Paul an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
The assertion of St. Paul that the afflictions of the faithful “work together for good” is verified by constant experience (Romans 8:28; Psalms 119:71). As roses, the sweetest and fairest flowers, grow on a thorny stock, so from the piercing afflictions of the believer spring sweet and salutary examples. The imprisonment of St. Paul has done the Church more good than the prosperity of the rest of the faithful of that age.
I. The inscription of the Epistle. We now inscribe letters with the names of those to whom we write at the beginning, and our own names at the end. Formerly it was the custom to put both at the head as here.
1. The writers. Paul--
(1) an apostle, signifying one sent, but in the New Testament more particularly those sent by Christ with sovereign and independent authority to preach tile gospel and establish the Church. To exercise this office it was necessary--
(a) to have seen Christ alive after His death;
(b) to have received the commission direct from Christ;
(c) to enjoy an extraordinary measure of the Holy Spirit for miracles and preaching. Whence it appears how illogical they are that attribute the glory of apostleship to the Pope, who possesses none of these qualifications.
(2) “By the will of God”--distinguishing him from false apostles and necessary--
(a) to maintain his honour against the calumnies of seducers, who alleged that he had not lived in Christ’s day;
(b) to establish his liberty to write to the Colossians and prove to them their duty.
(3) To his own name Paul adds that of Timothy “our brother,” as having the same faith, and labouring in the same work.
2. The readers.
(1) Saints. You cannot be Christians unless you are saints. The body of Christ is too vital and precious to have dead members.
(2) Faithful. Another mark of the true Christian, and taken from that faith which they give to the gospel of the Lord.
(3) Brethren signifies the holy communion they had with believers of whatever rank, as begotten of the same Father--God; born of the same mother, the heavenly Jerusalem; all partaking of the same Divine nature, nursed in the same family, nurtured in the same hopes, destined to the same inheritance.
(4) In Christ, because of Him, and by Him, and in Him we have this sanctity, faith, and fraternity.
(5) Paul wishes them, according to his custom, “grace”--the favour of God, and His saving gifts, and Divine assistance; “peace” with God and men, a word which signifies all kinds of welfare and prosperity; “from God our Father” as the source, and the Lord Jesus Christ as the channel.
II. The congratulation (verses 3-5).
1. The thanks-giving is for--
(1) the faith of the Colossians;
(2) their love;
(3) their prospects:
three particulars which comprise all human felicity. The part which Paul takes in their happiness, teaches us to interest ourselves in the affairs of our brethren, and rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep--not, as many of the world, the reverse. And the joy that we have in the good of others should be elevated to God its only source.
2. It is not enough to render thanks for our brethren, we must pray for them. Under the Old Testament the Divine appellation was “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the patriarchs with whom He contracted the old covenant, and to whom He promised the new; under the New, “The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” by whom He has abolished the old covenant and accomplished the new.
3. The true matter of our rejoicings for others is not that God has given them health, riches, fame, etc., but faith and love, which comprise the whole kingdom of God, the one its beginning, the other its accomplishment, and are inseparable the one from the other, the one being the root, the other the fruit of Christian virtue.
4. But considering the worldly condition of these believers, there seemed no great cause to congratulate them on their faith and love, for they drew affliction on them. The apostle therefore turns his eye of faith towards the future, and the blessed inheritance is as certified as though it were already in their hands. A good man’s promise is as good as its fulfilment, much more God’s. Being in heaven, the Christian’s treasure can neither be stolen nor soiled.
5. This sublime hope is derived from the truth of the gospel. So sublime is it that neither sense nor reason, nor the light of the law could have discovered it (2 Timothy 1:10). (J. Daille.)
The writer and the readers
I. The blending of lowliness and authority in Paul’s designation of himself. He does not always bring his apostolic authority to mind in his letters. In his earliest, to the Thessalonians, he has not yet adopted the practice. In Philippians he has no need, for it was not gainsaid. In Philemon friendship is uppermost, and he will not command as an “apostle,” but pleads as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus.” In the rest he puts it in the foreground, as here.
1. He claims the apostolate in the highest sense of the word--equality with the original apostles, the chosen witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, for he, too, had seen the Lord, and his whole ministry was built upon the fact.
2. “Through the will of God” is at once an assertion of Divine authority and of independence, and also a lowly disclaimer of individual merit and power.
3. His gracious humility is seen in his association of his young brother Timothy, who has no apostolic authority, but whose concurrence in his teaching might give it some additional weight; but in the fiery sweep of his thoughts, Timothy is soon left out of sight and Paul alone pours out the wealth of his wisdom and the warmth of his heart.
II. The noble ideal of the Christian character set forth in the designations of the Colossian Church. In his earlier letters the address is to “the Church,” but in his latter, beginning with Romans, and including Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, he drops the word, and uses expressions which regard individuals rather than the community. This did not arise from any lower estimate of “the Church,” but advancing years and familiarity with his work, his position, and his auditors, all tended to draw him closer to them, and led to the disuse of the formal and official term in favour of the simpler and more affectionate “brethren.”
1. Saints--a word wofully misapplied. The Church has given it as a special honour to a few, and decorated with it the possessors of a false ideal of sanctity--that of the ascetic sort. The world has used it with a sarcastic intonation as if it implied loud professions and small performance, not without a touch of hypocrisy. Saints are not people living in cloisters, but men and women immersed in the vulgar work of every day life.
(1) The root idea of the word is not moral purity, but separation to God. Consecration to Him is the root from which the white flower of purity springs. We cannot make ourselves pure, but we can yield ourselves to God, and the purity will come.
(2) We have also the idea of the solemn obligation on all so-called Christians to devote themselves to Him. We are not bound to this as Christians; we are not Christians unless we consecrate ourselves. So the term does not belong to an eminent sort of Christians.
(3) The one motive which will lead us to bow our necks to the easy yoke, and come out of the misery of self pleasing into the peace of serving God, is drawn from the great love of Christ who devoted Himself, and bought us for tits own, by giving Himself to be ours. And if drawn by this we give ourselves to God, He gives Himself to us. “I am thine” has ever for its chord which completes the fulness of its music “Thou art Mine.” And so “saint” is a name of dignity.
(4) There is implied in it, too, safety. If I belong to God then I am sale from the touch of evil and the taint of decay.
2. Faithful--trustworthy--true to the stewardship or trusting; probably the latter, because faith underlies consecration, and weaves the bond which unites men in the brotherhood, for it brings all who share it into a common relation to the Father. And then he who is believing will be faithful in the sense of being worthy of confidence, and true to his duty, his profession, and his Lord.
(1) That strong new bond of union among men the most unlike, was a strange phenomenon when the Roman world was falling to pieces, and men might well wonder as they saw the hearts of master and slave, Greek and barbarian, Jew and Gentile, fused into one glow of unselfish love.
(2) But the word points not merely to Christian love, but to the common possession of a new life. It leads straight to the doctrine of regeneration, and proclaims that through faith in Christ men are made children of the highest, and therefore brethren. “To as many as received Him,” etc.
4. In Christ: saints, believers, brethren, are in Him as living things are in the atmosphere, the branch in the vine, members in the body, inhabitants in a house, hearts that love in hearts that love, parts in a whole.
III. The apostolic wish which sets forth the high ideal to be desired for churches and individuals. “And the Lord Jesus Christ” should be omitted. Perhaps the word “brethren” was lingering in Paul’s mind, and so instinctively he stopped with the kindred word “Father.”
1. Grace and peace blend the Western and Eastern forms of salutation, and surpass both. All that the Greek meant by his “grace” and the Hebrew by his “peace,” the ideally happy condition which differing nations have placed in different blessings, and all loving words have wished for dear ones, is secured and conveyed to every one who trusts in Christ.
2. Grace means--
(1) Love in exercise to those who are below the lover;
(2) the gifts which such love bestows;
(3) the effects of these gifts in the beauties of character and conduct developed in the receivers.
So here first the gentleness of the Father, next the outcome of that love which never visits the soul empty-handed, and as the result every beauty of mind, heart, and temper. “Of His fulness we have received grace for grace.”
3. Peace comes after grace. For tranquillity of soul we must go to God, and He gives it by giving us His love and its gifts. There must be first peace with God that there may be peace from God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The apostolic salutation
Pondering this we ask three questions.
I. What it reveals about the apostle.
1. His dignity: “An apostle by the will of God.” a title--
(1) Directly derived from God.
(2) Abundantly justified--
(a) by supernatural visions and experiences;
(b) by seals of success.
(3) Employed here--
(a) Because he was dealing with erroneous teaching, and so needed a claim of authority.
(b) He was personally an entire stranger to the Colossians.
(c) He writes from prison, and it was well that he should remind himself and them of his dignity. He was a prisoner, but he was none the less an apostle.
2. His condescension: “Timotheus our brother.” He was no fellow-apostle, yet his brother; his boyish convert, yet his brother. Great souls never patronize; they elevate men of whatever station or age into brotherhood with them. The Greatest is not ashamed to call us brethren.
II. What it implies about the Church. It recalls to us--
1. Its locality and associations. One of the historic Churches in the valley of the Lycus. The town had been famous, but its glory was waning. Xerxes and Cyrus had made it famous, bat Paul’s letter has made its name known where Xerxes and Cyrus have never been heard of.
2. Its character, which ought to be that of every Church.
(1) “Saints.” The Old Testament description of Israel applied to Christians to indicate union to God and consecration.
(2) “Faithful brethren,” indicating union to each other. All freemasonries, guilds, etc., are but hints of what the Church was meant to be.
III. What it suggests about true blessedness.
1. “Grace” is a Greek thought Christianized. It takes the conception of grace of form, gesture, tone into the spiritual realm. To Paul it has two meanings.
(1) It is to be enjoyed as the attitude of God in Christ towards men. It is thus the Divine pity, gentleness, favour; the bearing of a forgiving, condescending, loving God.
(2) It is to be possessed as the spirit of a Christian. It is thus “the grace of life,” moral beauty, spiritual loveliness. It is the indwelling in human character of more than all that the Greeks conceived in their “three graces.”
2. “Peace,” which may include--
(1) Freedom from persecution--a great desideratum.
(2) Absence of internal dissension--one main purpose of the letter.
(3) Inward calm of heart, and quiet confidence in God--ideal peace, Christ’s peace. The wish of Paul is the gift of Jesus. (U. R. Thomas.)
I. The superscription.
1. The writer.
(1) His Gentile name, kindred in form and pronunciation to his Hebrew name, was that of an honoured family in Rome. His use of it is evidence.of his desire to keep before himself and others the relationship of Jesus to Gentiles, and to show that He was no respecter of persons who gave Himself a ransom for all.
(2) His office--messenger of Jesus Christ; not (2 Corinthians 8:23) of the Churches. The expression implies that Christ has a message for universal man, “Go ye into all the world,” a message of good news.
(3) His Divine authority, “By the will of God,” stated to shield himself from the charge that he was running unsent. The best are sometimes misunderstood, mistrusted, and suspected. Although many have no special call, yet all can do something after the manner of a humble herald to diffuse the glad tidings, and as we have opportunity so responsibility is laid upon us to be up and doing.
2. Paul associates with himself Timotheus the brother, or brother Timothy, not his own in particular, nor theirs, but the Church’s universally. The disciples of Jesus are a brotherhood, and every individual should be animated in relation to all the rest with the feelings of a brother or a sister.
3. The parties addressed were--
(1) In his judgment of charity, true saints--a fine word meaning “holy ones,” and yet it has been pelted for ages with moral mire. No wonder, for it has been assumed by pretenders, and claimed by people because they lived in cells or wore a certain garb. Unholy men, occupying a certain official position, have been and are obsequiously addressed as “Your Holiness.” Saintliness is not a thing of profession but practice, and springs out of that pure heart which sees God.
(2) Faithful brethren in Christ. That was the secret of all their excellencies. We do not say of any one that he is in Luther or Calvin, Paul, David, or Isaiah--but “in Christ.” We may be in love, peace, joy; and in some kindred way we may be in Christ, even as we live, move, and have our being in Him. Conversely, Christ is in us, when He is the object of the faith that is in us. We never fully comprehend Him; but He comprehends us as members are comprehended in the body and branches in the tree.
II. The salutation.
1. A cordial greeting of this kind was common with the apostle. It was no formality or empty inflation. He really felt most kindly towards the Colossians, and hence, with beautiful Christian gentlemanliness, he no sooner names them than he hastens to set them entirely at ease, by letting them feel his cordial friendliness.
2. The salutation is not a supplication, but rather a benediction. In the former we address God, in the latter man.
3. It is twofold--Greek and Hebrew, being a message to both peoples.
(1) The word “grace,” though not that which the Greeks employed in their salutation, is intimately related to it. When Greek met Greek politely, they mutually said, “Joy to thee.” The apostle slightly modifies the ordinary Greek phraseology, and lays hold of a word which directs attention to the Divine source of joy. The English “grace,” as is obvious from its two adjectives “graceful” and “gracious,” denotes that which occasions joy. It is connected with gratitude and gratification as conditions of heart that are inspirations of joy. But the term is employed to denote that greatest joy-giving kindness which when found in the heart of God towards us is the fountain of joy unspeakable. From the constitution of the mind, lovingkindness is pre-eminently fitted to produce joy.
(2) The Jewish salutation, “Peace,” is strictly oriental and primitive. It had naturally sprung up when there were no extensive governments or codes of law, when men were apt to be like Ishmaelites wherever they travelled. When they came in view of strangers therefore, if no hostile intent was entertained, it was natural to call out “Peace!” As time rolled on and peoples got consolidated into organized communities, so that life in general became secure, the import of the salutation became gradually and increasingly enriched--equivalent to “May you have peace, and the fruits of it in your home, amongst your friends and neighbours, in your heart.” But as the apostle turned to Jesus, “peace” became that which He gave, that which passed all understanding. (J. Morison, D. D.)
I. An exalted and important office. “Apostle.” Paul was commissioned to declare the grandest truths. His sphere was the world, and to fill it involved incredible care, work, and suffering. The office was created by the circumstances of the time. An ordinary officer can govern a garrison, but it requires a gifted general to marshal an army in line of battle. In the Divine government the occasion calls forth the man.
II. The authority that designates and qualifies. The will of God is the great originating and governing force. That force called and qualified Paul (Acts 9:1-43.). In undertaking the highest work for God it is not enough that we possess learning, gifts, piety, without the consciousness of a Divine commission. There are crises when it is necessary to have this to fall back upon.
III. A familiar Christian relationship. “Timotheus our brother.” He was Paul’s “own son in the faith,” but here he recognizes him on the more equal footing of brother. Christianity is a brotherhood; not a communism which drags down all to its own level, but a holy confederacy in which men of all ranks, ages, and talents unite. His equality is based on a moral foundation. The minister whose position is assured loses nothing by honouring his younger brethren.
IV. Unity of sympathy and desire. “Paul and Timothy.” The closest intimacy, notwithstanding disparity in rank and ability.
V. Suggestive phases of Christian character.
2. Faithful brethren. Several races are here united in a holy and faithful brotherhood.
3. The sublime origin of the Christian character. “In Christ.”
VI. The salutation supplicates the bestowment of highest Divine blessings.
1. Grace. A term inclusive of all the blessings that can flow from God.
2. Peace. Grace expresses the spirit in which Divine manifestations come; peace the result they accomplish.
(1) Peace with God.
(2) Peace with each other--peace in the Church.
3. The source of the blessings desired. The Father’s love and the Son’s work are the sole source of every blessing, while the Holy Spirit is the agent of their communication. Learn: the broad, deep charity of the apostolic spirit, and the scope and temper of the prayers we should offer for the race. (G. Barlow.)
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ.
I. Their character. Holy persons. The idea is derived from the sacred vessels of the temple, which might not be appropriated to common uses. In a more general sense, saints are those who are eminent for piety, not all who are flattered or derided as such. One who is truly a saint--
1. Acknowledges that he was once a lost and undone sinner, and who daily brings his sins for pardon and his graces for increase to the throne of grace.
2. Has a new heart and a right spirit. He is a new creature--loving what God loves, and hating what He hates.
3. Is zealous for the cause of his Divine Master. Where there are no spiritual actions there is no spiritual life. The chief motives are fortitude and the constraining love of Christ.
4. Grows in grace.
II. Their relation to each other.
1. There are three kinds of brotherhood--natural, such as that between Esau and Jacob; national, such as existed among the Jews; spiritual, by adoption and grace. The last is the strongest, purest, and most enduring.
2. Of this Christ is the Elder Brother, and as He is not ashamed to own this relationship should we be either in regard to Himself or the poorest member of the family?
3. Love should spring out of this relationship. This is most natural! Christ has made love the badge of Christian discipleship; it is “good and pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
4. Its distinguishing attribute is fidelity. Be thou faithful in defending your brother when defamed, in admonishing him when in the wrong, in helping him in difficulty, in comforting him in trouble. A false brother is worse than an open foe.
III. Their situation in the world.
1. Christians in the midst of heathens, and exposed to temptation and persecution.
2. Believers surrounded by heretics--their faith exposed to subtle undermining and bold attack.
3. Few as against many. Churches are often thus situated, but if they retain their holiness and faithfulness become more than conquerors. (T. Watson, B. A.)
Motives to saintliness
I. As our God is holy so must we be (1 Peter 1:15).
II. It is the end of our Divine choice (Ephesians 1:4).
III. Our calling bindeth us (1 Thessalonians 4:7).
IV. Our redemption (Titus 2:14).
V. The grace of God teaches us this (Titus 2:11-12).
VII. The right constitution of the Church prohibits the unholy (Matthew 7:6). Conclusion:
1. This discovers to us the vanity of the Pope in restraining a title common to all believers while they live to some few whom it pleaseth him to canonize after death.
2. We see the lewdness of many profane Esaus who scoff at the name.
3. We must remember what kind of men we must be even such as must profess and practice holiness. (P. Bayne, B. D.)
This mystical but most real union of Christians with their Lord is never far away from the apostle’s thoughts, and in the Epistle to the Ephesians it is the very burden of the whole. A shallower Christianity tries to weaken that great phrase to something more intelligible to the unspiritual temper and poverty-stricken experience proper to it; but no justice can be done to Paul’s teaching unless it be taken in all its depth as expressive of the same mutual indwelling and interlacing of spirit with spirit, which ,is so prominent in the writings of John. There is one point of contact between the Pauline and Johannean conceptions, on the difference between which so much exaggeration has been expended; to both the inmost essence of the Christian life is union to Christ, and abiding in Him. If we are Christians we are in Him in a profounder sense than creation lives and moves and has its being in God. This is the deepest mystery of the Christian life. To be “in Him” is to be complete. “In Him” we are “blessed with all spiritual blessings.” “In Him” we are “chosen.” “In Him” God “freely bestows His grace upon us.” “In Him we have redemption through His blood.” “In Him” “all things in heaven and earth are gathered.” In Him is the better life of an that live. In Him we have peace though the world be seething with changed all storm. In Him we conquer though earth and our own evil he all in arms against us. If we live in Him, we live in purity and joy. If we die in Him, we die in tranquil trust. If our gravestones may truly carry the sweet old inscription, carved on many a nameless slab in the Catacombs, “In Christo,” they will also bear the other, “In pace.” If we sleep in Him, our glory is assured, “For them also that sleep in Jesus, will God bring with Him.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Grace and peace
Grace is introductory good; peace is final good: he therefore who wishes these two blessings includes every intermediate benefit.
I. Grace denotes--
2. All those habitual gifts which God infuses for the sanctification of the soul. So faith, love, and all virtues and salutary endowments are called graces (Ephesians 4:7).
3. The actual assistance of God, whereby the regenerate, after having received habitual grace, are strengthened to perform good works, and to persevere in faith and godliness. For to man renewed and sanctified by grace, the daily aid of God is still necessary for every single act. The union of all these is necessary: inherent grace is not given unless the grace of acceptance has preceded it; neither being given is it available to the production of fruits, unless also the efficacious help of God follow and accompany it through every individual action.
II. Peace. The Hebrews used this expression as we use the expression health or joy: it signifies prosperity marked by no calamities either public or private (Genesis 43:27; Psalms 122:6). But with the apostles it is used more extensively, and comprehends more especially spiritual joy and prosperity. Therefore under this term Paul desires for them--
2. Brotherly peace; “breaking peace they exclude grace.” This is a great and desirable good, and is frequently celebrated as the special gift of God (1 Corinthians 14:33; 2 Corinthians 13:11). The seeds of schism had been scattered abroad; there was therefore need of peace.
3. That external peace which is the well-being of the Church; but only yet so far as it does not militate against their spiritual good; for sometimes it conduces more to the welfare of the faithful that they be afflicted than that they enjoy external tranquility.
III. We may gather--
1. From the order itself, as he places grace before peace, he teaches us--
(1) That this is first of all to be desired, that we may have God propitious. If He be hostile, even blessings will be turned into a curse.
(2) That true peace cannot belong except to those only who are in favour with God. “There is no peace to the wicked.”
(3) That all good things which fall to the lot of the godly are streams from this fountain of Divine grace.
2. From the thing itself desired--
(1) Paul shows us by his own example the duty of every minister of the gospel; which is, not only to preach grace and peace to his people, but from their inmost souls to intreat and implore the same from God by incessant prayer: neither is sufficient of itself.
(2) He reproves the folly of this world, in which almost all wish for themselves and their friends, health, riches, and honours; but grace, peace, and other spiritual good things, they neither regard nor think of. But Christ commands us to seek “first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).
(3) He comforts the godly and faithful by showing them that the grace of God, and the peace of God they always possess; in comparison of which good things whatsoever fall to the wicked are refuse. “A God appeased,” says Bernard, “tranquillizes all things, and to behold Him at peace is to be ourselves at peace.” (Bp. Davenant.)
We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. A thankful recognition of Christian excellence as introductory to warnings and remonstrances. Almost all Paul’s Epistles begin thus. Gentle rain softens the ground, and prepares it to receive the heavier downfall which would else mostly run off the hard surface. These expressions are not compliments, or flattery used for personal ends, but uncalculated expressions of affection which delights to see white patches in the blackest character, and of wisdom which knows that the nauseous medicine of blame is most easily taken if wrapped in a capsule of honest praise. All persons in authority may be the better for taking this lesson.
2. The praise is cast in the form of thanksgiving to God, as the true fountain of all that is good in men. All that might be harmful in direct praise is thus strained out of it. Christian excellences are God’s gifts. The fountain, not the pitcher, should have the credit of the water.
3. There were two points which occasioned his thankfulness.
(1) Faith. This is sometimes spoken of as “towards” Jesus, which describes the act by its direction, as if it were the going out of man’s nature to the true goal of all active being. “On” Christ, describes it as reposing on Him as the end of all seeking. But more sweet is faith considered as “in” Him as its home, where the seeking spirit may fold its wings, be strengthened, and tranquillized.
(a) In all, faith is the same--simple confidence. But how unlike are the objects!--broken reeds in the one case, and the firm pillar of Divine power and tenderness in the other. And how unlike, alas! the fervency and constancy of our trust in each other and in Him.
(b) Faith covers the whole ground of man’s relation to God. Everything that binds us to the unseen world is included in it.
(c) From that fruitful source all good will come, and that faith lacks its best warrant which does not lead to whatsoever is of good report.
(2) As faith is the parent of all virtue, so it is the parent of love--the whole law of human conduct packed into one word. But the warmest place in a Christian’s heart will belong to those in sympathy with his deepest self. The sign on the surface of earthly relations of the central fire of faith to Christ is the fruitful vintage of brotherly love, as the vineyards bear the heaviest clusters on the slopes of Vesuvius.
(3) So here we have two members of the familiar triad, and their sister, Hope, is not far off. And the hope laid up in heaven is a motive for brotherly love. This hope is not the emotion, but the object, and the ideas of futurity and security are suggested by that object being laid up. This is not the main motive, but it is legitimate to draw subordinate motives for holiness from the anticipation of future blessedness, and to use that prospect to reinforce the higher motives.
II. A solemn reminder of the truth and worth of that gospel which was threatened by the budding heresies of the Colossian Church.
1. He begins by reminding them that to that gospel they owed all their knowledge and hope of heaven. Its sole certainty is built on the resurrection of Christ, and its sole hope on His death. All around us we see those who reject these surrender their faith in the life beyond.
2. The gospel is a word of which the whole subject and contents is truth. It is of value, not because it feeds sentiment or regulates conduct only, but because it reveals knowledge about the deepest things of God, of which, but for it, man would know nothing. It is not speculation, but truth; and truth because it is the record of Him who is “the Truth.” “To whom shall we go?” If elsewhere, to will-o’-the-wisps and Babel.
3. This gospel had been received by them. “You have accepted the Word; see that your future be consistent with your past.” Blessed are they whose creed at last can be spoken in the lessons learned in childhood, to which experience has but given new meaning.
4. This gospel was filling the world. “All the world” must be taken with an allowance for rhetorical statement, but the rapid spread of Christianity then, and its power to influence all sorts of men, were facts that needed to be accounted for if the gospel were not true. All schisms and heresies are partial and local, suit coteries, and are the product of circumstances; but the gospel goes through the world, and draws all men. Dainties are for the few, and the delicacies of one country are the abominations of another; but everybody breaks bread and lives on it. Do not fling away the gospel, which belongs to all, for that which can never live in the popular heart, nor influence more than a handful of “superior persons.”
5. Another plea for adherence to the gospel is based on its continuous and universal fruitfulness. It brings about results which attest its claim to be from God. Our imperfections are our own; our good is its. A medicine is not shown to be powerless if a sick man has taken it irregularly. This rod has budded at all events; have any of its antagonists’ rods done the same? Don’t cast it away, says Paul, till you have found a better.
6. They have heard a gospel which reveals the “true grace of God”--another argument for steadfastness. In opposition to it then, as now, were put various thoughts and requirements, a human wisdom and a burdensome code. They are but bony things to try and live on. The soul wants something more than bread made out of sawdust. We want a loving God to live on, whom we can love because He loves us. Will anything but the gospel give us that?
III. The apostolic endorsement of Epaphras, the early teacher of the Colossians, whose authority, no doubt, was imperilled by the new direction of thought, and Paul was desirous of adding the weight of his attestation to the complete correspondence between his own teaching and that of Epaphras. We know nothing of him except from this letter end that to Philemon. He is a member of the Colossian Church (Colossians 4:12). He had brought the tidings which filled the apostle’s heart with joy and love for their Christian walk (verses 4-8), and of anxiety lest they should be swept away from their steadfastness. Epaphras shared this (Colossians 4:12). He was in some sense Paul’s “fellow-prisoner,” and alone of Paul’s companions receives the name of “fellow-servant,” which may be an instance of Paul’s courteous humility. “Don’t make differences--we are both slaves of one Master.” As He had truly represented Paul, so he had lovingly represented them. Probably those who questioned Epaphras’ version of Paul’s teaching would suspect his report of the Church; hence the double witness borne from the apostle’s generous heart to both parts of his brother’s work. Never was leader truer to his subordinates than Paul. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. The duty.
2. Is a test of Christian character. All the saints have been distinguished by it, and have treasured up their mercies that they might render it. To be lacking in it is to lack the chief distinguishing grace of Christian character, and to incur the greatest sin- ingratitude.
3. Must always form a prominent feature of spiritual worship- witness the Psalms.
4. Is most reasonable in itself--when we consider that it is the best return we can make for any blessing.
II. Its special subjects. The graces of the spirit in ourselves or others.
1. Faith takes the precedence, because it is the first and root-grace. Think of what faith does--saves, is the evidence of things unseen, casts all care on God, etc.
2. Love which is fruitful in blessed effects. The loveless man is miserable.
3. A good hope through grace--which anticipates heaven. (T. Watson, B. A.)
I. Its spirit.
1. It is unselfish. We hear the prisoner praise and exult for the joys of others. Arthur Helps says: “It is a noble sight. That man is very powerful who has no more hopes for himself, who looks not to be loved or admired any more, to have more honour and dignity; but whose sole thought is for others, and who only lives for them.”
2. Ungrudging. He is about to deal with their errors, but is eager first to recognize what is laudable. There are two sets of men, those who first see the blemish, then the beauty; and those who first admire and then criticise. To the first of these Paul belonged.
II. Its subjects.
1. The spiritual possessions of the Church. Sometimes Paul views faith and love as leading up to hope: here he depicts hope as kindling faith and love.
(1) The faith is Christ-centred.
(2) The love is practical.
(3) The hope is secure.
2. The means by which these possessions had been obtained.
(1) The gospel.
(a) In its universality.
(b) In its fertility. The gospel is not only vital, but reproductive.
(2) The preacher.
3. The source and sphere of their possession. “Love in the Spirit” is the life of all the saints. (U. R. Thomas.)
The custom of the apostle to begin his Epistles with thanksgiving showed the devout habit of his mind, his constant recognition of the source of good, and his interest in the spiritual condi tion of those to whom he wrote.
I. Thanksgiving an essential element in prayer. “We give thanks, praying always for you.”
II. The Being to Whom all thanksgiving is due. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’“
III. The grounds of this thanksgiving.
1. The reputation of their faith in Christ.
(1) Christ is the object and foundation of all true faith. He is so as the Divinely-consecrated Deliverer of our race. The grandeur of His work and the glory of His character are suggested by the titles here given.
(2): Faith is the root-principle of Christian life.
2. Their possession of an expansive Christian love. Love to Christ is necessarily involved, for love to the saints is our affection for Christ’s image in them. Love is all-embracing. Peculiarities, defects, differences of opinion, are no barriers. It is the unanswerable evidence of moral transformation (1 John 3:14). It is the grandest triumph over the natural enmity of the human heart. It is the indissoluble bond of choicest fellowship.
3. Their enjoyment of a well-sustained hope.
(1) Its character. The prospect of heaven--of possessing a spiritual inheritance whose wealth never diminishes and whose splendours never fade--of seeing Christ, and being like Him and dwelling with Him for ever. This prospect lifts the soul above the wearinesses, disappointments, and sufferings of the present limited life.
(2) Its security “laid up”--safely deposited as a precious jewel in God’s coffer. There no pilfering hands can touch, no breath tarnish, no moth corrupt it. Earthly treasures vanish, and to God’s people sometimes nothing but hope remains. Where this treasure is there the heart should be.
(3) Its source--the gospel. It alone unfolds the mysteries of the future. How dismal the outlook where hope is unknown.
1. We should thank God for others more on account of their spiritual than temporal welfare.
2. Learn what are the essential elements of the Christian character--faith, love, hope.
3. The proclamation of the gospel should be welcomed, and its message pondered. (G. Barlow.)
The connection between thanksgiving and prayer
The participle marks the thanksgiving as part of the prayer, and the adverb makes it prominent, indicating that when they prayed for them they always gave thanks. There is no true prayer without thanksgiving. Gratitude intensifies the soul’s sense of dependence on God, and prompts the cry for the needed help; and, on the other hand, earnest prayer naturally glides into fervent thankfulness. As one sin is interlinked with and produced by another, so the Use of one grace begets another. The more temporal things are used, the more they wear and waste; but spiritual things are strengthened and increased with exercise. Every spiritual grace has in it the seed of an endless reproductiveness. Underlying every thanksgiving for others is a spirit of tender, disinterested love. Moved by this passion, the apostle, from the midst of imprisonment and sorrow, could soar on the wings of gratitude and prayer to heaven. “Thanksgiving will be the bliss of eternity.” (Passavant.)
Five Christian elements
I. Christian experience. It consists in--
(1) That which leads us to accept as true the testimony of the gospel concerning Christ.
(2) To depend upon Him for all the blessings promised by Him.
(3) To constantly apply to Him for all that He has revealed and accomplished.
(4) To lay hold of His friendship, and find Him in every respect a faithful, suitable, ever-present, all-sufficient friend.
2. Love, the constant attendant of faith, and by which faith works.
(1) It produces universal benevolence to all the world, and compassion for perishing sinners.
(2) It especially delights itself in the saints as related to and bearing the image of Him who is the supreme object of love.
(3) It will evidence itself in love to Christ’s commands, ways, people.
(1) Its object is heaven.
(2) As a grace it dwells in the heart, always in some measure accompanying faith and love.
(3) It is with the Christian even in his darkest moments.
II. Christian communion consists in--
1. Joy and gratitude to God on behalf of those who give evidence of being partakers of His grace in truth. This is quite distinct from ordinary friendship.
(1) It is founded on personal attractions or intimate intercourse.
(2) It is oneness of soul which subsists in the absence of every other consideration, and notwithstanding unfavourable circumstances.
2. Fervent prayer for the establishment and perfection of those graces in the beginning of which we rejoice (verses 9, 10).
3. Cheering and animating each other to perseverance, notwithstanding all the trials and difficulties we may meet (verse 11).
4. Encouraging each other constantly to keep in mind our infinite obligations and glorious prospects (verses 12, 13).
III. Christian resources.
1. The word of the truth of the gospel (verse 5). Till this came the Colossians were strangers to faith, love, and hope.
2. The instrumentality of ministers. Epaphras and Paul were dear fellow-servants and faithful ministers, one preaching to the Colossians, by which they believed, and both labouring for their establishment and edification.
3. Prayer for the supply of all those spiritual blessings which the saints have learned to appreciate and desire (verses 3-9).
4. The operations of the Holy Spirit, which gives efficiency to all love (verse 8) is especially said to be in the Spirit, who is indeed the agent of every grace.
IV. Christian practice (verse 6). Wherever the gospel is preached, and attended with Divine power and efficacy, it brings forth fruit.
1. In the conversion of sinners.
2. Where vital religion is possessed it is evidenced by exemplary deportment and diffusive benevolence. There is fruit that both the Church and the world can see. They cannot see our love to Christ or our hope of heaven, but they can see our conscientious dealings in the world, our charity, our unworldliness. These are fruits which give evidence of vitality and vigour in the root.
V. Christian expectations. Christians have a hope that is laid up for them in heaven.
1. As to themselves, it is secret and out of sight. It is only faith that can realize it. They are yet in their minority in a world of discipline and education; heirs, indeed, but not of age. Supplies are sent them here, but their hope, their portion, is laid up in heaven.
2. It is treasured up in a place of perfect security, so that no enemy or thief can reach it.
3. It is laid up where none of the changes of time can affect it. If we carried it about with us, we might lose it. When we die we should drop it; but it is safe in heaven, out of the reach of disappointment.
1. If we desire spiritual prosperity, let us be much in prayer for ourselves and others. Nothing more enlarges our capacity for holy enjoyment.
2. If we possess a hope in heaven, let it be evidenced by superiority to the world and love to our fellow-heirs.
3. If these blessings are imparted to sinners through the instrumentality of the gospel, be concerned to spread the gospel. (J. Hirst.)
Christian love the chief grace
Love, amid the other graces in this world, is like a cathedral tower, which begins on the earth, and, at first, is surrounded by the other parts of the structure. But, at length, rising above buttressed walls, and arch, and parapet, and pinnacle, it shoots spirelike many a foot right into the air, so high that the huge cross on its summit glows like a spark in the morning light, and shines like a star in the evening sky, when the rest of the pile is enveloped in darkness. So love, here, is surrounded by the other graces, and divides the honours with them; but they will have felt the wrap of night, and of darkness, when it will shine, luminous, against the sky of eternity. (H. W. Beecher. )
For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.
I. A very marvellous hope.
1. If we consider that it is a great act of grace that sinners should have a hope at all, there was a time when we were “without Christ, having no hope.” We had many false hopes, little will-o’-the-wisps, which danced before us, deceived us, and led us into the bogs of presumption and error. Each time we tried to rely on good works, outward ceremonies, and good resolutions, we were disappointed anew. Now, sinners though we be, we have a hope.
2. More marvellous still that our hope should be associated with heaven. It seems almost presumptuous for a sinner who so richly deserves hell even to lift up his eyes towards heaven. He might have some hope of purgatory, if there were such a place, but is not the hope of heaven too much? Yet we have no fear of hell or purgatory. Heaven awaits all believers. Not that we shall have a glance at it; we shall have it and be in it.
3. Still more marvellous, it is so substantial. Paul seems hardly to be speaking of the grace of hope, since that dwells in our bosoms, but rather the object, but not exclusively, because that which is laid up in heaven is not a hope, except to those who hope for it. The hope, then, is so substantial that Paul speaks of it as though it were the thing itself. A man may have hope of wealth, but that is a very different thing from being wealthy; and of old age, and yet not reach middle life; but this Divine hope can never be disappointed.
4. Because it is the subject of Divine revelation. No man could have invented it. The prince of dreamers could not have imagined it, nor the master of logic inferred it. The word of the truth of the gospel has opened a window in heaven, and bidden us look on our own.
5. Inasmuch as it came to us by hearing, “Whereof ye heard,” not by working, deserving, penance, and sacrifice. We heard that the pierced hand of Jesus had opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and we believed. Will we not prize to the uttermost the sacred word which has brought us such a hope?
6. Because the substance of it is most extraordinary.
(1) It is the hope of victory, for we shall overcome every foe;
(2) of perfection, for we shall be like Christ;
(3) of security from every danger, for no temporal evil shall come near us, no mental evil intrude upon us, no spiritual enemy assail us;
(4) of perfect rest, which shall be consistent with continual service, for, like the angels, we shall rest on the wing--no weary limb or fevered brain shall follow us;
(5) of happiness beyond compare;
(6) of everlasting fellowship with Christ.
II. A most secure hope.
1. Because it is laid up. Bank calamities make business men very careful where they lay up their treasures, but there is no room for anxiety for what God takes under His charge. “Laid up,” hidden in a safe place. We find it hard to lay up our valuables safely.
2. Laid up “for you.” There is a crown in heaven which will never be worn by any other head but yours.
3. Laid up “in heaven,” where, as our Saviour says--
(1) “Neither moth nor rust doth corrupt”--no process of decay will cause your treasure to become stale and worn out.
(2) “Nor do thieves break through and steal.” We cannot imagine Satan undermining the bastions of heaven. If your hope lies in the bank, it may break; if in an empire, it may melt away; if in an estate, the deeds may be questioned; if in any human creature, death may bereave you; if in yourself, it is deceitful altogether.
4. We have one indisputable certificate and guarantee for it. Notice three emphatic words.
(1) “In the word.” We take a good man’s words freely; and will we not take God’s word much more readily?
(2) “Of the truth.” It is not a word of guess or probable inference, but of infallible truth. There may be other true things in the world, but God’s word is the essence of truth.
(3) “Of the gospel.” The sum and substance of the good news is this glorious hope.
III. A powerfully influential hope.
1. It is the parent and nurse of love. “The love which ye have to all saints for the hope,” etc, That is no trifling fountain of action which leads believing hearts to love,
2. Love is part of its operation on ourselves, but it affects others also.
(1) It leads ministers and gracious people to give thanks to God;
(2) to pray (Colossians 1:9). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The heavenly hope
I. There is given to man a prospect of future good. The apostle here speaks about a hope. Hope is the expectation of future good. There is no being who is not the subject of hope. We are not content to exercise this passion merely in reference to objects which are on this side the grave. We all think of the state into which we expect to remove. Man would fain live for ever; futurity rises on the soul; and hope implants the high desire of enjoying it. This hope is inspired by the goodness of the God who formed us; He has been pleased to grant us a knowledge by which our hopes may be confirmed and conducted to their final goal in heaven. A beautiful vista of enjoyment is opened before us, exactly corresponding with our views and wishes. Hope is the balm of life; and but for it life would be but a dreadful dungeon, and we should sink into all the horrors of despair. Now, look on the future; survey the landscape which revelation has sketched out. There are the many mansions in which God the Father, His Son, His people reside. These are the beautiful similitudes which are employed to inspire our hopes. They are abodes of purity; they are the abodes of knowledge. There we shall know even as we are known. They are abodes of triumph; they are the abodes of blessed companionship. There we come to God, to Jesus, to the spirits of the just made perfect. They are the abodes of life and immortality.
II. Certain requisites are necessary for participating in that prospect. Hope is founded on faith; and we must believe before we can hope for the enjoyment of heaven.
1. There must be faith in the declarations of God by which the nature of these prospects is disclosed. No man can hope for that in which he does not believe. There must be faith, else all this beautiful scenery will only be like the work of fancy or falsehood.
2. Faith in the method of mercy revealed by God as the only way through which a participation in these prospects can be enjoyed. God has not only revealed these prospects, but also the way to the enjoyment of them.
III. The prospect of future good rests on the most firm and inviolable security. It is said to be “laid up.” The apostle uses the same expression, “There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” In Hebrews 9:27 the same word is rendered” appointed.” It is a thing granted on a firm and imperishable security. How different, then, is it from the hopes of earth. Here the object is as certain as if you grasped it in your hand.
1. It rests on the authority of the Word of God. Let it be assumed that the author of your hope is God. Did He ever inspire hope, and plunge into despair? Did He ever erect a building which He will not protect? Has He not power? Is He not wise? Is He destitute of goodness? “My counsel shall stand, and will do all My pleasure.”
2. The word of God is ratified by the work of the Redeemer. All the work of Christ is to give firmness to what God has sworn. “All the promises of God in Christ Jesus are yea, and in Him amen.” The death of Christ does its part, as it is the sacrifice by which the curse is taken away. The resurrection of Christ is the testimony that the atonement is accepted. The present residence of the Saviour is another foundation on which this hope rests. “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Jesus the forerunner hath entered in.”
IV. These prospects, when enjoyed and possessed, must produce the most powerful influence on the heart.
1. It excites to moral purity and holiness of life. You hope to enter heaven. Heaven is a holy place. God is holy. The inhabitants are holy. All their praises centre in this perfection. You must be holy in heaven; and will you not be so here? “Every one that hath this hope purifieth himself as He is pure.”
2. It produces calmness and peace amidst the troubles and trials of the world. The man who has so good a hope of heaven need not grudge to encounter a few troubles on earth.
3. It gives confidence amid the approaches of decay and dissolution. This is “the hope which is laid up for Christians in heaven!” “It is a good hope, a lively hope, a sweet hope--a hope which makes the coward bold, a hope which bears above the world,” etc. But is it mine? (J. Parsons.)
Hope laid up in heaven
What is this hope but the glorious life we look for? Now, where should the life of the branches of a tree be kept but where the root is? So where should our glorious life be hid but where Christ, the root of us all, is with him? Yea, this is most meet and behoveful for us. If an Englishman should sojourn in France a while, and had great treasure to receive, would he not choose rather to have it paid him at the Exchange in his own country than to have it there, far from his home, and stand to the hazard of transporting of it? So it fareth with us. It is safer that our wealth should be paid us in heaven, our own country, than here where we are but strangers wayfaring for a season. (P. Bayne, B. D.)
“Our hope is not hung upon such an untwisted thread as ‘I imagine so,’ or ‘It is likely’; but the cable, the strong rope of our fastened anchor, is the oath and promise of Him who is eternal verity; our salvation is fastened with God’s own hand, and Christ’s own strength, to the strong stake of God’s unchangeable nature.” (S. Rutherford.)
The word of the truth of the gospel which is come unto you.
The argument for the gospel based on the triumphs of missions
I. Think of the gospel as it affords inspiration to disseminate itself. Christianity is the religion of universal man. It recognizes no exception.
1. The principles of the kingdom of Jesus Christ are themselves universal. They deal with conditions which belong to all men. They impose rules which all can obey. They grant their privileges without distinction. The sin they would destroy is the sin of all men. The salvation they illustrate is offered to every child of Adam. Christ indicated this universality by explicit declaration in the conversation with Nicodemus, the parables of the kingdom, and the great commission. This idea was fully gained by the apostles. Not at first, although Peter touched it in his address to Cornelius; but Paul fully developed it. Is not this in itself unique? Has it not such a supreme character that it at least suggests the idea of a Divine origin? Why should it belong to Christianity alone?
2. But this universalism is much more than an intellectual idea. It is a vital and energizing force. It propagates itself. The moment a man becomes a Christian he is filled with a desire that others should be Christians.
3. Hence we find two facts in the history of the Church--its aggressive character, and its exclusive relation to all other faiths. The Roman pantheon included all the gods of the nations conquered by Rome, and would have welcomed Christ, but He would not enter it. He demanded the extrusion of every other divinity; His altar alone could receive the sacrifices of a worshipping world. And it is still so. Christianity brooks no other faith. Is not this a noteworthy fact? Whence has it come?
4. It is in modern missions that we may find the practical illustration of this universalism and its most effective illustration.
II. Think of the unselfish spirit in which this attempt to win a world has been projected and carried out.
1. The mere desire for imperial sway over an entire race may of itself be no very Divine emotion. Many have experienced it, and it has proved to be a spawn of hell rather than a birth of heaven--Nimrod, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon. But this is not the spirit that animates the modern herald of the Cross. He seeks no personal glory, his gains are small, his comforts few; with no weapons but a book, the name of Jesus, and a holy life, he moves to the victory of a world.
