Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE OBJECT OF THE COLOSSIANS' FAITH. (Ver. 4.) They had happily been led to this - to trust in the personal Saviour. It is not the promises, but the Promiser; not the proposition, but the Person pledging himself to the fulfilment of the proposition, in whom we believe. Now, the heresy, which will appear more clearly afterwards, made a good deal of angelic and intermediate personages; there was, in fact, a tendency to a mystic peopling of the unseen with needless, forms, explanatory, as the Colossians supposed, of the mysteries of creation. It was important in these circumstances to state with precision that Jesus Christ is the great Object of faith. Faith in such a Being becomes a glorious simplicity. It is a simple extension of that trust to him which we extend to our fellow men. But his glorious personality, embracing a Divine as well as human nature, makes all the difference between faith in men and faith in him. The latter is true saving faith.
II. THE SAINTS WERE THE SPECIAL OBJECTS OF THE COLOSSIANS' LOVE. (Ver. 4.) While faith goes out to a personal Saviour, it worketh by love towards all the saints. For it cannot but be that, in trusting and loving the perfect Saviour, we learn almost instinctively to love those in his image. The saints, all the saints, are seen to have their claim upon the believer's love. The love of good men is the note of a true Christian.
III. HEAVEN WAS INDISPENSABLE TO THE CONSUMMATION OF THEIR HOPE. (Ver. 5.) It is the characteristic of the Christian system to relegate a goodly portion of its promise to the world to come. It has certainly a promise for the life that now is, but chiefly has it a promise for that which is to come. In heaven the hope is laid up. And into this hope the Colossians heartily entered. They looked for more to follow - for a purity, for a power, for a perfection impossible in the present life. There is thus a faith, a love, and a hope characteristic of the saints at Colossae as well as elsewhere.
IV. THIS HOPE HAD BEEN COMMUNICATED THROUGH THE PREACHED GOSPEL. (Vers. 5-8.) Had the Colossians not had the gospel preached to them, they would never have entered into such glorious, heavenly hopes. The word of the gospel is fruit-bearing. It kindles the hopes of men. Everywhere it has the same blessed effects in lifting men's hearts to heaven. It would seem that Epaphras had been the instrument in the Lord's hand in evangelizing the Colossians. He had, as a faithful minister of Christ, preached the Word to them, and they had received it and become the loving disciples he represented them to be in his report to Paul. "Love in the Spirit" was the leading idea in their lives. All this was matter for profound gratitude to God, and so the apostle pours out his thanksgiving to God the Father (ver. 3) because of it. In such circumstances it surely becomes us to see that we rise on the wings of hope to heaven and appreciate the glorious consummation which there awaits us. We need such a hope to complete the demands of our immortal being. We cannot be satisfied with the seen, with the present life, with the present world; we must have more. And this the gospel gives us in that hope which is laid up for us in heaven. - R.M.E.
Person of Christ. There is also this difference - that this Epistle has not the catholic form of the Epistle to the Ephesians, but has a certain controversial form, with reference to the peculiar state of the Colossian Church. In order to understand the Colossian heresy, it is necessary to bear in mind that the type of religion to which the Eastern mind was inclined was mysticism. One feature was the belief in a good and a bad principle (Isaiah refers to them as light and darkness), the latter having its abode in matter. Another feature is the postulation of emanations, or intermediate agencies between heaven and earth. This mysticism seems to have had congenial soil in Phrygia, to which Colossae belonged. It had an ascetic side (communication with matter being to be eschewed), and, readily combining with Judaism, it formed Essenism. In the Galatian Churches it was Judaism that was struggling to modify Christianity. In the Colossian Church it was rather this Essenism that was the modifying element. The modification of Christianity by Eastern philosophy (its finding a place for redemption and the Person of Christ) was afterward known as Gnosticism.
1. The writers. "Paul." He is the principal writer. The thought has a distinctively Pauline character. We cannot mistake its coming from the writer of the Epistle to the Ephesians. He has a relation to two personalities, who are yet one (Jesus being the Christ of God).
(1) His relation to Christ. "An apostle of Christ Jesus." That gave him unquestionable authority in all matters which he discussed. He gave the mind of Christ. He was under the infallible direction of the Spirit. And his statements were to be accepted in the face of all statements to the contrary.
(2) His relation to God. "Through the will of God." It was not that he had light in himself more than any ordinary writer. It was simply that God graciously willed that he should communicate the mind of Christ to them and to others. And that was his support in every word he dictated. "And Timothy." He is subordinated to Paul in the writing of the Epistle; and his personality is, after a few introductory verses, lost sight of. He is brought into relation, not directly to Christ or God, but to the brethren. "Our brother." A member of the Christian brotherhood Timothy was. And that really contained more in it (title to everlasting life) than "apostle" by itself. "Apostle" would cease, but "brother" would remain. Apostle though Paul was, in a brotherly way he consulted with Timothy regarding the Church of Colossal. The ground of his consulting with him would naturally be his acquaintance with that Church. That active brother, it may be presumed, had ministered to them and had won their affection. And so Paul associates him with himself in writing to Colossal, that, beyond the "apostolic," there might be the "personal," in which personal Timothy was partly his representative. He might expect to have influence with Colossae, when there was both apostolic authority and personal affection combined.
2. The persons addressed.
(1) Generic designation. "To the saints." The holy people had formerly been those connected with the holy land; but here were they, many of them Gentiles, receiving the ancient title of honour.
(2) Specific designation. "And faithful brethren in Christ." The corresponding designation in Ephesians is "And the faithful in Christ Jesus." The apostle goes a point here beyond their believing, viz. to their being, in virtue of their believing, a brotherhood, and a brotherhood subsisting in (as created by) Christ, therefore distinctively the Christian brotherhood. Locality. "Which are at Colossae." This town was situated in Phrygia, in the interior of Asia Minor. There were three towns connected with the valley of the Lycus (a tributary of the Ms, under). Overhanging the valley on opposite sides, and facing each other, with the mountains rising behind and the Lycus flowing between, about six miles apart, were Laodicea and Hierapolis, the two towns which are referred to at the close of this Epistle. Further up the river, and intersected by it, distant about twelve miles both from Laodicea and Hierapolis, was the third town of Colossal. With a certain historical character, it was the least important place to which any Epistle of Paul's was sent. The attention of the apostle was drawn to it at the time by the presence at Rome of two Colossians - Epaphras, who is referred to in the seventh and eighth verses, and Onesimus, the runaway slave about whom Paul writes in his Epistle to Philemon.
II. THE SALUTATION.
1. The two words of salutation.
(1) Grace. "Grace to you." This is the universal word of salutation in the Epistles which bear Paul's name (it is wanting in the Epistle to the Hebrews). It points to this - that we must not look to our friends being blessed on the ground of their deservings. If they are to be blessed, as we would wish them, then there must be the outflowing of Divine favour toward them.
(2) Peace. "And peace." This also is the universal word in salutation with Paul. If we were dealt with according to our deservings, there would be constant cause for dispeace. But being dealt with according to infinite grace (upon which we can ever fall back under a sense of our ill deservings), there should then be a calming of the mind and an ultimate complete deliverance from all disturbing influences.
2. Source to which we look in salutation. "From God our Father." In the Revised translation the usual addition is omitted, "and the Lord Jesus Christ." It does not enter into the plan of the apostle to connect his thought with the Father and the Spirit in this Epistle, as in the Epistle to the Ephesians (they are named twenty-four times in Ephesians, and only six times in Colossians). But here in the forefront prominence is given to the Father (all the more because of the unusual omission) as the original Source whence all blessings flow. The Divine fatherhood (not apart from Christ) is the natural guarantee for provision being made for ourselves and for our friends, for individuals and for Churches. - R.F.
I. WHAT IT REVEALS ABOUT THE APOSTLE, It indicates:
1. His dignity. "An apostle... by the will of God." This was a title
(1) divinely derived;
(2) directly derived from God;
(3) abundantly justified,
(a) by supernatural visions and experiences,
(b) by seals of success.
This title was used here, though not in his salutation to all the Churches, because here
(1) he was dealing with error and erroneous teachers, and so needed a claim of authority;
(2) he was personally an entire stranger to the Colossians;
(3) he writes from prison, and it was well he should remind himself and them of his true dignity. He was a prisoner, yet none the less an apostle.
2. His condescension. "Timotheus our brother." He was no fellow apostle, yet his brother; he was his boyish, not to say childish, convert, yet his brother. Great souls never patronize; they elevate true men, of whatever station or age, into brotherhood with them. The Greatest said, "I have called you not servants, but friends." "He is not ashamed to call them brethren."
II. WHAT IT IMPLIES ABOUT THE CHURCH. It recalls to us:
1. Its locality and its associations. One of the historic Churches in the valley of the Lycus; the town, too, had been famous, though its glory was waning. Xerxes and Cyrus had made it famous, but Paul's letter has made its name known where Xerxes and Cyrus have never been heard of.
2.. Its character. This indeed ought to be the character of every Church. For its members were:
(1) "Saints." The Old Testament description of Israel thus applied to Christians to indicate their union with God.
(2) "Faithful brethren." indicating their union with each other. All free masonries, guilds, etc., are but hints of what the Church is meant to be in this aspect of it.
III. WHAT IT SUGGESTS ABOUT TRUE BLESSEDNESS. "Grace and peace" is Paul's customary greeting; it is a blended Greek and Hebrew salutation. It expresses the Apostle's best wish for a Church. What is it?
1. "Grace." It is a Greek thought Christianized. It takes the conception of grace of form, of gesture, of tone, into the spiritual realm. It has on Paul's pen and lips two meanings.
(1) It is to be enjoyed as the attitude of God in Christ towards men. It is thus the Divine pity, gentleness, favour, the bearing of a forgiving, condescending, loving God. That is infinite grace.
(2) It is to be possessed as the spirit of a Christian. It is thus "the grace of life "moral beauty, spiritual loveliness. It is the indwelling in human character of more than all that the Greeks conceived in their "three Graces."
2. "Peace." It may include:
(1) Freedom from persecution, then a great desideratum.
(2) Absence of internal dissension. This was the one main purpose of his letter.
(3) inward calm of heart and quiet confidence in God. This is ideal peace. Christ's peace and the wish of Paul is the gift of Jesus; for he said, "My peace give I unto you." - U. R.T.
I. PAUL'S CONSCIOUSNESS OF AUTHORITY AS AN APOSTLE. Observe how quietly Paul takes for granted his apostolical authority. Where it was assailed, as at Corinth or in Galatia, be was prepared to defend it. His credentials were every whir as valuable as those of the eleven. Were they witnesses of the risen Christ (Acts 1:21, 22)? So was he (1 Corinthians 9:1). Were they selected and called by Christ himself (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13)? So was he (Acts 9:15; Acts 26:16-18). Were they inspired by his Spirit (John 16:13; John 20:21, 22)? So was he (Galatians 1:11-16; 1 Corinthians 7:40; 1 Corinthians 14:37). Had they power to proclaim the gospel with authority, to bind and loose, to perform "the signs of an apostle" (Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:12; John 20:23)? So had he (1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 1 Corinthians 9:16, 17; 2 Corinthians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 12:12). We can hardly overrate the importance, in the present day, of maintaining the authority of all the apostles as inspired by the Spirit of Christ to teach the doctrines of Christ, and of the authority of St. Paul among the rest. Such a consciousness of a Divine mission and authority on the part of any Christian "sent" "by the will of God" may be:
1. Admonitory. "What manner of persons ought we to be?" "It is scandalous to be compelled to say of ministers what Tacitus writes of Licinius, 'Such a torpor had invaded his mind that, unless others had reminded him that he was a prince, he would have forgotten it.'" Dr. Payson tells us that as he went about his work he could sometimes hardly restrain himself from shouting aloud from very joy, "I'm a minister of Christ; I'm a minister of Christ."
2. Encouraging. For if we are sent "by the will of God" to preach or teach that gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," we may go and proclaim it, expecting it will be made a blessing, and making the watchword of the Crusaders our own, "God wills it." And we may emulate Paul's enthusiasm in preaching "the Word of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:13-21).
II. PAUL'S FELLOWSHIP WITH TIMOTHY. The relations of Timothy to Paul are described by various suggestive terms.
2. A brother in the same "household of faith," the family of God, in which the Colossians too had their place, in which "one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." Elsewhere he recognizes him as:
3. A fellow steward of the mysteries of God." Well instructed from a child in the Scriptures, he preached the gospel at Corinth in company with Paul (2 Corinthians 1:19), and could be trusted to preach the same truth in his absence (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). And he highly commends him as:
4. A devoted and most unselfish fellow worker in the Church of Christ (1 Corinthians 16:10, 11; Philippians 2:19-22). Further illustrations may be found in the Epistles to Timothy. Such notices as these show the humility of the apostle. There is no pomp of office or pride of power. He acts in the spirit of his own precept (Philippians 2:3). He delights to honour a brother, though confessedly his inferior, by associating his name with his own, thus vouching for his faith and commending him to the confidence of brethren who did not know him.
III. PAUL'S ESTIMATE OF THE COLOSSIANS. Here, as elsewhere, the apostle assumes that the Christian community he addresses is, in the main, worthy of the titles "saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus." These words imply that all who are members of a Church should be expected to be "saints," i.e. persons consecrated to the service of Christ; to be "brethren," adopted into the family of God and therefore "members one of another," and as brethren to be "faithful," to "show all good fidelity in all things," to "hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end." But such a character can only be maintained "in Christ Jesus," by union with him. One of the Fathers tells us that a saint, sanctus, is so called from two words sanguinne tinctus, i.e. as it were tinged with blood, "because anciently they who wished to be purified were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice." The lesson suggested is valuable, though the etymology may not be correct (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:22). Augustine, commenting on Psalm 86:2, says, "If thou shalt say that thou art holy of thyself, thou art proud; but being a believer in Christ and a member of Christ, if thou shalt not acknowledge thyself to be holy, thou art ungrateful. Say unto God, 'I am holy; for thou hast sanctified me.'" Our names are a perpetual appeal to us to consecration, purity, and fidelity, or they are witness against us. It is not enough to be called "faithful;" "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (Psalm 139:23, 24).
IV. PAUL'S AFFECTIONATE GREETING TO THEM. "Grace" is the initial good and "peace" the final good. Grace is "the well spring of all mercies, peace the crown of all blessings." The old Hebrew salutation, "peace," expands under the light and love of Christ to "grace and peace" in many of Paul's Epistles, and to "grace, mercy, and peace" in some of the later ones (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). These blessings come from God our Father the Fountain (Psalm 36:9; James 1:17); they are treasured up in Christ the Reservoir, ever full of "living water" (ver. 19; John 4:10, 14), and conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit as a channel; one yet manifold ("the seven Spirits," Revelation 1:4), because distributing to the necessities of each individual believer. We can wish for one another no better blessings than God's grace and God's peace; for "in his favour is life; the peace of God passeth all understanding." - E.S.P.
I. THANKSGIVING IS A CONSTANT EXERCISE OF THE CHRISTIAN HEART, AS IT IS ALSO A TRUE PART OF PRAYER. "We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you."
1. It ought to mingle with every prayer.We never pray but we have cause for thankfulness, and we never give thanks but we have cause to pray. And whatever may be the subject of our rejoicing ought to be matter for thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving was the apostle's constant recommendation (Philippians 4:6).
2. It is to be addressed to God the Father in Christ.
(1) Because we are commanded to "enter his gates with thanksgiving," "to be thankful to him and to bless his Name" (Psalm 100:4).
(2) Because it is only from him that we have all good (James 1:17).
(3) Because it is only by him we are preserved from all sin (Psalm 121:7).
(4) Because he only is good in himself (Luke 18:19).
3. Reasons for thanksgiving.
(2) We cannot expect a blessing unless we are thankful for it.
(3) The more thankful we are for mercies received, the more ground we have for expecting more of them.
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THE APOSTLE'S THANKSGIVING - THE FAITH AND LOVE OF THE COLOSSIANS. "Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have toward all the saints." It is interesting to remark that the apostle, in the two Epistles written at the same time as this to Colossae, expresses thankfulness for similar blessings (Ephesians 1:15; Philemon 1:5).
1. Their faith in Christ Jesus.
(1) It was not merely faith resting upon him and finding its nurture and support in him.
(2) But it centred in him as the sphere in which it had its due exercise. In this sense, Christ "dwells in the heart by faith" (Ephesians 3:17), and believers "rejoice in him" (Philippians 3:3, 7). Such a faith is a merciful preservative against doctrinal errors.
2.. Their love to all the sabots.
(1) The nature of this love. It includes:
(d) Cherishing a forgiving spirit (Ephesians 4:31).
(2) The manner of this love.
(a) It is to be brotherly. We are "to love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:22).
(c) It is to be from "a pure heart" (1 Timothy 1:5).
(d) It is to be fervent. "Have fervent charity among yourselves" (1 Peter 4:8).
(e) It is to be full of labours (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
(f) It is above all to be catholic. "All the saints," without distinction.
(3) The reasons for this love.
(a) Christ's example and command (John 13:34).
(c) It is the "fulfilling of the Law" (Romans 13:10).
(d) There is comfort in it (Philippians 2:1).
3. The relation between faith and love. They are necessarily joined together; for:
(1) Faith "worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6) and ought never to work without it.
(2) The grace of God abounds in "faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 1:14). Faith and love are the two members of the Christian religion.
4. The graces of the saints are easily known and heard of. The apostle heard of the faith and love of the Colossians. "Since the day we heard of them." They ought, therefore, to be bright in their heavenly lustre.
III. THE MOTIVE OR IMPULSIVE CAUSE OF THESE GRACES. "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens."
1. The nature of this hope.
(1) The sense of the word oscillates, it has been observed, between the subjective feeling and the objective realization; yet the thing hoped for is rather more prominent in the passage. It centres in the inheritance, in "the recompense of the reward," in "the good foundation against the time to come," in "the eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began."
(2) It is Divine in its origin, unlike the false hopes of men. We are "begotten to a living hope" (1 Peter 1:3).
2. The security of this hope. "Which is laid up for you in the heavens." It is secure because:
(1) It is laid up in the country where our Father dwells. And who can destroy it in such keeping?
(2) It is linked to "the two immutable things" - the oath and the promise of God, which are fastened within the veil by our Forerunner, even Jesus (Hebrews 6:19).
(3) It is where the devil cannot come.
(4) It is in heaven, not on earth, and therefore free from all the corruptions that the moth and rust of the world may inflict.
3. The quickening power of this hope. It has great influence upon our faith and love. God makes one grace cause another. "It is hope that plucks up the heart of man to a constant desire of union with God by faith, and of communion with man by love." Moses had respect to the recompense of the reward (Hebrews 11:25, 26). The saints will find that it is not in vain to serve the Almighty. They ought, therefore, to remember
(1) that their hope is not in this world;
(2) that they should walk as "pilgrims and strangers," using the world as if they used it not;
(3) that they should despise the scorn and hate of a world which "will always love his own."
4. How is this hope to be increased? Though it cannot be made more secure, it may be more fully realized. To this end, we need
(1) true grace, for we can only have "a good hope through grace" (2 Thessalonians 2:16);
(2) experience (Romans 5:4);
(3) patience and comfort of the Scriptures (Born. 15:4);
(4) joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13).
IV. THE SOURCE OF OUR DIVINE HOPE. "Whereof ye heard before in the Word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you."
1. It is by the hearing of the Word we learn of our hope. There is no other way of learning it. The Lord has sent us the news of salvation. Nature tells us nothing of a Divine hope. The importance of this hearing is manifest, because:
(2) It opens men's hearts (Acts 16:14).
(3) It causes the stony heart to melt, and the proud heart to tremble (Isaiah 66:2).
(4) The afflicted conscience is cured by it (Psalm 51:8). Let us, therefore, thank God for it, love his gospel, receive his commands, and submit to his guidance.
2. The preciousness of the Word. It is "the Word of the truth of the gospel." As if to signify the contrast between the simple truth taught them by Epaphras and the errors of the false teachers. Its preciousness lies in its truth.
(1) It reveals to us the true mind of the Lord as to the way of salvation. "It is a true saying, and worthy of all acceptation" (1 Timothy 1:12).
(2) It exhibits to us Jesus Christ as the Truth, as "him that is true," as "the faithful and true Witness."
(3) It reveals to us the gospel; for "it is the Word of the truth of the gospel." This gospel is
(a) the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16).
(b) It brings life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).
(c) It brings abundance of blessings (Romans 15:14).
(d) It is a witness to all nations (Matthew 24:14).
(4) It works truth in us by working knowledge in us and enabling us to do the truth (John 3:22; James 3:17). Therefore believers ought to pray God to give them the Spirit of truth, that "they may come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25), and never think of resting in the mere form of truth (Romans 2:20; John 3:22).
3. The accessibility of the Word. It is "come unto you." It came without their seeking it or sending for it. The Colossians sat in darkness and the shadow of death, estranged "from the life of God through ignorance," till God caused the light to shine into their hearts. We ought, therefore,
(1) to acknowledge the flee grace of God in sending us such good tidings;
(2) to rejoice in the gospel and walk by the light of it.
