Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;The Abounding Assurance
The Apostle has just been speaking of an intense spiritual struggle through which he has passed on behalf of the Churches at Colossae and Laodicea, to most of whose members he was personally unknown. The purpose of his supplication was that they might be comforted, bound together into a compact fellowship, and enriched with sure and all-sufficing spiritual knowledge—three blessings vitally connected with each other. Failing of such attainments, they could not hope to rise above that fickleness which left them the prey of wandering sophists. The subject-matter of this assurance is the mystery of God's purpose towards us in Christ Jesus.
I. It is through our union with Christ that the treasures hidden in His mysterious nature are conveyed to us, and become 'the riches of the full assurance of understanding'. If the mysteries, of which He is the steward, can gladden, purify, and consecrate the heart and awaken songs of praise to a pardoning God, we may boldly claim the revelation of these mysteries. When we are honestly contrite, and with all our hearts trust His Son for salvation, it cannot be God's will that we should be tormented by uncertainty. He has given power to His Son to declare our absolution, the grace and wisdom of the Son are never at fault in the exercise of this ministry, and the presence of the infinite love in the central consciousness is the highest form of assurance. This assurance, inasmuch as it corresponds to the treasures of wisdom in Christ, ought not to be meagre, stinted, precarious. The Apostle is emphatic, almost to the point of redundancy. 'The riches of the full assurance of understanding.'
II. The Apostle speaks of this exalted experience as one of the blessed consummations of Christian fellowship. 'Knit together in love unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding.' It is through mutual sympathy and helpfulness that the blessing is retained, and others are led into participation with it Civilisation itself begins in brotherhood and cooperation, and man's ascent into the heights of religious life follows the same order. This full assurance of knowledge is vital to spiritual prosperity. Assurance makes all the difference between a spiritual and an unspiritual man, a weakling and a champion, an inglorious mute and a great confessor. It is the appointed province of evangelical religion to diminish the area of haze, unsettlement, dubiousness, and to understay the spirit with strong bedrock convictions.
Reference.—II. 2, 3.—Bishop Westcott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 292.
The Cross and Culture
Every one can see that these words contain a great truth, but what the Apostle meant is not so easy to define. In one sense Christ has little to do with wisdom and knowledge. We do not sit at His feet to be made men of culture; we do not go to Him direct for lessons in history, politics, science, literature. And yet, though it is no business of His to supply knowledge, there is profound truth in these words of St. Paul, that the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him. Without Him wisdom and knowledge are hardly worth having. If there be not a spirit of love and human brotherhood, and something of the cross, working amid the intellectual forces, it is doubtful whether the world will be any better off for all its boasted acquirements.
I. The mind which simply gathers stores of knowledge may be as full as a dictionary and as unfeeling; as cold as a piece of flint and as hard; as inhuman as a fossil and as useless. There is a pharisaism of culture, and there is no pharisaism so hard and proud and unmerciful as the pharisaism of culture. There is a science which has no emotion, no pity, no tears, no soft places in its heart, if indeed it has a heart, and no thought of hope for humanity at large. What better is the world for wisdom and knowledge of that kind?
II. Moreover, it is a matter of common observation, and one of the most certain teachings of history, that wisdom without faith at the heart of it, intellect without profound religious feeling, tends not to righteousness and purity and unselfishness, but to moral lawlessness, self-indulgence, and splendid vice. The cross is the one vein of precious heavenly gold that runs through the mass of intellectual forces.
III. It is the light which He sheds that makes much of our knowledge and wisdom bearable. Were it not for the spirit of hopefulness which He breathes into all problems, our knowledge would only add to our pain, and our wisdom would only teach us despair. But with Christ to illumine these dark problems they cease to be hopeless.
IV. Finally, and most truly, that one field of knowledge which He opens out is incomparably better than all the rest. Let the world's wise men be silent, that He may speak to us, for in Him only are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
—J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 23.
Reference.—II. 3.—J. G. Greenhough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 136.
Order and Steadfastness
A scene in which the virtues of order and steadfastness are presented to the eye always awakens some throb of pleasure in the observer, whatever the ends to which they may be made to contribute. To produce order in a community of men and women distinctive in their personalities and including the utmost diversity of taste and temperament is a surpassing triumph of Divine skill and power.
I. Order implies four things: (1) Order presupposes submission to a common centre of authority. Its worth and quality will be determined by the kind of authority which calls it forth. (2) Order implies the suppression of lawless and capricious personal tastes, and the art of possessing our souls in patience at all times. (3) Order implies an intuition of the part each has to play in a common scheme of life and work. (4) Order implies not only the discovery of the part each has to play in a common scheme bur the fulfilment of that special part by methods which will help and not hinder the work of others.