2. I know all that can be said about the restless spirit, love of adventure, desire to escape the dulness of average home life, and the glamour of missionary fame. But these emotions are fleeting, and perish if there be no recognition in places of note, and wither before old age. But this is not the experience of missionaries. It is nearly a century since evangelical missions were started, but the spirit is as fresh as ever. If the romance has disappeared, it has been replaced by a greater devotion, and a wiser, because more experienced, energy. What is the earthly fame the missionary gains? Mention half a dozen names out of hundreds of thousands which the world signalizes. What his wealth? Scarce a pittance for old age. What does a thoughtful inquirer make of this system which begets such a quality of moral nature, which summons to its work such a noble spirit? Does it not suggest that God must be the author of the truth these men carry forth, and the inspirer of the sentiment with which they do their work?
III. Think of the marvellous force which the gospel has manifested in its spread through the world.
1. We are not considering the advance of a nation which is extending its government, arms, commerce, language, or tracing the progress of a trade, science, or any other force which spends itself on our physical existence, and may minister to the baser side of our nature. We are estimating the power of a force which comes to each man personally, and demands thought, obedience, self-conquest, and the dissolution, it may be, of bonds which hold him to his past, his family, and his interest. There is nothing like it. It is the only moral propagander of the world.
2. And yet what victories it has gained. Napoleon confessed that his paled before them.: But putting aside the past gains of the gospel, its victories over Jewish faith, Greek philosophy, Roman law, its contest with Islam, and its conquest of Europe, consider its modern achievements. Modern missions found the South Sea Islands the home of naked savages; to-day they are for the most part civilized, and reckoned among the nations. Think of what it has done in Madagascar, and what it is doing in India, China, Japan. Wherever we turn we find the missionary. He has created written languages, clothed the naked, changed the savage into a saint, made lands safe for the trader, freed the slave, dec.
IV. Think of the adaptation to the wants of man which the gospel has exhibited in its spread throughout the world. It has proved itself to be exactly what all men want, and what they could readily accept.
1. How varied are the climes into which it has been carried, but it breathes every air, and finds each as if its native breath.
2. All colours are alike to the gospel.
3. Age makes no difference, and culture renders it neither needless nor ineffectual.
4. No nation outgrows it.
5. It presents a point at which all can unite. It has realized the unity and brotherhood of the race. There is an old Arabic proverb which declares that Islam can flourish only where the palm tree grows, but the Tree of Life is planted in every soil, and blossoms all over the world. What can be the answer of a thoughtful mind to such facts as these? (Ll. D. Bevan, D. D.)
The perennial fruitfulness of the gospel
The gospel is not like those plants which exhaust themselves in bearing fruit, and wither away. The external growth keeps pace with the reproductive energy. While “beareth fruit” describes the inner working, “increasing” gives the outward extension of the gospel. The words “and increasing” are not found in the received text, but the authority in their favour is overwhelming. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Which is come unto you as it is in all the world.
The true gospel universally the same
I. In It’s adaptation and enterprise. “Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world.” The gospel, though first proclaimed to the Jews, was net confined to them. It reached and changed the Colossians. In them all races were represented. The world’s greatest blessings are not indigenous; are not even sought; they are sent from above. Systems of philosophy lived only in the soil that produced them. Heresies are ethnic; truth is catholic. The success of Mohammedanism was of a different character, and effected by different means. It depended more on the scimitar than the Koran. Alexander, Sesostris, and others achieved similar conquests, and as rapidly, by the force of arms. The victories of the gospel were won by moral weapons.
II. In its results. “Bringeth forth fruit and increaseth as it does also in you.” The fruit-bearing denotes its inward and subjective influence on the soul and life; the increasing refers to its outward and diffusive influence as it makes progress in the world. The metaphor used by the apostle suggests that the gospel, as a tree, not only bears fruit, but grows, sending forth its roots more firmly and widely, and extending its branches in the air. We cannot monopolize that which is intended for the world. It is intensely practical, and aims at results corresponding with its character. The individual who is most spiritually fruitful will be most active.
III. In the manner of its reception. “Since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth.” Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The mode of receiving the gospel is the same to all. It is apprehended by the understanding, approved by the judgment and embraced by the affections. It is not enough that it falls on the ear like the strain of a seraphic melody, not enough that it enters the understanding as a clearly conceived, full-orbed truth, not enough that it ripples through the sphere of the emotions as an unspeakable ecstasy; unless, aided by the Divine Spirit, it be cordially embraced by the heart and conscience as the whole truth--the only truth that saves. It is in the gospel only that we “hear of the grace of God”--the good news that He has provided redemption and restoration for the race. Nature, with all its revelations, is dumb on this subject. Providence, with its vast repertory of mingled mystery and bounty, unfolds it not. It is only by believing the gospel that, like the Colossians, we can “know the grace of God in truth.”
IV. In the method of its propagation.
1. It is propagated by preaching “as ye also learned,” lit., “as ye were instructed,” in the truth of the previous verse. Probably Epaphras first preached the gospel at Colosse and the neighbouring cities. Preaching is the Divinely-instituted means of disseminating the gospel. It cannot be superseded by any other agency. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save.”
2. It is propagated by men thoroughly qualified for the work.
(1) The apostle recognized Epaphras as a co-labourer with himself. The preacher must labour as belonging to Christ, as dependent on Him, and as attached to Him. With all frankness, affection, and modesty, the great apostle acknowledges Epaphras as “a dear fellow-labourer.” Envy and jealousy of the gifts and reputation of others are pernicious and unjustifiable.
(2) The apostle recognized Epaphras as a faithful minister of Christ.
(3) The apostle recognized Epaphras as a man of deep spiritual insight. “Who also declared unto us your love in the spirit.” Love is the leading characteristic of the gospel. Lessons:
1. The universality of the gospel a strong evidence of the: Divine authorship.
2. Though all the world were to reject the gospel it would still be true.
3. To whomsoever the gospel comes, the imperative duty is to believe it. (George Barlow.)
The gospel, its spread and fruitfulness
I. The admirable progress and great and sudden spread of the gospel.
1. The gospel had come to the Colossians, a people living in Phrygia, a province infamous for its abominations, whence had issued the mysteries and infernal devotions of Cybele, the most detestable of pagan idols, and in whose service were committed the most shameful horrors. Whence it appears that the knowledge of God’s Word is a donation of mere grace, and not the payment of merit. The apostle tells them, not that they had come to the gospel, but it to them; to show us that it is God who comes to us, who prevents us by His grace, according to His good pleasure. The sick go to the physician; here the Physician of souls goes to the sick (Luke 19:10; Isaiah 65:1).
2. The gospel was come into all the world. This is not at all astonishing if the other apostles and evangelists laboured each according to his measure. We read of the extraordinary diffusion of the gospel in Justin, Clement, Tertullian, and even Tacitus acknowledges that there was a very great multitude of Christians in Rome.
3. The apostle mentions this--
(1) To confirm them the more in the faith of the gospel. Not that truth depends on its success; though all the world were against it that would be unshaken. Yet it is a consolation to the believer to see the extensive diffusion of his faith; and the more converts, the greater the confirmation.
(a) It was not full thirty years since the crucifixion; how, then, could the doctrine of the Cross have made so great a way in so little time, surmounted so many obstacles, flown into so many places, if it were not Divine. What other system has accomplished so much.
(b) Then it had no force of arms to advance it, or charms of eloquence and philosophy to commend it. Its missionaries were fishermen and artizans, without credit or experience, persecuted, derided, killed. Yet it spread everywhere.
(2) Besides the confirmation of their faith the apostle designed to fortify them against the errors which were being sown in the Church.
II. Its divine efficacy.
1. It brings forth fruit--faith, love, etc. It is this energy of the gospel which Christ represents in Matthew 13:1-58. Wherever the gospel went it transformed (Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 55:10-11), and those whom it transformed used it to transform others.
(1) It brought forth fruit instantly--not as nature. The moment the gospel is rightly received it produces fruit. Receive it then at once (Psalms 95:7-8). One of the most pernicious artifices of the enemy is to induce men to defer conversion. You cannot be the Lord’s too soon.
(2) But if we are required to bear fruit at once, it follows not that we may soon after cease to do so, as certain trees which, if they are the first to flourish are the first to fade (Psalms 92:14).
2. The faith of the gospel is “the knowledge of the grace of God,” because it is not possible to enjoy this heavenly doctrine if the man has not received the mercy it offers in Jesus Christ. This grace is the heart and substance of the gospel. When Paul says that they “beard and knew the grace of God in truth,” he means either--
(1) That they received it in sincerity, without hypocrisy; or
(2) That it was delivered to them pure, and without mixture of Pharisaical superstition or philosophical vanity; or
(3) So as it is declared in the gospel, not on error and fictions, as in the false religions; nor in shadow or figure as in the law, but nakedly and simply as it is in itself. Of these three expositions the first is commendatory of the Colossians, the second of Epaphras, the third of the gospel itself. (J. Daille.)
The progress of Christianity
The following statement, a conjectural but probable representation of the progressive increase of Christians in the world, is attributed to Sharon Turner:
1st century, 500,000;
Although this is only a mere approximation, and a very loose one, to the actual facts, yet it is interesting and instructive. With the exception of the thirteenth century (tenebrosum, as the late Dr. Miller called it)
, the progress of the truth has been ever onward. From every defeat it has arisen afresh, and what has never been the ease in any other system, religious, social, or intellectual, has revived anew from the ashes of its own inward corruptions. In this nineteenth century, the Christian population of the world cannot be far from three hundred millions; and its progress now is more rapid than in any period since the apostolic age. What imagination can forecast the conquests of the next fifty years! The leaven is working in every land. The old empires of idolatry and superstition are effete, and ready to vanish; while new Christian empires are born almost in a day. Every new discovery in nature, or invention in art, helps to speed the gospel. Trade, commerce, revolution, exploration, all prepare the way and herald the approach of the heralds of the cross. (Dr. Haven.)
As ye also learned of Epaphras.
To commend Epaphras to the Colossians and secure to him their heart, Paul bears a strong testimony to his fidelity and goodness.
1. Paul knew how very important it is that churches should have a good opinion of their pastors; and with what artifices the enemy labours to ruin their reputation among their flocks; on this account he here exalts Epaphras as his piety deserved; and, to remove from the Colossians all suspicion against the purity of his teachings, expressly assures them that the doctrine which they had learned of him was the same gospel of which he had spoken.
2. And from this anxiety of the apostle ministers should learn the necessity of insuring the esteem of their people; abstaining not from evil only, but also from its appearances. It is not enough to obtain the approval of our own conscience, we should also be prepared to satisfy the judgment of our neighbours. Innocence is necessary for ourselves, and reputation for others.
3. And since it serves to edify them, we are evidently bound to preserve, not only our own, but also the reputation of our brethren. Who does not see that if we bite and rend one another, the disgraceful conduct of individuals will involve us all in one common infamy and ruin?
4. And see also that as the reputation of pastors is a public good, each believer owes it a peculiar respect, and that the crime of those who unjustly violate it is a kind of sacrilege. It is robbing the Church, stealing from it its means of edification. To return to Epaphras; the apostle calls him--
I. His “Dear Fellow-Servant.” Admire--
1. His ingenuousness; for whereas there is commonly a jealousy between persons of the same profession, St. Paul acknowledges and exalts the gifts and piety of this servant of God.
2. His kindness; for he loves him, and shows that of all men there were none whom he more tenderly esteemed than the faithful ministers of the gospel.
3. His humility; in that being raised to the throne of apostolic dignity, the highest in the Church, he makes Epaphras, as it were, to sit there with him, owning him for his fellow.
II. A “Minister of Christ.” It was much to be fellow-servant with St. Paul, but it is much more to be the minister of Christ, the Head of the Church.
III. A “Faithful Minister.” the apellation of minister was his in common with many others, the praise of faithfulness with few. It is all that the apostle required in a good steward of the house of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). To have this praise the minister of God must--
1. Seek the glory of his Master, and not his own.
2. He must keep close to his orders; not parsimoniously concealing from his sheep any of the things committed to him for their edification; and without setting before them anything of his own invention beyond, or contrary to, the will of the chief Shepherd.
IV. A faithful minister of Christ for you. They ought therefore to love him both for the dignity of his office, and for the profit that thereby came to them. For though we are bound to love and respect all the faithful servants of God in general, yet, doubtless, we owe them particular affection and reverence who specially consecrate their ministry to our edification. (J. Daille.)
The praise of service
It is a beautiful though a faint image which shines out on us from these fragmentary notices of this Colossian Epaphras--a true Christian bishop, who had come all the long way from his quiet valley in the depths of Asia Minor to get guidance about his flock from the great apostle, and who bore them on his heart day and night, and prayed much for them while so far away from them. How strange the fortune which has made his name and his solicitudes and prayers immortal! How little he dreamed that such embalming was to be given to his little services, and that they were to be crowned with such exuberant praise! The smallest work done for Jesus Christ lasts for ever, whether it abide in men’s memories or no. Let us ever live as those who, like painters in fresco, have with swift hand to draw lines and lay on colours which will never fade; and let us by humble faith and holy life earn such a character from Paul’s Master. The Master’s “well done” will out-weigh labours and toils, and the depreciating tongues of fellow-servants, or of the Master’s enemies. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A faithful minister of Christ
I. The characteristics of a faithful minister of Christ.
1. A sincere and manifest attachment to our Lord and Saviour.
2. He receives his doctrines and his views of truth from the pure fountain of Divine revelation. Moses was ordered to make all things according to the pattern shown him on the mount; and every faithful minister of Christ is extremely cautious that everything he delivers corresponds with the rule laid down by his Master. He makes the Scriptures his guide--the Holy Word of God his instructor.
3. While he knows the truth, he without reserve honestly delivers the Lord’s message. Jeremiah was commanded by God to deliver all the message which the Lord gave him, and not to be afraid of man. He will not hesitate to warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and will be equally faithful in comforting and strengthening believers--in showing to them their privileges, and the great mercy bestowed upon them through their covenant-head.
4. While he preaches a whole gospel, giving to saints and sinners their portion in due season, he is willing, and does suffer, if need be, for righteousness’ sake.
5. Perseverance to the end: “Be thou faithful,” etc.
II. Such a minister is a great blessing to the people to whom he is sent by God.
1. Because he leads them from the greatest of misery to the greatest of blessedness.
(1) He conducts them from sin, impenitence, self-righteousness, and unbelief; and the man who does this is our true friend.
(2) He leads us to the enjoyment of the most distinguished favours, into green pastures--a state of favour with God, of union with Jesus Christ, of holy communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, upon earth, and a state of happiness when we die, enabling us to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
2. Inasmuch as he brings to their knowledge those holy and exalted truths that fortifiy a man for the sufferings of time and the hour of death.
3. Inasmuch as by opening to them the gospel, he presents them with--what?--ah! with what philosophy cannot do--with what the reason of man cannot unfold--with what science can never explore--with what all the pride of learning can never bring to light:--he brings life and immortality to their view.
III. God will put honour on a faithful ministry.
1. By the witness of the Spirit in the minister’s own soul.
2. Where the gospel is fully preached God is generally pleased to add the seal of His approbation to it by means of the talents of His minister.
3. The Lord puts honour on His faithful ministers, both in the Church and in the world.
4. The faithful minister of God will be honoured at the day of judgment, when his Master shall say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” etc., not Well done, learned, zealous, eloquent, successful servant.
1. A faithful minister of Jesus Christ is the gift of God.
2. When a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ dies he goes to give in His account.
3. If the faithful minister goes at death to give an account to his Lord and Master, then the congregation he leaves behind ought to reflect and think what account he will give of them. (R. McAll, D. D.)
I am angry when I hear people talk about the “awful responsibility” of being a minister. People sometimes say to me, “I should think you would shudder when you stand up before your congregation.” I shudder? what should I shudder for? Do you shudder when you stand up before a garden of flowers? Do you shudder when you go into an orchard of fruit in October? Do you shudder when you stand up in the midst of all the richness and grandeur of nature? I shudder in your midst? “But the responsibility!” I have no responsibility. I am willing to do my duty; and what more is there than that? I will not stand for the consequences. I will do the best I can. I will say the best things I can every Sunday; I will bring the truth home to you, and I will do it in the spirit of love. Even when I say the severest things, it is because I am faithful to love. “But your care!” I have not a bit of care. I forget the sermon a great deal quicker than you do. “Your burden!” I have no burden. I take up the battle, and I lay the battle aside again as soon as it is over. And I shall sleep to night as sweetly as any man that is here. And every man that is in the ministry, and is willing to love men, and to be faithful to them, will find joy in it from day to day. (H. W. Beecher.)
Ministers must be faithful
A dying nobleman once sent for the clergyman on whose ministry he had attended, and said to him, “Do you not know that my life has been licentious, and that I have violated the commandments of God? Yet you never warned me of my danger!” The clergyman was silent. When the nobleman repeated the question, he replied, “Yes, my lord, your manner of living was not unknown to me; but your kindness, and my fear of offending you, deterred me from reproving you.” “How cruel! how wicked” said the dying man. “The provision I made for you and your family ought to have induced care and fidelity. You have neglected to warn and instruct me, and now my soul will be lost.”
A picture of a faithful minister
Come in; I will show thee that which may be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light the candle, and bid Christian follow him; so he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door, the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave person hung up against the wall, and this was the fashion of it:--It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind his back, it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over his head. Then said Christian, What means this? Interpreter: The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children (1 Corinthians 4:5), travail in birth with children (Galatians 4:19), and nurse them himself when they are born (1 Thessalonians 2:7). And, whereas thou seest him with his eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ on his lips, it is to show thee that his work is to know and unfold dark things to sinners, even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men; and whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head, that is to show thee that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next to have glory for his reward. (Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”)
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.
The apostle rejoiced over the fact that the Colossians lived. This affirmation is to be proved.
I. There are various kinds of life--of the plant, animal, man. Man has several lives, that of the animal, since he has a body; that of the intellect, since he thinks; that of the heart, since he loves. It will not be contested that thought is the life of the intellect, for the one separated from the other is nothing: and so with the life of the heart--love. Some will say that it hates also. So it does, for we cannot love a thing without hating its opposite. But the life of the heart is not to hate and to love, because hatred is not the true object of the heart. It is impossible to produce fire without making ashes, but to make ashes is not the end of our labours. Hatred forms the ashes of the fire which love kindles, but it is not on those ashes that the heart lives. The hatred which springs not from love is not the life but the death of the heart; as error is not the life of reason. But the heart has another death which is egotism; which, however, involves hatred, for a man cannot love himself exclusively without hating others.
II. The life of the heart is supreme.
1. The life of the plant is inferior to that of the animal, that of the animal inferior to that of man, that of the body beneath that of the intellect, that of the intellect beneath moral life. Matter and form are far inferior to knowledge, and knowledge cannot be put on a level with love.
2. Then that which constitutes, the value of each of these lives is its relation to a superior life. Matter is of value as it does service to the intellect, and the intellect is degraded when it does not terminate in love. If therefore a man wants the principal life for which he has received all others, and does not love, he is dead.
3. The gospel uniformly gives supremacy to this life of the heart or love.
III. The love of which the apostle speaks is love in the spirit. What is this spirit? spirit in opposition to matter? and is the expression equivalent to spiritual love? Rather Paul means love in the Spirit of God, love which He teaches and inspires. But this does not exclude the former. For our spirit is the better part of us which the Spirit of God has come to set at liberty, that part of our being which holds communion with God. This love, then, is--
1. According to the Holy Spirit.
2. A spiritual love towards the true, just, divine, immortal.
3. And so not
(1) carnal affection, which is death (Romans 8:6);
(2) interested affection;
(3) mere natural affection; although these are consecrated and renovated by the Spirit, after which the creature is loved in and for God.
IV. The object of this love. God supremely and then others, forming one grand unity (John 17:23).
V. The greatest example of this love is Christ. In Him we know what love is, but it was manifested in Him that it might be diffused. His disciples are to reflect His love.
VI. This love being life, and animated by the spirit of life, is immortal. VII. Hell is the absence of this love. It is that empty heart which has been violently dissevered from its affections without being united to God, a heart which has need of love, and which finds no object to supply this want. (A. Vinet, D. D.)
Two reasons for love in the Spirit
The first, a general one, which regards the very nature of love: to wit, because the Holy Spirit is the author of it; and also because love flows from spiritual heart, i.e., from a heart regenerated and renewed. Hence observe the dignity of Christian love. For natural love, or predilection, arises from those inclinations which they call natural affections. Worldly love arises either from views of interest or from conformity of manners; carnal, from the appetite for pleasure. To all these something corrupt, sordid, and vicious always adheres. But Christian love arises from the Holy Spirit, and is altogether full of holiness and purity. The other reason why the love of the Colossians is said to be in the spirit is special, and hath respect to Paul himself; for, they had never seen Paul, but had only heard of him through Epaphras and others. Because, therefore, they had loved him whom they never saw in the flesh, they are said to love in the spirit. Therefore the word spirit is taken in the same sense as in 1 Corinthians 5:3. Hence observe, that the duty of every good man is, to embrace with spiritual love all good men, although known only by report. That any one may be esteemed worthy of our love, it is sufficient if he be known in respect to his virtue, although he be unknown in person. (Bishop Davenant.)
To pray for you and desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge.
I. The fountain or root of all Christian character. “That ye might be filled … understanding.”
1. The thing desired is the perfecting of the Colossians in religious knowledge.
(1) The idea of completeness up to the height of their capacity is given in “filled”; like some jar charged with sparkling water up to the brim.
(2) The advanced degree of the knowledge is given in a favourite word which signifies mature knowledge, deeper apprehension of God’s truth.
(3) The rich variety of that knowledge is set forth in the clauses which may read “filled … so that ye may abound in … wisdom and understanding,” or with “the knowledge of His will,” i.e., manifested in that will. That knowledge will blossom out into every kind of wisdom and understanding.
2. The principles which these words involve.
(1) That the foundation of Christian character and conduct is laid in the knowledge of the will of God. What concerns us to know is not abstract truth, or revelation or speculative thought, but God’s will. No revelation has accomplished its purpose when a man has simply understood it. The light is knowledge which is meant to shape practice. Had this been remembered two opposite errors would have been avoided.
(a) The error threatening the Colossians, that Christianity was merely a system of truth to be believed. An unpractical heterodoxy was their danger, an unpractical orthodoxy is ours. The one important question is, does our Christianity work?
(b) The converse error to that of unpractical knowledge, that of unintelligent practice, is quite as bad. A numerous class profess to attach no importance to Christian doctrine, but put all the stress on Christian morals. What God hath joined together let no man put asunder. Knowledge is sound when it moulds conduct; action is good when based on knowledge.
(2) Progress in knowledge is the law of the Christian life. There should be continual advancement in the apprehension of God’s will from the first glimpse which saves to this mature knowledge. The progress does not consist in leaving behind old truths, but in the profounder conception of what is contained in them. The same constellations which burn in our midnight sky looked down on Chaldean astronomers, but how much more is known about them at Greenwich than was dreamed at Babylon.
II. The river or stems of christian conduct.
1. Worthily of the Lord. There are other forms of the same expression (Ephesians 4:1.; Romans 16:2; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:12), in all of which there is the idea of a standard to which the practical life is to be conformed.
(1) The Christian should “walk” in a manner corresponding to what Christ has done for him. We say that we are not our own, but bought with a price. Then how do we repay that costly purchase. Nothing short of complete self-surrender can characterize the walk that corresponds with our obligations to Christ. Repugnant duties then become tokens of love, pleasant as every sacrifice made at its bidding ever is.
(2) The Christian should act in a manner corresponding to Christ’s character and conduct. Nothing less than the effort to tread in His footsteps is a walk worthy of the Lord. All unlikeness to His pattern is a dishonour to Him and to ourselves.
2. “Unto all pleasing,” which sets forth the great aim as being to please Christ in everything, and satisfy Him by our conduct. We are not to mind other people’s approbation. We can do without that. What does it matter who praise, if He frowns? or who blame if He smiles. Nothing will so spur us to diligence, and make all life solemn and grand as the thought that “we labour that … we may be well pleasing to Him.” Nothing will so string the muscles for the fight, and free us from entanglements as the ambition to “please Him who hath called us to be soldiers.” Men have willingly flung away their lives for a couple of lines of praise in a dispatch. Let us try to live and die so as to get “honourable mention” from our Captain.
III. The fourfold streams or branches into which this general conception of Christian character parts itself.
1. “Bearing fruit in every good work.”
(1) Here the man in whom the word (verse 6) is planted is regarded as the producer of fruit. The worthy walk will be first manifested in the production of a rich variety of forms of goodness. The only true fruit is goodness; all else is leaves. Much of our work and its results is no more fruit than galls on oak leaves.
(2) The Christian life is to be “fruitful in every good work.” We should seek to fill the whole circuit of the year with various holiness, and to make widely different forms of goodness our own. Let us aim at this all round multiform virtue, and not be like a scene for a stage, all gay and bright on one side, and dirty canvas and stretchers hung with cobwebs on the other.
2. “Increasing in the knowledge of God.” The figure of the tree is probably continued here. If it fruits, its girth will increase, its branches spread, its top mount, and next year its shadow will cover a larger circle. Fruitfulness in good works leads to increased knowledge, and all true knowledge tends to influence action. Obedience gives insight. “If any man will do His will, he shall know,” etc. Moral truth becomes dim to a bad man. Religious truth grows bright to a good one.
3. “Strengthened … joyfulness.” Knowing and doing are not the whole of life; there are sorrow and suffering too.
(1) Here again we have Paul’s favourite “all.” Every kind of strength that God can give and man receive is to be sought after. And that Divine power is to flow into us, having this for its measure and limit--“the might of His glory.” His “glory” is the lustrous light of his self-revelation; and the far-flashing energy revealed in that is the immeasurable measure of the strength that may be ours.
(2) And what exalted mission is destined for this? Nothing that the world thinks great--
(a) patience, including the idea of perseverance in the right course and uncomplaining bearing of evil as sent by God;
(b) longsuffering, the temper under suffering considered as a wrong and injury done by man.
(c) with joy--flowers beneath the snow, songs in the night.
4. Giving thanks unto the Father. This is the summit of all, and is to be diffused through all. Thankfulness should mingle with all our thoughts and feelings, like the fragrance of some perfume penetrating the scentless air. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A comprehensive apostolic prayer
I. Expressive of deep spiritual interest.
1. Suggested by the report of active Christian virtues. “For this cause.” They had believed in Christ, loved the brethren, hoped for the future, borne fruit. All this excites Paul’s grateful heart to pray for higher blessings for them. We best show our love for others by prayer. That is always needed since Christian vows are imperfect and may decay or be abused.
2. Constant and fervent. “Do not cease.” Paul had undoubted faith in the efficacy of prayer.
II. For amplest knowledge.
1. The main subject of this knowledge. Man thirsts for knowledge, but the highest is the knowledge of God; not simply of His nature, but His will.
2. The measure in which the knowledge may be possessed. The word indicates a living, complete knowledge of the Divine will. There is no limit to our increase in Divine knowledge but our own capacity, diligence, and faith.
3. The practical form in which the knowledge should he exercised. “In all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” The word spiritual applies to both wisdom and understanding. The false teachers offered a wisdom which had only a show of it; an empty counterfeit calling itself philosophy. The wisdom and understanding the gospel imparts are the work of the Holy Spirit. No amount of mental or moral culture can supply it. This was the power lacked by the Galatians, and to save the Colossians from their fate Paul prays that they may discern between the true and the false, the carnal and the spiritual.
III. For the loftiest Christian career. Observe--
1. The high standard of Christian conduct. For this purpose we are filled with the knowledge of His will. The end of knowledge is practice.
2. The rule by which that standard is maintained. We are not to please ourselves or others as an ultimate object. If our conduct does please parents, friends, country as well as God, it is well; but though all others are displeased we must please Him. This is the simplest as well as the grandest rule of life, and will settle many perplexing questions of human duty.
3. The productiveness of Christian consistency. It is not enough to bear one kind of fruit; there must be fertility in “every” good work. The Christian is in sympathy with and will promote every enterprise that aims at the physical, social, or moral welfare of man.
4. Progress in Divine knowledge. We can recall no stage in which additional knowledge is unnecessary. Activity in goodness sharpens the knowing faculty and adds to the stores of wisdom, and increased knowledge stimulates the worker (John 7:17; Matthew 25:29).
IV. For supernatural strength.
1. The appropriateness and fulness of the blessing desired. Man is morally weak by sin. Christ introduced another force which counteracts sin and will overthrow it. All who believe in Him have this force and it is necessary to realize the blessings for which Paul prays. Our enemies are numerous and our infirmities are many. We need, therefore, every kind of strength to endure onslaught or solicitation.
2. Its supernatural source, “might of His glory.” Moral power is not native to the Christian. Power is an attribute of God’s glory, and is manifested in the splendid works of creation.
3. Its great practical purpose. Patience is the temper which does not easily succumb under trial: long-suffering, or long-mindedness, is the self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong. Patience respects the weight of the affliction: long-suffering its duration. The former is exercised in our relation to God, the latter in our relation to man. The true strength of the believer consists, not so much in what he can do, as in what he can endure (Isaiah 30:15). The characteristic of both patience and long-suffering is “Joyfulness.” To suffer with joyfulness is the great distinction and triumph of the Christian spirit: The endurance of the stoic was often the effect of pride or insensibility.
1. How sublime are the topics of genuine prayer.
2. Deep experimental acquaintance with the things of God is essential to a lofty and useful career.
3. Knowledge, wisdom, spiritual fertility and strength are the gifts of God. (G. Barlow.)
A worthy walk
I. Its sources. The whole ground of this prayer is found in “who hath made us meet,” “who delivered us out of the power of darkness.”
1. The gift of Divine sonship.
2. An increase in the knowledge of God’s will. We must know what God’s will is before we can walk worthily, etc. His will is revealed in His Word.
3. The impartation of wisdom and spiritual understanding.
4. The bestowment of Divine strength. Sonship does not stand alone.
II. Its fruits.
1. Good works.
2. Patient endurance of tribulations as well as perseverance through and in spite of them.
3. Long-suffering towards personal foes and the enemies of the truth.
III. Its end. A worthy walk begins in sonship, proceeds to sanctification, and ends in glory. (Family Churchman.)
Paul’s desire for the Colossians
The Colossians were distinguished for love, and for that “cause” the apostle shows his interest in them and gratitude for it by praying for them. Noble example! He goes on to say that he desired certain things for them--lit., “asked,” lifted up his desires.
I. The matter of the apostle’s desire.
1. That they might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.
(1) It is one thing to have a full knowledge and another to be filled with knowledge. As far as God or His will are concerned we cannot have a full knowledge. God only knows the love, the glory, the will of God. But it is possible to be filled with the knowledge of God. The smallest of cups may be as full as the great ocean. So the smallest minds may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.
(2) It was not immense spaces of vacant imaginations and day-dreamings that he desired, but knowledge of realities, that knowledge which is “the principal thing.”
(3) But not numerous details of knowledge in general; man’s mind is too limited for that. He must choose between knowing a few things well and a large number indifferently. Hence Paul limits his petition to one all-important department--the will of God. This has two distinct applications--what God is determined to do Himself and what He is desirous that we should do. In the first sense it is used in Ephesians 1:11, and in the confession of Nebuchadnezzar; but it is more frequently used in the second. “Thy will be done on earth”--not done by God’s self. So far as God’s determination to take His own way is concerned His will is always done. The reference is to that will which we ought to do, and with the knowledge of which Paul prayed that the Colossians might be filled.
2. “In all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Wisdom was needed, profitable to direct to the things worthiest and best; and understanding, that they might penetrate beneath the surface of things, so as to be standing under them and thence understanding them. When thus understood, things are joined together in a unity of subjective thought, and a higher agency than man’s gets abundant scope for a gracious and beneficent operation.
3. But the highest knowledge is but a means to an end (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The knowledge possessed by God, though immense, is not the most glorious of His attributes; even to Him it is but a means to an end. It is but one of His natural attributes. The most illustrious of God’s attributes are the moral--those which have a will within them.
II. The purpose of his desire. It is not therefore surprising that the apostle should guard the Colossians against the idea that they need aim no higher than this knowledge. He asked that they might have it, that--
1. They should
(1) walk--lit., “walk about.” He seized a prominent feature of human society. Men walk hither and thither in their homes, in the streets, and in the country. They walk out in the morning, “go about their business”; and in the evening walk about within the circle of their friends and visit. In the homes mothers walk about adjusting various details.
(2) There are different ways of demeaning ourselves as we walk about. Some go about stealthily to entrap the unwary and confiding; some in the dark to conceal their evil deeds; some bent on making profit of others, or on amusement. Paul might have prayed that the Colossians might walk circumspectly, humbly, consistently, with gifts in their hands or love in their hearts; but he chooses to say that ye may walk about in a way worthy of the Lord.
(3) It is assumed that the transcendent worth is in the Lord. As the Apocalyptic visions show us, in the estimation of all heavenly beings He is infinitely worthy; and hence it is that He is worth all the possible honour that can be reflected on Him by the most beautiful demeanour and “most costly sacrifices of His disciples. Hence we should ever make it our aim to walk worthy of Him, and all our knowledge must be subservient to this.
2. The Colossians are told that if they do so Christ will take note of every step we take, and be pleased. He will appreciate our aim, and have in reference to our conduct a feeling of pleasure. How different this from “putting Him to an open shame.” We may make our Saviour happy, and not only in reference to a few acts of exceptional effort, but in reference to all the humble incidents of our every-day life.
3. But nothing will be really pleasing if fruitfulness be wanting.
(1) Leaves will not suffice, nor blossoms. Every Colossian was to be a tree of righteousness to bring forth fruit for the refreshment of the great Husbandman.
(2) Fruitful in every good work--in long-suffering in the home and beyond; in the continual restraint and guidance of all the passions; in the fruits of the Spirit--“love, joy, peace,” etc.
(3) What are the means of this abounding fruitfulness? “By the knowledge of God.” The most effective guarantee for increase in fruitfulness is the knowledge of God with which he desired they might be filled. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee,” etc. (J. Morison, D. D.)
Spiritual knowledge and its practical results
I. The preciousness of spiritual knowledge. Consider--
1. The intensity of the apostle’s desire for it. It is the subject of earnest; ceaseless prayer.
2. The men for whom it is desired. Saints and faithful brethren, who knew the grace of God in truth, and were bringing forth fruit to God. We must not cease to pray for those who know the Lord that they may know more.
3. The measure of this knowledge. “Filled”--grand scholarship to have mind, heart, whole manhood filled with knowledge. When a measure is full of wheat there is no room for chaff. True knowledge excludes error. If we have empty places in our minds, unstored by holy teaching, they will be an invitation to the devil to enter and dwell. Try and know Divine truth more intimately. You know a man, for you pass him in the streets with a nod; you know another far better, for you lodge in the same house with him; but you know him best of all whose troubles and joys you have shared, and with whom you have had the closest fellowship.
4. The matter of it. The revealed will of God.
(1) The perceptive will. “What wilt Thou have me to do?”
(2) The will of God as it constitutes the gospel. “This is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one that believeth.”
(3) “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.”
5. The manner.
(1) “In all wisdom,” which is better than knowledge, for it is knowledge rightly used. Knowledge may find room for folly, but wisdom casts it out. Knowledge may be the horse, but wisdom is the driver. Wisdom enables you to bring your knowledge practically to bear upon life, to separate the precious from the vile, and rightly conduct your affairs. “All” wisdom--wisdom that will be useful in the shop, the counting-house, the church, etc.
(2) That wisdom operates by a spiritual understanding that is powerful within. This is an inward knowledge of truth, a spiritual discernment, taste, experience, and reception of truth whereby the soul feeds upon it and takes it into herself.
II. The practical result of spiritual knowledge. “That ye may walk”--not that they might talk, sit down and meditate, and enjoy themselves. He desires that they may be instructed, so as to walk--
1. According to the best model. Let not a disciple walk so as to bring disgrace upon his Lord! When you walk with a king you should be royal in gait; when you commune with a prince you should not act the clown. It is well to have no lower standard than the life of Jesus, the life of tenderness, self sacrifice, love, holy service, and communion with God.
2. So as to be pleasing to our best friend.
(1) Some live to please themselves, or their wives, neighbours, and some, the devil. Our business is to please Him whose servants we are. Without holiness no man shall see Him, much less please Him.
(2) Unto all pleasing--from the moment we rise till we lie down, in eating and drinking, etc.
(3) Paul desires that we may be filled with knowledge to this end. If I do not know the will of God, how can I do it?
3. That we may produce the best fruit. Without knowledge we cannot be fruitful. Some are hindered in this because they do not know how to set about holy service. How can a man be fruitful as a preacher if he does not know what to preach? In a hundred ways ignorance will make us run risks, lose opportunities of usefulness, and fall into dangerous mistakes.
4. That he may cultivate a comprehensive variety of the best things. “In every.” Here is room and range enough. Let works of obedience, testimony, zeal, charity, piety, all be found in your life. Do not select big things as your spiritual line, but glorify the Lord in the littles. The Lord Jesus, if He were here, would gladly do a thousand things which His poor little servants are too great to touch.
III. The reflex action of holiness on knowledge.
1. Holiness is the road to knowledge.
2. This knowledge rises in tone--before it was in God’s will, now it is in God Himself.
3. He would have in us increased capacity to know yet more. In verse 9 it is “filled”; but if a man is full of knowledge, how can it increase? Make the vessel larger. Let no man think he can go no farther. Bernard says: “He is not good at all who doth not desire to be better.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It would be a useful exercise if we would give thanks for the gifts and graces of our brethren. I am afraid that we are more inclined to spy out their faults, and to suppose that we deplore them, than we are to discern the work of the Holy Spirit in them. Now, Paul surveyed the Church at Colosse, and observed their faith, love, and hope, and thanked God for them. But he noted that they were somewhat lacking in knowledge. They differed from the Corinthians, who abounded in talent and were enriched with knowledge. The Colossians had fewer gifted brethren, and as Paul would not have them come behind in any desirable attainment, he offered this prayer. He knew that spiritual ignorance is the constant source of error, instability, and sorrow; and therefore he desired that they might be soundly taught in the things of God. Intercessory prayer is--
I. A very important part of the work of Christians for one another. We are not sent into the world to live unto ourselves, but we are members of one body, and each member is expected to contribute to the health and comfort of the whole. We cannot all preach or distribute alms, but we can all pray.
II. An invaluable proof of love and the creator of more love. The man who will pray for me, will forgive me if I offend him, and relieve me if I am in necessity.
III. An infallible means of obtaining the blessings we desire for our friends. The unselfish devotion which pleads as eagerly for others as for itself is so pleasing to God that He puts great honour upon it. If we desire any blessing for them, our best course is to pray. If we wish them converted, taught of God, quickened to a nobler life, etc., take the case to God in prayer.
IV. Will be all the more valuable if it is our immediate resort. “Since the day we heard it.” Paul began to pray at once. Whenever you perceive the holy change begun, pray at once that it may proceed with power, and we shall find that God in answering quickly gives a double blessing. He who wins earthly riches is most diligent in their pursuit, and he shall be richest towards God who is most diligent in supplication.
V. Will be all the more valuable if they are incessant as well as immediate. “We cease not.” He was always praying for them in the sense he explains, “and to desire.” Desire is the essence of prayer. Though you cannot be always speaking in prayer, you can be always desiring. The act of prayer is blessed, the habit more so, the spirit most so, and this can continue for months and years.
VI. Will be increased in value if offered in union with other saints. “We also.” “In two of you agree as touching My kingdom.” Here is Paul, and with him youthful Timothy, who, compared with Paul, is inconsiderable; yet Paul’s prayer is all the more effectual because Timothy’s is joined to it. Our Lord sent out His servants two and two, and it is well when they come back to Him in prayer two and two. “The habit of frequent prayer together is to be commended. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The value of intercessory prayer
An aged woman, a member of my church, whom I frequently met, always appeared to me to have a more than common interest in the prosperity of religion. She would often inquire: “Are any of our young people coming to Christ?” One day, as I was passing her house, she called me in. Says she: “I asked you to come in here because I wanted to tell you a revival is coming.” “How do you know that?” said
I. “Dear me,” says she, “now don’t think me one of that sort of folks who think themselves particular favourites of the Lord, as they were inspired. But I have got faith, and I have got eyes and ears, and I believe in prayer. Perhaps you may think me too certain, but I tell you a revival is coming; and I don’t know it by a miracle either, or because I am any better Khan other people, or nearer to God. But, for this good while, every day when I have been out in my garden, I have heard that old deacon” (pointing to his house) “at prayer in his chamber, where he thinks nobody hears him. The window is open just a little way off from my garden, and I have heard him praying there every day. He is not able to leave his house much, because he has got only one leg; but if he can’t work he can pray; and his prayers will be answered.” A revival did come. Before a year from that time more than a hundred persons in that congregation were led to indulge hope that they had been born of the Spirit. Among them were a son and a daughter of that old man of prayer, and a grandson of this woman who believed in prayer. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
The blessed occupancy
This is possible. Paul was in its enjoyment.
I. The nature of God’s will. The mill is the expression of the inner nature. God is love. His will is goodwill to all. It means happiness for all who will not thwart His loving purpose.
II. The knowledge of God’s will. This can be obtained by being willing to do, by searching the Scriptures and listening to the voice of the Spirit.
III. The measure of this knowledge. “Filled”--no room for self. Every cupboard opened, door unlocked, window raised, and the entire being flooded. Blessings then flow out. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The knowledge of the will of God
I. The will of God.
1. The phrase brings before us the personality of Deity. He is not a blind force, but a conscious being, or He could not have a will.
2. The text contradicts Deism, which says: “God does not concern Himself with us.”
3. But imagine God to have a malevolent will concerning us! As it is, however, the will of God moves not merely under the influence of His intelligence and righteousness, but of His mercy. It is “in Christ Jesus concerning us.”
4. This will has reference to our whole nature.
(1) To our mind; and therefore God has put before us doctrine. God has a will concerning our thoughts, and therefore has provided us with themes for meditation.
(2) To our hearts. We may not trust, distrust, love, everything we please. God has indicated the objects and the measure of our confidence and affection.
(3) To our will; giving us principles and motives, and rules of action, so that His will directs us in all things. This is not bondage, but freedom. He is the slave who is tethered to his whims and wishes; he is free who moves in harmony with the will which is connected with perfect wisdom and love.
II. The will of God revealed.
1. Not entirely, as, e.g., to your future circumstances; these are mercifully concealed.
2. The media employed.
(1) Conscience--imperfect, but under Christ’s influence gradually becoming sound.
(2) God’s Word.
(3) God’s Spirit.
(5) Christ, in whom it is perfectly embodied.
3. There is some little difficulty in getting at this will. You must search the Scriptures, and carefully analyze your own conscience to judge whether it is an index of God’s will. But the knowledge is well worth the trouble. If you take no trouble you will be perplexed, but if you do He will teach you.
III. The will of God known. The revelation is distinct from the knowledge, and may be possessed without it. The knowledge must be sought. Look at it as--
(1) We may know doctrine and not precept; both, and not the promises; or all partially. Knowledge is full when we know all we need to know.
(2) A young disciple in his novitiate cannot know all that is revealed, nor indeed the mature. There are many things concealed from the Church in its present state.
(3) But there are things which can be comprehended in the present age, and the present state of the believer’s mind. The Bible opens like flowers. You must sometimes wait before a text and seek a right influence on your spirit before the meaning will be manifest. The Bible to the child has one manifestation, to the young man another, and to the mature man another.
2. Correctly applied. It may be misapplied; hence the prayer “in all wisdom,” etc. We must get below the letter to the underlying Spirit, and with Divine sagacity apply it to our circumstances.
3. A fit subject for prayer.
4. A subject of deep anxiety to ministers as essential to the holiness and activity of the Church. (S. Martin.)
The knowledge of God
1. This knowledge lies at the foundation of all true religion. It is the want or indistinctness of it that occasions the stupidity of sinners, the false hopes of professors, and most of the religious errors that abound. Although it is open to all, there is very little of it. There is so much unbelief, pride, worldliness, guilt, which shrinks from clear views of God, sluggishness, which binds the soul to earth, that the mass even of Christians pass to the grave with a very incompetent knowledge of God. Now and then a Christian arises of pre-eminent piety, and when you search for the cause of it you find it in his superior knowledge of God.
2. In general, the great end for which we were sent into the world was to learn the character of our Master, by studying His glories in His works and word, that we might obey and enjoy Him. The object on which His eye is fixed, and which He will fully attain, is that the earth may be filled with the knowledge of His glory.
3. He is the Being with whom we have the most intimate and interesting connection, and therefore it chiefly concerns us to be acquainted with Him. “In Him we live and move,” etc., and He will be our final Judge.