V. THE FRUIT BEARING POWER AND EXPANSIVENESS OF THE GOSPEL. "Even as it is also in all the world, bearing fruit and increasing." These words set forth at once the efficacy and the rapid growth of the gospel, its inner working and its outward expansion.
1.. Its fruit bearing power.
(1) This was according to promise (Isaiah 55:10, 23).
(2) It was its design - "to gather fruit which might abide to everlasting life" (John 15:16).
(3) It was to produce fruit "in all the world" - in all climates, among all races, in all ages of the world, as if to mark its universal adaptability to the wants of men. In this respect it differed from the false gospels, which were esoteric or limited in their application. It is the grand verification of the gospel that it continues to bear fruit age after age (Ezekiel 48:12).
2. Its expansiveness. Its rapid progress in the days of the apostles is one of the wonders of history; for "the Word of God grew and multiplied" in the face of the opposition of magistrates, the persecution of Jewish zealots, the perversions of false teachers, and the inconsistencies of Christian professors themselves. Though the Word was not yet announced to all nations, the whole world was the area of its increasing power.
VI. THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL, PARTICULARLY AT COLOSSAE. "As it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth."
1. The hearing is necessary to the knowledge of the grace of God, yet there is a hearing that is resultless of all good. To hear with profit, we must
(1) become fools that we may be wise (1 Corinthians 3:18);
(2) come with a purpose to be reformed by it (Psalm 25:14);
(3) listen with a meek and humble spirit (James 1:22);
2. The true knowledge of the grace of God is fruitful in all the growths of righteousness.
(1) The gospel as taught at Colossae was an offer of free grace, as opposed to the false gospels, which were codes of rigorous prescription. We must, therefore, be careful
(a) not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1);
(b) to appreciate "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9);
(c) to avoid those who would "make void the grace of God" (Galatians 2:21);
(d) to find our constant standing in this grace (1 Peter 5:2).
(2) The gospel at Colossae had produced much spiritual fruit to the praise of God's glory. Epaphras makes special mention of their "love in the Spirit." It refers to all the love which is wrought in the heart by the Spirit.
3. The early and continuous experience of this grace is a good sign of spiritual growth. "Since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth." This language implies that the work of God wrought speedily upon the Colossians, and that it continued to work. Their goodness was not as the morning dew.
VII. THE FOUNDER OF COLOSSIAN CHRISTIANITY - EPAPHRAS. "As ye learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit."
1. His character and position as a minister.
(1) The apostle gives him the right hand of fellowship, and mentions him with loving regard, that he may strengthen his influence among the people of Colossae. He would thus be better beloved and more useful.
(2) The commendation presents Epaphras in a twofold relation.
(a) To the apostle himself,
) as "our beloved fellow servant," working in the service of the same Master and in loving relationship to all his servants;
) as the representative particularly of the apostle himself, being "a minister of Christ on our behalf," preaching at Colossae instead of the apostle, and, therefore, not to be displaced by the new school of Judaeo-Gnostic sectaries;
) perhaps, also, as "a fellow prisoner," for Epaphras appears in this light in the contemporary Epistle (Philemon 1:23).
(b) To the Colossian Church. "Who is a faithful minister of Christ."
) He was called a minister of the Colossians; for Christ is our true Master, and Epaphras is his minister. It is by his authority ministers act in the people's service.
) His faithfulness is to be specially noted, he was faithful to Christ, to the truth, to the souls of men. It is "faithful men" who will be "able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). It is necessary for "a steward of the mysteries" to be "found" faithful.
2. His continued interest in their welfare.
(1) Epaphras tells the apostle something that would tend to bind the flock at Colossae more closely together. "He declared unto us your love in the Spirit." A faithful minister is always glad to give a good report of his people, and especially of what good things God has wrought by him. He has, no doubt, to make report of corruptions in opinion and worship at Colossae, but he is careful to make first mention of their spiritual graces.
(2) He labours for them in prayer (Colossians 4:12), that "they may stand fast, perfect and complete in the whole will of God." - T. C.
I. THANKSGIVING. This forms a suitable introduction (in Ephesians the apostle starts with a sublime but less personal doxology).
1. The facts of thanksgiving. There may be said to be two facts, but the other is subordinated to this (which accordingly is assigned the first place), "We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." In this exercise Timothy was conjoined with Paul. Being a thing about which they were agreed, they could thank God, not only separately, but unitedly. This is a holy partnership on which God looks down with special pleasure. Where did they go to with their thanksgivings? It was to the First Source, through the Second Source. Our Lord as the Saviour anointed (Jesus Christ) dispenses blessings; but he has got them from the Father ("He has received gifts for men"), and therefore we trace them up, in others as well as in ourselves, through Christ to his Father. "Praying always for you." This is stated to show the abundance of his opportunity for thanksgiving. He was always praying for the Colossian Church as for other Churches. This was one form which his care for all the Churches (a daily care) took. And Timothy, it seems, was not behindhand, but was copying the comprehehsiveness of his instructor. And as, in their like mindedness, they had daily prayers together, when they came to thanksgiving Colossae was never forgotten.
2. On what their thanksgiving was founded. "Having heard." He (Paul) was not (never had been) an eyewitness of the Church at Colossae, but his ear was open to all information from that quarter, by Colossian visitors, or by special deputy (from himself), or through less direct channels. Timothy (with his many movements and, we may suppose, missions of inquiry) had probably been at Colossae, but his knowledge, too, had been added to by hearing. And, as the two talked over matters, they found subject for thanksgiving It is one reason for our extending our knowledge of missionary operations (not confining them to one society or field) that, by doing so, we get a multiplicity of subjects for thanksgiving.
3. For what specially they thanked God.
(1) Faith. "Of your faith in Christ Jesus." It was faith (subjectively) that made them a Church. When Paul and Timothy thanked God for the faith of the Colossians, they had in view the activity of their faith. It was not only there (that is supposed in their being addressed as "faithful brethren"), but it was strongly operating. The element in which it operated, and in which it admitted of endless expansion, was Christ Jesus (a saving element being in him that was inexhaustible).
(2) Love. "And of the love which ye have toward all the saints." Their love to be thus signalized must have been more than ordinarily active. There is a vague kind of love which does not amount to much. If it is really the Christian principle of love (of the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians) and if it is sufficiently active, it will show itself, not only in the absence of jealousy, but in the presence of positive interest. These Colossians did not confine their affections within their own circle, but let them go out toward all the saints. They acquainted themselves with the condition of other Churches, and in many ways were helpful to them. Faith and love are here referred to generally, but when Paul and Timothy gave thanks, they would be able to fix upon this and upon that as evidencing the reality and vitality of their faith and love.
II. THE LOVE (WHICH FORMED MATTER OF THANKSGIVING) WAS CAUSED BY HOPE. "Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens." This hope had a certain objective character. It was something outside of them which was safely laid past for their future enjoyment. At the same time, it had a certain subjective character. It was something operating within their own breasts. They were kind to the saints of their day (without exception). Why? Because they looked beyond the present. The time would come when (removed from under earthly conditions) they would meet them in the heavens. They might get no reward here (their catholicity might bring them persecution), but it would be reward enough to see there those whom they had done their duty by, and to receive from Christ words of approval It was because of this hope, then (so sure), that their love flourished.
III. THE HOPE WAS COMMUNICATED IN THE GOSPEL. "Whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel." We owe it to God that he has given us "the truth" (and the gifts of God are without repentance). We may well prize this gift of God when we think of the erroneous ideas which men (unaided by revelation) have entertained. This is the Promethean fire, not stolen, but, in infinite love, sent down from heaven. God has placed us under additional obligation by giving us the truth in the form of "the Word." Considering the conditions of language and our earthly necessities, this form is perfect. "The Law of the Lord is perfect." It is an abiding form. There may be movements of thought away from "the Law and the testimony," but here always is the truth in the form in which God wishes us to have it, if only we can bring our minds up to it. The whole Word of truth is precious; but there is that which is to be regarded as singularly precious (being singled out here), viz. the gospel, or the good message, God's special message (of a glad nature), to sinners in need of salvation. It was this gospel that the Colossians at a former period had heard. By this the burden of their sin had been removed, and the hope of immortality enkindled within them.
IV. HOW THE GOSPEL (THROUGH WHICH THE HOPE WAS COMMUNICATED) WAS PRESENTED.
1. There was a general gospel movement. "Which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing." The parting command of the Master was, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation [every creature]." And the command had been carried out (as time allowed) in its wideness. The gospel-trumpet had been heard, not merely in Palestine, but had sounded out to all lands. And everywhere an efficacy had attended the preaching of the gospel. False forms of religion are limited by certain climatic conditions, by certain temperaments. What would do in Phrygia might not do in Rome. But the gospel (unmodified) had been proved to be worldwide in its adaptation, adapted for Jew and Gentile, for Eastern and Western alike. As the apostle represents it here, in all the world the gospel tree had been bearing fruit and increasing, in a healthy fruit tree there is a double effort going on. There is an effort after fruit producing, which is crowned when in autumn there are seen the ripe apples or rich clusters of grapes. But at the same time, there is an effort after the producing of more wood, which has a view to future fruit producing. And so with regard to the gospel in the Church; if it is vital, then there will be produced the fruits of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit (a rich cluster) which is described in Galatians. And not only so, but there will at the same time be produced an increased sphere of fruit producing. And the two processes can go on without their interfering with each other. The gospel in the Church may be producing its rich clusters, and at the same time enlarging the sphere where such clusters may grow.
2. The movement in Colossae partook of the characteristics of the general movement. "As it doth in you also." The gospel was as a tree (on a small scale) in Colossae. And there, as in all the world, it was bearing fruit and increasing. Three fruits have already been mentioned, these the three Christian graces - faith, hope, and charity. And we may gather from the second word that the numbers of Christian converts were increasing at Colossae. And also Christians may have gone forth from Colossae to spread the gospel in other places.
3. This was to be accounted for by two circumstances.
(1) The gospel had been rightly presented to them. "Since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth." The movement is traced back to its very commencement. He (the writer, Timothy assenting) calls to mind the very day when the gospel was first preached to them. It was a red-letter day in the history of Colossae (though viewed differently by some there), more famous than the day when Xerxes halted there on his march against Greece, or the day when Cyrus with his Greeks passed through it on his march against his brother at Babylon. It was really Christ entering the town, to take possession of those for whom he had died. And no spurious gospel had been preached to them. There were spurious gospels, which consisted in cold moralities and rigorous prohibitions. But the gospel (the true gospel) which had been preached to them was the grace of God. It told of salvation wrought out, not in answer to man's call, but to satisfy the yearnings of Divine love. It was salvation offered, not to human merit, but freely, on the ground of the infinite merits of the Saviour. And this gospel (as evidence that it had been rightly presented) they knew, from their own consciousness of salvation, to be the truth of God.
(2) The gospel had been rightly presented to them by Epaphras. "Even as ye learned of Epaphras." His character more generally. "Our beloved fellow servant." He was a servant of Christ (ready to go anywhere at the Master's bidding). That was his general fitness for service. That was what Paul and Timothy were as well as he. For he is called their "fellow servant." And he was a fellow servant whom they had learned to regard with the warmest affection. His character with special reference to the Church at Colossae. "Who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf." He represented Christ in minis-teeing the gospel at Colossae; and testimony is borne to his having faithfully represented him. He had not shrunk from declaring unto them the whole counsel of God. He had preached unto them grace which, while free, bore good fruit. We may, therefore, regard him (and not Paul directly) as the founder of the Colossian Church. At the same time, he represented Paul (and his coadjutors). He was acting on their behalf. There were friendly relations between Colossae and Ephesus. In connection with the sojourn of the apostle for three years at that Asian centre, it is said that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." Among those who had occasion to visit Ephesus during that period, and were led to hear the Word, was probably Epaphras. Converted by the apostle, we can understand him charged by him to preach the gospel at his native Colossae. And thus, though Paul had never visited Colossae, yet he claimed an interest in the Church as having led to its formation, in having given them Epaphras.
V. EPAPHRAS CONVEYED TO ROME THE TIDINGS OF THEIR LOVE (FOR WHICH GOD WAS THANKED). "Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit." He not only had conveyed the gospel from them to the Colossians, but had also conveyed to them now at Rome the tidings of their love. It was the love for which God was thanked, and it is here characterized as "in the Spirit" (one of the two references to the Spirit in an Epistle which is largely taken up with the Person of Christ). It was a love within that sphere in which the Spirit works (and wide as it), and sustained by the Spirit. Epaphras had acted a kindly part toward them. In giving an account of matters relating to the Colossian Church, he had not concealed what was to their credit. The whole of the allusion to Epaphras (so honourable to him) was fitted and intended to establish his influence at Colossae, which may have been shaken by false teachers. This paragraph, so remarkable, bears a resemblance in form to the Sorites in logic. It is a series of propositions, in which the predicate of one becomes the subject of the next, and in which in the last there is a reference back to the first. The propositions are these:
1. We thank God especially for your love.
2. Your love, for which we thank God, was caused by hope.
3. The hope, which caused your love, was communicated in the gospel.
4. The gospel, which communicated the hope, was rightly presented by Epaphras.
5. Epaphras, who rightly presented the gospel, gave us tidings of your love (for which we thank God). These propositions (if with some loss of clearness, yet with gain of force) are (with considerable detail) all compacted by the apostle into one unbroken paragraph. - R. F.
I. THE SPIRIT OF THIS THANKSGIVING. Whatever is in it is so beautiful that we may well imitate it. Observe:
1. It is unselfish. We hear the prisoner praise, the chained captive exult, for the joys of others. Arthur Helps says, "That man is very strong and powerful, who has no more hopes for himself, who looks not to be loved any more, to be admired any more, to have any more honour and dignity, but whose sole thought is for others, and who only lives for them." That is what you have before you here.
2. It is ungrudging. Paul is about to deal with their errors, but nevertheless how willing and, indeed, eager he is first to recognize what is good and laudable in this Colossian Church! There are two sets of men with regard to art, scenery, and society: those who first see the blemish, then the beauty; and those who flint of all rejoice in the admirable, if afterwards they have to criticise any drawback. To the second of these Paul belonged.
3. It is constant. Like a perennial fountain, his praise and prayer for them shall be poured forth.
II. THE SUBJECT OF THIS THANKSGIVING. He thanks God:
1. For the spiritual possessions of the Church. Here is the familiar triad of his thought and description - faith, love, hope. Sometimes he views faith and love as leading up to hope; here he depicts hope as kindling faith and love.
(1) The faith is Christ centred. "In Christ Jesus."
(2) The love is practical. It distributes "to the necessities of saints."
(3) The hope is secure. It is stored up - "laid up in heaven." So it is above fire and flood and all destructive forces.
2. For the means by which these possessions had been obtained. For:
(1) The gospel;" Word of truth," etc. He rejoices in its reality - "Word of truth;" universality - "whole world;" and in its fertility. He shows not only its vitality, but its inherent reproductiveness. It "multiplies itself again."
(2) The preacher. He thanks God, not only for their possessions, and the means by which they had been acquired; but:
3. For the source and sphere of their possession. "Love is its spirit." Love is the life of the saints. - U. R.T.
Colossians 4:12) had probably been the first evangelist sent by Paul to Colossal, and the founder of the Church there (ver. 7, Revised Version). He brought also news which caused the apostle much anxiety (Colossians 2:1, 2, 8, etc.). But before he utters cautions he pours forth thanksgivings. We are thus reminded of two things.
1. Paul's largeness of heart. Love "rejoiceth in the truth" and "envieth not" those who have either more spiritual gifts or more temporal blessings (Romans 12:15). The fruit of Epaphras' ministry was a source of joy to him. He felt grateful for the gifts in money from the Philippians brought by Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:17, 18), but more for "the love in the Spirit" of the Colossians reported by Epaphras.
2. Paul's sympathy with the mind of his Master. Christ also dictated Epistles. Wherever there is anything to commend in the Churches of Asia, the Lord mentions this before he utters a word of censure. The apostle, writing earlier, but taught by the same Spirit of Christ, pursues a similar course in nearly all his Epistles (Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). "The meekness and gentleness of Christ" enable him to praise and congratulate even the disorderly Church at Corinth. The apostle blends thanksgivings with his prayers, especially on account of that triad of graces, faith, love, hope, which elsewhere he rejoices in (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Their faith worked by love and was sustained by hope. Their permanent fruitfulness proved the reality of their spiritual life. We must, however, observe that the term "hope" is used here in a sense somewhat different to that in the other passages quoted above. It is the object of hope (as in Galatians 5:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 6:18), implying subjective hope. That "hope set before us" "we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil." Following the suggestions of this figure, we may notice some of the links of the chain of spiritual blessings by which the souls of converts are connected with that anchor, and on account of which ministers may give thanks on behalf of Christians who in these respects resemble the Colossians.
I. WE HAVE HEARD "THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL." No gospel, no hope (Ephesians 2:12). We did not come to the gospel; it "is come unto" us. The Physician sought the patient, the Saviour the sinner (Isaiah 65:1; Luke 19:10). The gospel in its triumphant progress throughout all the world reached Great Britain, an Ultima Thule, brought by unknown missionaries who "for his Name's sake went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." We ourselves have heard "the joyful sound," the genuine gospel, "the grace of God in truth" (Galatians 2:5; 1 Peter 5:12), the gospel of Christ which alone is "the power of God unto salvation."
II. WE. HAVE TRUSTED OURSELVES TO CHRIST. "Your faith in Christ Jesus;" We have not only heard, but we know,"the grace of God in truth." We know it because we have had a Divine Teacher. "In coelo cathedram habet qui corda docet" (Augustine). Our faith is the gift of God; it rests not "in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." Thus we "know whom we have believed," etc. (2 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 5:13, 19, 20). Belief conducts to knowledge (John 6:69).
III. WE ARE BRINGING FORTH FRUIT. Wherever the gospel comes, i.e. comes home to men's consciences and hearts, it must be a fructifying power. "Even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit," etc. Ours is not a faith which "is dead in itself because it has not works." "Can that faith save" us (James 2:17, 14)? Ours is a "faith working through love." The quickening Spirit within us will bring forth "fruit after his kind" (Galatians 5:22, 23). One of the most characteristic fruits is love. "The love which ye have toward all the saints." We cherish love toward them because, in spite of all their failings, they are beloved children of our Father God (1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1).
IV. OUR FRUITS ARE VISIBLE AND PERMANENT. They are such as an Epaphras could discern and report. Our lights shine; our good works are seen (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 3 John 1:6). This fruit bearing is prompt. "Since the day," etc. The fruit itself multiplies; the gospel is "bearing fruit and increasing." Side by side with the outward growth of the gospel (which may be illustrated by the notices of the increase of the Church in Judaea from the "about a hundred and twenty" to the "many myriads" of Acts 21:20; and from progress in our own days), there is the ripening of Christian character (2 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10) and the leavening influence of the gospel on modern society. For all these things we thank God, but especially if our fruit is permanent. The gospel still is bearing fruit in us (Psalm 1:3). Our hearts are not the stony or thorny ground. Christ's object is being fulfilled (John 15:16). We have not forgotten our first love; our last works are more than our first. "The past things perish if those things which were begun cease to go on to perfection" (Cyprian). Growth and persistence are causes for sincerest thanks.
V. "THE HOPE WHICH IS LAID UP IN THE HEAVENS" SUSTAINS OUR FAITH AND LOVE. "Faith... and love... because of the hope." This hope laid up is itself one of the things "hoped for." It is a reserved blessing, part of that great goodness of God "laid up for them that fear thee" (Psalm 31:19; 1 Peter 1:4, 5). But the links in the chain of spiritual blessings we have examined unite our souls here to the inheritance yonder (Romans 8:24, 25). Such hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:5; Jude 1:20, 21). If our souls are not firmly moored to that object of hope "laid up for us in the heavens," let us ask - Which is the missing link? - E.S.P.
I. THE GOSPEL IS FRUITFUL. It is not a barren doctrine. It is a living truth that produces effects in the hearts of men which are made manifest through the influence of them on external conduct. It is fruitful in two ways.
1. In increase. The truth spreads like leaven; the mustard seed grows into a great tree; the two or three in an upper room multiply into the thousands of Pentecost and into the millions, the Churches of modern Christendom.
2. In good influences. The tree not only puts forth new shoots and so grows in size, it blossoms and bears fruit. The fruits of the gospel are the same graces as are elsewhere called "the fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22, 23). Christianity makes happier and better men of us. These fruits are as visible as the fact of the numerical increase of the Church. All modern history bears witness to them, especially in the elevation of woman, the abolition of slavery, the recognition of national justice, the spread of a spirit of humanity, the creation of institutions of charity, and, better still, the doing of innumerable nameless deeds of kindness.
II. THE FIELD OF THE GOSPEL'S FRUITFULNESS IS THE WORLD. It was not preached in the whole world in St. Paul's day, nor is it even yet. But the process of bearing fruit throughout the world then began and still continues.
