The most cursory reader discerns at once that the epistle to the Colossians is the counterpart of that to the Ephesians. They are in nowise the same, but may be viewed each as a supplement to the other. The epistle to the Ephesians develops the body in its rich and varied privileges; the epistle to the Colossians brings before us the Head, and not only this, but the glories of Him who holds that relation to the church. There was no doubt a suitability for each line of truth in the wants of the saints respectively addressed; nor do I think it can be intelligently questioned that the condition of the Ephesian saints was better than that of those at Colosse.
To the former the Holy Ghost could launch out into the fulness of our blessing in Christ. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our God and Father; and He has blessed with every possible blessing, and in the highest sphere and on the best ground. There was no hindrance to the flow of the Spirit in unfolding the truth. To the Colossians the Holy Ghost has to speak about their state, and along with this to present the truth of Christ as a remedy for it; not so much as the centre of blessedness and joy in the communion of the saints, but as supplying the true and only divine corrective to the efforts of Satan, who would drag them down into tradition on the one hand, and into philosophy on the other, the too common snares of human nature, and the latter more particularly for cultivated and reasoning minds. It is evident, therefore, that to enter on the privileges of the church, the body of Christ, would have in nowise met the evil which the enemy was seeking to inflict on the Colossians. They needed to be drawn away from every theme and object but Christ Himself. They needed to learn especially the vanity of all that man’s mind delights in. They needed to know, I will not say, that Christ suffices only; but that there is such fulness of blessing and glory in Christ as utterly to eclipse and condemn all that flesh would glory in. Hence, too, a main part of the difference between these two epistles. There are many nice shades in detail; but I have referred now to that which is the principal point whence the two lines of truth diverge. It is, however, evident from what has been remarked, that the two letters do in the most remarkable manner correspond to each other; the one presenting the Head, the other the body. Thus they have a closer connection than any others in the New Testament.
We may proceed to trace now the course of the Spirit of God in this deeply instructive epistle. The apostle addresses the Colossian Christians in terms substantially similar to those which are addressed to the saints at Ephesus. Here he gives prominence, it is true, to their being “brethren.” Of course the Ephesian saints were so; but here it is expressed. It was not so unmingled an address as where he views them simply as they were in Christ. The expression “brethren,” though of course flowing from Christ, brings forward their relationship by grace to each other.
Next we enter on the apostle’s thanksgiving. It was not so in the Ephesian epistle, where one of the richest developments of divine truth precedes any particular allusion to the saints in that city. Here he at once addresses himself, after the thanksgiving, to their condition and of course to their need First, as usual, he owns what they had of God. “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” It is not, as in the Ephesian epistle, the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints, but closely resembles a comparatively lower line of things which comes before us in the first epistle of Peter. It need hardly be said that they were equally true, and each in its place most appropriate, but not all equally elevated. The hope laid up for us in heaven supposes a position on the earth. The epistle to the Ephesians views the saint as already blessed by God in heavenly places in Christ. In the one they are waiting to be taken to heaven in an actual sense; in the other they belong already to heaven by virtue of their union with Christ.
Yet it remains true, that “the hope is laid up for you,” as he says, “in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is dome unto you, as it is in all the world: and bringeth forth fruit and groweth, as also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth.” All momentous and blessed, but nevertheless by no means the same fulness of privilege of which he could discourse at once in writing to the Ephesians. “As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellow-servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.” This is the only allusion to the Spirit, as far as I remember, in the epistle. It does not present the Spirit of God as a person down here, though He is a person of course, but rather as characterizing the love. The love was not natural affection; it was love in the Spirit: but this is very far from the rich place given to His personal presence and action elsewhere.
On the other hand, the epistle to the Ephesians abounds with such allusions. There is not a chapter in it where the Holy Ghost has not a most important and essential place. If you look at the saints individually, He is the seal and the earnest. He is also the power of all their growth in understanding the things of God. Only through Him are the eyes of the heart enlightened to know what God has wrought and secured for the saints. So again by Him alone do all, Jews and Gentiles, draw near to the Father. In the Spirit are both built together for God’s habitation. He it is who has now revealed the mystery that was kept hid through ages and generations. He it is who strengthens the inner man to enjoy through Christ all the fulness of God. He only is the constitutive power of the unity that we are exhorted to keep. He it is who works in the various gifts of Christ, welding them together, so that it may be truly Christ through His body. He it is, the Holy Spirit of God, who we are warned not to grieve. He it is who fills the saints, guarding them from the excitement of the flesh, and guiding into that holy joy which issues in thanksgiving and praise. For the Christian and the church must sing their own psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. He it is finally who gives vigour for all the holy conflicts we have to wage with the adversary. Thus it matters not what part of Ephesians is looked at. We have now traversed the varied contents of the epistle, and it is evident that the Holy Ghost forms an integral part of the divine truth unfolded in it from beginning to end.
This makes it so much the more striking, the epistle to the Colossians being the complement of an epistle so full of the Spirit, that there should be in the former so marked an absence of Him, that He is only referred to once, and only as characterizing the love of the saints. It may be added that what is said of the same truth is in Colossians attributed to Christ, or that life which we have in Christ. To the Ephesians, the Holy Ghost is treated as a divine person acting for the glory of Christ, but this in the saints and in the church. Also the reason seems obvious. When men’s eyes are turned away from Christ, the doctrine of the Spirit might add to the danger and delusion, as it has wrought in all ages to puff up men not established in Christ. For inasmuch as the Spirit does act in the church — in man, if the eye be not on Christ and only on Him, the action of the Spirit, whether in the individual or the church, gives importance to both. In such a state dwelling on it would detract from Christ’s glory; whereas when Christ alone is the object of believers, they can bear to know and to dwell upon, and to enter into, and understand, the various operations of the Spirit, which turns so much the more to the glory of Christ.
Another reason is this, that the presence of the Spirit of God, both in the individual and in the church, is a most essential part of christian privileges, while, for the reasons already alleged, it was not for the well-being of their souls that it should be unfolded here. The whole point therefore of this epistle is a recall to Christ Himself, because of what had crept in through Satan’s wiles. The needed and only remedy was to turn the eyes of the saints from other objects, even their own privileges, and to fix them on Christ. Hence, though the Holy Ghost is really on earth, dwelling in the saint and in the church, yet under such circumstances, to occupy the mind even with the blessed Spirit, would clearly have interfered with His own great aim in glorifying Jesus. Therefore, as it seems, does He call away undividedly to Christ. When the soul has been in peace weaned from all else, and found all its joy and boast in Christ, it can then hear more freely. Not that there may not be danger even then; save that as long as the eye is on Christ there is none, because what is inconsistent with His name is refused. The Spirit, having secured His glory, is more at liberty as to every other topic.