4. There is room for far more enlarged knowledge of God than any of us have yet acquired. In His nature are treasures of knowledge which eternal research will not exhaust. Of course none but Christ could with perfect propriety say, “I know this,” but we may follow on to know the Lord.
5. This knowledge is--
I. Most purifying. A sight of God is transforming. When with open face we behold, as in a glass, tile glory of the Lord, we are charged with the same image. When God is seen in all the majesty of His glory and holiness the Christian cannot, dare not, wilfully sin.
II. Most humbling. Other knowledge “puffeth up,” but the more God is seen, the more abased the soul will be. All the glooms of guilt and fears of hell which are not accompanied with a spiritual discernment of God will not humble the soul. When Isaiah saw the Lord he exclaimed, “I am a man of unclean lips,” and when Peter discovered the Godhead of Christ he fell at His feet, saying, “Depart from me,” etc.
III. Most exalting. It will do more to ennoble the mind and elevate it above vulgar disputes, than all other views. If it is a dignity to be intimately acquainted with great men, what is the dignity of knowing and being known by God.
IV. Most blessed. One direct view of God fills the soul with greater peace than the most splendid attainments in other branches of knowledge, and than all the glories of the world. This is to be the happiness of heaven, because nothing greater can be provided. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)
The experimental knowledge of God the end of all Christian endeavour
It is for the want of keeping this end steadily in view that many persons make so little progress. Their efforts are misdirected. They confound the means and effects of religion with its life. Digging, manuring, pruning, and fruit-bearing are not the life of a tree. What, then, is the soul of religion towards which all efforts are to be directed.
I. The life of true religion is an experimental knowledge of God. Such an appreciation of the excellence of His character as satisfies the soul. Philip said, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” No earthly source of happiness does suffice. The pursuit of earthly desires is like the countryman’s chase after the rainbow. They one after the other disappoint those who attain them. Their prismatic colours all vanish when we come close to them, and some new rainbow is seen ahead to lure us into another fruitless pursuit. But our Creator does not mock us by implanting great yearnings after happiness which have nothing to correspond to them. In the knowledge and enjoyment of Him man can find rest.
II. This knowledge is the end of ends, to which every other part of the religious system is subordinated. It is the end of the atoning and interceding work of our Lord. This removes barriers which preclude communion. Any knowledge of God independently of Christ must frighten us from Him, for God is infinitely holy, and His holiness is a consuming fire.
III. The exercises which so most directly to this end.
1. Living much with Him. If we only come across a man occasionally and in public, and see nothing of his private life, we cannot be said to know him. All the knowledge of God which many professing Christians have is derived from the formal salute they make to Him in their prayers. But no progress can be made thus. Try to draw God down into your daily work; consult Him about it; offer it as a contribution to His service; ask Him to help you in it and to bless it; refer to Him in your temptations; go back at once to Him if you have left Him; in short, walk hand in hand with Him, dreading above all things to quit His side; seek not so much to pray as to live in an atmosphere of prayer.
2. Studying His mind in His Word. We may be said to know an author, when we have so carefully read his works as to imbibe his spirit. It is through His Word that God speaks to us, as it is through prayer we speak to Him. Cultivate a taste for the Holy Scriptures. “Oh, how sweet are Thy words unto my taste … All the day long is my study of it.” My mind in which it is stored is always recurring to it in the intervals of business, turning it over with fresh inquiry into its significance, finding new illustrations of its truth in nature, life, and experience. There is a study of Scripture which is analogous to ejaculatory prayer, which interweaves the Word into the daily life of the Christian, a rumination which can be carried on without book.
3. The discipline of life. If a man has no dealings with us personally, though he may be no stranger to us by reputation, we cannot be said to know him. But if transactions pass between us his character transpires. Now God comes close up to us, if we give our hearts to Him, and deals with us in all the changing scenes of life. So long as people keep Him at arm’s length, He only sweeps round the circumference Of their existence. Those who desire to have a practical knowledge of Him in His dealings try to learn the lesson of every part of their experience.
IV. Increase in the knowledge of God, as it characterizes the true Christian’s present course will be his business throughout eternity. We are not to conceive of a glorified saint as if he were stereotyped and could advance no further in the knowledge of God. Our nature is so constituted as not to acquiesce in a particular measure of knowledge on any subject. And why, as God is infinite, and His resources of wisdom, power, and love are inexhaustible, may not a blessed eternity be spent in fresh discoveries of His glory, each of which will throw preceding discoveries into the shade? (Dean Goulburn.)
God known imperfectly but really
No man can take a pencil and mark the features of Jehovah, and say: “Thus far is God, and no farther.” How poor a God must that be whom I can understand! He would be no larger than the measure of my thought--and that would be small indeed. No man can limit and define God after all intellectual statements have been made, after all definitions have been given, immensely more is left untouched than has been touched. But the functions of the Divine nature, the quality of that nature and its moral essence, one may suspect or know without comprehending all of God. Bring me but a glass of water, And I know what water is. I may not know, if I have not travelled, what are the springs in the mountain, what are cascades, what are the streams that thunder through deep gorges, what are broadening rivers, what are bays, or what is the ocean; and yet I may know what water is. A drop on my finger tells me its quality. From that I know that it is not wood, that it is not rock, that it is not air, that it is not anything but water. I am not able, by searching, to find out God unto perfection; and yet I know that, so far as I have found Him out, and so far as He is ever going to be found out, whatever there is in nobility, whatever there is in goodness, whatever there is in sweetness, whatever there is in patience; whatever can be revealed by the cradle, by the crib, by the couch, by the table; whatever there is in household love and in other loves; whatever there is in heroism among men; whatever there is of good report; whatever has been achieved by imagination or by reason; whatever separates man from the brute beast, and lifts him above the clod--I know that all these elements belong to God, the eternal and universal Father. Although I may not be able to draw an encyclopaediac circle and say: “All inside of that is God, and anything outside of it is not God;” yet I know that everything which tends upward, that everything which sets from a lower life to a higher, that everything which leads from the basilar to the coronal, that everything whose results are good, is an interpretation of God, who, though He may be found to be other than we suppose, will be found not less, but more glorious than we suspect. (H. W. Beecher.)
Knowledge of Divine will
The knowledge of the Divine will embraces in itself the knowledge
(1) of the law, which shows us the abyss of our misery, and also proposes to the regenerate a rule of new life;
(2) of the gospel, which opens to us the depths of Divine mercy, and also teaches the method of obtaining salvation. Neither is the bare apprehension of these things called the knowledge of the Divine will, but the efficacious apprehension which applies Christ to ourselves, and expresses the rule of the law in our life and actions, as far as in us lies. (1 John 2:3) the commandments as well concerning faith as obedience. (Bishop Davenant.)
Filled with the knowledge of His will
The world is in darkness. This is the beginning of a natural day. The sun has not yet risen. Here is a great building. You see it; the sun rises and touches the top of it; gradually it touches the highest ridges and windows; then it comes down, and touches another story, and another, till at last the light, in all its fulness and amplitude, fills the whole house and bathes the whole building in the splendour of its rays. Every room--from the lowest to the highest--all filled! Now, that gives you a faint idea of what the apostle means. The knowledge of God fills, not one faculty alone, not the intellect looking at truth objectively, but the whole nature; feeling, imagination, sensibility, all flooded with this Divine light. (T. Binney.)
The use of spiritual understanding
By wisdom and spiritual understanding the Christians at Colosse would be led to “distinguish things that differ”; to detect the sophistry of new teachers; to discern the dangerous bearings of ingenious but seducing systems; to keep close to the letter and spirit of Scripture; to look around on the whole compass of truth and all the methods of God’s dispensations before they committed themselves to any conclusive opinion; to use every part of Divine revelation for the purposes, and in the proportion, and according to the order, and in the spirit of the divinely-inspired record. (Bishop D. Wilson.)
That ye walk worthy of the Lord.
Life a walk
Having entered the world, at once we leave the moment of our nativity, as a starting-place, and incessantly advance towards death, as a common habitation, where, sooner or later, all men meet. Other travellers may, if they please, delay their journey, or retrace their steps; but we cannot do either. Time, enfolding us from the first moment of our life, perpetually carries us forward, whether we wake or sleep, whether we consent to it or resist, without permitting us to turn back, or indulge in the shortest repose. We are like him on board a vessel propelled by sea and wind, whose personal motion does not arrest or abate his course. But as the roads and projects of travellers are very different, so there is a great diversity of habit and manners in men’s lives. Wicked men follow one way, and good men another. The pagan steers one course, the Jew another, the Mohammedan another, and the Christian another, each wholly different from the others. This is what the Scripture calls “the way of man”; that is, the fashion and method of life which each man follows. And suitably to this expressive figure, it often makes use of the word walking, to signify a regulating and framing of the life after some certain manner, whether good or evil; meaning the tenor of our lives, and our customary deportment. There is nothing more common in the Psalms, and in the Proverbs, than these forms of speech; “to walk in integrity”; or, on the contrary, “to walk in fraud and iniquity”: and in the writings of the New Testament, “to walk in light,” or, “in darkness”; “after the Spirit,” or, “after the flesh”; with other similar phrases, all signifying a certain manner and condition of life, good or evil, as it is qualified. Agreeably to this scriptural style, the apostle says here, “that ye might walk”; meaning, that you may live, that you may regulate and form your lives. (J. Daille.)
It is said that among the high Alps, at certain seasons, the traveller is told to proceed quietly; for on the steep slopes overhead the snow hangs so evenly balanced that the sound of a voice or the report of a gun may destroy the equilibrium, and bring down an immense avalanche that will overwhelm everything in ruin in its downward path. And so about our way there may be a soul in the very crisis of its moral history, trembling between life and death, and a mere touch or shadow may determine its destiny. A young lady, who was deeply impressed with the truth, and was ready, under conviction of sin, to ask, “What must I do to be saved” had all her solemn impressions dissipated by the unseemly jesting of a member of the Church. Her irreverent and worldly spirit cast a repellent shadow on the young lady not far from the kingdom of God. How important that we should always and everywhere walk worthy of our high calling as Christians. (T. Stork.)
Walking so as to please God
1. All mere speculative knowledge is profitless. If the whole world of science were before me, and yet if its principles were not applied, it might puff me up but it would be of no utility. Much more is this so with regard to Divine truth. I may have all knowledge, but if I lack the faith that worketh by love it is vain.
2. But there is one peculiar glory about Divine truth--he that knows one truth cannot be wholly ignorant of its bearings. It is a chain that has involved in it link within link, and he that touches one can move the whole. E.g., He that has a spiritual knowledge of God loves Him, and he that loves Him loves His will, and he that loves His will desires to do it.
1. Every man living in sin is dead, a cumberer of the ground, and only fit to be cut down. This is his worthlessness. He is as unprofitable servant and spiritually worthless. This is one of the first teachings of the Spirit, and even the saint is compelled to confess that in Him dwelleth no good thing (Genesis 32:9-10). This was the confession of the Centurion and the Prodigal.
2. But although in the natural man this is so, and the spiritual man is made to feel it--yet the latter knows that he has been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, redeemed for glory, and renewed by the Holy Spirit, and so is made worthy by grace.
3. Hence he is under powerful obligations to walk worthy by being fruitful in good works. This the natural man cannot be any more than a bad tree can produce good fruit, but the renewed man can be and is.
(1) The characteristics of a good work are--
(a) that God has commanded it;
(b) that it is the result of faith--for without faith it is impossible to please God.
Faith first pleads the righteousness of Christ as the ground of acceptance, and then lays hold of the strength of Christ as the power for performance. “In the Lord I have righteousness and strength.”
(2) In these sorts of works we are to be fruitful. There must be no reserve. All we have and are is to be devoted to God’s service.
II. The high aim--to please God in all things.
1. This is impossible to the natural man who is without faith. Even a child of God does many things that are displeasing to God. There was but one who was perfectly well-pleasing to God. But in Him we are pleasing too--for we are made the righteousness of God in Him.
2. The Christian aims at acting out this righteousness in unreserved obedience, in little things as well as great--in eating and drinking, etc. With such a life God is well pleased.
III. The Divine knowledge. Notice the order of procedure--knowing the will of God, doing it, and by doing it brought into closer acquaintance with God. “If any man will do His will he shall know.” “Thus shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord.” David knew more than the ancients, because he kept God’s precepts. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
I. What is meant by all pleasing? We are to please everybody that we may please God.
1. The wish to please or to be liked by everybody is a virtue or a sin according as it is a means or an end. If you please only to be admired it is selfish and has no religion in it. But if you wish to please that Christ may be liked, and that you may have more influence for good, then in pleasing others you will please God.
2. By this rule we reconcile St. Paul’s apparent contradiction, “If I yet pleased men I should not be a servant of Christ,” with “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” It is evident that we may, on the one hand, so make compromises in order to please that we shall not walk worthy of the Lord, and that on the other we may think we are walking worthy of the Lord by a strictness and severity which are certainly not unto all pleasing.
3. It would be quite a mistake to suppose that Christ did not please men. There were some, of course, He never tried to please--the proud and hypocritical. But he pleased the multitude. The record of his early life, is “He grew in favour both with God and man;” and afterwards “all the people rejoiced for the glorious things which were done by Him.”
II. How did Christ please men? and how may we by pleasing like Him, walk worthy of Him?
1. The first secret of all pleasing is humility. If you meet a man who is in everything your superior, and yet he treats you as if he were your equal without the least appearance of condescension, there is a charm in that which every one feels. This was exactly what Christ did and what we are to do.
2. Sympathy. It is the spring of all power to throw yourself into another’s mind, look with his eye, feel with his touch, to do this with all, and with the countenance and manner as well as the word, and to be always respectful with your sympathy. This is the capability to please, and Jesus had it without measure.
3. That potent and rare art of seeing the good in everybody. Christ saw the Israelite indeed in the rude Nathaniel; He loved the impetuous, self-ignorant young man; and asked his Father to forgive His murderers since they knew not what they did. Is there then anything more Christlike than to see the germ of piety before it developes, the bit of blue on a dark sky, the excuse in every thing? He who knows how to do that “walks unto all pleasing.”
III. It is the duty and in the power of every one to be pleasing. For to please does not depend upon the face, dress, form, riches, talents, wealth, etc, but upon moral character, tact, effort, and simple motive. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Fruitful in every good work.
Fruitfulness and progress
I. Fertility implies--
1. Life. A fruit-bearing tree is necessarily a living tree. The fruitful Christian has been grafted into the Saviour and partakes of His life. This life is worthy of our nature, capability, and destiny. How different the idea of many. Business, money, pleasure, science, art--the pursuit of these is life; all that it demands of energy, all that it imparts of joy.
2. Culture. The tree left without pruning will soon bring forth leaves only. So the fruitful Christian is one who is under the care of the Divine husbandman (John 15:2). Abounding fertility is the result of His gracious culture. The pruning processes of His providence are often necessary. Without these there may be woody suckers or luxuriant foliage, but no fruit.
3. The Christian living in Christ and pruned by God is to be fruitful in every good work (John 15:8). The works to be done must be good in their nature, influence, and issue, glorifying to God, beneficial to man, and worthy of the life the Christian has in union with His Lord. Note the breadth of requirement--“every.” The physical and social elevation of the alien, the outcast, and the ignorant should go hand and hand with saving agencies. Was Christ not Physician for body and soul, the loftiest Philanthropist, the sincerest Patriot, the truest Friend?
II. Progress. The fruitfulness is not exhaustive. The tree grows all the more healthily when its fruitfulness abounds.
1. Hence the connection here between fertility and progress. We must bear fruit that we may be strong, and do good that we may grow. Many forget this and find that “withholding more than is meet tendeth to poverty.” Their selfishness starves their souls.
2. The real means of growth is the knowledge of God. Our fruitfulness may be a condition, but it cannot make us grow. The knowledge of God is the true nourishment of the soul. A God in shadow or unknown creates superstition, and to view Him in only one aspect of His character will lead either to fanaticism or mysticism.
3. This knowledge is the only knowledge which encompasses our whole being and fills the whole man. It supplies truth for the intellect, conscience, and heart; stimulus and nourishment for every attribute of our being. Devotion to mere human studies may develop the intellectual side of our nature at the expense of the moral and social, but the growth which this promotes is symmetrical and full. Conclusion: These two things embrace two sides of our nature, action and reflection. They act and react on each other. The activity would pass into formalism were it not fed by the contemplation of God. Our meditation would pass into fanaticism were it not regulated by active duty. (J. Spence, D. D.)
1. As no tree can bear fruit, unless it hath a certain life-giving seed in itself, and is nourished daily with good sap; so no one can bear spiritual fruit, unless he hath in himself the seed of the Spirit, and is daily watered with the outpourings of Divine grace.
2. As that tree is pleasing to God, which does not occupy the ground in vain, neither dissipates the moisture which it draws on leaves and blossoms alone; but produces good fruits: so he alone is pleasing to God, who does not uselessly occupy room in the Church, neither wears the appearance and form of godliness alone, but puts forth its power and virtue by fruitfulness.
3. As a tree lives and bears fruit not for itself but its owner, and for others to whom he sees fit to impart its fruits: so a godly man ought not to live for himself alone, nor to care only that his life be honourable to himself, but that it may be honourable to God and beneficial to all his brethren.
4. Behold the spacious manner in which the fruitfulness of a godly man is exercised. In this he differs from a tree. For no one seeks different fruits from the same tree, but God expects every Christian to produce every kind of good works (Galatians 5:22). There are, therefore, two things to be noted in the matter of the fruitfulness.
(1) That God does not approve of every kind of fruitfulness, but restricts it to good works. But those are called good works which are commanded and directed by God. Wisely and piously spake Cyprian, “The exercises of righteousness are to be chosen not by our own will, but by the will of God.” And in Isaiah God complains of the Jews, that they worshipped Him by the precepts of men (Isaiah 29:13).
(2) That fruitfulness of any one kind is not sufficient, but we must be fruitful in every good work. If any one produce the good fruit of alms deeds, and mingle with them the impure fruits of lewdness; or if any one be conspicuous for chastity, and defile himself by avarice; he would not answer the Divine will, or the apostle’s desire of being fruitful in every good work: nay, he is accounted by God bad and unclean. For who shall say that any one is clean, who is wont to wallow even in a single sewer? (1 Thessalonians 5:22-23). (Bishop Davenant.)
“Fruitful in every good work”
From the decalogue downwards. Scripture teaching has been poured impartially into two moulds--to know the truth and to do the right.
I. The nature of each.
1. Fruitfulness in every good work.
(1) Work. They who find Christ find rest, but not exemption from work; “peace in believing” only supplies a foothold whereon the labourer may stand more steadily and so work with more effect.
(2). Good work, not energy of action merely.
(a) The Master is good: God.
(b) The motive: love.
(c) The aim: the good of the world.
(d) The standard: the law.
(a) Not that man should go round the world and meddle with every thing, but that he should neglect no opportunity that comes in his way. Do not waste time and effort in trying to do all at once, but cultivate a universal willingness.
(b) Act those virtues, too, that are not in your nature. When a man of might bears the infirmities of the weakest, and the timid display a martyr courage, there is more conspicuous evidence of grace.
(c) Do not pick and choose but do whatever God has put in your way, whether the opening of a church or the digging of a well, the support of a missionary or the widening of a street.
(4) Fruitful. This indicates--
(a) Spontaneousness. The tree has first been made good, and then the fruit grows spontaneously. A partaker of Christ gives forth Christ-like actions. There is a good deal of artificial charity. People can tie oranges to a fir-tree; but true Christian beneficence is a fruit that grows and is not tied on. The water in the pipes connected with a reservoir must flow by reason of the pressure from above. “The love of Christ constraineth us.”
(b) Sweetness and profitableness.
2. Increase in the knowledge of God.
(1) In obtaining reconciliation through Christ we have the beginning of this knowledge, and those who attain the beginning can never rest there.
(2) Among other features of the Divine nature which the experienced disciple knows better now, the Fatherliness of God is perhaps that in which the greatest advances are attained. It is long ere perfect love casts out all fear; but much progress is made in its diminution by the inlet of confiding love. It is like the process of exhausting the air from a glass cup, and so making it adhere more and more firmly to the table. More and more fear is drawn off from the Christian’s bosom; more and more firmly therefore does it cleave to the Almighty strength it leans upon.
II. The union and reciprocal relations of the two.
1. They grow together not only as two parallel boughs of one tree, one of which might live if the other were wrenched off. The union is like two sides of a human body: if one were wanting the other would die.
2. Contemplate the two sides alternately.
(1) Active obedience is necessary to the increase of spiritual experience. Spiritual contemplation soon runs to seed when duty is neglected. The old monks desired to increase in the knowledge of God, and hid themselves in caves where good works were impossible. So they made themselves barren in that wherein God had commanded them to be fruitful. Simon on the top of his pillar with the world wondering at him as a saint, did not know God so well as he might if he had kept a shop all day and played with his children at night. In active life you will make most progress in this knowledge. The more work you do the more you will be wearied, which will lead you to lean oftener on the Father and thus increase your acquaintance.
(2) Contemplative communion with God is necessary to successful activity. If you rush into work without prayer the work will wane like the flame of a lamp when the oil is exhausted. When our work increases in bulk we need more of experimental communion to animate the extended body. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
You never saw in nature a tree which yielded all sorts of fruit, and you never will. I have seen a tree so grafted that it produced four kinds of fruit at one time, but I remarked that it was a poor business in reference to two of the varieties; for one of the grafts, more natural than the others to the parent stem, drew off the most of the sap, and flourished well, but robbed the other branches. The second sort of fruit managed to live pretty fairly, but not so well as it would have done on its own stem. As for the third and fourth, they were mere attempts at fruit of the smallest size. This tree was shown to me as a great curiosity; it is not likely that practical gardeners will be encouraged by the experiment. But what would you think of a tree upon which you saw grapes, and figs, and olives, and apples, and all other good fruits growing at one time? This is the emblem of what instructed believers will become: they will produce all sorts of goodness and graciousness to the honour of their heavenly Father, I have no doubt that you will naturally abound most in certain good works for which you have the largest capacity, but still nothing ought to come amiss to you. In the great house of the Church we want servants who will not be simply cooks or housemaids, but general servants, maids of all-work, prepared to do anything and everything. I have known persons in household employment in England who would not do a turn beyond their special work to save their masters’ lives: these are a sort of servants of whom the fewer the better. In India this is carried to a ridiculous extreme. The Hindoo water-bearer will not sweep the house, nor light a fire, nor brush your clothes--he will fetch water, and nothing else: you must, therefore, have a servant for each separate thing, and then each man will do his own little bit, but he will not go an inch beyond. When we enter into Christ’s Church we should come prepared to wash the saints’ feet, or bear their burdens, or bind up their wounds, or fight their foes, or act as steward, or shepherd, or nurse. It has been well said that if two angels in heaven were summoned to serve the Lord, and there were two works to be done, an empire to be ruled, or a crossing to be swept, neither angel would have a choice as to which should be appointed him, but would gladly abide the will of the Lord. Let us be equally prepared for anything, for everything by which fruit can be produced for the Well-beloved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The necessity of Divine knowledge to Christian fruitfulness
There is a well in your garden, and a pump for raising the water to the surface. This for ordinary seasons is sufficient. But at length a drought compels you to make a greater demand upon the well. Every day you ply the handle harder and longer, to preserve the life of the languishing vegetation. At last the supply fails, and you ply your task in vain. No water comes, because there has been too much working; the work degenerates into a barren noise. What then? Sink your well deeper, and it will stand a greater strain. We must go and do likewise when, by too long-continued activity, our movement becomes fruitless labour. When we work till our souls are wrought out, we must go deeper down into the hidden veins of the soul’s supply--go deeper into the love of God, by secret communion with the Saviour; and the increase of His favour consciously compassing your soul will sustain a new and greater effort of Christian activity. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The necessity of Christian fruitfulness to Divine knowledge
In the case of the monks, their kite, so to speak, was pointing heavenward and rising; but it was not rising far enough nor fast enough. It seemed to be struggling upward, but held in check by the string that attached it to the ground. That line which bound it to the earth seemed the only hindrance of its flight to heaven. Like foolish children, they cut the line that bound it to the earth, expecting to see it then rising unimpeded to the sky; but, lo! the kite when so set free, instead of ascending majestically to heaven, whirled round two or three times wildly, giddily, and then fell fiat upon the ground. Such was the result of Rome’s effort to raise her votaries to heaven, by cutting their connection with the earth. The so-called saints fell lower than before. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The essential connection between knowledge and piety
As the swing of the pendulum to the right becomes the power which carries it to the left, and its swing to the left the power which carries it back to the right; so true good-doing makes the doer know God more, and true knowledge of God sends back the scholar with a new impulse to his work in the world. Moreover, by the balancing alternations of the pendulum aberrations are prevented, and the steady, true-going of the clock is secured; so the Christian life goes best which goes between a deep, comtemplative, spiritual knowledge of God, and hearty practical work, as far as opportunity offers, for every interest of every brother man. These two God hath joined; let no man dare to put them asunder. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
No work must be declined
You have probably read of a certain renowned corporal in the American service a century ago. A general as he rode along saw a body of men endeavouring to lift timber. They were short-handed, and the work lagged, but their famous corporal stood by ordering them about at a magnificent rate. The general paused and said, “Why don’t you lend them help and put your shoulder to it?” “Why, sir,” said the great little officer, “how can you think of such a thing? Do you know who I am? I am a corporal! “The general got off his horse, pulled off his coat, and helped to move the timber, and by his judicious help the soldiers achieved their task. Then he turned to the high and mighty gentleman and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you want a man to do such work as this you can send for me. I am General Washington.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you.
The knowledge of the Divine will
The petition asks--
I. For a bestowment of a knowledge of the divine will as attained by a spiritual understanding and wisdom. The faith and charity of the Colossians had been so reported to the apostle as to fill his heart with thankfulness, which took its habitual course, that of unceasing prayer. Blending the subject of his prayer with his purpose in offering it, St. Paul asks--
1. Generally that they may he filled, etc.
three terms which in their union signify an impartation from above of a thorough insight into the will of God as directing the practical life. Based on the eternal purpose of redemption, this will is the counsel of human sanctification. As a matter of request it is the Holy Spirit’s operation on our faculties making the knowledge experimental, rewriting the moral law on the heart, and making it there supreme.
2. Particularly the apostle connects with this the spiritual wisdom and understanding which bring Divine knowledge into the sphere of the human faculties. The Holy Spirit imparts it to the “understanding” which makes it the object of study, and aggregates the whole into wisdom, which is the practical application to life of the precepts which the understanding embraces. But both are spiritual. The unregenerate understanding may make the moral law an object of study, and arrange the whole into a system of rules for the wisdom of human ethics. But in the regenerate the precepts are studied in the light of the new nature, and the whole wisdom of holiness is the result of a teaching that is “from above” (James 1:17).
II. For practical conformity with that will in--
(1) in every good work. All the manifestations of godliness are the fruit of a Divine life within wrought by Christ indwelling by His Spirit. But the phrase “every good work” teaches us that the thoughts, words, and deeds of holiness are our own. In their secret source they have a heavenly origin, in their manifestation they are human. The wonderful completeness arrests attention. The tree brings forth all the fruits that the infinite diversity of the relations of life permit.
(2) The words “increasing in the knowledge of God” suggests that Christian fruitfulness knows no limitation. As the knowledge of God and His will grows, the fruits of obedience grow likewise, and with growing sanctity the notion of the Divine Being becomes more clear. But the general spirit of the prayer recommends the former, viz., that the enlarging knowledge of God’s will, as “proved” in its varying applications in daily life, leads to an unlimited increase in good works. To the Christian the interior law of God unfolds perpetually new obligations; and as it does this, the obedient life puts on new aspects of perfection.
(3) We now go back to the glowing words which precede “That ye might walk,” etc. Here is a twofold standard.
(a) Such a walk as should do honour to God.
(b) Such an aim to secure His approval as should win His complacency always and in all things.
There is a daring completeness in this sentence. There is no reservation for human infirmity, no undertone of deprecation of the Divine severity, no hint of a tolerant construction of our conduct.
2. Endurance presented as a passive patience combined with an active longsuffering.
(1) While the Divine knowledge is the instrument or energy of the holy life, it is the Divine power which is connected with the patience of that holiness. The strength of God of course accomplishes all; but that strength is “made perfect in weakness.” The interior discipline of religion is both endurance of what is imposed, and resistance of all temptation to rebel. Thus the grandeur of the Christian conflict is that the omnipotence of God is brought down into the secret arena of the struggle. He infuses every kind of strength--strength to bear the inflictions of the Divine will in the sorrows of life, its disappointments, the oppositions of evil, the inexhaustible varieties of the pressure of the one great cross; strength to resist temptations from without, in the assaults of Satan, the waywardness of men, persecution, etc.
(2) If this be the case, surely the believer should “count it all joy” to be undergoing temptation and that only in the feeling of victory. The very conflict itself is joyous, if Divine and human strength unite; the spirit feels most here what it is to be one with Christ.
3. Thanksgiving enters into all the other elements of the Christian life, and is not merely their supplement. It is here made to spring solely from the sense of redemption. But since the perfecting of the redemptional scheme all the benedictions of providence become redemptional. To pass from the kingdom of darkness into that of God’s dear Son is not to leave the kingdoms of nature and providence, but to add to them, as he shows further on, all the glory of the inheritance of the saints in light. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
The apostolic prayer
Chrysostom said to those who would realize the classical allusion more vividly than we do, “that as in the games we urge on those who are near victory, so Paul here prays for an increase of Christian attainment for the Church that had already attained so much.” Hence he says, “For this cause.” We should rightly consider this prayer for such increase:--
(1) Because it teaches us what we should seek in our intercession for Churches. Our standard of Church prosperity is convicted by such a prayer; our right plans for Church increase are here inspired.
(2) Because it teaches us what we are to seek and expect for ourselves: what is really worth aiming, struggling, praying for. Paul prays--
I. That their knowledge may increase--doubtless partly because of the error that was confusing some, but also because knowledge is always good. Three expressions describe it that are frequently used in combination in Scripture, and which Aristotle denotes as intellectual virtues.
1. Knowledge. This is descriptive of acquaintance with any subject. He has it who has information. It is essential as the basis of culture, but is only the basis.
2. Wisdom is higher than knowledge, and includes both that and understanding. Newman well calls it “Reason exercised upon knowledge.”
3. Spiritual understanding the application of knowledge to practical detail, the following out of its processes to daily duty and to the spiritual realm.
II. That as a result of their knowledge their character may ripen. The knowledge of God’s will must result in action, or it is valueless. The character resulting from this knowledge includes--
1. Walking worthily of the Lord. The Christian life is an activity, a progress tested by the highest standard.
2. Increasing in the knowledge of God. So knowledge increases. This time it is more than knowledge of God’s will, it is knowledge of God’s self. Obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge.
3. Being strengthened with all might. Energy, inner energy, inner energy of the highest sort for endurance.
4. Giving thanks to the Father. Life shall have music in it--the highest music of praise. For what?
(1) Fitness for blessedness, “meet for inheritance.” An inheritance is allotted to those who are ready for it.
(2) Emancipation from the power of darkness--rescue from the tyranny of confusion, ignorance, peril, evil.
(3) Settlement in an empire of liberty, order and honour.
(4) And through and above all for Christ as the means to blessing, and Himself the chiefest blessing. (U. R. Thomas.)
The power of unceasing prayer
“If I was ever brought into the kingdom of God,” said a venerable Christian lady, “it was owing to the intercessions of old Dr. L. He married me, and he used often to call and speak a few earnest words to me about my soul. ‘You are now a wife and a mother,’ he would say; ‘do not delay to give yourself to the Lord, and to pray for grace to fulfil your duties. I shall never cease to plead for you.’“ The thought that a man of God was pleading for her before God, as well as pleading with her at the bar of her own conscience, was the point which seems to have made the impression.
Sanctified knowledge is the Holy Spirit’s greatest helper. “It carries the torch before faith; it opens the door of eternity to hope; it presents love with a perfectly beautiful object; it furnishes joy with its sweetest melodies; it supplies patience with the strongest motives, and resignation with the noblest patterns.” (S. Charnock.)
The difference between believers and unbelievers is not so much in the extent, as in the manner of their knowledge. An unbeliever may know more, and be able to talk more of Divine things than many believers, but he knows nothing spiritually and savingly, with a holy, heavenly light. A believer may comprehend less, but he apprehends more. (G. S. Bowes.)
The best knowledge
Many there are that are accounted deep scholars, great linguists, excellent mathematicians, sharp logicians, knowing politicians, fine rhetoricians, sweet musicians, etc. These may be good or bad, as the case may be, but he is certainly the best grammarian that has learnt to speak the truth from his heart; the best astronomer that hath his conversation in heaven; the best musician that hath learned to sing the praises of his God; the best arithmetician, that so numbereth his days as to apply himself to wisdom; he is knowing in ethics, that traineth up his family in the fear of the Lord; he is the best economist who is wise to salvation, prudent in giving and taking good counsel; he is the best politician, and he is a good linguist that speaks the language of Canaan. (J. Spencer.)
Strengthened with all might according to His glorious power.
God’s all strength
I. The strength.
1. The reference is not to intellectual strength, although no doubt as a highly intellectual man, the apostle would highly prize this in his brethren. It is important as a shield to protect from imposition, for guidance in times of sifting or wild speculation, and its possession widens the distance between man and the lower creation, and assimilates to Him whose understanding is infinite.
2. Here reference is to power distinctively spiritual. Paul prayed that they might be strengthened in their ethical principles, so that they might be stronger in their faith, hope, and love. This was important for their Christian consistency, usefulness, and prosperity,
II. The strengthening. “Strengthened in all strength.” As if the apostle conceived them as needing to be immersed in some other one’s strength greater than their own: and as he was thinking of Divine strength, he did not scruple to say “all” strength, i.e., strength all-sufficient. Not merely enough for some duties and trials, but such as would enable them to say, “I can do all things” (Philippians 4:13). All kinds of strength belong to God, physical, intellectual, moral “Nothing is too hard for the Lord.” “Power belongeth unto God,” and not only that which can create and uphold. What power of perception from which nothing is hidden! of memory! looking back into infinity; of prevision! looking forward into eternity. Hence this moral power. What power of goodness, righteousness, compassion, and forgiving fervour--all inherently infinite. No wonder Paul speaks of “the power of His glory,” the power that is inherent in His glory and therefore glorious. No wonder that he desires that the Colossians should be steeped in it.
III. The result of the strengthening.
1. Patience is needed on the part of all in such a world as this. Men everywhere have had trials that have taxed them to the utmost, and will continue to have. But the reference here is to the trials which Christians have in addition as Christians, to which they are exposed for the gospel’s sake at home and in society.
2. Long-suffering is akin to patient endurance. It is the opposite of irascibility in relation to persons who deal with us unreasonably or unkindly, whereas patience has to do with things. With trying things our difficulty is to endure; with trying persons to suppress irritability.
3. But these are not enough. Paul wants joyfulness in addition. But he knew that “the happy God” could and would make “all things work together for good,” and so enable His people to “rejoice in the Lord alway.” (J. Morison, D. D.)
Strengthened with glorious power
I. Why does the apostle say, strengthened with “all” might?
1. To intimate that we fight not against one enemy, neither are opposed by weapons on one side only, but by many, and on every side. Unless we overcome these enemies, one and all, we are conquered. There is therefore need of all might against every kind of enemy.
II. The apostle could have said, we are strengthened by God, or by His power; but he adds this epithet, glorious power.
1. That we may place the greater confidence in this Divine power. Because this very word contains in itself an earnest of victory and triumph; for this could not be glorious power, if it might be overcome by an evil spirit and sin (Romans 8:1-39.).
2. It is called glorious power on account of the admirable mode of conquering the devil, the world, and the flesh. For the Spirit of God not immediately, by His absolute power, beats off these enemies of our salvation; but by inspiring us with strength, causes even ourselves to trample them under. Moreover, that power must necessarily be very admirable and glorious which makes feeble man, clothed with sinful flesh, to overcome the insults and wiles of devils, the alarms and solicitations of the flesh, the hatred, snares, and injuries of the whole world. Of this glorious power God Himself speaks (2 Corinthians 12:9; Vide 1 Corinthians 1:27). (Bishop Davenant.)
The source and object of spiritual strength
I. The process experienced. Strengthened with all might.
1. Man is essentially weak, and his frequent boasting of strength is but a sign of it. Adam was weak, and fell before the first assault; and now that sin, thus triumphing, has entered into our world, degenerate men are weaker still. It was when we were without strength that God laid help on One mighty to save.
2. Yet men rarely think of their weakness, and consider themselves equal to all the demands made upon them. It is only when a man receives new power that he is conscious of his weakness. It is when you try to stem a torrent that you know its force, so when a Christian begins to crucify his flesh he knows its power. But for him there is might to overcome. Yet how much weakness is manifest in professors. You see men conquered by the love of the world, and those who began well slackening their pace, and instead of resisting the allurements around them becoming entangled by them and falling into spiritual apostasy.
3. Mark the fulness of the blessing.
(1) With might for all the faculties of the soul, so that every power of manhood shall be invigorated.
(2) For all the wants of life created by its varied circumstances of prosperity and adversity.
II. The divine principle manifested--“according to the power of His glory” (Ephesians 3:16).
1. Spiritual power, then, is not indigenous to the soul; it is from God, who alone knows its capacities and needs. If the word or smile of an earthly: parent can strengthen the soul of his child, much more God. We can only influence from without, God from within.
(1) The glory of God is powerful in creation. “The heavens declare,” etc. Power is everywhere apparent. Even the thoughtless, who have no eye to trace His wisdom and no heart to acknowledge His goodness, are constrained to see “His eternal power and Godhead.”
(3) In redemption. Christ, who is “the brightness of His glory,” is “the power of God.” The exceeding greatness of His power working by His spirit accomplishes the new creation and strengthens the souls of His children.
3. The expression suggests the measure of the might imparted--not according to human power or angelic might, but according to a Divine measure. As the power of the Divine glory is manifested in nature, providence, or redemption, so will it be in the souls,’experiences, and triumphs of His people.
4. It is also the model of our might. We may be strengthened with a might corresponding to the power of God’s glory, so that we shall be strong in accordance with our finite nature as God is strong according to His infinite nature.
III. The great moral purpose of this strengthening--not so much to do as to suffer, which requires the greatest strength.
1. Patience has its sphere in relation to God.
(1) In the endurance of trial. Our discipline is often protracted, and we are apt to sink. How much we need the promised strength.
(2) In anticipation of coming good. The deliverance is long protracted. We become impatient, and ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” and impatience often leads to sin, and is always a sign of weakness. To possess our souls in patience and bide God’s time requires His strength. Long-suffering has its sphere in relation to man, and means long-mindedness as opposed to shortness of temper in the midst of irritation. It requires the strength of God to imitate His forbearance who “endured such contradiction of sinners.”
3. The spirit of this patience or joyfulness produced by a consciousness of power to strengthen, deliver, reward. (J. Spence, D. D.)
Patience is the superintendent of all the affairs of God, and without it it is not possible to execute His commands or to wait for His promises. It defeats all its enemies without toil. Its repose is more efficacious than the movements and deeds of others. It renders those things salutary to us which, of their own nature, are most pernicious. It changes poisons into remedies, and defeats into victories. It rejoices the angels, it confounds devils, it overcomes the world. It subdues the greatest courage, and converts the most obstinate hearts. It is the strength and the triumph of the Church, according to the saying of the ancient oracle, “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” (Tertullian.)
Patience and long-suffering
“Long suffering” will be found to express patience in respect of persons, and “patience” the same in respect to things. The man is long-suffering, who, having to do with injurious persons does not suffer himself easily to be provoked by them, or to blaze up into anger. The man is patient who, under a great siege of trials, bears up and does not lose heart or courage (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 1:6). We should speak, there fore, of the long-suffering of David (2 Samuel 16:10-13), the patience of Job (James 5:11). Thus, while both graces are ascribed to the saints, only long-suffering is an attribute of God. Men may tempt and provoke Him, and He may and does display an infinite long-suffering in regard of them (Exodus 34:6; Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20); there may be a resistance to God in men, because He respects the wills with which He has created them, even when those wills are fighting against Him. But there can be no resistance to God, nor burden upon Him, the Almighty, from things; therefore patience cannot find place in Him, nor is it ever rightly ascribed to Him; for when God is called “the God of patience” (Romans 15:5) this does not mean God whose attribute patience is, but God who gives patience to His people. (See also 1 Peter 5:10; Hebrews 13:20; Romans 15:13). (Archbishop Trench.)
The two words occur in the same context in 2Co 6:4; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 2 Timothy 3:10; James 5:10-11. The difference of meaning is best seen in their opposites. While patience is the temper which does not easily succumb under suffering, long-suffering is the self-restraint that does not hastily retaliate a wrong. The one is opposed to cowardice or despondency, the other to wrath or revenge (Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 16:32). (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Peace in pain
“I have been ready to doubt,” said Dr. Payson, “whether pain be really an evil; for though more pain was crowded into last week than any other week of my life, yet it was one of the happiest weeks of my life, and now I am ready to say, ‘Come what will, come sickness, pain, agony, poverty, loss of friends; only let God come with them, and they shall be welcome.’“ Later, on his death-bed, he said, “Every bone is almost dislocated with pain; yet while my body is thus tortured, my soul is perfectly happy and peaceful, more happy than I can possibly express to you. I seem to swim in a flood of glory which God pours down on me.”
I heard of a city missionary who was going along one of the streets and saw a little girl sleeping on the steps of a door, and he awoke her, and said, “Why are you sleeping here in this drizzling rain?” And she said, “My father has turned me out of doors. He’s a drunkard, and I’m waiting till he falls asleep, and then I’m going into the house.” The next morning the drunken father awakened from his dream of iniquity, and he saw his little girl preparing his breakfast, and he said, “Milly, why do you stay with me?” “Oh,” she said, “father, I love you; and my mother, when she died, said I must never leave you. She said the rum fiend would sometimes go out of you, and then you would be very kind to me; and so she said I was never to leave you, and, father, I never will.”
Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet.
The Father’s gift through the Son
1. These grounds of thanksgiving are but various aspects of the great blessing of salvation. The diamond flashes green and purple and yellow and red, according to the angle at which its facets catch the eye.
2. All these blessings are the present possessions of Christians.
3. Note the remarkable correspondence with Acts 26:17-18.
I. The first ground of thankfulness which all Christians have is that they are fit for the inheritance. The metaphor is drawn from Israel’s “inheritance” of Canaan. Unfortunately our use of “heir” and “inheritance” is confined to succession on death. In Scripture it implies possession by lot, and points to the fact that the people did not win their land, but “God had a favour unto them.” So the Christian inheritance is not won by merit, but given by God’s goodness.
1. Is it present or future? Both: because whatever may wait to be revealed, the essence of all which heaven can bring is ours to-day who live in the faith and love of Christ. The difference is one of degree, not of kind. He who can say, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance” will neither leave his treasures behind by death, nor enter on a new inheritance. Its beginnings are here but as the “earnest,” limited, in comparison, as the tuft of grass which used to be given to a new possessor, when set against the broad lands from which it was plucked. Here the idea is that of a present fitness for a mainly future inheritance.
2. The inheritance is, “in the light,” a realm where purity and knowledge and gladness dwell.
3. From this it follows that it can only be possessed by saints. There is no merit, but there is congruity. If it be a kingdom of light, then only souls who love the light can go thither, and until owls and bats rejoice in the sunshine there will be no way of being fit but by ourselves being “light in the Lord.”
4. But men not perfectly pure are fit. The Colossians were made meet at their conversion. Incipient faith in Christ works a change so great as to fit us, for although it be but as a grain of mustard seed, it shapes from henceforth our personal being. There is nothing in this inconsistent with the need of continual growth in congruity. True fitness will become more and more fit.
5. The land was parted among the tribes according to their strength; some had a wider, some a narrower strip. So as there are differences of character here there will be differences in participation hereafter. “Star differeth from star.”
II. The second ground is the change of king and country. In the “deliverance” there may be a reference to that of Israel suggested by “inheritance,” while the “translation” may be derived from the practice of deporting whole bodies of natives from conquered kingdoms to some other part of the conqueror’s realm.
1. The two kingdoms and their kings.
(1) The power of darkness (Luke 22:18) implies harsh, arbitrary dominion, a realm of cruel and grinding sway. Men who are not Christians live in a subjection to darkness of ignorance, misery, and sin.
(2) What a wonderful contrast do the other kingdom and King present! The Son who is the object of God’s love. Wherever men lovingly obey Christ is His kingdom of light, gladness, hope, knowledge, and righteousness.