1. The fruit is seen in this world. The ripest fruit may not be perfected here, but if there is no fruit on earth there will be none in heaven. The gospel is first of all good news of peace on earth - it promises blessings for the present life (1 Timothy 4:8).
2. The gospel brings blessings to the whole earth. It is suited to all kinds of men, of all nations and in all ages, because it speaks to the common heart of mankind, offering the supply of universal wants and conferring graces that are universally good.
3. The gospel bears fruit throughout the world by first of all bearing fruit in the Church. "As it doth in you also." We can only enjoy the fruits of the gospel by entering the kingdom of Christ. The fruitfulness of the Church is the direct cause of the spread of Christianity throughout the world. Thus God is glorified in our fruitfulness (John 15:8).
III. THE SECRET OF THE GOSPEL'S FRUITFULNESS IS THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GRACE OF GOD OF WHICH IT IS THE DECLARATION.
1. The energy of fruit bearing resides in the grace of God. When men feel that grace they become new creatures. The constraining love of Christ works the miracle.
2. The receipt of this energy defends on the knowledge of Divine grace. It does not work by magic, but through an understanding of its truths. Therefore it is vain to pray for the increased fruitfulness of the gospel without also preaching the gospel.
3. A true understanding of the grace of God is necessary for its fruitfulness. It must be known "in truth." Perversions of the gospel hinder the fruitfulness of Christianity. The gospel tells of facts. Let us see those facts clearly separated from the errors and imaginations of human theology. - W.F.A.
I. THE URGENT SPIRIT OF THIS PRAYER. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you."
1. It is the duty as well as the desire of ministers, not only to teach their flocks, but to pray for them. They must say, like Samuel, "God forbid that I should... cease to pray for you" (2 Samuel 12:23). The prayer of Moses was more influential against Amalek than all the weapons of Israel. "The prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
2.. They ought to be unceasing in their supplications. There must be "perseverance in supplication for all saints" (Ephesians 6:18). We must give God no rest; for he often delays the answer to increase our importunity (Luke 18:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 12:8, 9).
3. The reason for constant supplication. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray... for you." The apostle had heard of their faith and love, and was naturally concerned for their growth in grace, for the free course of the Word among them, and for their freedom from all error. He heard they were good, and he prayed that they might be better.
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE APOSTLE'S PRAYER. "That ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."
1. The Divine will is the supreme subject of knowledge to a believer. It is not mere speculations about God's nature or his counsels, but his will, that we are to study. This is God's will as it is made known to us either in Scripture or experience.
(1) It is his determining will (Ephesians 1:5).
2. The knowledge necessary to understand it is instinct with "spiritual wisdom and understanding." Knowledge is power, but it may work for evil as well as good. It must be regulated by wisdom and understanding.
(1) Wisdom; not that which has "a show of wisdom," and springs from vanity nurtured by the fleshly mind (Colossians 2:18, 23); not fleshly wisdom (2 Corinthians 1:12); much less that which is "earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:17); but spiritual wisdom - the knowledge of the true end of life, such as God gives to the simple (Psalm 19:7), enabling them to penetrate the mysteries of Divine truth (1 Corinthians 2:6) and to understand their duty to God and man in all the relations of life. It is "from above" (James 3:17); it presupposes the existence of faith and love; it is a subject of Christian prayer.
(2) Understanding is the faculty of spiritual insight which takes in the bearings of things. It fits us for the service of God on earth and for the glory of God in heaven. As it is spiritual, it is touched with meekness and humility.
3. The measures of this knowledge. "That ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will." There is no limit assigned to it.
(1) We cannot rest with mere rudiments; we must be "filled with all knowledge" (Romans 15:14).
(2) There will always be something wanting in this life. "We know in part" (1 Corinthians 13:11).
(3) Nothing but the knowledge of the will of God will ever satisfy the deep hunger of man's heart.
4. Motives to this fuller knowledge.
(1) It is the glory of the saints to have it (Jeremiah 9:24).
(2) It is their special privilege to have it (Mark 4:11.)
(3) To want it is a sin and a sorrow (Hosea 4:6).
(4) It is the most excellent of all knowledge; for it is eternal life itself (John 17:3).
5. Design of this knowledge. "To walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing by the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to the power of his glory, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness." The design is twofold as it bears respectively upon action and upon suffering.
(1) The knowledge of God's will is to influence conduct. Its true end is practical obedience. We are "to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing."
(a) Walking worthy of the Lord. This is not
) with a worthiness of merit, far we are all of us unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10);
) but with a worthiness of meekness such as is becoming when we consider the dignity of our calling, the glory of the kingdom of God, the supplies of grace which the gospel affords, and the blessed hopes laid up for us in heaven.
(i.) He that seeks not to please him in all things seeks not to please him in anything.
(ii.) If we please him he will make our very" enemies at peace with us" (Proverbs 16:7).
(iii.) "Men pleasing" is inconsistent with God pleasing (Colossians 3:22).
(iv.) It would be sinful and ungrateful to displease him.
(v.) Pleasing God is the work of heaven (Psalm 103:20, 21).
(b) A twofold aspect of worthy walking.
) Christian fruitfulness. "Bearing fruit in every good work."
(i.) The necessity of it.
(a) It is for God's glory (John 15:18).
(b) As a proof of our faith (James 2:18, 26).
(d) The increase of our final reward (2 John 1:8)
(ii.) The means of it.
(b) We must dwell beside the rivers of water (Psalm 1:3).
(iii.) The extent of it - "in every good work." We must be harmoniously developed in our obedience as in our inward experience (Philippians 4:8).
) Increase in moral stature - "increasing by the knowledge of God." We grow in grace just as we grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). There is a mutual interaction between knowledge and grace. We are to add to our faith virtue, and to our virtue knowledge (2 Peter 1:5), just as we are to grow in all spiritual graces by knowledge. Knowledge promotes the sanctification of our callings and our food (1 Timothy 4:3), enables us to discern things that differ (Philippians 1:10), and keeps down corrupt affections (Isaiah 11:7, 9).
(2) The knowledge of God's will tends to strengthen patience in suffering.
(a) The need of abounding strength - "strengthened with all might."
) The afflictions of life tend to weaken us.
) Our adversaries are many.
) Our faith is fitful.
) We are often unsettled and tossed about by the wind of contrary doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).
) We are, perhaps, "babes in Christ," and unskilful in the word of righteousness (Hebrews 5:12, 13).
(b) The source of our strengths "according to the power of his glory;" his glory being the manifestation of his love to man (Ephesians 3:16). We "can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us" (Philippians 4:13). He "giveth strength to his people" and "strength is of the Lord." (Psalm 62:11). "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31). "Glorious power will be victorious power." It is God's revelation of himself to us that gives us our greatest strength. It is his glory that sets his power to work, as it is by promise pledged to his people. Therefore:
) Let us pray for knowledge and faith to discern God's promise and power (Ephesians 1:8).
) Let us hold fast the truth of the gospel, eschewing "winds of doctrine." Let us "follow the truth in love."
(c) The fruit of our strength - "unto patience and long suffering with joyfulness."
) Patience or endurance.
(i.) It is the grace which does not easily succumb under suffering, and is one of the most blessed fruits of the tree of life. It is the result of the bracing effect of affliction (James 5:11), and is opposed to despondency or cowardice.
(ii.) Our patience will grow
) Long suffering is a temper of gentleness and self restraint, closely connected with patience.
(i.) It is the Lord's command that we should suffer long (Matthew 5:21, 22)
(ii.) There are injuries that befall us in Divine providence (2 Samuel 16:10).
(iii.) A revengeful spirit is a hindrance to prayer (1 Timothy 2:8) and to the due power of the Word (James 1:21), and it lets the devil into the heart (Ephesians 4:21). Therefore, let us practise this grace of long suffering.
) Joyfulness. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." It is possible to be "sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10).
(i.) Our patience and long-suffering must be balanced with joy so as to sustain their true temper.
(ii.) It is possible to be joyful in tribulations (James 1:2).
(v.) It is one of the fruits of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:22). - T. C.
Ephesians 3:14-21) and the intercession he here makes for the Colossians. In both he appeals to the Father that the most intimate and loving relations may be established between the persons prayed for and "his dear Son." He gives, however, in the case before us a magnificence to his conception of Christ which is not found in the longer Epistle. In this way he could best meet and overcome the Gnostic tendency at Colossal. Let us consider the truth embodied in the intercession in the following order: -
I. WE SHALL CONSIDER THE KING HERE REFERRED TO. (Ver. 13.) Paul has already presented Jesus Christ as the Object of the Colossians' faith. But in the present section he presents him as "God's dear Son," or "the Son of his love" (υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ), in possession of a kingdom. This kingdom is the antithesis of "the power of darkness;" it is, in fact, a kingdom of light. The sphere of the inheritance of the saintly subjects is said to be light (ver. 12). Hence Jesus is brought before us in this prayer much as he is brought before us in the Apocalypse, as the light giving Lamb (Revelation 21:23). "I am the Light of the world," he said; and as the greater light rules the day, so does Jesus rule in his kingdom (John 8:12; Genesis 1:16). The sun is now known to be the source of all the light and heat enjoyed on the earth; to his genial beams we owe spring and summer and autumn, and all the precious fruits of the earth; so is it to Jesus Christ we owe all the procession of seasonable blessing which his kingdom affords. He is King, then, over such a realm as Pilate could not appreciate - over a kingdom of truth, whose rights interfered not with the rights of Caesar (John 18:33-38; Matthew 22:21). The light in which our spirits are bathed is truth - the truth as it is in Jesus. From his glorious Person there radiates the benign and healing beams which enable the recipients to grow even as the calves of the stall (Malachi 4:2).
II. LET US CONSIDER THE SUBJECTS SECURED FOR THIS KING. (Vers. 13, 14.) Now, Paul in this prayer speaks of the Father providing subjects for his dear Son. And, strange to say, he finds them in the kingdom of darkness, and by translation he populates the kingdom of his Son. He finds the raw material in sinners who need redemption and pardon, and they become Christ's subjects through receiving at his hands these indispensable blessings. Truly it is a strange arrangement that the King, God's dear Son, should, before entering upon his reign, first die and provide through the shedding of his blood the redemption and forgiveness the subjects need. Yet so it is. The Father sent his Son to be the Sacrifice to take away sin, and from the altar he passes to the throne. We here can see how endeared the King must be to his subjects. Having lived and died to redeem us, we feel it to be only just that we should live, and, if need be, die for him. Hence the consecration of the blood of the Son of God is upon all the subjects. It is a kingdom of redeemed and pardoned and blood-bought souls over whom Jesus reigns.
III. CONSIDER NEXT THE OCCUPATIONS OF THIS KINGDOM. (Vers. 9-11.) We can now see clearly that the duty of the blood bought subjects of King Jesus is, in one word, to do his will. But, before we can do his will, we must know it. Hence Paul prays that these Colossians may be "filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." The cry of the blood bought soul is "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" We place ourselves at the disposal of our King and ask him to show us his will. As a rule, we shall not be left long in doubt regarding it. In the darkest hour the light ariseth for the upright (Psalm 112:4). If we straight fowardly want to know what Christ's will is, we shall soon find it. But this knowledge of Christ's will is that the Colossians may "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." Jesus indicates his will that his blood bought people may walk worthily. High moral principle is to characterize them constantly. And every good work will find in them willing hands. The servants of Christ have been always in the van of philanthropic effort. And this morality and zeal will not be allowed to hinder progress in the knowledge of God. Education is not withheld from any of Christ's subjects by reason of the multiplicity of other claims. The real education, which is in the knowledge of God - for the world and all that it contains constitute in the last analysis simply a revelation of his power and Godhead (Romans 1:20) - goes hand-in-hand with moral earnestness and effort. But yet again, the subjects of Christ's kingdom find the need of patience and long suffering; they cannot get along without bearing a good deal from worldly people - sneers, insolence, persecution, and in extreme eases death. Yet the King strengthens his people with might according to his glorious power, so that they are able joyfully to bear and suffer what is sent. It is here that the occupations of the kingdom constitute a power. The world wonders at the saints who can be so joyful in their King, in spite of the drawbacks and difficulties to which they are exposed.
IV. CONSIDER AGAIN THE COMPENSATIONS OF THE KINGDOM. (Ver. 12.) What is "the inheritance of the saints in light"? Does it mean a heavenly world where light such as only shines on tropical lands shall bathe emancipated men, and they shall be enabled to lie like lotus eaters amid the glory, and never further roam? It is to be feared that the current notions of heaven partake of the dreamy "sofa religion," which to earnest worldly natures is so repulsive. Let us, on the contrary, remember that the doing of our Lord's will is its own reward. Heaven will afford no higher enjoyment than this. Our souls are not rightly balanced when they look for something else or more. "We are saved," says Archer Butler, "that we may for eternity serve God; salvation itself would be misery if unaccompanied by a love for that service." In the pleasing of our King, therefore, all the compensations of the kingdom lie. The outward conditions and circumstances would be changed in vain if we were not animated by this loyal and loving spirit. May such meetness for the inheritance be our present experience, as it was that of the Colossians. - R.M.E.
I. MAKING REQUEST.
1. Impulse under which request was made for the Colossians. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pr
wish for what he sought for Christians; and, more than that, we are encouraged to hope for it. He prays -
I. THAT THEIR KNOWLEDGE MAY INCREASE. Partly because of the error by which many of the Colossian Church were being misled, but also because increase of knowledge is good for any Church, Paul here says he prays for it, and even at times afterwards urges it on them. No Greek had more veneration for the blue-eyed Athena, no Roman for wondrously equipped Minerva, than Paul had for knowledge. There are three expressions here to describe this knowledge, expressions that are very often used in combination both in the Old and New Testaments. They describe, generally, the science, the philosophy, and the art of religion.
1. Knowledge, which in the Greek is not the simple word for knowledge, but intensified, large, and thorough knowledge. In this case full acquaintance with the Law of God, the precepts of Christ, the doctrine of the apostles, which is essential as a beginning, a basis of Christian culture, but is only a beginning and a basis.
2. Wisdom, which is higher than knowledge and includes both knowledge and understanding. It is not mere additional information, the acquaintance with more facts, or even more laws, or even more principles. Wisdom is digested knowledge, knowledge wrought into a system; or, as Cardinal Newman well puts it, "reason exercised upon knowledge." In this case it is the calm comprehensive view of the information attained - information about God's Law, Christ's precepts, the apostle's doctrine.
3. Spiritual understanding, using a word that denotes the application of knowledge to detail, following its processes as applied to daily life and separate actions. It means a keen, quick understanding of the bearing of God's will on all their conduct, all their conversation, all their life. Such a knowledge, with wisdom and understanding, would not only save the Colossians, but save us. It is, thank God, a wisdom recorded for us in Scripture, incarnate in Jesus, interpreted by the Holy Spirit. But we must acquire it. Is half an hour a day too much to give? Is earnest study too much? Is persistent prayer too much? "Wisdom is the principal thing;... with all thy getting get understanding."
II. That, as the result of their knowledge, THEIR CHARACTER MAY RIPEN. This we should expect from prayer for knowledge of the will of God; not His essence, nature, attributes, but will. Religion is not a system for speculation, but for the regulation of life. What the apostle here taught, viz. that the end of all knowledge is conduct, Jesus Christ made gloriously clear in his words, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." No more than you would be satisfied if your vines year after year only "made wood," or your apple trees simply grew in height and in far-reaching branches would St. Paul or Christ, the great Husbandman himself, have been satisfied if there had been only mental growth, intellectual growth - "culture," as the modern phrase is - in this or any Church. Hence his prayer seeks blessing for character; he looks, as you on the vine, for clusters of the grape - for fruit. In the description of character the apostle prays for, we notice:
1. A walking worthily of the Lord. A walk, a progress, an activity, worthy of the follower of him who "has left us an example that we should follow in his steps."
2. An increasing knowledge of God. So knowledge recurs, and this time it is more than a knowledge of God's will; it is a knowledge of God himself. This is a result of such walking, such conduct. Obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge. We are divinely assured that they who "do the will shall know of the doctrine."
3. The being strengthened with all might according to the power of his glory. Inner strength, producing not only endurance, but gentle patience in sorrow.
4. Giving thanks to the Father. Thus life shall have a glow on it, a music in it. Praying that their life may have this glow, this music, "with joyfulness," the apostle is led to recall the reasons for their profound joy.
(1) Meetness for blessedness: "Made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
(2) Deliverance from tryanny: "Delivered us from the power of darkness."
(3) Settlement in liberty and honour: "Translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son." And all this is through Christ, our Ransom, our Rescuer; but now not a victor rescuing by force of arm, but a philanthropist by payment of ransom. Thus Paul strikes the keynote of his message to Colossae - Jesus Christ the King of the kingdom in which Christians already are; the Source of their deliverance from the guilt and from the power of sin; Jesus Christ the Fulness, the Plenitude of God's presence and grace. - U. R.T.
προσεύχομαι) without ceasing" and to "make request (αἰτέομαι)" with perseverance for definite blessings till they are granted, and petitions are charged into thanksgivings or are clearly refused. Note how Paul, while "in labours more abundant," found time for prayers "without ceasing" also (Romans 1:9; Philippians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:3). As a specimen of his intercessions take this prayer. The requests end with the words, "Giving thanks unto the Father," though the prayer may be said to include the statements of sublime truth which follow (vers. 12-14), which suggest motives for seeking the blessings asked on their behalf. And the prayer itself comes to no definite end, but may be said to lose itself in adoration as the apostle unveils the mystery of the person and glory of Christ. The key to the somewhat involved clauses of the sentence is in ver. 10, "to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing." And the objects of the prayer are -
I. FULLER KNOWLEDGE WITH A VIEW TO A MORE CONSISTENT CHARACTER. Paul prays that the Colossians may receive what they already possess (vers. 6, 9; cf. Psalm 116:2; Matthew 13:12). The more God gives, the more we should ask of him. God's "will" includes doctrines to be believed and duties to be discharged (cf. John 6:40; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). The two questions put by Paul on the day of his conversion, "Who art thou, Lord?" and "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" are the two great questions of the Christian life. An uneducated conscience is a more serious obstacle to growth in grace than an unenlightened intellect. Our "wisdom and understanding" need to be "spiritual" (Psalm 25:9, 14; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12) as contrasted with "philosophy and vain deceit" and mere worldly policy (Colossians 2:8, 18, 23). The Holy Spirit can make us discriminating as well as sensitive. The wisdom needed may be had for the asking (James 1:5). For all the knowledge gained is in order to enable us "to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing." The end of all knowledge is conduct (John 13:17).
II. A CONSISTENT CHARACTER IN ALL ITS VARIOUS ASPECTS. Three signs of a full-orbed, consistent Christian character are mentioned in three clauses (see Greek, vers. 10-12). They are comprehensive enough to describe a completely sanctified life.
1. Fruitfulness. This is the natural, as it is also the appointed, end of spiritual life (John 15:16); "fruit after its kind." But whereas a fruit tree can bring forth only one variety of fruit, we are to be "bearing fruit in every good work" - all manner of fruit, like the tree of life in the Paradise of God. "Twelve manner of fruits" are said to be borne by that celestial tree. And no less than nine varieties of "the fruit of the Spirit" (note "fruit," not "fruits," unity in diversity) are enumerated in a single passage (Galatians 5:22, 23). Any manifestation of Christian consistency may be fruitful, though here the reference is chiefly to the active Christian life. While bearing fruit, we ourselves shall be "growing" and "increasing." A fruitful life is a healthy life. The "spiritual wisdom and understanding" already asked for will be means of grace and of growth, like rain and dew to the plant (Deuteronomy 32:2; Hosea 14:5). We shall increase "by the knowledge of God" (Revised Version, margin). Such spiritual fruitfulness and growth will be most "pleasing" to God (John 15:8).
2. Patience. (Ver. 11.) The reference here is to the passive virtues. "Patience and long-suffering" remind us of the heroic endurance and the superhuman self restraint by which suffering Christians may glorify God. To enable us to suffer patiently and to suffer long, the omnipotence of God is put forth. His almighty and everlasting arms are placed beneath us to prop up our poor feeble patience. So great are "the riches of his glory" and "the might of his glory," that he can enable us to endure, not only with patience, but even "with joy" (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10). Suffering may be as high a vocation as preaching. Notice how our Lord, passing over all the active labours of Peter with a word ("Feed my sheep"), fixes attention on his last sufferings and death as the special means by which (in St. John's words) "he should glorify God" (John 21:18, 19).
3. Thankfulness. (Ver. 12.) Some of the causes for thankfulness are brought before our thoughts in the clauses that follow. But we need go no further than that name "the Father," for hallelujahs to rise to our lips. (Illustrate this from some of the Father's names, "Father of mercies," "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc., and some of the statements respecting him - "The Father himself loveth you;" "Your Father knoweth," etc.) Such thankfulness strengthens patience. (Illustrations: German Reformers, in times of special trouble, cheering one another by singing the forty-sixth psalm. Some Malagasy Christians, during the persecution, when meeting with the late Revelation W. Ellis and enjoying secret Christian fellowship, on one occasion said, "We are so happy we must sing." Warned of the danger of being heard, they restrained themselves for a time, but soon said again, "We must sing;" and they sang in a whisper. If this prayer is answered in our experience, we enjoy the three elements of a consistent and robust Christian life described by our Lord in John 13:17, viz. knowing, doing, feeling: "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." - E.S.P.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL IS THE KNOWLEDGE WHICH IS MOST SUPREMELY IMPORTANT.
