Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE APOSTLE'S CONFLICT. It marks:
1. His intense anxiety on their account. "Fears within as well as fightings without."
2. His anxious labours in defending the simplicity of the gospel against the corrupting devices of false teachers.
3. His striving in prayer for the saints. (Colossians 4:12.) Ministers who "please not men, but God," have often a great "fight of affliction" on behalf of their flocks, especially when they have to encounter men who "resist the truth" and "withstand the words" of faithful men and "do much evil" (2 Timothy 3:8; 2 Timothy 4:14, 15). The Judaeo-Gnostics had inspired him with a deep concern for the religious integrity of the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and, perhaps, the Christians of Hierapolis, who all dwelt in the valley of the Lycus. What a blessing to them that they had the prayers and the labours of an apostle who had never seen one of them in the flesh!
II. THE OBJECT OF THE APOSTLE'S CONFLICT. "That their hearts maybe comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the Mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." He thus indicates how the threatened danger was to be averted. Their hearts were to be comforted and strengthened so that they might stand fast in the faith.
1. The manner in which the comfort was to reach them. "They being knit together in love."
(3) It leads to a union of judgment to the exclusion of everything like "contention and vain glory" (Philippians 2:2, 4). Love is "to abound in knowledge and all judgment," and is thus able to "discern things that are more excellent" (Philippians 1:9, 10). It is thus a protection against error and seduction. This love always springs out of "a pure heart" (1 Timothy 1:5).
2. The end of the consolation and the object of the union in love. "And unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the Mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
(1) Love gives insight to the understanding. Therefore the apostle prays that the Philippians' "love may abound in knowledge and all judgment" (Philippians 1:9), and that the Ephesians may be "rooted and grounded in love," so that they may know that love "which passeth knowledge" (Ephesians 3:17-19). As we grow in grace we grow in knowledge. The two growths go on together helping and developing each other. There is a necessity that the saints should seek, not merely knowledge, but "a full assurance of intelligence" respecting, not alone the doctrines of the gospel, but the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The knowledge of a personal Saviour is Christianity in its essence.
(2) The mystery for the Christian understanding that solves the problem of humanity is "Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." It is not Christ, but Christ containing these treasures. Above, it was "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27); here it is Christ with these precious treasures.
(a) The knowledge of Christ is the first and the last thing in religion. The apostle counted all things but loss for "the excellency" of this knowledge (Philippians 3:8). Eternal life is involved in it (John 17:3; Isaiah 53:11). It is the knowledge of him which leads to great boldness and sincerity. "Nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12).
(b) Access to Christ gives access to all his treasures. The treasures of the Gnostics were hid from nil but the initiated; the treasures hid in Christ are made accessible to all, so that we can know "the heavenly things" which he alone knows "who is in heaven" (John 3:12, 13). It is thus he reveals to us the Father, brings life and immortality to light, and enriches the Church with "the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:1). The treasures are twofold.
) Wisdom. There is "a word of wisdom" as well as "a word of knowledge" given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8). Wisdom reasons about the relations of things, and applies to actions as well as doctrines. Christ is made to us "Wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:30). The wisdom that is "from above" has many noble qualities (James 3:17), essentially moral in their nature. What but ignorance of Christ leads men to listen to deceivers?
) Knowledge. This is more restricted than wisdom applying to the apprehension of truths. "Though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge" (1 Corinthians 13:2). This was the very word that the Gnostics took as their watchword, but the apostle here significantly makes it secondary to wisdom. It is a right thing for believers to sound forth the praises of Christ's wisdom and knowledge. - T. C.
I. PAUL'S COSMOPOLITAN SPIRIT. (Ver. 1.) The selfish soul leaves out of consideration all but his own little circle; the Christian leaves out of consideration none but his own little circle. The gospel made a cosmopolitan of Paul the Pharisee. He who had been of the straitest sect becomes the man of broadest spirit. Besides, the problem of the world produced a "conflict" within him. He was in an agony of earnestness for unseen, uncounted millions. His great soul throbbed at Rome in sympathy for all who were under Caesar's sceptre. As the "apostle of the Gentiles" he magnified his office by making all mankind his spiritual care.
II. HIS DESIRE WAS THAT THROUGH CHRIST THEY MIGHT ALL UNDERSTAND THE MYSTERY OF THE TRIUNE GOD. (Ver. 2.) For the gospel does not commit the care of the universe to a "lonely God," but to a Triune Jehovah, who, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, has the elements of social happiness within himself. A social Trinity presides over the universe. Now, so practical a truth is this of the Trinity that, as Paul here puts it, the consolation of the heart and Christian unity depend upon it. It is sometimes insinuated that the doctrine of the Trinity is a profitless and unpractical speculation. Any one who thinks so would do well to read such an essay as Mr. Hutton's on 'The Incarnation and Principles of Evidence.' It will be seen from such a line of thought that there are deep longings of our nature which only an incarnation, and by consequence only a Trinity, can supply. But even apart from such subtle disquisition we may see in the sociality of the Trinity as distinguished from the awful loneliness of the Socinian hypothesis an element of consolation and of union. If God be a lonely being, and Martineau is driven to the term "lonely God;" if he is satisfied in his loneliness, - then there gathers round him that repellent element which we associate with the unsocial among men. I am not encouraged to come to this lonely and infinite One. He can do without me, and it repels me to think he can. But when I learn that God is not a lonely One, but has been, so to speak, a "family Being" from all eternity, rejoicing as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the satisfaction of his social qualities, then I am encouraged to come to him and to satisfy in him the longings of my heart. It will be found, then, that consolation is promoted by the realized truth of the Trinity in a way that cannot be secured by rival hypotheses. No unitarian abstraction can do for men what the social Trinity can. It will be found also that unity among Christians is promoted by this mighty truth. God as our Father gathers around him through the mediation of his Son Christ Jesus, and through the gift of his Spirit, the scattered members of the human family, and they feel united in a sense of sonship and sociality. A social Trinity secures a united society. Hence we find such a great thinker as John Howe preaching item ver. 2. a fine discourse for "union among Protestants." Now, it is when Christ is preached in all his fulness that "the treasury of wisdom and knowledge" to be found in him is opened up and the mystery of the Triune God becomes plain. It is in this full preaching of Christ that the present and eternal interests of the human race lie.
III. HE SEES THAT THIS PREACHING WILL ALSO SECURE A PROPER CHRISTIAN WALK. (Vers. 4-7.) He tells the Colossians that he is with them in spirit, taking notice of their order and conversation. He calls upon them, therefore, to walk in Christ Jesus the Lord as they have received him. This brings before us the fact that Jesus Christ, when received by faith, becomes the tenant of the human heart. He becomes the recognized Lord of the conscience, and to his sovereignty all things are submitted. The morality secured by the gospel is therefore the simple morality of pleasing the indwelling Christ. We may here follow the sainted Henry Martyn, who thus describes what the Christian walk is. It is
(1) to continue to apply his blood for the cleansing of our consciences from guilt;
(2) to live in dependence on his grace;
(3) to follow his example; and
(4) to walk in fellowship with him.
And this morality will be pervaded constantly by the grateful spirit. In truth, gratitude is the spirit and morality is the form assumed by the gospel as it lays hold of the minds of men. God having in his gospel done so much for us, we feel that we ought to do all we can for him. We consequently walk before him in love and strive gratefully to do the things which please him. - R.M.E.
I. PERSONAL CONCERN.
1. Paul's striving. "For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you. and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." There is an advantage in the Revised translation, in carrying forward the word "strive" from the preceding verse. Having declared his striving in general, the apostle now shows ("for") how his striving was specially directed.
(1) His striving was remarkable as directed toward those who had not seen his face in the flesh. Among these are plainly included the Colossians. With them are associated their neighbours the Laodiceans. The Hierapolitans (to whom there is reference at the close of the Epistle) are not mentioned. But it is added generally, "as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." Spiritually present he had been (as he tells us in the fifth verse), and he must have had indirect modes of intercourse with them, yet they wanted the impression of his presence in the flesh - they wanted the impression of his personal ministry among them. It can be made out that in none of his journeys before this time did his route naturally lie by the valley of the Lycus. It is difficult to have an interest in those, whose faces we have not seen. There is something in the expression of the countenance, as also in the touch of the hand, the sound of the voice. We like these, not as substitutes for the spirit, but rather as helps to our getting at and fixing our impressions of the spirit. Paul, in the quickness of his sympathy, got over this difficulty. He had associations in many cases with countenance, with hand, with voice. But he reserved a portion of his sympathy for those, like the Colossians, with whom he had no such associations. His concern was simply founded on the fact that they had been rescued from heathenism, that they were exposed to perils, and on the information which he received from time to time regarding their condition.
(2) His difficulty in the circumstances in giving them any right impression of the greatness of his striving. "How greatly I strive." There was no ordinary conflict in his mind. There was the vehemence belonging to an intensely earnest nature. But how could he convey the impression of what his striving was (the moral fulcrum on which he depended for moving them) to persons in the position of the Colossians? If they had had an impression of his personal ministry, then he might have revived that wherewith to oppose the heretical teachers; but he had never been at Colossae. If he had been able then to go to the rescue, he might have given them an impression of his intensity in the way in which (like a good athlete) he grappled with those teachers. But he was in an imprisoned condition in Rome; and his conflict would be none the less because he was imprisoned and far away from them. Was he, then, like a bird beating its wearied breast against the wires of its cage? No; there was outlet for the struggle within. He could relieve himself at the throne of grace, and there, by his earnest pleading, move the hand that could move them. But that was not enough; he wished to have influence with them in impressing on them what his striving was, and so he writes; and, as he writes, feeling the difficulty that arose from their not having seen him in the flesh, he exclaims, "I would that ye knew how greatly I strive for you."
2. The end of his striving. "That their hearts may be comforted." There are positions in which Churches and individuals stand in need of heart comfort. Our English word "comforted" is etymologically "being made strong." "Fortified" belongs to the same root. And the one meaning passes into the other. If our hearts are sad, we feel unnerved for work. But if, amid our trials, we have comfort, we feel strong for work.
(1) Comforted in the way of having unity of feeling. "They being knit together in love." It is no ordinary union of Christians that is pointed to here. It is such a welding of them together as is not easily torn asunder. What an uncomfortable thing is division! How much to be desired in the way of comfort when, however assailed, Christians can present a united front! And the union which is not easily broken up can only subsist in love. And the love must not be a mere negative, or pretence; but must be a deep, pervading feeling. It is only when love avails to break down selfishness, to excite mutual interest between the members of a Christian society, that there is knitting together or the strong bond that is referred to in the third chapter.
(2) Comforted in the way of having unity of sentiment. "And unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding." Unity of feeling he desired for them; but as the cause (not the consequence) of unity of sentiment. When there is unity of feeling in a high degree, these questions can be calmly, patiently looked at without risk of a rupture. We have to aim at a right state of the understanding. "Give me understanding" is the repeated prayer of the psalmist. Our understanding is given us to examine into facts, to plan aright for our conduct, to avoid mistakes, to detect errors. And we are constituted so that we can not only judge, but have the assurance that we are judging correctly. There is an assurance which is begotten of ignorance, of self conceit. That is very different from the assurance which is the result of patient investigation, of steady contemplation. There is a self evidencing power of the truth. The words of God, when we closely examine them, shine in their own light, There is a peculiar satisfaction in our being sure of our seeing the truth. When our eyes have been enlightened by the Spirit, we can say with confidence," One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." It is this certainty extending over a wide range that is here represented as being the wealth of the understanding. This is of far more value than material riches which men heap up and know not who shall gather them. What a man gains in the way of clear convincing perception of things he can never lose. He who engages in the pursuit of these riches shall gather them in his own everlasting being. And, having begun to have an assuring view of truth, he shall go on to all riches of the full assurance of understanding. "That they may know [unto the thorough knowledge of] the Mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." This is parallel to the foregoing, and points to the Christian state of the understanding. All things are dark to us at first; we have, by reflection, to clear away the darkness. There is one thing which is pre-eminently dark, which we could never have found out for ourselves; it is here called "the mystery," and is explained to be Christ. He is the Mystery of God in this sense - that in him lay hidden all the thought and purpose of God. The theosophists spoke of hidden things, and made much of wisdom in general and also of a special insight. The apostle declares that all the treasures that they pretended by their sophia and gnosis to discover are hidden in Christ, and that it is by coming to the thorough knowledge of him that we get possession of the hidden treasures. The object, then, of the apostle's striving for the Colossians, as for others, was (in view of what follows) this, that, unitedly, in the use of their understanding, they might come to such an appreciation of Christ as would lay open to them all the hidden treasures. If they had that, then they would be carried away by no false sophia and ghosts.
II. RELATION TO THE SITUATION.
1. Exposure of the Colossians. "This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech." He directs himself specially to the Colossians. He has been telling them about his great striving for them, and about the key to the hidden treasures, in order to put them on their guard. They were in the presence of danger. There were teachers (of whom we shall hear more) that had designs on them, They used a persuasive form of speech (in a bad sense). They had not the persuasiveness that comes from the truth. They were conscious of no basis of reality for their speech. They taught a system for which there were not proofs. They pretended by their sophia and gnosis to open up hidden things; but it was only pretence. Their fine phrases, their plausible representations, their large promises, were delusive, leading away from reality, leading away from Christ in whom alone are the hidden treasures.
2. Spiritual presence with them. "For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ." The spirit is freer than the body. The apostle was present in the spirit, where he was absent in the flesh. This spoke to a certain cognizance of them, from all that he had heard of them, and especially from the intensity of his sympathy with them. Transferred, as it were, to Colossae, his feelings (and to this prominence is given) were those of joy. He was not repelled (as from what was disagreeable), but was rather enchained. It especially gave him joy to observe two points which were important in reference to his purpose.
(1) Their order. They were (to take one of the associations of the word) like a well-appointed regiment. They were well organized as a community. They were organized for the advancement of the cause of Christ among themselves and beyond themselves. Hitherto they had been free from divisions. There was no disorderliness, such as there was in the Church of Corinth.
(2) The steadfastness of their faith in Christ. Their outward state (which was one of order) was conditioned inwardly by faith. They had an immovable object for their faith. "If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself." Their faith in some degree corresponded. It had such a hold on Christ that it was, as the word is, something firm, like a piece of solid masonry (in a fortification) not easily battered down. It would stand, he hoped, the assaults made on it by the false teachers.
III. EXHORTATION TO REMAIN TRUE TO THEIR STARTING POINT. He does not bestow praise without giving exhortation (in view of the danger). The spirit of the exhortation is given in the words of the Lord to the Church of Smyrna (where danger, however, had not been well met), "Remember therefore how thou hast received, and didst hear." In the force of the apostle's thought there is a certain disregard of metaphor (walk, tree, building). It is, therefore, necessary to present the thought (in our division) without keeping to metaphor.
1. We are to think and act from day to day in accordance with our first reception of Christ." As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him." There is an emphatic specification of the object. They received Christ (the person of Christ being in dispute). Whom did they receive as Christ? The historical Jesus (partaker of humanity). This Jesus they received and worshipped as the Lord (with supreme power over the universe and the Church). And the apostle holds rightly that they were bound by their past action. Having thus received Christ, they were not to cast him off. They were not to think and act according to their pleasure or according to the suggestion of heretical teachers. Bat their thoughts and actions (specially the former in the present instance) were to be controlled by Christ and his laws.
2. What is added in our development is to be in accordance with its beginnings. "Rooted and builded up in him." The change of tense is not brought out in the translation. It is literally, "Having been rooted and being builded up in him? They got a rooting in Christ at the beginning, viz. under Epaphras, who presented Christ plainly to them, giving them line upon line and precept upon precept, until they came to a clear conception of the truth. This rooting was effectual in the subsequent development. To change the figure with the apostle, they got a grounding in Christ (as we get a grounding in a language or science). Every successive layer was to be in accordance with their grounding. The building was to rise up in, and to take form from, that Christ in whom they had been so well grounded.
3. Our faith is to be established in accordance with our early teaching. "And stablished in your faith, even as ye were taught." All early teaching is not good, and the development is often hindered by imperfect or faulty grounding. The early teaching enjoyed by the Colossians was proved to be good by the subsequent development. There is a missing of the thought by Meyer and Ellicott, who interpret, "Taught to become established in [or, 'by'] the faith." The idea rather is that, under the teaching of Epaphras, they got a right hold of Christ. From him thus laid hold of by them they were not to be moved away, The whole carrying forward of their faith in the way of stability was to be toward no false Christ, but toward Christ Jesus the Lord. Subjoined exhortation to thanksgiving. "Abounding in thanksgiving." This comes in with a certain abruptness. But the duty of thanksgiving is so frequently (five times) introduced as to form a subordinate feature of the Epistle. An overflowing of thanksgiving to God for the faith by which they came in their early teaching, and for all the blessing opened up to them by faith (the hidden treasures in Christ), would be helpful to their faith being stablished in view of present danger. - R.F.
I. A NOBLE ANXIETY. In the words he here uses Paul pictures his eagerness as the eagerness of the racer and the wrestler in the then familiar national games. So far there is nothing very rare, for the spectacle of anxious men struggling with keenest eagerness to gain some purpose of their own is common. Life is an arena crowded with such. But the elements of nobleness in Paul as here discovered are:
1. His anxiety for others. He says to the men of Colossal - My "conflict is for you." It is no self-centred life that Paul lives when he spends himself lavishly for these early Churches.
2. His anxiety for the absent. There is a counterfeit coin in current speech: "Out of sight, out of mind." It is a proverb coined in the mint of a very shallow and selfish life. It is only true of the worst men. Such a spirit
(1) limits power;
(2) narrows character.