2. The transference of subjects. A great conqueror has come, and speaks to us as Sennacherib did to the Jews (2 Kings 18:31-32). If we listen He will lead us away and plant us, not as pining exiles, but as happy citizens in the kingdom which the Father has appointed.
3. The transference is effected the moment we yield our heart to Christ. When we die we shall change provinces, but not kingdoms or King, only we shall see the King in His beauty.
III. The heart and centre of all thankfulness is the redemption we receive through Christ.
1. Redemption is the act of delivering a captive by ransom. So it is the same as the deliverance of the previous verse, only what is there an act of power is here an act of self-sacrificing love. Christ’s death breaks the chains, sets us free, and acquires us for Himself.
2. The essential element of this redemption is forgiveness, not only the removal of legal penalties, however. The truest penalty of sin is that death which is separation from God; and the conceptions of judicial pardon and Fatherly forgiveness unite in the removal of that separation and the deliverance of the heart and conscience from the burden of guilt and a Father’s wrath.
3. Such forgiveness leads to that full deliverance from the power of darkness which is the completion of redemption. Forgiveness means “sending away” not only as guilt but as habit.
4. The condition of possessing this redemption is union with Christ. “In whom.” We cannot get His gifts without Himself.
5. Redemption is a present and growing possession. “We have,” or “are having.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The inheritance of the faithful
1. In the spirit of “joyfulness” Paul stirs up his brethren to gratitude.
2. This gratitude was due to God. They owed much to Epaphras, Paul, and Philemon, and others. Many are the subordinate cisterns out of which all have drawn refreshing water. But the water that is there, is there only because it has been supplied from the overflow of the inexhaustible fountain above.
3. God is “The Father”; not the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ my Father, yours, or ours; but absolutely the original, archetypal fountain from which all other excellent fatherhoods are derived. Full scope is thus left to the Colossians to claim their peculiar share of the blessing laid up in the Divine Fatherhood, e.g.
I. Meetness for the heavenly inheritance. A desire is expressed that they should be led out beyond themselves. “Giving thanks to the Father who hath made” not you, not myself, Timothy and all true brethren; “us.”
1. The inheritance. There are many heritages; some evil. This is “an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled,” etc., and thus one in heaven, “an eternal inheritance”--in one word, perfected salvation. To the heirs of this angels are ministers, and they, being “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ,” are “heirs of all things,” as they are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.
2. It is the inheritance of “the saints.” There are two classes among men. The inheritance belongs to the “holy ones.”
3. It is in “the light.” But it belongs not only to those who are in the light, but to those who are in the dusk.
4. For this God has made us meet to be “partakers,” i.e., partners, sharers, which annihilates selfishness. Things are not equally distributed here, but they will be there; and even here, like an earnest of what is coming, one of the greatest of Divine boons, the light, unlike our farthing candles, is wondrously impartial.
5. For this we need “meetness,” not for salvation, but for the heritage. Through sin we are disqualified. Happiness is interchangeable with holiness. Hence we need transformation. “Nothing that defileth shall enter” there.
II. The great deliverance.
1. The apostle was a rescued man, and so was Timothy, and the Colossians. They had all experienced emancipation and were free.
2. The Divine Father, who feels peculiarly at home in heaven, was the Author of their freedom, as He is of all liberty. Men have sold themselves, but as His offspring they have a right to the prerogatives of children, and God has come down in the person of Jesus to make them free.
3. This rescue is from the power of darkness.
(1) Men are in the dark in reference to all that was most important to their weal; as to their own nature, the character of God, and forgiveness.
(2) This darkness involves the obscuration of all that is fitted to impart delight. When we are out at night we might wander in the choicest gardens, and be surrounded with enchanting scenery, but it would be utterly blank; even if we were in delightful company we should not be able to adequately appreciate it.”
(3) More than this is involved. Darkness means danger, and hence the Colossians had been under its power, which is darkness personified. The idea is tyrannous power, power to do harm, because power in which malice predominates.
4. But the Great Father hath rescued us from this and translated us.
(1) Paul intended a contrast between the two conditions which lie on the opposite sides of the line that is drawn by faith in Christ. The apostle delighted in this contrast, hence his frequent allusions to it--and no wonder (see Acts 26:17-18).
(2) They were translated, i.e., transferred. The Jews were familiar with the idea. Again and again had masses of them been transported as prisoners of war. But this is translation not into slavery and degradation, but out of them. But Paul does not say as we might expect, into “light,” but into “the kingdom of God’s dear Son”--the kingdom of heaven where Jesus reigns. In the expression “the Son of His love” we see what we ought to feel towards Jesus. He should be our dear sovereign, and we should “love Him, for He first loved us.” (J. Morison, D. D.)
I. Heaven is an inheritance. How prone men are to attach importance to their good works, and how averse is human pride to admit that our own righteousness is as filthy rags. This arises perhaps from the feeling that if our works are destitute of merit they must disincline God to save us. But how unscriptural is this fear. One would think that the parable of the Prodigal had been invented to refute it. In spite of what has been written, and the controversies that have waxed hot on the question, the fact that heaven is an inheritance proves that it cannot be the reward of good works.
II. Heaven is an heritage of free grace. We have no such legal claim to it as may be established by some earthly inheritance. Heirs have entered on the property of those between whom and them there existed no acquaintanceship. We are constituted heirs of heaven by virtue of sonship. Thus heaven is not merely an inheritance but a home.
III. The heirs of heaven require to be made meet for it.
1. No elevation from obscurity to honour, or poverty to affluence, represents the difference between a state of sin in which grace finds us and the state of glory to which it raises us.
2. What were the most tempting banquet to one without appetite, or the most beauteous scene to the blind? Just what heaven would be to man with his ruined nature, low passions, and guilty conscience. Incapable of enjoying its holy beauties and happiness, he would find nothing there to delight his senses. Such an inheritance would be like the gift of a library to a savage.
3. It is the curse of vice, that where its desires outlive the power of gratification or are denied indulgence they become a torment. What then would a drunkard do in heaven? Or a voluptuary, or a worldling?
4. Hence the need of being made new creatures in Christ; and, by reason of remaining corruption, of getting with the title to the inheritance, a greater meetness for it; of sanctification as well as salvation. It was the office of Christ to purchase heaven; it is the work of the Spirit to prepare the heirs. Thus renewed and sanctified we shall carry a holy nature to a holy place.
IV. As heaven is the gift of God, so meetness for it is the work of God. By whatever instruments God executes His work, the work is not ours but His. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
I. The inheritance. It is--
1. God likeness. Christians are partakers of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Children inherit their father’s nature; so we receive our heavenly Father’s spirit, and the Divine nature is formed in us. We are conformed to the image of God’s Son, who is the image Of the invisible God in gentleness, beneficence, and perfectness of character.
2. Eternal life. This is no blessedness to the wicked, for it is continuance in sin and misery; for the righteous it is everlasting holiness and happiness.
3. Heaven. It is pleasant to think of heaven as a state, much more so as a place--home.
II. This inheritance cannot be merited.
1. All the riches of the earth cannot buy it, nor all its valour win it. “Worthy is the Lamb … for Thou hast redeemed us.”
2. It is our Father’s gift. He is not like Jacob, who selected a favourite son. The inheritance is offered to all.
3. It is meant purposely for the children. Some men die without a will, but God has made special provision for us.
4. It has been purchased by the death of Christ.
III. The inheritors. “Saints in light.”
1. They see the love of God. Some may ask of their professed lovers, “do you love me?” But the saints in light do not need to ask this question of God.
2. They are eternal realities, which to others seem as dreams. (W. Birch.)
What is inheritance
The pay of a soldier is not inheritance, nor the fees of a physician, nor the gains of trade, nor the wages of labour. Rewards of toil or skill are earned by the hands that receive them. What is inherited, on the other hand, may be the property of a new-born babe; and so you may see the coronet, which was won by the stout arm of valour, and first blazoned on a battered shield, standing above the cradle of an infant. True, the ample estate, the noble rank, the hereditary honours were won. But they that won them are long dead, and underneath tattered banners, once borne before them in bloody fight, but now hung high in the house of God, the grim old barons sleep in their tombs. The rewards of their prowess have descended to their successors, who, holding these, enjoy honours and estates, which we do not grudge them, but which their wealth never bought, and their courage never won. Thus the saints hold heaven. In the terms of law, it is theirs, not by conquest bat inheritance. It has been won for them by Jesus Christ. (T. Guthrie.)
The inheritance not the reward of merit
When one of the kings of England said to the assembled barons, “By what right hold ye your lands?” they stepped forward before the king, and, drawing their swords, exclaimed, “By these we hold our lands.” But no deeds of ours can obtain and hold the inheritance of the saints in light. When the first Napoleon had made himself Emperor, and was about to be crowned, the Roman Pontiff approached him bearing the crown; but Napoleon reached out his hand, took the crown, and himself placed it upon his head; then he stood up before the assembled multitude, as if to say, “My own arm hath won the victory, and my own courage hath lifted me to this position.” But in our case, which of us can earn the inheritance of the saints in light? If our celestial position depended on our merits, I fear many of us would never get through the gate of the city of the saints. (W. Birch.)
The inheritance of light
1. Turn from your inheritance of tears, anxiety, transitory stewardship; and you who have an inheritance of fame, respectability, etc., and lift up your eyes to the inheritance of light.
2. We have here an expression incomprehensible to many, but comprehended by a new illumination; as a bird of the greenwood may comprehend freedom, an antelope the wide wilderness, a creature of the waters its native seas. Thus not only by original but informed instinct do we comprehend the inheritance.
3. The text stands in contrast to that other inheritance from whence we have been delivered--the power of darkness, beneath whose sway we all were born, and familiarity with which enables us to appreciate the inheritance of light. We have heard of the salt mines of Cracow, where human beings labour and never see the eyes of the sun. To one born there how strange the stories of the upper world. It is a picture of the human heart without the Saviour; its faculties are all like spars and crystals in a cavern, and how hearty its rapture when it surveys its new world, and is made meet for the inheritance.
4. It is a purchased and promised possession, and is ours neither by purchase nor conquest. How could we, born in caves of darkness, have battled our way up to the terraces of light? How have passed through opposing hosts of darkness, and entered within the shining enclosures?
5. What is it? We can understand a human inheritance, park and mansion. The inheritance of light is our true and real being; pure vision; the insight of a holy nature. It represents a perfect union of the nature and the state. The mind and heart are full of light, and the light within creates light around. This is heaven; the residence of God who “is light,” and of His people who are “the children of light.” Even on earth we are able, in a degree, to rise to it. We know the light within, without, and beyond, and their respective glories. (Paxton Hood.)
The inheritance of the saints
I. The inheritance.
1. It is our common state, just as there is a common salvation. An earthly inheritance is impaired by division, but here the number of possessors really adds to the happiness of the individual partaker. Though one star differeth from another in glory, all shine.
2. How shall we estimate the inheritance? Compared with this what is that of the worldling, of the Jews in Canaan, of Adam before the fall, of the angels? Angels can never know the pleasures of reconciliation.
3. What are we to think of the state of blessedness that is intended to display the value of that blood which purchased it?
4. The possessors are saints, holy beings, for “without holiness no man can see the Lord.” They are partakers of God’s holiness, but are encompassed with infirmities till they join “the spirits of just men made perfect;” then they will be presented “faultless before the throne.”
5. The region. Hell is darkness, and so is the world. But the Church is light, and its members children of the light. And yet while here they are only able to survey the glimmering of the day. Now they walk by faith, mistake appearances for realities, are baffled in their inquiries, unable to discern their privileges and true friends. But it will not be always so, for heaven is all light--perfect, endless light.
II. The meetness for it. Man is both guilty and depraved. Two things are necessary for his restoration--justification and sanctification, the one delivering from condemnation, the other bringing us into communion with God; the one is a change of our state, the other of our nature; the one is derived from Christ’s righteousness, and is instantaneous; the other from the Holy Spirit and is gradual. The one gives us a title to our inheritance, the other gives us meetness for it.
1. The nature of this meetness. The renewing of the Holy Spirit; giving us new views, principles, and habitudes. How is a man made meet for any earthly station? Take a youth: he is apprenticed, begins with the elementary parts and rises to the more difficult, till he reaches the knowledge of the whole, and then launches away for himself. A child learns to walk by walking; a musician learns to play by playing. So we are made meet for heaven by doing its work and enjoying its pleasures now. The work of heaven is to praise and serve God, and its happiness to be in communion with Him. This we enjoy now.
2. Its necessity. A man suddenly gains a fortune for which he is not qualified; the consequence is that “the prosperity of fools destroys them.” The French, living so long under tyranny, were not prepared for the sudden enjoyment of liberty, and so ran mad. The higher the destination of a man, the more he needs meetness. God does not exclude the unregenerate from heaven, they exclude themselves. “Except a man be born again,” etc. The impossibility does not arise from God’s decree, but from the nature of things. The devil would be a tor ment to himself in heaven. Happiness does not arise merely from the excellence of the object, but from being right suited to it.
3. The author of it is God. The very operation shows this, “He that wrought us for this selfsame thing is God,” etc. If we are a “building” we are “His workmanship;” if fruitful, “in Him is our fruit found;” if a tree, “of His planting.”
4. Its sureness--“hath made us.”
III. The praise. “Giving thanks.” This is--
1. Deserved. God has infinite claims on our gratitude.
2. Distinguishing; more for spiritual than temporal mercies.
3. Practical. “Thanksgiving is good; thanks-living is better.”
4. Never ending (W. Jay.)
The inheritance of the saints
I. An interesting view of the future world as inherited by believers. There are many such views in Scripture; here it is described as “light,” indicating a place of splendour. Light arrays all nature with beauty.
2. Of ceaseless activity. Darkness and sleep are related. “There shall be no night there,” but a busy array of spirits which never grows languid, noble exercise which will never end.
3. Of purity. Darkness is an emblem of sin; light of holiness. Evil covets darkness, courts error to stifle con science, which will work when in the light. A soul desirous of holiness comes to the light, that its deeds, if evil, may be corrected; and if good, be manifested that they are wrought in God. Here our holiness is imperfect, but in heaven the Church is “without spot.” There we shall never sin through ignorance, or fail of duty.
4. Of permanent felicity. Night is an emblem of affliction; light of gladness. Sorrow courts the night, joy the day; and the vicissitudes of day and night are emblematical. Our blessings have their dawn, noon, and setting. But the saints are in eternal light, where no sickness blasts, no death devours, no injustice grinds, etc., and where no depression abates spiritual enjoyments, and no temptation clouds the sun of heavenly manifestations. The permanency of holiness gives permanency to bliss.
5. Of knowledge. We come out of darkness into marvellous light, but still we see through a glass darkly. The illuminated circle about us is enveloped in haze. Into the mightier plans of God even piety would humbly pry. Into the difficulties of some great doctrines we are sometimes urged to look. How many Bible texts are obscure, and is there one of which we see the fulness? Who would not have the mystery of his little life unfolded, and all prophecy converted into history, and, above all, rise tea nearer vision of God? But there we shall know as we are known.
II. The meetness wrought by God in the hearts of those who are raised to the enjoyment of this inheritance.
1. A relative meetness expressed by “inheritance.” Our natural heirship is forfeited by sin. Redemption has brought it hack; but we become heirs by becoming children, and we are made children by the faith which secures for us the blessing of justification. Till this there is no meetness of relation.
2. Personal meetness. “Saints.” There is a correspondence between a hallowed state and heaven. A man who has a distaste for God’s service cannot enjoy the worship day and night for ever. The man who shuns the light of truth could not hear the eternal light of God’s countenance. The lover of pleasure could not relish its spiritual joys.
3. This meetness is the work of God.
4. Give thanks to Him for it in others and in yourself. (R. Watson.)
Meetness for heaven
I. The meetness. The subject excludes natural meetness: the only natural meetness man has is for hell, for the sinner has in him all the elements of it. Meetness for heaven refers--
1. To the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Heaven is the abode of the holy, and man must be partaker of a nature which corresponds with the purity and enjoyment of heaven (Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 21:27; John 3:3).
2. To the atoning work of Jesus. The meetness of the title, justification by faith.
3. To the adoption of the believer. God has made him a son, and so an heir.
4. To all God’s disciplinary dealings with His people which are to meeten them for heaven.
II. The inheritance.
1. Heaven is our inheritance.
(1) For which we are destined (Ephesians 1:11);
(2) which has been purchased by Christ (Hebrews 9:15);
(3) which is “incorruptible,” etc. (1 Peter 1:4);
(4) and of which we have the earnest here.
(5) Its vastness and illimitability is unfolded in Revelation 21:7.
2. Whose this inheritance is.
(1) Who are the saints? Fanatics, says the world; the baptized, say the Tractarians; the Lord’s holy ones, says the Bible, washed in Christ’s blood, renewed by and possessing God’s Spirit.
(2) They are saints in light, which may refer--
(a) to themselves as children of the light, who have the light of truth and holiness with out which intellectual or moral excellence is vain;
(b) or to the glorified saints ix their present abode, which is the dwelling of Him who is “Light, and no darkness at all,” the place of perfect purity and knowledge of which light is the symbol (Isaiah 9:19; Revelation 22:5; Revelation 21:23).
3. The saints are “partakers” of this inheritance. They have it already with all the saints of God, in foretaste and antepast.
III. The precept based upon the subject. “Giving thanks.”
1. To whom the grateful acknowledgment is made--“the Father.” Heaven is the Father’s gift.
2. On what grounds.
(1) The provision of a Saviour.
(2) The enjoying of the pre paring Spirit.
(3) The prepared inheritance.
(4) The upholding power which brings us safely to the inheritance.
1. Cultivate an habitual, growing meetness. Be not satisfied with present attainments.
2. Look upon all the Lord’s covenant dealings with you as only preparatory to your approaching emancipation from all sin and sorrow.
3. Let the subject cheer you in bereavement. (O. Winslow, D. D.)
Meetness for the saintly inheritance
The Epistle has been hitherto occupied with prefatory observations. Here Paul enters upon his principal theme.
I. The opulent inheritance provided for the good.
1. It is a present and prospective possession.
(1) The saints even now “walk in the light as He is in the light.” They have a measure of knowledge, but it is dimmed by many obscurities: of purity, but it is surrounded with imperfections: of joy, but it is moderated by sorrows. The prospective knowledge shall be unclouded, purity unsullied, joy uninterrupted.
2. It is a possession provided for the good. Not for the impenitent, the worldly. It is an inheritance where only the pure in heart can dwell.
3. It is a possession freely given. The legal heir has no need to work for his inheritance: he enters by right of succession, or testatorial bequest. The saint enters upon his inheritance of righteousness, not by natural descent, or self-constituted right.
II. The special meetness for the inheritance. This is--
1. Absolutely necessary. A monarch can raise the barest slave to a dukedom, but he cannot give him fitness for its duties. He may change his state, but cannot change his nature.
2. Consists in the loving conformity of the human will to the Divine. The celestial spirits find their highest glory and blessedness in this.
3. Is a Divine work.
(1) God provides the inheritance, gives the title, confers the moral fitness. None but the Almighty Father could do this.
III. The duty we owe to the generous Donor Gratitude.
3. Constant. (G. Barlow.)
Meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light
1. It is the special glory of the gospel that it first distinctly enlarged the prospects of men into the depths of eternity; it first authoritatively taught us that the present existence is the meanest portion of our inheritance, and thus changed for ever the whole science of life.
2. Life for eternity is already begun: from the hour of our regeneration we are introduced into the spiritual world. The Christian’s life of heavenliness is the first stage of heaven. The doctrine of the New Testament is not that men now wholly mortal, shall hereafter, in reward of fidelity, be miraculously raised to die no more; but that “he that hath the Son hath life.” There is a power now within the Christian of which his celestial immortality shall be the proper fruit.
3. Therefore men must not only win heaven as a reward, but be suited to it as a life. Men may reckon on easy pardon, but they cannot suppress dismay if they reflect that pardon itself, were it possible, would be vain as long as the pardoned sinner were unfit for the society of heaven. Such a pardon could but aggravate the keen sense of hopeless, irremediable misery. What we are to be in heaven we must be on earth.
4. We are under a course of education for heaven: the life of heaven then must be practised on earth, if the child of God would learn his profession for eternity. Heaven is the model on which we are to reconstruct our nature. The inheritance for which we are made meet is to determine and regulate the whole course of our present existence.
5. But here arises a difficulty. We know so little of this pattern. Then we know little of the details--the abodes in which we shalt dwell, the companions with whom we shall rejoice, the bodies we shall wear; but the principles of that life, these are clear and undisputable, as e.g., that the business and beatitude of heaven must consist in conformity to the will of God.
6. This, then, the great characteristic of heaven, must be equally the law of the earth. The habit must be ours, not merely of acting from higher principles than self-interest or passion, but of acting exclusively from obedience to the known appointment of God. All other motives, however attractive, arc of the earth earthy.
7. Here, then, is the charge that religion brings against the world. It is not that the world does not abound in manifestations of moral as well as physical beauty, but that all that is excellent in the natural man is excellent irrespective of his God. No virtue but godliness; no excellence but that which tends to God; no rule of life but that which trains for God can ever be the virtue, or affection, or rule fitted for a creature travelling to God’s own eternity.
8. Contrast, then, this sole abiding principle of eternal happiness with the life around us. We shall exclude open and allowed vice, and come among the amiabilities and noblenesses of our social life. That the adulterer and the thief should disclaim subjection to God is not surprising; but the depth and universality of the rebellion is seen in the vast spheres of human excellence into which God never enters; in the amiability which loves all but God; in the self-devotion that never surrenders one gratification for the sake of God. How conspicuously is this often seen in family affection.
9. How, then, shall this meetness be wrought? Solely by cultivating affections that rest in heaven and God, and by devoting our earthly affections not merely as their own instinctive impulses lead, but also in felt and constant conformity to His appointment.
10. Faith, hope, and love are the instruments which, gradually uniting the heart to the spiritual world and its Lord, separate it from earth, predispose it for heaven, win the will to His service, and train the soul for the fellowship and heritage of the saints. These are the habits that must be attained, or heaven is hopeless.
11. What are the specific functions of these preparatory graces.
(1) Faith is the realizing power. Its office is to make us see the unseen, to be the visual sense of the Spirit of God. Beholding God even now around us, it prepares for heaven, by already habituating to the presence of heaven’s Master.
(2) Hope is the consoling and fortifying power. She prepares for heaven by maintaining the constant desire and expectation of its promised enjoyments.
(3) But love is the uniting power, the perfection of all. In its highest degrees it is not so much preparation for heaven as heaven already begun; for we know of nothing more perfect in heaven than the fulness of loving God. Hence “Love never faileth.” It makes the commandments “not grievous” here, and thus prepares for a state where their fulfilment shall be supreme delight. (W. A. Butler, M. A.)
The joy of light
In one of our northern coal-pits there was a little boy employed in a lonely and dangerous part of the mine. One day a visitor to the coal-pit asked the boy about his work, and the child answered, “Yes, it is very lonely here, but I pick up the little bits of candle thrown away by the colliers, and join them together, and when I get a light I sing.” (H. J. W. Buxton, M. A.)
Meetness for heaven
A pious military officer desirous to ascertain what were the real feelings and views of a dying soldier, whom he had been instrumental in bringing to the truth, said, “William, I am going to ask you a strange question. Suppose you could carry your sins with you to heaven, would that satisfy you?” The poor dying lad replied, with a most affecting smile, “Why, sir, what sort of a heaven would that be to me? It would be just like a pig in a parlour.” “I need not add,” continues the officer, “that he was panting after a heaven of holiness, and was convinced that if he died in sin he would be quite out of his element in a heaven of purity.” (W. Baxendale.)
Meetness for the inheritance
We are so far meet that we are accepted in the Beloved, adopted into the family, and fitted by Divine approbation to dwell with the saints in light. There is a woman chosen to be a bride; she is fitted to be married, fitted to enter into the honourable state and condition of matrimony; but at present she has not on the bridal garment, she is not like the bride adorned for her husband. You do not see her yet robed in her elegant attire, with her ornaments upon her, but you know she is fitted to be a bride, she is received and welcomed as such in the family of her destination. So Christ has chosen His Church to be married to Him; she has not yet put on her bridal garment, and all that beautiful array in which she shall stand before the Father’s throne, but notwithstanding, there is such a fitness in her to be the bride of Christ, when she shall have bathed herself for a little while, and lain for a little while in the bed of spices--there is such a fitness in her character, such a grace given adaptation in her to become the royal bride of her glorious Lord, and to become a partaker of the enjoyments of bliss--that it may be said of the Church as a whole, and of every member of it, that they are “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” The Greek word, moreover, bears some such meaning as this, though I cannot give the exact idiom, it is always difficult when a word is not used often. This word is only used twice, that I am aware of, in the New Testament. The word may be employed for “suitable,” or, I think, “sufficient.” “He hath made us meet”--sufficient--“to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” But I cannot give my idea without borrowing another figure. When a child is born, it is at once endowed with all the faculties of humanity. If those powers are awanting at first, they will not come afterwards. It has eyes, it has hands, it has feet, and all its physical organs. These of course are as it were in embryo. The senses though perfect at first, must be gradually developed, and the understanding gradually matured. It can see but little, it cannot discern distances; it can hear, but it cannot hear distinctly enough at first to know from what direction the sound comes; but you never find a new leg, a new arm, a new eye, or a new ear growing on that child. Each of these powers will expand and enlarge, but still there is the whole man there at first, and the child is sufficient for a man. Let but God in His infinite providence cause it to feed, and give it strength and increase, it has sufficient for manhood. It does not want either arm or leg, nose or ear; you cannot make it grow a new member; nor does it require a new member either; all are there. In like manner, the moment a man is regenerated, there is every faculty in his new creation that there shall be, even when he gets to heaven. It only needs to be developed and brought out: he will not have a new power, he will not have a new grace, he will have those which he had before, developed and brought out. Just as we are told by the careful observer, that in the acorn there is in embryo every root and every bough and every leaf of the future tree, which only requires to be developed and brought out in their fulness; so, in the true believer, there is a sufficiency or meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light. All that he requires is, not that a new thing should be implanted, but that which God has put there in the moment of regeneration, shall be cherished and nurtured, and made to grow and increase, till it comes unto perfection and he enters into “the inheritance of the saints in light.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Unmeetness for the inheritance
I knew a man who had amassed great wealth; but had no children to inherit it. Smitten, however, with the strange propensity to found a house, he left his riches to a distant relative. His successor found himself suddenly raised from poverty to affluence, and thrown into a position he had not been trained to fill. He was cast into the society of those to whose tastes and habits and accomplishments he was an utter and awkward stranger. Did many envy this child of fortune? They might have spared their envy. Left in his original obscurity he had been a happy peasant, whistling his way home from the plough to a thatched cottage, or on winter nights, around the blazing faggots, laughing loud and merry among unpolished boors. Child of misfortune! He buried his happiness in the grave of his benefactor. Neither qualified by nature nor fitted by education for his position, he was separated from his old, only to be despised by his new, associates. And how bitterly was he disappointed to find that, in exchanging poverty for opulence, daily toil for luxurious indolence, humble friends for more distinguished companions, a hard bed for one of down, this turn in his fortunes had flung him on a couch, not of roses, but of thorns! In his case, the hopes of the living and the intentions of the dead were alike frustrated. The prize had proved a blank; a necessary result of this fatal oversight, that the heir had not been made meet for the inheritance. Is such training needful for an earthly estate? How much more for heaven. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The saints in light
Light! The shadows of a temporary dispensation shall have passed away, and the whole plan of the Creator’s dealings be spread before the admiring saints, one blaze of beauty. Light! The discrepancies of Providence, the seeming contradictions in God’s government of the universe, the obscurities which are caused by knowing only in part--all this shall have been removed, and no dark spot be left behind. Light! It shall not be the brilliancy of the material sun which makes the future landscape indescribably radiant: “the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it, for the glory of the Lord doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” Light! The saints themselves purged from all that is corruptible, the purified soul in the imperishable body, shall be wondrously luminous. Even here, as St. Paul expresses it, they “shine as lights in the world,” but hereafter, perfectly conformed to the image of Christ, of whom we are told that at His transfiguration, which exhibited what glorified humanity shall be, “His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light,” they shall be conspicuous among all orders of intelligence transformed into glowing, beaming likenesses of Him whose irradiations occupy the universe. “Light,” said the Psalmist, “is sown for the righteous;” and the seeds, we may add, of the glorious harvest are deposited in our souls whilst working out our own salvation. Holiness is the moral light, and the germ of heavenly purity is the element of heavenly splendour. Be it now, then, our endeavour to walk as children of light, having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. There must be--we press this again and again on your attention--there must be a correspondence between the scene and the creature. The inheritance is one of light; therefore the heir also, in the words of St. Paul, must be “light in the Lord.” We will aim, then, God being our help, so to improve the state of discipline, that casting off the ignorance and corruption in which we are naturally enveloped, we may at length be placed with those righteous men of whom Christ said, “They shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (H. Melvill, D. D.)
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness.
The great moral translation
I. Involves our enfranchisement from a state of dark captivity.
1. The unrenewed are in a realm of moral darkness.
(1) Darkness denotes ignorance--moral blindness about the great mysteries of being, of sin and suffering, the deep significance of life. It is possible to know much about religion, to hold religious ideas at second hand; yet be totally in the dark as to the experience of these ideas.
(2) Darkness denotes danger and misery.
2. In this realm the unrenewed are held in captivity.
3. From this realm God graciously liberates. “Who hath delivered us.”
(1) For the slaves of sin there is no help but in God. It is the nature of sin to incapacitate its victim for self-enfranchisement. He is unwilling to be free.
(2) The word “deliver” means to snatch, or rescue from danger, even though the person seized may at first be unwilling to escape, as Lot from Sodom. God does not force the human will.
(3) Our enfranchisement may be painful.
II. Places us in a condition of highest moral freedom and privilege.
1. We are transferred to a kingdom. “Hath translated us into the kingdom.” Power detains captives; a kingdom fosters willing citizens. Tyranny has no law but the will of a despot; a kingdom implies good government, based on law. The kingdom of God has an earthly and heavenly aspect, both of which are governed by one and the same sceptre. It resembles a city divided by a river, but both parts controlled by the same municipal authority, and having one common franchise. There is no middle state between the power of darkness and the kingdom of grace: all who breathe are either in the one or the other.
2. We are placed under the rule of a beneficent and glorious King. “The Son of His love.” The manifestation of Christ is the manifestation of Divine love (1 John 4:9). The kingdom into which believers are translated is founded on love: its entire government is carried on by love. The acts of suffering and death, by which Christ won his kingly dignity, were revelations of love. Under such a monarch we are sure of protection, guidance, support, and final victory.
III. Is effected by “redemption.”
1. The means. “Through His blood.”
2. The effects.
3. The Author. (G. Barlow.)
The great spiritual change
I. The momentous change.
1. Is from the power of darkness. Darkness is thus personified as a monarch, not a mere force. Under this the Colossians were living till they received the gospel. Neither the light of their Gentile philosophy nor the fitful course of their culture could rescue them. The very light that was in them was darkness. This is the condition of all men naturally. Darkness is--
(1) Ignorance. Men are ignorant of God and themselves (1 Corinthians 2:14). They may learn lessons of God’s power and wisdom in creation, admire the literature and poetry of revelation, and believe in a future state; but they have no true knowledge of their moral condition, of God as their Father, Christ as their Saviour, or of the blessedness of holiness.
(2) It leads to error. In the absence of light the traveller mistakes his way. Men think they are in the road to heaven as they wander up and down the bye-paths of religious formality, of their own resolutions, or of some superstition. Deluded by this darkness they make no effort to live for God and work out their own salvation.
(3) Such a condition must be one of danger. The belated traveller cannot distinguish friend from foe, land from water. Unconscious of peril, and perhaps thinking of home, he draws near a precipice, falls over and is killed.
(4) Darkness promotes discomfort and fear. There is a gloomy uncertainty and dread of the future, a bondage of the soul through the fear of death. He cannot be happy who knows not God as his Friend, and has no meetness for the future.
2. The process of deliverance.
(1) It may involve not a little that is painful. To a man soundly asleep the sudden cry of “fire” is not welcome. So this deliverance involves a distressing inward struggle and the abandonment of many a pleasure.
(2) Whither is the delivered soul brought? He is not rescued and left to wander in search of a home, but has a title and guidance to the kingdom of God’s Son.
(a) This kingdom is so called because it belongs to Him by right, who founded, formed, and rules over it.
(b) Something of its character may be learned from His: the Son of God’s love (John 3:35). Who can tell the peace and blessedness of those subjects on whom God’s boundless love rests.
3. This deliverance is the most important and wonderful event in a man’s history. It is a present privilege and prepares for, and is a pledge of the future inheritance.
4. It is exclusively the work of God.
II. The Divine means for the accomplishment of this end.
1. A putting forth of power on the part of the deliverer manifested by the mediation of Christ. Although the words, “through His blood,” are not found in the earlier MSS., and may have been borrowed from Ephesians 1:7; yet the text involves their meaning. Men are sold under sin and condemned; from this state deliverance comes by redemption; redemption implies a price paid; the ransom is the precious blood of Christ. In His Cross there was a vindication of God’s righteousness and power to rescue from sin (1Pe 3:18; 1 Peter 2:14; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 5:2).
2. This redemption is “in Christ.” His blood was the ransom, but He is the Redeemer, and it is only in living union with Him that we can receive its blessing. Just as we rest and walk in Him have we evidence that we are amongst the redeemed.
3. It is easy to see how this redemption must, in effect, be the raising of the soul to obedience and purity (2 Corinthians 5:17). The blessing character istic of redemption: forgiveness. This--
(1) is its first blessing (Romans 5:1).
(2) Its most urgent and momentous blessing.
(3) The most direct, flowing immediately from Christ and reaching us directly through His expiation.
(4) The blessing which opens the way for all others. (J. Spence, D. D.)
I. Who? The Father. And no one else ought to, or could, deliver man, but God.
1. None other ought, because (as Tertullian observes) “by this act he would forcibly take away from the Creator His own servant.” For so great is this benefit of deliverance, that it binds us more than the benefit of creation.
2. But neither could any other deliver. For he must necessarily be stronger than the devil who could wrest his prey from him (Matthew 12:29). But who could overcome and bind this prince of darkness except the mighty God alone? It was He, therefore, who plucked us from him.
II. Whom, or what sort of persons God delivered? And this consideration may be twofold.
1. Of those who were to be delivered. Previous to our deliverance we were not only diseased and weak, but opposed to our own deliverance (Romans 5:1-21.).
(1) Observe the immeasurable love of God, who would deliver such persons: for no one cares to redeem a thing of no value.
(2) The infinite power of God who delivered man in spite of the devil.
2. As to those who have been delivered; after that they are faithful and holy, who before were rebels and unholy. “Us” refers to verses 4-6. Hence it is manifest--
(1) The dreams of carnal men of deliverance are vain. The Israelites, while serving Pharaoh and lusting after the fleshpots, were not in the enjoyment of liberty; so Christians while obeying the devil and delighting in sin are not delivered.
(2) Hence, also, we infer for the consolation of the godly that they alone are free; the ungodly, although they glitter in the eyes of men, are slaves.
III. From what? The power of darkness.
1. From the power of the devil who is the prince of darkness. We all are born under his kingdom, so that he worketh in us according to his own will. But this prince of darkness is bruised under the feet of the faithful (Romans 16:20), to whom, by the Spirit of God, new strength is administered to trample upon this unclean spirit.
2. From the power of sin, which hath blinded the understanding, corrupted the will, and placed us in a condition of darkness both as to knowledge and to spiritual and saving practice (Ephesians 5:8; John 1:5; John 3:19). Now from this darkness God has rescued us. He pours in the light of faith and imparts the Spirit of holiness; which blessings being bestowed, this power and dominion of sin is dissolved (Romans 6:14).
3. From the power of hell, i.e., from the miseries and calamities which arise from the guilt of reigning sin. From the power of this they are delivered by the Divine mercy (Romans 8:1). Observe--
(1) For instruction. The whole world is involved in darkness under the devil, neither is there a spark of saving light before deliver ance; for we are in “the power of darkness.”
(2) For caution. The redeemed ought to have no fellowship with the works of darkness; for they are rescued from the power of the devil and of sin, and, therefore, by serving these they show them selves to be deserters (Romans 13:12).
(3) For consolation. Although the godly are often troubled yet they are delivered from a misery compared with which all external evils are trifling.
IV. To what?
1. The nature of the translation.
(1) The word is borrowed from those who plant colonies and compel persons to migrate to inhabit some new region. So God has translated us from the kingdom of darkness, which is the native soil of us all.
(2) How hath He translated us? We may under stand that from the context. God translates us when He illuminates our hearts by pouring into them faith, when He changes our will by imparting grace; for, being enlightened and sanctified, a man is by that very act translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of His Son; because He cannot possibly be at the same time a citizen of two cities which observe contrary laws. Here observe, To be delivered it is not enough that we be called to this kingdom, and admonished to desert that other.
(3) Therefore He is to be regarded with the highest honour, for so colonies are accustomed to regard their founder.
2. What is intended by this word kingdom? The Kingdom of God, Christ, heaven.
(3) For a state of grace, remission of sins, renovation, and Divine favour on account of Christ, the Mediator; and for the whole multitude of those who are in this state (Luke 18:21; Romans 14:17). I deem this to be the proper sense of this expression.
3. Why the apostle calls it the kingdom of the Son, and not of heaven, or of light. Because--
(2) Christ, the Mediator, received it from the Father to govern it to the end of time (Luke 22:29).
(3) Paul wished to open the way and make an easy transition for discoursing on the person of the Son. For he immediately enters upon that doctrine, which he could not so aptly have proceeded to unless he had expressly named the Son.
(4) Christ is rightly called the Son of the Father’s love, because He hath the Father’s whole and entire love communicated to Him, even as He had His essence. This is a great consolation to the godly man, when he calls to mind that he is not merely a subject, but a member of Christ so beloved of God. For hence he derives the hope of obtaining from God whatever is necessary to salvation. (Bp. Davenant.)
I. Man is now in soul misery.
1. Naturally. We are children of wrath by nature.
2. Judiciarily. We are under condemnation.
3. Universally. Soul death hath passed over all men.
II. Man needs deliverance.
1. We are sensible enough of bodily misery, but insensible to soul misery; yet the former is but to make us sensible of the latter. ‘Tis God pulling the rope without to make the bell speak within.
2. Without our sense of the need of deliverance, that deliverance will never come.
3. What temporal and eternal horrors are there for the unsaved.
III. Man may be delivered. Christ “snatched” souls out of darkness and danger.
1. He moves strongly to save. Snatching speaks an act of force; Christ overturns all that stands in His way when He puts forth to deliver a soul.
2. He moves swiftly to save. Snatching notes swift motion. There is but a step between hell and that soul that is under the power of darkness; what, therefore, is done must be done speedily or the soul is lost.
3. Christ moves thoroughly to save. Snatching, speaks a full assuming of that which was wholly another’s. That which I snatch from my enemy in war is wholly mine own, and Christ, having plucked us out of the hands of Satan, claims us as his own.
4. Christ moves preventingly. Snatching speaks an act unthought of, force surprising, the surprised dreaming nothing. Christ catcheth sinners in a dead sleep. Soldiers are sometimes so caught; the devil’s soldiers are all so.
5. Christ moves ravishingly. This is love smiling, and the soul is taken.
IV. The delivered.
1. Love the Redeemer.
2. Obey Him. (N. Lockyer, M. A.)
The power of darkness
I. Look at the state of nature and sin as one of darkness. Sin is as opposed to holiness as darkness is to light, and as different from holiness as midnight from noonday. Our state by nature is one of double darkness. We have neither light nor sight. That we may be saved we require two things--a medium to see by, and eyes to see with; the revelation of the gospel, and regeneration of the Holy Spirit; Christ as an object for faith to see, faith as an eye to see Christ. As inhabitants of a Christian land we already possess one of these. There is fulness of light, and yet multitudes are wrecked and perish, and unless He, who gave sight to the blind, touch your eyes their fate will be yours. There are animals that are born blind; but after a few days their eyelids are unsealed and they are delivered from the power of darkness. But not ten years will do for us such friendly office. Not that we shall be always blind. Eternity opens the darkest eyes, but when too late, “He lift up his eyes, being in torment.”
1. Darkness is a state of indolence. Night is the proper period for rest. Yet in its hours of darkness and repose, this city presents no true picture of our state by nature. We see it where a city sleeps, while eager angels point Lot’s eyes to the break of day, and urge his tardy steps through the doomed streets of Sodom. Rouse thee, then, and betake thee to the Saviour. The plague of Egyptian darkness is, perhaps, the best illustration. “They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days.” Many a man has not risen from his place for ten times three years and more. He is no nearer heaven than he was long, long ago. “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.”
2. Darkness is a state of ignorance. Ugliness and beauty, friend and foe, are all one in the dark, and so are the solid ground and the yawning precipice. Many a gallant ship has perished in a fog, and many a sinner in guilty ignorance. The greatest of mistakes is to miss the path of heaven, and yet how many, turning from Christ, are missing it? Some think that their charities and duties will save them; others a routine of outward services; others that they may go on a little longer in sin and then turn.
3. Darkness is a state of danger.
(1) As locks and bars prove neither life nor property is safe at night. The prowling thief, the hiding assassin, the gaudy tempter, are but types of the great enemy who takes advantage of spiritual darkness to ruin sinners.
(2) Such danger is there in darkness that people have perished almost at their own doors: and many die at the gate of salvation, and by the very door of heaven (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(3) In respect of its power over men what can be compared to mental, moral, and spiritual darkness?
(a) Look at Popery! She immures her votaries in a gloomier dungeon than ever held her victims. God sends them His blessed Word, but they dare not open it; and, greatest triumph of darkness, they refuse instruction. “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?”
(b) But how many among ourselves lie under the delusion that though the happiness they seek in the world has eluded their grasp, they will yet embrace the mocking phantom! How many are putting away the claims of Christ and their souls to a more convenient season? Many fancy themselves safe who are ready to perish.
II. Even God’s people remain in more or less darkness, so long as they are. Here.
1. They may be in darkness through ignorance.
(1) Having abandoned the works of darkness, and “become children of light,” yet all do not enjoy the same measure of light, nor possess equal powers of sight; hence those conflicting views which have separated brother from brother.
(2) While some saints enjoy a clear assurance of their salvation, others pass their days in despondency. By the help of God’s Word, their compass, they succeed in steering their way to heaven, but it is over a troubled sea, and under a cloudy sky.
2. They may be in darkness through sin. So long as you walk in the path of God’s commandments you walk in the light; but in turning aside from that we have withdrawn from it. He that descends into a pit leaves the light, not the light him. And the deeper the saint sinks in sin, the darker it grows. God will not smile on His child sinning; and that which would befall our world were the sun withdrawn, befalls his soul; a chilling cold follows on the darkness, and but for restoring grace death would ensue.
3. They may be in more or less darkness as to their spiritual state. It is easy to account for such a case as David’s; but there are cases of religious desertion that do not admit of being thus explained. Hear that “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me.” In such cases, however, God does not leave you comfortless. You may retain your hold when you lose your sight of Him; and the sun, which has struggled through clouds all day long, often breaks forth into golden splendour at his setting. Not seldom have hopes that never brighten life broken forth to gild the departing hour. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The unconsciousness of the sinner under the mower of darkness
If we lay in some darksome prison leaden with irons, as many as we could bear, committed to the custody of some Cerberus-like keeper; how would we lament our hard fortune? but to lie in such a condition wherein is no light of knowledge of God, leaden with chains of darkness, hellish lusts of wrath, covetousness, pride, filthiness, in the custody of the devil himself, this none bewaileth. (P. Bayne, B. D.)
The kingdom of Christ
I. The importance which Christ himself attaches to His kingly claims.
1. There are crowns worn by living monarchs of which it would be difficult to estimate the value. The price paid for their jewels is the least part of it. They cost thousands of lives. And yet in His esteem, and in ours, Christ’s crown outweighs them all. He gave his life for it.
2. The connection between our Lord’s sufferings and these claims marks some of the most touching scenes in His history. The people rejected Him in His kingly character. “We will not have this King to reign over us.” The soldiers reviled Him as a King; and His claim to be such was the crime for which He was crucified. It was a kingly inscription that stood above His dying head.
3. Our Lord had the strongest temptation to abandon these claims; and if He refused to give them up in the desert when tempted by the devil, when He had not a morsel to eat, and at the bar, when to have parted with them would have saved His life, He is not likely to yield them now. He has now no inducement to do so. A friendless prisoner no more, He stands at the right hand of God, and claims to reign over all whom He has conquered by love and redeemed by blood.
