By T. H. Reynolds.
The epistle to the Colossians, as many are aware, occupies a position in the development of Christian doctrine between those to the Romans and Ephesians. In the former the great question of the responsibility of man to God is dealt with, whether he is regarded as a sinner without law, or as a sinner with added transgressions under law. The righteousness of God in justifying and saving those who believe in Jesus - whether Jew or Gentile - is declared, together with the bearing of Christ's death and resurrection on such, in setting them free, according to the reckoning of faith, from their sinful state in a liberty and relationship of which the Spirit of God is the power. Though the hope of glory is spoken of and rejoiced in, and the purpose of God to have the saints in that glory - conformed to the image of His Son - is touched upon, yet the doctrine of the epistle refers to man (whether guilty and lost, or believing) looked at in his individual path upon the earth.
The epistle to the Ephesians opens out the counsels of God in connection with Christ in the heavenlies, where He is seated at the right hand of God. The mystery of God's will to head up every thing in heaven and earth in the Christ - the man of His own purpose and counsel is made known to the saints. They have been sealed with the Holy Ghost to have their inheritance in these counsels, of which He is the Earnest, and they have, besides being sons before the Father, a peculiar relationship to Christ as His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all. Hence we do not find, as in Romans, the bearing of the death and resurrection of Christ upon the condition of the responsible man upon the earth, but the power which wrought in Christ in raising Him from the dead, and seating Him in the heavenly places, is shown to be towards believers, as well as in them, both for the accomplishment of these counsels and for their present enjoyment of them. Christ being in the heavenly places, believers are seen as made to sit there in Him.
We may consider then a believer either looked at as upon earth justified from guilt, and in liberty from his sinful state and self before God through the death and resurrection of Christ, and set upon his path through the wilderness, but with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of adoption, and the power for walking there with God, while looking to be conformed to the image of His Son; or we may look at him as blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ, a member of the body which is united to Him - quickened, raised, and seated in the heavenly places in Him.
But the epistle to the Colossians takes a middle place in bringing out the practical bearing of the truth in Romans, as to the death and resurrection of Christ on the state of the Christians, so that, while still in this world, they may enter into the effect of being associated with the Christ who has died and gone out of the world, and thus find their interest in things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, though they are actually on earth. It also brings to bear upon the Christian the truth in Ephesians, that believers are quickened together with Christ, not, as in that epistle, to bring into the place of the saints as seated in the heavenlies in Christ, but to show how fully the believer while still on earth is clear of all that in which he once lived, because Christ is his life - a life hidden indeed with Christ in God, but when Christ his life is manifested, he will be manifested with Him in glory. The bearing of this upon Christians is, that as members of the body they derive everything from the Head, so that, having received Christ, they may walk in Him according to a new order, knit together in love, and thus practically set forth Christ before appearing in glory with Him. All this we may hope more fully to enter into as the Lord may enable as we consider the epistle, together with other truths therein bearing upon the Christian state.
But before proceeding with the details of the epistle, it may be well for us as Christians to pause and enquire what is the character of our own lives. There are many now, thank God, who are clear as to forgiveness and deliverance by the cross and death and resurrection of Christ. They have learnt it from Romans. They are equally clear, and would insist strongly upon the blessings which are theirs in Christ - theirs now through sovereign grace, and to be fully entered upon in glory. If it be so with us, what then is the character of our lives? Is it merely a pious, godly life amidst the circumstances of our every-day path, or has the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ so brought us to His side of death, that we realise that we have died with Him to the elements of the world, and as risen with Him are in association with things above, and seek the things that are there - our life being there because quickened together with Him?
The first point we may notice is the character given to the Colossian believers by the apostle in his salutation to them - "Holy and faithful brethren in Christ." (New translation.) This at once shows that the object of the epistle is not to set those he addresses upon Christian ground - they are looked at as truly on it. He then gives a reason for his thanks and prayer to God for them - "Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which ye have towards all the saints." This may seem a small thing to say. One might ask, Is this peculiar to the Colossians? Does not every saint believe in Christ, and love those that are His? We may reply by asking another question, Does it characterise every Christian? Does it characterise us? It involves this, not merely that we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, but that He is the blessed abiding object of our faith, and that the saints are the circle amongst whom love now finds its exercise.
"with Him is all
our business now,
The Colossians were thus characterised, and we are thus led to the consideration of an important feature in the manner of the communication of truth to the saints, for the moral state of soul is of great moment. Here we see that they had received the gospel, not merely as securing their eternal interests, but it had been fruitful in producing that state of soul in which Christ and His interests had their place in faith and love. The mind of the Spirit in the apostle could take up this state of soul, and connect it with heaven, giving thanks on their behalf for the hope laid up for them there; for he saw that if they had not this before them, there would be a tendency to turn round to the things upon earth, and to be affected by them religiously, for the flesh would take up worldly principles and try to use them religiously. Therefore, while acknowledging the faith and love which the gospel had already produced, he brings before them the hope which was laid up for them in the heavens. It is not merely that we shall be there, nor is it that we have put all our interests into the hand of Christ, and that all our happiness and joy He will take care of in heaven, but Christ Himself in glory is our hope, and God has treasured up our all in Him in the heavens, and we are to enjoy it now as hope.
In verse 6 we have a contrast to Israel which will further help us in apprehending the special line of teaching in this epistle. Of old God had been seeking fruit in the vineyard wherein He had planted the vine which He brought out of Egypt. Had it been possible for man in the flesh to bring forth fruit for God, it would have been found in Israel - a vineyard guarded and tended by God. But Isaiah 5:4, Matt. 21:34-39, Luke 13:6, all teach us that it was impossible. Now, the gospel is preached in all the world. It goes out, therefore, to Gentiles, and was bringing forth fruit in them, and growing; but fruit could not now be connected with earthly hopes, as in Israel, but with heavenly; and the fruit thus borne would manifest this heavenly character, though borne down here, for fruit-bearing is upon earth. Its character would be the display of the new and heavenly Man in the saints. Now that Christ has been lifted up out of the earth and is in glory, the gospel goes out into all the world to produce this new and heavenly fruit for God from those who belong to heaven because their hope is laid up for them there. In John 15 we see this new order of fruit-bearing upon earth displacing Israel. Christ and His own are in the closest association; and fruit was henceforth to be brought to the Father by abiding in Him. And in Exodus 29:33, 35, the pomegranates were upon the skirts (that nearest the earth) of the robe of heavenly blue, between the golden bells. The testimony of divine righteousness comes out from the holy place, now that the High Priest has entered in, and the sound is heard there. Fruit is produced in connection with such a testimony in us; but it is seen as belonging to Christ Himself in His heavenly character. Fruit of righteousness by Jesus Christ unto glory and praise of God. When He comes out Israel will blossom and bud, and fill the earth with fruit; but it will still be true, for them as for us, "From me is thy fruit found."