In the next place, we have the apostle’s prayer: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and growing by the knowledge of God.” It is plain that however blessed this is, still it supposes wants, and a measure of weakness, and this for the ordinary walk of the Christian; that they might “walk worthy of the Lord,” says he. He could not say in this epistle “worthy of your vocation,” as in writing to the Ephesians. He does not even say worthy of Christ, but “of the Lord.” That is, he brings in His authority, for there can be no mistake for the Christian more profound than to suppose that the presentation of the Lord as such is the more elevated for the saint. It is most true in its place; but it addresses rather the sense of responsibility than the communion of affections of the children of God. If a man does not own Him to be Lord, he is nothing whatever; but one may bow to Him as Lord, and yet be painfully insensible to the higher glory of His person, and to the depths of His grace. Alas! multitudes have so failed, nor is anything more common at this present moment, even as it was always so.
The Spirit of God, as in the Acts of the Apostles, began with the simplest confession of Christ’s name. This is habitually His way. That which brought in thousands on the day of Pentecost and afterwards was the preaching and the faith that Jesus was made Lord. But not a few of those that were baptized from early as in later days turned out untrue to the glory of Christ. We can readily understand that the Spirit did not bring out the fulness of the glory of Christ then, but as it was needed. Nor is it denied that some souls enjoyed a remarkable maturity of intelligence, so that from the beginning they saw, believed, and preached Jesus in a deeper glory than His Lordship. There is no one that rises before our mind’s eye more readily and strikingly in this respect than the apostle Paul himself. But the apostle was singular in this; for even those who did know that Christ was the Son of the living God, in the highest and eternal sense, seemed but little to have preached it, at any rate in their earlier testimony. As the withering evils of Satan came in, the value of that which their hearts clung to formed an increasing part of their testimony, until at last the full, undiminished, and even brightening truth of His divine glory was brought out in all its fulness. True, and known to some from the first, the Spirit would brook no hiding of it in order to meet the daring of men and the subtilty of the enemy, who were taking advantage of the lower glory of Christ, so as to deny all that was higher — His deity and eternal Sonship.
It appears to me then that, in writing to the Colossians, the terms employed by the Spirit of God afford clear evidence that their souls at Colosse rested on by no means the same firm and lofty ground as that which the epistle to the Ephesians contemplates; and the apostle consequently could not appeal in their case to the same mighty motives which at once rose, by the Holy Ghost’s inspiration, in the apostle’s heart in writing the kindred epistle. “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing,” urges he, “being fruitful in every good work.” For Christianity is not a mere thing of doing this or not doing that; it is a growth, because it is of the Spirit in life and power. If, as men have fabled, spiritual beings sprang forth ready armed, as well as in fulness of wisdom and vigour, it would not be Christianity. Babes, young men, and fathers: such is in grace as in nature the divine way with us. God has been pleased to call the church a body; and so in truth it is. As also, looked at individually, the Christian is a son of God, so there should be a growth up to Christ in all things. There is scarce anything more offensive than a child who looks, talks, and acts the old man. Every right-minded person revolts from it as a lusus naturae, and a piece of affectation or acting. So, in spiritual things, the mere taking up and repeating thoughts, deep and high but unproved experience, cannot be the fruit of the Spirit of God’s teaching. Nothing more lovely (whether spiritually, or even in its place naturally) than that each should be just what God has made him, only thenceforth diligently seeking increase of inward power by the operation of God’s grace. There is then a healthful progress in the Lord. While there is no doubt that which requires to be cut down or pruned on every side, there is a gradual development of divine life in the saints of God; and this, as being through the Spirit’s use of the truth, by no means can be all at once. In no case indeed is it really so.
Thus it is then that for these saints the desire is that they should steadily advance. In material science it is not so, in schools of doctrine it is not so: there is something altogether circumscribed, in known limits, and definite enough to satisfy the mind of man. All that is to be got in certain provinces may be acquired after no long study. The Spirit of God applies the truth of Jesus Christ, which resists all such thoughts as human. The Colossians from their dabbling with tradition and philosophy were in danger on this side. So, says he, “being fruitful in every good work, and growing (not exactly in, but) by the knowledge of God.” But still there is growth supposed. How could it be otherwise if by the knowledge of God? He is the only divine source, sphere, and means of real growth for the soul. But there is far more than growth in knowledge, or even by the knowledge of God. There is not only the contemplative side but the active, and this makes the saint truly passive; for if we are strengthened, it is mainly not to do, but to endure in a world which knows not Christ. Thus we are “strengthened with all might, according to the power of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.”
How good as well as vast the mind of the Spirit of God! Who could ever have combined with God’s glory such a place for man too? No man, I will not say anticipated, but approached in thought such a portion for souls on earth. See how and for what the apostle gives thanks again. Although there were difficulties and hindrances, how much, he feels, there is for which to praise our God and Father: “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet” (and observe well, it is not merely for the certainty that He will, but in the peaceful assurance that He has made us meet) “to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” Human words fail to add to such a thought. His grace has qualified us now for His glory: such, as far as this goes, is the clear meaning of the Holy Ghost. He looks not at some advanced souls at Colosse, but at all the saints there. There were evils to be corrected, dancers to be warned against; but if he thinks of that which the Father has in view for them, and of them in view of His glory, less he could not say, neither could he say more. The Father has made them meet already for the inheritance of the saints in light; and this, too, fully taking into account the awful state of the heathen world, and their past personal wickedness when drawn to God in the name of the Lord Jesus, “who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love: in whom we have redemption [through his blood, is added to the Ephesians] even the forgiveness of sins.”
At this point we come to one of the main and distinctive objects of the epistle. Who and what is the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption? Little did the Colossians conceive that their endeavour to add to the truth of the gospel was in reality to detract from His glory. Their desire, we may be sure, was as well meant as any mistake can be. Like others, they may have reasoned that if Christianity had done such great things in the hands of fishermen, tax-gatherers, or the like (who could be of no great account in the world’s scale, or in the schools of men), what might it not accomplish if it were but arrayed in the wisdom of philosophy; if it possessed the ornaments of literature and science; if it went forth on its career of victory with that which attracts the feelings and commands the intellect among humanity? The Holy Spirit brings in that which completely judges and sets aside all such speculations. No one, no thing, can add to Christ’s power, lustre, or value in any one respect. If you knew Him better, you would feel it yourself. Infinitely vainer is the thought for any man to impart fresh worth to Christ, than for David to have met Goliath in Saul’s armour. Indeed, the trappings which men so cry up are a positive hindrance to Christ; and in the precise measure in which they are prized, they reduce their votaries to slavery, and the faith they profess to zero. Judge these same things, and they may become of some account to the glory of God. But treat them as means desirable to attract the world, or as objects to be valued for their own sake by Christians, and as they are intruders, so they will prove to be aliens, and enemies of the glory of Christ.