4. Would God we could live up to that truth. How often is it forgotten! each of us doing what is right in his own eyes, as though there were no King in Israel. Oh, that we were all as anxious to be delivered from the power as we are to escape the punishment of sin.
II. From whom Christ received His kingdom.
1. Not from the Jews. “His own received Him not.” Once they tried to thrust royal honours on Him: afterwards they bore Him in royal state to the capital, and then they crucified Him. The only crown our Lord gets from man is woven with thorns. Had Christ consented to rule on their terms the Jews would have made Him king. Now to-day how many would accept Jesus if He would allow them to retain their sins. But He accepts not the crown if sin is to wield the sceptre.
2. Not from His own people. The sceptre which a female hand sways so gracefully over the greatest, freest empire in the world was wrenched two hundred years ago from the grasp of a poor popish bigot; and his successor was borne to the vacant throne on the arms of a people who considered crowned heads less sacred than their liberties and religion. Is it by any such act that Christ is crowned? Is He a popular monarch in this sense? No. Here the king elects His subjects, not the subjects their king; and in that and other senses His kingdom is not of this world. Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and enemies to God, it is necessary that Christ should first choose you as His subjects, before you can choose Him as your King. Christ reigns by conquest, but His reign is not one of terror. He reigns as He conquered, by love. Enthroned in the heart He rules through the affections.
3. From God. When we look at the two great occasions on which our Lord was crowned, what a contrast do they present. The scene of the first is laid on earth. Behold Him stripped of His garments, tied to a post, scourged, clothed with an old purple robe, a wreath of thorns upon His head. Some in bitter mockery bend the knee as to a Caesar and shout, “Hail, King of the Jews.” Turn now to the other. The cross is vacant, the court empty, and from the vine-covered sides of Olivet a band of men are joyfully descending. While the disciples come down to the world, Jesus goes up to heaven escorted by a host of angels. His battle over, and the great victory won, the Conqueror is now to be crowned. Behold the scene as revealed by anticipation to the rapt eyes of Daniel (Daniel 7:13).
III. In what character Jesus holds this kingdom. Not as God or as man, but as God-man. Our Lord appeared in both these characters at the grave of Lazarus. “Jesus wept,” and yet Death cowers before His eye. So on the Sea of Galilee, the Son of Mary sleeps, but raising His hand He said to the rude storm, “Peace, be still.” Those two natures He still retains. As both God and man He occupies the thrones of grace and providence--holding under His dominion all worlds; for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and He has been made Head over all things to His Church. Simply as God there could be no addition to His possessions, nor could He receive them simply as man.
IV. Seek an interest in this kingdom. Your eternal welfare turns on that. You must be crowned in heaven or cursed in hell.
1. Are you poor? That is no bar. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
2. Are you degraded? That does not exclude you from the mercy and grace of God.
3. Have you done nothing to merit this kingdom? Who has?
4. Though you are not saved by obedience, remember that submission to Christ’s commandment is required of all who belong to His kingdom.
5. In a general sense we are all His subjects; but in a saving sense Christ’s kingdom is not without, but within. Unless the heart be right with Christ, all is wrong. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
“His dear Son”
Or more correctly, the Son of His love. Christ is so because--
I. He is most worthy of all others to be loved. As Judas is the “Son of Perdition,” i.e., most worthy to be condemned.
II. He was from everlasting begotten of the love of His Father. He is God’s “own” Son.
III. He is infinitely filled with a sense of His love. “I always do the things that please Him.”
IV. It is He by whom love is derived into others. He makes all other sons beloved. They are all loved because of Him and through Him. He imparts the lowest graces. This is all very comfortable.
1. He is like to speed anything He requests the Father for us, and will be sure to preserve us.
2. He is a King’s Son, and infinitely beloved of His Father. How excellent a thing, then, to be Christ’s member. (N. Byfield.)
Religion a great change
In an early period of the ministry of the Rev. John Wesley, he visited Epworth, in Lincolnshire, where his father had formerly been minister, but found the people greatly opposed to what they considered his new notions. He tells us, in his journal, that many persons were convinced of the importance of the truths he delivered from the tombstone of his father, some of whom were conveyed in a waggon to a neighbouring justice of the peace, to answer for the heresy with which they were charged. Mr. Wesley rode over also. When the magistrate asked what these persons had done, there was a deep silence; for that was a point their conductors had forgotten. At length, one of them said, “Why, they pretend to be better than other people; and, besides, they pray from morning to night.” He asked, “But have they done anything besides?” “Yes, sir,” said an old man, “An’t please your worship, they have convarted my wife. Till she went among them, she had such a tongue, and now she is as quiet as a lamb.” “Carry them back, carry them back,” replied the justice, “and let them convert all the scolds in the town.” (Arvine.)
The word is a metaphor, and the comparison is taken from plants in nature, and there are divers things signified unto us in the similitude. As trees are translated in winter, not in the spring, so commonly our redemption is applied in the days of special affliction and sorrow: and as the plant is not first fruitful and then translated, but therefore translated that it may bear fruit, so we are not therefore redeemed because God was in love with our fruits; but therefore translated out of the kingdom of darkness, that we might bring forth fruit unto God. And as a tree may be truly removed, and new planted, and yet not presently bear fruit, so may a Christian be truly translated, and yet in the first instant of his conversion he may not show forth all the fruit he doth desire. In particular, translating hath two things in it.
I. Pulling up. The pulling up of a tree shadows out three things in the conversion of a sinner.
1. Separation from the world: he cannot be in Christ tahat hath his heart rooted in the earth, and keeps his old standing amongst these trees, the wicked of the world.
2. Deliverance both from original sin in the reign of it (which is the moisture of the old earth), and also from hardness of heart (for translating hath removing of the mould and stones that were about the root).
3. Godly sorrow raised by the sense of the strokes of the axe of God’s threatenings, and by the loss of many sprouts and branches that were hidden in the earth. A Christian cannot escape without sorrow; for he hath many an unprofitable sprout of vanity, and sinful profit and pleasure he must part with.
II. The setting of the tree notes--
1. Our engrafting into Christ by the Spirit of God through faith.
2. Our communion with the saints (the fruitful trees in God’s orchard), as also it notes our preservation by the infusion of the sap of holy graces. Conclusion: And it is worthy to be noted that He saith “translated us,” to teach us that there remains in man the same nature after calling that was before; for our natures are not destroyed in conversion, but translated: there remains the same faculties in the soul, and the same powers in the body; yea, the constitution and complexion of man is not destroyed, as the melancholy man doth not cease to be so after conversion, only the humour is sanctified unto a fitness for godly sorrow, and holy meditation, and the easy renouncing of the world, etc., and the like may be said of other humours in man’s nature. (N. Byfield.)
I. In delivering His people from the power of darkness, Christ saves them from eternal perdition. People talk about the mercy of God in a way for which they have no warrant in His Word: and ignoring His holiness, justice, and truth, they lay this and the other vain hope as a flattering unction to their souls.
II. How we are brought into Christ’s kingdom.
1. By translation.
(1) There is a difference between being transformed and translated. The first describes a change of character, the second of state. These changes are coincident; but the transformation is not complete until the time for the second translation. Then those who were translated at conversion into a state of grace, are translated at death into a state of glory.
(2) It is a great mistake to suppose that God is only active and man passive in this work. You may translate a man from one earthly kingdom into another while he is asleep, and at death a man may be translated to glory in a state of unconsciousness; but it is not in this placid way that sinners pass out of darkness into Christ’s kingdom.
2. This translation is attended by suffering and self-denial. Killed by a blow, or deprived of existence and consciousness by an opiate, a man may die to natural life unconsciously, but never to sin. Hence those striking figures of crucifixion. But the crown is worthy of the cross. True there is much more pain in going to hell than to heaven, and although this were not, one hour of glory will recompense all the sufferings of earth. But be assured that as it is among pangs and birth struggles that a man is born the first time, so when he is born again, Christ baptizes with fire. How often has water fallen on the calm brow of a sleeping infant who has been translated thus into the visible Church. But a fiery baptism! Can a man take fire into his bosom and not be burned? God is a consuming fire to His people’s sins, and He cannot be so without them knowing it.
3. In this translation God and man are active. Our Lord ascended from earth to heaven without effort; not so His people from nature unto grace. We receive salvation, still we must put forth our hand to take it, as a drowning man clutches the saving rope. God works in grace as in nature; helps the man who helps himself. The reason why men are not saved is not that God hath forgotten to be gracious, or that the blood of Christ has lost its efficacy; but because men will take no pains to be saved. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The duty of thankfulness for the deliverance
If we had some grievous tyrant ruling over us, and God should take him away and set a prince of singular clemency over us, should not the blessing of all the kingdom come upon Him for so singular a change? But when He taketh the devil’s iron yokes off our necks and bringeth us under the kingdom of that most meek King who will not bruise a broken reed, nor quench the smoking flax, here none in comparison is thankful. (P. Bayne, B. D.)
God is the Deliverer
King Theodore kept two or three British subjects in prison, and no entreaty, expostulation, threat, could induce him to release them. At last the British nation arose and said, “At all costs the prisoners must be released;” and so General Napier led his army along the defiles over the mountains. At length he came to Magdala, the capital of Abyssinia. King Theodore was conquered and slain, and so General Napier ascended to the capital. But perhaps some of you do not know that as General Napier rode into the city, those captives, bowed down with their long imprisonment, came near to him, and laid their hands upon his horse’s saddle and thanked him as their deliverer. He said to them, “Do not thank me; God is the deliverer. The Christians in England have been praying for you.” (J. L. Nye.)
The deity of Christ
Christ is Divine because--
I. He has redeemed us.
II. He is the creator of all things.
III. All things were created for His glory.
IV. His eternal pre-existence.
V. By Him all things consist. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
I. In the metaphysical order.
1. He is the image of the invisible God.
2. It pleased God that in Him should all fulness (of the Divine attributes) dwell. He is therefore the Mediator of the knowledge of God.
II. In the physical order. The first thesis determined the relation of Christ to God; this establishes His relation to Nature.
1. He is before all things, the firstborn (heir) of all creation.
2. He is the Author of all that exists. Consequently He is the Mediator of existence or natural life.
III. In the theological order, which, as does the following, refers to His relations with men.
1. He is the Redeemer.
2. The reconciler. Thus He is the Mediator of the restoration of the normal relation of man to God.
IV. In the moral order. He is the head of the spiritual body--the Church--and therefore is the Mediator of the new life or the spiritual creation.
V. In the apocalyptic order, i.e., of the order of the things to come. He has died, as all men die, but He has also risen, and in that He has taken precedence of all, and His own will follow Him. Consequently He is the Mediator of life eternal. (Professor Reuss.)
Jesus Christ the end of the creation
1. The creation looked forward to the Christ from the beginning. Without Him for its goal it were purposeless. Not that he was latent in nature to be evolved, but it was the plan of creation that it should reach its consummation in Him.
2. In Him the universe subsists, is banded together because it completes itself in Him. Without Him it would disintegrate and be a chaos instead of a cosmos.
3. Although sin has disturbed the scheme of things and would wreck all, the original plan holds in Christ. The injury will be repaired and the universe attain its end.
II. Plan of creation.
1. Matter is brought into being (Genesis 1:1), and is rudimental (Genesis 1:2). The Holy Ghost whoso province is evolution and organization broods over the elemental abyss. At length light becomes with, doubtless, its kindred agents, heat, electricity. Processes go on, and the atmosphere is constituted. The new agents become additional forces, and there results the mineral kingdom (Genesis 1:3-10).
2. This is a preparation for higher planes of being. The floral world has a becoming, assimilating all that has gone before, and transforming them into the living organisms of root, trunk, bough, fruit, dec.
3. The vegetable world is a prophecy of something higher. In due time the animal world gathers up the elements of all below it, and exalts them into more complex and nobler organisms.
(1) The creation has been in travail with man as to his bodily nature in all the preceding formations. Man is the compendium, the apex of physical nature.
(2) In his creation another department of the spiritual world comes in view. It seeks to ally itself with the physical. It also would complete itself in man. By the inbreathing of the Almighty man becomes a living soul. The two realms thus meet in him, and invest him with unique dignity and prerogative. He is the microcosm of the universe.
(3) Of what man is this ideal true? Of the first Adam? He is man inchoate, in germ and possibilities only, not in the fulness of perfection. Can he raise himself and put all nature under him as its head? The tree of life blossoms with promise, but he cannot bridge the chasm between the Infinite and the finite. There must be a higher sphere than nature or man to bring out their meaning. If the Eternal Word will become man the problem is solved--the mighty void between God and man will be filled up.
5. The Son of God did become man. He passed through every ordeal triumphantly, and was glorified at the right hand of God. The universe is glorified in Him. Thus did He sum up in Himself the creation. It tended towards Him from the first, and finds its last, deepest sense and full satisfaction in Him the true, archetypal Man.
1. The creation is a unity, not a granulated mass of things having no other relation but mechanical juxtaposition; but an organic whole, having one Head who fills all things from Himself, and sends energy and direction through the whole. Each several part has its due relation to the others, and the whole to Christ.
2. The Incarnation belongs to creation. It is its crown, and is essential to its order and perfection. It is not an intrusion. It is sin that is the innovation in the order of the universe. And the Incarnation carries in it plenary resources for the overmastering of sin. By His obedience unto death the Head of the universe rendered satisfaction for human guilt; and by the powers of the Incarnation He will cast out sin. Somewhere, in the outer darkness, some cesspool shall receive all the filth of the universe and hide it for ever.
3. There is suggested a solution of the problem of miracles. They are no violations of the plan of creation. Each succeeding system bore in itself higher forces and methods than the preceding, but without disturbance. So humanity imported into the world methods and powers supreme over all beneath it, but in entire harmony therewith. That such ascendency should show itself in our Lord’s miracles there is nothing contranatural. Sin being foreign has brought an unnatural condition of things, and our Lord’s hushing of the storm, expulsion of demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead, were but foretokenings of the coming restitution of all things to their natural state of purity, health, and life. To put creation back again into its regular condition is not to do violence to nature. As Augustine says, “A miracle is not a contradiction of nature, but of nature as man knows it.”
4. Here is the solution of the astronomical objection to Christianity. Astronomy is supposed to demonstrate man’s extreme littleness, and to show that his actions good or bad are beneath the notice of God. But man in Christ is the end of the universe. In Him man stands in closest union with the Infinite centre of all being. “All things are His” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). It is quality, not quantity, that counts in the trancendental calculus. Man must be intrinsically of greater value than all that went to prepare the way for him. This will serve to explain the interest of angels in him. The Incarnation signifies that man has an inherent dignity no hugeness of the physical world and no grandeur of angels can equal. He has no superior but God, and to Him alone his knee should bow.
5. If the all is one organic unity, the lower joined to the higher, and looking forward to it, then there must be a correspondence between the lower and the higher. The natural will be a parable of the supernatural, and all types must sum themselves up in Christ their prototype. Science will yet see the harmony of reason and faith.
6. Christ being the Firstborn and Head of the creation, He is the Priest of the universe (Hebrews 5:7). All other priesthood must be derived from Him. All worship must be offered through Him. All blessing will return from God through Him.
7. Christ is the end of history. The movement of our race is a process towards manhood in Christ. Sin has distracted the current, but has not arrested it. The religions, philosophies, and governments of the old world prepared the way for the first advent. A mighty impulse was thrilled through the nation from that day directing all movements towards the second advent.
8. Seeing that Christ is head over all, all things must become subject to Him. We see not yet all things put under Him. Sin has disnaturalized man, but it shall be overruled and made to serve the very ends it sought to frustrate (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; 2 Timothy 2:19). Evil does not inhere in matter. Matter will be transformed (Romans 8:19-22).
9. The Incarnation must needs be perpetual. Were the Son of God to lay aside His humanity, the creation would fail of its end and complement. It confers upon the creation supreme blessing; to relinquish it would entail a deep curse.
10. Men must needs come into full and permanent union with Christ. Severed from Him they can do nothing. Sin, the discord in the everlasting order, must be renounced. Christ must abide in men and they in Him, in order that sin may be eliminated. Only thus can they attain the Divine Ideal transformation into true manhood in the image of God. (C. P. Jennings.)
The witness of creation to the gospel
1. The subject of the chapter is the glory of the Son of God.
(1) In His essential relation to God He is the true eikon basilike--only image which it is not idolatry to worship.
(2) His relation to the universe is that of immediate Creator.
(3) His permanent relation to every creature is that of a central point for all phenomena.
(4) His headship over the new redeemed humanity is that of the first-born among the dead, the source of risen life to all the body.
(5) His central pre-eminence in the whole spiritual world lies in the fact that He is Peacemaker by blood, the sole Reconciler to God. Never did John soar higher or sweep a wider horizon than this.
2. To confine ourselves to one thought here. Christ is the only link of connection between created minds and the unapproachable, unknowable Godhead. “Image of the invisible God” is parallel with John’s “No man hath seen God at any time,” etc., with Hebrews 1:1-2, and with the Master’s “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” The function of Revealer, however, does not attach to Christ’s incarnate life only; He was the Word of God before, and revealed God in creation. From this follows that God the Revealer, when He tells of God in Nature and in Redemption must speak in harmonious terms. Both discoveries must agree, and hence we expect to find certain lines in physics leading up to Christianity, certain thoughts of the Divine mind which grow clearer when I cast back fresh light from redemption.
3. What, then, is there in nature to fit into the representation of Deity which we gather from--
I. The incarnation.
1. This stands on the threshold of the Christian system, and has no parallel in history, and at first sight none in nature. Yet look a little closer, and you will find that it rests upon the fact that man was made in the image of his Maker. For the Son and perfect Image of Godhead to become man--making the thoughts, emotions, and activities of our nature a glass wherein to mirror the heart of Deity--implies some affinity between the Divine and human, or some previous resemblance of man to God. Reason must, in some fashion, reflect the thoughts of God, and virtue His holiness, and points of moral and intellectual contact must bind the human spirit to that of the Incarnate Redeemer. How else could God become incarnate to redeem?
2. Now nature is alive with thoughts that are very human. God utters His mind in His works, and that mind is like our own. If that were not so science would be impossible. The world’s Maker and its observer must have something in common, if the observer is to understand the Maker’s meaning. A world put together by a Being whose notions of truth, utility, purpose, etc., bore no relation to mine would be a world unintelligible to me. But the world satisfies the reason and gratifies the taste of the human student, who detects in it with joy another mind at work similar to his own.
(1) You know how keen is the pleasure many take in mechanical contrivance, but the pages of modern books of science are full of beautiful contrivances.
(2) Equally human is the parsimony of nature. He who made this world does not overcome difficulties by inventing some fresh force for every occasion; He will rather go round about to make existing instruments answer a new purpose. To the same economical habit it is due that through the organized tribes of being certain radical types are perseveringly adhered to. A few governing ideas, modified in details only as far as needful, are made to do service, and give rise to endless diversity. This is just the style of workmanship that workmen admire.
(3) Very human, too, is the place occupied in the works of God by beauty and utility. In man’s productions decoration is always subordinated to convenience, and wise men will sacrifice the ornamental without remorse when it can be gained only at the expense of human well-being. Now the original school of all art is the handiwork of God. So lavish is His decoration of the most unnoticed Objects that He must do it because He loves it; yet it is never put before utility. Nay, some animals have been made unlovely to suit their convenience; but even in them ornament is introduced where it can do no harm.
3. Nature, then, betrays in its Creator a mind so like our own as to lay a foundation for the Incarnation. The Son in impressing on all things His stamp, as God’s image left a signature so human-like that we can well credit the old Scripture when it says man wears the likeness of the Son of God; and we see a propriety in the announcement of the new scripture that the same Son wears the nature which He had on purpose made so correspondent with His own. Creation of man’s mind in God’s image; incarnation of God’s image in manhood--these are two answering facts, the one witnessed by science, the other by the gospel.
II. The atonement.
1. In so far as this is a moral fact, whereas in nature there is neither sin nor retribution, and therefore no need of atonement, we cannot expect to find there any suggestion of reconciliation with God. Nevertheless nature indicates that the Creator possesses moral qualities, and is a character as well as an intellect,
2. Some particulars of this.
(1) Thinkers have been startled by the gospel declaration that God cares for so insignificant a creature as man. But does He appear to the student as a person likely to overlook any interest because it is minute. Remember what pains the scientists tell us have been expended on the most tiny and obscure piece of organized matter to perfect its adaptation to its place, and to elaborate every organ of it for its proper purpose. It is for investigators to tell us whether they do not find traces of kindness in this such as bespeak a benevolent heart as well as a contriving intellect. If they do, then the love of God, which seeks and saves one lost soul, is but the crown of a character patient, considerate, which has left its traces on the lower creation.
(2) But there are facts of an opposite order. Violence, death, extinction have always obtained. But whatever difficulties attend this frightful havoc of life, the sacrifice ministers always to some upward movement. Lower life feeds higher life, or the individual becomes a victim to some agency needful for the general good, the gale, the flood, the lightning: or, as the earth grows fit to bear nobler forms, the earlier ones pass away. We read here the law of sacrifice--unconscious and involuntary, indeed, because these creatures have no power of moral choice; but true, nevertheless, because sacrificed for some nobler good and more enduring end. See how beasts of prey have to make room for population, and serviceable animals are slaughtered for man’s use. When I pass from this scene to Golgotha I am not conscious of any violent shock. There is pain for the good of others, and death as the price of life. The Maker of the suffering creation is not afraid to suffer for others. He obeys His own law, and the cross would have been a far more surprising spectacle had it stood upon an earth where no creature ever bled to advance creation’s good.
(3) The only key we can find to the Atonement lies in the inviolability of Divine law. To magnify that God gave His Son to die. Now it would have been surprising had the Son as Creator betrayed any indifference to the violence of natural law, and yet come as Redeemer to die to vindicate moral law. No such inconsistency appears. Physical students insist on the constancy with which the former avenges transgression; and so the latter decrees death for disobedience. And it could so little be set aside in favour of mercy, that not until the Lawgiver had Himself honoured His own statute, and suffered His own penalty, did He forgive.
3. As far, then, as such indications go, the face of God, as traced indistinctly in Creation, answers to His face as its glory shines in the gospel of Christ. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
We have redemption through His blood.
I. Redemption. Deliverance--
1. From the guilt of sin, original or actual, of omission or commission.
5. From the wrath of God.
II. Its means: “His blood.”
(2) To conquer Satan (Hebrews 2:14).
III. Its benefit. “Forgiveness of sins.”
1. The names in Scripture given to it.
(1) Remission (Acts 2:38),
(2) dismission, releasing (Isaiah 61:1).
(1) Passing over sin (Romans 3:25).
(2) Purging from sin (Psalms 51:7).
(9) Casting it in the depth of the sea (Micah 7:18-19).
2. The nature of it: an act of God’s grace, whereby He absolves us from the obligation to those punishments, which by His law are due to us for those sins.
(1) In general it is an act of God’s grace.
(2) The specific difference.
(a) We are obliged to bear the punishments due by God’s law to sin (Galatians 3:10).
IV. This benefit is only by Christ’s death.
3. Christ in this nature was pleased to suffer disgrace, the curses of the law (Galatians 3:13). The wrath of God (Matthew 27:46). An ignominious, accursed, painful, and bloody death; and all for sin, the only cause of death (Hebrews 10:12).
4. Christ suffered all this, not for Himself (1 Peter 2:22; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 7:26), but for us who partake of that nature in which He suffered (Isaiah 53:5-6; Romans 4:25; Galatians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3).
5. These sufferings were of greater worth than if all men had suffered eternal death (Acts 20:28).
7. God’s justice being thus satisfied, He is reconciled unto us, and takes off our obligations to punishment, by reason of what His Son underwent for us; and therefore for His sake is said to pardon our sins (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
1. Hence you may learn what ground we have to trust in Christ for pardon (Romans 8:34).
2. Hence be advised to make it your business to get your sins forgiven: considering--
(1) How miserable you are without it: God is angry (Psalms 7:11); hell is threatened.
(2) How happy with it (Psalms 32:1-2). Your persons accepted and justified (Psalms 32:1-2; Romans 4:6-7); God reconciled and become your friend (Romans 5:1; Romans 9:1-33; Romans 10:3. All things working for your good, and glory for your reward. (Bishop Beveridge.)
The liberty for which the slave longs is, perhaps, the sweetest earthly cup man drinks. Health has been often said to be the greatest earthly blessing. What are money, luxury, titles, a crown even, without it; but what is health without liberty. We sympathize with the instinctive love of freedom in animals--the noisy joy of the dog when he gets off his chain; the noble eagle chained to the perch, strangling in its struggles to escape. Much more do we sympathize with our fellow-creatures, whether slaves or citizens, who have made the altars of liberty red with their blood, preferring death to bondage. But them is a more degrading and dreadful slavery, that of the slaves of Satan, who are sold under sin. Would that we set the same price on spiritual as we do on earthly liberty! What struggles would then be made and prayers offered for salvation! And when saved ourselves, how anxious we should be for the salvation of others.
I. We all need redemption. To a man who knows he is nigh unto death offer a medicine that will cure him, and he will buy it at any price; but offer the same to one who believes himself in health and he holds it cheap. For a similar reason are Christ and His redemption rejected of men. So the great work of God’s Spirit is to rouse a man from the torpor induced by the poison of sin. And blessed the book, preacher, or providence that sends the conviction into our hearts. For to a soul convinced of misery who so welcome as the Saviour?
1. The slavery of sin is natural to man, We pity the mother as robbed of one of her best joys, who knows that the little creature on her bosom is a slave. But that calamity is ours. “In sin did my mother conceive me.” “I am carnal, sold under sin.” “Ye were the slaves of sin”--not one hired for a period, but branded with the mark of a perpetual bondage.
2. This slavery is the universal state of man. Slavery is the worst and oldest of human institutions. At an early period, in Cain, he who should have been his brother’s keeper, became his murderer; and when man did become his brother’s keeper, it was too often as an owner. But, wherever slavery obtained, some were free. It is not so with sin. The king and the beggar are both slaves; every man’s heart is black, whatever his face may be.
3. This slavery is the state of all unconverted men.
(1) Some are slaves of gold. What bondage is equal to that? for a man to harden his heart to the claims of pity, to deny his own flesh and blood, to lie and cheat, or, if not, throw his soul away for money.
(2) Some are slaves of lust. To what base society and acts of villainy do their tyrant passions condemn them. The thief that steals my money is a man of honour compared with him who steals a woman’s virtue.
(2) Some are slaves of drunkenness. Of all slavery this is the most helpless and hopeless. Other sins drown conscience, this season as well.
(3) Some are slaves to the opinions of the world. The Macedonian boasted that he had conquered the world; the world can boast that it has conquered them. Theirs the miserable condition of a servant who has to bear in some ill-governed household the caprices, not of one mistress, but of many.
II. Our redemption is not a simple matter of time. Every fifty years, and in certain cases, seven, redeemed the Hebrew. Everywhere time works changes, the young grow old, the poor get rich, the rich poor. Time alters the form of the globe. But amid these changes the condition of the sinner alters not. The longer you live in sin the more hopeless is salvation. Do you say, But what am I to do? Can I redeem myself? Assuredly not. But are we to sit still as though redemption would come like a jubilee in the common course of providence? No, we are to be up and doing. I do not say that we are to rise like an oppressed nation which wrings its liberties from a tyrant hand; nor that we can purchase redemption; nor that through works of righteousness we can lay any claim to its blessings. And yet I say, “Labour for the meat that endureth unto everlasting life.” There are various ways of being diligent. Though men call him idle the poor beggar is as diligent as others; and such as that suppliant’s, along with the use of other means, are the labours to which God’s mercy and your own necessities call you. Unable to save yourself, besiege the throne of grace.
III. Christ is the redeemer. There is no other. His types and symbols teach this. There was but one ark in the flood, and all perished save those who sailed in it. There was but one altar in the Temple, one way through the Red Sea, “one Mediator between God and man.”
1. Christ does not redeem us by simply revealing the truth. Were He a Saviour only in this sense there are others. From “the Sun of Righteousness” He changes into a star, one of a constellation which is formed of Moses and the prophets. Many of them, indeed, had more to do in revealing God’s will than Christ. No book bears His name, and the truths which fell from Him form but a fraction of Scripture. Yet who but He is set forth as the Redeemer, in whose name else are we commanded to believe and be baptized?
2. Christ does not redeem us by His example. That man is in a sense my saviour who leads me safely along any dangerous path, and in a corresponding way some say Christ redeemed us. He set us such an example, that by following His steps we may enter the kingdom of heaven. Alas for safety if it turn on that I Walk as He walked! Who is sufficient for that? We should certainly attempt to follow Jesus, yet our best attempts will leave us more and more convinced that our only hope for redemption lies in the mercy of the Father and the merits of the Son.
3. Christ has redeemed us by suffering in our room and stead. “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
I. What remission of sins is.
1. Sin is a violation of the law of God (1 John 3:4). In this law there is the precept which is the rule of duty, and the sanction or penalty which shows what God might do if He dealt with us according to our merit. Accordingly in sin there is--
(1) The fault. Man, God’s subject, and obliged to Him by His benefits, swerves from the rule of his duty and exposes himself to God’s judgment.
(2) The guilt, which is liableness to punishment.
2. Forgiveness is a dissolving the obligation to punishment, a freedom in God’s way from the consequences of sin.
(1) It is not a disannulling of the act as a natural action. What is done cannot be undone.
(2) Nor is it abolished as a criminal action. Forgiveness does not make a fault to be no fault. The innocent are acquitted, but the guilty are pardoned as sinners.
(3) Nor is the merit of the sinful act lessened, it still deserves punishment.
(4) Forgiveness therefore is a passing by the fault so that it shall not rise up in judgment against us. The fault is the sinner’s, the punishment the Judge’s, which He may fashion on certain terms stated in the law of grace.
I prove it
(1) from the nature of the thing, for there is such a relation between the fault and the guilt, the sin and punishment; that the one cannot be without the other. Therefore, if the Judge will not impute the fault there will be an immunity from punishment.
(2) From the common rule of speaking among men. He cannot be said to forgive a fault who exacts punishment; and what do men mean when they pray for pardon but that they may be exempted from punishment?
(3) It would impeach the justice and mercy of God were He to punish where He has pardoned.
II. The nature of redemption.
1. Our being redeemed supposes a captivity and bondage.
(1) Unrenewed men are slaves to sin (Titus 3:3; John 8:34). Men imagine a life of vanity to be a very good life, and it were so if liberty consisted in doing what we list rather than what we ought. But it is not, and experience shows that men cannot leave their base satisfactions.
(3) For this they are under the curse of God.
2. To recover us there was a price to be paid by way of ransom to God. We are not delivered by prayer, nor mere force, nor out of pity, but by just satisfaction to provoked justice. The price was not paid to Satan, who is a usurper--from him we are delivered by force--but to God. Man had not sinned against Satan, but God, to whom belong condemnation or pardon. And God being satisfied, Satan has no power over us. That redemption implies payment of a price is clear (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6). Christ in recovering men in dealing with God is set forth as a Lamb slain (Revelation 5:5-6); in dealing with Satan as a lion recovering the prey. A ransom was necessary because God had made a former covenant which was not to be quit but upon valuable consideration, lest His moral attributes should fall to the ground.
(1) The honour of His justice was to be secured (Romans 3:5-6; Genesis 18:25). If God should pardon without satisfaction how should He be reverenced as the holy Governor of the world? Hence Romans 3:25-26.
(2) His wisdom. If the law should be recalled, the Lawgiver would run the hazard of levity.
(3) His holy nature would not permit it. Some way must be found to signify His hatred of sin (Psalms 11:6).
(4) His authority. It would be a derogation to the authority of His law if it might be broken with impunity.
3. None was fit to give this ransom but Jesus Christ, the God-man. He was man to undertake it in our name, God to perform it in His own strength; a man that He might be under the law and die, God that He might put the stamp upon the metal and make it current coin. By taking human nature a price was put into His hands, to which His Divine nature gave the requisite value (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:13).
4. Nothing performed by Christ could be a sufficient ransom but His death.
(1) To answer the types wherein without shedding of blood was no remission.
(2) In the nature of the thing (John 8:20). Death was threatened to sin, and feared by the sinner, and must be borne, therefore, for deliverance.
5. From this ransom there is a liberty resulting to us; but not a liberty to sin (Romans 6:22). Christ came not to free us from the duty of the law, but its penalty, otherwise it would promote the devil’s interest. He redeemed us that we might serve God.
6. We are not partakers of this liberty till we are united to Christ by faith “in whom.”
III. Remission of sins is a principal part of redemption.
1. How a part.
(1) Redemption is taken for the laying down of the price. That was done on the cross (Hebrews 9:12).
(2) In its application. Besides the ransom there is actual deliverance. Complete redemption we shall enjoy at the last day (Romans 8:23; Ephesians 4:30; Ephesians 1:14). Begun deliverance, which we now enjoy by faith, consists of justification (Ephesians 1:7), where sin is freely pardoned, and we delivered from evil and wrath; and sanctification (1 Peter 1:18; Titus 2:14).
2. A principal part, for--
(1) The power of Satan is destroyed (Acts 26:18).
(2) The reign of sin is broken. The gift of the sanctifying Spirit is part of our pardon applied (Colossians 2:13).
(3) We are eased of our tormenting fears.
(4) Death is unstinged (1 Corinthians 15:56).
(5) The obligation to, eternal punishment ceases.
IV. Use. To persuade you to seek after this benefit.
1. We all once needed it. Nothing but pardon will serve your turn.
(1) Not forbearance on God’s part.
(2) Not senseless forgetfulness or baseless hope on yours.
2. The best of us still need it. Renewed sins need new pardon; daily infirmities daily repentance. (T. Manton, D. D.)
1. The apostle had been speaking of Christian privileges as being matters of present enjoyment--meetness for heaven; deliverance from sin, dec., are in the actual possession of the Christian.
2. There are two methods proposed by which men hope to secure God’s favour. Thousands consider it presumption to profess to have it, but hope to do so after they have prayed more and done more good deeds. God’s method is the reverse. What man places at the end He places at the beginning; what man says “work for,” He says “work from.” Turning away our thoughts from self He fixes them on Christ.
3. The different results on feeling resulting are immense. The man who works for future forgiveness has at best the spirit of a servant; he who takes forgiveness now as God’s free gift in Christ enjoys reconciliation and sonship.
I. Redemption as identical with forgiveness of sins.
1. Redemption is something more than rescue. If you see a man in danger and pluck him out you save but not redeem him. If you see a man oppressed and snatch him from his enemy you deliver but not redeem him. Redemption is the release of a man by the payment of ransom. We by our transgressions have exposed ourselves to God’s law, which knows no pity, holds us in its grasp, and will inflict, unless we are delivered, the fearful penalty of eternal death. But if that penalty be remitted we are redeemed, and so forgiveness is equivalent to redemption. But sin has also brought us under its own power, and so made us its slaves; and the only way of securing us and setting us free is forgiveness.
2. The one thing we absolutely require as sinners is the remission of the horrible penalty, and it is neither irrational nor immoral to be afraid of that penalty; but we must be released from the power of sin before our happiness can be secured. Tell me that I am not to be punished and you have made me glad, but you have not inspired me with love to God. But tell me that the means of forgiveness is the sacrifice of God’s dear Son, that God pardons not only as a Sovereign but as a Father, and the power of sin will be broken, and I enter on the joyful, ennobling service of love.
II. Redemption as effected through the blood of Christ.
1. In Philippians 2:1-30. the apostle, in speaking of Christ’s death, has in view Christ’s obedience; here in using the term “blood” his idea is expiation, and so elsewhere where the word is used; because in the Jewish sacrifices it was not the death of the victim, but its blood that was the typical instrument of expiation.
2. Such a redemption is necessary to meet the demands of the heart and to produce a changed feeling towards God.
(1) Forgiveness must be a righteous forgiveness; not a mere easy, weak-minded passing over of transgression. Redemption by the blood of Christ meets this demand of the awakened conscience, for in the cross God appears more awful than elsewhere in His hatred of sin and His determination to punish it.
(2) But it is also the forgiveness of a Father we want, and nowhere have we such an exhibition of God’s love as in the cross. Conclusion.--This redemption is only to be had in Christ. Out of Him, however respectable and moral, we are slaves of sin and exposed to the curse. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
Plan of redemption
Suppose a large graveyard surrounded by a high wall, with only one entrance by a large iron gate which is fast bolted. Within these wails are tens of thousands of human beings, by one disease descending to the grave. There is no balm to relieve them, no physician there: they must perish. This is the condition of man as a sinner. All have sinned, and the soul that sinneth shall die. While man was in this deplorable state, Mercy, an attribute of Deity, came down and stood at the gate, looked at the scene, and wept over it, exclaiming, “Oh, that I might enter! I would bind up their wounds; I would relieve their sorrows; I would save their souls.” While Mercy stood weeping at the gate, an embassy of angels, commissioned from the court of heaven to some other world, passing over, paused at the sight, and Heaven forgave that pause. Seeing Mercy standing there, they cried, “Mercy, Mercy, can you not enter can you look upon this scene, and not pity? can you pity, and not relieve?” Mercy replied, “I can see;” and in her tears she added, “I pity, but cannot relieve.”--“Why can you not enter?”--“Oh!” said Mercy, “Justice has barred the gate against me, and I cannot, must not, unbar it.” At this moment Justice himself appeared, as it were to watch the gate. The angels inquired of him, “Why will you not let Mercy in?” Justice replied, “My law is broken, and it must be honoured: die they or Justice must.” At this there appeared a form among the angelic band, like unto the Son of God, who, addressing Himself to Justice, said, “What are thy demands?” Justice replied, “My terms are stern and rigid. I must have sickness for their health; I must have ignominy for their honour; I must have death for life; without the shedding of blood there is no remission.”--“Justice,” said the Son of God, “I accept thy terms. On Me be this wrong, and let Mercy enter.”--“When,” said Justice, “will you perform this promise?” Jesus replied, “Four thousand years hence, upon the hill of Calvary, without the gates of Jerusalem, I will perform it in My own person.” The deed was prepared and signed in the presence of the angels of God. Justice was satisfied; and Mercy entered, preaching salvation in the name of Jesus. The deed was committed to the patriarchs; by them to the kings of Israel and the prophets; by them it was preserved till Daniel’s seventy weeks were accomplished; and, at the appointed time, Justice appeared on the hill of Calvary, and Mercy presented to him the important deed. “Where,” said Justice, “is the Son of God?” Mercy answered, “Behold Him at the bottom of the hill, bearing His own cross;” and then he departed, and stood aloof at the hour of trial. Jesus ascended the hill, while in His train followed His weeping Church. Justice immediately presented Him with the important deed, saying, “This is the day when this bond is to be executed.” When He received it, did He tear it in pieces, and give it to the winds of heaven? No: He nailed it to His cross, exclaiming, “It is finished!” Justice called on holy fire to come down, and consume the sacrifice. Holy fire descended: it swallowed His humanity; but, when it touched His divinity, it expired, and there was darkness over the whole heavens; but, glory to God in the highest! on earth peace, and good-will to men. (Christmas Evans.)
The greatness of redemption
If that a king should empty all his coffers, and alienate all his crown land to rescue his subjects, he should show himself a natural prince: but what is this to that ransom which our King hath tendered? (P. Bayne, B. D.)
Redemption incomplete until accepted by faith in Christ
Suppose there were twenty traitors in the Tower lay condemned; say again, the prince should yield his father such satisfaction for some whom he would save, wherewith the king his father should be contented, and give him their pardon thereupon; here the thing is done betwixt the king and his son, yet till the prince send to them, write to the keeper to deliver such and such to him, they are in the state they were in, and so continue. So it is with God, Christ, and us: the redemption is all concluded betwixt God and His beloved Son; yet till this is effectually made known to our hearts, so that they believe on this grace of Christ, we are as we were, in hold, in the fear of our condemnation. We are justified through the redemption in Christ, but so that before it can be applied in us we must have faith in His blood, being set forth unto us in the word preached. Can we have the strength of bread without eating bread? No more can we have any benefit by the bread of life without believing on Him. In Christ by faith we have these things. (P. Bayne, B. D.)
Redemption partial and complete
We have that redemption which consists in the forgiveness of sins, and having obtained it are delivered from the bondage of the devil, of sin, and of hell. The devil cannot any longer detain us as captives, rule us as his slaves, and drive us here and there as he pleases; sin itself which cleaves to us cannot reign in us; finally, even hell cannot torment us with perpetual fear, or claim any lordship over us. For, our sins being remitted, the power of the devil is broken, the wrath of God is removed, the condemnation of eternal death is taken away. From all these things, therefore, we have redemption at the same time that we have forgiveness of sins. But there is yet another bondage, viz., that of the corruption of our bodies, and of eternal sufferings, from which the elect are not yet redeemed, but shall be redeemed at the coming of Christ (Luke 21:28). The apostle calls this the redemption of the purchased possession (Ephesians 1:14). This also Christ merited for us: but He would not bestow upon believers at once this incorruption of their bodies, and deliverance from present external miseries, and from the remains of sin, for the following reasons.
1. Lest the condition of the Head and of the members should be plainly dissimilar. For Christ Himself was a Man of sorrows: He did not at once sit down at the right hand of the Father in glory, but first underwent hunger, thirst, crucifixion, and death: it is therefore but consistent that the members of Christ should pass likewise through sufferings and death itself to glory.
2. They are not fully redeemed from these bodily afflictions, neither from the remains of sin, that they may have matter for glorifying God, whilst they endure them with the greatest constancy and patience, whilst they resist with all their might all the lusts of sin; that God, even as a just Judge, may confer upon them, after having well fought this fight, the unfading crown.
3. He would not straightway deliver the faithful from this bodily misery instantly, lest Christians should seem to embrace Christ on account of this temporal deliverance, rather than on account of that spiritual one. (Bishop Davenant.)
Redemption God’s forgiveness as King and Father
Suppose that a son had sinned grievously against a parent who was also a king. By the son’s breach of the laws he has exposed himself to a certain penalty; but he has also alienated himself from his father- produced in his heart a spirit of distrust and aversion which becomes deeper and more intense the longer he holds aloof. There are two things then to be considered: the punishment to which the son is liable; and the depraving, alienating influence which his transgression exercises over his mind. Now, if the breach is ever to be healed, it will not be enough for the father to say, “I remit the penalty of your transgression: I forbear to strike: you may go.” The son may, will, be glad to escape suffering, but he will not be drawn thereby in love towards his father. The old alienation will rankle still, and will break out presently in fresh offences. Something more, then, is needed, viz., the exhibition of the father’s love towards the erring son; there is needed that it be said, “I not only release you from merited suffering; but I forgive you: I open my heart to you, and take you back into it. I am only too glad to welcome you to my heart and home, with the feeling that my child is no longer a wanderer and an alien, but has given me back his love.” Then the power of the transgression will be broken, and the interrupted relation between father and child will be restored. Precisely in the same way, if forgiveness of sin meant simply the remission of penalties, there would be in the heart of the sinner nothing but a cold and selfish thankfulness and self-congratulation for escape from pain. But our sins are forgiven us in such a way that the heart of a loving Father is displayed in the act. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
Redemption atonement for and remission of sin
It is the Day of Atonement. Two young kids of the goats are presented before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle. Those young spotless creatures are a double type of Jesus when in the councils of eternity He presented Himself before Jehovah, saying, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” The lot is cast--one for the Lord, the other for the scapegoat--to deter mine which shall represent our Saviour in the act of His death, and which in the fruit of His death, viz., the bearing of the sins of the people. The first falls as a sin-offering. The high priest having caught its flowing blood in a golden bowl, enters within the veil, and, alone, sprinkles it upon the mercy-seat. Coming forth, he goes up to the living goat; standing over it, he lays his hands upon its head; and, amid solemn silence, confesses over the dumb creature all the sins of the people. The prayer finished, that goat bears on its devoted head the guilt of the people. And now observe the act which foreshadowed how Jesus by taking our sins bore them away. The congregation opens, forming a lane that stretches away from the tabernacle to the boundless desert. While every lip is sealed, and every eye intent, a “fit” man steps forth, and taking hold of the victim, he leads it on and away through the parted crowd. Amid the haze of the burning sands and distant horizon their forms grow less and less, and at length vanish from sight. He and that goat are now alone. They travel on and further on, till, removed beyond the reach of any human eye, far off in the distant wilderness, he casts loose the sin-laden creature. And when, after the lapse of hours, the people descry a speck in the distance, which draws nearer and nearer, until they recognize the “fit” man, the people see, and we in figure see also, how our Lord, when He was made an offering for sin, took the load of our guilt upon Him, bearing it away, as it were, to a land that was not known. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Pardon, not justice, wanted
A French girl of fourteen appeared before Napoleon, and casting herself at his feet, cried, “Pardon, sire! pardon for my father!” “And who is your father?” asked Napoleon, “and who are you?” “My name is Lajolia,” she said, and with flowing tears added, “but, sire, my father is doomed to die.” “Ah, young lady,” replied Napoleon, “I can do nothing for you. It is the second time your father has been found guilty against the State.” “Alas!” exclaimed the poor girl, “I know it, sire; but I do not ask for justice, I implore pardon. I beseech you to forgive my father!” After a momentary struggle of feeling, Napoleon gently took the hand of the young maiden, and said, “Well, my child, for your sake I will pardon your father. That is enough. Now leave me.”