II. Success is measured by the spirit of order which animates men and the communities into which they are grouped. In an age which is unfriendly to human prerogative it may perhaps be our temptation to depreciate order and cry out for guerilla evangelism. Order, it must be admitted, is too often a synonym for frigidity, red tape, servile mechanism, punctiliousness in trifles, death. But in the Apostle's vocabulary it means the tramp of Christ's conquering hosts in perfect time to God's music III. Order helps that steadfastness of faith which is the second great quality commanded by the Apostle. The lack of it brings panic, disorganisation, abasement, defeat.
IV. Quiet and undisturbed conditions of life are sometimes attended by a specious show of steadfastness lacking all inherent reality. Unless the foundations be deeply laid, faith may prove itself a fair-weather virtue that can only survive under circumstances of indulgent tenderness. Sooner or later the crisis of trial comes, and proves how superficial was the profession.
V. The foundations of our faith must be well and deeply laid if we are to attain this ideal of steadfastness. For us at least religion must be the best demonstrated of all truths, the most central of all realities, the most imperial of all obligations.
VI. The steadfastness of faith is not inconsistent with freedom, mental flexibility, an all-round power of self-adjustment when the great emergency comes.
References.—II. 5.—T. G. Selby, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 385. Archbishop Temple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 422. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 459.
An Address for the New Year
I. Here is expressed the undoubted privilege and portion of every real child of God. 'Ye have... received Jesus Christ the Lord.' Remember the Apostle is addressing himself to men and women of like passions with ourselves. Called by a faithful God into the fellowship of His Son Christ Jesus the Lord, ye have received Him.
II. Our text implies the means whereby this great grace had been bestowed upon them, and realised by them, as well as the evidence and proof by which the Apostle was enabled to conclude concerning the Colossians, that they had 'received Christ Jesus the Lord'. If Christ Jesus the Lord be received by any of us, it must be in the reception of God's Word and testimony concerning Him. If we are to be made partakers of the Holy Ghost, if ever God the Comforter takes possession of our souls, or ministers to our hearts, it must be by the means and agency of God's testimony concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. And if ever we are to have faith, either in its beginning or its increase—faith whereby we lay hold on Christ, and rest in Christ—faith whereby we enter into the comforts of the Holy Ghost, and take possession of His blessed Person—faith must come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
III. The text contains an exhortation and command, founded upon this fact of their having received 'Christ Jesus the Lord': 'Walk ye in Him'. Observe the order. We cannot walk in Christ until we have received Christ. The testimony of God concerning the patriarchs, Enoch and Noah, of old, was this, 'They walked with God'. Here is an exhortation from your Father and your Friend, a command by the Holy Ghost, sent down from heaven. 'Walk ye in Him.' The man that walks in God 'walks in the light!' he 'walks in the truth!' he 'walks at liberty!' he 'walks in strength!' he 'walks in fulness!' he 'walks in love!'
IV. Lastly, our text implies that there is a proportion and analogy between the faith that receiveth 'Jesus the Lord,' and the fruitfulness, joyousness, happiness, as well as the reality of our walk in Him.
—Marcus Rainsford, The Fulness of God, p. 181.
References.—II. 6.—H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines (1st Series), p. 68. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 483.
The Beginning and Development of the Christian Life
You may call the subject of the passage before us the beginning and the development of the Christian life; the latter is to be, in the heart of it, all of a piece and consistency with the former, of the same complexion and the same character. 'As ye receive the Lord Jesus so walk in Him.'
I. Now, what is the beginning? 'Ye received the Lord Jesus.' That is the conception of the Christian life. I do not know that we have not got away from it a little. You think the Christian life begins in giving. It begins in receiving. You think it goes on in giving. It goes on in receiving. Of course you give yourselves to Christ to begin with, of course you give service to Christ, but first of all you receive, and the ground of all your service and of your acceptance is your receiving. You surrender the citadel of your life to God. Quite right, but in that very act of surrender you welcome the King, with His authority and His rule. What is absolutely necessary today to be proclaimed upon the housetops is this—the Christian life begins not in an ordinance which a man observes either for himself or for another; not in works, but in faith, and faith is primarily receiving, believing is receiving.
II. Now, go another step; what do you receive? Whom did you receive? That is the way to put it Ye received the Lord Jesus, ye received Christ as Lord. Mark that! Ye received a Person, and with Him forgiveness of sins, and with Him comfort, and with Him rest, and with Him joy, and with Him the strength to do the will of God.