Christ is the image of God, in fulness and perfection; He only showed out the invisible God. Tradition never manifested the true God. Philosophy, on the contrary, made matters worse, as indeed did the resources of human religion. Christ, and Christ alone, has truly represented God to man, as He alone was perfect man before God. And as He is the image of the invisible God, so is He the first-born of all creation; for the Holy Spirit here brings together a kind of antithesis as to Christ in relation to God, and in relation to the creature. Of God He is the image, not exactly in an exclusive, but assuredly in the only adequate sense. Others may be — as the Christian is — we know, and man even in a certain and real way as a creature. But, as truly and fully making God known, there is none but Christ. He is the truth; He is the expression of what God is. This is the fountain of all true knowledge, and so Christ is the truth as to everything and every one. In this phrase, however, all that the apostle asserts is in relation to the invisible God. Utterly impossible that man should see Him who is invisible: he needed one to bring God down to him, and display His word and ways, and Christ is that one image of the invisible God.
Besides, Christ is the first-born of all creation. Not, of course, that He was the earliest on the earth like Adam. In point of time the world had grown comparatively old before Jesus appeared. How then could He that came and was seen in the midst of men four thousand years after Adam was made, — how could He be in any sense first-born of all creation? We have not to imagine a reason, for the Spirit of God has given His own, and this will be found to set aside all others. Every thought of man is vain in the presence of His wisdom. Jesus is the first-born, no matter when He appeared. Had it been possible, consistently with other plans of God (which it was not), for Him to be the last (in point of fact) born here below, He had been the first-born all the same. Impossible that He could be aught but the first-born. And why? Because He was the greatest, the best, the holiest? For none of these reasons, though He was all this, and more. Still less was it because of anything conferred on Him, whether of power or office. On no such ground, nor on all together, was He the firstborn. The word of God assigns one greater than all, which is the true and only key to the person and work of Christ: “For by him were all things created.”
Oh, what majesty, as well as adaptation to need, in the truth of God! It has only to be heard by a heart touched by grace to carry conviction. But alas! there is in fallen man, as such, a will that hates the truth, and despises the grace of God. Does it not prove both by being jealous of the glory of Christ? It remains, however, that He is the first-born of all creation, because he is the Creator of all things, above or below, material or spiritual: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible.” It is not a question of the lower ranks of creation only, but takes in the highest — “whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him.” Do you say, Yes, but why not God create by the highest as an instrument? There is more said even here to maintain the full glory of Christ. All things were created by Him, no doubt; but they were created for Him also — not by Him for the Father. They were created by Him, and for Him, equally with the Father. And as if this were not enough, we are farther told that He is before all things, and by (
ἐν) Him all things consist. He is the upholder of all creation, so that the very universe of God subsists in virtue of Him. Without Him all sinks at once into dissolution.
Nor is this all. He is the Head of the body — one of the chief topics of this epistle. Such is His relationship to the church. And how is He the Head of the body? Not because He is the first-born of all creation simply, nay, nor because He is the creator of all. Neither His headship of all creation as the Heir of all things, nor His creatorial rights, would in themselves give a sufficient title to be the Head of the body. In it is another kind of blessedness and glory; for it a new order of existence appears; and not least of all beings we ought to understand this difference. Who can be so deeply concerned as the Christian? for if we have any part or lot in Christ, if we belong to the church of God, we ought clearly to know the character of our own blessing. Christ it is who determines this, as all else. But the distinctive character is that He is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” — not merely the firstborn of, but the first-born out of. He is the first-born from among the dead, as well as the Head and firstborn Heir of all subsisting creation. Thus it is that He rises into a new condition, leaving behind that which had fallen under vanity or death through its sinning chief, the first Adam. He has annulled the power of him that had the power of death — that word so terrible for the heart of man, and most surely foreign to the mind and heart of our God and Father, but a stern necessity that came in through rebellion.
Where sin brought man, grace brought Christ. And the glory of His person enabled Him in grace and obedience to go down into depths never before fathomed; and out of the whole scene, not of a rejecting guilty world only, but of the realm of death (and such a death!) Jesus emerged. And now He is risen from the dead, the beginning of a new order of existence altogether; and as He is the Head, so the church is His body — founded, indeed, on Christ, but on Him dead and risen. As such — not born merely, but risen again from the dead — He is the beginning. All question, therefore, of what existed before His death and resurrection is at once excluded. He who believes this would understand that it was still an unrevealed secret during Old Testament times. The dealings of God were not only not on the principle of a body on earth, united to a glorified Head, once dead and risen, but incompatible with such a state of things. Thus whoever by faith receives simply the intimation of this verse, as of a crowd of other scriptures, has all this very needless controversy closed for him; he knows and is sure by divine teaching that Jesus was not merely the highest of that creation which had been already, but the beginning of a new thing and its Head. This He was pleased to begin in resurrection from the dead. It was in no wise the old thing, elevated by the glory of Him who had deigned to descend into it, but a new state of things, of which the risen Christ is both the Head and beginning; as it is said, “Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.”
As this gives us the new estate, and position, and relation in which stands the glorious person of the Lord Jesus, so next we have a view of His work suitably to the object of the epistle: “For all the fulness was pleased in him to dwell.” I take the liberty of rendering the verse correctly, as is well known to most of my brethren now present. There are few here, it is to be supposed, who are not already aware that to put in “the Father” (as is done in the Authorized Version in italics) is to take away from the Son without warrant and dangerously. It was not the Father, but the Godhead. It pleased the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell in Him. Yet even this did not reconcile man to God, but the very reverse rather; it proved that man was irreconcilable as far as he was concerned.
If a divine person was pleased to appear here below, and to bring in unimagined goodness and power, dealing with every need and every one with whom He came in contact, and who sought or even accepted His gracious action, it might have been supposed that man could not resist such unhesitating love and unmeasured power. But the actual result demonstrated beyond doubt that never before Was witnessed such hearty, universal, and causeless hatred as against Jesus the Son of God. There was, there could be, no lack of the attractiveness of love and power in Him who went about doing good; yet miserable hearts did not turn to Him, save where the grace of God the Father drew them to the only adequate expression of Himself. None could pretend that He had ever refused a single soul; none could say that they had gone empty away. Their motives were far from good sometimes. They might come for what they could get; but at length they would not have Him or anything He had to give on any terms. They had done with Him, and, as far as will was concerned, they had done with Him for ever. The cross terminated the awful struggle and heartbreaking sight of man thus manifestly led captive of the devil at his will.