Whilst real care for the absent:
(1) Increases the power of the mind. It gets strong enough to wing its pinions over oceans and even to pierce other worlds.
(2) Cultivates a spiritual habit. It delivers man from being the creature of sense.
3. His anxiety for those with whom he had no direct connection. He is caring for the grouper Churches on the Lycus that he had not planted or even visited. It was pure, disinterested love. Such is Paul's noble anxiety. Wherein does the modern gospel of altruism excel this gospel Paul believed and practised? And where has altruism the motives with which Christianity pulsates or the examples that Christianity can cite?
II. A BLESSED EXPERIENCE. Analyzing these verses, we find signs:
1. Of personal comfort. The word "comfort" here, as in the word "Comforter," points to more than solace; it tells of encouragement, strengthening. What better experience could he desire for the members of this young Church than that their hearts should be comforted? But to that is added the blessing:
2. Of social security. Few expressions can better describe a completer unity than this, "knit together." It means an interweaving of sympathies, an interlinking of destinies. And this interweaving and interlinking is attained by the highest and surest method, "in love."
3. Of firm conviction. "Full assurance." There is much more here than mere opinion; there is conviction. A conviction, too, of man's noblest faculty, the understanding, which is more than the reason alone. And this complete conviction is, as to the truth, of the supremest importance, namely, the acknowledgment of the open secret about God.
III. AN OPEN SECRET. As we have seen, Paul did not mean by "mystery" an unknowable, mystical something, but rather a truth once hidden but no longer concealed, a truth fully, freely revealed. Christianity is the open secret. The self revelation of Christ is the revelation of man, of duty, of God, of Heaven. In him were stored away all the riches of truth and love for which men cried. He is the exhaustless Storehouse of God's supplies for man's higher nature. He is the still small voice, and God is in the voice, and only the listening will bear. Or he is a vast mine of thought, of sympathy, of grace, and only the industrious, who sink the shaft of inquiry, of fellowship, of faith, will know what the mine contains. Paul knew. - U.R.T.
I. ST. PAUL'S ANXIETIES FOR BRETHREN HE HAD NEVER SEEN. We infer from this passage, as well as from other considerations, that the apostle had not visited Colossae and was not acquainted with the Church. Yet he felt much interest in them and had many anxious thoughts about them. Our sympathies are not to be confined to the narrow circle of our acquaintance. If a heathen could say, "Homo sum," etc., much more should a disciple of "the Son of man" respond, "I am a Christian, and consider nothing that concerns Christians a matter of indifference to me;" "For we are members one of another," and the heresies that may distract our brethren in France or the persecutions that befall the converts in China should call forth our anxieties and our prayers. The apostle has to utter solemn warnings. Most skilfully does he attract and conciliate these unknown Christians by telling them of his cares and his prayers on their behalf. There was an ἀγών in his public ministry (Colossians 1:29) and in his quiet hours (ver. 1; Colossians 4:12). It was caused by the care of souls (2 Corinthians 11:28). Absence intensified it. (Illustrations: Caged bird hearing the cries of its young. A mother hearing of the sickness or spiritual peril of a child far from home. Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2, 3; Galatians 4:19.) "The pastor," says Cyprian, "is wounded by the hurt of his flock." Paul's anxiety was for the spiritual comfort and concord of the Colossians. "Comfort" in its older sense includes the ideas of help and strength as well as of soothing and consolation. Error weakens as well as disturbs. The attitude of perpetual doubt and criticism is most unfavourable to growth and harmony. We notice three things that he was very anxious for the Colossians to enjoy as means of preserving them from the errors that encompassed and assailed them.
1. Ardent love. It is by love that we gain spiritual discernment, and are thus enabled to explore the hidden treasures of grace. The intellect is affected by the heart (Psalm 14:1). Love to a godly father may be our safeguard against scepticism; how much more may love to Christ be! Like a rocking stone, our soul may be somewhat swayed, but not "greatly moved" (Psalm 62:2). Like a magnet, our hearts may be liable to partial deflections, but still point towards the pole. Moreover, love will unlock many a truth. Pascal has said, "In order to love human things, it is necessary to know them; in order to know things that are Divine, it is necessary to love them." If we trust and love Christ we shall know him ("We have believed, and we know," etc., John 6:68, 69; observe the order of the words), and then all the controversies of Christendom need not shake us (2 Timothy 1:12).
2. Intelligent faith. "The full assurance of understanding," etc. Love as a mere sentiment may degenerate into a weak toleration of any error that disguises itself in the garb of love. Or, under the plea of jealousy for truth and love for souls, it may be depraved into an intolerant bigotry. Love must be a means to an end (John 8:31, 32). There are hidden treasures of truth in Christ "the Truth," which need manly intelligence inspired by childlike love and trust (Psalm 25:9; Matthew 11:25).
3. Steadfast consistency. (Vers. 6, 7; see next sketch.) We are thus reminded of three chief preservatives against error - a warm heart, a clear judgment, a clean conscience (Ephesians 4:14, 15).
II. HOW ST. PAUL SOUGHT TO ALLAY HIS ANXIETIES.
1. He strives for the Colossians in prayer. Like his ancestors Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, and his brother Epaphras (Colossians 4:12), he knew what it was to strive, to wrestle in prayer. No doubt, like his Master, he was sometimes "in an agony of prayer." Gather up Paul's references to his intercessions, and illustrate from the lives of others who have been mighty in prayer; e.g. John Welsh, the minister of Ayr, and son-in-law of John Knox, of whom it is said that he used always to sleep with a plaid upon his bed, that he might wrap it round him if he rose in the night to pray. Sometimes his weeping would awaken his wife, and when she asked the reason, he would reply, "O woman, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them."
2. He points them to Christ. (Ver. 3.) With an allusion to the false teachers who boasted access to some secret knowledge and wisdom into which they could initiate their disciples, Paul assures them that all the richest treasures of a wisdom they had not yet attained to were concealed and could be discovered in Christ himself (like pearls at the bottom of the ocean). The truth is even wider than the application the apostle gives of it. As all things were made "by him and for him" and "consist in him," so all branches of knowledge have a relation to him and find their truest meaning in him.
(2) He is the Interpreter of science, which may reveal many of its secrets to a godless investigator, but reserves its choicest treasures for those who can see in them his handy work.
(3) The philosophy of mind and of morals is best understood if Christ be known. We see in him ideal human nature and the power which can recover men from that injury to human nature which philosophy no less than theology must recognize. We learn the supremacy of conscience, the dignity and value of the soul, and the fact of a life beyond death.
(4) Christ is the Essence of true theology. A knowledge of Divine things apart from Jesus Christ is, at the best, most imperfect and unsatisfactory (1 Corinthians 1:20, 21). But Christ is Light, Truth, Revelation, God (Luke 10:22; John 1:18; John 14:9).
5. Christ is the Wisdom of God and the Power of God unto salvation. In him we are made "wise unto salvation," and this pearl of great price is the most precious of all the treasures which can be found in him (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31). He alone can satisfy the hunger of the soul, and thus fortify it against the errors of those who would beguile with "enticing words" which are "not after Christ." - E.S.P.
I. THE METHODS OF DECEPTION.
1. One method is to reason men into error, as the word here signifies. Gnosticism was essentially rationalistic in its method, gossamer like in its webs of speculation, and full of intellectual pride. The subtle seducer is often more dangerous than the persecutor.
2. Another is to use persuasiveness of speech in the application of this reasoning. They use "fair speeches and flattering words to deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:18). The arguments were false and sophistical, but they were made to appear true through arts of rhetoric.
II. HOW TO MEET SUCH ARTS OF DECEPTION.
1. It is the duty of ministers to warn their people against them. How often did the apostle say, "Be not deceived;" "Be not carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:14)! Ministers are thus to "take heed to the flock of God, over which the Holy Ghost hath made them bishops" (Acts 20:28).
3. We must retain the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ as the treasure house of all wisdom and knowledge. The knowledge of his excellency is a preservative against seducing spirits.
4. We must live under the constant power of the Word, which is "able to build us up." (Acts 20:32.)
5. We must walk purely in the fear of God. For "if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17).
III. THE REASON FOR THIS WARNING AGAINST DECEPTION. "For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ." He was anxious lest such a solid fruit of orthodoxy should be broken down by the arts of plausible teachers.
1. True love rejoices in the work of grace wherever it is discerned. The apostle heard from Epaphras good tidings of Colossian faithfulness and firmness, and was glad, as Barnabas was glad at Antioch when he saw "the grace of God" (Acts 11:23). The Apostle John likewise says, "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth" (2 John 1:4). "A holy mind can rejoice in the good things of those he warneth and reproveth."
2. Order and steadfastness are signs of soundness in the faith. These words have military associations which may have been suggested by the presence of the Praetorian soldiers with the apostle (Philippians 1:13).
(1) Order marks the outward relation of Church fellowship. The Colossians did not break rank or "walk disorderly." We are to "walk by rule" (Galatians 6:16); "to guide our feet into the ways of peace" (Luke 1:79); and generally to "order our affairs with discretion" (Psalm 112:5). As God is "a God of order," we are to do all things "discreetly and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40).
(2) Steadfastness of faith marked their state as inwardly considered.
(a) This must always be our principle of resistance to the devil; "Whom resist, steadfast in the faith" (1 Peter 5:9).
(b) It is necessary to our success in prayer, for we are to pray "in faith, without wavering" (James 1:6).
(c) It is the means of our greater victory over, the world (1 John 5:4).
(d) It is, above all, our surest protection against errorists (Jude 1:3).
(e) It causes good men to rejoice. "Now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 2:8). - T. C.
I. THE FORMIDABLE STRENGTH POSSIBLE TO A CHRISTIAN CHURCH. The apostle declares that it gave him joy to behold the condition of the Colossian Church; indeed, the words he uses describe his looking again and again because el the joy it gave him. What gave him such joy?
1. Their orderly array.
2. Their solid front,
as the word "stead, fastness" here depicts. In the centre of the military world, and made a soldier's guard, no wonder Paul lays his hands on metaphors so vividly suggesting precision, compactness, obedience. He sees how a Church can be perfectly marshalled for its mission - the mission of a holy war against ignorance, pride, selfishness, sin. Well for a Church to have its every member a "defender of the faith."
II. THE CONSTANT GROWTH POSSIBLE TO THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. The growth implies life.
1. The origin of the life is here described. It is "having received Christ." As Simeon took the holy infant into his arms, the true Christian receives Christ into his trust, thoughts, affections.
2. The progress of life is here described. The three metaphors used, of a path, a tree, a structure, teach the same lesson of intimate and advancing union with Christ. Whether walking, or being rooted, or being built, it is all "in Christ."
III. THE PERPETUAL THANKSGIVING POSSIBLE IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. This summons to thanksgiving is a sort of refrain throughout the Epistle (Colossians 1:10; Colossians 3:15, 17; Colossians 4:2). Faber inquires whether there can be true worship without joy. Because he asserts, "Worship is not fear of God or love of God, but delight in God." This is Paul's exposition and doctrine, for there must be joy in thanksgiving. And perpetual thanksgiving is the true spirit of those who are
(1) objects of perpetual providence;
(2) subjects of perpetual grace.
Therefore abound with thanksgiving. - U.R.T.
I. CONGRATULATIONS ON THEIR STEADFASTNESS. (Ver. 5.) St. Paul thus most wisely prepares the way for warnings. He shows them how deep is his interest and sympathy. He says all he can in their favour, as our Lord does to the Churches in Asia. The recognition of what is good in others is one of the best means of helping them to see and to strive against error. All right,minded Christians at Colossae would be encouraged by the declaration that so eminent an apostle as Paul could rejoice in them while he saw them holding their present faith. (For other illustrations of commendation, see Philippians 1:3-5; Philippians 2:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4; 3 John 1:3, etc.) Men can more easily be encouraged in the truth than scolded into it. The terms "order" and "steadfastness" may both have been used as military figures, suggested by the apostle's familiarity with military matters in the Praetorian camp at Rome (cf. Ephesians 6:13, etc.). He saw their "orderly array and solid front." They were still loyal to the truth and steadfast in the faith. Their ranks were not yet thinned by deserters, in spite of all the seductive appeals of the emissaries of error around them. But cautions were not needless in the midst of congratulations. When an epidemic is in the country precautions are needed, though it may not yet have entered our house or even our town. A fearless, cheerful mind may in itself be one precaution, just as the encouragement in our faith which we receive from the sympathetic words of experienced Christians may be one safeguard against the epidemic of unbelief. But with these congratulations on their steadfastness, St. Paul thinks it needful to blend -
II. CAUTIONS RESPECTING THEIR DANGERS. (Ver. 4.) Note:
1. Paul does not make light of erroneous teaching, He warns against "enticing words," "persuasiveness of speech." The tendency of many now is to make light of doctrinal, definite teaching altogether, using the Greek term for "doctrine" (dogma) as a term of reproach - a course as childish as it is dangerous. Paul knew that doctrine had a moulding power on the characters of those who came under its influence (Romans 6:17). He was not indifferent even to the form of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13). The variety of meaning in good honest words may nevertheless make them instruments of error, not to say deception. (Illustrate from such words as "inspiration," "atonement," etc.) Solemn cautions are suggested to teachers and disputants by Proverbs 18:21; Matthew 12:36, 37.
2. Paul nowhere charges these false teachers with immorality or any gross sin. Elsewhere he does bring such charges against other heretics (1 Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:10-16). Here the strongest is in ver. 18. This is instructive for two reasons.
(1) The errors at Colossae were as yet in the bud, and had not brought forth the bitter fruit that was natural to them. Dr. Lightfoot has shown that it is probable that the more perilous heresy of Cerinthus was the outgrowth of these errors at Colossae (Comm., pp. 106-113). The gradual corruption of the truth respecting the ministry as a teaching and pastoral office, apparently harmless enough at first, led on to full-blown sacerdotalism, Romanism, Vaticanism.
(2) We are reminded of the special danger of errors when held and taught by holy men. A Tetzel and a Tom Paine are harmless compared with advocates of substantially the same doctrines whose lives are blameless. We must seek to combine charity to men with unflinching opposition to their erroneous teaching when it touches the "faith in Christ." "Obsta principiis" (Jude 1:3).
3. Paul counsels them to hold fast to the gospel of Christ. (Vers. 6, 7.) Till you can find something better, "hold that fast which thou hast," etc. (Revelation 3:11). They had received a definite gospel from Epaphras; Paul certifies it as his own. They had received "Jesus" (a living example, a dying Saviour) as "the Christ" (God's own Son, the anointed Priest and King of men) their "Lord" (Romans 14:9). The reception of this gospel had brought great joy in that city, and they could still "abound in thanksgiving" (ver. 7; Romans 5:11). They had begun well; now, says St. Paul, go on well; "Walk in him." Abide in Christ and proceed by Christ, for as he is "the Truth" wherein we are to abide, he is also "the Way" wherein we are to walk. But he takes for granted that holding the truth of Christ is essential to walking in the ways of Christ. Notice the connection of Philippians 3:8-11 and 12-14. This is still further seen by the other figures which he employs. The first is that of a tree. Notice the tenses employed in the participial clauses. We are once for all to be firmly rooted in Christ. As "God's husbandry," "planted in the house of the Lord," the roots of our life are "hidden with Christ in God." To him we must cling; around him every fibre of the soul must twine. Thus "rooted and grounded in love" because in Christ himself, we shall be safe against the gales of false doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), which would uproot our souls. The second figure is that of a house, "God's building," a more frequent figure (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:5). Edification is a gradual work, and in proportion to it shall we be "established in our faith." In the West Indies we have seen trees that seemed to combine the two figures of this verse. In the magnificent silk cotton trees (Eriodendrum) we see enormous trunks sometimes rising eighty or a hundred feet before they send forth any of their huge branches. The widespreading roots secure the safety of the vast superstructure from the wildest hurricane. But around the base of the trunk there rise above the roots massive buttresses whereby the tree is "built up" to still greater stability. Thus "rooted and built up" in Christ, the Christian may defy storms, may "wax stronger and stronger," may bring forth "much fruit," "abounding therein in thanksgiving." - E.S.P.
I. THE RECEPTION OF CHRIST IS THE SUBSTANCE OF CHRISTIANITY.
1. This includes the reception of him doctrinally, as the historical Person Jesus, and the acceptance of him as Lord. The false teachers misrepresented his true character in these respects.
2. But it expressly points to a believing reception of himself as at once the sum and substance of all teaching and the foundation of all hope for man. Those who thus receive him
(1) become sons of God (John 1:11, 12);
(3) receive the very Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9);
(4) receive rest for the soul (Matthew 11:28);
(5) possess security that he will save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).
II. THE WALK MUST CORRESPOND TO THE SPIRITUAL RECEPTION. "So walk ye in him." This implies:
1. That we are carefully to guard the true doctrine of Christ's person. One apostle rejoiced to hear that his children" walked in truth" (2 John 1:4). There were men who "walked not after the traditions which they received of the apostle" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Let us give earnest heed to what has been "received of the Lord" and. is delivered "to his apostles" (1 Corinthians 11:23). Let us not "lose what we have wrought" (2 John1:9).
2. That we are to walk in all holy obedience to Christ's commands. "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:14).
3. But the passage essentially means that we are to walk in Christ as the sphere or element in which our life is to find development. We are to walk in him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and our life is to be the life of faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). All our strength, guidance, motives, are to be found in him. "His grace will be sufficient for us," as he "dwells in our hearts by faith."
III. THE CONDITIONS OF A HOLY WALK IN CHRIST. "Having been rooted and being built up in him, and being established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." There is here an expressive variety of metaphor.