1. The knowledge of God is the most important knowledge attainable. Many are eager in pursuing the investigation of curious questions of human affairs who are quite indifferent to the truth about the Being who fills heaven and earth. Others are busily searching into the mysteries of the works of God, while quite forgetful of the Maker of them. But to know God is to know the Highest and Best.
2. The knowledge of the will of God is the most important knowledge of God.
(1) It is the highest knowledge of God; for the disposition of the will is the chief characteristic of a spiritual being.
(2) It is the knowledge of God with which we have most concern; for, though there must be glories and wonders in all the great thoughts of God, for us it is most needful that we 'should understand what he is purposing to do and what he wishes us to do.
(3) It is the most attainable knowledge of God. The abstract ideas of the mind of God are far above our reach. The practical thoughts and laws and commandment of his will are what he has most clearly revealed.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL MAY BE ACQUIRED THROUGH SPIRITUAL WISDOM.
1. It may be acquired. This branch of theology is within our reach. In our darkest moments, when we cannot understand the thoughts and plans of God, we may discover what God wills us to do.
2. It is to be got at through spiritual wisdom. We have it not by nature. We cannot reach it by efforts of bare human intelligence. Philosophy will not reveal it. A higher wisdom than the earthly, a purer wisdom than the carnal, heavenly and spiritual wisdom is necessary for this knowledge.
3. This spiritual wisdom is a Divine inspiration. St. Paul prays for it. It is not a product of experience like our knowledge of the world. The man of the world learns much about evil by his experience, but little about goodness. Goodness and the will of God with which it is identical are only seen by a spiritual light which little children may have more clearly than learned men and experienced observers. It is an inward light, a spiritual inspiration.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL IS FRUITFUL IN GREAT PRACTICAL RESULTS. This is not a barren knowledge acquired only for the satisfaction of idle curiosity, nor even merely a worthy object of contemplation.
1. We must know the will of God in order that our life may be worthy of Christ. This is an important point not sufficiently considered by those people who slight the contemplative side of Christianity. The practical side will be a blundering failure without the due cultivation of the contemplative. A lame man with good eyes can walk more straightly than a man with sound limbs who is blind. To please God we must first of all know his will.
2. This knowledge helps us to be fruitful in good works to men. We can never benefit men so much as by doing God's will. Our duty to God and our duty to men are mutually inclusive. We must study the will of God more carefully in order that our work amongst men may be more wise and successful. We often fail in our conscientious efforts to benefit men because we do not work Recording to the method of God's will. - W.F.A.
I. THE NATURE AND GLORY OF THE INHERITANCE. Whether we understand by it heaven or the blessings of the kingdom is immaterial, but the original suggests the idea of a joint inheritance, of which each individual enjoys a part.
2. It is bound up with the coheirship of Christ. (Romans 8:17, 18; Psalm it.) God makes us "heirs and rich in faith" (James 2:5). By virtue of the coheirship, it is a free, sure, satisfying, durable inheritance.
3. It is a holy inheritance. It is "with the saints." Only saints enjoy it with one another. "The pure in heart shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). No unclean thing shall enter into God's kingdom (Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
4. It is an inheritance "in light."
(1) The Lamb is the Light of heaven (Revelation 21:23).
(2) There will be clear vision in heaven's light. Whatever "makes manifest is light." "In thy light we shall see light." We shall "know even as we are known." We shall "see face to face." We shall dwell for ever "in the light of God's countenance." There will be no darkness there.
II. THE MEETNESS FOR THE INHERITANCE.
1. It is implied that we have no natural meetness for it. We could not merit it by our righteousness, and our spirits are out of harmony with its joys. There is nothing in us but "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). The spirit which is in moral darkness cares not for the light.
2. The meetness is given to us.
(1) We are made meet by our calling, by our justification, by our adoption.
(2) We are made meet for it by our sanctification. The Father gives us, along with the kingdom, the disposition, inclination, behaviour of heirs, sons, kings, and priests.
III. THE AUTHOR OF THIS MEETNESS. "The Father."
1. It is he who hath begotten us to the inheritance. (1 Peter 1:3.)
2. It is he only who can pardon us and accept us.
3. It is he who is the Fountain of all holiness.
IV. THE DUTY OF THANKSGIVING. "Giving thanks to the Father."
1. A sanctified heart is ready to acknowledge the instrument by which good is received, yet more the Author of blessing.
2. It honours God to thank him. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Psalm 50:23).
3. A thankful heart is sure of a gracious hearing. The more thankful we are for mercies received the more ground have we to expect more mercies. - T.C.
John 3:16; Romans 8:32), the love of the Son (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2), and the love of the Spirit (Romans 15:30; Ephesians 4:30), of the one "God of our salvation." In vers. 12-14 Paul reminds the Colossians of the love of the Father, and that the blessings which this love secures to us are powerful motives for gratitude and for seeking to attain to that character for which he has been praying. The blessings which the Father's love procures for us includes four changes - a change of place, of character, of kingdom, and of state.
I. A CHANGE OF PLACE. There is an "inheritance" which has been "prepared" and is "reserved" for us (Matthew 25:34; 1 Peter 1:5). It is not here, but "in heaven;" not here, amid darkness and ignorance, "the shadow of death," and, what is worse, the stern realities of sin and of death itself; but "in light" - note various uses of this figure (Isaiah 60:19, 20; Ephesians 5:8, 9; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 2:8-10; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5, etc.). That inheritance is possessed only by God's "saints," whether angelic or human. The sanctity needed for this inheritance is something more than that "consecration" of heart to God which even we sinful children of God may enjoy as we render service in the lower sanctuary of "this present evil world." The "saints in light" are "without blemish," "faultless." God, who is himself "light," is our pledge, that in that inheritance there shall be "no darkness at all," nothing "that defileth," etc. (Revelation 21:27).
II. A CHANGE OF CHARACTER, "Who made us meet," etc. The reference is not here to that growth in the elements of spiritual mindedness by which we become increasingly fitted for the employments and enjoyments of the heavenly inheritance. Paul has been praying for these (vers. 9-11); but here he recognizes that the new nature which God has bestowed on us has already qualified us "to be partakers," etc. A king's child is already, by his birth, capable of taking some part in the life and the engagements of the palace. The penitent robber could take a place in Paradise on the day of his conversion. If we are partakers of the Divine nature we are meet for the Divine inheritance. Already we are "children of the light." Our darkness is past, never to return; the light shineth, and when we change our place it must needs be to an inheritance suited to our new natures and present characters (John 17:24). Without the new birth we shall be as unfit for our inheritance above as a boorish peasant, who had suddenly come to a peerage, for his new position, and as incapable of enjoying and really "inheriting" it as one who had no taste for art or sacred music would be if admitted to a picture gallery or an oratorio; he could not "see the kingdom of God." What a glorious gift our new nature is! It is only by means of it we are made capable of receiving the blessings offered to us; as though a monarch could not only give us a high place in his service, but at the same time could endow us with power to discharge its duties, without which the mere position would be a burden rather than a blessing. Thus God deals with us (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 2:10).
III. A CHANGE OF KINGDOMS. (Ver. 13.) The change of nature is accompanied by a twofold deliverance - we are rescued from a lawless tyranny (ver. 13) and delivered from a lawful condemnation (ver. 14). We speak of a change of kingdoms, for elsewhere we read of the "kingdom" of Satan who is "the prince of this world." But here the term suggests mere power ("the power of darkness," spoken of by Christ, Luke 22:53). The agents of Satan are described as "the powers, the world rulers of this darkness' (Ephesians 6:12). We were under their power and under the tyranny of" the prince of the power of the air," who is at their head (Luke 11:21; Ephesians 2:2). The mental anarchy of demoniacal possession is a fit symbol of the lawless tyranny of the kingdom of Satan. From that tyranny the Father, with a strong hand, rescued us, emancipated us, and transferred us into a Divine kingdom, of which "the Son of his love" is the Head. Love is as much the essence of the only begotten Son as it is of the Father (1 John 4:8-10). So that his kingdom is a kingdom where love is the ruling power, and where promises, privileges, and benedictions are the main motives for wearing his easy yoke. We are made free citizens of that kingdom and shall share in its triumphs here and in its final glory.
IV. A CHANGE OF STATE. (Ver. 14.) The kingdom which Christ established in our hearts is based on his work as a Redeemer (Romans 14:9; Philippians 2:7-11). The pardon of sins and the translation into the kingdom are inseparable. Each blessing would be incomplete and insufficient without the other. Pardoned sinners left under the power of Satan can no more be thought of than subjects of Christ's kingdom still under wrath. We were under a lawful condemnation as well as a lawless tyranny. From that merited curse we have been ransomed by the Father's love through the redeeming work of Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Titus 3:5-7). The fundamental facts and doctrines of the gospel are all implied here (Romans 4:25; Romans 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4; Galatians 3:10-13, etc.). We thus enjoy a change of state, being justified and no longer condemned. Note the words, "in whom," etc. Luther remarks that there is a good deal of divinity in the pronouns; so is there also in the prepositions. Christians not only receive blessings through Christ, but in Christ (ver. 19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 John 5:20, etc.); from whose fulness we receive (like the air, in which we live and move and draw our breath without limitation or restraint; not like water, supplied to us from time to time in a limited cistern). Notice too the necessity of all these four blessings to us, and how absolutely dependent we are for them upon the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our enfranchisement in the kingdom of Christ includes free forgiveness, secures for us, by the work of the Spirit, "the sanctification, without which no man can see the Lord," and ensures our admission to the heavenly inheritance. "Blessed are they that wash their robes," etc. (Romans 22:14; see also Acts 20:32; Acts 26:17, 18; Romans 8:29, 30; Philippians 3:20). What motives for "giving thanks unto the Father" arise from the reception of such glorious gifts! - E.S.P.
I. CHRISTIANS ARE HEIRS OF A RICH INHERITANCE.
1. The gospel offers Divine wealth. Its blessings are not confined to bare deliverance from ruin. They include hidden treasures, pearls of great price, princely feasts, a whole kingdom of glory.
2. This wealth is, for the most part, prospective. It is an inheritance not yet possessed. The heir may be in severe straits before he comes into his property. We have foretastes of the future blessedness, but the chief part of this blessedness is yet to come.
3. The possession is to be had without any action of ours in acquiring it. The heir does not seize his estate and hold it by right of conquest; he does not purchase it; he does nothing to earn the worth of it; he simply receives it by bequest from another. We do nothing to win or earn our Christian heritage. Christ obtains it and bequeaths it, and as his heirs we simply enter into possession as the son of a great warrior peaceably takes possession of the kingdom won by the sword of his father.
4. Still, the inheritance is received by right. The heir has a right to his estate. Laws and documents secure it to him. The Divine covenant of grace is the Christian's title deed, giving him no precarious hope, but a certain promise and right to his future blessedness.
III. CHRISTIANS ARE BEING TRAINED FOR THEIR GREAT INHERITANCE. The heir of a nobleman must be educated so as to be fitted for his position in society. The heir of a throne needs a special training in order that he may enter upon the duties as well as the privileges of royalty. It would be useless to bequeath a library to a man who had no interest in literature, or to leave an art collection to a man of boorish tastes. The heir must be suited to the inheritance. We hear much of the acquisition of our inheritance, and some seem to think that their great task is thus to secure it for them- selves. But we should remember that this thing is done, the kingdom won by the victory of Christ, the riches bought by his sacrifice of himself. Now, the sole requisite is that we should be ready to enter into possession. And this is a great and essential requisite. An impure soul could not be admitted into heaven; but, if admitted, such a soul would find no joy there. Note:
1. God is making us meet for the great inheritance by the present discipline of life.
2. There are those who may be said to have been made thus ready, because, although not yet perfect, they are new creatures and have characters and sympathies fitted for the enjoyments of the pure delights of heaven.
3. It may be remarked by the way that St. Paul knew of no purgatorial fires which were to keep Christians out of the joys of heaven for some intermediate period.
III. THE REQUISITE FITNESS FOR THE CHRISTIAN INHERITANCE DEPENDS ON THE CHARACTER OF THAT INHERITANCE.
1. The inheritance is in light. It lies in the clearer realm of eternal truth; it is characterized by the purity that excludes all dark blots and stains of sin; it is radiant with the summer sunshine of heavenly joy.
2. Such an inheritance requires saintliness as a suitable condition of enjoying it. It is an inheritance of saints. Only those who are forgiven, cleansed, and purified can stand in the searching light of eternal truth; and they only can enjoy the blessings of a kingdom of holiness and find therein true gladness. Nevertheless, this is no reason for discouragement. St. Paul thanks God for accomplishing the necessary preparation. It is his work, and he will perfect it with all who trust to his grace and the power of his Spirit. - W.F.A.
I. THE ORIGINAL CONDITION OF ALL MEN. They are under "the power of darkness."
1. Consider the meaning of this darkness. There is a darkness that is seasonable; which, in the economy of nature, brings rest and recovery to man. This darkness is far different.
(3) It is the darkness of misery (Isaiah 8:22).
(4) It is the darkness of death (Psalm 88:12).
(5) It is the darkness of hell - " utter darkness."
2.. It is darkness organized for the ruin of men. It is "the power of darkness" - an arbitrary, usurped power, and not "a true kingdom." The prince of darkness is at the head of this dreary realm and strives to keep all his slaves in darkness, lest "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus should shine into them" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
II. THE RESCUE FROM THIS POWER OF DARKNESS. "Who delivered us." None but God can do this work. The strong man will keep his own till the stronger come (Luke 11:22). He delivers us in our effectual calling.
1. He enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ, who is "the trite Light." (John 8:12.)
3. He renews our wills and causes as to "walk in the light as he is in the light." (1 John 1:7.)
4.. He clothes us "with the armour of light." (Romans 13:12.)
III. THE NEW KINGDOM OF THE RESCUED CAPTIVES AND ITS NEW RELATIONS, "And translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love." The word usually suggests the transplanting of races and the settlement of them in a new territory.
1. The significance of the translation.
(1) It implies separation
(a) from the world,
(b) from sin,
(c) from the devil. "Go out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17).
(2) It implies the assumption of entirely new relations. The believer is a member of a new society - " the kingdom of grace;" is "a fellow-citizen with the saints;" is heir of the kingdom of glory. He has a new name, new hopes, new friends, and works for a new heaven.
2. The new kingdom of the saints. "The kingdom of the Son of his love."
(1) It is not the kingdom of inferior angels, as errorists might fancy (Colossians 2:8), but that of God's own Son.
(2) It is a kingdom already in existence.
(3) It is a kingdom that cannot be shaken like the kingdoms of earth (Hebrews 12:28).
(4) It is a kingdom that will endure to the end (Luke 1:33).
(5) It is a kingdom in which the number of the possessors will not diminish the blessings enjoyed by each.
(6) It is a kingdom in which Christ now reigns by his Word and Spirit; the saints rejoicing to have him reigning over them.
(7) All the subjects of this kingdom are kings (Revelation 1:6). - T. C.
Ephesians 1:7.) - T. C.
I. HIS RELATION TO THE INVISIBLE FATHER. "Who is the Image of the invisible God." Christ is likewise called "the Brightness of the Father's glory, the express Image of his person" (Hebrews 1:3).
1. The meaning of this image.
(1) Christ is not a mere likeness of the Father, like the head of a sovereign stamped on a coin, or as a son hears the features of his father.
(2) But he is an essential manifestation and embodiment of the Father. Thus the invisible God becomes visible to man, according to our Lord's own words, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him" (John 1:18). "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
(3) It implies his perfect equality with the Father in respect to substance, nature, and eternity. The Son is the Father's Image except in respect that he is not the Father.
2. Lessons to be drawn from this representation of Christ's glory.
(1) If we would know the Father, we must get into Christ by faith (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(2) As it is Christ's glory to be God's Image, be it our honour to be Christ's image, in knowledge (Colossians 3:10), in holiness, in righteousness (Ephesians 4:21). We are "predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29).
(3) How great a sin it is to turn the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible creatures" (Romans 1:23)!
II. CHRIST'S RELATION TO THE UNIVERSE. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." As his being God's Image implies his eternal unity with God, so his being the only begotten Son of God implies the distinctness of his Person. The apostle thus guards the truth on one side against Arianism, on the other side against Sabellianism. There are two ideas involved in this statement.
1. Christ has a priority to all creation. Arians refer to the passage as implying that he is only one, though the very first, of created beings. But
(1) he is said here to be begotten, not created.
(2) He is declared in the context to be "before all things," and therefore he is no part of them.
(3) "All things" are declared to be "made by him," but he is himself necessarily excepted from the number of the things he created.
(4) The Scriptures elsewhere declare his eternal preexistence and Godhead.
2. Christ is sovereign Lord of creation by right of primogeniture. The word "Firstborn" is used of the Messiah almost as his technical designation (Psalm 2:7), as we see by Hebrews 1:6, "When he bringeth the First-begotten into the world." As such he is "Heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:2: Romans 4:14). There is thus implied a mediatorial function in the world as well as in the Church.
3. Christ is the actual Creator of all things. "For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." These words justify the title of "Firstborn of all creation." They were all created "in him," not merely "by him" - as if the germ of all creative power and wisdom lay in his infinite mind, as the sphere of their operation. The words impliedly exclude the Gnostic idea that Christ was an inferior agent of the infinite God. He was the creative centre of the universe. Mark:
(1) The extent of creation - "things in the heavens and things upon the earth." This includes all creation as described by locality.
(2) The variety of the creation - "whether things visible or invisible." This division would include the sun, moon, stars, the earth with all its visible glories, in one class; the angels and the souls of men in the other class.
(3) The orders of creation, "whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." As Gnosticism placed Christ among the higher intelligences, the apostle places him far above all angelic intelligences of every order. It is not possible to say whether these names represent various grades of a celestial hierarchy, but it is probable that they do; "thrones and dominions" belonging to the first order, "principalities and powers" standing next, as including spirits both good and evil. Christ made the angels.
4. Christ is himself the End or final Cause of creation. "All things have been created through him and for him." All things were created by him as well as for him - for the manifestation of his glory. "He that was the first Cause must be the last End." The final destination of the universe is referred to the Son, just as it is elsewhere ascribed to the Father (Romans 11:36). The Son is the Centre of the world's final unity.
5. Christ is the Sustainer of the universe. "And by him all things consist." The continued existence, as well as the creation, of all things, depends upon him. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). He "upholds all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). The sustaining unity of the creation is in him
(1) because he maintains its order, appointing all things to their respective ends;
(2) because he sustains the operation of all things, correlating means with ends;
(3) because he secures the cooperation of all things, so that all things work together for his glory;
(4) because he maintains the perpetuity of all things. Thus Christ maintains the cohesion of the universe.
III. LESSONS TO BE DRAWN FROM CHRIST'S RELATION TO HIS FATHER AND TO THE UNIVERSE.
1. We delight in the doctrine of Christ's divinity, which is the doctrine of Christendom.
2. If he made angels and men, they may well worship him.
3. His relation to creation encourages us to hope that he will overrule all the power of nature for the growth of his Church. Even wicked men will have no power to destroy his Church. The creation proves his power, and his love proves his good will.
4. The knowledge of his glory ought to deter from all creature worship.
5. We should ever pray that he would direct the work of our hands continually. (Psalm 90:7.)
6. We ought not to fret at Divine providence. (Psalm 37:2, 3.) The creative and administrative work of Christ, in the natural order of things, is the comfort of all believers. - T. C.
I. JESUS AS THE GLORIOUS CREATOR REVEALED THE MIND OF GOD. (Vers. 15, 16.) We are apt to think of Christ's revelation of the Godhead solely in his incarnation. Doubtless it was the climax of the "exegesis" of the invisible God (cf. John 1:18, ἐξηγήσατο). But there were previous revelations, and this is Paul's idea here that creation is a revelation of God through the power of. Christ. Now, one thing is certain about the creation, that it addresses itself to mind. If men imagined it was thoughtless, they would not spend two minutes more in its investigation. All science proceeds on the postulate of creation being thinkable, intelligible, an appeal to mind. If creation, then, embodies thought, we have further to notice that it is thought of the same order as human thought. After all the weary investigation, therefore, which tries to blink the fact of creation being a revelation of God, we are reduced in the last analysis exactly to this idea. Of course, we have not succeeded in interpreting the revelation in nature with either accuracy or fulness; but every year's honest work carries us on towards the fuller understanding of the Divine Thinker who speaks to his creatures in all the work of his hands. The fascination of science lies in the fact that a deeper Thinker than any of the investigators is behind the work, and is calling for interpreters. The wonderful creation is from end to end, in heaven above and in earth beneath, Christ's exposition of the mind of God.