We shall further see that the moral state of the soul has much to do with the character of a heavenly Christ being produced in the saints, by noticing how the apostle reverts to what he had heard of these Colossians. (v. 9.) He had heard of their faith and love through Epaphras, who had also declared to him their love in the Spirit. They did not know Paul after the flesh; and, therefore, towards him it was entirely affection produced by the Spirit of God. All this leads him to pray for them, and to ask that they might be filled with the full knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Now such a prayer shows us that believers are here for the will of God. God has laid up a hope for them in heaven - Christ is that hope, and to be with Him and like Him - but they are not yet gone to where their hope is; they are still here. What for? For God's will. That is what Christ was here for; and to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, would be to walk as He walked. But we have not now, as was once given to Israel, a book of statutes and precepts. No doubt the will of God is found in His word; but we cannot know it apart from a state of soul formed in wisdom and spiritual understanding. If we need "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Eph. 1:17) to enter into all that is connected with the glorified Man in heaven, we need also spiritual understanding to enable us to see how Christ ever did the will of God, and pleased His Father, so that we may walk worthy of the Lord. It is not to do some great thing; but just what He would have us do. It may be to be quiet and patient, if that would be pleasing to the Lord in us. "In every good work bearing fruit." A good work may be the daily occupation, only let us bear fruit in it; and yet for this it needs that state of soul which understands what the will of the Lord is, and walks in it worthy of Him. "Growing by the full knowledge of God." It is in Christ that God has been fully revealed and made known; and here we see how intimately the knowledge of His will is connected with the knowledge of Himself. Surely God's will is, that Christ should be set forth in the walk of His people; and growth is promoted as we learn how He ever did those things which pleased His Father, even as He said, "I know Him; for I am from Him, and He sent me." (John 7:29.)
We have seen that growth is by the full knowledge of God, and that in Christ we have the full revelation of Him. No doubt this full knowledge is acquired by the Word - not learned therefrom in a dogmatic way so that it is mere knowledge, but the truth is recognized, acknowledged in the soul, and thus God is known; the truth becomes morally part of ourselves, and we grow thereby (compare 2 Peter 1:2-8), and are fruitful in the pathway here. For this pathway we need special strength, because it is a pathway upon earth which takes its character from the place where Christ is, where the hope is laid up for us. It consequently lies in the midst of His interests here, which are morally outside of this world, though the objects of them are in it; for in Colossians the saints are not looked at as united to Christ, and made to sit in the heavenly places in Him, but as Christ's body upon earth. Hence we need strength suited to the place in which we are viewed. In Eph. 3:16 it is in the inner man that the saint is strengthened by the Spirit, so that he may apprehend the whole range of that glory of which Christ is the centre and the fulness; but here all power comes from the Lord, who is in the place of power and glory at the right hand of God, while we are in the place of waiting and patience until we appear with Him in glory.
Let us remark also that the being empowered with all power is not to do some great thing, but for patience and longsuffering with joyfulness while in the pathway of His will here; and also that it is according to the might of that glory where we know the Lord is already set, that we have the support, in order to enable us to skew out the character of Christ where He is not. Now the shewing out of this character flows from the place of acceptance and privilege in which the Father's love has set us, "giving thanks to the Father who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." No doubt we thank Him for the many mercies which come to us day by day: even the hairs of our head are numbered, but this is for another portion - that of the saints in light. The Father's love has fitted us for it. It is not so much the portion itself as the Spirit brings it out in Eph. 1:3-6, which is before us, though being in the light it is necessarily according to God's holy nature, but that we have been fitted for it. It is this that the apostle presses, as also the deliverance which is ours from the authority of darkness. When the inheritance is actually entered upon by the saints, all the powers of darkness will have been chased away by the glorious kingdom of Christ, and creation itself be delivered from the bondage of corruption. Redemption has taken us out from the sphere of the power of darkness. The Father's love has been manifested in this deliverance, and in translating us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.
Note here, again, that the apostle does not open out to the Colossians what their portion was as sons in the Father's love, but he presses upon them that they had been delivered and had been translated. No doubt it was the then heathen world which is specially looked at here as the place where the darkness of Satan's kingdom held sway; and from this power of heathen darkness they had been delivered and transported at once, not into a system of Jewish ordinances which was of this world, but into the kingdom of the Son while He is sitting upon the Father's throne. When He takes His own kingdom as Son of Man He will clear it of all that offends and does iniquity, and the righteous will then shine forth in the heavenly part of the kingdom - the kingdom of the Father. Now the Son is sitting on the Father's throne, and we know that the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hands. Hence this heavenly part of the kingdom into which the saints are translated is stamped with the character of the Father's love to the Son. It is a holy scene of love rather than of power, though every thing is given to the Son (compare Gen. 24:36), and the Father's grace has given us our portion in it. The authority of darkness which holds men is not now that of heathendom; Satan's sway is exercised in other ways, and deliverance is needed from a Christianised world; for the kingdom of God's dear Son is as much outside the Christianised world as the heathen world. In Him we have the redemption which brings into a new and holy scene of light and love, and the past history of sins is left behind by the forgiveness of all. In that scene Christ is everything. The apostle therefore now brings out the glory of His person. He is the image of the invisible God.
There had been a creation where the first Adam, created in the image of God, was set over the works of God's hands. Satan gained the mastery over the first man, and the image was defaced by sin, and the creature subjected to vanity and corruption. The Colossians had been under the authority of the darkness by which Satan held sway in a corrupted creation; but though the rights of the Creator had been invaded, and His image defaced in His creature, all is made good in Him who, by the very glory of His person, could be and is the image of the invisible God. The Creator Himself has stepped into the ranks of creation by being born into it as a man. Consequently He takes the highest place of dignity in it, for "excellency of dignity and excellency of power" are the portion of the firstborn. (Comp. Gen. 49:3; Ps. 89:27.) It was always in the mind of God to display Himself to intelligent creatures whom He had made; but in supreme Godhead glory He dwelt in light that no creature, however exalted, could approach. An image in moral likeness to Himself was the only means of this display, and in Genesis 1:26 we have the first intimation that man was the being in whom this image was to be seen. Adam was but the figure of Him who was to come. Here is the marvellous fact that the Creator has taken His place in the creation He made. In Him the holy intelligences in the heavens see their Creator. His wonderful works they had seen in creation, and they shouted for joy as it sprang into being; but Himself they can only see in a man, in Him who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. The creation too which He made is characterised and exists in the power of His own person as creator. There are things on earth and things in the heavens, visible and invisible. In the mind of God, both in earth and heaven, thrones and dominions and principalities and powers were to have their place. Their source was in the wondrous person of the Son who became man, nor was one to exist independently of Him. All were created by Him and for Him, and all subsist in the power of His person. He made it then that He might take His place in it, and this He has done by being born into it as a man, that He might display God in the varied glories that attach to His person. What a glorious Person, and what a glorious state of things on earth and in heaven, will subsist when He who is the image of the invisible God fills it with the glory of which He is the fulness and display.