1. The believer must be firmly rooted in Christ. This is done once for all in regeneration. It is a past act. The tree may shake in its topmost branches, but its roots are firm because they grasp the solid earth. So the firmness of believers is due to Christ (John 10:28, 29), and his sap makes them fruitful (John 15:5). The believer is to "cast forth his roots as Lebanon," and thus he will "grow up unto him in all things."
2. He must be built upon Christ as the Foundation.
(2) The building is progressive - "being built up in him" (1 Corinthians 3:9-15). The believer is to receive "the strengthening of his faith" in Christ. Thus the body of Christ "maketh increase of itself in love."
3. He must be established in faith. "Established in your faith, even as ye were taught."
(1) Faith is the great means of giving stability to life. "It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace" (Hebrews 13:9).
(2) Faith itself needs stability. The Gnostics exalted knowledge above faith, but faith holds the key of the soul's position. "Therefore be not faithless, but believing;" "Lord, increase our faith." The strong faith of Abraham gave him the stability that marked his singularly consistent and holy career.
(3) Faith must have constant reference to its grounds in the Word - "even as ye were taught." The Colossians were not to follow the false teachers, but Epaphras, their teacher.
4. There must be an abounding faith mingled with thanksgiving. "Abounding therein with thanksgiving."
(1) We cannot trust God too much. We ought, therefore, to pray continually, "Lord, increase our faith." We ought also to add to our faith every other Christian grace (2 Peter 1:5).
(2) Our faith must overflow with thanksgiving. We must be sensible of our mercies and privileges, and thus we shall get the comfort and benefit of them by "giving of thanks." - T.C.
I. GROWTH IN CHRIST IMPLIES CONTINUANCE IN CHRIST. Any other change, even though it may seem to involve an advance, is a retrogression from Christ. The Colossians are exhorted to walk in Christ as they had received him. They had received him as Christ Jesus the Lord.
1. As Jesus. They had begun by recognizing the true human nature of Christ. The Gnostics were persuading them to give this faith up for the idea of a phantom Christ. We are not troubled with these Docetic notions. But practically we are tempted to lose our hold upon the human brotherliness of Christ in our doctrinal systems of divinity and our elaborate solemnities of devotion.
2. As the Lord. He was not only a Teacher, a mystic Mediator such as the Gnostics regarded him, but a Master. To regard Christ as Lord is not merely to have an abstract conviction of his divinity, not simply to offer him worship; it is to submit to his kingly rule. To grow in Christ, then, we must, first of all, continue in brotherly sympathy with him, and also in dutiful submission to him.
II. GROWTH IN CHRIST CONSISTS IN A CONTINUOUS ADVANCE IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. We must be rooted. As the root derives nourishment from the soil for the increase of the tree, so are we to send out the deepest efforts of our soul to Christ and to draw from him ever more and more of spiritual vigour.
2. We must be built up. This is a gradual progress. It does not abolish the past in making the future, but, on the contrary, it erects the latter on the former. It produces a compact and harmonious structure. So the temple of the Christian life should be rising in solid strength and grace and beauty, based on Christ as the Foundation, to be finished with Christ as the chief Cornerstone, and consecrated for the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ.
III. GROWTH IN CHRIST RESULTS IN ENLARGED FAITH AND GRATITUDE.
1. Enlarged faith. "Stablished in your faith." Faith, which is the means of growing in the Christian life, is itself enlarged and strengthened by the process.
2. Great gratitude. "Abounding in thanksgiving." An advanced Christian will always be a thankful one, for he will know more of the goodness of God in Christ, and his own heart will be more full of love. Therefore also the joy of Christianity will increase with the growth of the Christian life. - W.F.A.
I. THE NATURE OF THE PHILOSOPHY HERE CONDEMNED. It is philosophy inseparably connected with "vain deceit." There is a philosophy which is highly serviceable to religion, as it is the noblest exercise of our rational faculties; but there is a philosophy prejudicial to religion, because it sets up the wisdom of man in opposition to the wisdom of God.
1. The apostle refers to the Judaeo. Gnostics who regarded Christianity mainly as a philosophy - that is, as a search after speculative truth, and not as a revelation of Christ and a life of faith and love in him. The apostle claims for the gospel that it is thus "the wisdom of God."
2. He refers to the speculative result of such a philosophy. It tends to "vain deceit;" it is hollow, sophistical, disappointing, misleading. It is the "science falsely so called" which "puffs up" and cannot edify. It always tends to undermine man's faith in the Word of God.
II. THE ORIGIN OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. "After the tradition of men." It had its source in mere human speculation, and could not appeal to inspired books. Our Lord condemned the Pharisaic attachment to traditions (Matthew 15:2, 3, 6; Mark 7:8, 9). This later mystical tendency was strong in its traditions, which it reserved for the exclusive use of the initiated.
III. THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. "After the rudiments of the world." This seems to point to ritualistic observances worthy only of children, but not adapted to grown men. They belonged "to the world" - to the sphere of external and visible things. These rudiments were "beggarly elements," done away in Christ.
IV. ITS NEGATIVE WORTHLESSNESS. "And not after Christ."
1. It had not Christ for its Author; for it followed "the tradition of men."
2. It had not Christ for its Subject; for it displaced him to make way for ritualistic ordinances and angelic mediators. No philosophy is worthy of the name that cannot find a place for him who is the highest Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30).
V. THE DANGERS OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. "Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you." It would have an enslaving effect, tartly by its ritualistic drudgeries and partly by its false teaching. There are worse losses than the loss of property or even children. This false philosophy would involve:
1. The loss of Christian liberty. (Galatians 5:1.)
2. The loss of much of the good seed sown in Christian hearts. (Matthew 13:19.)
3. The loss of what Christians had wrought. (2 John 10.)
4. The loss of first love. (Revelation 2:1.)
5. The loss of the joys of salvation. (Psalm 51:12.) - T.C.
prove where others believe; but, while they think they promote the cause, they generally spoil what they touch." Against such philosophers God's people in all ages require to be warned.
I. THE PHILOSOPHY IS TO BE SUSPECTED WHICH LEADS MEN AWAY FROM CHRIST. (Ver. 8.) Paul warns the Colossians against a philosophy which led men back to rudimentary forms and ceremonies instead of forward to Christ. Now, every argument which leads to a ceremony for hope instead of to Christ has some flaw in it. It may be a subtle flaw, not easily detected, but we may be quite sure it is there. There is no better rule, then, than this. Christ is the embodied truth, and we have missed the road if we are not led to him (John 14:6).
II. As THE EMBODIMENT OF THE DIVINE FULNESS, HE IS THE FOUNTAIN HEAD OF ALL TRUTH AND PERFECTION. (Ver. 9.) In Jesus Christ Divinity has expressed itself in human form. We can see, hear, and handle the Divine Being in the person of Christ. The Incarnation gives to men the true philosophy they long after. Christ is all and in all. Hence we are resistlessly drawn to him for the solution of our doubts and difficulties as well as for the salvation of our souls. No wonder that an acute writer entitled one of his volumes 'The Knowledge of Jesus the Most Excellent of the Sciences.'
III. CHRIST AFFORDS US ALL PROVISION FOE OUR ACCEPTANCE. (Ver. 10.) The great question which man must ask is, "How can sinful man be accepted with God?" Philosophy replies, "By certain solemn ceremonies, by sacrifices, by circumcision, by baptism," etc. The gospel replies, "Acceptance is secured in Christ; we are complete in him," or, as the Revised Version has it, "In him are ye made full." Now, it has been insinuated that merit cannot in the nature of things pass from one person to another. The fact is, however, that we are constantly being kindly treated for the sake of others. Children, for example, receive consideration for the sake of respected parents: individuals receive consideration for the sake of respected friends; and the whole array' of letters of introduction, vicarious influence, and the like, is based upon the recognition of the fact that the merit of others can overshadow and benefit those in whom they are interested. The acceptance which we receive from the Father for the sake of Jesus is on the line, therefore, of natural law. It is the application of a principle upon which men are acting every day.
IV. FROM CHRIST WE RECEIVE THE TRUE CIRCUMCISION. (Ver. 11.) Circumcision was among the false teachers the initial ceremony which secured a Jewish standing for the Gentile proselyte. Their insinuation was that Gentiles who remained uncircumcised could not possibly be saved. It was this which Paul combatted constantly. Hence he shows, in this eleventh verse, that the real circumcision is secured in Christ for all who trust in him. It is a circumcision not made with hands, a circumcision of the heart, a circumcision which secured "the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh." If the Gentile converts realized this, then they need not concern themselves about the outward circumcision. It surely teaches us that, not by mechanical, but by spiritual means we may vanquish the power of sin within us. It is said that circumcision circumscribes lustful tendencies and keeps them within mechanical bounds. Whatever truth may be in this, it is certain that Jesus can so restrain us by his indwelling and grace as to deliver us from the whole body of the sins of the flesh.
V. CHRIST HAS ALSO CANCELLED THE CEREMONIES UPON THE CROSS, SO THAT WHEN WE RISE WITH HIM INTO NEWNESS OF LIFE WE ARE FREED FROM THEIR OBLIGATION. (Vers. 12-15.) The ritual of Judaism typified in its various aspects the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The sacrifices pointed to the one great sacrifice on Calvary. The long list of ordinances, therefore, conducted the intelligent mind to Christ's cross and received their fulfilment there. Hence it was that those who by faith passed through resurrection with Christ became as free from the obligation of these ceremonies as the risen Jesus was himself. Could any one have gone to Jesus after his resurrection and asked from him, with any show of reason, a fulfilment of the ceremonial Law? Is it not felt by every intelligent thinker that Jesus had so fulfilled the ceremonies in the actualities of atonement that more ceremony from him would be unmeaning? A similar emancipation, Paul here insists, from the obligation of ceremonies is the property of Christ's believing people. A careful study of the cross is the great protection, therefore, against improper emphasis being laid on ceremonials. - R.M.E.
I. FALSE PHILOSOPHY. "Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit." It was a real danger (as the expression bears) against which the apostle warns the Colossians. He refers indefinitely to the teachers (any one), but he strikingly describes what their work would be. The work of the Christian teachers on them in their heathen state, as described in Colossians 1:13, 14, had been a deliverance, a redemption; the work of those teachers on them in their Christian state would be a leading them into captivity, a making a booty of them. He does not define what this teaching was, but he characterizes the substance of it (as distinguished from the form, which is characterized in the fourth verse) as a philosophy which was a vain deceit. This is not a characterization of all philosophy, but only of the philosophy with which these teachers would have made spoil of the Colossians. A philosopher is literally a lover of wisdom, and in that sense a Christian is a philosopher. The origin of the name, as given by Cicero, is as follows: Pythagoras once upon a time, having come to Phlius, a city of Peloponnesus, displayed in a conversation which he had with Leon, who then governed that city, a range of knowledge so extensive that the prince, admiring his eloquence and ability, inquired to what art he had principally devoted himself. Pythagoras answered that he professed no art and was simply a philosopher. Leon, struck by the novelty of the name, again inquired who were the philosophers, and in what they differed from other men. Pythagoras replied that human life seemed to resemble the great fair held on occasion of those solemn games which all Greece met to celebrate. For some, exercised in athletic contests, resorted thither in quest of glory and the crown of victory; while a greater number flocked to them in order to buy and sell, attracted by the love of gain. There were a few, however - and they were those distinguished by their liberality and intelligence - who came from no motive of glory or of gain, but simply to look about them, and to take note of what was done and in what manner. "So, likewise," continued Pythagoras, "we men all make our entrance into this life on our departure from another. Some are here occupied in the pursuit of honours, others in the search of riches; a few there are who, indifferent to all else, devote themselves to an inquiry into the nature of things. These, then, are they whom I call students of wisdom, for such is meant by philosopher." The philosophy in question in Colossae was no humble endeavour to ascertain the nature of things, but a pretentious system without any basis in observed facts, or in reason applied to them (certainly without any basis in revelation), and therefore only vain. It had two marks of a false system.
1. It was purely traditional. "After the tradition of men." Our sacred books have been handed down to us, but we do not rest their authority on mere tradition. There is evidence (to which we make our appeal) that they do not owe their origin to men, that they are a Divine revelation, that they have been first handed to men by God. Tradition has been a frequent device in connection with systems that have imposed on the human mind. The answer to questionings has been that it was so handed down from remote antiquity (occultly, for the traditional and occult generally go together). A remarkable instance was a later development named cabbala, or tradition. The mystic elements in this were not essentially different from those which were operating around the Colossian Church. The primary substance, the Cabbalists said, is an ocean of light. There was a primitive emanation, named Adam tadmon, from which proceed decreasing stages of emanations, named Sephiroth. Matter is nothing but the obscuration of the Divine rays when arrived at the last stage of emanation. This (and much besides) was to be received on the ground that it had been secretly handed down from Moses. But it is no sufficient evidence of a system being true that it has been handed down; we must submit it to farther examination, and such examination the philosophy at Colossae could not stand.
2. It was purely mundane. "After the rudiments of the world." What was handed down had no high genesis. Very crude were the first attempts to solve the riddle of the universe. Empedocles taught that all things were formed out of the four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, by a process of mingling and of separation, set in motion by the two principles of love and hate. The postulation of intermediate agents in a descending series down to one who could create matter was very rudimentary. The apostle was sorry that such meagre and earth born philosophizings should be palmed upon men as all that was needed to make them perfect. The standard of condemnation. "And not after Christ." What is tradition when we have Christ to give form to our thoughts? What are the rudiments of the world (all that earth can produce of a philosophy) when we have the perfect revelation from heaven?
II. THE TRUE PHILOSOPHY. There are two cardinal points.
(1) The fulness of God in Christ. "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." By the pleroma of the Godhead we are to understand the totality of the Divine attributes, the sum of the Divine perfections. We are to think of the pleroma as residing first in God and then in Christ (just as we think first of Father and then of Son, first of original and then of copy). The pleroma resides in the Second Person necessarily and eternally, but nineteen hundred years ago (such is our creed) it began to reside in him bodily wise, that is to say, a connection was mysteriously formed between the pleroma in him and (what was far removed) a human body. In the body he took to himself he tabernacled on earth, and not only so, but in it now glorified he permanently resides (such is the force of the Greek word), that is to say, the time will never come when there will be a separation of the pleroma in him from our humanity. Such is the apostolic teaching, but on it reverence forbids that we should dwell.
(2) The fulness of Christ in us. "And in him ye are made full." It is an advantage in the Revised translation that "full" is carried forward from the preceding thought (not "fulness" and then "complete," when the word is the same). The pleroma in Christ is communicated to us. Out of his pleroma have all we received. Christians collectively are called the pleroma of Christ. This is no mere refinement of thought. The comfort of it is that Christ in his redemptive work, in the fulness of his atoning merits, has made it possible for us to have more than mere beginnings or husks. There must be allowance for difference of essence, but, allowance being made for that, then all that is in Christ can be communicated to us. We can think out the Divine thought. We can be under the impulse of the Divine love. We can have strength to perform the Divine purpose. We can come out into the Divine liberty. It is only Christ actually working in us that can remove all moral impediments, and educe to the full the God-given tendencies of our being. And, therefore, the truest philosophy is to preserve a state of openness towards him. This philosophy is all sufficient.
1. It enables us to dispense with what intermediate agents may be supposed to do for us. "Who is the Head of all principality and power." Christ is not only placed over all that can be called principality and power, but he is the Source of all the vital force that belongs to them. What of the pleroma may be dispersed, fragmentary in them, is undispersed, unbroken in him. There is no need, therefore, of supplementing what he can supply.
2. It enables us to dispense with circumcision. It would seem that in the false philosophy with which the Church at Colossae was threatened, there was a Judaistic as well as a mystic element. The combination of the two was called Essenism.
(1) Circumcised with Christ in his circumcision. "In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, 'n the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ." They had no need of the circumcision made with hands (the material circumcision); they had been circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands (a spiritual circumcision). They had got the inward reality corresponding to the outward rite. This is presented here as the putting off of the body of the flesh. There was the putting off as of a garment. The word in the original, being intensive, points to a complete putting off. The putting off applied to the body as a whole. The body of the flesh points to our old impure condition (in which the flesh is the dominating principle). It could only be ideally that we were thus circumcised, for there is still actual impurity in our condition that needs to be put off. When in the past are we to understand this circumcision as timed? The general opinion is that we are to take the time from the baptism referred to in the next verse. It seems more natural to interpret the circumcision of Christ as the circumcision undergone by Christ, and to take the time from that event. It is not unnatural to pass from the spiritual circumcision described to the circumcision of Christ so understood, unless its spiritual significance is left out. That event was more than a mere honouring of the Mosaic rite, it pointed to (though it did not actually effect) its fulfilment. Did it not point to Christ putting off in his death the body with which our sin was associated? It could be said then that when Christ was circumcised we were spiritually circumcised in his circumcision. A cogitate thought is added for the purpose of further elucidation.
(2) Baptized with Christ in his baptism. As we interpret the circumcision of Christ of the circumcision undergone by Christ, so we interpret baptism here of the baptism undergone by Christ (not their baptism). It could be said that when he was baptized we were baptized in his baptism. There are two sides of baptism.
(a) A going down into the water. "Having been buried with him in baptism." There is similar language employed in Romans 6:4. We were buried with him through baptism into death. The language is evidently taken from immersion. It is said of Jesus that he came up out of the water, so we are to understand that he went down into the water. There was, as it were, a burial under the waves. And as the coming up out of the water is connected in what follows with the resurrection of Christ, so we are to understand that the burial in baptism is connected with the burial of Christ. In baptism we are represented as burying what Christ may be said to have put away in his grave - the old state of sin. The language employed here tells in favour of immersion as a scriptural mode. There is every reason to believe that it was the mode followed in Palestine in our Lord's day. It has an advantage over sprinkling in pointing so strikingly to the burial of the old nature as in the grave of Christ. The only reason that can be urged against it is that it is not suitable in a cold climate. The use of water being all that is essential, the mode may be accommodated to altered conditions. On the other hand, there is an identification of baptism with circumcision. What is the putting off and laying aside of the body of the flesh in the one, is the burial in the other: And thus the language of the apostle seems to tell in favour of infant baptism.