In one of his last and most beautiful sermons in the last days of his ministry, Dr. Dale, one of the greatest theologians that ever lived, tells us that in a time of great prostration and suffering and nervous breakdown, in the very extremity of mortal weakness, when he sorely needed consolation and support, he endeavoured to draw strength from the wonderful truth that Christ the Eternal Son of God is our brother, that He clings to man with all a brother's affection. But somehow, says Dr. Dale, that thought failed to bring me the comfort that I wanted. Then, he says, I remembered that Christ was my Lord, and it steadied me at once, gave me rest of heart, and courage and strength. And that truly great theologian and great Christian goes on to say: 'It was not sympathy I needed, so much as the consciousness of being in the strong hands of One who was my Lord, who was responsible for me'. 'And,' says Dr. Dale, 'this is the truth for times of health and strength as well as for times of sickness. Christ is not only my friend—it is wonderful condescension if I keep His commandments; but He is my Lord; He owns me, He possesses me, and I am at rest from usurping tyrants if the King is on the Throne.'
—Charles Brown, God and Man, p. 16.
Reference.—II. 7.—H. Macmillan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 100.
Stand up, O heart, and yield not one inch of thy rightful territory to the usurping intellect. Holdfast to God in spite of logic, and yet not quite blindly. Be not torn from thy grasp upon the skirts of His garments by any wrench of atheistic hypothesis that seeks only to lure thee into utter darkness; but refuse not to let thy hands be gently unclasped by that loving and pious philosophy which seeks to draw thee from the feet of God only to place thee in His bosom. Trustfully though tremblingly let go the robe, and thou shalt rest upon the heart and clasp the very living soul of God.
References.—II. 8.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 410; ibid. vol. x. p. 268. II. 9.—Ibid. vol. iv. p. 389. II. 9, 10.—A. Whyte, The Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 525.
The Perfect Type in Christ
I. This means, to begin with, that the Ideal Man, towards whom the race is blindly striving and stumbling, of whom poets have sung, and seers had visions, and prophets uttered strange things, and towards whom human aspiration has longingly strained its vision, crying out in the agony of its desire, 'Oh, that I might know where I might find Him!' is not, as some would have us believe, a dim cloud of beauty on the far horizon of the future, nor a 'complex' of generalised qualities, as yet unrealised; it means that this eternal Word has become 'flesh,' has 'tabernacled among us,' 'and we have beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth'. It means that once in the course of the ages God has sent a Man into the world, complete and flawless in His perfections of character, pure as the snow on Alpine heights, touched to finest issues in all His activities, free from stain and frailty, so that men gazing at this Son of Man, this 'firstborn of all creatures,' can say, 'Yes, that is what God meant when He said, Let us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness'. That is what Jesus is on His human side. He is the typical Man. 'We are complete in Him.'
II. When with a kindling eye, and a humbled heart, we try to analyse the impression made upon us by the typical humanity of Jesus, we are struck with three sublime features in His character. (1) The first is the scope of His nature. Here in the Gospels is no merely local or racial or temporary ideal, but a picture of glorious breadth, and amplitude, and reality. Here is a personality which, while it is splendidly individual, rises above its environment of time and nationality into that region in which every human peculiarity, every limitation of sex and age, passes away, and in that fadeless countenance we see mirrored the grandeur of a full complete manhood. (2) The second supreme quality in the personality of Jesus is its intensity. It stands forth from the written page with sublime boldness and strength. Its very serenity is the outcome of a boundless spiritual vitality. (3) The third quality that stands out in this Divine personality is its perfect poise and balance. He is Man, 'fulled-summed in all His powers'.
III. It would be a tempting subject to pursue this general train of thought into the details supplied to us by the Gospels, but a very few hints must suffice. (1) This combined scope, intensity, and poise of nature are very clearly visible if we consider the Christ as the ideal Thinker of the world. (2) The same is true of the heart of Christ. His inner life, as we have glimpses of it in the Gospels, how large, how deep, how intense it shows! (3) And what soul ever gave itself to the service and saving of man, with a scope so vast, with a love so intense, with a vision so serene, of human sorrow and limitation, as did the Christ?
—E. Griffith Jones, Types of Christian Life, p. 93.
References.—II. 10.—T. Nicholson, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 320. W. Adamson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 369. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 285. II. 11, 12.—C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 151. II. 12.—J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 181. II. 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2101. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 205; ibid. vol. v. p. 441. II. 13, 14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2605. II. 15.—Ibid. vol. v. No. 273. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. pp. 246, 362; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 378; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. pp. 193, 198, 370, 374. II. 17.—F. E. Ridgeway, Plain Sermons on Sunday Observance, p. 19. II. 18.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 400; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 133; ibid. vol. v. p. 464; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 203; ibid. vol. viii. p. 429. II. 20.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 28. II. 22.—Ibid. vol. i. p. 202; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 360. II. 23.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 373.
That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;
In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
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 stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
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.
Beware 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.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
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, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
(Touch not; taste not; handle not;
Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.