And what was to be done? Ah! this was the serious question, and this it was which God was waiting to solve. He meant to reconcile man spite of himself; He would prove His own love to be the conqueror of his hatred. Let man be unmendable, let his enmity be beyond all thought, God, in the calmness of His own wisdom, and in the strength of His unwearied grace, accomplishes His purpose of redeeming love at the very moment when man consummates his wickedness. It was at the cross of Christ And so it was that, when all seemed to fail, all was won. The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Jesus; but man would have none of it, and proved it above all in the cross. Yet the cross was the precise and only place where the foundation that cannot be moved was laid. As he says, “having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether it be things on earth or things in heaven.”
First the apostle brings in all things as a whole, the universal creaturehood, earthly and heavenly; thus giving us an adequate notion of the perfect triumph of God at the time when it seemed as if Satan had completely succeeded through man against the counsels of God. But is this all? Is it merely that all the universe has thus, in the cross of the Lord Jesus, a foundation laid for their reconciliation? There is a present witness of the victory of Jesus. The universe goes on as before, the lower creation at least subject to vanity; but God (and it is like Him) hastens to use His victory, though not yet as far as outward things are concerned. This remains for the day of Christ’s glory, and will fill a most important part in the purposes of God. But God has even now a far greater purpose at heart. What could be more vast than the reconciliation of all things in heaven and earth? The veriest victims of Satan, the open enemies of Christ, the fiercest — powerless let them be, but the fiercest in their will of opposition against God — are precisely those that God has already reconciled to Himself; and this where Satan had but just appeared to conquer in leading them to crucify Christ., In that field of blood where His ancient people joined the idolatrous Gentiles, and indeed incited them to plant the cross for their own Messiah — there it is that God’s grace has established a righteous deliverance for such as He has reconciled.
Satan is allowed apparently to go on as if he had won the final victory; but God brings the truth of what He has done into the heart where Satan had most of all deceived before. “You that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind,” says he (for the full truth is brought before them as to their condition), “enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death.” While He lived, this work was wholly unaccomplished. The incarnation, blessed and precious as it is, never reconciled man to God. It presented to us the person of Him who was to reconcile; in itself it was thus a most important step towards the reconciliation; but, in fact, there was no reconciliation yet for a solitary soul: the cross of Christ wrought it all. “In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” What a change!
But he adds: “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled;” and we must not weaken this. It is not at all, “since ye continue.” Scripture must not be sacrificed rudely to our seeming comfort. Besides, when men, thus slur over its true force, and would extract consolation where God intends warning, it is a proof not of firm but of weak faith. For assuredly God is not trusted where there is so much as a desire thus to alter or turn aside a single word, for one’s own convenience or any pretext whatsoever. Yet there is nothing more common; it is precisely what men, and sometimes Christians to no small extent, are doing now very generally; and what have they gained by it?
A father’s stroke that chastises the erring is a mercy. To receive it as the faithful blow of our best friend in His own word may not seem the readiest way toward comfort; but the comfort that we get in the end from Him who thus smites is both real and stable, and rich in profit to the soul. But the apostle meant not so much to administer consolation to these Colossian saints as to caution them. They needed rather reproof, and they are warned that the course on which they were entering was slippery and perilous. The pursuit of tradition or of philosophy, as a graft on Christianity, continually tends to bring in that which poisons the springs of truth, and grace is always annulled by either. Therefore he might well press, “If ye continue.”
All the blessedness that Christ has procured is for those that believe; but this of course supposes that they hold Him fast. Hence it runs: “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.” The language does not in the smallest degree insinuate that there is any uncertainty for a believer. We must never allow one truth to be either shut out or enfeebled by another; but then we need also to remember that there are, and have always been, those that, having begun seemingly well, have ended by becoming the enemies of Christ and the church. Even antichrists are not from without in their origin. “They went out from us, because they were not of us.” There are no enemies so deadly as those who, having received enough truth to over-balance them and to abuse to their own self-exaltation, turn again, and would rend the church of God, wherein they learnt all that gives them power to be specially mischievous. The apostle could not but dread the slide on which the Colossians found themselves; and the more so as they themselves had no fears, but on the contrary thought highly of that which had attracted their minds. If there was danger, certainly it was love to admonish them; and in this spirit he therefore says, “If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled.”
As for the apostle he lays before them another point. He was a minister both of the gospel, and, as is said a little later, of the church — two very different spheres, seldom united in the same individual. He was minister of both, and of the latter, it would seem, in a peculiar and weighty sense: not merely as ministering to the church, but as the instrument that God has employed to make known to us its character and calling more than any other. Indeed we may say that Paul presents the gospel as the display of divine righteousness beyond all, while he alone develops in his epistles the mystery of Christ and the church. This may seem a strong statement, and I wonder at none feeling surprised, till they have rigidly examined it with the scriptures; for probably no one could believe it unless he had proved its truth.
But I must repeat that there is not a single apostle who so much as speaks of being justified by faith, except the apostle of the Gentiles. James notoriously presents what many think hard — in my judgment quite reconcilable, equally inspired of God, and most important for man, but not the same thing, nor for the same end. It is somewhat startling at first sight to realize such a fact, but if it be a fact — as I unqualifiedly assert — is it not of great moment to understand it? Neither James nor Peter, neither John nor Jude, treat of justification before God by faith in Jesus. Who has done so? Paul only. I am very far from insinuating that Peter, James, John, Jude, and all the rest, did not preach justification by faith. But it was given to Paul, and to Paul alone, to communicate this great truth in his epistles; and he alone has used the well-known phrase. None of the others has touched on it — not one. They have undoubtedly taught that which is consistent with it and even supposes it. They have pressed other truth, which is incompatible with anything else but justification by faith; he asserts it often and openly.
Thus the most perfect harmony reigns between all the apostles; but Paul was emphatically minister of the gospel, and minister of the church. Not only did he preach the one and teach the other (which the others no doubt did too), but he has committed to inspired writings the gospel as none other did; and he has, alone of all, brought out the church in the fullest way. He might well, therefore, say (and what a serious occasion for the Colossians that it was needful to say it as an admonition!) he was minister of both. Yet there were men not wanting then that denied him to be an apostle. The most honoured servants of God invariably stir up the keenest opposition from man. But woe to such iniquitous and ungrateful adversaries! and none the less because they name the name of the Lord. Some of old were not Jews nor Gentiles, but baptized men and women. It was they that yielded to these feelings of hostility. They might detract little or nothing as to his personal qualities; they might even affect to condescend and patronize. But that for which they were opposed to him was the very thing for which, most of all, they should have owned their debt under God. Satan knew well what he sought in alienating many a Christian from this blessed man of God, and in carping at his ministry, and the testimony he was given to bear.