(b) A coming up out of the water. "Wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." The language is taken from the coming up out of the water which is associated with our Lord's baptism, but none the less truly does it point to the fact of Christ's resurrection, which is clearly referred to. Christ went down into the grave, but came up again. So the believer disappears under the waters of baptism, but comes up to sight again. This is a side that is not presented in circumcision. In baptism there is an impressive exhibition of the fact that we are regenerated. This new life we get in union with Christ. The working of God was signally displayed in raising Christ from the dead. But that was more than a display of omnipotence. It is to be taken in connection with the removal of the cause that operated in Christ's death and burial, viz. sin. Christ rose from the dead the possessor of a new and endless life. And if we take as the object of our faith the working which raised Christ from the dead, we shall become sharers with him in the same new and endless life.
3. Parenthetical application of the being raised with Christ to the Colossians and to the Gentiles generally. "And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he quicken together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses." There is a difficulty started here regarding the subject of the remainder of the paragraph. Meyer, Alford, and Eadie make God the subject; Eilicott makes it Christ. Lightfoot makes it a case of a sudden change of, subject. It can be said in favour of Christ being "subject," that he has been prominent in the apostle's thought in the context as in the Epistle as a whole. It can also be said that the putting off from himself the principalities and powers is language which can only be applied to Christ. On the other hand, it is unnatural, with Ellicott, to pass from the thought of Christ being raised by God to the thought of Christ quickening himself. Nor is it satisfactory simply to say that there is a sudden change of subject. The most natural solution of the difficulty seems to be to regard this verse as parenthetical. The apostle applies the thought of being raised with Christ, and, having done so, he proceeds with Christ as the subject as though the application had not been interjected, The Colossians had been in a state of deadness. Their deadness was caused by their trespasses. There is nothing of the pantheistic element here that was so prevalent in the East. They had committed personal trespass against a personal Lawgiver, and thus were thrown into a state of deadness. Their deadness through trespasses is associated with the uncircumcision of their flesh. They had not the sign of circumcision on them. And so they had that deadness which in circumcision is represented as being put away. Being dead, God quickened them together with Christ, gave them the reality of circumcision or the reality corresponding to the coming up out of the waters of baptism. This presupposed the exercise of forgiveness toward them. They (and not only they) had been forgiven their trespasses. And thus, the cause of deadness being removed, they could be quickened.
(1) How circumcision can be dispensed with. "Having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross." Our obligation to keep the Law of God (so we are constituted) is compared to a bond. It is as though we had subscribed it with our own hand. The word is handwriting. In the case of the Jews it was in the form of well-known ordinances (of which circumcision was one). In the case of the Gentiles the public sense of right also found expression in ordinances. The bond was against us in this sense, that it contained obligation which had to be met by us. It was not only against us in that sense (which it was from its very nature), but in its actual incidence on us in our fallen condition it was contrary to us. It could, as it were, be brought into a court of law to effect our conviction. There it was with our autograph. We had not met our obligation and had no manner of meeting it. What Christ did with the bond was to cancel it. His pen, as it were, was drawn through it. Or the writing was erased that it could never again be brought as evidence against us. To make it more emphatic, it is added that he took it out of the way (so that it could never again be found). "He took it out of the midst," it is literally, so that it could never be produced between us and God. And to make it still more emphatic, it is added that he nailed it to his cross. It was so affixed to the cross that when he was crucified it was treated similarly and completely made an end of. His crucifixion was a meeting the bond, discharging all our obligations to the broken Law. There is thus, therefore, no bond that can be produced for our conviction, but there is a discharged bond which can be produced for our justification.
(2) How the help of intermediate agents can be dispensed with. "Having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." The principalities and powers were those that sought to thwart Christ in his great undertaking, to prevent the salvation of men. They began to gather around him at his temptation. Especially at the close did they obtain power. These evil principalities and powers clung to him like a garment. It was only by his thus allowing them to come into close contact with him that they could forver be put off from men. It is said, regarding Hercules, the most celebrated of all heroes of mythology, that he came by his end by putting on a robe that had been steeped in the blood of Nessus, whom he himself had shot with a poisoned arrow. When it became warm round him the poison penetrated into his system. He attempted to wrench it off, but it tore away his flesh. And he hastened his end by placing himself on a burning pile. It was sin that made the principalities and the powers like a poisoned clinging robe. But he put them off from himself. So complete was his victory that he held them up publicly to view as spoils. This triumph he obtained on the cross. It was there that the principalities and the powers had him at a terrible disadvantage. They had, as it were, power given them against him. But he, trusting in God, threw them off. And thus the symbol of weakness became the symbol of triumph. - R.F.
the complete man. The words teach us -
I. THAT THE COMPLETE MAN IS NOT LED AWAY BY ERROR IN THOUGHT OR BY EVIL IN LIFE. Any one who is so led is incomplete. And the apostle is here warning his readers to be on their guard, test, having once been emancipated from such captivity, they should be insidiously captured again and taken away as prey into such slavery. His words here show:
1. How error in thought and evil in life are closely connected. (Vers. 8, 18.)
2. The two common causes of such error and evil. "Traditions of men," mere superstitions, are the "rudiments of the world " - mere beginnings of knowledge. All such are to be condemned when they are not "after Christ;" that is, when they are not
(1) doctrines of which he is the Teacher, or
(2) doctrines of which he is the ultimate Theme.
II. THE COMPLETE MAN DERIVES HIS COMPLETENESS FROM CHRIST. "Ye are complete in him," or we might paraphrase it, "Ye are filled up from him." This paragraph shows what Christ has done for such a man.
1. By Christ he is separated from evil. (Vers. 11, 12.) Circumcision was the great symbol of the separation of the Jews; baptism of the separation of the Christians. The complete man is as one "circumcised without hands" by Christ, baptized as in a burial by Christ.
2. By Christ he is made alive to goodness and to God. (Vers. 12, 13). Such a man is "risen with Christ." He is a man marked by pre-eminent livingness.
(1) The type of his livingness is here: the risen Christ; he who was gloriously alive.
(2) The means of his livingness are here: through faith in the mighty power of God, which was triumphantly manifested in the raising of Jesus.
3. By Christ he is emancipated from guilt. (Vers. 14, 15.) Most vivid and full are the metaphors describing emancipation from the guilt and from the power of sin. "Blotting out handwriting," etc. And all this work of Christ was consummated on Calvary. He like a conqueror nailed to his cross "the writings" that were against us; on his cross he openly triumphed over evil.
III. CHRIST THUS MAKES MEN COMPLETE BECAUSE OF WHAT HE IS IN HIMSELF. The life of God must be wafted in upon man; borne in upon him. Whence? From Christ, "in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." There are three thoughts here about Christ.
1. All the fulness of God is in him; he is not a mere emanation of God; not a mere flash of the light, but its Brightness; not a mere tone of the truth, but the Word.
2. All the fulness of God is permanent in Christ. In him "dwelleth." He is a reservoir whose waters never fail; he does not say he has bread or he has water to bestow, but he is the Bread of life, he is the Water of life; the Holy Ghost abode on him.
3. All the fulness of God was incarnate in his humanity. It dwelt in him "bodily." The purity, righteousness, wisdom, compassion, love, of God was gathered up in that human life. He was Immanuel, and from his fulness, thus complete, lasting, human, we are fed. - U.R.T.
I. A SUGGESTIVE SKETCH OF THE FALSE TEACHING THAT ASSAILED THE COLOSSIANS.
1. It came in the garb of philosophy. Real philosophy is nowhere condemned by the apostle. The term itself warns against its abuse. It is attributed to Pythagoras, who taught that no man was truly wise but God only, but he claimed to be a lover of wisdom. The false teaching at Colossae was rather a theosophy than a philosophy. As such it was "vain deceit" (Job 11:7-9; 1 Corinthians 1:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:18-20). It was part of that "knowledge which is falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20).
2. It claimed respect because of human authority and antiquity. It was "after the tradition of men." So far as the error was of Jewish origin, we can imagine something of its nature from the references to it in the Gospels (Matthew 15:2-9; Mark 7:3-5). These traditions had an attraction for many religious minds (Galatians 1:14). Grafted upon the genuine commandments of God, they had a semblance of authority, and some of them an undefined antiquity. The false teaching that was of Gentile origin could bring forward in its support names eminent in the philosophical world. But the authority was merely of men and could not appeal to "Scripture inspired of God."
3. It prescribed services and ceremonies pleasing to the unspiritual mind. The rite of circumcision (ver. 11), the strict observance of feasts or fasts, and the distinction of meats (ver. 16), might form important parts of a religion which would be easy to a mind religious but not truly spiritual (Romans 14:17, 18).
4. It was probably recommended by the personal influence of one or more popular teachers in their midst. This is an inference from the words, "Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy," etc. (Revised Version). A devout and pure heresiarch is a source of peculiar peril. Hence the vehement warning in Galatians 1:8, 9:5. But it was alien from the doctrine and Spirit of Christ. "Not after Christ." Paul had absolute confidence that the good news he proclaimed was Christ's own gospel, by which he was prepared to test any teaching, and if needs be to condemn it as "a different gospel which is not another gospel" (Galatians 1:6). There are points of resemblance between the heresy at Colossae and the most prominent errors of the present day that are suggestive. Rationalism, in its various degrees of anti-supernaturalism, bases itself on philosophy and science (so-called); it speaks in tones of authority, and teaches as truths the thoughts and traditions and alleged discoveries of men quite irrespective of whether we have a revelation of the thoughts of God. It is recommended by the personal influence of exemplary men. "Science and Christ have nothing to do with one another except in as far as the habit of scientific investigation makes a man cautious about accepting any proofs" (from a letter by the late Charles Darwin to a student at Jena, June 5, 1879). But it is "not after Christ," the Christ of history and of apostolic doctrine. Sacerdotalism boasts of antiquity, bases itself on the tradition of the early Fathers and the "development" of apostolic doctrine rather than on "the Scriptures of truth." Its ritual, though helpful to some devout minds, involves the danger of spiritual truths being hidden behind sacramental symbols and religious ceremonies. It makes religion easy to an unspiritual man. And sacerdotal errors are commended to us by the influence of men illustrious both in talent and character, Nevertheless, the most attractive sacerdotalism is "not after Christ."
II. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE FULNESS OF CHRIST CAN SUPPLY ALL THAT WE NEED, (Vers. 9, 10.)
1. The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in the eternal Word from the beginning. This is one of the superhuman truths revealed by God's Spirit and which stands or falls with Christianity (John 1:1; 1 John 1:2).
2. That fulness now dwells in" the Man Christ Jesus," "the Word made flesh," "bodily." The Incarnation is the grandest supernatural fact in the world. It is a "present truth," for Jesus Christ still lives, and the "fulness of the Godhead dwelleth in him" still. No wonder that mysteries and miracles should gather around our incarnate God. The transfiguration and the resurrection are natural to him. His dying rather than his rising is miraculous.
3. His sufficiency as Mediator renders us independent of all other mediation. His one sacrifice as an atonement takes the place of all the elementary lessons of Jewish symbolism, and makes the sacrifices of a so-called Christian priesthood a practical denial of his work on the cross (Hebrews 9. and 10.). Since he is" the Head of all principality and power," we need neither saints nor angels as intercessors (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25), nor can we degrade ourselves to receive God's absolution from an intrusive priest.
4. The fulness of blessing that flows direct from Christ can satisfy all the necessities of the human heart. Let us not make light of churches, ministries, sacraments, or other means of grace. But let us hold fast to the truth that Christ himself can immediately supply all our needs, so that we may be "in him made full." We are thus reminded of man's emptiness and need (John 15:5; Revelation 3:17); of his capacity for receiving blessings indefinitely great ("filled with all the fulness of God"); of "the exceeding abundant grace of our Lord" (John 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 3:17-21; Philippians 4:13); and of the need of union with Christ by faith ("in him")as the necessary condition of spiritual life. - E.S.P.
I. WISDOM IS A TREASURE for THE GREATEST TREASURY. St. Paul agrees with Solomon. Both exalt wisdom. It is a mistake to suppose that the gospel discourages knowledge and sets a premium on folly. It disregards worldly wisdom just because it brings a higher wisdom. It uses what the world calls the foolishness of preaching in order that it may confound the worldly wise and enlighten the ignorant with the true wisdom of God.
1. The treasury of wisdom is a jewel-chamber. Knowledge is good in itself. It is a treasure worth possessing for its own sake. The truly wise man would rather lose his money than his knowledge. Knowledge has these advantages over other possessions:
(1) it cannot be stolen;
(2) it is not lessened by being shared by many;
(3) it does not suffer corruption;
(4) it is a pure, calm, and elevating source of delight.
2. This treasury is a granary. Knowledge is good for the soul. The mind lives and grows upon ideas. The soul is nourished by the Word of God, which is the revelation of his wisdom. To know God is eternal life.
3. This treasury is a bank. True knowledge is like money. It is the means for procuring many other good things. It has a far larger purchasing power than gold and silver. Knowledge is power, just because it shows us how to use many things which are useless to ignorance. The knowledge of Divine truth helps us to the use of Divine grace and the performance of Divine Law.
II. CHRIST IS THE TREASURY OF WISDOM. The Gnostics looked elsewhere. St. Paul says that, not only some wisdom, but all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, are in Christ. They are part of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Nature is a mitre in which science discovers numberless treasures of knowledge, but it is knowledge about Nature herself, not about the supernatural, the Divine, and the spiritual. Speculation soars in search of knowledge. But what it flatters itself to have discovered as mountain heights of knowledge often turns out to be but the shadows of cloudland. All the highest and best knowledge is in Christ.
1. The knowledge is in Christ himself. It is not simply in his teaching, much less is it in doctrines about him. To know him in his life and character and nature is to have the treasure of the best wisdom.
2. The knowledge covers the most important subjects of inquiry. We may include these in three questions.
(1) Theological: What is God? Christ says, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." To know Christ is to know God.
(2) Anthropological: What are man and his destiny? In his earthly life Christ revealed the true nature and glory of humanity, and in his resurrection its great destiny.
(3) What is duty? The example of Christ is the answer to this question. Our duty is to follow him.
III. LOVE IS THE KEY TO THIS TREASURY OF WISDOM.
1. The treasure is hidden. A superficial glance at Christ will not reveal it. The merchantman seeks for goodly pearls; the purchaser of the field digs for the hidden treasure.
2. Nothing but love will open up the treasury. Gnostics thought intellectual enlightenment would do this; theologians in all ages have tried various keys - the rusty key of old world learning, the ponderous key of argumentation with its intricate wards; too often they have forgotten the golden key of love.
3. Love opens up the treasury of wisdom in Christ. St. Paul' desires the Colossians to be "knit together in love" (ver. 2) in order that they may "know the Mystery of God, even Christ," etc,
(1) This love must be love to Christ, that we may be in sympathy with man and so know him; and
(2) love to one another, that we may be in sympathy with Christ's way of regarding God and man. - W.F.A.
I. CHRIST'S TRUE DEITY AND TRUE HUMANITY.
1. He is no mere emanation from the supreme God, but "all the fulness of the Godhead." All the infinite perfections of the essential being of God are in him. The Gnostics taught that the fulness of the Godhead was distributed among many spiritual agencies. The apostle teaches that it is in Christ as the eternal Word. "The Word was with God, and was God."
2. This fulness "dwells" in him now and forver. It is a blessedly abiding fact. It is a permanent indwelling.
3. It dwells "bodily;" that is, with a bodily manifestation. The false teachers, imagining that matter was essentially evil, could not brook the thought of the Divine Redeemer linking himself forver with a human body, and they, after Docetic theory, either denied the reality of his body or its inseparable connection with him forver. But "the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14), and "The spirit which confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,.., is the spirit of antichrist" (1 John 4:3).
II. OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE FULNESS OF CHRIST. "And in him ye are made full, who is the Head of all principality and power."
1. Christian life is union with Christ.
(2) We cannot, therefore, look for life from subordinate mediators.
2. Christian life is the enjoyment of his fulness.
(1) Therefore nothing is to be looked for from angelic mediators. "Out of his fulness have we all received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). His fulness is not finite, but infinite. There can never, therefore, be lack of supply.
(2) It ought to be our prayer to receive more largely of this fulness. The apostle prayed for the Ephesians that they might be "filled up to all the fulness of God," and "grow unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13).
(3) To share in this fulness is no privilege of an esoteric few, but is that of all who are united to Christ by faith.
III. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS RELATIONSHIP OF CHRIST'S FULNESS TO OUR FULNESS. "Who is the Head of all principality and power." He is more than Sovereign over the powers. He is the Source of their life and activity. This headship over angels is asserted elsewhere (Hebrews 1:1-14). Angels are not, therefore, mediators for man, displacing "the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). They are but fellow servants under the same Head (Revelation 22:8, 9). Therefore we do not seek our fulness in them, but in our Head. - T.C.
I. CHRIST IS FULLY DIVINE. The fulness of the Godhead is in Christ. Wherein this fulness consists is an infinite mystery. We must be omniscient to measure and sound its contents. But we see glimpses of parts of it, rays of divinity breaking out here and there. And all that we see is in Christ. There is no known characteristic of divinity which is not ascribed to Christ in the New Testament, from creation (Colossians 1:16) to judgment (Acts 10:42) and the final restitution of all things (Ephesians 1:10).