The value of pardon
A man named John Welsh lay in prison in Chicago under sentence of death. His friends tried to get his sentence commuted to imprisonment for life. The day before that fixed for his execution arrived without any favourable reply being received. The prisoner sat in his cell listening and longing earnestly for a respite. Presently he heard the rumbling of a car. It brought the materials for the scaffold, and soon he heard the stroke of the hammers, and pictured himself hanging on the scaffold he could hear them raising. The sound almost drove him frantic, and he begged that he might be taken anywhere away from the dreadful noise. He was taken to a distant cell, and there he sat on the edge of his bed, haunted with gloomy thoughts, all hope gone. He was startled from his reverie by a hurried step along the corridor. The key was thrust into the lock, and one of the officers of the prison stood before him. He held in his hand a paper signed by the Governor of the State of Illinois. It was a commutation of his sentence. How the truth burst upon his mind! When the paper was handed to him he could not read it for tears, but it was a paper bringing him his life, and he hugged it and kissed it. (H. W. Taylor.)
Forgiveness and remission of sins
Strictly speaking it is not sins that are forgiven, but their penalty. All men know what “to give” is; but what is it to for-give? To forth-give or give forth. When a man in ancient times forgave, he gave forth from himself something he was entitled to retain. When a man does injury to another he is liable to a penalty, and formerly every penalty short of death consisted of valuable material such as live cattle or money; and it was that, laid at the injured person’s feet, that was given forth from the receiver, when he was willing to forgive the injurer. Precisely speaking it was not the injury that was forth-given; the injury was never at the disposal of the injured person. It was the penalty incurred by the injury that was forth-given. And whatever the penalty might be, though death itself, if it was not exacted it was forgiven. So when God forgives He generously refrains from exacting the penalty we have incurred. Another word is remission, which is a beautiful variation. There is mission in it. When any one is sent forth some end is contemplated. That end is his mission. Re of course means back. To remit is to send back. In ancient times when the material of the penalty of a transgression was sent to the injured person, he had it in his option graciously to send it back. That was the remission of the penalty of the sin. The phrase is now condensed, and we speak not only of the remission of the penalty, but of the remission of the sin. The expression is practically equivalent in Biblical representation to the word redemption, so that the two phrases reciprocally throw light on each other. In this light it is seen that, as a matter of principle, it must always be a difficulty in moral government to give scope to the forgiveness of crimes, or the remission of the penalty of transgressions. No wonder, therefore, that there should be difficulty in the Divine government. (J. Morison, D. D.)
Christ the Image of the invisible God.
I. Christ is the image of God. Image signifies that which represents another, and as things are variously represented, so there is a great variety of images.
1. Some are imperfect, and express but some particular, and that defectively.
(1) Artificial images, whether drawn, sculptured, or embroidered, represent only the colour, figure, and lineaments, and have nothing of life and nature.
(2) Adam, who was called God’s image because the conditions of his nature had some resemblance to the properties of God--intellect, will, and lordship; but he had not God’s essence.
2. Some are perfect. We call a child the image of his father, inasmuch as he has not merely the colour or figure of his parent, but his nature and properties, soul, body, life, etc. So a prince has not only the appearance of his predecessor’s power, but its substance (Genesis 5:3).
3. In which of these two senses is the figure true of Christ? Surely not in the sense that man is the image of God. For intending to exalt Christ and to show that His dignity is so great as to capacitate Him to save us, it would ill suit his design if the apostle attributed no more to Him than what holds good for any man. Read our Lord’s own testimony (John 14:9; John 12:45). Now where is the portrait of which it may be said that he who has seen it has seen him whom it represents? This can only be found in one which contains the nature of the original (Hebrews 1:3).
(1) God’s nature is perfectly represented in Christ. Hence He is called God over and over again.
(2) Christ represents the Father in His properties, eternity, immutability, wisdom, etc.
4. Now no child perfectly represents is father; there are differences of manner, disposition, feature: but Christ represents the Father in everything.
5. This sacred truth overthrows two heresies--the Sabellian and the Arian. The former confounded the Son with the Father, the latter rent them asunder. Those took from the Son His person, these His nature. Paul demonstrates the Sabellian error here, for no one is the image of himself; and the Arian, for Christ could not be a perfect image unless He had the same nature as the Father.
II. God, whose image Jesus is, is invisible.
1. The Divine nature is spiritual, and hence invisible, inasmuch as the eye sees only corporeal objects. For this cause, Moses, in teaching that there is nothing material in the Divine essence that might be represented by pencil or chisel, remonstrates to them that when God manifested Himself they “saw no similitude” (Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:15). Whence He infers they must make no graven image.
2. But the meaning here is also that God is incomprehensible. Seeing is often put for knowing. The Seraphim cover their faces to embody this truth (Isaiah 6:2). Through His grace indeed we may know something of His nature (Hebrews 1:1); but however clear it does not amount to a seeing, i.e., an apprehension which conceives the proper form of the subject.
3. Why is this quality mentioned here? To show us that God has manifested Himself to us by His Son. There is a secret opposition between image and invisible. God has a nature so impenetrable that without this His Image men would not have known Him.
(1) By Him He made, preserves, and governs the world. To Him we must refer the revelations of God under the Old Testament.
(2) But here the reference is to what took place in the fulness of time. In Christ we see all the wonders of the invisible Father--His justice, mercy, power, etc., in all their completeness, whereas creation only shows the edges. (J. Daille.)
The image of God
We believe in many things we never saw, on the evidence of other senses than sight. We believe in music, invisible odours, nay, in what we can neither hear, taste, smell, nor touch--our own life, our soul. Thus it were irrational to disbelieve in God because He is invisible. Still we are tempted to forget His existence, and as for the ungodly “God is not in all their thoughts.”
I. I would warn you against allowing God to be out of mind because He is out of sight.
1. This is a danger to which our very constitution exposes us. Hence the necessity of striving to walk by faith, not by sight. This is difficult because we are creatures of sense. The dead are out of sight and so often forgotten, the eternal world, the devil, and so God.
2. Why should the invisibility of God be turned into a temptation to sin? It should rather minister to holy care. How solemn the thought that an unseen Being is ever at our side! Were this realized, then bad thoughts would be banished, and unholy deeds crushed, and purity and heavenliness imparted to the life and conduct.
II. The visible revelations of the invisible in the old testament were most probably manifestations of the Son of God. To Jacob at Peniel, to Joshua at Jericho, to Manoah, to Isaiah (chap. 6.), and to others God appeared. How are we to reoncile this with “No man hath seen God at any time”? Only by regarding these appearances as manifestations of Him who is “the image of the invisible God.” This is in perfect harmony with other passages in the history of redemption. We know for certain that the fruits of the incarnation were anticipated, and the fruits of His death enjoyed before He died. Why not, then, the fact of the incarnation? Viewed in this light, these Old Testament stories acquire a deeper and more enduring interest. In the guide of Abraham’s pilgrimage I see the guide of my own. Jacob’s success in wrestling imparts vigour to my prayers.
III. The greatness of the worker corresponds with the greatness of the work. It is not always so. Sometimes God accomplishes mighty ends by feeble instruments in both nature and grace. But redemption is differentiated in greatness, grandeur, and difficulty from all the other works of God. It cost more love, labour, and wisdom than all yon starry universe. But great as is the work the Worker is greater--the visible Image of the invisible God.
IV. God as revealed visibly in Jesus meets and satisfies one of our strongest wants,
1. The second commandment runs more counter to our nature than any other.
(1) Look at the heathen world. For long ages the world was given up to idolatry with the exception of a single people. To fix the mind on an invisible Being seemed like attempting to anchor a vessel on a flowing tide. And as a climbing plant, for lack of a better stay, will throw its arms round a rotting tree; rather than want something palpable to which their thoughts might cling, men have worshipped the Divine Being through the most hideous forms.
(2) Look at the proneness to sensuous worship among the Jews.
(3) We find the evidence of this prosperity in the Christian Church. Fancy some old Roman rising from his grave on the banks of the Tiber, what could he suppose but that the “Eternal City” had changed her idols, and by some strange turn of fortune had given to one Jesus the old throne of Jupiter and assigned the crown which Juno wore in his days to another queen of heaven?
2. In what way are we to account for this universal tendency? It is not enough to call it folly; the feelings from which it springs are deeply rooted in our nature. You tell me that God is infinite, incomprehensible; but it is as difficult for me to make such a Being the object of my affections as to grasp a Sound or detain a shadow. This heart craves something more congenial to my nature, and seeks in God a palpable object for its affections to cling to.
3. Now see how this want is met in the Gospel by Him who “knoweth our frame.” In His incarnate Son the Infinite is brought within the limits of my understanding, the Invisible is revealed to my sight. In that eye bent upon me I see Divine love in a form I can feel. God addresses me in human tones, and stands before me in the fashion of a man; and when I fall at His feet with Thomas I am an image worshipper but no idolater, for I bend to the “image of the invisible God.”
V. In what sense is Christ the image of the invisible God?
1. It means much more than mere resemblance; it conveys the idea of shadow less than of substance. I have known an infant bear such a resemblance to his father that what his tongue could not tell his face did, and people struck by the likeness exclaimed, “He is the very image of his father.” Such was Adam in his state of innocence. Now it may be said that as our Lord, like the first Adam, was holy, he is therefore called the image of God; yet that does not exhaust the meaning, nor is it on that account that Paul calls Him the second Adam. Nor have they sounded the depths who say He was so called because He was endowed with power to do the works of God. For many others have been in that sense equally images of God. But where are they represented as “God manifest in the flesh”?
2. In Christ’s character and works we have a living, visible, perfect image of the invisible God.
(1) In Him we see the power of God, and notably at the grave of Lazarus. To make something out of nothing is a work more visibly stamped with divinity than to make one thing out of another--a living man out of lifeless dust, and then on that mountain side the bread multiplies.
(2) In Christ we have the image of a holy God.
(3) In Christ we have the image of a God willing and waiting to save. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The image of the invisible God
I draw out from my pocket a little miniature, and look upon it and tears drop from my eyes. What is it? A piece of ivory. What is on it? A face that some artist has painted there. It is a radiant face. My history is connected with it. When I look upon it tides of feeling swell in me. Some one comes to me, and says: “What is that?” I say, “It is my mother.” “Your mother” “I should call it a piece of ivory with water-colours on it.” To me it is my mother. When you come to scratch it, and analyze it, and scrutinize the elements of it, to be sure it is only a sign or dumb show, but it brings to me that which is no sign nor dumb show. According to the law of my mind, through it I have brought back, interpreted, refreshed, revived, made patent in me, all the sense of what a loving mother was. So I take my conception of Christ as He is painted in dead letters on dead paper, and to me is interpreted the glory, the sweetness, the patience, the love, the joy-inspiring nature of God; and I do not hesitate to say, “Christ is my God,” just as I would not hesitate to say of that picture, “It is my mother.” “But,” says a man, “you do not mean that you really sucked at the breast of that picture?” No. I did not; but I will not allow any one to drive me into any such minute analysis as that. Now I hold that the Lord Jesus Christ, as represented in the New Testament, brings to my mind all the effluence of brightness and beauty which I am capable of understanding. I can take in no more. He is said to be the express image of God’s glory. He reveals to us a God whose interest in man is inherent, and who through His mercy and goodness made sacrifices for it. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for it. What is the only begotten Son of God? Who knows? Who can know? That His only begotten Son is precious to Him we may know, judging from the experience of an earthly father; and we cannot doubt that when He gave Christ to come into life, and humble Himself to man’s condition, and take upon Himself an ignominious death, He sacrificed that which was exceedingly dear to Him. And this act is a revelation of the feeling of God toward the human race. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ the image of God
There is in Rome an elegant fresco by Guido--“The Aurora.” It covers a lofty ceiling. Looking up at it from the pavement your neck grows stiff, your head dizzy, and the figures indistinct. You soon tire and turn away. The owner of the palace has placed a broad mirror near the floor. You may now sit down before it as at a table, and at your leisure look into the mirror, and enjoy the fresco that is above you. There is no more weariness, nor indistinctness, nor dizziness. Like the Rosplglioso mirror beneath “The Aurora,” Christ reflects the glory of the Divine nature to the eye of man.
Christ is intended to be familiarly known
The whole value of the gospels to Erasmus lay in the vividness with which they brought home to their readers the personal impression of Christ Himself. “Were we to have seen Him with our own eyes, we should not have so intimate a knowledge as they give us of Christ, speaking, healing, dying, rising again, as it were in our very presence … If the footprints of Christ are shown us in any place, we kneel down and adore them. Why do we not rather venerate the living and breathing picture of Him in these books?… “It may be the safer course,” he goes on, with characteristic irony, “to conceal the state mysteries of kings, but Christ desires His mysteries to be spread abroad as openly as was possible.” (Little’s “Historical Lights.”)
The expression as it stands is somewhat ambiguous.
1. Does it imply that all creatures have been born, but that Jesus was born before them? Impossible. All human creatures have been born, all at least but the first; and even he was “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). We are all “God’s offspring.” But, except in poetry, we can scarcely speak of the birth of the earth, ocean, stars, etc. They have been created, not born; they are the creatures rather than the children of God.
2. Nor can the meaning be firstborn within the circle of all creation; for the higher nature of Jesus is not within that circle: it is far above it; before Abraham, and sun, moon, and stars, He was and is.
3. The apostle’s idea is that Jesus is the hereditary Lord of the whole creation. The representation is based on the prerogative that is still attached in many lands to primogeniture. That prerogative is great. In virtue of it the first-born of the Queen is Prince of Wales; of the Emperor of Germany, Crown Prince; of the late Emperor Napoleon, Prince Imperial. In ancient times and among the apostle’s people, in the days of their national grandeur, there was a corresponding privilege attached to the royal firstborn. And hence in the course of time the word came to be so employed that the ideas of birth and priority of birth got sometimes to be merged out of sight, while the ideas of special hereditary privilege, prerogative, and honour stood prominently forth. Hence God said to Pharaoh, “Israel is My son, My firstborn,” because they were in distinction from other peoples the recipients of the advantages which were the natural prerequisites of primogeniture. Again in Jeremiah 31:9 the idea of priority in birth is entirely shaded off, for that priority could not be affirmed of Ephraim--the reference is to peculiarity of prerogative and honour. Take again Hebrews 12:22-23. Here Christians are called the firstborn, and not Christians in heaven, for they are distinguished from the “spirits of just men made perfect,” but Christians on earth. All such Christians, though scattered, and variously denominated, are “the one general assembly and Church of the firstborn.” This shows that the term may be and is used without priority of birth, and in the sense of being God’s very highly-favoured children. All the blessings of primogeniture are theirs because they are Christ’s, the Firstborn. As He is the Crown Prince of the universe, the Prince Imperial and hereditary Lord of the whole creation, they are constituted joint heirs with Him of the “inheritance incorruptible,” etc. Again, this interpretation is supported by Romans 8:29. “Firstborn among many brethren” is a notable expression. We cannot suppose that God desired to secure the Saviour a relation of chronological priority. Jesus was already before all. The idea is that it was the aim of God to remove from the peerless Son the condition of solitariness in the parental and heavenly home. This aim was accomplished by surrounding Him with a circle of multitudinous brethren, bearing the familiar family likeness, who might be sharers with Him in His inheritance of glory. (J. Morison, D. D.)
Christ is one of us
On the centenary of the birth of Robert Stephenson, there was a very large demonstration at Newcastle. The town was paraded by a vast procession who carried banners in honour of the distinguished engineer. In the procession there was a band of peasants, who carried a little banner of very ordinary appearance, but bearing the words, “He was one of us.” They were inhabitants of the small village in which Robert Stephenson had been born, and had come to do him honour. They had a right to a prominent position in that day’s proceedings, because he to whom so many thousands did honour was one of them. Even so, whatever praise the thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers can ascribe to Christ in that grand celebration when time shall be no more, we from earth can wave our banners with the words written on them, “He was one of us.”
Who is the image of the invisible God.
This is the most exhaustive assertion of our Lord’s Godhead to be found in St. Paul’s Writings. This magnificent dogmatic passage is introduced, after the apostle’s manner, with a strictly practical object. The Colossian Church was exposed to the attacks of a theosophic doctrine which degraded Christ to the rank of one of a long series of inferior beings supposed to range between man and the Supreme God. Against this assertion Paul asserts that Christ is:
I. The image of the invisible God. The expression supplements the title of “the Son.” As “the Son,” Christ is derived eternally from the Father, and of one substance with Him. As “the image” Christ is in that one substance, the exact likeness of the Father, in all things except being the Father. He is the image of the Father, not as the Father, but as God. The “image” is indeed originally God’s unbegun, unending reflection of Himself in Himself, but is also the organ whereby God, in His essence invisible, reveals Himself to His creatures. Thus the “image” is naturally, so to speak, the Creator, since creation is the first revelation God has made of Himself. Man is the highest point in the visible universe; in man, God’s attributes are most luminously exhibited; man is the image and glory of God (1 Corinthians 11:7). But Christ is the adequate image of God, God’s self-reflection in His own thought, eternally present with Himself.
II. As the image Christ is the first-born of all creation, i.e., not the first in rank among created beings, but begotten before any created beings. That this is the true sense of the expression is etymologically certain; but it is also the only sense which is in real harmony with the relation in which, according to the context, Christ stands to the universe. Of all things in heaven and earth, of things seen and unseen, of the various orders of the angelic hierarchy, it is said that they were created:
1. In Christ. There was no creative process external to and independent of Him; since the archetypal forms after which the creatures are modelled and the sources of their strength and consistency of being eternally reside in Him.
2. By Him. The force which has summoned the worlds out of nothingness into being, and which upholds them in being is His; He wields it; He is the one producer and sustainer of all created existence.
3. For Him. He is not as Arianism pretended, merely an inferior workman creating for the glory of a higher Master; He creates for HimSelf; He is the end of all things as well as their immediate source; and in living for Him every creature finds at once the explanation and law of its being. For He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.
III. After such a statement it follows naturally that the fulness, i.e., the entire cycle of the Divine attributes, considered as a series of forces, dwells in him; and this not in any ideal or transcendental manner, but with that actual reality which men attach to the presence of material bodies which they can feel and measure through the organs of sense (Colossians 2:9). Although throughout this Epistle the word Logos is never introduced, it is plain that the Image of St. Paul is equivalent in His rank and functions to the Logos of St. John. Each exists prior to creation; each is the one agent in creation; each is a Divine person; each is equal with God and shares His essential life; each is really none other than God. (Canon Liddon.)
The person of Christ
I. As related to God. “Image.” Some interpret this of the essential image; others as setting forth Christ as God’s messenger, or as perfect man, in allusion to Genesis 1:26. But there is a great difference between man made “in,” “after,” or “according to” God’s image, and Christ “the image” itself.
1. An image
(1) differs widely from a shadow. The Old Testament discoveries of Christ are called “shadows,” and though a shadow presupposes substance, it is only a mere appearance (Hebrews 10:1).
(2) Is more than a similitude. One thing may be very similar to another in some things, and yet in others be very unlike. The sun is a similitude, but not an image of God.
(3) Corresponds entirely with that which it represents a perfect model and transcript. The cast is an exact sampler of the mould; the wax bears a correct impress of the seal, not merely in general figure, but in every line. The word therefore shows that Christ is the very form of God in whom are embodied all His perfections.
2. This suggests that
(1) the dignity of our Saviour’s person stamps infinite merit on His work.
(2) Since it is to the Divine image that believers have to be conformed, we have some idea of the privileges and dignity to which we shall be exalted.
(3) In Christ’s glorious person we may read our own defects.
II. As related to the universe.
1. He is Creator: from which it is clear that all things had a beginning, and that nothing exists that does not owe its existence to Christ; and therefore Christ is the lawful proprietor of all things. That there may be no cavil we have a particular enumeration of His works:
(1) In their universality, “all things”;
(2) their properties, “visible and invisible”;
(3) their grades in the scale of being, “thrones, etc.” Try to elevate your thoughts to the dignity of this subject. What an Almighty Saviour you have. He is above all human portraiture. His name is “Wonderful.”
2. But if Christ be all this, then
(1) here is an end of Atheism, Deism, Unitarianism.
(2) What a claim have Christ’s meanest creatures on our consideration.
(3) How desperate their condition who will not have Him to reign over them.
III. As belated to His Church. “Head.”
1. By Divine appointment; and as the natural head is the highest part of the body, so Christ has in all things the pre-eminence.
2. In respect of His wisdom. The head is the seat of mind. There are all the organs and mental phenomena: the eye to see, etc. “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
3. As regards spiritual sustenation and support. The head is where most of the vital functions are which impart energy through the system, and diffuse pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow. So Christ transmits whatever supplies are required for the Church’s welfare; through Him the whole body increases with the increase of God.
Lessons: We have a Saviour--
3. Everlasting. (T. Watson, B. A.)
The dignity of Christ
I. Christ in his pre-incarnate state. This dignity is represented by two brief clauses dealing with--
1. His relation to the God head, “image.” There is a distinction between image and likeness. Likeness represents superficial resemblance, as when two leaves from the same tree are said to be like each other; image indicates resemblance by participation in the same life by reproduction of essence. Likeness is that which is superficial and partial, image that which is essential and exhaustive. Our Lord is that representation of God which God could not but have. Whatever of glory dwells in the Eternal Father is eternally imaged in His Son.
2. His relation to the universe.
(1) “In Him all things were made,” i.e., the creative energy not only passed through Him, as the volume of a river’s waters passes through its rock-hewn channels, but the creative energy dwells in Him, belongs to Him, as the life of His life, essentially and eternally.
(2) In Him also all things consist, stand together; in Him the universe finds its unity and coherence. We talk about the laws of nature. If it were possible for us to trace the laws of nature and of history to their point of convergence, we should find that to be nothing less than the personal sovereignty of Jesus Christ.
(3) He is the universal Governor. For Him all things exist, to serve His purpose and to manifest His glory. Jesus Christ is the first, efficient, and final cause of all created existence.
3. Now these separate clauses are dove-tailed into the clause preceding them, “the firstborn,” for that expression does not mean that our Lord is the first creature, either in time or in rank. The emphasis must be put upon both adjectives, “firstborn.” The primacy of Jesus Christ in the creation is the primacy of birth. He alone is born, not made; all other things are made, not born; and there is a very marked distinction between these two. Our thoughts are born of our intelligence; our works are the product of our hands. The things that we make are outside of ourselves; they may perish, and our being be not affected; but the thoughts that are born within us and of us are a part of our being; when you touch them you touch yourself. Our Lord’s place in the universe is that of the firstborn; His own being is rooted in the very being of God, as inseparable from Him as thought is from being. Therefore He is called the Eternal Word of God. Thought always precedes achievement, just as a great cathedral is born in the mind of the architect before the click of a chisel is heard. Even so is Christ the first born of creation as holding in His living thought all the realms and ages. Thus far the essential majesty of the Divine Christ. This is a glory that blinds us, but does not kindle nor transfigure us.
II. The apostle passes to the glory of Him who tabernacled in human flesh. As creation finds in Him its head, unity, and coherence, so also does the kingdom of grace. These are not two systems, joining each other as two circles might have their contact at a single point, or overlapping, but are one, because the sovereignty of each and both is invested in Christ.
1. In His relation to redemption Christ is “the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead,” not the first who came forth from the grave in rank or time. His relation to the kingdom of grace as to that of nature is birth, i.e., in Him the resurrection finds its original and eternal home. It is net merely said that He is risen, but that He is “the Resurrection and the Life.”
2. As He is said to be the source of spiritual creative energy, so also is it declared that the authority of spiritual control is vested in Him. He is Head of the Church, to whom alone our prayers are to be addressed, and through whom alone the answer of God can come to us. Between us and God there are no hierarchies of principalities and powers, no army of saints and martyrs. The way is clear through Christ. There is but one Mediator. Just as the head interprets, gathers up, and responds to the multitudinous demands of the body that are telegraphed along the nervous filaments of sensation, so also does Christ, as the Head of His Church, interpret her needs and respond to her prayers. The heart does not always pray as do the lips, and our wishes are sometimes very different from our wants: but the great Head of the Church knows how to interpret, and always pierces to the deepest need. And so when the strength of our hands fails us, and our wisdom is staggered by the problems that front us, a larger wisdom and a mightier hope come pulsing into our feebleness.
3. Great prerogatives are these, but they are not a temporary investiture. They belong to Him by eternal right, “for it pleased the Father that in Him all fulness should dwell.” Grace has in Him its eternal dwelling place. And so long as the redeemed shall endure will He be their loving and loved Head. For in Him both God and man find their sufficient and eternal reconciliation.
4. This great reconciliation is not merely problematical and partial, it is positive and universal. The tenses are in the past. We are living to-day, not in the dispensation of the wrath of God, but in the dispensation of His redeeming grace. God is sending forth His ministers, bidding all to repent, assuring them that the feast is ready, and that it is only waiting for the guests. The age of demoralization passed away eighteen hundred years ago. The age of reconstruction began when on the cross our Lord said, “It is finished!” That was the burial of the old, as it was the birth of the new; and ever since, and until the end of time, in spite of opposition and apparent defeat, all things have been and shall be working together for good, and surely, though slowly, advancing the cause of God’s eternal righteousness.
III. Practical inferences.
1. We have been led by the apostle to the most exalted conceivable position whence we can look out on the works of God and upon the history of the world. We have been led through all the grades of being, from matter in its crudest form to mind in its loftiest manifestation, and we have seen that in Christ the whole universe of created existence finds its unity and coherence, while the awful struggle of right against wrong, truth against falsehood, find in Him its consummation and ending. This is something that neither science nor philosophy can give. In Him all contradictions are solved between the seen and the unseen, the created and the uncreated, the sin of man and the righteousness of God.
2. If it be true that both creation and redemption find in Christ their living centre, then it is also plain that only in proportion as we enter into the mind of Christ can we understand aright either the works of God, or the history of the race, or the revelation of His character and purposes in Scripture.
3. Here, too, is the only solution of the vexed question of Christian union. How shall that unity be brought about? Certainly not by creeds nor by forms. There is only one name, one sign, that can subdue us all, and that is the sign that must conquer the world, the flaming cross of Jesus Christ. When we bow before that, and all our faces are turned reverently toward the One on the throne, then shall enmity perish, and we shall be one, even as He and the Father are one.
4. The incomparable dignity of our Lord should awaken in us a three-fold attachment.
(1) It should awaken in us a feeling of reverence. As no one of us would think of standing before a throned king without becoming humility, it behoves us when we come into our Creator’s presence to bow with reverence at His feet.
(2) But incomparable as is His dignity, it is for ever joined with our common nature; and therefore, while it calls for reverence it also calls for trust. He is the Head of the Church, and therefore we ought to come not only reverently, but confidently and boldly. There ought to be joy as well as reverence in our worship and in our service.
(3) This incomparable dignity ought also to fill us with assurance and courage. (A. J. F. Behrends, D. D.)
The Divine pre-eminence of “Christ”
I. Christ’s pre-eminence.
1. His supremacy in relation to God. “Image” means
(1) The supreme likeness of God.
(2) The supreme representation of God.
(3) The supreme manifestation of God.
2. His supremacy in relation to nature. We have
(1) His dignity, “firstborn,” telling of His age, heirship, authority.
(2) His creative and sustaining agency. All is made by Him and consists in Him. In His miracles He was the Divine Ulysses whose use of his love proclaimed him lord.
(3) His consummating glory. Creation exists for Him as well as by Him. He is its end as well as its origin.
3. His supremacy in relation to His Church. He is
(1) Its sovereign, “Head”;
(2) Its force, “Beginning.”
(3) Life, “Firstborn from the dead.” His risen life is the life of the Church.
II. The explanation on His pre-eminence is his Divine plenitude. He is the Pleroma, the totality of Divine attributes and powers.
1. In Him are all the Divine resources. He is the fulness of wisdom, power, love.
2. In Him all those resources permanently “dwell.” Because He is thus full of God, He must in pre-eminence be fully God.
III. The work of Christ in His pre-eminence and plenitude is the work of reconciliation.
1. Reconcile what? “All things.”
2. How? “By the blood of His cross.” (U. R. Thomas.)
The glory of the Son
There are here three grand conceptions of Christ’s relations.
I. To God. Paul uses language which was familiar on the lips of his antagonists. Alexandrian Judaism had much to say about the “Word,” and spoke of it as the Image of God. Probably this teaching reached Colossae. An image is a likeness as of a king’s head on a coin or a face in a mirror. Here it is that which makes the invisible visible.
1. God in Himself is inconceivable and unapproachable. “No man hath seen,” etc. He is beyond the sense and above understanding. There is in every human spirit a dim consciousness of His presence, but that is not knowledge. Creatural limitations and man’s sin prevents it.
2. Christ is the perfect manifestation of God. Through Him we know all that we can know of God. “He that hath seen Me,” etc. The great fathomless, shoreless ocean of the Divine nature is like a “closed sea.” Christ is the broad river which brings its waters to men. Our souls cry for the living God; and never will that orphaned cry be answered but in the possession of Christ, in whom we possess the Father also.
II. To creation. “Firstborn.”
1. At first sight this seems to include Him in the great family of creatures as the eldest, but it is shown not to be the intention in the next verse, which alleges that Christ was before, and is the agent of, all creation. The true meaning is that He is firstborn in comparison with, or reference to, all creation.
2. The title implies priority in existence and supremacy. It applies to the Eternal Word and not to His incarnation.
3. The necessary clauses state more fully this relation and so confirm and explain the title.
(1) The whole universe is set in one class, and He alone over against it. Four times in one sentence we have “all things” repeated, and traced to Him as Creator and Lord.
(a) “In the heavens and earth” is quoted from Genesis, and is intended, as then, to be an exhaustive enumeration of the creation according to plan.
(b) “Things visible and invisible” includes the whole under another principle of division--there are visible things in heaven, and may be invisible on earth, but wherever they are He made them. () “Whether thrones,” etc., an enumeration alluding to dreamy speculations about an angelic hierarchy filling the space between God and men.
(2) The language employed brings into strong relief the manifold variety of relations which the Son sustains to the universe. The Greek means “all things considered as a unity.”
(a) “In Him,” regards Him as the creative centre or reservoir in which all creative force resided, and was in a definite act put forth. The error of the Gnostics was to put the act of creation and the thing created as far away as possible from God, and is here met.
(b) But the possible dangers of that profound truth are averted by the preposition “through” Him. That presupposes the clear demarcation between creature and creator, and extricates the person of the firstborn from all risk of being confounded with the creation, while it makes Him the medium of the Divine energy, and so shows His relation to the Divine nature. He is the image of the invisible God, and accordingly through Him have all things been created. “The express image of His person by whom He made the worlds.”
(c) “For Him.” All things sprung from His will, and return thither again. These relations are more than once declared of the Father. What theory of Christ’s person explains the fact?
3. His existence before the creation is repeated. “He” is emphatic, “He Himself”; “is” emphasises not only preexistence, but absolute existence. “He was” would not have said so much as “He is before all things.” “Before Abraham was I am.”
4. In Him all things hold together. He is the element in and by which is that continued creation which is the preservation of the universe. He links all creatures and forces into a co-operant whole, reconciling their antagonisms, and melting all their notes into music which God may hear, however discordant it may be to us.
III. To the Church. A parallel is plainly intended between Christ’s relation to the material creation and to the spiritual. As is the pre-incarnate word to the universe, so is the incarnate Christ to the Church.
1. Christ the Head and the Church His body. Popular physiology regards the head as the seat of life. So our Lord is the source of that spiritual life which flows from Him into His members, and is sight in the eye, strength in the arm, swiftness in the foot, colour in the cheek, richly various in its manifestations, but one in its nature and all His. That thought leads to Him as the centre of unity by whom the many members become one body. The head, too, is the symbol of authority.
2. Christ is the beginning of the Church. In nature He was before all, and the source of all. So “the beginning” does not mean the first member of a series, but the power which causes the series to begin. The root is the beginning of flowers, although we may say the first flower is.
3. He is head and beginning by means of His resurrection.
(1) He is firstborn from the dead, and His communication of spiritual life to His Church requires the historical fact of His resurrection, for a dead Christ could not be the source of life.
(2) He is the beginning through His resurrection, too, in regard to raising us from the dead. He is the firstfruits, and bears promise of a mighty harvest. Because He lives we shall live also.
4. So Paul concludes that in all things He is first, and all things are that He may be first. Whether in nature or grace the pre-eminence is supreme. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
By Him were all things created.
I. Some of those cases which illustrate the harmony between natural religion and our Christian faith.
1. The doctrine of the being of a God. I do not need to open the Bible to learn that. It is enough that I open my eyes, and turn them on the book of nature, where it stands legibly written on every page.
2. So also is the doctrine that man is a sinner. It is enough to open my heart, or read in the light of conscience the blotted record of my past life.
3. Such also is the doctrine that sin deserves punishment. Hell is no discovery of the Bible. In vain do men flee from Christianity to escape what their uneasy conscience feels to be a painful doctrine.
4. Such also is the doctrine that man cannot save himself. In what country or what age of heathenism does man appear standing erect before his God, demanding justice? In none. All her temples had vicarious sacrifices and atoning altars.
5. Such also is the doctrine that the soul survives death. This hope has been a star that shone in every sky, a flower that bloomed in the poorest soil. Although it cannot be said that the doctrine of the resurrection is to be placed in the same class with those universal fixed beliefs, yet may not the feelings which prompt to such tender care of the lifeless body have suggested the idea? Different from these, the doctrine of God incarnate is one which nature nowhere teaches us. Our proofs of this must be sought for in Scripture. In illustration of this remark, notice that--
II. The word of God both here and elsewere ascribes the work of creation to Jesus (1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 3:9; John 1:3). Our Lord has been connected with creation sometimes more in beautiful fancies than in plain facts. There is a flower, e.g., which the piety of other days associated with the piety and love of Calvary. In the form and arrangement of its parts it presents such a remarkable resemblance to the cross and nails, enriched by a halo of floral glory, that, as if originally made to anticipate and afterwards left to commemorate our Redeemer’s sufferings, it has received the name of the passion flower. And I remember how, in wooded dell, or on brown heather hill, we were wont to pull up a fern, and having cut its root across wonder on the initials Jesus Christ printed there on the wounded stem. And when the mariner, leaving our northern latitudes, pushes southward, he sees a starry cross emerging from the deep; and as his course tends further it rises higher in the heavens, till, when the pole-star has dipped beneath the wave, he gazes with awe and wonder at the sign of salvation blazing above his head. In these things a devout superstition sought to gratify its affections. It is not, however, in these fancies that we seek or see our Lord’s connection with nature. But as, with the genius that aspires to immortality, the painter leaves his name in the corner of the canvas, so Inspiration, dipping her pen in indelible truth, has inscribed the name of Jesus on all we see--on sun and stars, flower and tree, rock and mountain, the unstable waters and the firm land; and also on what we do not see--angels and spirits, the city and heavens of the eternal world. This is not fancy, but fact. No voice ever sounded more distinctly than that of revealed truth proclaiming the Creatorship of Jesus, and hence His Lordship of all. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Christ the Creator
I. Consider the statement itself.
1. Heaven itself was created by and for Christ Jesus.
(1) There is such a place, as well as such a state, and of that place Jesus is the centre.
(2) It was created for Jesus, and for the people whom He will bring there to be one for ever with Himself.
(3) It exists by Jesus and for Jesus.
(a) Prepared by Jesus. He is the designer of it.
(b) Reflects Jesus. He is the soul of it.
(c) Praises Jesus. He is the King of it.
2. The angels. All their ranks were made by Him and for Him.
(1) To worship Him, and glorify Him with their adoration.
(2) To rejoice with Him and in Him, as they do when sinners repent.
(3) To guard Christ’s people in life, and bring them to Him in death.
(4) To carry out His purposes of judgment, as with Pharaoh, etc.
(5) To achieve His purposes of deliverance, as Peter from prison.
3. This world was made by Him to be--
(1) A place for Him to live and die upon.
(2) A stage for His people to live and act upon.
(3) A province to be fully restored to His dominion.
(4) A new world in the ages to come, to bless other worlds, if such there be; and to display, for ever, the glories of Jesus.
4. All the lower creatures are for Jesus. “And that are in earth.”
(1) They are needful to man, and so to our Lord’s system of grace.
(2) They are illustrations of Christ’s wisdom, power, and goodness.
(3) They are to be treated kindly for His sake.
5. Men were created by and for Christ.
(1) That He might display a special phase of power and skill, in creating spiritual beings embodied in material forms.
(2) That He might become Himself one of them.
(3) That He might Himself be the Head of a remarkable order of beings who know both good and evil, are children of God, are bound to God by ties of gratitude, and are one with His Son.
(4) That for these He might die: to save them, and to make them His companions, friends, and worshippers for ever.
(5) That human thrones, even when occupied by wicked men, might be made to subserve His purpose by restraint or by overruling.
II. Review the reflections hence arising.
1. Jesus, then, is God. “By Him were all things created.”
2. Jesus is the clue of the universe; its centre and explanation. All things are to be seen in the light of the cross, and all things reflect light on the cross. For Him all things exist.
3. To live to Jesus, then, is to find out the true object of our being, and to be in accord with all creation.
4. Not living to Jesus, we can have no blessing.
5. We can only live for Him as we live by Him, for so all things do.
6. It is clear that He must triumph. All is going well. If we look at history from His throne, all things are “for Him.” “He must reign.” Let us comfort one another with these words. What an honour to be the smallest page in the retinue of such a prince! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Advent in Creation
A very narrow notion of the functions of Christ is afloat in the atmosphere of popular religious thought, though not formulated into dogmatic phrases. It is that our Lord is limited in work and even in nature to the mission of redemption. Such an idea implies that Christ is dependent on the existence of sin, and that His very being is but an expedient required for the deliverance of man. So stated the doctrine is monstrous. If there had been no sin, Christ would have visited the world in some way of Divine goodness. He came in the creation before the birth of sin.
I. The fact.
1. As regards the relation of Christ to creation. This is threefold.
(1) In Christ is the fundamental basis of creation. “In Him, i.e., His thoughts, are the archetypes of the worlds and their contents, and the genesis of them follows the principles of His nature.
(2) Christ is the instrumental agent of creation “through Him.” He is the Mediator in creation as well as redemption.
(3) Christ is the end of the creation. “Unto Him,” i.e., all things grow into His likeness, they move upwards towards the realization of His life. Christ in His human nature was the highest development of the upward movement of creation. They are also destined to serve and glorify Him.
2. As regards the scope and range of the work of Christ. This was universal in creation. It included:
(1) All things visible and invisible, i.e., physical and spiritual existences, or things within our observation and the infinite population of the spaces beyond.
(2) All orders of being, “thrones,” etc., none too great for His power, none too small for His care.
(3) Every variety and every individual. Different classes are specified. Creation is not a work merely of general laws, it implies individual formation under them.
1. AS regards Christ.
(1) His pre-existence. That which was Divine in Christ was before all things. The Christ-side of God, all that is so touching and winning in the marvellous revelation of God in Jesus, is no new phase of His character. It was before the sterner revelation of Sinai. It is eternal (Hebrews 13:8).
(2) His glory. All that is great and beautiful in creation glorifies Him through whom it came into existence.
2. As regards the creation.
(1) This must be in harmony with Christ. Therefore--
(a) We must interpret its darker phases by what we know of the spirit and character of Christ.
(b) We must expect that ultimately its laws and forces will make for Christianity, breathing benedictions on the faithful followers of Christ, and bringing natural penalties on those who rebel against His rule.
(2) We should endeavour to trace indications of the presence of Christ in nature. (W. J. Adeney, M. A.)
The work of creation by and for Jesus Christ
I. Christ is the creator of all things. Whatever is the act of creation it must be the Divine act; and whoever is the Creator He must be Divine.
1. Creation is always averred to be a Divine act (Genesis 1:1, etc.). It answers to our idea of the highest omnipotence, for “the things which are made were not made of the things which do appear.”
2. The creating act is always set before us as the basis on which the exclusive honours of the Deity are challenged.
(1) God puts His right to worship on this act.
(2) He suspends the veracity of His statements on it.
(3) His majesty and pre-eminence are made to depend upon it.
3. The creating act is always represented as designed to manifest the glory of Him by whom it was done. “For thy pleasure they are and were created.” “The heavens declare the glory of God.”
4. The creating act constitutes the very groundwork of natural religion. “We will wait upon Thee, for Thou hast made all these things.”
5. There is a validity stamped upon all the blessings of revelation, because they issue from Him who is this universal Creator. The great blessings of the gospel are placed in immediate connection with this omnific act.
(1) Reconciliation. “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us.”
(2) Atonement. “It became Him, for whom are all things,” etc.
(3) Illumination. “God, who hath commanded the light to shine,” etc.
(4) Protection. Let us commit our souls to Him as a faithful Creator.
6. Idolatry is reprobated on this exclusive ground, that it is offered to those who are not the makers of the universe. “Worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator.”
7. Creation is always considered an unassisted act. “I am the Lord that maketh all things.”
8. Now, without any qualification or exception, creation is attributed to Christ; how, then, can we deny Him to be Divine?
II. All things were created for Christ, and form his right and prerogative.
1. There are two forms of the Divine foreknowledge.
(1) God is acquainted with actions however future.
(2) God realizes in His own mind what would be the issue of circumstances had they been different from what they are. “They would have repented long ago.”
2. We are assured, then, that this universe being created for Christ was not a supplementary design upon some previous arrangement that had been tried and had failed. This is our method, not God’s. Christ wrought this instrument, and it shall go on in His service.
3. Foreseeing sin He made the world in which it was to be vanquished, and hence we read of God’s eternal purpose, and of “the Lamb which was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” The world is still in revolt, but the eternal purpose shall be accomplished, and all the forces of nature and history shall contribute to it.
4. More particularly all things are created for Christ, inasmuch as--
(1) They furnish the scenes of His mediation. “Lo, I come!” The earth claimed His birth, life, and entombment. He made it the seat of His Church. Here is the sphere of His Spirit’s influence. This is the receptacle of His most complacent operations, where He is satisfied for all the travail of His soul. This is the arena of His spiritual victories.
(2) They are tributaries to His praise. All things are created to do Him direct homage. Angels do; the redeemed will; devils and sinners shall.
III. The connection between the two propositions. That Christ is the Creator and Proprietor of all things.
1. This is shown by arguing the difficulty of our redemption, because only the Creator could surmount it.
2. The sufficiency of that redemption because the Creator has wrought it. (R. W. Hamilton, LL. D.)
Christ the end of creation
I. The text furnishes a proof of our Lord’s divinity.
1. He is in the position of a servant who works for others; He is a Master who, by other hands or His own works for Himself. Look at the condition of man. Whatever office he fills in Providence he is a servant, and on crowned monarchs, who are but upper servants, Paul lays the duty of doing all to the glory of God. Nor do angels, although holding a much higher rank, differ from us in this respect. “I am thy fellow-servant.” “The Lord hath made all things for Himself.” This prerogative is held by Christ.
2. Some have attempted to evade the argument for our Lord’s Divinity based on the fact of creation. The objectors say that He created by such power as Elijah received from God to restore the widow’s son, etc. But the text cuts the ground under their feet. Did Elijah bring back the dead for himself and his own glory? If Christ was less than God, then in kindling the sun He no more acted for Himself than a domestic does in kindling a fire. It is the nature of a creature to hold a servant’s place.: Now if Jesus were man He was justly condemned, for He laid Himself open to the charge of blasphemy, since, as the Jews truly averred, He made Himself the Son of God, “equal with God” To the “all Mine are Thine,” Christ added “Thine are Mine.” All that is God’s is Christ’s, is the consistent testimony of the New Testament.
II. The glory of God was the original purpose of creation. Sill had to some extent blighted the beauty of creation. Still the Psalmist said, “The heavens declare,” etc., and the closer we examine the works of God, the higher our admiration rises. “The whole earth is full of His glory.” Some things remain unaffected by the blight of sin, as God made them for Himself; the flowers have lost none of their fragrance, and seas and seasons, obedient to their original impulse, roll on as of old to their Maker’s glory. But from man, alas! how is the glory departed! Look at his body when the light of his eye is quenched; or look at his soul. What glory does God get from many of us!