II. HISTORY IS ALSO AN EXPOSITION BY CHRIST OF THE DIVINE MIND. (Ver. 17.) For not only did Christ as Creator give the system a start, but as the Upholder of the system he makes it a continuous revelation. The philosophy of history lies in the assurance of the great procession of facts being under the constant control and direction of Divinity. Of course, as in the former case of the interpretation of nature, we may be and are very far from a full grasp of the significance of history. Yet undoubtedly a reverential study of the course of events brings us daily nearer the understanding of the whole. It adds to our interest to take with us this assurance - that Jesus Christ is at the back of all being, upholding it, sustaining the system, and reducing it to an orderly exposition of the Divine thought. Amid the apparently chaotic course of events, in consequence of the freedom and frailty of the creature, there is the really orderly procession of the whole towards that "one Divine event to which the whole creation moves."
III. CHRIST'S ECCLESIASTICAL HEADSHIP IS A FURTHER REVELATION OF GOD. (Ver. 18.) For not only has Christ been Creator, not only has he been and is the Preserver of the system, but he has also been constituted Head of a special class of beings, united in what is called "the Church." Many of his creatures do not recognize either him or his relations to the universe. They act as if he were not, and his control of them is without their leave and in spite oftentimes of their opposition. But others happily have come to recognize him as Lord of all, and consequently of themselves as well. Believers in him, adorers of him, they have learned to look on life as simply a longer or shorter opportunity of doing his will or of suffering" his good pleasure." And as Christ comes lute tenderer and closer relations to the believers of the world than he can come into towards the unbelievers, he is as closely bound to his believing people as the ruling and sovereign "head" is to the subject and obedient "members "of the one body. And this headship of Christ is a revelation unto men of the mind of God. Of course, in this case, as in the previous cases, there is only an approximation to the understanding of God's mind and will as thus revealed. But we are progressing steadily towards the ideal of perfect light and perfect submission. The Churches may but imperfectly grasp what God in Christ means; they may be very wayward and arbitrary in many of their interpretations; but the desire to know and obey Christ brings them along the line of privilege and duty with increasing appreciation and success.
IV. IS CHRIST'S RECONCILIATION OF ALL THINGS UNTO GOD HE FURTHER REVEALS TO THE UNIVERSE THE MIND OF GOD. (Vers. 18-20.) Now, just as philosophy is the reduction of the multiform in fact to the uniform in idea, so is there in the system administered by Christ provision made for the reconciliation of all things to the Supreme, that the unity of all things may be the last thought of God. This is the meaning of the cross and the blood shed upon it, and all the redemptive system which centres around it. This is the purpose of Christ's resurrection to immortal life the first, that, as the pre-eminent One, he might gather in his embrace a reconciled universe and lay it at the Father's feet. Of course, the prerogative of creaturely freedom is such as to refuse the reconciliation and to crystallize into hostility in some sad cases. It would be contrary to the Divine plan to force the will and ride rough shod over the determinations of the creature. Some consequently, it would seem, are to be allowed to take their own course and remain incorrigible; yet in the unifying idea of God their discord, as in the music of the great masters, will be made to contribute to and to emphasize the general harmony. Meanwhile, how grand the idea is of the unity of all things! Surely we should not allow ourselves to conflict consciously with it in our dealings with men. We should back it up as the goal and far off Divine event to which all things are made to move. The blood of the cross cries really for the reconciliation of the universe to God. - R.M.E.
I. THE DIVINE PRE-EMINENCE OF CHRIST. This includes:
1. His supremacy in relation to God. He is his Image, Likeness, Representation. Heathen idolatries utter the longing of the soul for him. To the prayer, "Show us the Father," Christ answers, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
2. His supremacy in relation to nature. He is "the Firstborn." To all creation he stands as Heir. We notice:
(1) His creative agency. Christ is the Wisdom of God; Christ is the Word of God; Christ is the Arm of God.
(2) His sustaining energy. He binds all things together.
(3) His consummating glory. He is the End of creation, the Alpha and the Omega. As the bow of Ulysses could only be bent by its master, so creation only fully responds to the touch of Christ.
3. His supremacy in relation to the Church. He is the Head. This implies sovereignty and sympathy - vital union. We say that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." In an infinitely higher sense the blood of Christ is the seed of the Church.
4. His supremacy in relation to the Resurrection. He is "the Firstborn from the dead." The risen Christ is the life of the Church.
II. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS DIVINE PRE-EMINENCE IS THE DIVINE PLENITUDE, Christ is as supreme as the apostle has been describing because he is so full of God. He is the Pleroma. This, as Archdeacon Farrar shows, is the keynote of the Epistle. When we say this, we mean that in Jesus is found "the 'totality of Divine attributes and powers." For in him there is:
1. Fulness of might. He is manifested in his miracles and in his own resurrection as the Lord of nature. Its forces are subject to him.
2. Fulness of wisdom. He claims, and as far as can be these claims are verified, to reveal God and to know what is in man. He did not misinterpret the Divine nor misunderstand the human.
3. Fulness of love. God is love. But could there be an amplitude of love beyond that which is manifested in Jesus Christ? Where is the love of God and where the God of love, if not in Jesus?
III. THE WORK OF CHRIST IN HIS PRE-EMINENCE AND PLENITUDE IS THE WORK OF RECONCILIATION. Our Lord is thus set forth as in his supremacy and fulness the great Reconciler. This is God's purpose; nay, God's passion. But all words are faint in describing any emotion in the infinite heart. The clear teaching here is, not that God loves because Christ died, but that Christ died because God loves. Reconciliation is the Father's desire, the Father's work. Much is left in necessary mystery, but Paul's words here answer for us two great questions.
1. What is God reconciling to himself through Christ? We must not be afraid of the assertion - "all things." By that I read all things
(1) in this world's activities and institutions;
(2) in human hearts and minds. The whole universe of being is to find its lapsed harmony in Jesus Christ; to be set again in its right relation to the righteous Father.
2. How is God reconciling all things to himself through Jesus Christ? Such a work involves even Divine effort; such a work is worth accomplishing at a tremendous cost. Hence "the blood of the cross," i.e. life poured out in a sacrifice of utmost pain and darkest shame. The highest can only serve through suffering; the mightiest can only save by sacrifice. Three practical questions.
(1) Has Christ pre-eminence in all things with us? Do all our sheaves make obeisance to his in the great field of life and love?
(2) Is Christ the Plenitude of all things to us? Kepler felt, in studying the laws of nature, that he was thinking over again the thoughts of God. Is it so with us in duty, thought, and love? Is Christ all in all?
(3) Has Christ reconciled us to God? Are we
(b) resigned; and
(c) most difficult of all, ceaselessly obedient to God? - U. R.T.
1 Corinthians 1:30), and "in whom we have our redemption" and all its allied blessings. Who is this Son of God? In answering this question the apostle unfolds the true doctrine of the Christ, and meets one of the errors that was seeking a home in the Colossian Church. The error of the heretical teachers was twofold - "They had a false conception in theology and a false basis of morals. These two were closely connected together and had their root in the same fundamental error - the idea of matter as the abode of evil and thus antagonistic to God. As the two elements of the heretical doctrine were derived from the same source, so the reply to both was sought by the apostle in the same idea - the conception of the person of Christ as the one absolute Mediator between God and man, the true and only Reconciler of heaven and earth." The practical error is dealt with in the second chapter; the doctrinal heresy is refuted here. The false teachers seem to have believed in a variety of angelic or superhuman mediators who had some place in the works of creation and redemption. Paul teaches that both in the universe and in the Church, in creation and redemption, Christ is the one and all-sufficient Mediator. He alone could fill the void between God and man; he alone could be the great Reconciler; and to him alone was due the homage which these false teachers were diverting to angels or other beings standing in the place which God claims for "the Son of his love." The apostle's teaching is "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence" - in relation to God; to the universe, the natural creation; and to the Church, the moral creation (vers. 15-18).
I. THE GLORY OF THE SON IN RELATION TO GOD. "Who is the Image of the. invisible God." The two chief ideas seem to be representation and revelation. Elsewhere the Son is called "the Effulgence of his glory [revelation], and the very Image of his substance [representation]" (Hebrews 1:3). We may find an important application of this truth in the life and character of the Incarnate Word. Christ's words, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," seem to require this. The Father's perfections were represented and reflected in the sinless character of the Man Christ Jesus, as the brightness of the midday sun, on which we cannot gaze, may be reflected in a lake or mirror, and under certain limitations its rays may be examined and analyzed. Through the words and conduct of Jesus we may learn much concerning the truthfulness, the unselfishness, the indignation, and the love of God. But while this truth may have been a thought in Paul's mind, the truth he teaches here is part of the revelation which Scripture gives respecting the nature of the Triune Jehovah. That the term "Image" refers to the pro-incarnate Christ, we infer from
(1) the creation being ascribed to him; and
(2) the term "Firstborn," etc., being coupled with it - a term which includes both priority and supremacy. Notice:
1. There is that in the Divine nature which is both invisible and incomprehensible. (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:15, 16.) As we cannot see "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" with mortal eyes, neither can we fully comprehend a Divine Being who is absolute, infinite, without beginning and without end.
2. Yet God hath been seen by mortal eyes. (Genesis 18:22-33; Genesis 32:28-30; Exodus 24:10, 11; Exodus 33:23; Joshua 5:13-15; Joshua 6:2, etc.) And men have learned to see God by the eye of faith, to know him as their own God. The doctrine of the Word of God, who is "the Image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4), "the Life" and" the Light of men" (John 1:4; 1 John 1:2), is the reconciling truth. There is a glory in God which no creature can behold; but the Divine Word is a ray of that glory. There is a Divine personality which is invisible; but the Word is the express image of that Person. There is a Divine silence respecting mysteries we cannot comprehend; but there is also a Divine" Word" which breaks the silence and reveals to us something of the infinite and incomprehensible (John 1:1, 14, 18). Every manifestation in time has been through him who is "the Image of the invisible God." But "who by searching can find out God" etc. (Job 11:7-9)?
"Thought, repress thy weak endeavour! II. THE GLORY OF THE SON IN RELATION TO THE CREATION. This is unfolded by four truths respecting him. 1. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." In the New Testament the term "Firstborn" is applied five times to Christ (vers. 15 and 18; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5). Its use here figuratively reminds us of the place which the firstborn occupied in a Hebrew family. Having priority, he had also a certain supremacy over the other members and a double portion of the inheritance. Our Lord Christ has priority; "before Abraham," before all creation (John 1:1, 2); absolute pre-existence, "before all things" (ver. 17). He has supremacy. If Paul here alludes to Psalm 89:27, we are reminded that the Messiah is "higher than the kings of the earth, King of kings," "Lord of all," etc. And he enjoys more than the firstborn's double portion (John 3:34, 35; John 5:22, 23, 26, 27). 2. He is the means of all creation. The sixteenth verse confutes the notion of the Son of God being himself a creature, though the highest. He is the Creator, not of "the rest" of the universe, but of "all things." Who can adequately interpret that mysterious term "in him," etc.? We can only venture to suggest such truths as these: Apart from Christ there would have been no creation at all. He was the reason for it. He was the First Cause and the Final Cause, the Alpha and the Omega of creation. The term "in him" includes both the following truths "by him" and "for him," "through him and unto him." The same preposition (ἐν), which the apostle so often uses to describe the relations between the Saviour and his people, he here employs to teach us the relations between Christ the Creator and the universe. But these are but guesses towards an interpretation (Luke 10:21). We are at any rate expressly taught that all things were created "through him" or "by him" (John 1:3); "in the heavens" (revelations of the telescope, Isaiah 40:26) "and upon the earth" (revelations of the microscope, making "things invisible" become visible), - all were created by Christ. From the world of matter we turn to the world of spirits, to things strictly "invisible." The false teachers may have indulged speculations as to the ranks and power and authority of angels. Without discussing the subject, Paul teaches that, whoever they may be and whatsoever their authority, they are all created by and subordinated to Christ, the "Firstborn of all creation." 3. He is the object of all creation. We need not dissociate the human nature of our Lord in his present glory from the Divine nature when we reflect on the truth that all things were created "for him," "unto him." It is a sublime thought that everything in creation and in history was planned for the glory of our blessed Redeemer. This world with its mountains and lakes and cataracts, its flowers and fruits and birds, was made so beautiful because it was Christ's world. Other worlds, peopled by the heavenly hosts, were created that his glory might be revealed to them and through them. Man was created and the ages of history were all arranged for him. Sin was permitted for him (like a dark cloud showing more clearly the glory of the rainbow). The eternal purposes of redemption and their fulfilment in time were all for him. What a proof of the Deity of Christ is supplied by comparing ver. 16 with Romans 11:36! 4. He is the upholder of all creation. (Ver. 17.) Being "before all things" from the moment of creation down to the present time, he had upheld all things by the word of his power, and "in him all things consist," i.e. hold together. He is the Corner-stone of the universe no less than of the Church. Behind the laws of nature we see the mind of Christ. If he were to cease to uphold things they could not "hold together;" their harmony, nay more, their very existence, would cease; for in him all things live and move and have their being. But "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John 5:17, 19; John 10:30). All these truths respecting the glory of Christ remind us of the supreme claims over each one of us of that Divine Son who created us for his own glory and redeemed us by his own precious blood, that he might reign over us for our salvation (Acts 5:31; Romans 14:7-9). - E.S.P.
II. THE GLORY OF THE SON IN RELATION TO THE CREATION. This is unfolded by four truths respecting him.
1. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." In the New Testament the term "Firstborn" is applied five times to Christ (vers. 15 and 18; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5). Its use here figuratively reminds us of the place which the firstborn occupied in a Hebrew family. Having priority, he had also a certain supremacy over the other members and a double portion of the inheritance. Our Lord Christ has priority; "before Abraham," before all creation (John 1:1, 2); absolute pre-existence, "before all things" (ver. 17). He has supremacy. If Paul here alludes to Psalm 89:27, we are reminded that the Messiah is "higher than the kings of the earth, King of kings," "Lord of all," etc. And he enjoys more than the firstborn's double portion (John 3:34, 35; John 5:22, 23, 26, 27).
2. He is the means of all creation. The sixteenth verse confutes the notion of the Son of God being himself a creature, though the highest. He is the Creator, not of "the rest" of the universe, but of "all things." Who can adequately interpret that mysterious term "in him," etc.? We can only venture to suggest such truths as these: Apart from Christ there would have been no creation at all. He was the reason for it. He was the First Cause and the Final Cause, the Alpha and the Omega of creation. The term "in him" includes both the following truths "by him" and "for him," "through him and unto him." The same preposition (ἐν), which the apostle so often uses to describe the relations between the Saviour and his people, he here employs to teach us the relations between Christ the Creator and the universe. But these are but guesses towards an interpretation (Luke 10:21). We are at any rate expressly taught that all things were created "through him" or "by him" (John 1:3); "in the heavens" (revelations of the telescope, Isaiah 40:26) "and upon the earth" (revelations of the microscope, making "things invisible" become visible), - all were created by Christ. From the world of matter we turn to the world of spirits, to things strictly "invisible." The false teachers may have indulged speculations as to the ranks and power and authority of angels. Without discussing the subject, Paul teaches that, whoever they may be and whatsoever their authority, they are all created by and subordinated to Christ, the "Firstborn of all creation."
3. He is the object of all creation. We need not dissociate the human nature of our Lord in his present glory from the Divine nature when we reflect on the truth that all things were created "for him," "unto him." It is a sublime thought that everything in creation and in history was planned for the glory of our blessed Redeemer. This world with its mountains and lakes and cataracts, its flowers and fruits and birds, was made so beautiful because it was Christ's world. Other worlds, peopled by the heavenly hosts, were created that his glory might be revealed to them and through them. Man was created and the ages of history were all arranged for him. Sin was permitted for him (like a dark cloud showing more clearly the glory of the rainbow). The eternal purposes of redemption and their fulfilment in time were all for him. What a proof of the Deity of Christ is supplied by comparing ver. 16 with Romans 11:36!
4. He is the upholder of all creation. (Ver. 17.) Being "before all things" from the moment of creation down to the present time, he had upheld all things by the word of his power, and "in him all things consist," i.e. hold together. He is the Corner-stone of the universe no less than of the Church. Behind the laws of nature we see the mind of Christ. If he were to cease to uphold things they could not "hold together;" their harmony, nay more, their very existence, would cease; for in him all things live and move and have their being. But "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John 5:17, 19; John 10:30). All these truths respecting the glory of Christ remind us of the supreme claims over each one of us of that Divine Son who created us for his own glory and redeemed us by his own precious blood, that he might reign over us for our salvation (Acts 5:31; Romans 14:7-9). - E.S.P.
I. CHRIST IN HIS RELATION TO GOD. He "is the Image of the invisible God." This implies two facts.
1. Resemblance. The likeness is not external and accidental, "as one egg is like another" - the "homoiousion" of the semi-Arians. The image is produced by the prototype as the seal by the die; it is "the impress of his substance," as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes it (Hebrews 1:3). The language of the apostle refers to the Divine nature of Christ. But it remains true after the Word has been made flesh. Thus we may see that, as at the creation man was made in the image of God, so in the Incarnation the perfection of humanity is identical with the exact likeness of God. Christ became no less human because he was the Image of God, but, on the contrary, just perfectly human. Our highest conception of divinity is our ideal of manhood.
2. Expression. Christ is the Image of the invisible God. "No man hath seen God at any time," etc. (John 1:18). God is invisible because he is pure spirit. No change of place and no change of state will ever enable us to see God with our physical eyes. The light which suffuses the air is invisible except where it shines on some object and is reflected to us. God's universally diffused presence requires such reflection for us to see it. We have this in some degree in the works of nature - star, sea, and flower reflecting God's glory. But it is only in Christ the perfect Image that we can have the perfect manifestation of God. He only can say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
II. CHRIST IN HIS RELATION TO THE WORLD. He is "the Firstborn of all creation." That this expression refers, not to the Incarnation, but to the Divine pre-existence of Christ, is plain if only from the language of the following verse (ver. 16). It expresses two facts.
1. Pre-existence. We have no reason for thinking that the human soul of Christ existed before the Incarnation. But it is plainly taught by St. Paul that that which is Divine in him did so exist. Our Lord said the same of himself (John 8:58). Without attempting to understand the mystery of the nature of God, we may gather this important lesson - that all those Divine characteristics which are so beautifully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth were not produced for the first time in the New Testament days. Though less known, they were as really existing in the age of Moses and even at the first creation of the world. Therefore the very scheme of nature and the whole government of the world must be in accordance with what we know of Christ. As Christ will finally judge the world, and all that we know of his Spirit will lead us to be thankful that such a one is the Judge, so we may rejoice that the same Spirit of love and gentleness has been from the first eternally pervading all things.
2. Pre-eminence. The firstborn has the chief honour. Christ's rank is not only above that of the highest archangels; it is distinctive in kind. He is not the first creature of many creatures, but the first born of all creation, in the deepest sense the only begotten Son of the Father.
(1) Thus he who is most pure and good is most noble.
(2) He who humbled himself and sacrificed himself the most was the most highly exalted.
(3) All who trust in Christ may have the assurance that they could have no greater security for their confidence.
(4) Christ is worthy of worship. - W.F.A.
I. CONSIDER WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THIS HEADSHIP OF THE CHURCH. There is a real essential union of the Head and the members.
1. Christ is the Centre of the Church's life. He is its Life. "Because I live ye shall live also" (John 14:19). The union is strictly vital. "The second Adam is a quickening spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45).
3. He is the Source of all its blessings and comforts.
(1) He loves it (Ephesians 5:27).
(2) He sympathizes with its distresses (Matthew 18:5).
(3) He supplies it with abundant grace. "Of his fulness have we all received, even grace for grace" (John 1:16).
II. CONSIDER WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THE SUBJECTION OF THE BODY TO THE HEAD.
1. The Church must own no other Head than Christ. There are undercurrents of priestly domination in our day subversive of this headship. The Pope is not and cannot be the head of the Church in any sense. We can be in subjection to no other than Christ.
2. We must do nothing to dishonour our Head either in flesh or spirit. (2 Corinthians 6:15-18.)
3. We must use all means to grow up into our Head in all things, that "there may be increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).
4. We must dwell with our fellow members in love and humility. "Keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). The members must sympathize with one another (1 Corinthians 10:24).
III. THE ORIGIN OF THE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST. "Who is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead."
1. Christ is the Beginning of the new creation. Two ideas are implied in the expression.
(1) Priority in time. He is "the Firstfruits of them that have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20).
(2) The origination of spiritual life. As he is "the Beginning of the creation of God" (Revelation 3:14), he is the Beginning of the new creation. He is the "Prince of life" (Acts 3:14), the "Author of salvation" (Hebrews 2:10).
2. Christ is Head through his resurrection. He is "the First-begotten from the dead." Consider:
(1) That he was among the dead. Thus he made expiation for our sins.
(2) That he was begotten from among the dead, because he was raised from death to life "for our justification" (Romans 4:23, 24).
(3) That he was the first so begotten.
(a) Others were translated or died again.