1. In this fact is the essential difference between the divinity of Christ and God's dwelling in the temple of the heart of good men. In men he dwells partially. They can hold but a small part of God's nature, and they do not give up the whole of their hearts for that. Christ is wholly filled with the whole of God.
2. This fact helps us to escape from the idea of two or three separate gods. It is the one infinite God who works in creation, and rules in heaven, and pleads with our spirits, and dwells fully in Christ. Christ is perfectly Divine, because the one God dwells perfectly in him. Thus when we worship God and Christ we are not worshipping two beings, but the one God in Christ. Therefore, also, all that we see and know of Christ is so much revelation of God. To be in sympathy with Christ is to be reconciled to God.
II. GOD IS INCARNATE IN CHRIST. The fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ in a bodily way. "The Word was made flesh." Some have thought to make this fact seem impossible by absurd representations, which go on the assumption that an infinite God cannot enter a finite being without ceasing to be infinite. How he can do so we cannot understand. This is not a subject that admits of being rationalized. But dogmatic objectors may be reminded that it is their teaching which sets a limit to the infinite by proclaiming its inability to enter fully a finite being. Does not the infinity of God involve, not the distribution of innumerable parts through all space, but presence of him wholly in every region of the universe? Why, then, cannot he manifest his presence in a peculiar way in one being? Moreover, if God, who is always infinite, can dwell in man at all, that fact is a mystery which seems to foreshadow the greater mystery of his full dwelling in Christ. The humanity of Christ is real and pure and perfect humanity, and God who dwells in him is still perfect God. This is very different from the metamorphosis of a God into a man that is described in heathen mythologies. It is to be practically learnt from this Christian mystery
(1) that God is now very near to us in a brother man;
(2) that we can be raised to God and become one with Christ and God through Christ's oneness with us and God (John 17:23). - W.F.A.
I. WHEREIN THE FULNESS OF HUMANITY CONSISTS. St: Paul has been writing of the fulness of the Godhead. He now turns his thoughts to our poor, naked, hungry humanity, and he shows how there is a completion and a satisfaction that may be called our fulness, in some way corresponding to the fulness of God.
1. The full satisfaction of our wants. We are empty, hungry, and needy. We require pardon for sin; strength for trouble, temptation, and toil; light in darkness; innumerable graces for innumerable distresses. Our fulness must be the quenching of the soul's thirst, the satisfaction of the aching void within.
2. The full attainment of the perfection of humanity. We may have every known desire satisfied and may be full up to the measure of our present capacity, and yet not have attained to the fulness of humanity. Our capacity may be enlarged, new aspirations may be inspired in us. To attain to the stature of the perfect man, to he quite like Christ, is to reach our spirit's prime and to have our human fulness. This will be a fulness of knowledge, of goodness, of power for spiritual service.
II. FROM WHAT THE FULNESS OF HUMANITY IS DERIVED. By the word "fulness" St. Paul means that which fills as well as that which is perfected in itself. Christ alone can fill and perfect us.
1. We must find the fulness in Christ. Because he is filled with the fulness of God he is himself a perfected Man and the Source of the same grace for us. We have to learn, then, that to reach our fulness we must have what is in Christ. Perfect humanity is not possible without God. When we become possessed by the Spirit of God we become true men. This true religious life does not make us less human; it perfects our humanity. Not by science, nor by learning, nor by energy in affairs of the world, nor by any purely human effort, though all these things have their missions, but through Christ, we may attain the true ideal of humanity.
2. We can attain to this fulness by personal union with Christ. We must not simply learn the method from Christ, nor seek the blessing as a gift of his, but derive it from close, living fellowship with him. The secret is to be "in Christ," "rooted" as the tree by being rooted in the soil derives nourishment therefrom, and "builded up in him" as the temple stands firm when erected on a solid foundation. - W.F.A.
I. ITS NATURE. It is not external, but internal, wrought by the Spirit and not by the hands of men. It is "of the heart in the spirit, and not in the letter" (Romans 2:29). It is "the circumcision of the heart," so often spoken of even in Old Testament times (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 44:7; Acts 7:51), which ought to have accompanied the external rite. The Colossians, as Gentiles, were circumcised in this spiritual sense on the day of their conversion.
II. ITS EXTENT. "In the putting off the body of the flesh; "not in the mere cutting off of a part of the body, as in the external rite of Judaism. This language marks the completeness of the spiritual change and its effects upon both body and soul.
1. The body of flesh is more than the mere body, which is not "put off," for it is not evil, but becomes "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19). It is the body in its fleshliness, regarded as the seat of the lusts which war against the soul and bring forth fruit unto death. The expression is similar to "the old man which is corrupt" (Ephesians 4:22), "the body of sin" (Romans 6:6), and "sinful flesh," or, literally, "the flesh of sin" (Romans 8:3). The spiritual circumcision implies, not the mere putting off of one form of sin, but the putting off the whole of the power of the flesh.
2. The putting off of the body of flesh implies deliverance from the dominion of sin - dying to sin as a controlling and regulating power, so that the body, hitherto "the instrument of unrighteousness," becomes "an instrument of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13).
III. ITS AUTHOR. "In the circumcision of Christ;" that is, the circumcision wrought by Christ through his Spirit. Its Author is not Moses or Abraham, but Christ himself, by virtue of our union with him. The formation of Christ in the soul as the Author of a new spiritual life is "the circumcision of Christ;" it is the new birth, which, under the power of the Holy Spirit, casts off the power of corruption. It is wrought by the Lord the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18), and is the result of Christ dwelling in us by faith (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:5-8). This is the true circumcision, "whose praise is not of man, but of God." - T. C.
e.g. purity by austerities; peace of conscience and assurance of pardon by confession and priestly absolution). But the truth of our completeness in Christ strikes at the root of all such errors, for it assures us that all the blessings we can need may be gained direct from him. In ver. 10 we learn that the headship of Christ is our guarantee that we are not dependent upon any intermediate superhuman power. In vers. 11-15 we are reminded that the personal blessings which external rites were designed to secure are ours if we are Christ's.
I. PURITY. Judaizing teachers taught the necessity of circumcision even by Gentile converts as a means of purification and salvation. St. Paul teaches the Colossians that they have no need of this, because, by union with Christ, they receive that inward purity of which circumcision was a type (ver. 11; Romans 2:28, 29). Moses and the prophets had seen through the type (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). The believer's circumcision is distinguished from that which was typical of it in these particulars:
1. In its character; spiritual, not external, wrought not by bands but by the Spirit himself.
2. In its extent; it puts off, not a mere morsel of the flesh, but "the body of the flesh," the whole body of carnal affections.
3. Its Author; it is the circumcision, not of Moses (John 7:22) for a nation, but of Christ for all believers (Philippians 3:3). And as Paul speaks here of spiritual circumcision, so does he also of spiritual baptism. His argument is not, "You need not be circumcised because you have been baptized." Here he speaks highly of some baptism "wherein ye were also raised," etc. Elsewhere he clearly denies the doctrine of regeneration by baptism (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 with 1 Corinthians 4:15). It would be strange if here he spoke disparagingly of "hand-wrought" circumcision, and then passed on immediately to speak of the spiritual efficacy of "hand-wrought" baptism. This would be to introduce the very element of ceremonialism and ritualism which he is here denouncing. Many, never baptized with water, are now "in Christ," in glory. It is the spiritual baptism alone in which we are buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:3-5). The one great baptism of the New Testament is that of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5). Of that, baptism by water is a beautiful emblem. But in Paul's Epistles he generally speaks of that "one baptism" rather than of baptism with water. Here he speaks of a spiritual circumcision, a spiritual death and burial and resurrection, and a spiritual baptism. The baptism by the Holy Spirit is that purification of the soul from the love and dominion of sin by which we are set apart, consecrated to a course like Christ's, to a spiritual history of which our Lord's earthly history was typical as well as causal. By union with him we are "crucified with Christ," "dead to the Law," dead with Christ," "buried with him," "risen with him," "sitting with him in the heavenly places." If the apostle here makes an allusion to water baptism, which was symbolic of the higher baptism, his argument does not rest on, but is opposed to, the supposition that" it is in that font, and when we are in it, that the first breath of [the new] life is drawn." Nor can we see that the lowering of a body into a bath and the lifting it up again is a significant and striking symbol of the burial and resurrection of Christ, especially when we remember how different the customs of burial among Jews and Romans were from our own. However, the main truth of these verses is clearly that in Christ we have purity. "He is made unto us of God sanctification." Every pure motive, every good resolution, every holy impulse is from him. Our entire renunciation of sin ("the putting off of the body of the flesh") is through the power of his purifying Spirit (Galatians 2:19, 20; Galatians 6:14, 15). By faith in God, who by his Divine power raised the dead body of our Saviour from the tomb (Ephesians 1:19, 20), we too are "raised with him," etc. (ver. 12). Whatever he who has raised us prescribes as means of attaining greater purity, we will revere and observe; but we reject new fangled methods of holiness "after the tradition of men" (Psalm 119:128).
II. "JUSTIFICATION OF LIFE." This Pauline phrase (Romans 5:18) sums up the blessings described in vers. 13, 14. We regard Christ as the Subject of the whole sentence. He is one with his Father in the work of quickening (John 5:21; Ephesians 2:1-5), and of pardoning (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). But in order to accomplish this Divine work of giving life, there needed the no less Divine work of providing justification. For there was what Paul describes as a document in existence, which was a barrier to our pardon. It was God's Law, not merely for the Jews (Romans 3:19), but for the Gentiles (Romans 2:14, 15), which "worketh wrath" (Romans 4:15). But Jesus Christ, in whom "dwelleth," etc. (ver. 9), has removed the barrier, he had power to forgive sins "on earth" (Mark 2:10), and has it still (Acts 5:31). The value of Christ's obedience unto death as an atonement for sin is constantly taken for granted by the apostle. He was not sent to prove it, but to "deliver" it and testify to it (1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Timothy 2:6). By Christ's vicarious sacrifice the ransom is given, the bond is cancelled, the document is annulled, and our sins may be blotted out (Isaiah 43:25; Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 20:28). We are redeemed from the curse of the Law. As the instrument of our condemnation, it is taken out of the way; it is crucified with Christ, nailed to his cross. According to Paul's allegory in Romans 2:1-4, the Law, a holy but inexorable husband, is dead, and we are joined to a no less holy but a loving Lord and Saviour. The conditions of acceptance with God and final salvation are no longer "The man that doeth these things shall live by them," but "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Hebrews 3:14; 1 Peter 1:9). What need have we of other means of forgiveness? of angelic intercessors or absolving priests or eucharistic sacrifices? "In him ye are made full."
III. DELIVERANCE FROM OUR INFERNAL FOES. Christ in his fleshly nature was exposed to the assaults of sin and of the evil one throughout his life (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:13) till the last day of it (Luke 22:53; John 14:30). But on the cross his life of humiliation and strife came to an end (Romans 6:10). His cry, "It is finished!" declared that his work of conflict, as well as his work of atonement, was ended. He put off from himself once for all and forever the hostile principalities and powers (cf. John 12:31; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, commonly called his triumphal entry, is nowhere called his triumph in the New Testament. His triumph was on the cross. The powers of darkness plotted his death, and by his death they received their deadly blow. The malefactor's cross became the victor's car (Romans 14:9; Philippians 2:7-11; Revelation 1:18). This victory is for us who are "in Christ." Satan and all his allies (Ephesians 6:11, 12) who work through the world and the flesh are conquered foes; they know it, and we do too (Romans 6:14; Romans 8:37-39; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:14). We need no other allies in this conflict, no mystic methods of exploring the secrets or annulling the power of our spiritual foes (Philippians 4:13). - E.S.P.
I. THE IMPORT AND DESIGN OF BAPTISM. It solemnly attests that fellowship with Christ in his death and resurrection on which all personal interest in the blessings of his salvation depends. "Baptism is the grave of the old man and the birth of the new." The whole process of spiritual renovation - the death of the corruption of nature and the rise to newness of life - is practically represented and sealed in baptism. We are identified with Christ:
1. In his death. "Buried with him in baptism" unto death. Our baptism unites us to him, so that we died with him. We are "planted in the likeness of death;" but here the apostle asserts a participation in his death.
2. In his burial. After "he died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3), "he descended into the lower parts of the earth" (Ephesians 4:9). So "we are buried with him," shut off from the kingdom of Satan, as the dead in their graves are shut off from the living world; and thus we have with him severed our connection with the old world of sin.
3. In his resurrection. For "we rose with him," that we might henceforth "walk in newness of life." We must share in his death, that we may share in his life. Justification is in order to sanctification. Union with Christ in the one carries with it participation in the other.
II. THE INSTRUMENT THROUGH WHICH WE ENJOY THE BLESSINGS SIGNIFIED IN BAPTISM. "Through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." This shows how the outward is based on the inward, and how it derives from it whatever vitality it possesses. Faith appropriates the act of God's mighty power in Christ when he raised him from the dead, as an act that imparts its virtue to all who in faith realize it. The physical power in raising Christ is the guarantee and assurance of the spiritual power which is exerted in us in regeneration, Faith is necessary to the effect of baptism as it is to salvation. "If thou believest in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Romans 10:9). It is by faith we obtain the benefits of the spiritual resurrection and come to "know the power of his resurrection." The grace is received through faith. In New Testament times faith preceded baptism - a proof that baptism is not regeneration. The earliest cases were naturally those of adult baptism, in which there was a profession of faith in Christ.
III. THE PLEDGE OF THE SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION. "The working of God, who raised him from the dead." This power to us is made possible and actual by his resurrection; for "in that he liveth, he liveth unto God." His resurrection involves both our bodily and our spiritual resurrection. - T. C.
I. CONSIDER THE PERSONAL QUICKENING OUT OF A STATE OF DEATH AND DEFILEMENT.
1. The condition of all men by nature - spiritual death. This death is viewed in two aspects.
(1) In relation to definite acts of transgression, as showing the power of sin and the fruit of an evil nature.
(2) In relation to the root of the evil - "the uncircumcision of your flesh;" your unsanctified, fleshly nature marked by alienation from God (see homiletical hints on Ephesians 2:1).
2. The quickening energy of God. "You did he quicken together with him." Spiritual death is put away by the quickening energy of God, which flowed into your hearts out of the risen life of Christ. You are brought up with him objectively in his resurrection, subjectively in his application of the power of his resurrection (see homiletical hints on Ephesians 2:1).
II. CONSIDER THE GROUND AND CONDITION OF THIS QUICKENING. The pardon of sin. "Having forgiven us all our trespasses." Thus spiritual life is connected with pardon, and presupposes pardon. The sins of men must be pardoned before life could properly enter. Our Lord could not have been quickened till we, for whom he died, were potentially discharged (Romans 4:25). So, indeed, the quickening presupposes at once pardon, the blotting out of the handwriting, and the victory over Satan.
III. CONSIDER THE INDISPENSABLE ACCOMPANIMENT OF THIS PARDON. The removal of the condemning power of the Law. "Having blotted out the handwriting in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross."
1. The nature and effects of this handwriting in ordinances.
(1) It is not the mere ceremonial law, though its ritual observances were symbols of deserved punishment or an acknowledgment of guilt. We cannot limit it to this law, though the outward observances of ver. 20 were specially in view; for the apostle is not here distinguishing between Jews and Gentiles.
(2) It is the whole Law, moral and ceremonial - "the Law of commandments contained in ordinances" - which fastens upon us the charge of guilt, and is the great barrier against forgiveness. It was immediately against the Jews, mediately against the Gentiles. It is the Law, in the full compass of its requirements.
(3) The hostility of this Law to us. It was "against us; it was contrary to us."
(a) Not that the Law was in itself offensive, for it was holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12); but
(b) because our inability to fulfil it or satisfy its righteous demands exposed us to the penalty attached to an undischarged obligation. It was, in a word, a bill of indictment against us.
2. The blotting out of the handwriting. It was blotted out, so far as it was an accusing witness against us, by Christ wiping it out, taking it "out of the way, and nailing it to his cross." It was not done by an arbitrary abolition of the Law; moral obligations cannot be removed in this manner; but by the just satisfaction which Christ rendered by his "obedience unto death." It was nailed to his cross, and thus its condemnatory power was brought to an end. Strictly speaking, there was nothing but Christ's body nailed to the cross; but, as he was made sin, taking the very place of sin, "bearing our sins in his own body on the tree," the handwriting, with the curse involved in it, was identified with him, and thus God condemned sin in Christ's flesh (Romans 8:3). Christ exchanged places with us, and thus was cancelled the bill of indictment which involved us in guilt and condemnation.
IV. CONSIDER THE RELATION OF THE ATONEMENT TO THE VICTORY OVER SATAN. "Having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." It was the cross that gave the victory over the principalities and powers of darkness, because sin was the ground of their dominion over man and the secret of their strength. But no sooner had Christ died and extinguished the guilt lying on us, than the ground of their successful agency was undermined, and, instead of being at liberty to ravage and destroy, their weapons of warfare perished. Christ on the cross, as the word signifies, reft from him and from his people those powers of darkness who could afflict humanity by pressing homo the consequences of their sin. He cast them off like baffled foes (John 12:31), made such a show of them openly as angels, if not men, could probably apprehend. He made the cross a scene of triumph to the irretrievable ruin of Satan's kingdom. - T. C.
I. THE PROHIBITION. It is twofold, respecting first the distinction of meats and drinks, and then the observance of times.