The apostle, however, speaks of his service in these two respects: the gospel, which is universal in its aspect to every creature under heaven; and the church, which is a special and chosen body. As for the gospel, it is not a question whether every creature hears, but such is the sphere; and doubtless if the apostle could have preached to every individual in the world, he would have gladly done it. At any rate this was his mission. There was no class under ban, nor was any individual refused the beams of its heavenly light. In its own nature like the rays from the sky, it was the sun not for one part of the world alone, but for every quarter. So to the church he says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation [or stewardship] of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God.”
Space was left: a revelation was yet lacking. God had given the law; He had embodied His past ways in an inspired history of His people; He had given prophets to proclaim what was future. But for all that a gap was left on which, when filled up, types might more or less bear, wholly different from the history, and not more answering to the prophecy. How was it then to be filled up? Our Lord Himself marked the break in His reading of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth. See the same thing in the famous seventy weeks of Daniel. You come to that space from time to time in the prophets. Paul was the one that God raised up to fill the gap. Not that others did not supplement this or that. As we know, the church is built on the foundation, not of Paul, but of His holy apostles and prophets. Mark and Luke, although they were not apostles, were surely prophets. The foundation of the apostles and prophets took in the New Testament writers in general. The apostle brings in his own special part. It was neither a gospel contributed, nor a sublime series of prophetic visions. His function was to fill up the word of God, — “even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Hence we learn, it may be seasonable to remark, that the shape given to the mystery here is not that Christ is exalted in heaven, and that the church, by the Holy Ghost sent down thence, is united to Him the Head there. This is the doctrine of the epistle to the Ephesians. Here we see the other side — Christ in or among you Gentiles, “the hope of glory.” In the epistle to the Colossians, glory is always that which we are waiting for. There is no such thing here as our sitting in heavenly places. It is heavenly glory that is waited for, but only in hope. Christ was now in these Gentiles who believed the hope of a heavenly glory in prospect for them. It is another aspect of the mystery, but as true in its place as what we find in Ephesians; not so high, but in itself precious, and not less differing from the expectation raised by the Old Testament. What we read of there is that, when Christ had come, He forthwith sets up His kingdom, in which the Jews are promised to be His specially favoured subjects. They are not indeed to reign with Him: this was by no man and at no time promised to them. But they are to be the people in whose midst the glory of Jehovah will take up its abode. Here the apostle speaks of another system altogether: Christ come, but the glory not yet apparent, but only coming. Meanwhile, instead of the Jews enjoying glory along with Christ in their midst, rejected by the Jews, Christ is in the Gentiles; and they who receive His name are waiting for heavenly glory with Christ. It is a quite different state of things from what could be gathered from the Old Testament. Not a prophet, not even the smallest shred of any prophecy, reveals such a truth. It was an absolutely new truth, in contrast with the ancient and millennial order, yet altogether different from what is found in the Ephesians; nevertheless they both constitute substantive parts of the mystery.
Thus the mystery includes, first, Christ as Head above, we though here being united by the Holy Ghost to Him glorified. Secondly, Christ, meanwhile, is in or among the Gentiles here below. Were He among the Jews, it would be the introduction of the promised earthly glory. But it is not so. The Jews are enemies, and unbelieving; the Gentiles are specially the object of God’s present ways. Having Christ among them, heavenly glory is their hope, even to share with Him that glory. This, then, shows Christ, in a certain sense, in the Gentiles here below; as, in the Ephesians, Christ is seen above and we in Him. There Jew or Gentile is all alike, and those who believe the gospel are by the Spirit united to Him as His body, Here the Gentiles in particular have Him in them, the pledge of their participating in His heavenly glory by and by. And as this was so blessed and novel a truth, the apostle states his own earnestness about it — “whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ.”
There is no slovenliness here; no careless assumption that, because you are members of Christ’s body, all else must be right, and may be left; for he who knew best the faithful love of Christ is none the less urgent individually with “every man.” Hence his unflagging expenditure of labour. Hence the spending of heart and thought that “every man” might be thus built up in the truth, and especially the heavenly truth of Christ, which was entrusted to his stewardship and ministry, “warning, every man and teaching every man, that we may present every man full grown in Christ.” This is the meaning of “perfect.” There is no reference to a question of evil within, but of arriving at maturity in Christ, instead of babes, resting merely in forgiveness. “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” Thus the striving of the apostle was by no means only in the way of evangelizing. There was much more than this. It influenced him deeply and habitually in all the anxieties of love.
“For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom [or rather which] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The mystery is now revealed, even the relation of Christ and the church; the actual testimony of God’s counsels in Christ to those who compose His body. And as a rule, it is always what God is actually doing that is the urgently needed truth. Special wants may spring up and claim attention at particular moments; but since Christ was set on high, this is the truth for the saints, and for a very simple and sufficient reason — it is what God the Father designed for the day of salvation. It is of this Christ is the objective centre and Head. In this we have what the Spirit occupies Himself with as sent down from heaven. Satan being invariably the personal and persistent antagonist of Christ, whatever is God’s purpose in Christ becomes peculiarly the object of Satan’s hatred and hostility.
Hence, as the apostle Paul was one on whom God set particular honour in developing the mystery, and communicating it in inspired words also, so he was more than any other called to suffer the consequences in this present evil world. His labours were not merely indefatigable, but accompanied by the sorest trial and anguish of spirit, as well as continual detraction with public hatred and persecution. Everything which could break the heart of a holy man from day to day he passed through. Yet, carrying out his ministry with continual tears, he looked before men as one whom none of these things moved. Nevertheless, he lets the Colossians know what he went through for their sakes and other saints who were before his heart, even though unknown in the flesh. “And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” There was much that was blessed at Colosse; and the apostle loves to give full credit for it. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” In fact, this was their fault: they were not content with Christ and Him only. Not appreciating His glory and fulness, they did not see that the secret of true wisdom and blessing, is in going on to know more of Christ than is already possessed. Such is the only sure root of all blessing, and in this above all is real faith and spirituality shown. Is the heart satisfied with Him? Do we feel and know that we can add nothing to Him? Is it all we want to draw from Him?
Then he brings in, accordingly, his first solemn caution. “Beware,” says he, “lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Here we have the mingling, I apprehend, of natural man’s philosophy, and religions man’s tradition. These things at first sight appear far apart, but they are not so in result. They may seem to be far as the poles asunder; but in point of fact, there is nothing that more shows an energetic spirit of evil at work in the world than the way in which he marshals and combines these two armies, that outwardly look enemies to each other. Have you not proved it? Somehow or another, freethinkers and superstitious men coalesce in reality. There is no feature of the present day more remarkable than the success with which Satan is massing as it were, his forces, bringing together at the very same point, where they are wanted, these two parties; that is to say, the heavier arms of human tradition, and the lighter ones of man’s philosophy. This is the reason why at each grave juncture you will find that ritualists will as a rule support rationalists, and rationalists will try to extenuate the proceedings of ritualists. They may wear the semblance of being altogether hostile to each other: they are both of them only hostile to the truth. They both are thoroughly and essentially ignorant of Christ; but the Christ that they ignore, for religion or reason, is that blessed Person not so much as He who here lived and laboured, as especially dead and risen. They use freely His name; they in word and bodily exercise do Him no small reverence; but without faith all is vain.