(b) He rose to die no more (Romans 6:9).
(c) His resurrection involves the resurrection of all his saints.
(4) His resurrection is his title to headship (Ephesians 1:20-23).
(5) Let us realize "the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10) in a holy life.
IV. THE DESIGN OF THE FATHER WAS THAT ALIKE IN THE SPIRITUAL AND THE NATURAL ORDER CHRIST MIGHT HAVE THE PRE-EMINENCE. "That in all things he might have the pre-eminence." Both in nature and in the Church he is pre-eminent; and the Father's design will be yet more fully accomplished when all things are put under his feet and "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ" (Revelation 11:15). Thus our Divine Redeemer is "Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, the First and the Last" (Revelation 1:8, 11, 17, 18). - T. C.
I. IN HIS RELATION TO THE CHURCH.
1. "He is the Head of the body, the Church." For he is its Founder; the Church is his creation (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17-20). Having "all power in heaven and earth," his glory and grace are so great that he can sustain the whole Church in life, and rule and guide each member of it. Our life is bound up with his life; our interests are made his own by the sympathy of our living Head. (Illustrate from Acts 7:56; Acts 9:4; Acts 18:9, 10; Acts 23:11; Acts 27:23, 24; 2 Timothy 4:17, 18.)
2. "Who is the Beginning - the first in time and the first in power in relation to the Church. Because he is the First and the Last," "the Beginning of the creation of God," he is also the Fountain, "the Prince [or, 'Author'] of life" (Acts 3:14) to his Church. Every act of pardon granted, every shower of reviving grace bestowed, every interposition of Providence, is from him. (Illustrate from Jesus Christ's use of "I" and "me" in John 14-16.)
3. "The Firstborn from the dead." He is the supreme Lord from among all who have entered the grave, by virtue of his being the first to rise to the new life from the dead. Note the contrast between the resurrection of Christ and of others. Dying voluntarily, though sinless (John 10:17, 18), he rose by his own power (John 2:20), not to die again (Romans 6:9), in an immortal body (Romans 1:18). Thus he is the Cause, the Pledge, and the Pattern of our resurrection, and has supremacy over his Church in both worlds (Romans 14:9). Already we have seen that he is Firstborn, and Lord of the material creation; and he has the same position in the spiritual creation, "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." He is the Image and Manifestation of God, the First Cause and the Final Cause, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, the Head and Lord of the Church, the Author and Pattern of our glorious resurrection. Yes; and in all things he shall have the pre-eminence (Psalm 72:17; 1 Corinthians 15:25). The day will come when commerce, science, art, literature, shall all be consecrated to him; when the minority shall become a majority, and an innumerable multitude shall "honour the Son even as they honour the Father" (John 5:23; Revelation 7:9-17).
II. IN HIS WORK AS THE UNIVERSAL RECONCILER. Whichever of the alternative renderings of ver. 19 in the Revised Version we adopt, the precious practical truth is the same. The pre-eminence of Christ is assured by "the fulness" that abides in him. All the Divine perfections are his (Colossians 2:9). We may take the term in its widest signification - a fulness of life and power and glory, of goodness and grace, without limit and without end. Thus the Man Christ Jesus, full of a Divine life (John 3:34; John 5:26), was qualified to be the Agent by which the great reconciliation in the universe should be accomplished (ver. 20). "The well is deep;" the place is "holy ground." The reconciliation of "things upon the earth" is a mystery; how much more of "things in the heavens"! Notice:
1. Sin introduced discord into the universe, which spread to this earth. It not only separates men from God, but brings thereby calamities to "the whole creation." Sin left to itself works universal ruin; "when it is full grown it bringeth forth death." God must stand in a different relation to sinners and to the unfallen. If the guilty are to be saved, a new relation must be established between them and God. This is" the reconciliation" (Romans 5:11). The change in man's heart is a result, but the sequel of the change of relations established by "the reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19).
2. To effect this reconciliation a propitiatory sacrifice was needed. To show righteous grace to the guilty both the holiness and the love of God called for a Divine sacrifice. No theory can fully clear up this mystery of Divine mercy; but faith accepts it and Christian experience attests it (Luke 7:35). No sacrifice less than "the death," "the blood of the cross," could effect this reconciliation (Romans 5:6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). O paradox of mercy! The shedding of human blood stirs up strife; Christ's blood brings down peace. Innocent blood cries for vengeance; the blood of the cross pleads for pardon (Hebrews 12:24).
3. But what is meant by the reconciliation of the things in the heavens? It is not universal restoration of the devils and the damned; for Paul is speaking of what God has already done by the blood of the cross, and in ver. 23 he speaks of the final salvation of believers as conditional. The passage which best illustrates ours is Ephesians 1:10. We can only throw out hints as to the meaning. We know that angels are intensely interested in the work of redemption (Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12). The entrance of sin and its spread among the human race may have produced, though not distrust, yet something like dismay. But the death of Christ revealed the majesty and mercy of God as they had never been combined before. The very fact that the lost sons of men could be "made nigh" by the death of Christ brought these celestial sons of God still nearer. The bends which unite these unfallen yet finite creatures to God become firmer than ever, and thus the harmony of the universe becomes more complete. Such are some of the jewels in the crown of our Divine Mediator and Redeemer. Learn:
1. The glory of the cross. Though "all the fulness" dwelt in Christ, even he could not effect a reconciliation except by death (Galatians 6:14).
2. The efficacy of the cross. Though erected on this tiny globe, its power extends throughout the universe.
3. The motives from the cross (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15, 20). - E.S.P.
I. RESURRECTION IS BIRTH. Christ rising the first from the dead is called the first born. Death looks ugly to us because we only see the earthly side. The experience of Christ should help us to look on to the other side and the issue of death in birth in the heavenly sphere. Thus the sunset of the east is the sunrise of the west. The Christian future is not merely rest; it is life. It is not a repetition of the old weary life of earth; it begins afresh in birth.
II. CHRIST INSTITUTES A NEW ORDER OF LIFE. He is the new Adam. Mankind began its old life in the garden of Eden; it begins its new life in Joseph of Arimathsea's garden. The sins, sorrows, and failures of the past are crucified with Christ, dead and buried. To the old weary earth Christ brings a new spring-time, and with it the birth of new hopes and energies. But the perfect development of this new order of things is only possible after death. Christ has begun it, and as one by one his people follow him they too enter into its growing glories.
III. CHRIST IS SUPREME IN THE NEW LIFE. On earth he was lowly, despised, rejected, and slain. Proud enemies seemed to triumph over him. A Tiberius sat on the throne of the world and the Son of God was nailed to the cross. But in the new order he who was the Firstborn of all creation (ver. 15) resumes his rightful rank and becomes the Firstborn from the dead. Therefore "he is the Head of the body, the Church." From this fact we may derive some important inferences; e.g.:
1. Christ being supreme in the heavenly world, his Spirit of purity and love will pervade and rule all its life.
2. They who follow Christ most closely in obedience to his will and in imitation of his character will enjoy the highest places in heaven.
3. Christ is worthy of the highest adoration now and through all eternity.
IV. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST IS THE EARNEST OF THE FUTURE LIFE OF HIS PEOPLE. He is the Firstborn, not the Only begotten from the dead; and he is "the Firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29).
1. The historical fact of the resurrection of Christ demonstrates by one instance the fact that death does not necessarily end all and indicates the possibility of a similar birth for us into a future life.
2. The character, teaching, mission, and work of Christ all teach us that he is not content to enjoy the resurrection life by himself, but will bring many sons to glory.
3. The risen life of Christ is the type and pattern of the future life of his people. - W. F. A,
I. THE NATURE OF THIS FULNESS.
1. It is not the mere manifestation of Godhead.
2. It is Godhead itself in the totality of its powers and attributes. It is "the complete fulness and exhaustless perfection of the Divine essence." It is elsewhere described: "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9) Christ is indeed "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16). The Jedaeo-Gnostics taught that the fulness of the Godhead was distributed or dispensed among several spiritual agencies - "thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers" - so as to introduce grades of angelic mediators between God and man. The apostle declares that the fulness of the Godhead rests, not in them, but in Christ as the Word of God. Thus he is no mere emanation from the Divine Being.
II. THERE IS A PERMANENTLY INDWELLING FULNESS IN HIM. "That in him all the fulness should have its permanent abode." This is the force of the original word, which is very suggestive in the light of later Gnostic heresies. The false teachers held that the fulness of the Godhead as dispersed among spiritual agencies was partial like a blurred image, and also temporary. The apostle teaches:
1. That the totality of Divine Towers abides in Christ.
2. That it abides in him permanently and remains for ever, not coming and going like a transient phenomenon. Therefore we have an inexhaustible supply for all the needs of the Church.
III. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THIS INDWELLING FULNESS TO US.
1. It was of the Father's "good pleasure" that it should abide in his incarnate Son for the welfare of the Church.
2. We are to receive "of his fulness and grace for grace." (John 1:16.) We are to grow "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). The standard is nothing short of the fulness of Christ.
3. The Church is his very fulness - "the fulness of him who filleth all in all," because his fulness is communicated to her (Ephesians 1:23).
IV. LESSONS TO BE DRAWS FROM THIS TRUTH.
1. Great is the mystery of godliness. (1 Timothy 3:16.)
2. Great is the comfort of the believer in virtue of this infinite fulness. There is fulness of wisdom to keep us from error, fulness of grace to subdue our sin, fulness of joy to keep us from despair, fulness of mercy and pity to succour us in our distresses. "Therefore let no man take thy crown" (Revelation 3:11); "Cast not away your confidence" (Hebrews 10:35).
3. Great is the security of the believer. It is a permanent fulness. - T. C.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS RECONCILIATION.
1.. It implies a prior estrangement. Man "departed from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). He is "alienated" from God (ver. 21). "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). Even God himself was angry with man (Psalm 7:11). But this prior estrangement implies an antecedent friendship.
2. Though man was first in the breach of this friendship, God was first in the reconciliation. This blessed restoration of broken relations is traced to "the good pleasure" of the Father. It is a mistake to say that Christ is the cause of his Father making to us the offer of reconciliation. The atonement is not the cause, but the effect, of God's love.
3. There was reconciliation on God's side as well as man's. There is a change in the Divine relation or mood of mind toward us; for he himself "made peace by the blood of the cross," and his reconciliation of all things to himself is represented as based upon the peace thus made. The death of Christ was a true satisfaction to Divine justice for sin, so that God could be "just and the Justifier of the ungodly."
II. THE MEANS OF THIS RECONCILIATION. "Having made peace through the blood of the cross." The reconciliation was not absolute or without mediation. It was "through the blood of the cross" - the first term suggesting a comparison between Christ's death and the Old Testament sacrifices; the second, the penal nature of the Redeemer's death as that of a curse-bearing Substitute. The apostle emphasizes this aspect of truth, because the errorists of his time denied alike a real incarnation and a real atonement.
III. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THIS RECONCILIATION. "By him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.
1. "Things in earth" may include more than man.
(1) It may include the whole visible creation, which is "groaning and travailing together in pain until now," and "waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19-21). The curse passed to the ground through man's sin; through man will the blessing reach it again. It is a significant fact that Christianity in its purest form brings a happy change over those portions of the earth where it prevails.
(2) But, definitely and primarily, "things in earth" refer to man. Man's reconciliation to God is based upon God's reconciliation to man. It was in virtue of Christ's death that the Holy Spirit came to change the hearts, of men and bring them into harmony with God.
2. "Things in heaven." Not angels, as some suppose, for they were never estranged from God and Christ, and the Head of angels as well as men is never represented as the Mediator of angels. A mere increase of knowledge or blessedness on their part, or the confirmation of them in their heavenly obedience, can hardly be covered by the term "reconciliation." The word must be used in its ordinary sense. The apostle has described Christ's mediatorial function as twofold: as exercised in the natural creation and in the spiritual creation - in the universe and in the Church. His object is not to show the extent either of the creation or of the reconciliation, but, the person of the Creator and the Reconciler, and the Church marks the glorious sphere of the reconciliation as it is seen in its two great divisions of living and dead saints. The "things in heaven" seem, therefore, to apply to the saints in glory. - T. C.
I. IT IS GOD WHO BRINGS ABOUT THE GREAT RECONCILIATION. Two errors in regard to this glorious truth are very prevalent.
1. The error of attempting to effect the reconciliation for ourselves. Costly sacrifices, hard penance, prayers, and almsgiving have been resorted to, but in vain. The work is God's, not man's. The first mistake is closely associated with another, viz.:
2. The error of supposing that God needs to be reconciled to us. It is commonly thought that the great work is to move God into a favourable consideration for us. But the first step in the reconciliation began with God. He desired it and prepared the way for it before men took any steps towards realizing it. For this reason he first of all sent his Son into the world (John 3:16), and is now sending ambassadors and beseeching us by them to be reconciled. We began the separation, for ours was the offence, but God begins the reconciliation. He does not need to be reconciled to us. He waits to be gracious. The necessary reconciliation is on our side. We need to be reconciled to God.
II. ALL THINGS IN EARTH AND HEAVEN ARE THE SUBJECTS OF THE GREAT RECONCILIATION.
1. The reconciliation is to be universal. It is God's good pleasure to reconcile all things. Nothing short of that complete restoration would satisfy him. If ninety and nine sheep are safe, the shepherd will not rest until he has found the hundredth. Nevertheless, though this universal restitution is God's desire, there is a dark and difficult question as to how far the imperious will of man may stand out against it.
2. The reconciliation begins with things on earth. Here is the great wrong. In this life we become reconciled to God. The full success of Christ will involve the creation of a new earth. Though the laws of nature may not be altered, yet to us the wilderness will become a garden when we become reconciled to the God of nature.
3. The reconciliation reaches up to t/tings in heaven. It unites earth to heaven. Through union with God all beings and all things become united among themselves. Thus peace is established on earth, heavenly mindedness becomes a sympathetic link between the toilers and sufferers in this world and the angels and spirits of the just in the higher world.
III. CHRIST AND HIS ATONEMENT ARE THE MEANS THROUGH WHICH THIS RECONCILIATION IS EFFECTED.
1. Christ is the Mediator in the quarrel between us and God, the Peacemaker (Ephesians 2:14), the "Daysman" who lays his hand on God and on us. The angel mediators of Colossian Gnosticism could not do this, being neither Divine nor human. Because all fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, he brings God to us in merciful loving kindness; and because he is also" very Man," he, as our Representative, brings us back to God.
2. The sacrifice made by Christ in his death is the atonement which accomplishes our reconciliation. "The blood of his cross" signifies, not merely the fact that Christ died on the cross, but also the peculiar value of his death in the shedding of his precious blood, i.e. in the giving up of his life for us with all its wealth of purity and love. - W.F.A.
I. THE NATURAL STATE OF THE COLOSSIANS. "And you, being in time past estranged and enemies in your mind in evil works,... hath he reconciled."
1. They were estranged from God. The original term denotes that they had fallen from a prior relationship of amity. It points suggestively to the original innocence of man in Eden, and to the deplorable effects of the Fall, as separating between God and man (Isaiah 59:2). They had become strangers to God,
(1) because strangers to the life of God (Ephesians 4:10;
(3) because they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" (Ephesians 2:12).
2. They were hostile to God both in thought and deed. A strange thought that man should cherish a living enmity in a dead heart! It is enmity to God as Lawgiver and Punisher of sin.
(1) Mark the reality of this enmity.
(a) The threatening of the second command asserts it: "Them that hate me" (Exodus 20:5).
(b) The friendship of the world involves it: "Whosoever will be a friend of the world will be an enemy of God" (James 4:4).
(c) The carnal mind is full of it (Romans 8:7).
(d) All scoffs and blasphemies manifest it (Psalm 74:18).
(2) The seat of this enmity. "In your mind." It is an essentially carnal mind. The enmity lies deep down in the heart, which is a "chamber of imagery," full of all shapes of hatred to God and man. Strange that there should be hatred to him who is Author of our being and Fountain of our happiness! We need, indeed, in regeneration to be "renewed in our mind" (Ephesians 4:23), that we may exchange our hatred for love.
(3) The practical sphere of this enmity. "In evil works." The enmity is not caused by evil works, but is manifested through them (Matthew 15:19). They whose "mind and conscience are defiled" are "unto all good works reprobate" (Titus 1:16).
II. THE RECONCILIATION OF THE COLOSSIANS. "Yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death." The reconciliation has been already explained. The means of it are here expressively set forth by the apostle. The passage suggests:
1. That the atonement was a great historic fact; so that no person might conclude that the reconciliation was effected apart from the person of the incarnate Son or after his return to glory.
2. That he was a real man in a human body, as if to refute Gnostic theories as to a phantom body or as to the body being essentially evil. It was a heresy to say that "Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh" (1 John 4:2, 3).
3. That he carried about with him on earth a sin-bearing humanity. It was, therefore, a "weak, abased, and suffering humanity" (Romans 8:3).
4. That his life was consummated by death, as the completion of his atoning sacrifice for sin.
III. THE FRUIT OR EFFECT OF THE RECONCILIATION, "To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him."
1. We see that sanctification follows reconciliation and does not precede it. It confounds the relations of things and perverts Christian doctrine to reverse the order.
2. The atonement provides for our sanctification. It purchased for us all the communications of Divine life. Christ is made to us at once "Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30);
3. The nature of this sanctification. "Holy and without blemish and unreprovable." The words point, not to the relative standing before God, but to the externally observable advances in spiritual life. These are represented, first, positively - "holy;" and then negatively - "without blemish and unreprovable."
4. The end of this sanctification. "To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him." Not, as some allege, at the day of judgment, but for his personal approbation, implying
IV. AN EXHORTATION TO PERSEVERANCE IN CONNECTION WITH THE PROVISION FOR THEIR RECONCILIATION. "If at least ye continue in the faith grounded and steadfast, and are not constantly shifting from the hope of the gospel, which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven."
1. There is nothing strictly hypothetical in this passage, as the tense clearly indicates; yet warning is needed as the divinely ordered means of averting failure. There were risks to faith in the presence of Judaeo- Gnostic teachers. We need to be reminded that "he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13); but God himself provides for us the grace of continuance.
2. The mode of this continuance. "Grounded and steadfast."
(1) Marking its positive side.
(a) We must be built on the true Foundation (Ephesians 2:20). We must be grounded in the doctrines of grace as well as "built as living stones" on "the precious Cornerstone" laid in Zion (1 Peter 2:6). Otherwise we shall be swept away in the rising floods of judgment (Luke 6:48, 49).
(b) We must be steadfast as the result of this grounding. An ungrounded Christian cannot be a growing Christian. It is well to be settled in the faith if we would make progress in Christian life. Suffering has its influence in increasing our stability. Therefore our apostle prays that the God of grace, "after that ye have suffered a while," may "make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you" (1 Peter 5:10).
(2) Marking its negative side. "And are not constantly shifting from the hope of the gospel, which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven."
(a) The apostle points to the danger of drifting. When the anchors are lifted, it is impossible to know where the ship may go on a dangerous shore. The false teachers were subtle and plausible and speculative. It may have been hard to resist their logic. But the end of their speculations was death - the sacrifice of the hope of the gospel.
(b) He points to a sure anchorage - "the hope of the gospel, which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven."
) This hope may have been that of the resurrection, of which the false teachers said it "was past already" (2 Timothy 2:18), and thus cut up by the roots the true expectations of the Christian.
) It was more probably the "hope of the gospel" generally, which is described in Ephesians 1:18 as "the hope of our calling," including all the blessings of redemption with resurrection itself.
) It was a hope
(i.) made known by the gospel;
(ii.) imparted to them by Epaphras, the delegate of the apostle - "which ye heard;"
(iii.) and proclaimed as the universal hope of man to all creation.
It was not, therefore, reserved for a select coterie of men. "Its universal tendency was already realized," and its wide publicity was not to be called in question.
(3) Consider the importance of religious steadfastness. "We must hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6). Let us, therefore, bless God that "he has begotten us to a lively hope" (1 Peter 1:3).
(4) Seek wisdom from on high "to know what is the hope of our calling" (Ephesians 1:18).
(5) Let us read the Scriptures prayerfully, that "through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope" (Romans 15:4).
(6) Let us acknowledge that "truth that is according to godliness" (Titus 1:1, 2). - T. C.
I. THE COLOSSIANS' NATURAL STATE. (Ver. 21.) They were "alienated," and the alienation passed into downright enmity, which manifested itself in "wicked works." Not only were they alienated from God, but from one another and even from themselves. For sin is such a separating power that it not only cuts us off from God and from our fellow-men, but also from ourselves, so that we are divided and dissipated in the faculties and energies of our souls. Hence we find ourselves incurring, not only the Divine anger and the anger of our fellows, but we become angry with ourselves. It will be seen, therefore, that the reconciliation needed is a very wide one.
