- A word on spoilings and beguilings.
The Lord can bring good to His people out of any evil. These Christians at Colosse were in danger of not "holding the Head;" that is, of slipping away from the consciousness of being in Christ, through getting beguiled into subjection to ordinances. To meet this, the apostle urges them back, showing them how the believer has everything in Christ, and not anything out of Christ. In result, we get much precious teaching as to the fulness of the Head for the body, as well as solemn warning against a practical separation from our standing of union with the Head, through the allowance of religiousness in the flesh. Everything is based on union with Christ risen and glorified. But then, if here, as in the epistle to the Ephesians, we get this great truth as a basis, the Colossians are addressed on somewhat lower ground than the Ephesians, who were standing fast in the faith of it, and could profit by teaching which unfolded to them the whole extent of the Church's privileges, inasmuch as they have to be got up to the point from which the Christian's thoughts and feelings should ever flow - his standing and privileges in Christ. The epistle to each is perfect in its place.* The stedfastness of the one and the failure of the other have both been made to subserve the blessing of the church in all ages.
*A great part of New Testament Scripture had, as the occasion for its being written, mischief done by Satan in the church. The epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians are examples of this. Man gets humbled in it, but God overrules it for greater blessing.
The moment we look to ordinances, as it regards position before God, we are slipping away from Christ; something is brought in between us and the Head. God's thought of completeness is Christ; if, therefore, I have the thought of not having already all perfection, everything I need, in Him, I am leaving Christ. "Ye are" (it is not said ye shall be) "complete in him." (v. 10.) If there is anything for me to obtain, there comes in at once some means of obtaining it. If the body is united to the Head, or (which, in respect of the individual, is the same thing) if I am one* with Christ, I have in Him all I need. I may have to be taught about it, and to seek grace to manifest it; but the moment I think I have to obtain what is in Christ, a subtle form of self-righteousness is at work - I must do something. No matter what shape this may assume, prayer, or works, or anything else, I am not "holding the Head." One in possession of an estate may have to see about that estate, but were he to say, I must get possession of it, he would be all wrong.
*This is not merely true of the church, in an abstract manner (the religion of the flesh can be orthodox), faith is an individual thing, and places him who possesses it in the enjoyment - or personally under the effects - of its object.
Christ is revealed to the humble soul. Intellectual attainment is not in question here, it is no matter of great learning or of philosophy. "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" The "things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." The most transcendent mind could never discover the ways of God; we get effort, but never success in attaining to that which the simplest Christian knows (things "hidden from the wise and prudent," but "revealed unto babes") - the painful efforts of man in arriving at darkness. "What is truth?" asked Pilate, and crucified Christ. Christ is the Truth, and the humble, simple soul of a poor sinner taught of God has it perfectly; he may not have realized it, but he has it all there, "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Righteousness too; He is the righteous One, and we are made "the righteousness of God in him." Life, "in Him is life," and He is "our life." As to all that is divine and eternal, there is not anything out of Christ.
At the commencement of the chapter, the apostle speaks of the great conflict he had had on behalf of these saints, that their "hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God,. and of the Father, and of Christ," etc. (v. 2-10.) God is about to gather together all things in Christ (Eph. 1:8-10), and the church is associated with Him who is this centre "And this I say," he continues, "lest any man should beguile you with enticing words (pretending to bring you a mass of wisdom and knowledge in all manner of things that are not Christ). For though I am absent in the body, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ." (vv. 4, 5.) 'It is all well to have Christ for Christianity,' he may come and say (alas! how often is this said!), 'but is there to be nothing else besides Christ?' No, not anything. We cannot deal with the plants of this earth, without dealing with that which belongs to Christ; and if we deal with them without Christ, we sin. We are exiled from paradise, and have forfeited everything. Forgetfulness of all that had taken place, thorough blinding of heart and hardening of conscience marked the way of Cain, till at last, when driven out from the presence of the Lord, he sought to make that world, into which God had sent him forth a fugitive and a vagabond, (the very name of the place in which he dwelt, "the land of Nod," means "the land of a vagabond") as agreeable an abode as practicable apart from God. And all that man is now doing, to inherit the earth without Christ, he is doing according to Cain, settling himself down as a poor sinner, in a world like this. The Christian acknowledges that he has forfeited everything; he cannot talk about "my rights," in using anything for himself, he would be using it as a poor guilty rebel. He trusts in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; he eats his meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God; whatever he does, in word or in deed, he does all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks unto God and the Father by Him. To him there is not anything outside Christ, all belongs to Christ, and it is as a Christian that he enjoys it.
Let us not suppose that this "mystery of God" is some great knowledge. Where the heart has so owned itself a sinner and everything to be in Christ, it has owned Christ as centre of all; it has received Him for forgiveness, and it has all in Him. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord," he continues, "so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." (vv. 6, 7.) Everything I get, I get from God's love.