Now when He is manifested in this place of excellency and dignity, we shall be manifested with Him in glory. This gives the saints a very special place with Himself, but in order to have them with Him in the displayed glory of the second man there must be a new beginning altogether. He is the Head of the body, the assembly, the firstborn out from the dead. The beginning for the assembly was resurrection; it derives entirely from Him the origin and source in resurrection power of a heavenly company who, as His body, are to be the complement of His glory. This is a new pre-eminence acquired by passing through death that He might bring in a new glory in resurrection. As of old, He had been the fountain of creation glories. It is in this pre-eminence of resurrection glory that He fully takes the place of the image of the invisible God. All that can be ever known of God is revealed in His person, for all the fulness was pleased to dwell in Him.
This truth leads to the development of another aspect of the great scheme in which the glory of Christ as the image of the invisible God is to be displayed. Not only were the things on earth and things in heaven created by Him, but sin having entered by the fall, reconciliation must be effected before the created earth and heavens can be the scene of displayed glory according to the mind of God. In Israel God had foreshadowed His purpose for the glory of Christ, in a tabernacle which was the pattern of things in the heavens, and which was anointed to be the sphere of the administration of the anointed priest in his garments of glory and beauty. The priesthood broke down on the very first day of its exercise (Lev. 10), so that Aaron was never allowed to enter into the Holiest in his high-priestly garments. It was after this break down that the day of atonement or reconciliation was introduced. (Lev. 16.) Nothing ever did or could stand on the ground of creature responsibility. We have seen Adam, created in the image of God, lending his ear to Satan, and instead of representing God, gone from Him and fallen. Here we see the priests failing entirely as to the holiness that became the house of God.
It is no longer, then, the question of creating a world, or forming a sphere for the display of glory, but of reconciling where sin has entered and defiled. This reconciliation has two aspects. The creation must be cleared of the defilement of sin, so that God can have rest in His own creation, and man must be brought back to God, according to the righteousness as well as the holy love of His own blessed nature. None could effect this but that One in whom the Godhead fulness was pleased to dwell. Therein lay the value of that work of expiation of which the blood of His cross was the witness. In Him, who shed that blood as Man, Godhead fulness dwelt. Hence God has been glorified perfectly in respect of sin, and peace has been made. The blood which was carried into the holiest on the day of atonement was for the eye of God, it was to satisfy the righteousness and holiness of God. When that was accomplished, then it was applied to the tabernacle and its vessels. Thus reconciliation was effected in the holiest where the priest stood as representing a people to be reconciled, and the patterns of things in the heavens were reconciled on the ground that God had been perfectly glorified. It is on the basis of this reconciliation that God will be all in all in a new heaven and new earth which will be filled by Christ with redemption glory. The millennium, when Christ will appear in glory and we appear with Him, will be the time of bringing in this power of reconciliation for the things on earth and things in heaven. But Christians do not wait for that day, they have been reconciled. You "now hath He reconciled," says the apostle, "in the body of His flesh through death." We are brought to God; not merely cleared from all charge, but according to the delight of His own holy nature. By means of the death of Christ the flesh, where sin acted, has been left behind for faith. Christ having gone through death, now lives before God in a new and glorious state where flesh has no place. Reconciliation, then, brings those, once alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works, to God according to that new state in which Christ now lives to Him.
Let us note here again that the apostle does not open out to the Colossians the spiritual blessings with which the saints are blessed in Christ as he does to the Ephesians; but insists on the present reconciliation, by death, of the person of the believer, in order to his being presented holy, unblameable, and irreproachable in His sight. But here an "if" is introduced, not to cast a doubt upon the reconciliation - there is no flaw there, for all has been effected according to Godhead fulness. Presentation in glory is now in question, and none of us have yet come to that moment. Hence there is the possibility that with some it may have been profession only, anon with joy receiving the word and having no root. It was the tendency which the apostle saw in the Colossians to be beguiled by the philosophic or religious elements of the world, which led him to warn them to abide in faith, and not to be moved away from the hope of the gospel, that is, as we have seen, Christ Himself in glory. The sense of our own nothingness, but of the fulness that there is in Christ, can alone keep us cleaving to Him with the ardent desire that He may present us in glory according to the reconciliation to the Godhead fulness which is ours in Him.
It is well to remember that a special feature in this epistle is, that Gentiles only are addressed. There are other epistles of Paul to Gentiles as that to the Romans, but in it the Jew is taken up as well as the Gentile, and it is shown that whatever distinction there might be as to outward privilege, before God there was no difference. Both were guilty before Him, and both are reckoned righteous on the principle of faith. In Ephesians also the Jew is regarded as outwardly near, and the Gentile far off, but both dead in sins, and both reconciled to God in one body by the cross. In our epistle the Gentile only is contemplated, and the gospel is shown to be worldwide - preached in the whole creation which is under heaven. The effect had been to deliver Gentiles from the darkness of heathendom, and to connect them immediately with a glorified Christ. They were not intermediately connected with a system of ordinances to regulate the flesh, for the Father had made them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, and they had been at once transferred into the kingdom of the Son of the Father's love. It was of such a gospel that Paul became minister, and there was a danger lest the Colossians should not abide grounded and settled in the faith of it. The flesh likes to be religious, and to try and take a half-way place between the grossness of natural darkness and the full reconciliation to God in the light, which has been accomplished for the believer in the body of Christ's flesh through death. The Jew was the man in whom the true worth of religious flesh had been manifested, and the apostle leaves him out of consideration, and thus the character of the gospel of which he was minister becomes more apparent.
Side by side with the ministry of the gospel which brought such a deliverance to an outcast Gentile, and made him an heir of glory with Christ, Paul had received another ministry - that of the assembly as the body of Christ. He develops the character of this ministry in a remarkable way. He was no longer preaching the gospel as he had been, but was a prisoner in bonds. In his active service in the gospel he had known much of the sufferings of Christ. In 2 Cor. 11:23-27, he details the sufferings he passed through as a minister of Christ. There were other sufferings of Christ which were left for His servant to fill up in his flesh - afflictions "for His body's sake, which is the Church." It was specially on behalf of Gentiles the apostle was suffering, therefore he says, I "now rejoice in my sufferings for you."
Let us seek to trace these afflictions of Christ which Paul was filling up in his flesh. In the active service of love, in the midst of Israel, the blessed Lord found sorrows as He felt for the misery which sin had brought upon them. And as he preached Jehovah's righteousness, and declared His faithfulness and salvation in the great congregation, not concealing His mercy and truth, He found the added sorrows of determined opposition from the people to whom He came in love. For His love they were His adversaries. Now Paul, as we have seen, had shared in his measure in these sufferings, finding in his own countrymen the bitterest opposition to the gospel of grace. But our Lord spoke to His disciples of other sufferings: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again." (Matt. 20:18-19.) Let it be noted that these are sufferings from the hand of man, and Paul was permitted to taste these afflictions also. He had gone to Jerusalem with alms and offerings for his nation; there the Jews laid hands upon him, and he also fell into the hands of the Gentiles, the Jews urging them to put him to death. In their hands he was then in bonds, and not in the active ministry of the gospel.