III. God will make even the wicked and their sins redound to His glory. A strange machine is this of Providence. Virtue is struggling with the temptations of poverty, the wicked are in great power, spreading like a green bay-tree. Sin triumphs, and devils seem to defeat the purposes of God. Defeat the purposes of God! Impossible. Did you ever stand beneath the leaden lowering cloud, and mark the lightnings leap, and think that you could grasp the bolt and change its path? Still more foolish and vain his thought who fancies that: he can arrest God’s purposes. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. Do you, e.g., injure a godly man? God is using you to train up His child in the grace of patience. Messenger of Satan! dost thou buffet an apostle? God uses thee to keep him humble, arid to teach him to wear his honours meekly.: No man liveth for himself. The most bold and God-hating sinners may rest assured that when the machine of Providence has done its work, and the secret purposes of God are fully completed, it shall be seen how the Lord hath made all things for Himself.
IV. Since Christ hath made all things for Himself, His people are called to consecrate themselves and their all to His glory. To this we are called by the obligations of both a natural and spiritual creation. This may expose us to pain; but what pain Jesus endured for us! What owest thou unto thy Lord? You cannot tell that; therefore lay your all at His feet, He who lives for Christ has one end in view which lends dignity to his life. Glorify Christ and you shall enjoy Him. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
What is said of the Father in 1 Corinthians 8:6, the same is here Said of the Son. All things must find their meeting-point, their reconciliation, at length in Him from whom they took their rise--in the Word as the mediatorial agent, and through the Word in the Father as the primary source. The Word is the final cause as well as the creative agent of the universe. This ultimate goal of the present dispensation in time is similarly stated in several passages. It is represented--
1. As the birth-throe and deliverance of all creation through Christ (Romans 8:19, etc.).
2. The absolute and final subjection of universal nature to Him (1 Corinthians 15:28).
3. The reconciliation of all things through Him (verse 20).
4. The gathering in one head of the universe in Him (Ephesians 1:10). The Eternal Word is the goal of the universe, as He was the starting-point. It must end in unity, as it proceeded from unity, and the centre of this unity is Christ. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
“Thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers”
The Colossian heretics seem to have held that all matter was evil, and that therefore the material creation could not have come directly from a good God, but was in a certain sense opposed to Him, or at all events separated from Him by an immense gulf. The void space was bridged by a chain of beings, half abstractions and half persons, gradually becoming more and more material. The lowest, of them had created the material universe and now governed it, and were all to he propitiated by worship. Paul opposes the solid truth to these dreams, and instead of a crowd of powers and angelic beings in whom the effulgence of Deity was gradually darkened, and the spirit became more and more thickened into matter, he lifts high and clear against that background of faith the solitary figure of the, one Christ. He fills all the space between God and man. There is no need for a crowd of shadowy beings to link heaven with earth. There is a tone of contemptuous impatience in Paul’s voice as he quotes the pompous list of sensuous titles, which a busy fancy had coined. It is as if he had said, You are being told a great, deal about these angel hierarchies, and know all about their ranks and gradations. I do not know anything about them; but this I know, that if, amid the unseen things in the heavens or the earth, there be any such, my Lord made them, and is their Master. He is first and last in all things, to be listened to, loved, and worshipped by men. As when the full moon rises, so when Christ appears, all the lesser stars with which Alexandrian and Eastern speculation had peopled the abysses of the sky are lost in the mellow radiance, and instead of a crowd of flickering ineffectual lights there is one perfect orb, “and heaven is overflowed.” We see no creature any more save Jesus only.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
By Him all things consist.
That is, Christ upholds, rules, and governs all things by His providence, as is shown elsewhere (Hebrews 1:2-3; Proverbs 8:15; John 5:12). Christ is not like a carpenter that makes his house and then.. leaves it, or like a shipwright that frames his ship and never guides it.
I. All things are said to consist in Him in respect of
1. Conservation: in that He keeps all things in their being.
2. Precept: in that from Him are prescribed the laws by which nature, policy, and religion are governed.
3. Operation: in that all things move in Him.
4. His position of means to end.
5. As the universal cause of nature and natural instincts in all creatures, by which they further their own preservation.
II. Is Him all things consist.
1. As He is God--
(1) In respect of ubiquity; He comprehends all things, and is comprehended of nothing. The nations are but a drop of His bucket, and time but a drop of His eternity.
(2) In respect of power; in that this whole frame stirreth.
(3) In respect of omniscience and wisdom, for all is within His knowledge, and receiveth order from His wisdom.
(4) In respect of decree, for the world to he made did from everlasting hang in the foreknowledge and pro-ordination of Christ.
2. As He is Redeemer. All things consist in Him--
(1) Because He is that atonement which kept the world from being dissolved.
(2) Because the respect of Him and His Church is that which keeps up the world to this day. Were His body complete the world could not stand one hour.
(3) Because the promise made to man concerning His prosperity in the use of all creatures is made in Christ.
III. In Him all things consist. Which word notes--
1. Order. By an excellent order the creatures agree together in a glorious frame; for God is the God of order, not of confusion.
(1) But are there not many evils in the world?
(a) There may be order in respect of God, though not in respect of us.
(b) It follows not that there is no order because we see none (Romans 11:33).
(c) Many of the reasons of human misery are revealed--sin entailing punishment.
(d) There may be order in respect of the whole, though not in respect of every part.
(2) But there are many sins in the world, and those con-Mist not in Christ, neither tend they to order.
(a) These are restrained by Christ.
(b) Work out His purposes.
2. Continuance. The world, men, and lower creatures, etc., are maintained in being by Christ,
3. Co-operation. By the providence of Christ all things work together.
(1) For Christ’s glory;
(2) for His people’s good.
1. For reproof of men’s security in sin. Seeing that all things consist in Christ, they cannot stir but He seeth them.
2. It should teach us to trust in Christ, not in second causes.
3. If all things consist in Christ, then much more are the righteous preserved with a special preservation. (N. Byfield.)
All things exist in Christ
All things stand together in Him as the causal and’ conditional sphere of their continued existence. In Him they live and move and have their being, and in Him the sustentation or upholding of the universe rests. How wondrous, then, the glory and power of the Son of God! Without Him the sun would not shine, nor the seasons revolve; without Him the rain would not descend, nor the rivers run, nor the trees grow, nor the oceans ebb and flow. His power is necessary to summer and winter, seed.time and harvest, to earth and sky. He upholdeth all things by the word of His power, and without Him creation would collapse. Every province of the empire of immensity, with all its contents of life, force, and motion, depends on Him. The intellect of angels reflects His light, the fire of seraphs is the glow of His love, the energy of our own souls is an evidence of His beneficence and skill. In Him all things consist--the power of their support, the primal centre of their order, the rule of their operation. This is the Being in whom we have redemption. What sublimity His greatness sheds around the gospel! What moral richness His gospel throws around nature and humanity! How lofty should be our adoration, how strong our confidence, how warm our love, how complete our submission! (J. Spence, D. D.)
And He is the Head of the body, the Church.
Christ and His Church
I. The Church.
1. The English word is formed from κυριακή--belonging to the Lord.
(1) Sometimes a distinction is draw between Church and congregation. Although Christ is Lord of all, yet He bears a peculiarly endearing relationship to the company within the congregation who constitute the Church proper. They are His “peculiar” possession, people, servants, and friends.
(2) Sometimes we call the edifice in which the disciples assemble a church, and properly, because it belongs to the Lord.
2. The word is a translation of ἐκκλησία, and is peculiarly applicable to the people as distinguished from the place. It was borrowed from those Greeks who had free municipal institutions. Slaves were not permitted to form part of the company, and were not eligible to municipal offices and honours, and had no voice or vote. A church, therefore, is a company of free men.
3. The two meanings in combination reach the idea that the Church of Christ is the company of free men whose privilege it is to belong to the Lord.
4. Christians are a “body,” an organized community, in which all the members, however humble, find a place and do a work, and not a mere heterogeneous mob. Each member can be helpful to the others.
II. The head. This implies--
1. That Christ belongs to the body, the Church. He is not outside and merely over it. He is within it as its principal member. He partakes of its moral nature, and then of the moral nature of all its members. He is free as they are, only more gloriously; it is His joy also to be useful, only His devotion is far more sublime.
2. The representation is incomplete. He is Heart too--both head and heart in one; even as He is corner-stone at every corner, and all round the Temple of God. As the Heart, He is the centre of all the vitalizing influences that build the whole body into the fulness of health and vigour; the fountain of the love which is the sweetest outcome of manhood.
3. As the Head, He thinks for the whole body, and plans and guides. The hands cannot think for themselves, though they are noble workers; the feet do not know where to go, but beautiful are they when running errands at the bidding of the love that is in the heart, or of the life that emanates from the head.
III. The beginning. Of what? Jesus was “the beginning of the creation of God.” Here He is at once--
1. The beginning of the resurrection life, being Himself “the firstborn from among the dead,” and thus--
2. The beginning of the Church of the living God; the Head of that body in which, even as it exists on earth, there is a spring-seed of that higher life that has been brought within the reach of all.
IV. Christ is consequently eminently qualified to have in all things the pre-eminence. It was the Father’s pleasure that he should have it. He has it now as His right, and will continue so to have it, until all opposition to its rule be swept away for ever. (J. Morison, D. D.)
Christ the Head of the Church
I. Christ is the head of the Church in each of His natures. For here He is called the Head of the Church, who had before been called the image of the invisible God. But that image was the eternal Son of God, the incarnate Word: therefore Christ, the God-man, is the Head of the Church. For the Church ought to possess such a head as might have a natural conformity with the rest of the members to be incorporated in it. Now this conformity suits Christ according to His human nature; whence Christ and the Church are called one flesh (Ephesians 5:31). But it was also necessary that the Church should have such a head as could infuse into it spiritual life. This is the province of God alone; whence God is plainly called the husband and the Head of the Church (Psalms 45:10). Hence many observations arise:
1. Whereas the Head of the Church is God, we infer
(1) that the Church will abide for ever, neither shall the gates of hell prevail against it; for if God be with us, who shall be against us? A less than God would have been incompetent to the protection of the Church; for the devil, and almost the whole world, wage constant war against it.
(2) That the members of the Church ought to obey their Head in all things. For there is an infinite obligation which binds every creature to obey its God; but that obligation, if possible, surpasses infinite, whereby the Church, redeemed and sanctified, is bound to be subject to its, God, its mystical and life-giving Head.
(3) That the ascension of Christ into heaven has not deprived the Church of its Head: nay, He is present, and will be always present, with His whole Church, by the power of His Divinity, although He may not appear to our eyes by His bodily presence.
2. Inasmuch as our Head is a man, we infer two things:
(2) We have this comfort, that every ground of triumphing over us is taken from the devil. He overcame the first Adam, the head of the race; but the Second Adam, the Head of the Church, overcame him. Nay, in Christ, we who are His members conquer, just as in Adam we were conquered.
II. In what respects Christ is called the head.
1. The head differs from its members--
(1)In eminence or dignity. The head possesses more perfectly all the senses than the subordinate members; so Christ, the mystical Head, possesses all spiritual grace more abundantly than men and angels put together (John 3:34).
(2) In way of direction or government. The head regulates and directs; the members are ruled and directed. So Christ has the absolute government of the Church (Ephesians 5:22-23).
(3) In way of causality or influence. For the head communicates sense and motion to all its members. So Christ sends forth spiritual life and the motion of grace into His members which are otherwise insensible, dead, and destitute of all spiritual motion (John 15:5; Philippians 4:13).
2. Those things in which the agreement of the head and the members is perceived.
(1) The natural head hath a natural conformity with the rest of the members; for as Horace hath rightly said, it would be monstrous and ridiculous “if a painter should form a design of uniting a horse’s neck to a human head.” Thus monstrous would it be if the Head of the Church had not a natural conformity with the Church. But Christ hath this, as is shown (Hebrews 2:1-18.).
(2) The head and the members have a conformity in their destination to the same end, viz., the preservation and safety of the whole person: thus Christ, and His members, which are one person, are ordained to the attainment of eternal glory and happiness; and to the accomplishment of this end both head and members assiduously co-operate. This is the care of the Head, to lead its members to final blessedness (John 17:12). Hence He is called the Saviour of the body (Ephesians 5:23).
(3) They agree in the circumstance of their having a continuous union with each other, and all of them deriving their motion and intellectuality from the same soul. So this mystical Head, and all the members of it, have a certain mutual continuity, and have their spiritual intellectuality and vivifying principle from the same source. For there is between Christ and His members an uninterrupted union by means of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:16).
III. Who and what are they out of whom the body of Christ is composed?
1. The term Church is derived from a word signifying “to call out”; it is therefore an assembly of those called out. And this calling is effected by the ministry of the gospel, and other means which God has appointed.
2. This external vocation and profession constitutes the visible Church. But there is also another more effectual vocation joined to this in some persons, namely, by grace implanted through the power of the Spirit in the hearts of the called.
3. Then it follows--
(1) That those who stand related to the Church as evil humours to the human body are not true members of the Church; for each sound body desires the preservation of its members; but it does not preserve evil humours, but expels them.
(2) That those who stand related to the Church as dead men to humanity are not true members of the Church; such as wicked men and infidels.
(3) That those whom the Church itself would not acknowledge as members or its parts, if it knew what they are, Christ, who knows all things, does not acknowledge.
(4) That the Church, which is the body of Christ, hath no member which doth not receive a vital influx from the Head: for the same Spirit is diffused from the Head to all the members (Romans 8:9). But infidels and the wicked have not this vitality of grace flowing from the Head.
(5) That the same man is not at the same time a member of Christ and of the devil; but the wicked men are numbered amongst the servants and the children of the devil (John 8:38; John 8:44), therefore they are not to be reckoned among the members of Christ.
4. We conclude, therefore, that this body of the Church, of which Christ Himself is the Head, does not consist of any unfaithful and wicked members, but of the pious and holy alone; whom God delivers from the power of darkness, and translates into the kingdom of His dear Son.
5. Hence we may learn--
(1) It is not sufficient for salvation to be a member of any visible Church by an outward profession of faith, unless you are a member of the Catholic Church by a true faith and the Spirit dwelling in the heart.
(2) It is not befitting Christians to envy those who are endowed with the more excellent girls; because they are members of the same body: what, therefore, is conferred on one, that should be esteemed as given to all.
(3) Since godly members are of the same body, it behoves them to be ready to assist each other; and they ought to feel equally affected with the good or evil which fall to others as with their own (1 Corinthians 12:26). (Bp. Davenant.)
The Head of the Church
I. What is meant by our Lord’s headship?
1. His representation of the Church as a body. At the first creation God dealt with the race as represented in Adam--hence original sin. In order to salvation, which was only possible, perhaps, because we did not fall singly, God instituted a second federation, of which Christ is the Head, the second Adam. Christians are chosen, accepted, and preserved in Him.
2. Our Lord is Head in a mystical sense (Colossians 2:19).
(1) The head is indispensable to life; so Jesus is the vitalizing Head of all His people. “He is our life.” Separation from Him is spiritual death.
(2) The head is the throne of supreme government. It is from the brain that the mandate issues which uplifts the hand, etc. Thus in the Church Christ is the great directing Head; from Him the only binding commands go forth; to Him the spiritual yield a cheerful homage.
(3) The head is the glory of the body. There the chief beauty of manhood dwells. Christ is fairer than the children of men, and in Him the beauty of the Church is summed up.
3. Christ’s Headship is conjugal. He is the Bridegroom, the Church is His Bride. As the husband exercises headship in the house, not at all tyrannical or magisterial, but founded upon the rule of nature and endorsed by the consent of love, so Christ rules in His Church, not as a despot compelling His subject bride against her will, but as a husband well beloved, obtaining obedience from the heart.
4. Christ is Head as King in Zion. “One is your Master,” etc. To no other do we render spiritual obeisance. Martyrs have bled for this truth. Some Churches have not learned it.
II. What it implies. Since Christ is Head of the Church-
1. He alone can determine doctrines for her. It is nothing that a doctrine comes down with gray antiquity to make it venerable. All the fathers, divines, and confessors put together cannot add a word to the faith once delivered to the saints. Nothing is doctrine to the Church but what is contained in the Scriptures.
2. He only can legislate for the Church. In a state, if a knot of persons should profess to make laws for the kingdom they would be laughed at; if they should attempt to enforce them they would be amenable to punishment. So the Church has no power to make laws for herself since she is not her own head; and no one has any right to make laws for her but Christ.
3. He is the living administrator in the Church; but as monarchs often administer through lieutenants, so Christ ad ministers through His Spirit who dwells in the hearts of His people. When we search the Law Book He is their guide.
4. This sole authority must be maintained rigorously.
(1) Some would have us guided by results. It has been discussed whether missions should continue since there are so few converts. But how can the question be raised when He has said, “Go ye into all she world,” etc.
(2) We are not to be guided by the times. Our King and laws are the same, and let the times be scientific or barbaric, our duty is the same.
III. On what does it rest?
1. On the natural supremacy of Christ’s nature. He is perfect man and God over all blessed for ever.
2. On His redemption.
3. On His conquest.
4. On the Divine decree (Psalms 2:1-12.).
IV. What does it teach?
1. Does it not make each inquire, “If the entire Church is to yield this obedience, am I yielding it”?
2. Am I in the habit of judging according to my wishes or according to the Statute Book of the King? ( C. H. Spurgeon.)
The body and its Head
What striking figures are employed to describe the union between Christ and His Church!
3. They are the branches, He is the Stem.
4. Here, and elsewhere, they are the body, He the Head.
I. How close the connection between the head and the body. Yet as close is that between Christ and His Church. Not only is it near and dear to Him, it is identified with Him (Ephesians 1:23). His human body was not less necessary to His completeness as a man than His Church is to the completeness of His glory. It was much for Christ to notice, more to pity, more still to die for sinners, but to draw so near to them as this--well may Paul call it a great mystery.
II. What a fellow feeling there is between the body and the head! Is a man’s body in pain, and does not the head know and feel, and the tongue complain? So when the Church suffers the Saviour feels.(Hebrews 4:15; Matthew 25:40).
III. What a beautiful conformity; how exactly is the head proportioned to the body, and how precisely is it suited in its make to the body’s wants! Suppose the head of a brute were affixed, not only would the sight be monstrous, but that which the body’s fashion renders necessary could never be supplied. And is not the Head of this Church exactly what it wants? Christians need Almighty succour and support, such as could be given by no merely human head.
IV. What an eminent station does the head occupy, when by its various senses and faculties it is capable of regulating and directing all our movements! So Jesus is made “Head over all things to His Church,” that He may preside over all its concerns, and order the whole course of its events. He sees, hears, speaks, and thinks for it. It is guided by His eye, directed by His wisdom, recommended by His intercession.
V. The human head may be separated from the body. Hence the body in that case dies. But the Church cannot die because no separation can take place between it and its Head (Romans 8:35-39). Conclusion--
1. Is the Head gone up into heaven? Then the members will follow.
2. Are we members of this body? not members of the visible Church, nor professors of Christianity.
3. This union is effected by faith, cemented by love, and exhibited in obedience. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
The importance of a military position may be always estimated by the determination with which it is on the one hand assailed, and on the other defended. According to this rule we should conclude that the Church has regarded the Headship of her Lord as the very key of the position. For Christ’s crown, and His sole right to rule His own house without Caesar’s interference, her costliest and most powerful sacrifices have been made. Peter and John were the first to publicly maintain this doctrine (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29).
I. Christ’s body is the Church. While all other bodies shall die, this is deathless. “Because I live,” etc. This body, paradox as it sounds, is ever changing and yet unchangeable; one undying whole formed of dying parts. Yet not more strange than things in nature. You are not the same person you were a year ago. Look at a river. The exile returns to the haunt of his early years, and there the river flows as it did when he was young; yet the liquidations have undergone perpetual change. And so the stream of time bears on to eternity, and the stream of grace on to glory, successive generations, while the Church herself, like a river fed by perennial fountains, remains unchangeable in Christ’s immutability, in His immortality immortal.
II. Christ’s body, which is not identical with any one church, is formed of all truly-believers, to whatever denomination they may belong. Mothers are prone to think their own daughters loveliest, and nothing is more natural than to say of our own denomination, “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” But to foster a spirit of sectarianism is an offence as great as to sin against His truth. In some respects bigotry is worse than heresy; and most hateful of all in God’s sight is the haughty Churchism which says, “Stand by, I am holier than thou.”
III. Christ’s body, in a sense, embraces all those churches which hold the essential truths of the gospel. There is a broad line between the essentials and the circumstantials of the faith. Yet what unnatural attempts at uniformity have men made, as if uniformity were a law of God! On no such model has God constructed our world. God, while He preserves unity, delights in variety. Why then insist on all men observing a uniform style of worship, or thinking alike on matters non-essential to salvation? You might as well insist on all men wearing the same expression, or speaking in the same tone. How tolerant was Paul of differences! His Church has not followed her Lord’s example. Christ drove thieves from the temple, but His followers have cast out their brethren. Divisions are bad things. I have no sympathy with those who, confounding charity with indifference, regard matters of religion as not worth disputing about. Such a state of death is worse than war. Yet divisions are bad things. Therefore we ought to aim to heal them, and where we cannot do that to soften their asperities. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Let us recognize a common brotherhood, and love one another as Christ has loved us. Branches of a tree which is still one in root, stem, sap, flower, and fruit; members of the same family, travellers to the same home, see that ye fall not out by the way.
IV. As head of the church Christ is the life of the members.
1. By means of the connection which grace establishes between Him and the believer, He maintains our spiritual life. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” All our wishes, words, and works, however expressed in looks, sounds, and movements, are born in the brain, and there is not a good wish, word, or work but Christ was its fountain-head.
2. He is the source of our spiritual life. We must not confound the means of life with its first cause. The life which Christ gave you was His own. If any heavenly fire burns in you Christ kindled it. The spirit life is not hereditary, “not of blood or of the will of the flesh.” By His life He now maintains us.
V. As head of the church Christ rules its members. It is not pain that makes the insect go spinning round and round to the entertainment of the thoughtless boy who has beheaded it. It has lost in the head that which preserves harmony among the members, and prevents such anarchy as there was in the body politic when there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right to his own eyes. Seated as becomes a king, in the highest place, the head gives law to all beneath it. Its subjects never mutiny. Patterns of the obedience we should yield to Christ, the members hesitate not to obey the head even to their own loss and suffering. How happy we should be were our hearts, minds, bodies, as obedient to Christ as the hand and tongue to the head that rules them I What else but this is needed to preserve the purity and peace of our souls, and restore the same to distracted churches? There is no essential difference between the evangelical denominations, and what should hinder them from being as ready to love and help one the other as my foot is ready to run in the service of my hand?
VI. As head of the Church christ sympathizes with his members. “All the rivers run into the sea;” all the nerves run into the brain, and through them mind corresponds with matter, looking through the eyes, etc. Let the foot but touch a thorn, and it is instantly withdrawn. How? Pain thrilling along the nerves flashes the danger upward to the head, which, by another set of nerves, flashes back an immediate order, so that before the thorn is buried in the flesh the foot is withdrawn. Such is the sympathy between Christ and His people. He is in closest communication with them, and by means of lines which pass from earth to heaven the meanest cottage is joined to the throne of God. No accident breaks that telegraph. The lines of Providence radiate out, and the lines of prayer radiate in. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
One with Christ
The moment I make of myself and Christ two, I am all wrong. But when I see that we are one, all is rest and peace. (Luther.)
The Holy Catholic Church
I. Its nature and characteristics. “A congregation of faithful men,” etc. (Acts 19:1-41.).
1. The members of which it is composed.
(1) Their privileges. They are believers--faithful men, chosen, redeemed, regenerated, sanctified.
(2) You must view them as brought together in the bonds of a common profession; for they are faithful men assembled. Solitary individuals, however eminent for piety, cannot form a church (Matthew 18:15).
(3) They must be brought together for religious purposes. A company of believers brought together for secular ends would not be a church. They must assemble to worship God, hear His Word, communicate, etc.
(4) These thus congregated are distinguished by the general consistency of their outward behaviour. Hypocrites and evil persons may be found in the Church, but they are not of it.
2. Its characteristics.
(1) Unity. The Church is one in
(a) The foundation on which it rests. “Other foundation can no man lay.”
(b) Its worship. “Through Him we all have access.”
(c) Its sympathy and spirit, which is much to be preferred to uniformity of opinion.
(2) Sanctity. This does not refer to external and ritual holiness, but to real and internal. “Be ye holy.”
(3) Catholicity, diffusiveness, generality. We may each of us have our denominational preferences, but we must not unchurch one another. The Church is catholic in the following particulars:
(a) It is the true Church wherever it may be, as to country or clime.
(b) It is found equally among all denominations who are in connection with the Head.
II. The relation in which Christ stands to it.
1. He is the teaching Head. From Him as the great Prophet of the Church flows all the light by which it is illumined and cheered. “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom,” etc.
2. He is the Head of influence.
3. The Head of government--both legislative and executive.
4. The only Head.
(1) Appointed as such.
(2) Necessarily so. There can be but one head of the body.
III. The duties we owe to this hallowed confederacy.
1. To try the spirits, whether they be of God--the pretensions of those who offer themselves to our notice as assumed members of the Church.
2. To admire the goodness of Christ in undertaking this government.
3. To inquire whether we belong to the Holy Catholic Church.
4. To exult in its prospective triumphs.
5. To look forward to the glorious consummation when this one Church shall be presented in its full numbers before the throne. (G. Clayton, M. A.)
It is indispensable to every society to have a central person or idea round which it may revolve; a supreme government to which it must refer and submit, The will of the person, the essence of the idea, is the reason and law of its existence. Such in the Church is Christ. Accordingly He combines in Himself all the elements of which the Church is to consist. The idea of Christian life is that the qualities of spiritual and visible worlds should be brought together. It recognizes, therefore, as its appropriate Head the God-man who combines the Divine nature to be communicated, and the human capacity for its communication, and who embodied in His incarnate life the model of what human nature should be. Around the Mediator, then, all believing men are gathered. He is the central figure around whom the Church is grouped, the essential bond and reason of its existence. As Head of the Church Christ is--
I. The source of the peculiar truths whereby it is founded. That which constitutes a society is not the truth it has in common with others, but that which is peculiar to itself. A literary society may have a morality common to themselves and hundreds about them; but it is their peculiar element of literature which constitutes them a literary society. So the Church may have a great deal of the morality common to them and unregenerate men, and so with theological ideas. Hence the name Christian cannot be accorded to those who deny the Deity and atonement of Christ, and the personality and regenerating influence of the Holy Ghost, because these are the characteristic revelations of the New Testament. Of these truths Christ is the source, and all His work concerns itself with them. As the great Prophet of the Church He announces them, as its Priest He realizes them, as its King He reigns to enforce them.
II. The source of the spiritual life wherein it consists. The idea o! a society is the reception by its members, and their practical embodiment of its peculiar truths. The Church is, therefore, more than an association of theoretic believers in the atonement and regeneration; it lives under their power and for their promulgation. Common theories only bring men into juxtaposition; common experiences knit them together. The truth which Christ has given the Church becomes a quickening thing.
1. This supposes that previously men were dead. Moral death is the most lamentable of all deaths.
2. In this condition Christ finds him. “You hath He quickened.” Restoration to moral life is effected--
(1) By His atonement, by which He rescues men from legal death, and procures a reversal of the sentence of condemnation.
(2) By His Spirit the soul is quickened, and men having the Spirit of Christ are born again.
(3) This moral life is a right state of the heart towards God, and is sustained by these truths. They constrain to holy obedience.
III. The source of all the authority or law wherewith it is regulated. He determines the precise, direction and shape which spiritual feeling should assume, but such direction need not interfere with the spontaneousness of the feeling. And so the Christian precept prompts the desire for duty and directs it, but is nowhere arbitrary. Thus is it also in the associated life of the Church. Whatever law Christ has given He has given in accordance with the spontaneous prompting of Church life; the prompting might be vague, the precept enlightens it. At the same time, when institutions are needed Christ alone has authority to enjoin them as laws. This we see e.g., in the sacraments. Christ is the sole legislator, and for any individual to interpose an authority between Christ and the Church is open rebellion.
IV. Christ administers the providences which constitute its experience. This is part of His mediatorial right in pursuance of His purpose of world restoration.
1. Within the Church He orders the succession and distinctions of its ministry, the accession or removal of its members, their spiritual birth or translation, their trials and privileges.
2. Without the Church He determines or permits the experiences that shall visit it; the waves that shall beat upon the ark; the assaults upon the fortress.
1. If Christ be the source of all spiritual truth and life, our constant temper should be practical gratitude for our participation of it.
2. If Christ be the source of all authority, our constant habit should be holy obedience.
3. If Christ provides, then we may safely leave all things in His hands.
4. Let us assure ourselves of its final and glorious triumph. (H. Allon, D. D.)
Who is the beginning.
Names and titles among men are generally insignificant, and not characteristic of the persons who wear them; but Christ’s are both descriptive and recommendatory. He is the beginning.
I. As to his Divine nature. It implies His eternity and self-existence. He is not God by derivation and commission. He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. He is therefore the beginning and fountain of created existence. He who received life from none communicates life to all. Not only our being but our intellectual and moral excellencies are from Him. By His power we are what we are as men; by His grace we are what we are as Christians.
II. As mediator.
1. He is the origin of the Church of God. It is He that has raised it out of the ruins of the fall. Is it a temple? He builds it. Is it a garden? He plants it.
2. He is the beginning to individual saints. Our life is from His death, and all the streams of blessedness flow from His fulness. More particularly
(1) He is the source of reconciliation and the beginning of our peace with God. Our prayers and tears have no influence; neither our own work nor that of the Holy Spirit. There is no admission to Divine favour without satisfaction to Divine justice; and Christ alone has made that by the Cross.
(2) He is the beginning in reference to the change wrought in us by regeneration. This change is wrought by the Holy Spirit, but as the Spirit of Christ “He shall receive of Mine.” Christ within us is the hope of glory. He is our Life.
3. With respect to the resurrection. His own was the pattern and pledge of that of His saints. The same Spirit who quickened Him shall also quicken us.
1. The honour that is due to Christ.
2. As Christ is the beginning of all spiritual blessings, so those blessings can belong to none but those who are in Him.
3. He who is the beginning is also the end; and this secures the happiness of all the saints. He who has begun will also finish (Hebrews 12:2).
Christ the beginning
The same place and dignity that Christ has in the order of nature He has in the order of grace; He is the beginning of the new as He was also of the old creation.
I. In the way of order as first and chief of the renewed state.
1. AS Founder and Builder of the Church (Matthew 16:18; Hebrews 3:3-5). One of the noblest of God’s works is His Church of the firstborn; none could constitute it but the God-man. For the materials are sinful and guilty men. Neither men nor angels could raise them into a holy temple to God.
2. As the Lord of the Church (Hebrews 2:7).
II. In the way of causality.
1. As a moral, meritorious cause (1 John 4:9-10).
(2) Likeness (Galatians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 3:18). It is for the honour of Christ that His image should be upon His members, to distinguish them from others. As to life, He is the root (John 15:1-2); as to likeness, He is the pattern (Romans 8:29).
III. The reason of this.
1. It is for the honour of the Son to be the Head of the new world. In the kingdom of Christ all thing are new; a new covenant, paradise, ministry, ordinances, members, and so a new Head or Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). It is suited to our lost estate. (T. Manton, D. D.)
I. This term expresses Christ’s divine nature. He must be Divine who is “almighty,” and “who is, and was, and is to come”; and since “the beginning” is a title applied in the same passage (Revelation 1:8), Paul pronounces Him Divine.
II. It expresses Christ’s relation to his church.
1. The beginning of a tree is the seed it springs from. The giant oak had its origin in the acorn. Now as a seed Christ was apparently of little promise, “a root out of a dry ground,” yet out of Him has grown that Church which shall bear the blessings of salvation to the ends of the earth.
2. A house, again, begins at the foundation. The first stone laid is the foundation-stone. Christ is this, a tried stone, a firm and immovable basis for the believer.
4. The Author of our faith, the Founder of the Church, began it, ere sun or stars shone in heaven. He provided for the fall before it happened. He had the lifeboat on the beach before the bark was stranded, or launched, or even built. He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
III. He is the beginning of salvation to every individual believer.
1. Whatever was the instrument employed it was His grace that began what had a beginning. The preacher was a man but drawing a bow at a venture, It was Christ’s eye that aimed the shaft, and His strength that bent the bow. When our sins were carrying us out to burial He stopped the bier and imparted life.
2. As Christ is the beginner, so is He the finisher of our faith. He does no half work, half saving, or half sanctifying a man. Trust Him that when He has begun a good work He will carry it on to the end. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The firstborn from the dead.--
I. Open the terms. “Firstborn.” If the grave was as a womb to Christ, and His resurrection as a birth, then Christ was in a manner born when He rose. Only He hath the precedency; surely others will follow Him (Acts 26:23; 1 Corinthians 15:20). As in the consecration of the firstfruits the whole harvest was consecrated, so Christ by rising raises all.
II. Vindicate the notion. Two objections lie against it.
(1) We must distinguish between a proper and improper resurrection. He arose by a proper, which is to rise to a life immortal; they only to a mortal estate, and so the great disease was rather removed than cured (Acts 13:34).
(3) All those who rose before, rose only by special dispensation to lay down their bodies again when God should see fit, and rose only as private persons. But Christ rose as a public Person, and once for all.
2. Concerning the raising of the wicked. Christ cannot be the firstborn to them who belong not to His mystical body. The firstborn implies a relation to the rest of the family. The offering of the firstfruits did not sanctify the tares and weeds.
(2) they will be raised by Christ as a Judge, not as a Redeemer. The one sort are raised by the power[of His vindictive justice, the other by the Holy Ghost by virtue of His covenant (Romans 8:11); the one by Christ’s power from without as Judge of dead and living, the other by an inward quickening influence flowing from Him as their proper Head.
(3) The wicked are forced to appear to receive their sentence, the other go joyfully to meet the Bridegroom and enter into eternal life.
III. How is this an evidence and assurance to all Christians of their happy and glorious resurrection 9
1. There shall be a resurrection. It is necessary to prove that--
(1) Because it is the foundation of all godliness (2Co 15:32).
(2) Because it is not easy of belief. The great and public evidence thereof is Christ’s which makes ours--
(a) Possible. That is the least we can gather from it (1 Corinthians 15:13).
(c) Certain and necessary from--First, our relation to Christ as Head. He cannot live gloriously in heaven and leave His members under the power of death (Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:13), otherwise He would be a maimed Christ. Second, the charge and office of Christ (John 6:39). Third, the mercy of God through the merits of Christ to the faithful who have hazarded their lives for His sake (1 Thessalonians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14).
2. The resurrection to the faithful will be happy and glorious.
(2) By the grant of God. They have a right and title to it. Being admitted to His family they may expect to be admitted into His presence; and they have the Holy Spirit as an earnest till it be accomplished (Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; Romans 8:28).
IV. The use is to persuade you to the relief of these two grand articles of faith.
1. The resurrection of Christ. That is the great foundation of faith (1 Corinthians 15:14). All the apostles’ preaching was built on this supposition.
(2) Partly to show that He is in a capacity to convey spiritual and eternal life to others; which, if He had continued in the state of death, He could not be (Joh 14:19; 1 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 1:20-21).
2. Your own resurrection.
(2) We have relief from the justice of God. He is the rewarder of good and bad, but He does not dispense His rewards in this life (1 Corinthians 15:29).
(3) God’s unchangeable love, which inclines Him to seek the dust of His confederates; therefore Christ proves the resurrection from God’s covenant title (Matthew 22:31). (T. Manton, D. D.)
Christ is the firstborn from the dead.
I. In the dignity of His person. He is the greatest who ever entered or shall ever leave the gates of death. Isaiah in one of his boldest flights of fancy sets forth the destruction of the Babylonian monarchy. He sees a mighty king descending into the grave, breaking its awful silence and entering alone the dark domain of a monarch mightier than himself. On his ear fall the voices of kings long buried, muttering, “Art thou become as we?” When we die we sink into the grave as snowflakes on the water, but Christ being the Lord of glory, the fountain of life, His descent into the tomb was an event which may well be set forth by the prophet’s imagery. I can fancy all the dead astonished at His coming. Fancy some great, good monarch thrust into the common jail; and were such a reverse of fortune borne out of love to His subjects, how would it move their love and admiration as well as their wonder and pity! Yet what were such an event compared with what, unnoticed by the world, took place in the garden? Christ’s descent into the tomb awoke death from its deepest apathy. That awoke those who are heedless of the shock of earthquakes. The graves were opened. Waiting for Him to lead the way, many dead saints left the tomb.
II. Because He rose by His own power. There is no sensibility, passion, or power in the dead. They can do nothing to help themselves. In all cases but Christ’s, life was given, not taken back.
III. Because He is the only one who never rise to die again. The others twice drank the bitter cup.
IV. Because He has taken precedence of his people. It is better for me, if I am a poor man standing in need of royal favours, to have a friend at court than in my own humble cottage; and it is better for us that Christ is with the Father in heaven than with us on earth. But apart from that, precedence was His right. ‘]: he King precedes His train; the Head was first out of the grave, afterwards the body and its members. It is as the prelude to our own resurrection that Christ’s is to us the object of the greatest satisfaction and joy. Henceforth the grave holds but a lease of the saints. Because He rose we shall rise. If we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ what reconciling views of death does this open to us! (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The Divine harbinger
Sweeter to our ear than the full chorus of bright skies and green wood are the first notes of the warbler that pipes away the winter, and breaks in on its long, drear silence! And more welcome to our eye than the flush of summer’s gayest flowers is the simple snowdrop that hangs its pure white bell above the dead, bare ground. And why? These are the firstborn of the year, the forerunners of a crowd to follow. In that group of silver bells that ring in the spring with its joys and loves and singing birds, my fancy’s eye sees the naked earth clothed with beauty, the streams, like children let loose, dancing and laughing, and rejoicing in their freedom, bleak winter gone, and nature’s annual resurrection. And in that solitary simple note my fancy hears the carol of larks, wide moor, hillside, and woodlands full of song and ringing with all music. And in Christ, the Firstborn, I see the grave giving up its dead: from the depths of the sea, from lonely wilderness and crowded churchyard they come, like the dew of the grass, an innumerable multitude. Risen Lord! we rejoice in Thy resurrection. We hail it as the harbinger and blessed pledge of our own. The first to come forth, Thou art the Elder Brother of a family whose countless numbers the patriarch saw in the dust of the desert, whose holy beauty he saw shining in the bright stars of heaven. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
That in all things He might have the pre-eminence.--
The Pre-eminent One
It is the ordination of providence that in every society or profession there should be a head--some one who should have the pre-eminence. The father ought to be the chief of his house. Israel was governed by God, yet He chose Moses as His vice-gerent, and when the nation was afterwards divided into tens, hundreds, etc., still Moses retained the preeminence. No society could hang together without this. The same ordination holds good in the Church. From its members some are made eminent pastors, etc., yet there is but one to whom the pre-eminence belongs. And we are told the reason of it. Among men we see eminence variously displayed: one is eminent for wisdom, another for power, and so on; but Christ is pre-eminent in all things. Therefore Christ is reserved for this honour; and that not simply as God, but as Mediator. Christ has pre-eminence.
I. In the estimation of deity.
1. On whom does the Father concentrate His love and delight? Jehovah calls Him His own Son, His dear Son, His beloved Son. Christ is the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, and He speaks of the glory He had before the world was. Thrice did the Father glorify Him--at His baptism, transfiguration, and lust before His passion. At His incarnation the Father said, “Let all the angels of God worship Him,” and after His burial sent angels to roll away the stone.
2. The same pre-eminence is given by the Holy Spirit. He anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows--descended on Him at His baptism, glorifies Him, and receives of His.
II. In the testimony of the scriptures. “They wrote of Me.” “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Every metaphor that the glowing glories of earth or heaven have offered is selected to put honour on His brow.
1. Consider His titles--Foundation, Door, Captain, Advocate, Judge, etc.
2. His offices--Prophet, Priest, King, Shepherd, etc.
III. As exhibited in the glory of His works.
1. Creation. Angels have done wonders, and men; but whoever saw anything equal to the works of Christ?
2. Providence. “The government is on His shoulders.”
IV. In the opinion of relievers. There are many who are very dear to us on earth and in heaven; but who has the pre-eminence? “Unto you that believe He is precious.” “He is the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.”
V. In the happiness of heaven. TO be with Christ, apart from the consideration of its other glories, that is heaven. Conclusion. Give Christ the pre-eminence.
1. In your hearts.
2. In your houses.
3. Labour that He may have it in the whole world. (J. Sherman.)
I. He is the first.
1. He is pre-eminent in age (verse 15). “Before Abraham was I am.”
2. In the work of redemption, “firstborn from the dead.”
II. He is the mightiest.
1. As Creator (verse 16).
2. As Preserver (verse 17).
3. As Destroyer. We cannot destroy the tiniest piece of matter. He can desolate a world.
III. He is the richest. He owns--
1. All the treasures of creation (verse 10).
2. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
3. All the treasures of grace (verse 19).
IV. He is the highest.
1. He now occupies the throne of mercy.
2. He will leave this for the throne of judgment.
3. He will finally sit on the throne of glory and reign for ever and ever.
V. He is the lovliest. “The altogether lovely.”
1. As the brightness of His Father’s glory.
2. As the fairest of the children of men.
VI. He is the last as He is the First. He only hath immortality; ours is derived from Him. (H. G. Guinness.)
Christ pre-eminent in all things
Some are eminent for one thing, some for another. Some are distinguished for vast wealth, some are ennobled by intellectual resources, some obtain a name for personal bravery, but none has pre-eminence in all things. But in whatever light we look at Christ He is pre-eminent.
I. In His Divine and mysterious nature. “God manifest in the flesh,” “mighty God,” etc.
II. In the unrivalled glory of His perfections. He has every attribute of Deity, and “Whatever things the Father doeth, these doeth the Son likewise.”
III. In the stupendous character of His works.
1. All creation is His handiwork.
2. In the work of Providence governing and sustaining the universe.
IV. In the illustrious dignity of His offices. Shepherd and Bishop of souls; His throne is for ever and ever; He is the Mediator of a better covenant; in Him, as Prophet, are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
V. In the consistent testimony of scripture. Take any doctrine you choose, it must have some connection with Christ. Promises send us to Christ to fulfil them; precepts send us to Christ, by whose strength alone we can perform them; threatenings send us to Christ, by whose atonement and intercession alone they can be averted. Take Christ from the Bible and you its life; its promises have no reality, its prophecies are empty words, its laws lose their power, and its hopes their animation and realization.
VI. In the stupendous work of human redemption. For this He alone was competent. Salvation begins and ends with Him.
VII. In Christian experience. The Christian’s faith is faith in Christ; his joy, joy in Christ; his strength, strength in Christ; his life, life in Christ. Think of what is necessary to a perfect Christian and you will find it all in Christ. All worship is to be offered in His name, and all obedience rendered Him.
VIII. In Christian preaching and testimony. To bear witness to Christ and to secure Him homage is the end of our creation.
IX. Christ will yet have pre-eminence in the world. (W. P. Appelbe, LL. D.)
Christ in all things the pre-eminent
Nature and the Bible are alike in this respect--that you find in each two kinds of objects: the one simple, quiet, beautiful; the other grand, majestic, overpowering. In this chapter we get amongst the Highlands of Revelation.
I. The supremacy of Christ.
1. As extending over two spheres, the realms of nature and grace, the universe and the Church.
(1) He is the “firstborn of every creature.” We cannot suppose Him to be a creature, because “He is before all things,” dec. In Rabbinical literature Jehovah is styled the firstborn of creation, by which is meant that He is supreme over the universe; for the birthright carried with it supremacy. In like manner the phrase must be taken in reference to Christ. His dominion extends to all things in heaven: sun, moon, stars, dec., and angels who never fell; to things on earth: the globe and its inhabitants, all mineral, vegetable, animal, and human existence.
(2) He is Head of the Church. Lord of the Church’s mind--in their religious thinking believers are to think under Him. Lord of the Church’s heart--in their affections believers are to be guided by Him. Lord of the Church’s life--for His Word is law.
2. This supremacy has been obtained in two different ways.
(1) Christ’s birthright of authority and power over the universe is by creation.
(2) In His redemptive work He is the firstborn of the dead. He is the firstborn in both, but creation is by life; redemption is through death.
3. There is a distinction between the relations in which the created universe and the redeemed Church stands to Him. He made the one; He is the Head of the other. The universe is a grand collection of things made by His power and for His use. Thus we are led to separate between the universe and Christ. He is no part of it. But in relation to the Church the distinction is dropped, and an idea of most intimate union introduced--it is His body, which is nowhere attributed of nature.