II. THEIR GRACIOUS RECONCILIATION. (Vers. 22-27.) The reconciliation has been brought about at no less a cost than the death of the Son of God. It must be precious. And now we are to notice how real it is. For just as the alienation and enmity have been towards God and men and self, so the reconciliation brings us into unity with God, unity with men, and unity with self. We are reconciled to God; we are reconciled to our fellow men; we are reconciled to ourselves. This is secured by Christ's indwelling, so that he becomes our Hope of glory (ver. 27) and the Source of that holiness and blamelessness which are the characteristics of redeemed men. Let us look at this reconciliation through atonement and indwelling.
1. We are reconciled to God by it. The Divine hatred to sin found fitting outlet in the cross of Jesus, and in consequence Christ's Spirit comes and dwells in the believer as the Source and Fountain of a holy character. The inspired, Christ-inhabited soul becomes the object of restored fellowship and complacency; God looks down in love, and he and man are one.
2. We are reconciled to our fellow men by it. The indwelling Christ leads us to peace-making, and we refuse to continue at war with those around us. We rather rejoice in the assurance that the atonement and inspiration of Christ are intended to bring about peace and concord among men.
3. We are reconciled to ourselves by it. For in sin, as we have seen, we are divided and dissipated; but grace comes and we are united to fear God's Name. We doubtless battle with our sins, but we realize that this is the way to regain our true selves and put internal discord away.
III. THEIR EXPECTED PERSEVERANCE AND PERFECTION. (Vers. 23-28.) This faith in Christ, this body of truth through which we have been brought into such intimate relations to Christ, is that in which we are grounded and settled. We expect to continue therein, and this is the meaning of our perseverance. Now, if Christ dwells within us by his Spirit, our progress is assured through his inspiration, and perfection in him is the goal we are to reach at last. This perfection which Paul aims at for the Colossians is not the imputed perfection which "completeness in him" implies, but the perfection of sanctification which his inspiration secures in due season. Only thus are we brought into complete harmony with the universe of God.
IV. THE APOSTLE'S PAINFUL MINISTRY IN SECURING THIS. (Vers. 24-29.) As the minister or servant of the Colossian Church, he had taken "pains" to instruct them properly. In this respect every good and noble work is painful; unless we take pains we cannot do it well. But over and above this, Paul was called upon to suffer special trials. He was a prisoner at this time at Rome. He was a suffering member in Christ's mystical body. Now, one member often suffers in the interests of other members. The atonement of Christ was the suffering of the Head in the interests of all the members. In this none of the members can have any share. But Christ's afflictions had a wider meaning than simply atonement. He was perfected in experience by them, so as to be sympathetic in a degree impossible otherwise. In this department Paul could have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Now, the Colossians profited by Paul's sufferings for them at Rome. All his pain, all his agonizings for them, all the devotedness of spirit he had manifested for them during many years, went to make up the needful basis for their spiritual progress. If he had not suffered as he did, he could not have composed these Epistles of the captivity. To this painful ministry all earnest souls are called. It is part of our heritage, and the experiences found within it are altogether glorious. - R.M.E.
all things... you hath he reconciled... I was made a minister." But in his view of what the salvation of each individual was, there was no narrowness. In vers. 21-23 he gives us a comprehensive view of salvation. He speaks of the past, the present, and the future.
I. WHAT WE WERE. "Alienated." True in an especial sense of the heathen Colossians (Ephesians 2:11, 12; Ephesians 4:17-19), we yet must not shrink from recognizing this as a description of the natural state of all sinful men who have not yet accepted the offer of reconciliation. It thus agrees with our Lord's verdict on humanity (John 3:3). If we do not relish communion with God or conversation about him, and have no eager desire to do his will and enjoy his favour, these are clear signs of alienation, that there is a gulf between us and our Father. Such alienation does not end in mere indifference; it leads to positive enmity (Romans 8:7). This "hard saying" of Scripture can easily be justified in the court of conscience, and needs to be impressed on the hearts of the unconverted. They may feel a complacent regard towards a God of their own imagining, but a positive aversion to the living and true God, who hates iniquity and "is angry with the wicked every day." Are they subject to the Law of God? - that is the test. They are not. Both hearts and acts are in antagonism to him; "enemies in your mind in your evil works." Not to speak of those sins of the flesh from which they may have been restrained, selfishness and all its kindred sins of the Spirit are sufficient proofs of the alienation and enmity of mind in its relations to God. The lamentable indifference of men to Christ and his salvation is the crowning proof of the enmity of the heart towards God (John 3:18, 19).
II. WHAT WE ARE. "Reconciled." The work of reconciliation is twofold. There was a reconciliation effected on the cross (ver. 23; 2 Corinthians 5:19). There is a reconciliation still to be accomplished in the heart of every impenitent sinner (2 Corinthians 5:20). For there are two obstacles in the way of complete reconciliation - the one is in the character of God; the other, in the character of man. The first arises from God's holiness; the second, from man's wilfulness. The first was removed by the work of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice - "that he might himself be just, and the Justifier of hint that hath faith in Jesus; the second is taken away, immediately by the work of the Holy Spirit on man's heart, but mediately through the death and resurrection of Christ and all the spiritual powers that flow therefrom (John 16:7-11; Romans 5:10). What a manifestation of" the riches of his grace which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence," thus to open a pathway by which a holy God might righteously make the first overtures of mercy to a reluctant rebel race! And was it not equally glorious to be able, without destroying man's freedom or doing any violence to his nature, to overcome his own unwillingness, and open a pathway into his sinful heart for "the peace of God which passeth all understanding"? But at what a cost this has been done! Paul never shrinks from "the offence of the cross." In the face cf false teachers at Colossae and amongst ourselves, he affirms the reality of the sacrificial death of the Divine Son in whom "all the fulness" dwelt. None but incarnate God could effect this reconciliation, and even he only "in the body of his flesh through death (Hebrews 10:5-10).
III. WHAT WE SHALL BE. "Presented faultless." That the apostle is looking forward to the future we infer from ver. 23. He holds out before us the prospect of attaining that perfection of character which we are striving to attain to, but which, as an ideal, is perpetually rising and receding as we reach after it (Philippians 3:12-14). We shall gain that holiness which we now "follow" (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:13-16). We shall be "unblamable," or "without blemish" (a sacrificial term). The precept in Romans 12. I will be perfectly fulfilled then. The confession in 1 Corinthians 4:3 will be needless then. We shall be "unreprovable." Now Christ must at least say, "I have a few things against thee," and we confess Job 9:20, etc. But then neither the accuser of the brethren, nor our own enlightened consciences, nor God himself, will reprove us (Romans 8:33, 34). And all this "before him." We shall be pure enough to bear the scrutiny and to be happy in the presence of that God whose holiness is a consuming fire and whose presence would therefore be intolerable to a sinful soul (1 John 3:1, 2; Jude 1:24, 25). But there is a condition attached. Paul describes it in terms of generous confidence:" If, as I would take for granted," etc.) cf. Philippians 1:6). There is a truth to be believed ("the gospel"), a confidence to be maintained (your "faith," 2 Corinthians 1:24), and an expectation to be cherished ("hope;" cf. Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:11; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Jude 1:20, 21). Learn:
1. Our steadfastness in Christ is the best evidence of our reconciliation by Christ, and our earnest of a presentation in glory. The loss of faith is the knell of hope.
2. Our assurance of reconciliation and our hope of final perfection are both bound up with the glorious gospel, and may be the privilege of all; for that gospel is a message of salvation for every creature under heaven. - E.S.P.
I. A PAST ALIENATION. This was the early condition of the Colossians; it is the condition of all of us before we are renewed in Christ.
1. The alienation arises out of wicked works. We cannot keep our sins to ourselves. They affect our relations with God; they separate us from him. This is the worst result of them.
2. The alienation consists in the state of our minds. The deeds of the hand react on the thoughts of the heart. He who begins by breaking God's Law ends by separating his whole inner life from God.
3. The alienation results in enmity to God. It cannot remain in passive neglect of the will of God. He who is not with Christ is against him. He who does wicked works may think that his deeds have no relation to God; but, in truth, he is fighting against God.
II. A PRESENT RECONCILIATION.
1. It is accomplished at a great cost. Nothing less than death - the death of the Son of God - could bring it about. How stubborn must have been our enmity! How great must the love of God be! How highly should we value the reconciliation which God has provided at such a fearful price!
2. It is enjoyed through our union with Christ. The reconciliation is "in the body of his flesh." As we eat his flesh, spiritually, by faith and communion, we receive the blessing of reconciliation.
3. It is a present condition. "Yet now hath he reconciled." Reconciliation is accomplished at once, fully, perfectly, and ungrudgingly, with no hints or reminders of the old sins ever again brought up. In the strength of the reconciliation we go on to the working out of the salvation that is only perfected when all sin is conquered.
III. A FUTURE PERFECTION. Though reconciled, we are not yet presented to God. A process of preparation is necessary for this.
1. The reconciled must be made holy. Forgiveness is the first step; but it is not the last. Without holiness no man can see God. The whole of life should be a cleansing and purifying and preparing for the unblemished condition in which only Christ can present us to God. But the reconciliation is a necessary preliminary, an important beginning, and a constraining motive for the perfect purification.
2. We must do ore-Tart to realize the future perfection. It depends on our continuing in the faith. - W.F.A.
I. THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY IS THE PROCLAIMING OF A BLESSED MYSTERY, The term "mystery," as Paul here twice uses it, and often in this Epistle, does not describe what is essentially incomprehensible, but rather what was hidden but is now revealed. The gospel is a mystery, but a mystery that is to be preached fully, as Bishop Lightfoot renders the word "fulfil;" a mystery that is made manifest, a mystery into which (as the word borrowed from the ancient mysteries, in ver. 28, suggests) every man may be initiated.
1. The gospel a mystery. All religion deals with mystery. Genuine mystery is the stamp of a religious divinity; false mystery is the counterfeit superstition stamps. In its aspect towards the vast, the infinite, the Divine, religion must always have some mystery to man.
2. The gospel a mystery that was long secret from man. "Hidden things belong to God." There are hidden facts and laws in nature that science has only gradually discovered or is now only gradually discovering; hidden moral meanings in nature and history that poet's sight only can descry and poet's song only describe. There were hidden things in religion that only holy men of old moved by the Holy Ghost could reveal.
3. The gospel is a mystery that is now fully revealed. Whatever may have been the guesses of nobler pagans, or the anticipations of patriarchs, or the predictions of prophets, all was only the pale light of very early dawn upon the hills of ancient time. It was noon when Christ lived, taught, died. The seal was broken, the secret was revealed. What secret?
4. The gospel is the revealed secret of God's universal redeeming love. Christ is fully proclaimed. And Christ is the Mystery. In him are all the treasures, all the wealth, of God stored away.
(1) All the mystery is revealed in Christ. As the rainbow has all possible colors in its wondrous arc, as the fabled music of the spheres has all possible tones in its chord, so in Christ is all the wisdom, all the righteousness, all the love, of God.
(2) All men may receive the blessings of this mystery. Christ, and Christ freely given to the Gentiles, and Christ freely given to be an indwelling Power in them, is the great Mystery, which, as Paul dwelt on it, made him proclaim it with newer and deepening joy. "Now," when I see the full extent of God's mercy - "now," when I ponder his mighty, all-sufficient, all-embracing love, I rejoice, not only to proclaim, but to suffer untold sacrifices in proclaiming it to men. Anything, Paul felt and said, was worth doing, anything was worth suffering, if he might but preach the whole gospel without reserve, to all men without restriction. This leads us to notice -
II. THIS WORK INVOLVES COMPLETE CONSECRATION ON THE PART OF ITS MINISTERS. This consecration may, indeed often does, involve:
1. Intensity of suffering. Very bold does the assertion of the apostle seem about "filling up what is behind of the sufferings of Christ." Were his sufferings incomplete, then? No and yes. Yes; for he left work to be done that involves suffering. There must be suffering sympathy, suffering self denial, sometimes suffering death, in carrying on the work of bringing men to God. This consecration will involve:
2. Manifoldness of labour. There is the threefold function of the Christian worker denoted here. This consecration is the result of:
3. The highest constraint. - U.R.T.
I. THE APOSTLE'S SUFFERINGS FOR THE CHURCH "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church."
1. The nature of his sufferings. These are to be understood by his frequent reference to the afflictions of Christ.
(1) The afflictions of Christ are not
(a) afflictions borne on account of Christ;
(b) nor afflictions imposed by Christ;
(c) nor afflictions which resemble those of Christ;
(d) nor the afflictions which the apostle endures instead of Christ, as supplementing his afflictions; but the afflictions which Christ endures in his suffering Church. The Messiah was "to be afflicted in all their afflictions" (Isaiah 63:9).
(2) How the apostle filled up that which was lacking of Christ's afflictions. Not as if Christ did not suffer all that was necessary to the salvation of men, but left something to be suffered by members like the apostle as a means contributory to their own salvation. Roman Catholics base upon this passage their doctrine of supererogatory merit and indulgences. Some Protestant divines think this position is to be met by distinguishing part of Christ's sufferings as vicariously satisfactory and part as merely edifying by way of example, and represent the apostle as supplementing, not the first, but the last kind of suffering. This view is subject to the grave objection that there were no sufferings of Christ that were not vicariously satisfactory, as there were none that were not likewise designed for edification, comfort, and example. The Roman Catholic view is unsound,
(b) because it is absurd, for if the apostle supplied in his suffering what Christ failed to supply, nothing remains for other saints to supply by their sufferings.
(3) The apostle shows in the context that his work was not to redeem, but to edify the Church. What, then, is the meaning of the apostle's statement? That the sufferings of the members of Christ are the sufferings of Christ; for the Church is his body, in which he exists, lives, and therefore suffers. All the tribulations of the body are Christ's tribulations.
2. The design or intent of the apostle's sufferings. "For his body's sake, which is the Church." It was for the extension and edification of the Church. He suffers in his natural body - "in my flesh" - for the mystical body. He teaches us:
(1) That we are to seek the advancement of the cause of Christ above our own personal comfort.
(2) That we ought to endure sufferings because they concern the good of others more than ourselves.
3. The spirit in which the apostle bore his varied sufferings, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you."
(1) Because they were the means of unspeakable blessing to the Gentiles;
(2) because they would confirm the faith of the Colossians and encourage them to bear suffering with like patience;
II. THE SPECIAL DISPENSATION ASSIGNED TO THE APOSTLE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE GENTILES. "Whereof I was made a minister according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the Word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations, but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the Hope of glory."
1. The apostle's peculiar mission to the Gentiles. He calls himself here "a minister of the Church," as he has just called himself "a minister of Christ." His commission is from God himself. "A dispensation of God is given to me." God is the Dispenser of all good things to his Church. Hence we infer
(a) that the efficacy of the Word depends much upon God's appointment of his servants;
(b) that his servants ought to be regarded with confidence and love, because they are God's ambassadors and make the Word of God their supreme rule in dispensing the things of God;
2. The design of the dispensation given to the apostle. "To fulfil the Word of God." That is, to give its complete development to the Word of God - "to give its fullest amplitude to, to fill up the measures of, its foreordained universality." Every minister is bound "to fulfil the Word of God" in his ministry,
(1) by preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27);
(2) by rightly dividing the Word of truth according to the wants of the hearers;
(3) by the application of the promises of the Word (Luke 4:21);
(4) by bringing men to fulfil it in a gospel obedience (Romans 15:18).
3. The long hid but now revealed mystery of the gospel.
(1) It is "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." Here is the true mystery of godliness. It is not Christ, but Christ freely given to the Gentiles.
(a) Christianity is Christ in the heart. "He dwells in our hearts by faith" (Ephesians 3:18). He lives in us (Galatians 2:20). He is in us (2 Corinthians 13:5) if we are not reprobates. If he is in us, then
) we must continue to live by faith (Galatians 2:20);
) we may expect to receive "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" that are "hid in him" (Colossians 2:3);
) we may look for larger measures of his love (Ephesians 3:18);
) we must keep holy hearts, for he will not dwell in an "evil heart of unbelief" - "The heart is Christ's chamber of presence: shall we not, therefore, keep it with all diligence?"
) the grace of Christ will be efficacious against all temptations (2 Corinthians 12:9).
(b) Christ in the heart is the Hope of glory.
) He is the Hope of glory because he has, as our Forerunner, carried the anchor of our hope within the veil, and fastened it to the two immutable things - the oath and the promise of God - in which it was impossible that he should lie.
) The resurrection of Christ establishes this hope (1 Corinthians 15:19), We should be of "all men most miserable" without it.
) We should read the Word, that "through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope" (Romans 15:4), seeing Christ therein as the ground of our hope for eternity.
) There is no hope. for man apart from Christ.
(2) The mystery was long hid from the world. Hid from ages and from generations."
(b) But the mystery was that the Gentiles should be admitted to the blessings of salvation on equal terms with the Jews.
(3) The mystery was at last made known to the saints
(a) by revelation to the apostle (Ephesians 3:5);
(c) by prophetic exposition (Romans 16:26); and
(d) by the actual conversion of the Gentiles themselves without their conformity to Jewish usages. - T. C.
"Now." This is the connecting word, and serves to bring down the time from the past (when he was made a minister) to the present when he contemplates his sufferings.
I. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS, BECAUSE THEY WERE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COLOSSIANS. "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake." He adopts a triumphant key with regard to his sufferings. He is not merely reconciled to them, but he finds them a sphere in which he has occasion for rejoicing. He does not rejoice in them as sufferings, for they wore no more pleasant to him than to others. Nor does he rejoice in them here because they were helpful to self-discipline. But he rejoices in them because they were beneficial to the Colossians. He was suffering as a witness to the gospel.
1. His sufferings may have been as prayers. The Lord looking down on them, in response to them, may have showered blessings on the Colossians.
2. His sufferings may have been as the sending of the gospel to them. Because he stood in the breach, others may have been left free to give them the gospel.
3. His sufferings may have been as a stimulus to them. Because he was courageous in enduring sufferings, their courage may have been strengthened.
II. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS BECAUSE THEY WERE CONNECTED WITH THE AFFLICTIONS OF CHRIST. "And fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake." The language employed is very remarkable. "That which is lacking" is properly "deficiencies." The word is distributive - one deficiency after another. The verb which governs "deficiencies" is a double compound. The simple verb would give this meaning, "I fill the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ." The single compound would give this meaning, "I fill up the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ" (stress being laid on the fact that what the apostle supplied in suffering after suffering met deficiency after deficiency in the afflictions of Christ). The double compound gives this meaning, "I on my part with suffering after suffering meet deficiency after deficiency on the part of Christ in his afflictions" (stress being laid on the opposition of persons). Protestant commentators (with the exception of Dr. Lightfoot) seem to have settled down into regarding the afflictions of Christ as those endured by Christ in the sufferings of his people. It is quite scriptural to identify Christ with the sufferings of his people (Matthew 25:31-46); but the bringing in of this identification (with nothing in the language to point to it) has the effect of obscuring the antithesis between the two persons to which the language gives prominence. It is more natural, then, with Dr. Lightfoot, to adopt the Roman Catholic exegesis, and to regard the afflictions of Christ, not as those which he endures mystically in the Church, but as those which he endured personally in his day. He did not complete these so as to preclude his people suffering after him; but Paul and others, with suffering after suffering, were meeting deficiency after deficiency in them. The Roman Catholic conclusion from this is that saints, by the merits of their sufferings, supplement the merits of the Saviour. But that is an utterly un-Pauline idea (coming in after Christ and making up the deficiencies of his merits), and certainly it is not borne out by the language which is employed here.
1. The sufferings of the apostle can be classed with the sufferings of Christ as afflictive (not meritorious). In 2 Corinthians 1:5 it is said that the sufferings of Christ abounded to the Corinthians (or overflowed on them). If our sufferings are the overflowings (or surplus) of the Master's sufferings, then they are in the same class, only, however, under the aspect in which they are presented in that passage as sufferings for which consolation is provided. The exclusion of meritoriousness is secured here by the use of the word "afflictions" (not. "cross," or "death," or "suffering of death"). It is true that in all his afflictions (and not merely in his death) he was accumulating merits for his people. But it is quite consistent with that to regard them separately (compared with ours) as providentially appointed.
2. The sufferings of the apostle can be classed with the sufferings of Christ as edifying (not meritorious). There is a generalization of the previous thought. The sufferings of the apostle were edifying, not merely to the Colossians, but to the body of Christ, which is the Church. They were as prayers, as the sending of the gospel, as stimulus for the whole body of the faithful. Even we at this day are sharing in the benefit. And, though Christ by the meritoriousness of his sufferings actually gave rise to the Church, yet we can separate (for the sake of comparison) the edifying aspects of them.
III. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS BECAUSE THEY WERE CONNECTED WITH HIS OFFICE,
1. He was a minister of the Church. "Whereof I was made a minister." It is consonant to a Christian to suffer loss that others may be advantaged. It is certainly consonant to a minister of the Church to be afflicted (in soul and in body) that others may rejoice. He is not so much the holder of a benefice as one who wears himself out for souls. It is said of the greatest Minister of the Church that he came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. And Paul, in the spirit of service, was closely assimilated to Christ. He was sowing that others might reap, labouring that others might enter on his labours.