Beloved, the Christ that we know gives no glory to the first man; neither does He put honour on ordinances or human priesthood. How He would have been exalted, if He had consented to shed the halo of His own glory on the race as such! But our Lord is the Christ who condemned the first man, Fallen humanity by Him was detected and judged root and branch. This cannot be forgiven by all who cleave to the first man, on the side either of ordinances or of philosophy. How can man brook that lie, and the world that he has built up since he lost Eden, should be made nothing of? it is impossible to look for it from human nature. He who probed it all cannot be endured. We must and do judge all things as they are. This is truth about them; and He who is the truth told it out. The cross of Christ is the death-knell of the world in all its pretensions before God. His grave is man’s grave. Brethren, the Christ that God has made known to us is the Christ that man scorned, cast out and crucified. But He is the Christ that God raised from the dead and seated in heavenly glory. And this is the truth that is so offensive to flesh in every form. Never will it be received, either by the world’s religion, or by its philosophy.
How vain and perilous — at least for themselves — was the effort of the Colossians! They were endeavouring to strike an alliance between Christ and the world. They had really themselves slipped away in heart: no such hope had found favour otherwise. It was not wonderful that he said in Colossians 1, “If ye continue in the faith rooted and grounded, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” They had been moving away, not perhaps so rapidly as the Galatians; in faith they had been infirm. And now the apostle would recall them: “Walk in him, rooted and built up in him.” Let them beware of philosophy and tradition; “for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” It is not to be found in tradition, still less in philosophy.
Philosophy is an idol of man or nature, a blind substitute for the knowledge of God. It is false and ruinous, whether it leaves Him out or brings Him in — whether it denies the true God, or makes everything a sham god. Atheism and Pantheism are the ultimate results of philosophy, and both in reality set. God aside. As to tradition, it invariably puts man as far off from God as it can, and calls this religion. The truth in Christ is not merely that God came down to man in love, but that man, the believer in Christ, is now dead and risen in Him. Is Christ in the glorious presence of God? The Christian is one with Him. Accordingly, he brings in now for this object the twofold truth: “for in him,” says he, “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him.” How blessed! If He is, the fulness, you are made full in Him, “which is the head of all principality and power.” Away, then, with every pretence to add to Him; away with all possible expedients to give lustre to Christ! “He is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh [for so it runs] by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen.”
Constructively, to my mind, this points to the great sign of His death. It is in baptism rather than in Him. Hence it seems to me not in whom, but rightly “wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God.” Thus baptism is not limited to signifying death. Yet it is never the sign either of life or of bloodshedding, but of a state of privilege beyond. When the apostle was told to wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord, blood does not seem to have been meant, but water. For this is the sign not so much of what would expiate as cleanse. But the cleansing as well as expiation is by the death of Christ out of whose side flowed both.
Here the doctrine carries one a little farther than either Romans 6 or 1 Peter 3. There is death and burial of all we were; but there is here at least resurrection with Christ — death and resurrection. In Romans the emphatic point is simply death, because the argument of the apostle in chapter 6 does not admit of going beyond the truth that the baptized believer is alive from the dead — not exactly risen, but alive unto God. In Colossians the argument requires that our resurrection with Christ, as well as death and burial, should be distinctly stated. And so it is. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who has raised him from the dead.”
He applies the truth to the case in hand after this: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven us all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us.” He does not say “against you,” because, in truth, the Colossian saints had never been under the law and its ordinances; they had been Gentiles. But whereas he said, “that you, being dead,” were now thus raised, so he says, “blotting it out against us;” for all that we, poor Jews, could boast — the ordinances — were against us instead of being for us, and they are gone now.
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Thus is seen first of all, in virtue of the dead and risen Christ in whom they believed, that they were quickened and all their trespasses forgiven, — two things here strikingly united together. The very life that I have in Christ is a witness that my sins are forgiven. It is not merely the life of a Christ that lived in this world, but the life of Him that was lifted up on the cross, and bore my sins there. But now the work is done, and the atonement is accepted before that new life is given me in Him risen.
One cannot therefore be quickened together with Christ without having one’s trespasses, yea, all (for if not all, none) forgiven. The guilt which a broken law charged on the conscience is gone by an act infinitely more glorifying to God than the personal righteousnesses of all the men that ever lived, not to speak of the conscious pardon which is also secured to those who possess it. Had you to do with the law? The mighty work of Christ has entirely delivered from it. The sentence is blotted out; the power of Satan is spoiled openly; Christ risen triumphs over all. There is no new means of grace; there is no development, still less supplement to Christ. The one and same Christ it is who has settled everything.
As to the Jewish rites and feasts that some were endeavouring to re-impose, take for an instance the Sabbath, which is the stronger, because it was from the beginning of the first man, yet unfallen, and of course long before the Jewish people. “Let no man judge you” is the exhortation. They were shadows. Have you not got the substance? Why be found running from the substance after the shadow? “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the head.” Thus the fact of prying into that which God has not revealed, and man has not seen, — such as speculations about angels, — is the patent proof that the heart is not really satisfied with its portion. This is not holding the Head. He who keeps fast Christ thus, in conscious union with Him, could never be craving after angels. In Christ the saint is above them, and leaves them to God without anxiety or envy. We know well that God is making a good use of them, and that, in point of fact, if we meddle, it can only be to loss and confusion. “And not holding the head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”
Next, the doctrine is applied still more definitely. “Wherefore,” says he, “if ye be dead with Christ “which is one grand part of his subject — “if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living [or alive] in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?” Of course it is not at all being dead to what a man had as a natural life in the world. Such is not the Christian life, which is really the life of Him that died and rose again. He died — this is the point here — and therefore I am dead too. But if I am dead, what have I to do with those things that only affect men as long as they live? Certainly they have no relation to me now risen with Him. A man alive in the world is under these ordinances, and owns them. Such was the position of Israel. They were a people living in the world, and the whole system of Judaism supposed and dealt with a people in the world.