4. This pre-eminence issues in the union of the two realms. Verse 20 should be read in connection with this. The reconciliation goes further than persons and laws and governments. Thus much appears.
(1) That Christ, in His mediatorial reign, through His death, becomes the Lord and Guardian of the entire universe of holy beings, redeemed and unfallen; that He gathers all in one unto God, and is equally King of earth and heaven.
(2) That the sin of man has disturbed the relation between Him and angels; that man getting out of place, throws into disorder the whole sphere of existence to which he belongs, as a wandering star would the solar system, and that Christ, by putting men right, reconciles them to angels and angels to them.
(3) That without an atonement it was an unbefitting thing that heaven should receive depraved mortals; but that with an atonement it is quite befitting that men redeemed and sanctified should enter the ranks of the glorified; and that in the end such will be the number of the saved, and the relation in which they stand to the rest of the universe, that in some sense a reconciliation of all things will be accomplished.
5. Let me ask whether in correspondence with these views of Christ’s supremacy He has pre eminence in our hearts and lives?
II. The plenitude (verse 19).
1. The fulness of the Father exists in Christ as it nowhere else does. In nature there are streams of the Divine glory, yet the ocean fulness is not there. In the reason of man there are Divine sparks; in the history of the world Divine footprints; in the souls of believers and the united virtues of the Church there is much Divine light and goodness; but the fulness nowhere, not even in the Bible, only in Christ. And wherever else in any measure it is, it is from Him. He is the Creator and Upholder of the world; Light and Lord of human reason; Sovereign of the ages; Giver of gracious power; Inspirer and Subject of the Book of books.
2. This plenitude must be taken in connection with the supremacy of Christ.
(1) In creation He has the pre-eminence, because in Him all fulness dwells of infinite power, wisdom, goodness.
(2) How could He be Head over all things to His Church if He were a man? A created Saviour could not supply all our need; but in the Divine Christ there is all fulness of pardoning mercy, renewing power, supporting love, strength for a day of trouble, a dying hour.
3. The pre-eminence and fulness of Christ constitute the leading object of our blessed faith. Agencies are needed to bring men to Him, but nothing can add to the completeness of those who are in Him. (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
Christ is pre-eminent
I. As to His personality. He stands unique. All the elements in His make up to which the term human can be applied show Him to be pre-eminently human. He came into the world by the gateway of the Hebrew nation, but He is not a Jew. He belonged to 1800 years ago, and yet He is of no age. He spent His days and nights under the Eastern skies, but He is of no clime. He gathers up into Himself all the best elements in Jewish, Greek, and Roman life. He was pre-eminently moral and devotional; He was in sympathy with everything beautiful; He glorified the moral law, was loyal to the national, and had worldwide ambitions, only, unlike those of Rome, they were benevolent.
II. As to His ideas of God and man. The test of pre-eminence of nature is largeness of idea on these themes.
1. The idea Christ gave us of God was pre-eminent. No one ever approached it. There had been many attempts to put the nature of God into a word, but all had failed till He said “Father.”
2. So with His idea of the nature of man. The noblest man among the Jews was the chief of the Pharisees or Sadducees; among the Greeks the most physically beautiful; among the Romans the strong man able to trample every one who was in His path into the dust. Under the influence of Jesus the noblest man is the gentlest, humanest, chastest, and most charitable. This is a new idea.
3. Other ideas help us to see how pre-eminently Jesus was the world’s greatest thinker, such as the brotherhood of man; the idea that love of God is best expressed in the service of man, the idea that the worst man may be saved.
III. As to His mission in the world. NO other man ever carried on such a mission or was capable of entertaining the idea of it. It was to bring a revolted world back into such an allegiance as is worthy of God to accept and man to give; not forced, but based on love. The accomplishment of such a mission seems to us impossible, but in individuals it has been accomplished, and will yet be in the whole world.
IV. As to unbiassed human opinion of Him. Only one conspicuous man in the world of literature has been blind to His excellency--Voltaire; but Rousseau, another great sceptic, wrote, “If the life and death of Socrates be those of a saint, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God.” Napoleon I., the old Roman, back again in the Christian centuries, said, “I know men, Jesus was not a man.” (R. Thomas, D. D.)
For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.
The reconciling Son
I. As before we have Christ in relation to God.
1. In the use of the term “fulness,” which was a very important term in Gnostic speculations, there is a reference to some of the heretical teachers’ expressions. What fulness? (Colossians 2:9). The abundance or totality of the Divine attributes. We have no need to look to nature for fragmentary revelations of God’s character--that He has fully and finally declared in His Son.
2. “Dwell” implies permanent abode, chosen, perhaps, to oppose the view that the union of the Divine and human in Christ was but temporary.
3. This is the result of the Father’s good pleasure. The Father determined the work of the Son, and delighted in it.
II. Again, as before, we have Christ and the universe, Of which He is not only the Maker, Sustainer, and Lord, but through the blood of the Cross reconciles all things to Himself. Probably the false teachers had dreams of reconciling agents. Paul lifts up in opposition the one Sovereign Mediator whose Cross is the bond of peace for the universe.
1. Observe the distinct reference of these words to the former clauses. “Through Him” was creation; “through Him” is reconciliation. “All things” were made, sustained by, and subordinated to Him; the same “all things” are reconciled. A significant change in the order is noticeable. “In the heavens and upon the earth” the order of creation; but in reconciliation the order is reversed.
2. The correspondence shows that the reconciliation affects not only rational and responsible creatures, but “things.” The width of reconciliation is the same as that of the creation. Then these words refer mainly to the restitution of the material universe to its primal obedience, and represent Christ the Creator removing by His Cross the shadow that has passed over nature by reason of sin.
1. Man’s sin has made the physical world “subject to vanity.” Man by sin has compelled dead matter to be his instrument in acts of rebellion against God. He has polluted the world by sin, and laid unnumbered woes on the living creatures. This evil shall be done away by the reconciling power of the blood of the Cross. The universe is one because the Cross pierces its heights and depths.
2. The reference to things in heaven may also be occasioned by the dreams of the heretical teachers. As to reconciliation proper among spiritual beings in that realm, there can be no question of it. There is no enmity among angels. Still, if the reference be to them, then we know that to the principalities and powers in heavenly places the Cross has been the teacher of unlearned depths in the Divine nature and purposes, the knowledge of which has drawn them nearer to the heart of God and made their union with Him more blessed and close.
3. Sublime and great beyond all our dreams shall be the issue. Certain as the throne of God is it that His purposes shall be accomplished. The great sight of the Seer of Patmos is the best commentary on our text (Revelation 5:9-13).
III. Christ and His reconciling work in the Church. We have still the parallel kept up. As in Colossians 1:18 He was representing as giving life to the Church in a higher fashion than to the universe, so, with a similar heightening of the meaning of reconciliation, He is here set forth as its giver to the Church.
1. Observe the solemn description of men before it. “Alienated,” not “aliens,” but having become so. The seat of the enmity is in that inner man which thinks and wills, and its sphere of manifestation is “in evil works” which are religiously acts of hostility to God because morally bad. This is thought nowadays a too harsh description. But the charge is not that of conscious, active hostility, but of practical want of affection as manifested by habitual disobedience or inattention to God’s wishes and by indifference and separation from Him in heart and mind.
2. Here as uniformly God Himself is the Reconciler, it is we who are reconciled. The Divine patience loves on through all our enmity, and though perfect love meeting human sin must ever become wrath, it never becomes hatred.
3. The means of reconcilition.
(1) “The body,” etc., an exuberance of language to correct, perhaps, the error of that our Lord’s body was only a phantasm, or to guard against the risk of confounding it with “His body the Church,” or as showing how full His mind was of the overwhelming wonder of the fact.
(2) But the Incarnation is not the whole gospel; “through death” Christ’s death has so met the requirements of the Divine law, that Divine love can come freely forth and forgive sinful men. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The reconciling work of the great Mediator
I. The unique qualification of the great Mediator.
1. In Him all fulness dwells.
2. It is the good pleasure of the Father that this fulness should reside in the Son.
II. The reconciling work of the great mediator.
1. The extent of the reconciliation.
(1) Sinful creatures on earth are reconciled to God in Christ.
(2) Sinful and sinless creatures are reconciled.
(3) Sinless and unfallen creatures are brought nearer to God in Christ.
III. The means by which the reconciliation is effected. Lessons:--
1. The great Mediator has every qualification for His stupendous work.
2. The reconciliation of a disorganized universe is beyond the power of any subordinate agent.
3. Rebellious man can be restored to peace with God only as he yields himself up to the great Mediator. (G. Barlow.)
I. In the person that redeems us we find fulness.
1. And there had need be so.
(1) He found our measure of sin full towards God. When a river swells it will find out all the channels and overflow the whole field; so sin hath found an issue at the ear, eye, tongue, hands, feet, and so overflows all.
(2) God’s measure of anger was full too.
(3) Then it pleased the Father that there should be another fulness to overflow these.
2. This is” all fulness,” and is only in Christ. Elijah had a great portion of the Spirit; Elisha sees that that will not serve Him, and so asks a double portion; but still but portions. Stephen is full of faith, a blessed fulness where there is no room for doubt; Dorcas is full of good works, a fulness above faith; Mary is full of grace, which is a fulness above both; but yet not “all fulness.” I shall be as full as Paul in heaven, i.e., have as full a vessel, but not so full a cellar. Christ only hath an infinite content and capacity, and so an infinite fulness.
3. But was Christ God before, and is there a supplementary fulness? Yes. To make Him a competent person to redeem man something was to be added to Christ though He were God; wherein we see the incomprehensibleness of man’s sin, that even to God Himself there was required something else than God before we could be redeemed. Perfect God, there is the fulness of the Redeemer’s dignity; perfect man, there is the fulness of His capacity to suffer and pay our debt. This was a strange fulness, for it was a fulness of emptiness, all humiliation and exinanition by His obedience unto death.
4. How came Christ by all this fulness? “It pleased the Father.”
II. The pacification. It is much that God would admit any peace; more that for peace He should require blood; more still that it should be the blood of Him who was injured; most of all that is should be the blood of the Cross, i.e., death.
1. Then there was a heavy war before; for the Lord of Hosts was our enemy; and what can all our musters come to when He is against us?
2. But what is the peace, and how are we included in it? A man must not think himself included in it because he feels no effects of this war. Though there be no blow stricken, the war remains in the time of truce. But hero is no truce. All this while that thou enjoyest this imaginary security the enemy undermines thee, and will blow thee up at last more irrevocably than if he had battered thee with outward calamities all the time. But in this text there is true peace, and one already made, and made by Him who lacked nothing for the making of it.
3. Is effusion of blood the way of peace? That may make them from whom it is drawn glad of peace. But here mercy and truth are met together. God would be true to His own justice and be merciful to us. Justice required blood, for without it is no remission. Under the law it was blood of bulls and goats; here it is His blood. “Greater love,” etc. (John 15:13); but He who said so laid down His life shamefully and painfully for His enemies.
III. The application thereof to all to whom that reconciliation appertains. All this was done, and yet the apostle prays us to be reconciled to God. The general peace was made by Christ’s death, as a general pardon is given at the King’s coming; we have to accept it.
1. There is a reconciliation of things in heaven.
(1) The saints, who reached forth the hand of faith to lay hold of Christ before He came.
(2) Angels, who were confirmed in perfect holiness and blessedness.
2. Things on earth.
(1) The creature who by virtue of it shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption.
3. But the most proper and literal meaning is that all things in heaven and earth be reconciled to God; i.e., His glory, to a fitter disposition to glorify Him, by being reconciled to one another in Christ; that in Him, as Head of the Church, they in heaven and we on earth be united together as one body in the communion of saints (Ephesians 1:10).
4. Here there is still reconciliation to be made, not only toward one another on the bond of charity, but on ourselves. In ourselves we find things in heaven and on earth to reconcile. There is heavenly zeal to be reconciled to discretion; heavenly purity to one another’s infirmities; heavenly liberty to a care for the promotion of scandal. Till the flesh and spirit be reconciled this reconciliation is not accomplished; but both are, in Christ, when in all the faculties of soul and body we glorify Him. (J. Donne, D. D.)
I. A particular fulness dwelt in Christ. The definitive article “the” has reference not to fulness in general. It would not be to the honour of Jesus to have all fulness whatsoever. We read of some whose cups and platters were full of extortion and excess; of Elymas, who was “full of subtlety,” etc.; of men who were “full of envy, murder,” etc. In Jesus it is some conspicuously glorious fulness.
II. A divine fulness. The apostle refers to it in Colossians 2:9 --the fulness of the Godhead, not only really and spiritually, but bodily, in an incarnated condition, and thus conspicuously, and in such a way as made it a reasonable thing to ascribe to our Lord the work of creation on the one hand, and the headship of the Church on the other.
1. The Godhead is full of power. “Nothing is too hard for the Lord.” All that fulness, too, is in Jesus, so that He is able to wheel the worlds in their orbits and “to save to the uttermost,” etc.
2. The Godhead is full of righteousness. In God is “no darkness at all.” Our Lord is “Jesus Christ the righteous,” whom no one can convict of sin; and He is so full that His righteousness is available, not to Himself alone, but “unto all and upon all them that believe.”
3. The Godhead is full of love. “God is love.” Jesus said, “Greater love than this,” etc.
4. Hence, too, there was in Him fulness “of grace and truth,” of meekness, tenderness, gentleness.
III. A permanent fulness. “Dwelt.” The Father did not desire that the fulness of Godhead should stream through our Saviour, illuminating and glorifying His nature as it passed, and then vanish. It is the same in glory “to-day, yesterday, and for ever.” (J. Morison, D. D.)
I. The fulness that is in Christ.
1. All fulness. Ahasuerus promised Esther that her request should be granted though it cost him half his kingdom. Christ offers nothing by halves. “It pleased the Father,” etc. Transferring Divine wealth to our account in the bank of heaven, and giving us an unlimited credit there, Jesus says: “All things whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
2. All fulness of mercy to pardon sin. The gospel proclaims a universal amnesty. When the last gun is fired, and pardon proclaimed in reconquered provinces, is it not always marked by notable exceptions? But from Christ’s pardoning mercy none are excepted save those who except themselves. It reaches the vilest sinner. It binds a zone of mercy round the world, and perish the hands that would narrow it by a hair’s breadth. None shall be damned but those who damn themselves. One might fancy that now all are certain to be saved. Who will not accept of it? Offer a starving man bread, a poor man money, a sick man health, a lifeboat in the wreck, how gladly will they be accepted! But salvation, the one thing needful, is the one thing man will not accept. He will stoop to pick up a piece of gold out of the mire, but he will not rise out of the mire to receive a crown from heaven. What infatuation!
3. All fulness of grace to sanctify. Why are the best of us no better, holier, happier? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? No. He who justified can sanctify, and with holiness give fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore. There is efficiency and sufficiency in Jesus to complete what He has begun. There are stores of grace which are like the widow’s barrel that grew no emptier for the meals it furnished. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” With a well ever flowing our vessels need never be empty. No earthly fortune will stand daily visits to the bank, but this will. You may ask too little, but you cannot ask too much; you may go too seldom, but you cannot go too often to the throne.
II. There is a constant supply of sanctifying and pardoning grace in Christ. “Dwell,” not come and go, like a wayfaring man, like a shallow, noisy, treacherous brook that fails when most needed, but like the deep-seated spring that, rising silently, though affluently, at the mountain’s foot, and having unseen communication with its exhaustless supplies, is ever flowing over its grassy margin, equally unaffected by the long droughts that dry the wells and the frosts that pave the neighbouring lake with ice. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The fulness of Christ
I. The fulness of Christ.
1. A fulness of all Divine attributes and perfections. Omnipotence in creation; omniscience, wisdom, and goodness in providence; grace in the dispensation of the Spirit; justice in the grand assize, etc., are all His. Hence fulness of worship is offered Him in heaven (Revelation 3:2) and earth.
2. A fulness of truth and wisdom for the instruction of man. John tells us that He is full of truth; Christ says, “I am the truth”; and Paul says, “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
(1) All the rays of Divine truth which have ever enlightened prophets and apostles, guided wandering sinners back to God, and blessed the Church with purity and consolation, were emanations from Him, the great Prophet of the Church.
(2) In the Scriptures we have the mind of Christ.
(3) But while the Bible is sufficient, such is the power which prejudice, unbelief, and ignorance exert over the mind, that the influence of Christ is requisite to the reception of the truth. Our prayer, then, before the open Bible should be, “Open mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things,” etc.
3. A fulness of merit to justify every believer in His name.
(1) Convinced of sin, our great question is, “How can man be just with God?” It is evident that we cannot be just in our own righteousness, nor in that of the holiest saints, for they were indebted to another for the robe they wear; nor in that of angels, for no creature, however elevated, can render an obedience exceeding the law of his creation, and consequently can have no works of supererogation which can be disposed of for the benefit of others.
(2) No cheering answer can reach us but that which comes from Calvary. By His obedience unto death, the law broken by us is honoured, its precepts fulfilled, and its penalty endured.
(3) By faith we become interested in Jesus, and thus are justified freely by His grace.
4. A fulness of power to accomplish all the purposes for which the mediatorial office was instituted. He sits upon the throne wielding the omnipotent sceptre of universal dominion, and reigns over all for the benefit of the Church.
5. A fulness of grace and compassion to relieve and comfort His afflicted servants (Hebrews 4:14).
II. It is the pleasure of the Father that this fulness should dwell in Christ.
1. It is in harmony with the Divine counsels.
2. It meets with the Divine approbation.
Conclusion: The subject--
1. Directs believers to the source of all consolation.
2. Sinners to the source of all salvation. (Congregational Remembrancer.)
Fulness of grace in Christ
I. By fulness of grace we understand all those perfections to which the term grace extends itself.
II. Why was it necessary that this fulness of grace should dwell in Christ?
1. The fitness of things required it, on account of the union of His soul with the Word. For it is proper that in proportion as anything is nearer to the influential cause, so much the more abundantly should it partake of the influence itself. Since, therefore, God Himself is the fountain of grace, the soul of Christ, so near to God, cannot but abound in grace.
2. Necessity requires it, from consideration of the end, on account of the relation between Christ and the race. For grace was to be bestowed on him, not as on a private person, but as the universal fountain from whom it might be transfused into the rest of men. But in this fountain all the parts ought to be full and combined. The evangelist shows that grace is shed abroad from Christ (John 1:16; Ephesians 4:7).
III. This fulness of grace is peculiar to Christ alone. To prove which, notice: In the saints militant there is not a fulness of grace; for it cannot consist with so many remains of the old man: for a fulness of grace leaves no room for sin. But not even in the very saints triumphant. For if one star differeth from another star in light and magnitude, then how much more does it differ from the sun? But an objection is raised, that the Virgin Mary, for instance, is said to be “full of grace” (Luke 1:28); and Stephen also “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8); and that therefore a fulness of grace is not peculiar to Christ. I answer, The fulness of grace is twofold: one may be regarded on the part of grace itself, when a man hath it in the greatest extent, both as to every kind of grace, and in the greatest perfection as to degree. This is the fulness of Christ alone. The other regards grace on the part of the possessor when a man hath it as fully and as sufficiently as his state and condition can contain. Hence observe--
1. That God is not accustomed to impose an office upon any one without at the same time conferring upon him all those powers which are necessary for the discharge of it: He lays upon Christ the office of Head of the Church; but He also imparts to Him a fulness of grace. Therefore, whoever thrust themselves into offices, for the administration of which they are altogether incompetent, are not called to them by God, but are impelled either by avarice or ambition.
2. Since there is a fulness of grace in Christ alone, we must expect its streams to flow to us from Him alone: they who seek grace elsewhere commit two evils (Jeremiah 2:13). (Bishop Davenant.)
The fulness of Christ the treasury of the saints
I. There is a glorious fulness in Jesus.
1. Enough to enable a saint to rise to the highest degree of grace. If there be anything lacking for the attainment of the Divine image, it is not a deficiency Christward; it is occasioned by shortcomings in ourselves. If sin is to be overcome, the conquering power dwells in Him in its fulness; if virtue is to be attained, sanctifying energy resides in Him to perfection.
2. Enough for the conquest of the world. The Lord God omnipotent shall reign from shore to shore. We have in Christ all the might that is needed for subduing the nations; let us go into His armoury, and we shall receive invincible weapons and almighty strength.
3. Every fulness for teaching, convincing, converting, sanctifying, and keeping unto the end.
II. The fulness is in Jesus now.
1. The glory of the past exercises a depressing influence over many Christians. Scarcely any Church realizes that it can do what its first promoters did. A people are in an evil case when their heroism is historical. In Jesus all fulness dwells for Paul, Luther, Whitfield, you and me. Christianity has not lost its pristine strength; we have lost our faith. Why should we not have a greater Pentecost than Peter saw? The times have altered, but Jesus is the Eternal.
2. A great many have their eye on the future only. But it doesn’t say that the fulness shall dwell. Whatever shall yet be done by His grace may be done to-day. Our laziness puts off the work of conquest; and want of faith makes us dote upon the millennium instead of hearing the Spirit’s voice to-day.
3. Our churches believe that there is great fulness in Christ, and that sometimes they ought to enjoy it. The progress of Christianity is to be by tides which ebb and flow. There are to be revivals like spring, which must alternate with lethargies like winter. But it is not the Lord’s pleasure that a fulness should reside in Jesus during revivals, and then withdraw. May we feel that we have not to drink of an intermittent spring, nor to work with an occasional industry!
III. The position of this fulness is encouraging to us in the matter of obtaining it. It is “in Him,” where you can receive it, in your Brother, who loves to give it. It is yours. Since Christ is yours, all that is in Him is yours. It pleases God for you to partake of it. It is a matter for gratitude that it is not placed in us, for then we should not have to go so often to Christ; nor in an angel, who would not be so attractive as Christ.
IV. We ought to use this fulness.
1. Believe in great things.
2. Expect them.
3. Attempt them.
4. Do not talk about this, but set about it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The fulness of Christ
The fulness of power which creation manifests, and the fulness of glory which the Church reveals, and the fulness of grace which the Godhead contains, dwell in Christ. That is His fulness. But oh, “how small a portion is heard of Him!” (Job 26:14). A little child is led down to our sea-coast, and is told, “That is the ocean”; a little child is taken to the sea-coast in Canada, and is told, “That is the ocean”; and a little child is taken to the sea-coast in Australia, and is told, “That is the ocean.” But the ocean fills the intervening two thousand five hundred miles between the first and second, the fourteen thousand miles between the second and third, and the fifteen thousand miles between the third and the first. They have seen the ocean, but its fulness fills all that lies between them, and all that is beyond the horizon which bounds their vision. (H. Brooke.)
No limit to the fulness in Christ
I have felt it an interesting thing to stand by the grassy edge of a rolling river, and think how it has been rolling on for six thousand years, slaking the thirst and watering the fields of a hundred generations,: and yet there is no sign of waste or want there; and it is an interesting thing to mark the sun rise above the shoulder of a mountain, or where the sky is thick with clouds to see him leap from his ocean bed, and think he has melted the snows of go many winters, revived the verdure of so many springs, painted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the corn of so many autumns, and yet is as big and as brilliant as ever, his eye not dimmed, his strength not abated, and his floods of glory none the less for centuries of profusion. But what is that rolling river, what is yon bright sun, but images of the blessed fulness that is in Jesus Christ, a fulness that should encourage the most hopeless of you to hope, a fulness that should prevail upon the vilest sinner to come, and a fulness that should animate the efforts of missionaries and of missionary societies to go on in the strength of Him who has all power in earth and heaven, who shall carry on His triumphs till the whole world has been subdued, and all the nations of this world and its kingdoms shall “become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Fulness of Christ cannot be supplemented
Truly the revelation is by no means scant, for there is vastly more revealed in the person of Christ than we shall be likely to learn in this mortal life, and even eternity will not be too long for the discovery of all the glory of God which shines forth in the person of the Word made flesh. Those who would supplement Christianity had better first add to the brilliance of the sun or the fulness of the sea. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And having made peace by the blood of His Cross.
It is great to “reconcile”; greater “through Himself”; greater, again, “through His blood”; greatest of all “through His Cross.” Here are five things to be admired--reconciliation, to God, through Himself, by death, by the Cross. (Chrysostom.)
I. By nature man is at enmity with God. As God is love, so the carnal mind is enmity; this being so much the nature, essence, element of its existence, that if you took away the enmity it would cease to be. It is not always in activity, but sins, like seeds, lie dormant, and only await circumstances to develop them. This is a doctrine into which the believer does not need to be reasoned. He feels it. The text takes it for granted; for what need can there be to make peace between friends? Not friends require to be reconciled, only foes. But does God appear as reciprocating our enmity, as the enemy of man? No; not even when He condemns him. He does not hate the sinner, though He hates his sins. He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
II. God desires to be reconciled to his enemies.
1. Man stands upon his dignity. The injured says to the injurer--and each generally thinks not himself, but the other such--“He is to come to me; I am not to go to him.” You may tell him that it is noble to make the first advances. “No,” he says, “he must acknowledge his offence, and I will not refuse my hand.” Strange terms for those to stand on who know the grace of God. If God had so dealt with us, we should have gone to hell.
2. Does God stand upon His dignity, the justice of the ease? If ever any might, it was He. No, He takes the humiliation to Himself, and might be supposed to be the injurer, not the injured. Veiling His majesty, and leaving heaven to seek our door, He stands, knocks, waits there, beseeching us as though it were a favour to be reconciled. Salvation has its fountain, not in the Cross, but in the bosom of the Father.
III. To make our peace with God, Jesus Christ laid down His life.
1. The price of pardon was nothing less than “the blood of God.”
2. Purchasing our peace at such a price, God has done more for us than for all the universe besides. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
I. The influence of the blood of the cross on God. “Peace” cannot mean the actual reconciliation of man to God, for it is prior to and with the design of afterwards effecting it. It must thereg the atmosphere of distress, nor that it seems to find time for every kind of well-doing, nor that the heart and memory are so enlarged that a range of interest ten times wider and more varied than personal interest findsroom, but that compassion, though it is not talent nor energy, stands in the stead of these and does their work. The social good that is done in the world is not the work of its greatest minds. These set themselves one great task, and gather up all their powers for its accomplishment. They are jealous even of the minutes of their time. They resist all distractions. The compassionate man gives up his time to others, and yet seems to find time for all things. Like the bread miraculously multiplied, he gives, and yet he gathers up for himself more than he gave. How great, again, is its power to find its way to the miserable heart. Convince the wretched man that you know his misery and would ease his burden, and you have already, made it lighter. Show the vicious man that you can see in him something worth caring for, and you thereby take off the despair that is at the bottom of so much vice. Let your enemy see that you have not room in your heart for any bitterness against him, and his arm will fall powerless. (Archbishop Thomson.)
Religion moves to pity
Now I would like you to mark that there is not a true grace of a Christian man, nor a true activity of the disciple of Christ, which does not lead to pity and love like this. Repentance leads to it, for repentance laments selfishness as the essence of its evil, and dreads relapsing into a religion which would be merely a selfishness refined; and repentance remembers its lost estate, the fearful pit and miry clay, and pities those that are still struggling in it; so repentance cherishes love and moves to pity. Faith kindles these virtues. You cannot take refuge in the heart of Christ, and build your hope upon redeeming love, and rejoice in His saving pity that stooped to Calvary, without catching some of the qualities on which you rest. Your heart softens with the warmth of that heart on which it rests, and is kindled by the pity in which it takes refuge. As our faith leads to these qualities, decision moves to them. Except we deny ourselves we cannot be disciples. Self-renunciation, which is the beginning of discipleship, leaves the heart free So cherish love. The comforts of religion move to them. Forgiveness, and peace, and hope, and gratitude swell the heart with the question, “What shall I render?” and move it to share its mercies with those that still lack them. All adoration of God kindles them. In the degree in which we see Him as He is, see Him in the face of Christ, see Him as He weeps over Jerusalem or groans on Calvary, in the degree in which we see the pitiful woe that sometimes fills God’s heart: in that degree we are changed. All hope changes the heart and fills it with this spirit. Hope of earthly providence and hope of immortal heaven, both move men to pity and to love. Every step you take in following Christ kindles pity, for when He leads it is not always unto green pastures and rapturous heights: it is to the haunts of misery, to the widows of Nain, to homes of grief. He would use us, borrows our hand to wipe away a tear, our voice to still a grief. Exactly in that degree in which He employs us, and we follow Him step by step, exactly in that degree do we catch the spirit in which He lived, and the compassion which is the everlasting motive and the perpetual habit of our God. So that I want you to observe that there is not a single Christian instinct, activity, relationship, employment, or grace which does not work out in love and pity. (R. Glover.)
Pity the secret of prophetic light
I want to point out that in love and pity, such as is here expressed, you have not merely the work of the disciple, but you have the secret of prophetic light: that Paul’s light was due, not to his genius, not to his erudition, not even so much specially to heavenly effulgence that visited him, as to the fact that he had a heart of love and pity that could enter and absorb the light of God. Is it not obvious that it was so? We know God by what is kindred to Him, and by what resembles Him. It was Paul’s love of man that could read God’s love of man, that gazed on God till “the shadow” grew into a “face” and the “face” of God was seen glowing with infinite love. He would have been in the darkness till now if his love had not permitted him to see God’s love. The light is ever shining. It is the eye, the eye of the heart, that is wanted; and that he had. He looked on man, not with the cynical eye that sees only what moves men to despair of, or to despise them; but he looked with a loving heart, and could see the world in God’s light; something that made man a pearl of great price in his Saviour’s eyes. He could see Divine movings in them; high capacity; possibilities of change; unrest--all these Divine elements, on which grace could move, and which grace could lead to light. He looked in the face of Christ, and his yearning permitted him to behold Christ’s yearning, so that his love and his pity enlarged his heart, and opened it to light. He walked in the light of the Lord, and truths too grand for poorer eyes lay naked and open to his. One of the greatest theologians of the century, Neander, Wok for his motto, “It is the heart that makes the theologian.” And one of the greatest historians, Niebuhr, uttered some similar words: “I have said, again and again, I will have no metaphysical deity, but the God of the Bible, who is heart to heart.” (R. Glover.)
The blessings of a benignant spirit
I. In what kindness consists.
1. In a disposition to be pleased; a willingness to be satisfied with others. This goes a long way towards our being actually pleased. This temper stands opposed to the spirit of fault-finding, the propensity to magnify trifles.
2. In a disposition to attribute to others good motives when we can do so. One of the rights of every man is to have it supposed that he acts with good intentions until it is proved to the contrary.
3. In bearing with the infirmities of others. We do not journey long with a fellow traveller before we find that he is far from perfection, and the closer our relations become the more necessity there is for bearing patiently the foibles of others. In the most tender connexions, that of husband and wife, etc., it may require much of a gentle and yielding spirit to so adapt ourselves that life shall move on smoothly and harmoniously. When there is a disposition to do this me soon learn to bear and forbear,, and to avoid the look, gesture, allusion, that would excite improperly the mind of our friend. Like children, we must allow each other to build his own play-house in his own way. Conscious of our own imperfection we must be indulgent to others.
4. In not blaming others harshly when they fall into sin. In no circumstances do men need kindness so much as here. We weep with the bereaved, we sympathize with the unfortunate; but when a man is overtaken in a fault our sympathies frequently die. Yet they ought then to be in fullest operation (Galatians 6:1). Remember--
(1) He is a brother still.
(3) An explanation may remove the difficulty, therefore give him the opportunity.
5. It prompts us to aid others when in our power. If relief cannot be afforded it should be declined with a gentle and benevolent heart.
II. Its value.
1. Much of the comfort of life depends upon it. Life is made up of little things, which, if displaced, render us miserable. Breathing, the beating of the heart, the circulation of the blood, are small matters, and ordinarily scarcely noticed, but when deranged we are sensible of their importance. So in morals and social intercourse. The happiness of life depends not so much on great and glorious deeds as on quiet duties, the gentle spirit, the cheerful answer, the smiling face, etc.
2. Usefulness depends upon it. This and far more than on deeds which excite general admiration. The rivulet that glides through the meadow is far more useful than the grand cataract. Kindness prompts us to seek the good and happiness of others. And it is by this, and not by great martyrdoms, that men will judge of the nature of the gospel. All usefulness may be prevented by a sour temper. Nothing will compensate for the want of that charity which is “kind.”
3. It is commended by the example of Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:1). Christ performed great deeds, but not that we should imitate them. But He was meek and gentle that we might be so too. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The fundamental idea of kindness is ascertained by tracing the connection between kindred or kin and kindness. The latter is the feeling natural to us in relation to our own kind.
1. Take the innermost circle of kindred, the home, and that which constitutes its sweetness is kindness. Unkindness, then, is most unnatural. In German and Dutch the word for child is kind. Kindness was first of all the relation of a child to its parents, and then the feeling of a parent for a child. That was the original and architypal kindness, is its ever present and undying element, and gives character and tone to all the more extended instances of kindness which ripple out with the extension of our kinship.
2. Though our kindred begins in our homes it does not end there. We have remoter relatives to whom it is our duty, and the prompting of our natures, to be kind. Our nation consists of individuals who are of our own kind, and we ought to be kindly towards them all. And then our kith and kin are found in colonies, and the parent state should always feel kindly towards them, and when any colony grows into an independent nation, like the United States of America, it would be a calamity and a sin if kindliness on either side were to cease.
3. The family relationship extends farther than to those who manifest their kinship by the use of the common mother tongue, embalmed in the English Bible. The Dutch and Germans are our cousins, so are the Danes; and there was a time when the Greeks also, and the Romans belonged to the same family circle. Their ancestors came from the same paternal home in Asia from which our ancestors came; and so with the Hindoos, and hence the old old words which are common to the now diverse languages.
4. Indeed, all the nations are kindred to each other. All the families of the earth belong to the great family of man--mankind; hence all owe kindness to one another. Hence Peter exhorts us to add to our godliness brotherly kindness. Some think it more difficult to attain the former than the latter. In some respects it is, in others not: and so the apostle urges us to seek the latter by way of the former. In mere speculation we might have supposed that man must first climb to the terrestrial thing--“brotherly kindness”--and thence ascend to the celestial. But the reverse is the true and better order. We must first get right with God the Father--then, and not till then, shall we get right with man the brother. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The power of kindness
“Go away from there, you old beggar boy!, You’ve no right to be looking at our flowers,” shouted a little fellow from the garden where he was standing. The poor boy, who was pale, dirty, and ragged, was leaning against the fence, admiring the splendid show of roses and tulips within. His face reddened with anger at the rude language, and he was about to answer defiantly, when a little girl sprang out from an arbour near, and looking at both, said to her brother,--“How could you speak so, Herbert! I’m sure his looking at the flowers don’t hurt us.” And then, to soothe the wounded feelings of the stranger, she added: “Little boy, I’ll pick you some flowers, if you’ll wait a moment,” and she immediately gathered a pretty bouquet, and handed it through the fence. His face brightened with surprise and pleasure, and he earnestly thanked her. Twelve years after this occurrence, the girl had grown to a woman. One bright afternoon she was walking with her husband in the garden, when she observed a young man in workman’s dress, leaning over the fence, and looking attentively at her and at the flowers. Turning to her husband, she said,--“It does me good to see people admiring the garden; I’ll give that young man some of the flowers;” and approaching him she said, “Are you fond of flowers, sir? It will give me great pleasure to gather you some.” The young workman looked a moment into her fair face, and then said in a voice tremulous with feeling: “Twelve years ago I stood here a ragged little beggar boy, and you showed me the same kindness. The bright flowers and your pleasant words made a new boy of me; aye, and they have made a man of me, too. Your face, madam, has been a light to me in many dark hours of life; and now, thank God, though that boy is still an humble, hard working man, he is an honest and grateful one.” Tears stood in the eyes of the lady as, turning to her husband, she said, “God put it into my young heart to do that kindness, and see how great a reward it has brought.” (American Agriculturist.)
Humbleness of mind.--
I. The nature of this temper: A low apprehension or esteem of ourselves (Romans 12:3), the opposite to pride and arrogance. The word leads us to consider the disposition of mind; for there may be a humility of behaviour which covers a very proud heart. In consists of--
1. A humble apprehension of our own knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1). There is nothing of which men are more proud. Many would sooner bear a reflection on their moral characters than on their understandings. The serpent was early sensible that this was man’s weak side (Genesis 3:5). And no kind of pride has more need of a cure (Job 11:12). So it will include--
(2) An apprehension of our own fallibility. Humility in this view would teach us
(a) not on that account to surrender ourselves to the absolute control of others. To this Rome would lead us in pretence of infallibility; and if any others would lead us to such an implicit faith in their dictates, while they disclaim infallibility, their claim is still more absurd. We must answer for ourselves to God in the great day; and therefore it can neither be a laudable nor a safe humility to take our religion from the dictates of fallible men.
(b) But a just apprehension of our liableness to mistake should induce us in all our searches after Divine truth to be very desirous of Divine illumination and guidance (Psalms 25:4-5). It should keep us ever open to further light and willing to learn.
(3) A moderate apprehension of our own attainments in knowledge when we compare them with the attainments of other men (1 Corinthians 13:9; 1 Corinthians 8:2). If some know less, others know more than we.
(4) A persuasion of the small value of the most exalted knowledge without a suitable practical influence (John 13:7; Luke 12:47-48). A man of low attainments, if his heart is right with God, is truly acceptable; while a resolved sinner, though he understood all mysteries, will be eternally disowned by Him. Exalted knowledge may leave a man of no better a temper than a devil.
2. Humble thoughts of our own goodness. Not that we are to be insensible to anything that is truly good in us; but Christian humility includes--
(1) A sense of the undeservingness of our own goodness at the bands of God even if it was perfect (Luke 17:10).
(2) An apprehension of the disparity between the goodness of God and that of any creature (Luke 18:19).
(3) An affecting conviction of our own sinfulness (Luke 5:31-32).
(4) A sense of the imperfection of our goodness at its best (Psalms 19:12).
(6) A modest apprehension of our own goodness compared with that of other men (Philippians 2:3).
3. A humble sense of our dependence and wants--
(1) As regards God.
(a) In the sphere of nature (Acts 17:28).
(b) In the sphere of grace. We should have a deep sense of our need of His mercy to pardon our sins and His grace to help our infirmities.
(2) As regards our fellow-creatures. It is ordered by the law of our creation that we cannot comfortably subsist independent of them (Ecclesiastes 5:9). Every link in the chain of societies contributes to the good of the whole (1 Corinthians 12:21; 1 Corinthians 12:24). And then in the changeableness of human affairs, those who are now in the most prosperous estate know not how soon they may need the kind offices of the lowliest.
4. A modest apprehension of our own rank and station.
(1) As compared with God we cannot think too low of ourselves (Isaiah 40:15). All our relations to Him bespeak the profoundest submission, as His creatures, subjects, children (Psalms 8:4; Psalms 144:3; Job 7:17). Humility will teach us to dispute neither the precepts nor the providences of Him who has a natural authority over us.
(2) Revelation teaches us that we are beneath other invisible beings (Psalms 7:5).
(3) For our fellow-creatures we should consider them all as of the same nature with us, and therefore near akin (Acts 17:26), and that distinctions in outward circumstances are in the account of God and in themselves but little things (Romans 13:7; Romans 12:16).
II. The special obligations which rest on Christians to cultivate this temper.
1. Humility is a grace of the first rank.
(3) It is in its own nature a necessary introduction to the other graces and duties of Christianity. This is not a religion for the proud but for the lowly.
(a) Humility is necessary to faith. Without this we shall not have a disposition to receive a revelation. Pride and self-sufficiency was the reason why Christ crucified was a stumbling-block to the Jew, etc.
(b) To obedience. A proud heart says, “Who is the Lord over me?” Humility asks, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
(d) To the reception of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
(e) To perseverance, for without it we shall be ready to take offence at crosses.
(f) To the reception of assistance in the way to heaven from other men. Those who are wise in their own conceit despise admonitions.
(g) To the performance of Christian duty.
2. It is this grace which adorns every other virtue and recommends religion to every beholder (1 Peter 5:5).
3. It is recommended by the example of Christ.
(4) He was the pattern of the greatest humility to mankind.
4. Humility is a grace which will go along with us to heaven. The only inhabitants of that world who were ever lifted up with pride have been cast out. The angels abase themselves (Isaiah 6:2-3; Revelation 4:10; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 7:11; Revelation 11:16), and humility will receive a glorious reward (Matthew 25:1-46.). Like charity, it never faileth. (Dr. Evans.)
Humility a safeguard
A French general, riding on horseback at the head of his troops, heard a soldier complain and say, “It is very easy for the general to command us forward while he rides and we walk.” Then the general dismounted and compelled the complaining soldier to get on his horse. Coming through a ravine a bullet from a sharpshooter struck the rider and he fell dead. Then the general said,” How much safer it is to walk than to ride.”
Humility and cheerfulness
Observe the peculiar characters of the grass which adapt it especially for the service of man are humility and cheerfulness--its humility, in that it seems created only for lowest service, appointed to be trodden on and fed upon; its cheerfulness, in that it seems to exalt under all kinds of violence and suffering. You roll it, and it is the stronger next day; you mow it, and it multiplies its shoots as if it were grateful; you tread upon it, and it only sends up richer perfume. Spring comes, and it rejoices with all the earth, glowing with variegated flame of flowers, waving in soft depth of fruitful strength. Winter comes, and though it will not mock its fellow-plants by growing then, it will not pine and mourn, and turn colourless or leafless as they. It is always green, and is only the brighter and gayer for the hoar frost. (J. Ruskin.)
Meekness: its nature
Meekness is love at school, at the Saviour’s school. It is the disciple learning to know himself, to fear, distrust, and abhor himself. It is the disciple practising the sweet, but self-emptying lesson of putting on the Lord Jesus, and finding all his righteousness in that righteous other. It is the disciple learning the defects of his own character, and taking hints from hostile as well as friendly monitors. It is the disciple praying and watching for the improvement of his talents, the mellowing of his temper, and the amelioration of his character. It is the loving Christian at his Saviour’s feet, learning from Him who is meek and lowly, and finding rest for his own soul. (James Hamilton, D. D.)
Meekness: its blending
It is power blended with gentleness, boldness with humility, the harmlessness of the dove with the prowess of the lion. It is the soul in the majesty of self-possession, elevated above the precipitant, the irascible, the boisterous, the revengeful, it is the soul throwing its benignant smiles on the furious face of the foe, and penetrating his heart and paralyzing his arm with the look of love. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Meekness: its power
Sir Walter Raleigh, a man of courage and honour, was once insulted by a hot-headed youth, who challenged him, and on his refusal spat upon him in public. The knight, taking out his handkerchief, made this reply: “Young man, if I could as easily wipe your blood from my conscience as I can this injury from my face, I would this moment take away your life.” The youth was so struck with a sense of his misbehaviour that he fell upon his knees and asked forgiveness. (E. Foster.)
Meekness: its blessedness
It is in the lowly valley that the sun’s warmth is truly genial; unless indeed there are mountains so close and abrupt as to overshadow it. Then noisome vapours may be bred there; but otherwise, in the valley we may behold the wonderful blessing bestowed upon the meek that they shall inherit the earth. It is theirs for this very reason, because they do not seek it. They do not exalt their heads like icebergs, which, by the by, are driven away from earth, and cluster--or rather jostle--round the pole; but they flow along the earth humbly and silently; and wherever they flow they bless it; and so all its beauty and all its richness are reflected in their peaceful bosoms. (Archdeacon Hare.)
Meekness: its usefulness
The timber of the elder tree is the softest, and can without difficulty be split, eat, and wrought, and yet it does not rot in water. The greater part of the city of Venice stands upon piles of eider, which, sunk into the sea, form the foundation of massive buildings. It is the same with meek hearts. There is no better foundation for important undertakings of public or private utility than that intelligent modesty which is gentle indeed, and ready to yield as far as a good conscience will allow, but which, nevertheless, lasts and continues stable, in the flood of contradiction. (Gotthold.)
Long-suffering is threefold.--
I. In judgment; when, in doubtful cases, we suspend our opinions and censures.
II. In words; which consists either in not answering, or in giving soft answers.
III. In deeds; when we render not evil for evil. (N. Byfield.)
Some years ago I had in my garden a tree that never bore. One day I was going down, with my axe in my hand, to fell it. My wife met me in the pathway and pleaded for it, saying, “Why, the spring is now very near; stay, and see whether there may not be some change; and, if not, you can deal with it accordingly.” As I never repented following her advice, I yielded to it now; and what was the consequence? In a few weeks the tree was covered in blossoms; and in a few weeks more it was bending with fruit. “Ah!” said I, “this should teach me not to cut down too soon,” i.e., not to consider persons incorrigible or abandoned too soon, so as to give up hope and the use of the means in their behalf. (W. Jay.)