2. He was charged with the mystery relating to the Gentiles. " According to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the Word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints." As a minister of the Church, he held an office of trust. He was a steward in the house of God. His office was of Divine appointment. It had reference to the Colossians, but not to them exclusively, only to them as representatives of the Gentile world. In this office he was charged to fulfil (to complete the round of) a Divine declaration. This was the mystery hid from the ages and from the generations (making up the ages), but manifested (brought into the clear light) to the saints of that day.
3. This mystery was a glorious manifestation. "To whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the Hope of glory." There is glory in nature; the sun is a glorious object. There was glory in the Mosaic economy (with all its limitations). But in this mystery God was pleased, and had it in view, to make known the riches (the highest form, the greatest affluence) of glory. This was a display such as was not given elsewhere. The sphere of this display was among the Gentiles. The darkness of the background, therefore, added to the glory; but it was a glorious thing in itself. It is here described as "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." Stress is not to be laid on "in you." The first meaning is "among you," and "in you" only comes in under that. The stress of the thought is to be laid on this - that to them, in the hopelessness of heathenism, Christ came as the great Hope-bringer. In Christ (not in his doctrine here, but in his Person) they had the forgiveness of sins, they had the beginning of redemption. But what they had of Christ was only the earnest of what they would yet have. What they looked forward to in the future with hope was glory (differing from the glory previously mentioned only in that it respects persons and not things). This glory is to be thought of as the highest efflorescence of our being, from the Christ within, which is synonymous with full redemption.
4. The breadth of his duties as charged with the mystery. "Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ? There was the broadest of all subjects, viz. Christ, who has already been presented as the First, the Midst, the Last, in the universe and in the Church. This Christ they spoke of, not in a whisper (or only to the initiated), but proclaimed that men widely might hear. This bold presentation of Christ was not one sided. There was the preparing the way for Christ in admonishing (showing the need for repentance and urging to repentance), and then, as complementary to that, there was the building up in Christ in teaching (presenting Christ for faith in his qualifications and in his work). And in this they observed a universality; for it is said, with the emphasis of repetition, "admonishing every man and teaching every man." And having emphasized" every man," it is added (still having respect to universality)," with all wisdom." It was a point with the Gnostics that wisdom was to be kept back from the many. According to the apostle's teaching, there was no oligarchy of intellect (the few who had perception). There were no exclusive possessors of the Divine wisdom. There was universality in the Divine offer and intention. Another point with the Gnostics (as with others)was that only the few, the select spirits, could come to perfection; the many must be content with a lower attainment, a lower heaven. But the apostle did not go upon such principles. He saw perfection (the highest form of human existence)opened up for every man in Christ (the ideal Man), and therefore he sought to present (under God, to whom pre-eminently it belongs to present) every man perfect in Christ.
5. The spirit in which he discharged his duties. "Whereunto I labour also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." There is a recurrence from "we" to "I" (with individualizing effect). The apostle introduces a favourite metaphor of his. He painfully exercised himself in training for the conflict, and then he went down to the arena and engaged in the conflict. Thus he comes back to the sufferings with which he started. The proclamation of the gospel (so broad) was a proceeding with painful accompaniments. But, in the midst of all, he rejoiced because he was not left to his own strength, but was supernaturally supported. There was an unseen Master beside him, nerving him as he laboured (in training) and strove (in the lists); and so he laboured and strove, not according to his own poor working, but according to his (Christ's) working that worked in him mightily. - R. F.
now, now when I contemplate the lavish wealth of God's mercy, now when I see all the glory of bearing a part in this magnificent work, my sorrow is turned into joy" (Lightfoot). In a measure every Christian labourer may enter into Paul's joy because he may share his motives also. We note two reasons for regarding suffering as a privilege.
I. WE MAY THUS KNOW THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS. "I fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh." The oneness of Christ and his people is the key to these mysterious words. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 even the name "Christ" is given to the body as well as the Head. The sufferings which Christians endure are endured by Christ their Head in them; e.g. Matthew 25:35, etc.; Acts 9:4; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Hebrews 13:13. Jesus Christ during his earthly life endured sufferings which were peculiar to himself. They were vicarious, propitiatory, and meritorious. They are "finished" (Romans 6:9, 10). But the time of suffering is not yet past (Romans 8:23). Till the period of education and probation is past, there are afflictions of Christ yet to be filled up (cf. Revelation 21:4, 5). They are needful for the accomplishment, not of the atoning, but of the saving work of Christ. And if he selects us to be members in whom he is pleased to fill up some of his sufferings, we may regard it as a privilege rather than as an infliction. The term for "fill up" is very emphatic. It suggests the thought of completing, in response to or in exchange for something else; as though Paul meant" He suffered for my redemption; shall I not in my turn suffer for his glory and the good of his Church?" All sufferings which we endure as Christians may be privileges because promoting the work of full salvation in our own souls (John 15:2; 1 Peter 5:10, etc.). But when the apostle expresses his ardent desire to "know the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:8-10), we think he desired to share sufferings like those of Christ so far as a saved sinner can enter into fellowship with the sinless Saviour. This may be the case:
1. When our sufferings arise from the same cause, viz. sin, whether in ourselves (2 Corinthians 7:9) or in others. Our Lord's three recorded weepings were occasioned directly or indirectly by sin (Luke 19:41; John 11:33-35; Hebrews 5:7-9). Paul wept in sympathy with his Master (Acts 20:19, 31; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18).
2. When they are endured for the same end (1 John 3:8). In seeking to rescue souls from sin we must needs undergo self denial and suffering. But thus in an especial manner shall we be "filling up," etc., so that Christ may the sooner "see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied."
II. WE MAY THUS RENDER VALUABLE SERVICE TO OUR FELLOW CHRISTIANS. Paul's present sufferings as an apostle and as an ambassador in bonds at Rome were especially "for you" Gentiles. And already they were the means of conferring great benefits on his fellow Christians (Philippians 1:12-14). This was a motive with the apostle at other times (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 4:8-15; 2 Timothy 2:10). It may be enjoyed by others - by the persecuted (Acts 5:41; Philippians 1:27-29), by the self-denying missionary whose heroism kindles the flame of zeal in other hearts, by earnest workers (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8) and self-denying givers (2 Corinthians 8:1, 2), by the invalid who can say 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10; Philippians 4:11-13. Some of the best blessings have come to Christ's "body, the Church," through those members of it who are selected for especial suffering. So long as Christ's purposes are fulfilled in us we may well leave the method of our ministry calmly in his hands. Suffering may be, not a release from service or a substitute for it, but the highest form of it. We may enjoy the sacred indifference of the apostle (Philippians 1:20), and look forward to an ample "recompense of reward" (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 4:12, 13). - E.S.P.
the nature, subject, and object of every ministry that claims to be apostolic in its spirit. He teaches us the following truths: -
I. THAT HIS:MINISTRY WAS A STEWARDSHIP OF THE WORD OF GOD. Twice we find the personal claim, "I;" "I Paul was made a minister." But far from the spiral of egotism, we hear in these words the echo of such expressions of grateful humility as we find in 1 Corinthians 15:8.-10; Ephesians 3:7, 8; 1 Timothy 1:12-14. For his ministry was a "stewardship." He was entirely dependent for it on another. He went forth, not to publish the thoughts excogitated in his own mind, but to "deliver" testimonies and doctrines which he had received (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The "mysteries" he had to deal with were not sacraments, but truths; and he was not a priest, but a preacher "of the gospel, whereof I Paul was made a minister" (ver. 23). The stewardship was entrusted to him at his conversion (Acts 26:17, 18). From it he could not escape (1 Corinthians 9:17). But he gloried in it (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2; Ephesians 3:8). Being a minister of Christ, he was a minister for the whole Church; "whereof," i.e. of which Church, "I was made a minister." And as such he willingly recognized himself even as a bondservant of the Church as well as of Christ (δούλος) "for Jesus' sake"(2 Corinthians 4:5; see also 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). His one aim was to be faithful, "to fulfil the Word of God" (Romans 15:19; 2 Timothy 4:17).
II. THAT THE WORD ENTRUSTED TO HIM WAS A MYSTERY. A mystery, according to St. Paul, is a truth which was once hidden but is now revealed. It is not discovered by men, but revealed to men. This applies:
1. To the whole gospel (Ephesians 6:20). Who could have discovered or even conceived God's "way of salvation"? It was a mystery of mercy. But it is now an open secret, revealed by Christ's own lips and through his apostles and committed to our trust (1 Timothy 1:11; Jude 1:3).
2. To the precious truth that was especially entrusted to St. Paul as the apostle of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-7). The admission of us Gentiles to all the blessings of the gospel on terms of perfect equality with the Jews was a truth which, in spite of such predictions as Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 56., 60., etc., was "hid from all ages and generations," even from the apostles of Christ during his earthly life (Matthew 10:5; Matthew 15:24). Before his conversion Paul would have been shocked at it as a blasphemous heresy. But God had revealed his Son in him (Galatians 1:15, 16).
III. THAT THIS MYSTERY FOUND ITS SOLUTION IN CHRIST.
1. When in the fulness of time God, transcending the hopes of the most sanguine anticipants of a glorious future, "sent forth his Son," "his unspeakable gift," it would have been unlike God to confine so great a blessing to such a fraction of humanity as the Jews.
2. The appearing of Christ was the greatest vindication of God's dealings with the heathen nations which in time past were suffered "to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16).
3. The atonement of Christ explained the forgiveness of sins among Gentiles as well as Jews in all ages (Romans 3:25, 26).
4. The resurrection of Christ brought life and immortality to light in a world which sorrowed over its dead as having "no hope."
5. The ideal humanity of Christ (" the Son of man") pointed him out as "the Way to the Father" for all men apart from the hedges and barriers of the Jewish fold (John 10:16).
6. The reception of Christ in any soul brings a new life and love and a new "hope of glory." No wonder, then, that here and elsewhere the apostle adds term to term ("riches of his glory," "exceeding riches of his grace," etc.) to describe God's mystery of mercy for us Gentiles, "which is Christ in you the Hope of glory."
IV. THAT THE PREACHING OF CHRIST AIMS AT THE PERFECTION OF MEN. (Vers. 28, 29.) We set before ourselves the highest standards. We aim to present men "perfect," in the manifold senses in which that word is used in the New Testament - perfect in condition (Hebrews 5:9), in knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:12), in character (Jude 1:24), because perfect "in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:30). But for this end:
1. We must preach "Christ" in all his fulness, as our Immanuel, our atoning Priest, our Divine Head, our perfect Pattern, our final Judge, as "the Way and the Truth and the Life," as "all and in all."
2. We must be discriminative in our preaching - "warning" "teaching," "every man" "in all wisdom."
3. We must be earnest and "labour," "striving," etc.
4. We must be dependent, trusting to Christ's "working which worketh in me mightily." - E.S.P.
I. CHRISTIANITY BRINGS A HOPE OF GLORY.
1. It brings a hove. All men who live at all live in the future. The past is irretrievable. The present is but a passing moment. Life reaches out to what lies before it. For this we need to be buoyed up by some hope -
"Ever by a mighty hope 2. The object of the Christian hope is glory. It is more than bare escape from ruin; more than mere gladness. There is something ennobling and elevating in the best sense of the word "glory." It not only includes the greatest blessings; it calls us off from low, selfish, epicurean conceptions of future happiness, and points to a pure and lofty aim for our aspirations. II. THIS CHRISTIAN HOPE IS FOR ALL. The emphasis of the phrase lies on the word "you." "Christ in you," etc. 1. All nations are included. The narrower Jew kept the glory of redemption to himself, though he would allow some of its minor blessings, overflowing from his own full cup, to spread among the Gentries. Christ brings the richest blessings to all peoples without distinction. 2. All characters are included. St. Paul has just been describing the early conditions of the Colossians. They had been alienated and enemies to God in their mind (ver. 21). Yet these men have the hope of glory. Thus there is a wonderful revelation of the love of God in the thought - even to you, Colossians, once great enemies to God, Christ is the Hope of glory. And so always the worst sinners, when redeemed by Christ, may anticipate, not only pardon, but the highest glory. III. CHRIST IS THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHRISTIAN HOPE OF GLORY. 1. It is first of all based on the atonement of Christ. By his shame comes our glory. He first reconciles us to God and then leads us on to glorification. 2. The hope of glory for Christians is dependent on the glory of Christ. He wins glory through his triumph over sin and death. But he does not keep the glory to himself; he freely shares it with his people. Then the Christian glory is just a share of this glory of Christ's. It is no selfish thing, much less is it an earthly, corrupt thing like much that degrades the name of glory among men. 3. Christ himself is the Centre of this glory. Christ is the Hope of glory, not merely the teachings of Christ, the work of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ. In him is glory - the glory of the Only begotten from the Father (John 1:14). He is the glory of his Church. IV. WE ENJOY THE HOPE OF GLORY BY RECEIVING CHRIST SPIRITUALLY, Christ in you is the hope of glory. So long as we are separated from Christ we dwell in darkness and no ray of his glory is ours. No external relations with Christ will make the hope ours. We must enter into personal relations with Christ; we must receive him into our hearts. When he dwells in our hearts by faith he brings to us his own life, and with this the glory that belongs to it. - W.F.A.
2. The object of the Christian hope is glory. It is more than bare escape from ruin; more than mere gladness. There is something ennobling and elevating in the best sense of the word "glory." It not only includes the greatest blessings; it calls us off from low, selfish, epicurean conceptions of future happiness, and points to a pure and lofty aim for our aspirations.
II. THIS CHRISTIAN HOPE IS FOR ALL. The emphasis of the phrase lies on the word "you." "Christ in you," etc.
1. All nations are included. The narrower Jew kept the glory of redemption to himself, though he would allow some of its minor blessings, overflowing from his own full cup, to spread among the Gentries. Christ brings the richest blessings to all peoples without distinction.
2. All characters are included. St. Paul has just been describing the early conditions of the Colossians. They had been alienated and enemies to God in their mind (ver. 21). Yet these men have the hope of glory. Thus there is a wonderful revelation of the love of God in the thought - even to you, Colossians, once great enemies to God, Christ is the Hope of glory. And so always the worst sinners, when redeemed by Christ, may anticipate, not only pardon, but the highest glory.
III. CHRIST IS THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHRISTIAN HOPE OF GLORY.
1. It is first of all based on the atonement of Christ. By his shame comes our glory. He first reconciles us to God and then leads us on to glorification.
2. The hope of glory for Christians is dependent on the glory of Christ. He wins glory through his triumph over sin and death. But he does not keep the glory to himself; he freely shares it with his people. Then the Christian glory is just a share of this glory of Christ's. It is no selfish thing, much less is it an earthly, corrupt thing like much that degrades the name of glory among men.
3. Christ himself is the Centre of this glory. Christ is the Hope of glory, not merely the teachings of Christ, the work of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ. In him is glory - the glory of the Only begotten from the Father (John 1:14). He is the glory of his Church.
IV. WE ENJOY THE HOPE OF GLORY BY RECEIVING CHRIST SPIRITUALLY, Christ in you is the hope of glory. So long as we are separated from Christ we dwell in darkness and no ray of his glory is ours. No external relations with Christ will make the hope ours. We must enter into personal relations with Christ; we must receive him into our hearts. When he dwells in our hearts by faith he brings to us his own life, and with this the glory that belongs to it. - W.F.A.
I. THE DUTY OF MINISTERS. It is to preach Christ.
1. It is not to preach morality. Though it is right and necessary to exhibit moral duties in the light of the cross.
2. It is not to preach a philosophy or a thaumaturgy.) 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.)
3. It is to preach Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:3.) Some preach Christ's incarnation as the grand hope of man, but this is to present a broken hope, if it is not supplemented by the death of Christ.
4. It is to preach Christ as the only Saviour. "Neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4:12). There is no salvation in ordinances, in saints, in angels, in images, in pictures, in works of righteousness.
5. It is to preach Christ as a sufficient Saviour. He is mighty to save, and "able to save to the uttermost."
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH CHRIST IS TO BE PREACHED.
1. "Admonition." "Admonishing every man." This implies:
(2) Preaching is to set forth examples of admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11).
(3) Great is the profit of admonition to those who receive it aright (Proverbs 28:13).
(4) It implies that all men need admonition, for all are apt to err or sin.
2. Teaching. Christianity is not a thaumaturgy, not a spectacular religion; it is the exhibition of Christ through the gospel of truth. The understanding must be informed.
(1) There is the promise of the Spirit to lead us into all truth (John 14:26).
(2) There is the Word of truth, which preachers are rightly to divide (2 Timothy 2:15).
(3) We need to be instructed, for we are ignorant and prejudiced.
(4) There is immense variety in truth. "In all wisdom." Preachers must preach wisely - not in the "wisdom of words" (1 Corinthians 1:17), but in the truly Divine wisdom which enables us "to understand our own way" (Proverbs 14:8), which teaches us humility - "becoming fools that we may be wise (1 Corinthians 3:18); to walk not as fools, but as wise (Ephesians 5:15); and "to consider our latter end, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
III. THE DESIGN OF THIS PREACHING OF CHRIST. "That we may present every man perfect in Christ."
1. Perfection is the aim. It will be attained in glory. It implies perfection in knowledge as well as holiness. We are to seek perfection
(1) in doctrine (Hebrews 6:1);
(2) in faith (James 2:22);
(3) in hope (1 Peter 1:13);
(4) in love (1 John 4:18);
(5) in understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20).
2. Perfection is only to be realized in Christ.
(1) Its ultimate realization comes through him (Philippians 1:6).
(2) This thought ought to make saints seek a closer intercourse with Christ.
3. It is a perfection designed for all saints. "Every man." It is not for an inner circle of disciples, an initiated few, but for "every man." This universality of blessing marks the distinction between the gospel of Christ and the schools of Judaeo-Gnostic speculation.
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH MINISTERS OUGHT TO LABOUR IN THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST.
1. They must labour and strive. The ministry is a severe labour to body, mind, and spirit. The apostle "laboured more abundantly than they all." The Lord's work cannot be done negligently (2 Timothy 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:12).
2. Ministers must labour, not in their own strength, but in the Lord's strength. "Striving according to his working, who worketh in me mightily." It is the Lord who works in his ministers for the salvation of souls. Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but "it is God that giveth the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6). - T. C.
Galatians 3:1); to proclaim the grace of Christ; to set forth the claims of Christ; and to show the relation of Christ to everything in life.
1. There is a unity in this preaching. It all centres in Christ.
2. There is a breadth in it. Christ has grace and authority in regard to all aspects of life.
3. There is power in it. The charm and spell of the gospel dwell in Christ himself. In proportion as he is lifted up does he draw all men to himself, and in proportion as the preacher wanders into side issues does he lose the secret of his influence.
II. THE FIELD OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING IS ALL MANKIND. Three times does the apostle express the universality of this truth as against the Jew who would limit the best treasures to his nation, and the Gnostic who would keep the higher truths for the more instructed. "Admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom."
1. Christ is for all: for
(1) none are so good, or wise, or safe, or happy as to afford to do without him; and
(2) none are so ignorant, or foolish, or guilty as to be beyond the reach of his blessings.
2. In Christ all wisdom is for all men. There is no reserve, at least of the highest wisdom, since the Christ who is preached to all men freely is the Word and the Wisdom of God.
III. THE METHOD OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING IS PRACTICAL INSTRUCTION.
2. Admonishing. Men must be charged with the guilt of their sins, as well as encouraged by the offers of the gospel. An earnest, faithful dealing with individuals according to their personal condition is a necessary though painful part of a minister's work.
3. Teaching. Thorough instruction must follow the general proclaiming of the gospel. Growth in grace depends largely on growth in knowledge, Neglect of this laborious, unexciting part of the preacher's mission, careful teaching, is sure to be avenged by ultimate weakness, if not by disastrous lapses into practical errors.
IV. THE END OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING IS TO PRESENT MEN PERFECT IN CHRIST. We are not to be satisfied with such abstract teaching as simply informs the minds of people. The great work is most practical. It is to mould lives, to develop characters, to perfect souls.
1. It is to bring men into living union with Christ. We preach Christ in order that men may live Christ. The great result is the effecting of a vital union with Christ.
2. It is also to lead men on to perfection in Christ. The preacher will be expected, at the return of his Master, to present, as the fruit of his life's work, not a crowd of raw converts, but a body of ripe Christians. The work is not finished in conversion. It only begins with that. Line upon line, and precept upon precept, often with sad iteration as old lessons unlearnt need to be repeated, characterizes the necessary task of the Christian preacher. And it is not done till perfection is reached.
V. SUCCESS IN THIS MISSION DEPENDS UPON WORKING HARD IN THE POWER OF CHRIST.
1. It requires hard work. St. Paul "labours," "striving." The words in the Greek suggest the athlete who trains himself into great vigour for some severe enterprise. Men are not to be won for Christ and perfected in Christ by indolent, self-indulgent preachers. No work is harder than that of the Christian preacher when it is faithfully discharged.
2. Success is also only attainable through the power of Christ. He works mightily in the preacher as well as in the hearer. With this secret of strength the feeblest preacher may succeed where a Demosthenes would fail. - W.F.A.