But further, rejected by Israel, the Lord had called His own sheep, and led them out of the Jewish fold into His own company. He then spoke of other sheep whom He must bring, that there might be one flock and one Shepherd. (John 10.) Marvellous ways of wisdom and love shine out in the finding of these Gentile sheep. As of old, Joseph, sent by his father to see after the welfare of his brethren, was sold to the Gentiles after his brethren had counseled to put him to death, and thus carried with him among the Gentiles the secret of the wisdom and power of God; so Christ, of whom Joseph was but a figure, in being delivered up to the Gentiles and by them crucified, found the door opened to Him by the determinate counsel of God, as well as by the act of His being put to death, to go among the Gentiles, and by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to find those other sheep which had been given to him of the Father.
Thus the counsels of the Father were fulfilled, that His Son in being rejected by Israel, the beloved nation, and so for the time having to give up as Messiah the people of His earthly glory and love, should have from among the Gentiles those who should be not merely part of His flock, but who should have part in the peculiar relationship to Himself of His body - and His body is the assembly. We thus see that there were peculiar sufferings through which Christ went in order to possess the church. We do not speak here of atonement, when His holy soul was made an offering for sin - that is the alone foundation for sinners to be brought into any relationship with Himself - but of giving up everything which belonged to Him as a living Messiah, on account of the hatred and rejection of His own, and tasting death in all that it was to Him as a perfect Man, crucified by Gentile dogs, in order that He might possess the church which He loved, and for which He gave Himself.
Now Paul, in a peculiar way, understood this love of Christ to the church. He was himself an Israelite, ardently loving his own nation, desiring their salvation, and willing, had it been possible, to be accursed for them. He too was suffering for his love to his nation, being, by their malice, in bonds among the Gentiles. In all this he was entering into the sufferings of Christ for the assembly, and through these afflictions he learned in a special way what a place it held in the affections of Christ as His body. He desired that the Colossians, as Gentiles, might understand this ministry, given to him for them, to complete the word of God. It is the revelation of the assembly's relation to Christ which completes the circle of glories which the Word unfolds as belonging to Him. Many of those glories had been revealed in promise and prophesy, but this had remained hidden in God, a mystery now made manifest to His saints. It will be found also that the making manifest the mystery not only completes the word in the sense of revealing all that God has counseled for the glory of Christ, but that it fills out all previous revelation, supplying to it, as the keystone to an arch, a fulness which had been hidden before - even as the church is the fulness of Him in whom all previous revelation has its fulfilment. We have only to take such a passage as Psalm 8:5-6and see the fulness given to it in Ephesians 1:22 - to understand this. Other passages might be adduced, as Isaiah 49:8, compared with 2 Corinthians 6:2, from which we learn that in the declaration of Christ - being heard in an accepted time, and succoured in a day of salvation (that is in resurrection), and then kept of Jehovah to be a covenant to Israel to establish the land and to cause to inherit the desolate heritages - was hidden the truth of the church being in the same acceptance and salvation as Christ Himself. Who could have known that the salvation and acceptance of Gentiles was contained in that verse until the revelation of the mystery? But what a wondrous place it gives the assembly as united to Christ, and it is the truth concerning this mystery which the Spirit here shows to be so important for the saints to know. God willed to make it known. He would make known the wealth of its glory amongst hitherto outcast Gentiles - the glory of the heavenly and exalted Man in whose Person all the fulness dwells; a glory of which the assembly is to be the vessel of display to eternal ages. As a living Messiah He would have been the glory of His people Israel upon earth (Luke 2:32), had they received Him. He will yet be so in an open manifested glory which will fill the earth, when all nations will call Him blessed, or rather, blessings; but the mystery, in its Colossian aspect, is that a heavenly and glorious Christ was among these; Gentile believers, not blessing them as men on earth, but in them - their life - a life therefore which belonged to heaven, as it was hidden there in Him. Christ was in them the hope of the glory revealed in the mystery. Nothing practically can exceed the importance of this aspect of the mystery (though it does not rise to the height of the truth concerning it unfolded in Ephesians, where the body is seen united to the Head in heaven), because the saints are here viewed as upon earth, though risen with Christ (Eph. 2), and there was a danger of their regarding themselves as alive in the world (Eph. 2:20). Now Paul wanted the saints to have this hope of glory before them. The fulness of the Person of Christ constituted its wealth, and this glorious Person he preached, "warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom," for he desired that Christ in glory might be the object of each. The wisdom with which he laboured was the result of the revelation of the purpose of God as to Christ, and the church as His body; and the end that he might present every man perfect in Christ. The mystery then is not only that the assembly is His body united to Him in heaven, the fulness of Him that fills all in all (Eph. 1:23); but conversely that His body is the assembly. (Col. 1:24.) The body of the heavenly Christ is the assembly upon earth. These are the two sides of the mystery. The assembly derives everything from the fulness of the Head; human wisdom or religion can add nothing to it, and the toil and conflict of the apostle as the energy of Christ wrought in him was that each saint might know and arrive at this perfection in Christ.
The apostle desires the Colossian believers to know how great the conflict was which he had, specially for those who, like themselves, had not seen his face in the flesh. Among these last we may take our place as those who have never had direct apostolic care. While he combated the efforts of the enemy to bring in among the saints something that was not simply Christ, he desired that their hearts might be cheered, being closely drawn together in love. Selfishness has no place in the mystery. Every saint is but an item of the whole - the body of Christ in which the new man is displayed by means of every member. This union in love would enable them to enter into all the wealth of the full assurance of understanding, into the full knowledge of the mystery of God. Whilst a babe in Christ has the unction by which he knows all things, and thus there is provision for the need of the weakest saint in the absence of direct apostolic care, yet we see here how full assurance of understanding is connected with the practical carrying out in love of the relationship to each other in which we are set as members of the body of Christ. As items in the assembly, we lose the sense of being individuals having to walk in the path marked out for each by the will of God, and find ourselves component parts of that body which is the object of Christ's love, and for which He gave Himself. We understand the headship of Christ, to the body, and the place which the assembly has in the vast plan of God for eternal glory, of which Christ its Head is the centre. In this vast plan, the mystery of God, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. It must be so if Christ is the centre, for He is the wisdom of God. In showing them that the deepest thoughts of God were hidden in the mystery, the apostle guards them from being deluded by the persuasive speech of those who would supplement Christ by elements of the world-elements which the fleshly mind would readily accept.