In moral truth, as well as literal fact, the veil, shadowing their state, was not yet lifted up from the unseen world. But the first characteristic result of Christ’s work on the cross was the veil that shut up the holiest rent from top to bottom. Thus it begins, not with the incarnation (for sin was not yet judged, nor man brought to God), but with the cross, with redemption. There was no Christianity — i.e., no deliverance of man and setting him in the Second Man — before Christ became first-born from among the dead. Clearly, therefore, the whole character of the new system depends, first, on the Deity of the incarnate Saviour, and, secondly, on the glorious truths of His atoning death and of His resurrection. Thus we should hold Him fast, not only in other respects, but in this special relation of “Head.”
So he says, “If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?” Then he gives a specimen of these: “Touch not; taste not; handle not.” But this is not the character of Christianity, but of Judaism. It pertains to a life in this world to say, “Touch not; taste not; handle not.” It is all well for a Jew, because he has got his abstinences and his restrictions. But this is not at all the divine way of dealing with the Christian. We are not Jews; we have our place in Christ dead and risen, or are nothing. Such prohibitory commands had their day; but the time of reformation is come. It is a question now of truth and holiness in the Spirit — of Christ, in short. These restrictions dealt with meats and drinks, and such like things, which perish in the using. The Christian never stood on any such fleshly ground. He is dead with Christ; consequently he has passed out of the sphere to which such dealings apply. “Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” Proud, fallen nature is satisfied even by these efforts to put down the body; whereas God would have the body to have a certain honour in its own place, and that of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Thus in every way the ritualistic system is false, and a traitor to Him who died on the cross.
But there is far more than that: “If ye then be risen with Christ.” Here we enter not merely what clears one out from the rudiments of the world, but what introduces us into the new thing. We need the positive as well as the negative; and as we have just had the latter, so the former now comes before us. Instead of letting the reins free now to run in the race of improving the world and bettering society, or any of the objects that occupy men as such, the saints of God should abstain altogether. Many who really love the Lord are in this quite misguided as to the duty of the Christian here below. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” And as if that were not precise enough, it is added, “Set your affection on things above.” It is rather “your mind;” for here, however important the state of the heart, it is a question simply of the whole bent and judgment. “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” It is not merely bringing the heavenly into them, so to speak; and decidedly not of joining the two things together. The Colossians, like others, would have liked this well enough; it is just what they were about, and the very thing that the apostle is here correcting. The apostle will not sanction such an amalgam, but refuses it; and we must remember that in these exhortations it was the Lord acting by the Spirit in His servant. “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth; for ye are dead.”
Note well again that it is not here man striving to become dead, which is a notion unknown to the revelation of God, new or old. In fact there was not even the thought of striving to be dead before the death of Christ came; and when He died, the Spirit in due time revealed not alone that He died for us, but that we died in Him. Thus no room was left for striving to die. The Christian owns his death in his very baptism; and what is wanted is not effort to attain, but the Spirit’s power in acting on the truth by faith. This it is that always settles the difficulties in the great conflict that rages now as ever, and more than ever, between human religion and the truth of God. Since men have a certain knowledge of Christ’s death, they are striving to die. It is the law in a new and impossible shape. That is the meaning of all that seems good in the world’s piety. It is an effort to become dead to what is wrong; to cultivate what is felt to be glorifying to God; to avoid what is contrary to His will, and injurious to the soul. But does this so much as resemble the provision of grace for the Christian? Is this the truth? Must we not first and foremost be subject to the truth? If I have Christ as a Saviour at all, instead of struggling to die in the sense meant, I am called to believe that I am already dead.
It is remarkable that the two well-known and standing institutions — I will not call them ordinances — of Christianity, baptism and the Lord’s supper, are the plain and certain expression of death in grace. When a person is baptized, this is the meaning of the act; nor has it any true force, but is an illusion, otherwise. For the baptized soul confesses that the grace of God gives death to sin in Him who died and rose again. The Jew looked only for a mighty King Messiah; the Christian is baptized into the death of Him who suffered on the cross, and finds not alone his sins forgiven, but sin, the flesh, condemned, and himself now viewed of God as dead to all; for nothing less is set forth in baptism. Thus it is from the first the expression of a most needed truth, which remains the comfort of grace throughout the whole Christian career, and is therefore never repeated. Again, on each Lord’s day, when we are gathered together to Christ’s name, what is before us according to God’s word and will? A substantially similar blessing is stamped on the table of the Lord. When the Christians unite in breaking bread, they show forth the death of Christ till He come. It is not a mere duty that has to be done; but the heart is in presence of the objective fact that He died for us, His body. As believing in Him, this is our place. Such is the basis of the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free. It is a liberty founded on death, displayed in resurrection, known in the Spirit. Having this in the soul, one is entitled to have it in the body also at His coming. Besides, we are one bread, one body.
Hence we find the glorious future display referred to here: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear;” for we have both “ye are dead,” and “your life is hid with Christ in God.” We may be content to be hidden while He is hidden; but He is not always to be out of sight. The Christian will have all the desires of the new man gratified. Now he may have the blessed enjoyment of communion with Christ, but it is a Christ crucified on earth. His glory is in heaven. A man seeks to shine in the world now; it is a heedless if not heartless forgetfulness, that here He knew nothing but rejection.
Am I then false or true to the constant sign of my Master’s death? Am I to court the honour of those who refused Christ, and gave Him a cross? Am I to forget His glory in the presence of God? Ought I not, in my measure of faith, to be the expression of both? Ought I not to share my Master’s shame and dishonour here? Ought I not to wait to enter the same glory with the Christ of God? So it is said here, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Accordingly the path of Christian duty is grounded on these wondrous truths. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” What a humbling consideration that those so blessed (dead, as we have said, and risen with Christ) are here told to mortify what is most shameful and shameless! But so it is. It is really what man is; and such is the nature which alone we had as children of Adam. These are alas! in the singularly energetic language of the Spirit of God here called the members of the man. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake, the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked sometime.”
It is no use denying the plain truth “when ye lived in them;” it is blessed to know that we are dead now. Let us hearken, “But now, ye also put off all these.” Here we come not merely to that which is displayed in the forms of the corruption that goes on through things or persons outside us, as it were, but by inner feelings of violence: “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” Falsehood, too, is judged as it never was before, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” Not Adam, but Christ is the standard — Christ who is God as well as man; “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” How blessed! — “Christ is all, and in all.”