1. The distinction of meats and drinks.
(1) This distinction was made in the Mosaic Law as to things clean and unclean. There was no prohibition as to drinks, except in regard to Nazarites and priests during their ministration (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3). It is probable that the Colossian errorists, like the Essenes, forbade wine and animal food altogether; for they imposed a rigorous asceticism upon their disciples.
(2) The distinction is abolished by the gospel.
(a) Our Lord hinted at the approaching abolition (Mark 7:14, 19).
(b) There was a formal annulment of the distinction in Peter's vision (Acts 10:11, etc.), where the distinction between those within and those without the covenant was being done away.
(c) The abolition is implied in Hebrews 9:10, where the rule as "to meats and drinks" is said to have been "imposed until the time of reformation."
(d) It is also implied in the action of the Council of Jerusalem, and in the language of Peter respecting "the yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear" (Acts 15:10).
(3) The attitude of Christians towards this distinction. "Let no man.., judge you in respect of" them.
(a) Christians are not justified now in making such a distinction or in imposing it upon others. Thus the Roman Catholics are condemned for their distinction of meats: "Commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:3). It is not "that which teeth into the mouth that defileth the man" (Matthew 15:2, 11).
(b) Christians in apostolic times had a liberty in these matters which they were to exercise for edification.
) It was allowable for a believer neither "to eat flesh" nor to drink wine "so long as the world standeth" (1 Corinthians 8:13).
) It was allowable in the transition state of the Church, while, it consisted of two diverse elements - Jews and Gentiles - for liberty to be exercised in these matters, with a due regard to the rights of conscience (Romans 14:2).
(c) But we in our different circumstances must resist any attempt to impose upon us a distinction of meats. "Let no man.., judge you in meat, or in drink." It is not in man's power to make that a sin which God has not forbidden. "It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man's judgment" (1 Corinthians 4:3). "Why dost thou judge thy brother?" (Romans 14:3, 10). Besides, we must remember the spiritual nature of Christianity: "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17). We must "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made his people free" (Galatians 5:1).
2. The observance of times and seasons. "Or in respect of a feast day, or of a new moon, or of a sabbath day." The apostle said to the Galatians, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years" (Galatians 4:10).
(1) There was a provisional and temporary discretion allowed likewise in the matter of days. "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5, 6). The apostle leaves the matter of days an open question.
(2) Yet no man was to be taken to task for refusing to observe them. The times were entirely Jewish.
(a) The "feast day" referred to the annual festivals, like Pentecost and Passover.
(b) The "new moon" referred to the monthly festival.
(c) The "sabbath day" referred to the Jewish sabbath, which was always observed on the Saturday. "But does the apostle not seem to strike at the obligation of maintaining the observance of one day in seven for the worship of God, and sunder the connection that exists between the Jewish sabbath and the Christian Sunday?" We answer that:
) The observance of the Lord's day never came into question in apostolic times. It was universally observed from the beginning both by Jews and Gentiles. It cannot, therefore, be affected by anything said as to "days" in Romans 14:1-6 or in this passage.
) The devotion of a seventh part of our time to God rests on considerations as old as creation, for the sabbath was made for man even before sin entered the world.
) The sabbath of the Jews was typical, and therefore was abolished in Christ, and therefore, as well as for other reasons, the Lord's day, which took its place from the beginning of the gospel dispensation, was changed from the last to the first day of the week. The sabbath day was so long and so deeply associated with the stated feasts, the sabbatical year, and the jubilee year of Judaism, that it partook of their typical character, and thus passed away with the other institutions of Judaism. But this was not the original aspect of the sabbath, which had nothing in it typical of redemption, for it began while there was no sin and no need of salvation. Thus, just as baptism is the Lord's circumcision according to ver. 11, the Lord's day is the sabbath of Christian times.
II. THE REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION "Which things are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ's." They were useful as shadows before the Substance came, but after it they were useless.
1. The shadow. The word implies:
(1) The dimness, the unsubstantiality of these Jewish ordinances or institutions. The light they projected forward into Christian times was obscure.
(2) Their temporary nature. The shadow disappears when the substance is come.
2. The substance. "The body is Christ's;" that is, belongs to Christ. The reality is verified in Christ and the benefits of the new dispensation. The blessings they prefigured are to be realized by union with Christ. - T. C.
ritualism. The false teachers were anxious to entangle the Gentile converts in a tedious round of ceremonies - to make them, in fact, Old Testament ritualists. They could even adduce what seemed to them philosophic reasons for such practice. But Paul scatters their false philosophy to the winds by the magic power of his Redeemer's cross.
I. LEGALISM ANCIENT OR MODERN IS THE PRACTICE OF CEREMONIES WITHOUT THEIR TRUE MEANING BEING APPRECIATED. (Ver. 16.) The Judaizers insisted on the Gentiles entering into the scrupulosity of the Jews about meat and drink, about holy days and new moons, and about the seventh-day sabbath, for the word is singular as the Revised Version has it, and not plural as in the Authorized Version. Now, it was quite possible for Jews and Gentiles to enter upon the keeping of these ceremonies without ever considering their signification. A ceremony may be kept just to be able to congratulate ourselves upon the keeping of it; that is to say, a ceremony may be kept in a self righteous spirit instead of intelligently. When ceremonies minister to self righteousness, when they lead to pride, when they are entertained in order to furnish a fancied claim, they are mere superstitions. It is to be feared that no other rationale can be given of a large proportion of modern ceremonial. It is a mere blind and leads souls away from Christ to self righteousness. It may, indeed, have the appearance of great humility. There may be apparent awe and regard for the angels, and the visible may seem to so impress the soul as to secure deepest humiliation; but when the issue of the ritual is self congratulation and a fancied independence of Christ's merits for acceptance, the whole process is simply a deceptive superstition. It matters not how aesthetic the ritual may seem: the Jew of the apostolic age could have pleaded aestheticism like his modern counterpart; but the true analysis of the whole process is that it is self righteousness cultivating superstition.
II. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST MUST TEST THE MEANING OF ALL CEREMONIES, AS THE SUBSTANCE DETERMINES THE SHADOW. (Ver. 17.) If ceremonies cease to lead souls to Jesus, then they are meaningless and condemned. The ceremonial laws of Moses were so constructed as to lead the thoughtful worshipper on to the promised Messiah. Meat must be bloodless, because blood was to be the atonement for sin, when Messiah came. The blood was forbidden, because the blood of Jesus Christ was to be shed in due season. The regulations about drink and holy clays and new moons pointed, as may easily be shown, in some way or other to Christ. The seventh-day sabbath was the type of the spiritual rest to which Jesus conducts us (Hebrews 4:9-12). Christ is the Substance, and these ceremonies simply shadowed forth some aspect of his mission. But when men kept the ceremonies without ever thinking of their relation to Christ, when they kept them and made saviours of them instead of seeing in Jesus their only Saviour, they became not only meaningless but prejudicial to the interests of souls. Let Christ, then, be our test forvery ceremony to which men summon us, If it is a substitute for Christ, or if it has no relation to Christ, then we are bound to dismiss it flora our thoughts as simple superstition.
III. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST IN CRUCIFIXION MAKES MEN FREE FROM THE OBLIGATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT CEREMONIES. (Vers. 20-23.) When Jesus died upon the cross every ceremony was fulfilled. The ceremonial Law had no further claim upon him. In the same way, when the Gentile converts so appreciated the Crucifixion that they were able to say they were "crucified with Christ" and so "dead with Christ," then the ceremonies of circumcision and the like were no longer obligatory upon them. They had fulfilled them in their Substitute and so were free from them. It was this liberty for which Paul so earnestly contended.
IV. ARE BELIEVERS IN CONSEQUENCE TO RENOUNCE ALL CEREMONY AND TURN CHRISTIANITY INTO QUAKERISM? Certainly not. The Gentile converts were not encouraged by the apostles to set all ceremony at defiance. Though taught that the ceremonies of Judaism were fulfilled in Christ, they were directed not to eat blood, not to eat things strangled; they were directed to celebrate baptism and the Lord's Supper, and to keep the Lord's day. But what kept them right in these ceremonies was what will keep us right in ceremonies - the simple determination whether or no they foster reverence for and deepen our interest in the atoning work of our blessed Lord. What really conducts the soul to Jesus is safe; but what only nominally does so and really ministers to self righteousness is dangerous and deadly error. Let Jesus be our test continually, and we shall be kept safe. - R.M.E.
I. LEGALISM. "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ's." There is a detailed reference here to Jewish institutions. Eating (rather than meat) was encompassed with regulations. There was a distinction drawn between clean and unclean animals. Certain parts of animals (the fat, the blood) were not to be eaten. God's rights (firstborn, portions of the priests) were not to be infringed in eating. There was not so much binding down in regard to drinking. Priests were forbidden the use of wine before ministering in the tabernacle; and the Nazarite vow included entire abstinence from the use of wine. The sacred times are classed according to their frequency. There were the three great annual feasts (extending each over a week) of the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Every month commenced with a celebration. And the weekly sabbath (older than Jewish institutions) had its special services. The false teachers who sought to impose these institutions on the Colossian Christians were Essenes. These went far beyond the Pharisees. They ate no animal food, drank no wine. They would not light a fire, move a vessel, perform the most ordinary functions of life on the sabbath. Everything material was inherently evil and was not to be touched more than was absolutely necessary. The apostle claims, against these teachers, on behalf of the Colossians, that they were not to be judged in respect of their nonobservance of Jewish institutions. And the ground on which he does so is this. These institutions (in their purity, and not as exaggerated in Essenism)were only shadows of the things to come. They were connected with what was substantial (and therefore were channels of blessing so long as they lasted), but Christians, having got the substantial in Christ, are necessarily freed from the shadowy in the Law. No conclusion is to be drawn from this adverse to gospel institutions. "We may observe," says Alford, commenting on this passage, "that, if the ordinance of the sabbath had been in any form of lasting obligation on the Christian Church, it would have been quite impossible for the apostle to have used this language." This carried out would take the ground from under all gospel institutions. There would be no sign whatever now, connected with our religion, the reality having come. Liberation from all form is not certainly the New Testament idea. An argument may be drawn from the context. Circumcision was a shadow of the coming reality, viz. the putting off of the body of the flesh (death to the old). This reality we have now in Christ, but it does not therefore follow that it is disconnected from all positive institution. On the other hand, it is the teaching of the apostle that the same reality has been put into the gospel institution of baptism. Another argument may be drawn from the text itself. One of the feasts referred to is the Passover. The Paschal lamb was a shadow of the coming reality, viz. the sacrifice of Christ. But that great gospel reality has not been disenshrined. On the contrary, it has been put into an institution, which is to last till the close of the earthly order of things. So with the sabbath. It foreshadowed the reality of rest in Christ. We have now got the substance, but still the substance has been put into the institution of the Lord's day, in which it will remain till all earthly institutions are done away. Only there is this to be remembered, in connection with our use of gospel institutions. We are not to be legalistic in the use of them. We are not to feel as though baptism, or the Lord's Supper, or the Lord's day had any magical power in them. They simply serve to hold up gospel realities for our faith to grasp. And there is a freedom (as of sons) which belongs to us in the use of them, such as there was not connected with the Law.
II. ANGEL WORSHIP. "Let no man rob you of your prize." The Colossian Christians are here compared to the contenders in the Grecian games. The prize for which they were contending, and which they were in the way of obtaining, was eternal life. The word translated "rob" might seem to point to the false teachers as showing hostility in the character of judges. But that is not in accordance with the Pauline conception, in which Christ is Judge. Rather are we to think of them as showing their hostility in interfering with them in one form or another, so as to bring it about that they, the Colossians, did not receive the prize from the judge. And this is required by the connection. For the false teachers are represented as putting an obstacle in the way of the Colossians to trip them up so that they lose the prize. The obstacle is angel worship.
1. Its spurious humility. "By a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels, dwelling m the things which he hath seen, vainly puffed up by his flesh y mind. We have already described the Eastern doctrine of successive emanations. These the Essenes (with their Jewish tendencies) identified with the successive orders of angels. These orders at intervals filled up the distance between God and men. They were so familiarly known as to be named. There was an appearance of humility in that. For it went on the supposition of the unapproachableness of God. We are such insignificant beings that it is not for us to worship so great a being as God. It only becomes us to worship the beings that lie nearer to us (the angels), and who have had more immediately to do with our creation. Regarding this humility the apostle asserts that it had its ground in their own will, not in reality. The way in which he makes it out is this: The angel worshipper "dwells in the things which he hath seen." This must be held to be a great blot on the Revised translation. The meaning suggested is that the angel worshipper is an inhabitant of the world of sense. This is nothing less than grotesque. For the angel worshipper shows the spuriousness of his humility by confidently going across the boundary line of sense. "Dwelling in" is a most objectionable translation. The word is literally to step on, to step off one place on to another. The exact sense depends on the retention or non-retention of "not" in the text. The former makes the better sense, well brought out in the old translation, "intruding into those things which he hath not seen." The latter has a slight preponderance of authority in its favour, and may be understood as giving the sense - stepping on to the domain of the visionary. The general meaning is undoubtedly this - that, while professing (in his humility) that he is only fit to worship angels, he penetrates illegitimately into the invisible world, i.e. not in the way of faith and revelation. He makes the large assertion that the Divine Being does not care for our worship. And he names (as though he had actually seen) the different orders of angels. And so the apostle makes it out to be not humility at all. It is (when unbared) inflation. It is inflation with what is baseless, unreal. It is inflation from a bad principle - the mind of the flesh (as distinguished from the mind of the Spirit). That is to say, there is in it fleshly discontent with the simple contents of revelation regarding the angel world. And there is the fleshly desire to appear to know more than is to be known. The lesson to be learned from this is that we are not to undervalue our humanity. We are all the greater beings that our Father in heaven is so great.
"We look up in our littleness 2. Its renunciation of the Head. "And not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God." The apostle puts his objection to angel worship on a strong basis of truth. The parts of the body are jointed and banded. The joints and bands serve for the body being nourished and compacted. This takes place in connection with a common centre of vital energy. The result is the increase appointed for the body by God. So Christians in their relations to one another are as joints and bands. They form lines along which communications can be sent from Christ, by which the Church is nourished and compacted and has its appointed increase. But this is on condition of holding fast the Head. The angel worship, by which the false teachers would have tripped up the Colossians on their way to the goal, would have been a losing hold of Christ. It would have been a substituting for the mediation of Christ the mediation of inferior beings. It would have been fatal severance from him who does the whole work of mediation for men. And the same strong objection is to be taken to the regard paid to angels, to saints, especially to the Virgin Mary, in the Church of Rome. Whatever distinctions may be drawn by Roman Catholic theologians, whatever safeguards may be adapted, the practical result is what the apostle notes here, the letting go of the all sufficiency of the mediation of Christ and the paralyzing of the Church's energies. III. ASCETICISM. The teaching of the apostle is that Christians are freed from mundane ordinances. "If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances?" One part of the truth of baptism is that we are sharers with Christ in his death. We not only die with Christ; but there is something to or from which we die. This is thought of sometimes as sin, sometimes as self, sometimes as the Law. It is here thought of as the world in its rudiments, that is to say, its teachings and rules (the latter prominent here), which are all rudimentary compared with the perfect form of Christianity. We have died to the world (God-forsaking) and its ordinances, why then, as though living in the world (as though we had not died, as though our former relations to the world were still maintained), should we subject ourselves to its ordinances? 1. These ordinances are prohibitory. "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch." Some, by a strange blunder, have supposed this to be an inculcation of abstinence by the apostle. He is, on the contrary, disparagingly giving the spirit of asceticism. It said, "Abstain, abstain, abstain." He gives the very words of asceticism, "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch." The words are given in the correct order in the Revised translation. With a descent of language, there is an ascent of superstition. The things referred to we are not to handle, nor are we to taste them, nor have the slightest contact with them. The error of asceticism is that it makes prohibition (negation) the essence of religion. The counteractive thought is that it is not by heaping up prohibitions that man's spiritual need can be met. 2. These ordinances relate to the outward. "All which things are to perish with the using." The things are the foods and drinks which were prohibited. The apostle seems to direct a double argument against asceticism. The meats and drinks had a good property; they had also a defect. (1) They were for use. "With the using" is his language. That is to say, they had no inherent evil (according to the ascetic idea). They were made to be handled, to be tasted, to be touched. They were made for consumption. They were made (with a certain heartiness in the expression used) to be used up. (2) They were in the use of them to go to corruption. They could not be used over again. Decomposition set in which became complete (destruction). As they could not thus be the be all for man (not being eternal), so neither, on the other hand, was religion to be placed in mere abstinence from them. 3. These ordinances are humanly imposed. "After the precepts and doctrines of men." There were numerous ordinances of God before the perfect religion came. These had close connection with religion as Divine helps. They were laid down authoritatively by God, and by them God taught important lessons. But the ascetics were out of date with their ordinances (partly Jewish they were in Essenism). They were only (even the Jewish parts of them) the precepts and doctrines of men. There was no authority for imposing them on the consciences of men. 4. These ordinances are not in their contents entitled to be called wisdom. "Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in win-worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh." Ascetic observances were thought to be wisdom. They were intimately associated with worship. They were supposed to be based on the two great virtues of humility and self denial. The ascetics had the reputation of carrying these virtues even to excess. We have already referred to the practices of the Essenes. As an illustration of what the apostle means by humility and severity to the body, we may take the modern instance of Lacordaire. "Immediately after Mass, and while his face was yet lighted up with ineffable joy, he would seek the cell of one of his brethren, kneel humbly down, and beg for the full severities of discipline. Rising from it, all bleeding, he would press his lips on the feet of him who had chastised him, and overwhelm him with expressions of gratitude. Sometimes he would place himself under the monk's feet, and remain there a quarter of an hour in silence; sometimes he would not be content without the bestowal of still ruder chastisement - he must be boxed on the ears, be spit upon, be ordered about like a slave, 'Go, wretch, brush my shoes, bring me this thing or that;' he must even be spurned like a dog. Once in the convent at Chalais, after having delivered an affecting sermon on humility, he felt irresistibly impelled to follow up precept by example. He came down from the pulpit, begged the assembled brethren to treat him with the severity he deserved, and, uncovering his shoulders, received from each of them twenty-five strokes. The community was a large one, and the ordeal lasted a long time. Brethren, novices, and fathers stood by in deep emotion until all was over, and Lacordaire rose up pale and exhausted. One Good Friday he made himself a cross, raised it in a subterranean chapel, and, bound to it by cords, remained on it three hours." The apostle teaches that ascetic observances have only a show of wisdom. (1) They are voluntary. He points to this element in the worship with which they were associated. We are to have soul-humiliation before God. We are to have humiliation for sin. But there is no call for our demeaning ourselves or our demeaning the humanity which God has given us. And such demeaning is not to be taken as an indication of soul humiliation. In the same way, we have to deny ourselves. The apostle even notes severe treatment of his body, "I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage." But we are not wantonly to buffet the body, as though God had given it to be a plague to the spirit, or as though it were meritorious in itself to do so. Such severity is not to be taken as a true laying of self on the altar. (2) They are ineffective. He finds no fault with the end. They are intended to check the indulgence of the flesh. But he denies them value as means toward that end. They have only a charm for the few; the many must be repelled. And even with the few they are no proper safeguards. There are often witnessed outbreaks of the flesh, and even, where there are not such outbreaks, there is not the proper condition of the spirit. The only proper safeguard is the positive of the risen life with Christ, and especially of attraction toward him, to the consideration of which the apostle proceeds. - R.F.