Let us recall here the two subjects which the apostle brings forward to prevent the Colossians, who were not really full-grown or established Christians, from being drawn aside by false teachers. First, the person of Christ in all His pre-eminence - in whom all the fulness was pleased to dwell. "Whom we preach," says Paul. Secondly, the special apostolic ministry committed to him for making known the mystery as that which completed the word of God. Here then is fulness which excludes all thought of any addition to it. The fulness in the person of Christ, and the fulness of the revelation by the word of God of all His thoughts and counsels in that person. What riches are possessed by the assembly in the intelligence of the mystery - "Christ in you." Paul's conflict was that they might have the full assurance of understanding as to it. He was absent in flesh, but with these Colossians in spirit, rejoicing and beholding their order. Let us pause here. The assembly is not a mere assemblage of believers. It is the body of Christ. It is the place where Christ is reproduced in the members of His body - "Christ in you"; and here it is that we need to be established so that there should be firmness of faith in Him. In John 14 the Lord speaks to His disciples of a day when He would be to them an object of faith, but when by the Spirit's power they would see Him. In that day they would know that He was in the Father, and, He adds, "Ye in me and I in you." When He was upon earth He added to the first clause (v. 10), "And the Father in Me." Now He is the object of faith, and no longer manifesting the Father here. Christ, who has gone to the Father, gives us to know our place in Him before the Father, and He is in us. The assembly as the body of Christ is the place where this great truth should be seen in its order.
We have spoken of the assembly as the place where the new order should be manifested. It is in all the saints that the new man is displayed. Now the Colossians were not instructed in the mystery, and hence the apostle's conflict for them; but there was this new order among them, they had received the Christ, Jesus the Lord. That is a great thing, for all else flows from it, so their walk should be in the power of what He is. It is not a walk such as might have been seen in a godly Jew, nor mere uprightness of character. Here everything is Christ; they had been rooted in Him, the building up was in Him, with assurance in the faith as they had been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Nor let us slight this admonition; the soul filled with the sense of who Christ is must necessarily give thanks. The sense of what is in the Father's heart to us calls forth the exhortation to give thanks in Colossians 1, and here it is what we have in Christ.
Thus seeking to establish them in Christ, Paul warns them against being carried off that firm ground, and against being made a prey by false teachers, who brought in the elements of that sphere where the first man's wisdom and traditions flourish. So, in later days, John warns young and unestablished Christians against seducing teachers, by urging that what they had heard from the beginning concerning Christ, through apostolic testimony, should abide in them. It is not enough for us to say "I have believed in Christ;" we must go on to know the Christ in whom we have believed. (2 Tim. 1:12.) Man and his world are not after Christ. There is another, a glorified Man now before God, and though only known spiritually, and not after the flesh, yet a real, veritable Man; in 1khom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily. What a marvellous and yet blessed truth. In eternal counsels the Son undertook to do the will of God in a body prepared for Him. That will has been accomplished on earth, and now we look up into heaven and see the blessed man there in whom all the Godhead fulness dwells. What can there be outside of Him? All the fulness is in Him, and we are filled full in Him. In Ephesians, the assembly is the fulness of Christ; but this fulness is derived from Him, for the saints are filled full in Him. That is what is taught us in this epistle, and though it is only the whole body into which the fulness of the Head could be filled, yet each individual member of that body is also complete in Him.
We have seen that the Colossian believers are not addressed as seated in the heavenly places in Christ. They were not, so to speak, at home in their souls in the sphere of God's purposed glory in Christ, those heavenly regions where Christ is already seated at God's right hand. Therefore the apostle thanks God, in Colossians 1, that there is a hope laid up for them in heaven; the Father's love, too, had made them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. He has been pressing upon them that they belonged to that sphere, though actually in this world. He laboured to present every man perfect in Christ. Now, though angelic beings are there, Christ is the One who fills that world of glory - the blessed Man who has reconciled us by death, so that morally we are no longer of man's world, but belong to that scene where Christ is everything. The work done to bring us there was according to the Godhead fulness which dwells in Him, and now He is there, in whom that fulness dwells. We, as men, were made a little lower than the angels, and He, in grace, took this place, but we look up and see a Man, who is the head of all angelic rule and authority. We cannot derive anything from angels, exalted beings as they are, for we are complete in Him who is their Head. We are complete in Him before God - belonging to heaven - and those in whom, as being the fulness of the glorified man, His body, He will be eternally displayed.
But more, it is in Him, and in Him only, that we have that which separates us from earth and attaches us to heaven, otherwise it would be a hopeless struggle to be heavenly. Circumcision as an ordinance was but an element of the world. In its reality in Christ it is morally, and for faith, the putting off the body of the flesh, in which man lives in the scene around us called the world. As a sign, it separated a people from all others to God, as the seal of faith, and appropriated them for His promised blessing. The reality of our separation from the world of flesh to the heavenly purpose of God has been effected in the cutting off of Christ upon the cross; that is where by circumcision, made without hands, the putting off the body of the flesh, is realized. Man, according to the flesh, is set aside in the death of Christ. If we turn to the figure (Gen. 17), circumcision came in with the promise of Isaac, and Abraham fell on his face and laughed in believing joy, and then the self-same day was circumcised and all his house. Here it is the person of Christ, no longer a promise, but known in glory, in us as life, the hope of glory, and we complete in Him, which the apostle brings before us, and then shows us the putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ, so that the hindrance to our enjoying Him as a heavenly Christ is removed. Gilgal experience (Joshua 4:2-9) is not Marah (bitter) experience. (Ex. 15:23.) At Marah, the tree (that is the cross) sweetened the bitter waters, which made the flesh murmur, by being put into them. At Gilgal, we realize having done with the flesh and the world where the flesh found its gratification - the reproach of Egypt rolled away - so that we are free to eat the food of Canaan, for us a heavenly Christ. With Abraham holy laughter and circumcision were in the self-same day. May we so know Christ and our being complete in Him, that we may have the sense that the "putting off" only sets us free to enjoy Himself.
Having shown that the Colossians had the reality, which always goes farther than the figure, of the Jewish ordinance, he turns to the Christian ordinance of baptism to show that in it they were dead, buried, and gone out of the place of subjection to ordinances. He does not, as in Romans, enter into the bearing of what was professed in it - having part in Christ's death - but goes on from that point: "Having been buried with Him in baptism." He does this in order to show what the real place of Christians is, as having "faith in the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead." The Colossians are addressed as holy and faithful brethren; the outcome of baptism for such was that they had been co-raised with Him. Christ had gone into death and been raised out of it, and thus a new state for man had been made known in Him, a risen man out of death. We are not actually in this resurrection state, but as having faith in the operation of God who raised Him, we are for faith co-raised with Him. Baptism then is introduced in Colossians not merely to show the bearing of the death of Christ upon our old state, but as the door through which, by faith in God's operation, we are in association with Him who is in a new and resurrection state. In Romans it is connected with "justification from sin." Justification frees me. Here it is connected with "complete in Him," and it is administratively the way out of the old through faith into the new state which in its nature belongs to heaven. Therefore the apostle adds, "And you, being dead in offences and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him." The resurrection state had been revealed in Christ during the forty days He was seen of the disciples - a state which belonged to heaven though He was still upon earth. The whole state and status of man in the flesh had been left behind in death. Faith entered into what was revealed in Him; for death in all its overwhelming power over man had been annulled, and life and incorruptibility had been brought to light in Him who was quickened out of death. None could follow Him until He had gone through death; now by faith we can, for the enemy is as still as a stone. We are quickened together with Him. Here the real condition of the Colossians before the gospel came to them is laid bare. In their souls they were utterly dead towards God in offences, and with no outward seemliness of religion in the flesh; but God had made theirs alive with Christ; they were quickened in their souls after His order, and this involves the quickening of the body so that they might bear the image of the heavenly.