Thus the believer can look round full of joy upon his brethren; he can count up souls from every tribe, tongue, and station. Who has been overlooked in the comprehensive and active grace of our God? And what is he then entitled to see? Christ in them. And what a deliverance from self to see Christ in them! Yes, but Christ is “all” as truly as He is “in all.” Oh, to forget all that which produces jealousy, pride, vanity, each and every feeling contrary to God and unedifying to man; to be comforted and to comfort others with such a truth — Christ is all, and Christ is in all! Such is God’s word, and are we, or are we not, entitled to say so now? Sorrowful circumstances may, alas! require us to pronounce on evil ways in order to look into this evil doctrine or that; but the apostle speaks now of the saints in their ordinary and normal manner. Does not this still abide true? Am I entitled, as I look upon Christians henceforth, to see nothing but Christ in any and Christ in every one? Yes, Christ is in all, and Christ is all. “Put on, therefore” (says he, in the enjoyment of such grace. Now comes the positive character to be borne) — “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved.” How like the description is to Christ Himself! He was God’s chosen One in the highest sense; He was the holy and beloved. Who ever appealed in distress, and did not find in Him bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering? Then follows that which could be said of us alone. “If any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Forgiving one another is fortified by His example who did no sin, neither was evil found in His mouth. Christ on earth was a blessed pattern of forgiveness and forbearance. “Even as Christ forgave you.” He now brings Him in openly, and to ourselves.
But there is a crowning quality: “And above all these things put on charity,” because this is, as nothing else can be, the fullest sign of that which God is Himself, the energy of His nature. His light may detect, but His love is the spring of all His ways. No matter what may be the demand, love is after all most essential and influential too. It lies at the bottom when we think of the wants of the saints of God here below. There is a figure especially characteristic of the divine nature morally considered — I need not say light, as we are told more fully in the epistle to the Ephesians. Yet above all the saints are to put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness; “and let the peace of Christ rule,” for so it reads, not the peace of God, but the peace of Christ. Everything in our epistle is traced up to Christ as the head of all possible blessing.
So “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts;” that is, the very peace which Christ Himself lived and moved in. Let His peace rule. He knows everything and feels everything. I may be perfectly certain, whatever may be my sorrow or travail of spirit about anything, Christ feels far more deeply (yea, infinitely deeper than any other) those that may excite any of us. Yet He has absolute peace, never broken or ruffled for an instant. And in us, poor feeble souls, why should not this peace rule in our hearts, to the which also we are called in one body? “And be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ” (it was God’s word, but still called the word of Christ here) “dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” There might be a word of God which was not in the same way the word of Christ. There are many portions of the scriptures that do not by any means suit or suppose the estate and path of the Christian. “And let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another.” It is not Christ Himself, as in Ephesians 3, the wondrous issue even now in us by the power of the Spirit; but, at least, in His word is found (what the Colossians needed) an active and most pure spring of instruction and counsel, and mutuality of help by it. Such is the fruit of His word thus dwelling in us. Nor is this all. “In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” It matters little how well taught the saint may be, nor how he may know the moral beauty and the unfailing wisdom of the word, if positive fruit be not increased: if the spirit and power of worship abound not, there is something altogether short, or wrong. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Thus, even if there be not actually formal praise, the Lord looks for thankfulness of heart, as counting on love in everything.
After this follow particular exhortations, on which we need not at present dwell. We have wives and husbands, children and fathers, servants and masters, brought together successively up to the first verse of Colossians 4, which should, of course, close Colossians 3 rather than begin a new one.
Then come general injunctions. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Neither completeness in Christ, nor joyful sense of heavenly relationship, nor heed to our own relations in this life, should weaken for an instant, but rather minister to an increased sense of the need and value of depending on God. Nor is continuance in prayer all; but vigilant watch in the same, which does not let slip the just occasion for supplication; and as all things were to be done with thanksgiving, so prayer also, which would assuredly not forget the need of those in the forefront of the spiritual warfare and toil of love. “Watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” Nor is there to be unwatchfulness, but consideration in love of those without. “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” The fit time and suited speech, always in grace, not without faithfulness Godward, how good and needful they are!
Further, we see how Christian love delights to communicate and to hear. It was his confidence in their love; and this is shown not merely in his desire to hear about them, but in the conviction that they would like to hear about him. Can anything be sweeter than this genuine simplicity of affection and mutual interest? In a man it would be vain and curious: it is blessed in a Christian. No right-minded man, as such, could take for granted that others would care to know about his affairs any more than be theirs, unless indeed in case of a relation, or a friend, or a public and extraordinary personage. But here writes the lowly-minded apostle, in the full assurance that, though he had never seen them, or they him, it would be real and mutual gratification to know about one another from him who went between them. What a spring of power is the love of Christ Truly charity is “the bond of perfectness.” “And my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your state, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.”
Then come allusions to his various fellow-prisoners and fellow-servants, particularly noting Epaphras, who laboured fervently in prayer for them. This, I am sure, should not be weakened, brethren. We know that there is danger on all sides. We may have proved how sadly everything of the sort has been perverted; but there is a sense, and a most weighty one too, in which we cannot too much strengthen the links of love between the saints of God, and that too where there is a real holy ministry for their good. And this the apostle was doing, and particularly for one that came from them. We might well suppose that there was some hindrance to the full flow of affection an their part. But the apostle took every pains to, show how great was the love of Epaphras for them; for his faithful spirit knew some little of that which the apostle knew well, — that the more abundantly he loved, the less he was loved. “For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea.” His was by no means a love inactive or limited. There was no such notion as only caring for the saints in his own particular place. Paul narrowed himself to no local ties, nor should we allow such a thing for an instant. All the saints belong to us, as we belong to all of them. And so he mentions particularly others, even if some little felt this link. “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans.” It is evident, therefore, that these apostolic epistles were meant to circulate among the saints. And perhaps this may be the key to what we are next told: “And ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.” The epistle to Laodicea is not said: so we have no sufficient reason to trouble ourselves about there being a lost portion of the inspired writings. There is no proof of the sort. I am aware that men have reasoned much about it; but this is a proof that evidence fails. Why should we heed conjecture? Had they prayed more, the result might have been to better purpose. Possibly apostles may have written epistles that were not intended for the permanent instruction of the church; but that what was so intended is lost we may resolutely deny from all we know of our God. Whatever insinuates it denies that He has adequately provided for His church here below: this He has surely done in every form in His word. There is no imperfectness in that word, neither does any ground exist to suppose that any part of it has vanished away. No doubt we may detect the flaws of man’s negligence, not knowing how to treat with becoming care the precious deposit of truth; but there is nothing more. That is to say, there may be a difference of reading here and there which impairs the full beauty and accuracy of the blessed word of God; but, as to the substance, the most timid may be assured that you have it in the worst editions of Christendom. Do not be uneasy at the talk of critics: it is natural for dealers to cry up their wares. They live in minute points and uncertainty.
As this epistle then is not said to have been addressed to Laodicea, we may gather that it was either from that church, or, if apostolic, going its round from one assembly to another. If the latter, it had got to Laodicea, whence the Colossians were to procure it in their turn.
Archippus was to take heed to the ministry he had received in the Lord. No doubt the hint is wanted by some of us still. May He make and keep us faithful!