2. Its renunciation of the Head. "And not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God." The apostle puts his objection to angel worship on a strong basis of truth. The parts of the body are jointed and banded. The joints and bands serve for the body being nourished and compacted. This takes place in connection with a common centre of vital energy. The result is the increase appointed for the body by God. So Christians in their relations to one another are as joints and bands. They form lines along which communications can be sent from Christ, by which the Church is nourished and compacted and has its appointed increase. But this is on condition of holding fast the Head. The angel worship, by which the false teachers would have tripped up the Colossians on their way to the goal, would have been a losing hold of Christ. It would have been a substituting for the mediation of Christ the mediation of inferior beings. It would have been fatal severance from him who does the whole work of mediation for men. And the same strong objection is to be taken to the regard paid to angels, to saints, especially to the Virgin Mary, in the Church of Rome. Whatever distinctions may be drawn by Roman Catholic theologians, whatever safeguards may be adapted, the practical result is what the apostle notes here, the letting go of the all sufficiency of the mediation of Christ and the paralyzing of the Church's energies.
III. ASCETICISM. The teaching of the apostle is that Christians are freed from mundane ordinances. "If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances?" One part of the truth of baptism is that we are sharers with Christ in his death. We not only die with Christ; but there is something to or from which we die. This is thought of sometimes as sin, sometimes as self, sometimes as the Law. It is here thought of as the world in its rudiments, that is to say, its teachings and rules (the latter prominent here), which are all rudimentary compared with the perfect form of Christianity. We have died to the world (God-forsaking) and its ordinances, why then, as though living in the world (as though we had not died, as though our former relations to the world were still maintained), should we subject ourselves to its ordinances?
1. These ordinances are prohibitory. "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch." Some, by a strange blunder, have supposed this to be an inculcation of abstinence by the apostle. He is, on the contrary, disparagingly giving the spirit of asceticism. It said, "Abstain, abstain, abstain." He gives the very words of asceticism, "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch." The words are given in the correct order in the Revised translation. With a descent of language, there is an ascent of superstition. The things referred to we are not to handle, nor are we to taste them, nor have the slightest contact with them. The error of asceticism is that it makes prohibition (negation) the essence of religion. The counteractive thought is that it is not by heaping up prohibitions that man's spiritual need can be met.
2. These ordinances relate to the outward. "All which things are to perish with the using." The things are the foods and drinks which were prohibited. The apostle seems to direct a double argument against asceticism. The meats and drinks had a good property; they had also a defect.
(1) They were for use. "With the using" is his language. That is to say, they had no inherent evil (according to the ascetic idea). They were made to be handled, to be tasted, to be touched. They were made for consumption. They were made (with a certain heartiness in the expression used) to be used up.
(2) They were in the use of them to go to corruption. They could not be used over again. Decomposition set in which became complete (destruction). As they could not thus be the be all for man (not being eternal), so neither, on the other hand, was religion to be placed in mere abstinence from them.
3. These ordinances are humanly imposed. "After the precepts and doctrines of men." There were numerous ordinances of God before the perfect religion came. These had close connection with religion as Divine helps. They were laid down authoritatively by God, and by them God taught important lessons. But the ascetics were out of date with their ordinances (partly Jewish they were in Essenism). They were only (even the Jewish parts of them) the precepts and doctrines of men. There was no authority for imposing them on the consciences of men.
4. These ordinances are not in their contents entitled to be called wisdom. "Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in win-worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh." Ascetic observances were thought to be wisdom. They were intimately associated with worship. They were supposed to be based on the two great virtues of humility and self denial. The ascetics had the reputation of carrying these virtues even to excess. We have already referred to the practices of the Essenes. As an illustration of what the apostle means by humility and severity to the body, we may take the modern instance of Lacordaire. "Immediately after Mass, and while his face was yet lighted up with ineffable joy, he would seek the cell of one of his brethren, kneel humbly down, and beg for the full severities of discipline. Rising from it, all bleeding, he would press his lips on the feet of him who had chastised him, and overwhelm him with expressions of gratitude. Sometimes he would place himself under the monk's feet, and remain there a quarter of an hour in silence; sometimes he would not be content without the bestowal of still ruder chastisement - he must be boxed on the ears, be spit upon, be ordered about like a slave, 'Go, wretch, brush my shoes, bring me this thing or that;' he must even be spurned like a dog. Once in the convent at Chalais, after having delivered an affecting sermon on humility, he felt irresistibly impelled to follow up precept by example. He came down from the pulpit, begged the assembled brethren to treat him with the severity he deserved, and, uncovering his shoulders, received from each of them twenty-five strokes. The community was a large one, and the ordeal lasted a long time. Brethren, novices, and fathers stood by in deep emotion until all was over, and Lacordaire rose up pale and exhausted. One Good Friday he made himself a cross, raised it in a subterranean chapel, and, bound to it by cords, remained on it three hours." The apostle teaches that ascetic observances have only a show of wisdom.
(1) They are voluntary. He points to this element in the worship with which they were associated. We are to have soul-humiliation before God. We are to have humiliation for sin. But there is no call for our demeaning ourselves or our demeaning the humanity which God has given us. And such demeaning is not to be taken as an indication of soul humiliation. In the same way, we have to deny ourselves. The apostle even notes severe treatment of his body, "I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage." But we are not wantonly to buffet the body, as though God had given it to be a plague to the spirit, or as though it were meritorious in itself to do so. Such severity is not to be taken as a true laying of self on the altar.
(2) They are ineffective. He finds no fault with the end. They are intended to check the indulgence of the flesh. But he denies them value as means toward that end. They have only a charm for the few; the many must be repelled. And even with the few they are no proper safeguards. There are often witnessed outbreaks of the flesh, and even, where there are not such outbreaks, there is not the proper condition of the spirit. The only proper safeguard is the positive of the risen life with Christ, and especially of attraction toward him, to the consideration of which the apostle proceeds. - R.F.
I. THAT CHRISTIAN INDEPENDENCE IS A FREEDOM FROM THE BONDAGE OF CEREMONY AND OF SUPERSTITION. The sixteenth verse suggests what ceremony may bind men; the eighteenth what superstition may enslave them. We notice the Christian's independence:
1. From the bondage of ceremonialism. The form of this bondage varies, but its spirit continues. The form of bondage in those days was
(1) bondage as to food. There were restrictions as to meat and drink, which were rigid as any moral code. They were mostly Jewish, and had wrongly been inserted in the Christian system.
(2) Bondage as to days. These were also mostly Jewish anniversaries, or monthly or weekly celebrations. The claim of their observance was so punctilious as to be a sore bondage. From both of these the Spirit of Christ frees men. As to meats, "nothing was common or unclean;" as to days, the shadow thrown in advance had given way to the substance.
2. From the bondage of superstition. A heathen superstition had intruded in the form of the worship of angels, which led to "a voluntary humility," that is, to an artificial, self-conscious affectation of humility, leading to the prostration of men before imaginary superior beings. From this parade of humility and morbidly fostered prostration Christ delivers by bringing each soul into conscious relationship with the Highest. That lofty relationship enjoyed, there will be no cringing before any who are inferior to him.
II. THAT FALSE TEACHERS SEEK TO DEPRIVE MEN OF THIS INDEPENDENCE. So they did in Paul's day, and so they do now. They "beguile" men, trip them up in the race, and hinder their attaining the prize. Two sets of false teachers so beguile men.
1. The sentimentalist - those who foster among their adherents a pietism under the name of unworldliness.
2. The sacerdotalist - those who exercise over their followers a priestism that makes the man a slave of the institution, instead of the institution being a servant of the man.
III. THAT CHRISTIAN INDEPENDENCE IS DERIVED FROM AND NOURISHED BY UNION WITH CHRIST.
1. The right relationship with Christ gives independence because of the strength flowing from union with the Head, the Source of all power and control.
2. This right union with Christ gives independence because it involves healthy relationship to the body, i.e. all fellow Christians. There is none of the ruptured relationship with Christ or the Church that some count liberty, but which is really only licence. There is rather the being healthily and perfectly united to Christ and to the Church by the ligaments of loving relationship - ligaments these that hold all together and hold all to Christ, and give him the complete control of all. Each soul has liberty, just as the limbs of a healthy man have free play. Moreover, such a soul grows with the growth of God. - U. R.T.
I. THE INFLUENCE OF UNJUST JUDGMENTS. The apostle has here in view the practical error of Judaizing ritualists. They had received from Moses regulations respecting meats and drinks and feasts, which they endeavoured to enforce on Gentile converts as necessary to salvation (Acts 15:1). If they did not always proceed to this extreme, they treated others as negligent of most important means of grace. They thus brought a strong pressure to bear on the consciences of new converts who had received no such instructions from apostles or other Christian teachers who had "begotten them through the gospel." It was no easy thing to resist such pressure exerted by men with all the sacred traditions of Judaism behind them; just as it must have been hard work for the early Reformers to resist the influence of the hostile opinions of all the leaders and Fathers of the Christian world. (Illustrate from the case of Cranmer.) Thus the Colossian converts were in danger of yielding to the censorious judgments of these teachers and conforming to their requirements. In so doing they might grasp at shadows which belonged to Moses and lose the substance which was Christ's. Neither the twelve apostles nor Paul made light of Mosaic ordinances (Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18; Acts 21:26) or sacred seasons (Acts 16:13; Acts 18:21; Acts 20:16; Acts 24:11). But St. Paul earnestly protests against the yoke of bondage being imposed on Gentile converts. We too must beware of yielding to similar pressure from ritualizing Christians. So long as we endeavour to observe all things which Christ has commanded, we must be prepared to brave the judgments of those who would impose on our consciences observances and expedients which are not of Divine authority; e.g. the enforcing on the conscience of the observance of Good Friday, or of early communion, evening communion being denounced; the forbidding of marriage during Lent or Advent. There is peril in regarding any human appointments as taking rank with Divine ordinances: "I am afraid of you" (Galatians 4:10, 11). There is positive sin in enforcing them on the consciences of others (Romans 14:1-6, 13).
II. THE LOSS OF OUR EXPECTED PRIZE. (Vers. 18, 19.) This danger arose from the theological errors of the advocates of a rudimentary Gnosticism. This heresy was more serious than the other, as we infer from the fact that to lose our expected prize is a far greater calamity than to endure the condemnation of narrow-minded brethren. By yielding to the temptation, even through the influence of false opinions, of robbing Christ of his glory as sole Mediator, we may ourselves be robbed of our prize, our "crown." False doctrines may be fatal when they have their roots in moral causes and bring forth "wild grapes." The element of error here chiefly condemned is the worship of angelic mediators. It had four sources.
(1) A spurious humility, as though we could not venture to have access to God except through the mediation of inferior beings.
(2) A vain pretence to know more than is revealed respecting the world of spirits ("Dwelling in the things which he hath seen," i.e. his assumed visions).
(3) Spiritual pride (which is a frequent source of heresy even in Christian men; 1 Corinthians 8:1).
(4) An imperfect knowledge of or trust to Christ ("not holding the Head," etc.) This analysis of error applies, to a large extent, to the modern errors of the intercession and worship of angels, saints, and the Virgin Mary. They arise from:
(2) Pretended knowledge; for whatever speculations we may indulge as to the employments of "the dead in Christ," we know nothing to authorize us to appeal to them as intercessors.
(3) Spiritual pride, which shows itself in declining to be satisfied or even in setting aside "the things which are revealed" respecting worship and mediation (1 John 2:2; Revelation 19:10, etc.), and exalting our own imaginations or the unsupported assertions of fellow sinners to the level of the true sayings of God (Revelation 2:14, 15, 20). In some respects Romanists and spiritualists are victims of similar delusions.
(4) A failure in "holding fast the Head," etc. Unhappy men! "If thou knewest the gift of God!" God is better to you than your servile fears or false humility would suggest. We have an Advocate, even Christ (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18). We need no advocate with him. "I can speak more safely and cheerfully to my Jesus than to any of the holy spirits of God" (Augustine). The angels have not my nature, and I need no redeemed sinners as intercessors, since I have the Sinless One (Hebrews 7:25, 26). To admit any one to share with Jesus Christ the glory of the work of mediation is (to say the least) to "hold the Head," not "fast," but in a manner that is both lax and perilous. If we are "holding fast the Head," we must acknowledge him as the Image of God, in whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," as the Author and the End of all creation, as the Lord of the world and the supreme Ruler of his Church, as the great Reconciler between God and man by the blood of his cross, and as the believer's only Hope cf glory. It is from him alone that his members receive spiritual supplies, are knit together and grow. False teachers, who would divert our faith or affections from him, may rob us of our reward. (Illustration: Racers diverted from the straight course toward the umpire at the goal, or persuaded to neglect one of the laws of the game (Galatians 5:7; Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1, 2).) To us the exhortations come home (Ephesians 4:14-16; Hebrews 3:12-14; Romans 3:11). - E.S.P.
I. CONSIDERATION FOR THE SCRUPLES OF THE WEAK MUST BE DISTINGUISHED FROM YIELDING TO THE TYRANNY OF THE BIGOTED.
1. It is weak brethren whom St. Paul spares in his Epistle to the Corinthians. But, when writing to the Colossians, he has no such people in view, but a very different class - censorious, bigoted enemies of Christian liberty. Such men should be firmly opposed.
2. In the former case St. Paul was considering the condition of the weak brethren whom he wished to save from stumbling. In the present instance no such consideration is called for. It is not their imperfections that the Colossians are to deal gently with, but the interference of troublesome people who will not stumble the less because they have their own way in unlawful tyranny.
3. In the former case the concession was voluntary. St. Paul spoke of his own action, freely adopted. Here, however, it is not a case of generous concession on the part of the more liberal, but one of tyrannical assumption on that of the more bigoted. This case may be illustrated by St. Paul's vigorous resistance to the attempts that were made by certain professed Christians at Jerusalem to compel the circumcision of Titus (Galatians 2:3-5).
II. IT IS OUR POSITIVE DUTY TO MAINTAIN THE RIGHTS OF LIBERTY. We may be tempted to yield out of love of peace, or from an unselfish feeling of generosity. But this is more than a mistake; it is a fault. Several reasons concur to forbid us to yield to the judgment of the more bigoted in these matters.
1. The claims of truth. If we believe that our position is the right one, to renounce it will be to sacrifice truth. In maintaining our own rights in this instance we are upholding great principles.
2. The honour of Christ. If we renounce the freer, larger gospel for a cramped and mutilated one, we dishonour the Name of Christ. For his sake the broad generosity and liberal spirituality of Christianity must be maintained.
3. The performance of our own duty. We cannot serve God so well when our liberty is fettered by the interference of the narrower minded as when we follow our own conscience without such restraints.
4. The good of our fellow men. By permitting encroachments on the liberty of the gospel, we narrow the privileges which we should be offering to our fellow men. We are put in trust of the gospel. Let us beware of traitorous efforts to rob it of its richest treasures (Galatians 2:5). Nevertheless, let us take home to ourselves a further lesson, and beware of judging our brother Christians in regard to sabbath observance and other external habits either way - on the one hand, for too strict formalism in our eyes; or, on the other hand, for too free behaviour. "To his own Lord he standeth or falleth" (Romans 14:4). - W.F.A.
I. ANGEL WORSHIP IS CLEARLY CONDEMNED.
1. The angel whom John would have worshipped, said, "See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant.., worship God" (Revelation 22:9).
2. God will not share his rights with another. "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." The first commandment forbids all other worship.
3. There is but one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5, 6). Papists say that the apostle merely condemns such worship of angels as excludes Christ, but the condemnation is most absolute and simple. Besides, Christ is declared to be the one single and only way to the Father, to the exclusion of all angelic mediators. "No man cometh unto the Father but by me;" "If ye shall ask anything in my Name, I will do it" (John 14:6, 14). "We offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5).