But quickened together with Christ is new creation, not merely a resurrection status brought to us while on earth. It is the sovereign act of God in view of His own counsels in connection with the second Man in glory,
though the Colossians only had the glory in hope. In Ephesians the mighty power of God for the accomplishment of His counsels is seen in raising Christ out of death and seating Him at His own right hand, and His work is looked at in its entirety as quickening dead sinners together with Christ, raising them, and making them sit in the heavenlies in Him. Thus "raising here is after "quickening," and is in connection with being made to sit in the heavenly places. In Colossians "raised with Him" comes before quickening is spoken of. It is the status of one upon earth entered upon (as having been buried in baptism), through faith in God's operation in raising Christ. The believer has been brought to Christ's side of death, and the God of grace has quickened him together with Christ so that he may live in the order of Him who has been raised out of death. Consequently his living associations are where Christ is. Christ is his life, the past state of death in sins is behind, all the offences being freely forgiven.
Then the system of ordinances to which the Jews had set their hand, and being in force against them, so far from helping them, is declared to be actually hostile to them - it was but the proof of their guilt. (Rom. 3.) Their obligation to it had been cancelled. God had taken it out of the way by affixing it to the cross. Christendom, by baptismal and confirmation vows, is setting its hand afresh to that which God has taken out of the way by the cross, and in which the obligation was discharged. Besides the hostility of the legal system, there were the spiritual powers of evil, for there is the opposition of these authorities of the darkness of this world. Now all this power of evil had come against Christ, not only privately, as in the temptation in the wilderness, but publicly on the cross. There the question between God and Satan was settled, and in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them. The power of the enemy, which would prevent the saints from entering into the purposes of God, has been led in triumph in the cross. It has there been rolled back as Jordan of old, so that no hostile powers are seen, and the fullest deliverance is known in association with Christ. The ascension of Christ, and the full result in the saints being seated in the heavenlies in Him, is not developed, but what has been effected in His cross, so that we are in company with Him, and not in the presence of the power of the enemy. The way into the heavenly places then has been opened, and the power of the enemy laid low. Quickened together with Christ, and cut off from the world and its elements, they belonged to an entirely new order of things. No one had a right to question them as to observances, which were only a shadow of things to come. They are called "things to come" because this new order is not actually set up, but the substance of all that was shadowed is "of Christ." It does not say that the body or substance is Christ, but "of Christ." Christ is not merely the fulfilment of a shadow, for the substance of all that was shadowed had its origin as well as fulfilment in Him; and so it is written, "Jehovah possessed me not "in," but] the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting." He is the Alpha and Omega of the ways of God. In the new order of things, both in earth and heaven, everything morally is of Him, even as He made it, and it will be filled with His fulness. Now they were filled full in this blessed Person; they too derived everything from Him. He and all that is of Him was their prize. Would they be robbed of this by any one who of his own will took lower ground in apparent humility, worshipping angels, which was really an intrusion into unseen things, when Christ Himself was the image of the invisible God. Such an one was vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh, and was not holding the Head, from whom believers derived everything, as His body. It is this truth of the body deriving from the Head which enables us to understand the only organization in the assembly which is of God; and as we individually are holding the Head, we act upon it. The life of the Head is in each member of the body; and every member is necessary, for the whole body is ministered to and united together by the various joints and bands. It receives the supply of grace from the Head through all the members. Only thus does it increase with the increase of God. We thus see that the gathering together of the assembly is on the ground of the body, and that through all the members there is the communication of the grace which flows from the Head for the increase of the body.
The apostle has shown the position into which believers are brought through having Christ as their life. This being so, His having been put to death in flesh, raised by the operation of God, and now living to God after a new order, must necessarily put them morally and before God outside of all that which He is outside of the whole system of things moral and religious in which man naturally lives. It must also connect them with another system which is according to God, and which derives everything from Christ as Head. He is Head in virtue of the glory of His person, the One in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily, the second Man now in a resurrection and glorified state. Believers on earth are His body, which grows with divine increase, as ministered to and nourished from the Head. He now shows, in verse 20, the inconsistency on their part of subjecting themselves to ordinances that belonged to the old system which had come to an end in the cross and death of Christ. Having Him as life, they had died with Him from the rudiments of the world. If it be so, how could they be morally alive in it so as to be prescribed to by men as to corruptible things which perished in the using? It was allowing that the life in Christ risen could be connected with things that perish. Having Him as life, they had died with Him to the system of ordinances. To submit to them might have the repute of wisdom, but it was not subjection to Him from whom all fulness of life and blessing flowed. It was a self-imposed worship of beings, into whose ranks they had no right to intrude, together with apparent humility and austerity towards the body which should receive honour as belonging to God who made it. It filled the flesh with satisfaction.
We have had the glory of the person of Christ before us (Col. 1:15-19); the reconciliation He has effected, in virtue of which all things in heaven and earth will be brought back to the fulness which is in Him, and by which we are now brought to God through His death. (Col. 1:20-21.) His headship of the body (Col. 1:18), and the saints complete in Him; the blessed Man in glory, in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Col. 2:10); also their deliverance by His death and resurrection from the present system of this world. Christ too was in them, the hope of glory. This carried them in hope to the moment when everything in earth and heaven will be filled with the power and presence of Christ. This waits for His manifestation, when the saints will be manifested in glory with Him, but He is already sitting at the right hand of God. Every glory for earth or heaven is of Him, and all now is gathered up where He is. It is from thence that Christ will come forth in power to make good every purpose of God. The first act of the power which will subdue all things to Himself, will be to change our bodies of humiliation and fashion them like His body of glory. Out of heaven He comes as Saviour to fashion in resurrection glory a people for the heavens. Moreover, in order to Jehovah's name being excellent in all the earth, His glory has been set above the heavens - there Christ is sitting. The groaning creation also waits for the manifestation of the sons of God in order to be delivered from the bondage of corruption. It is from thence the Redeemer will come to Zion and turn away ungodliness from Jacob. The Stone set at nought by the builders has become the head of the corner. He will yet be acknowledged in the place of exaltation, and as coming forth from thence it will be said, "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord." It will be as when Moses and Aaron came forth from the tabernacle and blessed the people. (Leviticus 9:23.) But we know Him now while He is inside. He is there as having glorified God and the Father upon earth. All things are now put into His hands, and He will yet accomplish all the counsels of God from that place of power and glory. Do we then wonder at being exhorted to seek the things above where Christ is sitting? This exhortation is founded on the teaching of chapter 2:12. For those who are risen with Christ, the "things upon earth" are the "things behind." (Phil. 3:13.) Dead with Him, our proper life is in that sphere where Christ lives to God. He is our life, and necessarily our life must be where He is - a hidden life of which the world knows nothing.
