of what sort it is."

So much for the struggle; now for the strength. The toil and the conflict are to be carried on "according to His working, which worketh in me mightily." The measure of our power then is Christ’s power in us. He whose presence makes the struggle necessary, by His presence strengthens us for it. He will dwell in us and work in us, and even our weakness will be lifted into joyful strength by Him. We shall be mighty because that mighty Worker is in our spirits. We have not only His presence beside us as an ally, but His grace within us. We may not only have the vision of our Captain standing at our side as we front the foe-an unseen presence to them, but inspiration and victory to us-but we may have the consciousness of His power welling up in our spirits and flowing, as immortal strength, into our arms. It is much to know that Christ fights for us; it is more to know that He fights in us.

Let us take courage then for all work and conflict; and remember that if we have not "striven according to the power"-that is, if we have not utilised all our Christ-given strength in His service-we have not striven enough. There may be a double defect in us. We may not have taken all the power that he Has given, and we may not have used all the power that we have taken. Alas, for us! we have to confess both faults. How weak we have been when Omnipotence waited to give Itself to us! How little we have made our own of the grace that flows so abundantly past us, catching such a small part of the broad river in our hands, and spilling so much even of that before it reached our lips! And how little of the power given, whether natural or spiritual, we have used for our Lord! How many weapons have hung rusty and unused in the fight! He has sowed much in our hearts, and reaped little. Like some unkindly soils, we have "drunk in the rain which cometh oft upon it," and have "not brought forth herbs fit for Him by whom it is dressed." Talents hid, the Master’s goods squandered, power allowed to run to waste, languid service and half-hearted conflict, we have all to acknowledge. Let us go to Him and confess that, "we have most unthankful been," and are profitable servants indeed, coming far short of duty. Let us yield our spirits to His influence, that He may work in us that which is pleasing in His sight, and may encircle us with ever-growing completeness of beauty and strength, until He "present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Colossians 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/colossians-1.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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