4. The worship of angels implies an omniscience on their part which belongs only to God. God only knows the hearts of men (2 Chronicles 6:30).
5. Our Lord's superiority to all angels, as asserted in Hebrews 1. and it implies the same condemnation; for they are merely "ministering spirits, sent to minister to the heirs of salvation."
II. THE MOTIVE OF THIS ANGEL WORSHIP. "A voluntary humility." The idea of the false teachers, like that of modern Papists, was that God was so high and inaccessible that he could only be approached through the mediation of inferior beings. It was remembered that the Law was given "by the ministration of angels" (Acts 7:53), and that angels exercised a certain tutelary guardianship (Daniel 10:10-21). But it was, after all, a mere parade of humility to approach God through the mediation of such inferior creatures. It implied, besides, a serious misrepresentation of the fitness of the one Mediator, of whom it was said, "It behoved him to be made like to his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God" (Hebrews 2:17). He surely can sympathize with us even more closely than angels, for he shared our human nature. It was, therefore, a false and perverted humility that sought the intercession of angels.
III. THE SPIRIT THAT SHAPED THIS DOCTRINE OF ANGEL WORSHIP. "Dwelling in the things he hath seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind."
1. The false teachers claimed to have visions of the heavenly world and a knowledge of angels which they could not possibly possess. They claimed to know the secrets of a region which they had never seen.
2. They were filled with great self conceit, notwithstanding their parade of excessive humility. "Vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind." The Gnostic tendency was always associated with an assumption of superior knowledge, but it was an utterly groundless assumption. It was "in vain." It was without reason or ground. God would resist it (James 4:7); men would not regard it (Proverbs 11:2); and they themselves would inherit nothing by it but folly (Proverbs 14:8; 1 Timothy 6:4). Even where real visions are vouchsafed, there is a temptation to self elation, as in the case of the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7). But, in the case of false visions, the tendency would be still more manifest. The mind would be "the mind of the flesh," as it is literally; not "the mind of the Spirit." It was "the carnal mind that is enmity with God." Let us rather seek to become "fools that we may be wise" (1 Corinthians 3:18), and not be "puffed up one against another." It is knowledge that puffeth up (1 Corinthians 8:1); it is only love that edifieth.
IV. THE NEGATIVE SOURCE OF THE HERESY OF ANGEL WORSHIP. "Not holding the Head from whom the whole body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God." The Colossian errorists invented angel worship because they did not see in Christ the true and only Mediator who was to bridge the chasm between God and men. They put inferior beings in the place of him who is the only Source of spiritual life. They did not "hold the headship' doctrinally; they had no individual or vital adherence to the Head as the Source of life to them.
1. Jesus Christ, as the Head, is the true Source of spiritual life and energy. He who is "at once the lowest and the highest," who is "the Word made flesh," "raises up man to God, and brings God down to man" The fulness of the Godhead resides in him bodily, and out of that fulness he communicates freely to us.
2. The relation of the body to the Head. "From whom the whole body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands."
(1) The care of Christ extends to every member of the body. We must likewise learn to extend our love to all the saints.
(2) There is a double effect produced by the relation of Head and members.
(a) The supply of nutriment. Christ is the sole Source of supply to our souls - "through the joints." God calls us "to this fellowship with his Son" (1 John 1:7).
) We can have no spiritual nutriment from Christ till we have believed in him.
) The joints through which our supply of grace comes cannot be broken. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:39).
(b) The compacting of the frame into a perfect unity - "knit together by bands." Christ is the Source of the Church's unity. "He hath made both one" (Ephesians 2:14). There is a unity of faith, a unity of spiritual life, a unity of ordinance, a unity of love, a unity of final destiny, in the Church, by virtue of her connection with her Head.
3. The end of this relation. "Increaseth with the increase of God;" that is, with the increase which he supplies.
(1) The body grows extensively, by the addition of new members; it grows intensively in grace, knowledge, and the practice of all holy duties.
(2) he First Cause of all this growth is God. Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but "it is God who gave the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6). Thus through Christ, God and man are linked together; the finite and the Infinite are reconciled; the great problem of speculation has been at last practically solved.
V. THE DANGER OF ANGEL WORSHIP. "Let no man rob you of your prize." The apostle implies that the prize of eternal life - "the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" - would be lost by turning aside from the Head to angelic mediators. We must not "lose what we have wrought" in this way (2 John 1:10). "Let no man take thy crown" (Revelation 3:11). Let us, therefore, avoid "profane babblings and oppositions of science falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20), and hold fast "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:4). - T. C.
I. MARK THE PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES OF OUR SHARING IN THE DEATH OF CHRIST.
1. Fellowship in Christ's death. "We are buried with him by baptism unto death" (Romans 6:3-9). We are united with Christ in his death. Community in death involves community in life, and thus our death with Christ involves not only
(1) death to sin (Romans 6:2),
(2) death to self (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15); but
(4) death to the world (Galatians 6:14), and
(5) death "from the rudiments of the world" (Colossians 2:20).
2. The inconsistency of this fellowship with a mere ritualistic religion.
(1) Such a religion is rudimentary, disciplinary, designed for the infancy of the Church, not for its period of adult experience and privilege. Christ by his death wiped out these rudiments which have their sphere in the visible life of the world. They are but "weak and beggarly elements," from which we are forever separated by the death of Christ. In him all things have become new. Christians cannot, therefore, live in that which Christ died to take away. Besides, Christians are living no longer in the world. "They are not of the world;" yet, if they submitted to its ordinances, they were "as though living in the world." They had been called out of the world to be of another body, of which Christ is the Head. Therefore they were not to be conformed to the fashion of the world (Romans 12:2).
(2) A ritualistic religion is usually negative rather than positive in its character, being strong in the clement of prohibition: "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch." The apostle repeats the prohibitions of the false teachers in their own words. They, believing that matter was essentially evil, resolved upon reducing our contact with it in its most familiar forms to a minimum. The prohibitions here referred to go far beyond the Levitical enactments, which had no ascetic tendency. The Essenes, who were forerunners of the Colossian errorists, shunned oil, wine, flesh, meat, and contact with a stranger. Mark how rigorous and precise these errorists were in their outward observances. They were like the Pharisees of old, who cared not for the weightier matters of the Law, but tithed mint and anise and cummin. They attributed an intrinsic value to things that were fleeting: "All which things perish in the using;" leaving no spiritual result: "For meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse" (1 Corinthians 8:8). Our Lord himself said it was not that which "entereth the mouth which defileth a man "(Matthew 15:16, 17).
(3) A ritualistic religion is always marked by "the precepts and doctrines of men." Many of the Jewish ordinances were handed down by tradition and had no warrant in the written Word of God. Therefore our Lord said, "They teach for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
II. THE PRETENTIOUS WORTHLESSNESS OF THIS ASCETIC RITUALISM. "Which things, indeed, have a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and severity to the body, but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh."
1. Its reputation for wisdom. It had a show of wisdom without the reality, for it affected an air of extreme piety, of profound regard for God, and of deep knowledge in Divine things. All its ritualistic observances would be recommended by the plea that they tended to promote piety. The repute of wisdom was manifested in three things.
(1) Will worship, or service beyond what God requires - in a word, superstition. This is the origin of penances and pilgrimages and festivals in Romanism. They are supposed to promote piety, but they have "a mere show of wisdom." They charge God with folly, as if be did not know what was most conducive to piety, and they involve a tacit claim to amend God's ordinances. But God loves obedience better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), and may well ask such ritualists, "Who hath required this at your hands?" (Isaiah 1:12). Will worship has been the great corrupter of pure religion.
(2) Humility. It is a studied and affected humility, not resting on a basis of faith and love, but consciously cultivated, and therefore not inconsistent with spiritual pride. "Pride may be pampered while the flesh grows lean."
(3) Severity to the body.
(a) There seems a show of wisdom in this habit, because an apostle found it wise "to keep his body under" (1 Corinthians 9:27), and the Colossian ascetics might have pleaded that they could thus enhance their spiritual insight.
(b) But such severity to the body is expressly condemned.
) Religion belongs to the body as well as the soul. The body, "so fearfully and wonderfully made," becomes "a temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 6:19). Its members are to be "yielded as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13). We are to offer our bodies as "living sacrifices," not dead or mutilated or maimed sacrifices. There is, therefore, nothing religious in whipping the body, like the Flagellants, or in denying it necessary food, or in arraying it in dirty or ragged clothing. "The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit," not a macerated body. We must keep up our bodily vigour for the discharge of the duties of life, so that the body may serve the Spirit.
) There may be a corrupt heart under an ascetic habit of body. Spiritual pride may dwell there in power.
2. Its failure to accomplish its chief end. "But are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh."
(1) This ascetic rigour is designed as a check upon sensual indulgence. There seems "a show of wisdom" in such a method.
(2) But it is no check to such self indulgence, as the history of asceticism proves. The monastic life, while it seemed hostile to self indulgence, made way, as by a sort of back door, to all sorts of sensual extravagance. - T.C.
I. THAT THE CHRISTIAN IS EXEMPT FROM BONDAGE TO OUTWARDNESS? He is not ordinance ridden. What ordinances does Paul primarily speak of? Mingled and interfused Judaic, Gnostic, Essene, and Pharisaic. Paul quotes the words of some of their prescriptive limitations about wine, oil, meat, etc. And also he shows what embargo that spirit of outwardness placed on intercourse with persons who were
(1) ceremonially unclean,
(2) religiously inferior,
(3) nationally alien.
He adduces three reasons against being bound in the bondage of ordinances and regulations concerning such outward things.
1. That such things themselves are transient and fleeting. "The fashion of the world passeth away," he says in another place; and here, "which all are to perish with the using." They who guide their course by such things are as mariners who would direct their voyage rather by the clouds than by the stars.
2. That the virtues that are cultivated in care for such are artificial virtues. They engender
(3) false humility,
because voluntary and affected.
3. That such bondage fails in its object. "Not in any honour."
II. THAT IN CHRIST'S DEATH IS THE POWER AND PATTERN OF EXEMPTION FROM SUCH OUTWARDNESS? Paul is accustomed to dwell on the Christian's complete identification with Christ: "crucified," "buried," "risen," with him. Here it is identification with Jesus in his death. "Make thou, O Christ, a dying of my life." This first and mainly describes a dying to sin, here a dying to the dominion of outwardness. It is the paradox of Christian experience, "I am truly alive because I am dead." About this insensibility to the dominion of the external, this "death to outwardness," Paul here teaches:
1. Christ's death is the power by which man dies to merely outward rule and regulation. Through meditation, sympathy, fellowship, faith in the death of Christ, not only is the soul fired with hatred to sin which slew him, and with the love of God who could love thus, but of the hollowness of all formality and the coldness of all legality in the presence of such motives.
2. Christ's death is the pattern of such exemption from bondage to the outward. The unresponsiveness of his dead body on the cross is an imago of the soul that through faith in him is dead to the world. That independence to the external is
(1) complete, and
(2) gradually obtained.
"Let no man think that sudden, in a minute,
I. "THE RUDIMENTS OF THE WORLD" WERE USEFUL IN THEIR OWN TIME AND PLACE. The difficult expression, "rudiments of the world," seems to mean elementary teaching on the religious life which was no part of the teaching of Jesus Christ. It was not necessarily opposed to Christianity; for it included much of the Mosaic legislation under which the Jews were treated as children and pupils (Galatians 4:3). These rudimentary lessons were both disciplinary and typical. Paul respected the prejudices of Jews and of Jewish converts in their favour (Acts 16:3; Acts 21:23-26). He allowed tender consciences to be bound by such rudiments as were not either of Jewish or Christian obligation (Romans 14:2, 3, 14). So in the present day, among heathens just emerging from darkness but not yet "risen with Christ," certain elementary precepts and restrictions may be valuable as temporary educational expedients. And more stringent rules of Church discipline than the New Testament enforces may be expedient for a time in the training of converts from heathenism who have just come out from a worse than Egyptian bondage. (Illustrate from Exodus 23:13, and similar requirements in Polynesia or other mission fields.)
II. THE CHRISTIAN IS EMANCIPATED FROM BONDAGE TO THESE RUDIMENTS. "If ye died with Christ," etc. "This death has many aspects in St. Paul's teaching. It is not only a dying with Christ (2 Timothy 2:11), but it is also a dying to or from something. This is sometimes represented as sin (Romans 6:2); sometimes as self; sometimes as the Law (Romans 7:6; Galatians 2:19); sometimes still more widely as the world," as here and in Colossians 3:3. Our Lord, by his teaching and example, set his disciples free from the traditions of men (Matthew 12:1-13; Matthew 15:1-9) and from some of the ceremonial laws of Moses (Mark 7:14-19, "This he said making all meats clean;" cf. Acts 10:15). By his death as the Sacrifice he fulfilled all that was typical in the ceremonial Law, so that by union with him "we have been discharged from the Law" (Romans 7:6). By his power as the risen Saviour, the supreme Head and Lawgiver of his Church, he replaces the precepts of Moses by his "I say unto you." He thus introduces all believers into a new sphere of life and liberty (Hebrews 12:18-25). 'We experience what Christ can do for us apart from "the rudiments of the world," and therefore need not go back to them. Having pardon, peace, purity, through the death and resurrection of Christ, it would be as unreasonable to seek those blessings in rudiments, as it would be for a cultured literary man to be constantly practising in elementary reading and spelling books. To "subject ourselves" to such restrictions would be as though a slave on the free soil of Britain should still crouch before his old master (Galatians 5:1).
III. THESE RUDIMENTS HAVE NO POWER TO PROMOTE THE OBJECT FOR WHICH THEY ARE RECOMMENDED. (Ver. 23.) So far as they were Mosaic they had no longer the value which belongs to even the most "positive" precepts as a test of obedience. In the Christian Church even the laws of Moses are merely "the precepts of men;" Jesus only is Lord. The rudiments respecting fasting, etc., which originated in asceticism, never bad any spiritual value, but were for the most past the result of fundamental error (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Self denial for our own good or that of others is commended by Paul (1 Corinthians 8:13; 1 Corinthians 9:27); but the asceticism of Colossae which was enforced on Christian converts is condemned as fostering pride and powerless to suppress sin. Pride may be pampered while the flesh grows lean (Wordsworth). Thus the axe is laid at the root of those unscriptural austerities which are glorified in the Church of Rome; e.g. even the saintly Pascal "wore beneath his clothes a girdle of iron with sharp points affixed to it, and when he found his mind disposed to wander from religious subjects or take delight in things around him, he struck the girdle with his elbow and forced the points into his side." Men notorious for filth have been canonized (for an illustration, see Eadie on Colossians, p. 211). How absurd to think that hair shirts and "thongs and whip cord are means of grace"! But as Dr. South has said, "The truth is, if men's religion lies no deeper than their skin, it is possible they may scourge themselves into very great improvements." Occasional fasts may be of value, but a religion of asceticism is "a libel upon Providence, a surly and superstitious refusal of Divine benignity." The safeguard against such errors is a clear view of our salvation by Christ, our union with him, our submission to him, and our fulness in him. - E.S.P.
I. ASCETICISM IS FASCINATING. It is remarkable to observe how readily the severest devotees of asceticism have found followers when the performance of the simpler duties of Christian charity has been left neglected. A St. Simeon, scorched by the blazing sun of noonday and chilled, by the cruel frosts of night on his pillar in the desert, finds enthusiastic imitators who would be slow in following Christ's lowly work of going about to do good to his brethren.
1. Asceticism follows the notion that since indulgence of the lower nature is sinful, that nature itself must be evil. In this notion is the explanation of the inclination of many of the best men to asceticism.
2. Asceticism appears to be the readiest way of preventing sins of the flesh. It seems as though the flesh could not be tamed; therefore it is caged, chained, crushed, slain.
3. Asceticism aspires to the rare holiness of excessive purity. Thus, while professing humility, it is often guilty of great pride.
4. Asceticism is within our own power and is dependent on our own will. It is will worship. It is not the submission of our will to the will of God, but the assertion of our will though in self restraint. This is much easier and requires less humility and faith than spiritual obedience.
5. Asceticism is effective as a display of holiness. It would be unjust to accuse all ascetics of playing for the admiration of the world. But it is impossible to doubt that the Church has had her hypocrites, who "disfigure their faces, that they may be seen of men to fast."
II. ASCETICISM FAILS IN ITS PROFESSED OBJECT. Not only can it be accused of setting up a false ideal; it does not even realize that ideal. Even from its own point of view it must be regarded as a monstrous failure. It is "not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh." History gives horrible proofs of this fearful fact. The monasteries of the Middle Ages were hotbeds of vice. No more immoral men could be found among the libertines of gay society than the celibate priests, bishops, and popes of the great age of professed asceticism. Literature confirms the testimony of history. The writings of ascetics are too commonly minted with an unwholesome flavour. Subjects which to ordinary men would call up no impure associations are suggestive of corrupt ideas to these saints. The most sacred relations of life are degraded by the ascetic handling of them. Marriage is regarded only in its lowest character, and is lowered by being so treated. The finger of the monk leaves an unclean mark on the purest page of domestic life. This is what might be expected.
1. Asceticism is unnatural. Outraged nature avenges herself on the insult that is put upon her in the distortion of her life.
2. Asceticism is opposed to the sympathies of Christ. He sanctioned the ties of domestic life and sanctioned its joys.
3. Asceticism does not touch the seat of sin. This is not in the body. It is in the soul. So long as the heart is corrupt, no bodily restraints will make the life holy. The ascetic, like the Pharisee, cleanses only the outside of the cup. The stream must be cleansed at the fountain. The heart must be renewed. Then it will be found that "to the pure all things are pure." - W.F.A.