The apostle further says, "Have your mind on things above." We are not merely to seek them, but as associated with Christ, and He being our life, they can be the home of our mind and affections. Would to God we all knew more of this while not actually in them. How it would magnify the precious Saviour who has opened the way through death for us to make His things the objects of our desire, and the home of our thoughts and mind. It is only in this way that we become acquainted with them. If we look at the things upon earth, though created good, they are now morally characterized by what is of the first man. The things above are characterised by Him who not only created them, but has taken His place in them as Man, all the fulness dwelling in Him bodily. Once He came into the midst of the things upon earth, and there was not a consequence of sin which He did not meet even to death itself. "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." (Matt. 11:5.) It might have been as the days of heaven upon earth had they not been offended in Him. Rejected from the earth, He has died, and is now sitting at God's right hand, and there, in the place of glory and power, every blessing and honour and glory which centres in Him, whether for heaven or earth, is now gathered up awaiting the day of His manifestation.
"Ye are dead," says the apostle, for so the Spirit of God regards the believer according to the teaching of chapter 2, "and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." The contrast here is between the hidden place of our life now, and the manifestation in glory when - all that is of Christ, our life, will shine forth in us, as we actually come forth with Him from the midst of the things above, which now we seek and have our mind and affections in them. It is in the power of this hidden life that we can mortify our members upon earth. There is corruption in the world through lust - corruption which will bring the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Once the Colossians lived in the things of this corruption, and walked in them. Now their life and affections were in another scene, and they are called upon to mortify the members upon earth. Then there is behaviour in word and work which arises from the violent passions of men. This is to be put off also, and falsehood is to have no place with those who as saints have put off the old man with his deeds. Let us note here that it is not a mere question of right and wrong which is involved. We often like to raise this question, and so retain the old man. But as associated with Christ, and having Him as our life, the old man with his deeds has been put off, and the new man has been put on. It is a new subjective state which has been brought in by the resurrection of Christ, the old man having been set aside in His death. Adam, who was made in the image of God, by reaching up to be as God, fell, and acquired the knowledge of good and evil, but not the knowledge of God, or what was suited to God. But the new man is renewed unto full knowledge, after the image of Him that created him, that is, after Christ. In Him every question of good and evil as it is before God has been solved, so that every thing can be known in a new and divine way. All is known according to Christ, He being the image after which the new man is created.
Here then all the distinctions of race, creed, or station, which obtained with the old man, are unknown, for Christ is everything. In the new man, brought in by resurrection, all is renewed according to His image. Christ, too, is in every one, as the life in a power by which all His traits are developed in the saints. Consequently the Colossians are exhorted "as the elect of God, holy and beloved." That is how Christ is spoken of. He is God's Elect (Isaiah 42:1), the Holy (Psalm 89:19) and Beloved One. (Matthew 3:17.) Such is the character of the Christian as having put on Christ, and as such he is to put on all those traits of the new man, which are of Him - compassions, graciousness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance of one another; forgiving each other, if there be any cause of complaint, Christ being the pattern after which it is to be done: "As Christ forgave you," freely and graciously, "so also do ye." Then love is to be put on as that in which all these qualities are united together in a perfectness which flows from God's own blessed nature. These traits of Christ come out in men, for they belong to the new man; but it is the divine nature, love, which links all together in a perfection which is according to that nature. Thus we read, in 1 John 4:12, "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us." The peace of Christ is to preside in our hearts. No doubt it is divine, the peace of God; but as it was seen in Christ, the peace in which He ever dwelt, and in which He moved amidst every circumstance that tended to try the spirit. A very man, He ever dwelt in the repose of His Father's love. He was never "moved to haste" by the oppositions of men, nor by the want of understanding, and the unbelief of His own. At the moment of His rejection He could say, "I thank Thee, Father," and invite any weary heart to come and share the repose of His meek and lowly heart. We have been called to this peace of Christ in one body; for it is in the peaceful affections of Christ with which saints walk towards each other, that the unity to which they have been called for the manifestation of Christ in them is displayed. So far from there being elements of disturbance, we thus become those who are grateful, and full of thanksgiving in the sense of the favour of the God of peace and love.
In addition the apostle adds, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." It is here called the word of Christ because it is the word by which we acquire the knowledge, and are formed in the habits, tastes, and affections of the new man. The word of Christ is thus the revelation to us of what He is, for it is after His image that the new man is created; and dwelling in us richly, it produces communion in the inner life of the soul with all that is revealed of Christ in the word. "In all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another." We may here refer to chapter 1:28 for this same expression, "in all wisdom." It is how Paul admonished and taught. We know that Christ is the wisdom of God, and He is made to us wisdom. (1 Cor. 1:24, 30.) The word of Christ, revealing Him as the centre of all the counsels and glory of God, gives us the knowledge of a wisdom hidden indeed from this world, but ordained before the world for our glory. As entering into these unseen things of wisdom, we are to teach and admonish one another, that so we may help in forming each other after the image of Christ. Another effect of the word of Christ dwelling in us will be the heart expressing itself with grace to the Lord in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.
Colossians 3:17 - 4.
The seventeenth verse is a verse of liberty to us as having put on the new man where Christ is everything - liberty, if the heart is a place
Christ is heard to speak,
Do all things "in the name of the Lord Jesus." Not only is Christ everything, but in everyone. Thus He becomes the spring and motive of our words and actions. In John 16:23, 28 the Lord seeks to carry the hearts of His disciples to the Father with whom the name of the Son is everything. It is there with the Father that we learn the power and value of that name. We learn to appreciate it as being dear to the Father. We ask of the Father in that name because it is the centre around which all the Father's glory circles. Thus we learn its value and the privilege of doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him. The day is coming when every knee will have to bow to that name, but before the dawning of that day, if we understand the Father's thoughts about it, and how He delights to glorify it, it will be our joy and privilege, in some little measure, to let our actions and words tell that the Father has taught us to appreciate it, and we shall give "thanks to God and the Father by Him."
In the exhortations which follow, the apostle takes lower ground than in those addressed to the Ephesians. There, in dwelling upon the relationship of husband and wife, the conduct of each toward the other is to be the reflection of what the church is to Christ, and Christ to the church. It is well for us to remember that the great mystery of Christ and the church was ever in the counsel of God, and that the relationship of husband and wife was originally formed according to this great thought of His mind. Adam was the figure of Him that was to come, and in the formation of Eve and the bringing her to Adam we have the foreshadowing of the great mystery in the mind of God. In our epistle the conduct of the wife, as subject to the husband, is put upon the ground of what is proper and becoming in the Lord, whose name was the watchword for everything. Husbands are told to love their wives, and not to be bitter against them. This latter is in contrast to Adam. Love would shelter and take the blame for a wife rather than let a bitter spirit lay the blame upon her. "She gave me of the tree," said Adam, "and I did eat." This is the deed of the old man, the new man is renewed after the image of Christ, and He loved the church and gave Himself for it.
Children are to obey their parents in all things. The case is not supposed of a child, if need so arise, having to obey God rather than man. Here it is the principle of unhesitating submission to the authority of parents, an authority which is of God, and to be recognized as well pleasing in the Lord. In Ephesians the righteousness of the obedience is brought forward - here its moral beauty and good pleasure. Fathers are to be no hindrance to the development of this beautiful characteristic in their children by provoking or irritating them.
Again we see the principle of obedience to be exhibited by servants, or rather slaves, or bondservants. They are to obey in all things. According to the flesh they had masters, and there might be the temptation to please man outwardly; but the fear of God would lead them to recognise another Master, even the Lord. They would thus serve their earthly masters in simplicity of heart, doing everything, as we say, "with heart and soul," in the consciousness that they would receive from the Lord whom they served the reward of the inheritance.* But the wrong doer, be he who he may, would receive back again his wrong doing. Masters were therefore to be just to their slaves, as those having a Master in heaven. It will be noticed that those relationships are enlarged upon here, in which the principle of subjection and obedience is the prominent feature. The moral beauty of the new man can be shown in these relationships (even the one where man, once made in the image and likeness of God, has fallen to the position of a slave) in direct contrast to the self-will and disobedience which characterise the old man.
*With regard to slaves, it is interesting to see that both in eating the passover (Ex. 13:44), or the food that belonged to the priestly household (Lev. 22:11), while no foreigner or hired servant might eat of either, the servant bought with money, i.e. a slave, might eat of both. He shared in the portion of the household. We are now bought with a price, and are, though once foreigners, of the household of God.
The apostle does not speak to them of the conflict with the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places, and exhort them to take the whole armour of God. They were not consciously on the ground which has to be maintained in such a conflict, but he exhorts them to perseverance in prayer, and to watch in the same with thanksgiving. This last admonition shows that it is to be the habit of the soul, not occasional - a habit which brings our souls to have to do with God continually. It is an immense thing to be conscious that we have the privilege of going to Him about everything, and more especially about the interests of our Lord Jesus Christ and those that are His. This is a privilege to be enjoyed by all. Some may not be able to teach or preach. Some of us too. may not be consciously on the ground where we need to take the whole armour of God so as to stand on the battle-field as the Lord's host; but the apostle's desire for the prayers of the Colossians, that a door of utterance might be opened to him for making manifest the mystery of the gospel, shews us that they could use this privilege of persevering prayer on behalf of one who was in the forefront of a conflict where human energy had no place. Prayer would bring in the power of God, and as the extent of the privilege is known, so will it be in thanksgiving. May the Lord give us to persevere in prayer and watchfulness.
Besides this inner circle of the interest of Christ, there are those without. They were to walk in wisdom towards them. This was to be their general bearing, but they were to seize any opportunity (which is the true sense of "redeeming the time") which might be given them, through circumstances or otherwise, in order to use it on Christ's behalf towards those still characterized as "without"; but always the speech is to be with grace, yet not grace in laxity, but seasoned with an inward preserving power (for we are to have salt in ourselves, Mark 9:50) which will keep us from being affected by the evil around, and enable us by an inward consciousness to answer every man graciously and holily.
Though the apostle was personally unknown to the Colossians, yet he counts upon their love to him, and their interest in his welfare, so that they would desire to know as to it. Tychicus would declare it to them, and at the same time he would learn about their estate, and encourage their hearts. It is sweet to trace this love in the Spirit between the apostle and those he had never yet seen, and the intimate affections which flow from a common identification with the interests of Christ. Some whom the apostle mentions were probably unknown as yet to the Colossians, but they were fellow-workers with the apostle unto the kingdom of God.
Epaphras on the contrary was one of them, and knowing them well, laboured fervently for them in prayer - a blessed service - that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. If we look back to Col. 1:9 we see how these prayers of Epaphras accord with the apostle's own desire for them; and these passages indicate to us how deeply both these servants of Christ desired that the saints might both know and stand complete in the knowledge of the full range of the will and pleasure of God, in which the mystery has such a wonderful and pre-eminent place.
We now come to the interesting connection of this assembly with that of Laodicea, and the bearing of the truth of this epistle on those who at that time were apparently gathered together there in the house of Nymphas. The desire of the apostle, that when this epistle had been read among the saints at Colosse, they should cause it to be read also in the assembly at Laodicea, shows us that this inspired charge was a provision of the Spirit of God to meet the need of both assemblies. Later on (Rev. 3:14-22) the Spirit records Christ's judgment of the state of the Laodicean assembly. It was heartless as to Christ, self-satisfied, while it derived nothing froth Him, for He was outside of it. Such was the rapid development of evil. The truth brought out in this epistle as to the fulness of the Head, and the saints complete in Him, together with the knowledge of that side of the mystery which constitutes the wealth of its glory among the Gentiles, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," is that which the Spirit has given to preserve the saints from falling into the Laodicean state. This state is rapidly advancing. On all hands the glory of man is sought, the name of Christ is not given up in actual apostasy, but it is only used with many to advance the selfishness and pride of the first man. No glory can there be for the saints but that of which Christ is the hope. Christ in us as life, and thus all derived from Him, will alone keep us in touch with that hope. The truth of this epistle is that the saints are complete in Christ, the old man put off, not embellished and glorified, and that Christ is everything. The gospel began with the memorial of a woman's appreciation of a Saviour who died out of this world. The story of this appreciation was to go out with the glad tidings of Christ. (Matt. 26:13.) It is the last phase of a fallen church, that, without giving up His name, there is complete indifference to Himself, and to the fulness that is in Him.
The Colossians were also to read an epistle to be passed on to them from Laodicea. What this epistle was we are not told. As it does not say an epistle to the Laodiceans, but one they would receive from Laodicea, it might have been one of Paul's epistles which we have, though the name is not given, sent to the Laodiceans to read, and then to be passed on to the Colossians. If it were one which has not been preserved to us, then we know it was one written specially for that time, but not given by the Spirit for the church generally in all ages.
In closing these remarks the writer would earnestly press on every reader the necessity at the present moment of being grounded in the truth of this epistle, in order to be preserved from the snares both of ritualism and rationalism - a system of ordinances on the one hand, and of philosophy and vain deceit on the other. We have been cut off from everything of the flesh by the death of Christ. He is our life; no glory for us here; for we look to appear with Him in glory. Meanwhile the new man has been put on, that the saints collectively may express Christ according to the full knowledge into which they have been renewed. T. H. R.