"Beware lest any man spoil you - despoil or cheat you of your blessing - through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." The tradition of men is never faith - truth or error, it is never faith; it is natural, and belongs to man. Faith is the reception of a divine testimony by the soul, so that God Himself is believed; and further, it is founded on His testimony alone. Man may be the instrument of leading me into truth (a sign-post shows me my way), but I cannot believe man (i.e. I cannot believe because man says it); I believe God. We have believed Satan when we were enjoying God's blessings; now God calls upon us to believe Himself. Herein is the real return of the soul to God. If I believe because "the Church" has put its authority or its sanction on that which I believe, I am just simply saying that I do not believe God. The Bible is the word of God; God has given a testimony carrying His authority with it, which testimony I am bound to believe, otherwise I despise God's testimony. To believe because man says it, or because "the Church" says it, is to make God a liar; for when I had only what God said, I did not believe. It is well to look this distinctly and definitely in the face. There are two things: 1st, that which I believe - the fulness, riches, and perfection of Christ; and 2ndly, the ground on which I believe it. Now as to the latter, if a person were to tell me something, in order really to believe that person's testimony I must receive what he said because he said it. If I cannot believe God, why is it? My eyes are holden; I cannot believe when God speaks; He has not failed in giving the testimony. The only rightness in regard of this is, to believe what God says because He says it; in other words, to believe God. To tell a person, "I will believe what you say when I get it sanctioned by another," is not to trust him. To require "the Church's" testimony to accredit God's word is to disbelieve - to dishonour God. In doing this I am, as it respects moral position, infidel in regard of God.
But more: Christ is a heavenly Christ - He is not of this world; He was from heaven, and He has gone back to heaven. Hence all that is "after the rudiments of the world," beautifully suited though it be to human nature, and calculated to make man pious,* is not "after Christ." That which has not been in heaven can only tell about heaven at second-hand; all that is not simply Christ's revelation of Himself does not belong to heaven. He says, "No man has ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." Who else could? And therefore no matter what man tells me, or what man has said about heaven, be it what the ancients have said or what "the Church" has said, I cannot believe it. That which is "after the rudiments of the, world" is exactly opposed to heaven. The moment we get what is suited to the flesh, or makes a fair show in the flesh, it belongs to the world; it is not "after Christ."
*The religion of the flesh is altogether as evil as its lusts; for after all it is but one of them, though covered up with the veil of works and of holiness. It can be occupied much in good works, be without reproach as to conduct, have much of self-denial, much of piety, plenty of humility, be much occupied with the love of God but while pretending perhaps to found it upon His love (which is infinite), it will be that love which is in the heart - our love to Him, One may ask, But if all these things can exist in a person and be nothing but the flesh, how can we discern the true circumcision? IT REJOICES IN CHRIST JESUS. Nothing is easier than to judge these things, IF CHRIST IS OUR ALL. The fact that He is so makes us feel without hesitancy that all this is flesh, and yields its help to that which destroys Christianity from its foundations. The flesh is very pious when it acts the pious, for it always rejoices in ITSELF.
"For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." (v. 9.) There is here something exceedingly blessed, it is not a Pilate's "What is truth?" nor yet a seeking of the Lord, if haply we might feel after Him and find Him (Paul's expression in regard of the heathen), but (as John speaks; "that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life" (1 John 1:1), that which is brought home to the senses of men. In place of working up the feelings to seek after something, God has come down to us, poor wretched creatures that we are. But God is there. He has come down to us in our sins and miseries bodily. I do not get a heap of stories, patched up nobody knows how, to act on my senses, and work on my imagination; it is the God who saves me. But He will be always God. There is not a trouble, there is not a distress, there is not a feeling in the heart of man, that is not met in Christ (and, after all, we do want something to fill the heart, we are men, and we want what man wants), not as a doctrine merely, but bodily. We find in Him that which is to be found nowhere else. Let it be the most loving person possible, he has not loved me and died for me. But then I get, not simply the love of a gracious person, there is in Him "all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." All flights of the imagination are checked, for I meet it in the Holy One, though I meet it in all my wants.
"And ye are complete in Him." (v. 10.) Not only have I all I want, but I am all I need to be, in Him. I must appear before God, I have to say to God, as a responsible being - looked at as to what I am in myself, I am lost; in Christ, I am complete, as complete as Christ is, for I am complete in Him. There are these two sides, if God is manifested to us, we must also be manifested before God. Blessed be God! I have not anything to seek out of Christ, as to completeness. And mark: it is not merely what there is, but what we have in Christ. Our hearts are so deceitful and treacherous, they do like to get in a little bit of their own. But, let it be humility, or what else it may, there is no room found here for anything of self. In us, that is, in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing. There is neither righteousness, nor holiness, nor humility out of Christ.
The Jews were looking to a variety of forms; we have all in Christ. A person talks to me about getting absolution from a priest, I do not want it, I had it years ago in Christ. Another says, 'You will receive the Holy Ghost in this or in that particular way,' I have received the Holy Ghost already. So, in regard of what the apostle speaks of here ("In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." v. 11), we have done with sin, we are dead to it, in Christ.* He goes on to show how: "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." (v. 12.) We have done with the flesh, in Christ; it is not an effort to have done with it, we are dead. he does not say, 'Die to the flesh' (neither does Scripture anywhere speak thus), nor yet 'Die to sin.' Such an expression is in itself a clear proof that he who uses it does not know the gospel simply. But we do find it said, "Mortify your members which are upon the earth," etc. (Col. 3:5.) This supposes us to be dead, and to have our life hid with Christ in God. Elsewhere the apostle says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20.) All that Christ is and all that Christ has done* is mine in Him; has He been put to death, so have I; is He risen again, so am I; therefore I am able to "mortify," etc. We cannot mix these two things (in our minds we often do, and hence confusion);** Christ's having died unto sin for me, is my power for being dead practically to sin. To make this still clearer, if need be, see the argument of Rom. 6 "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?.... in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body," etc. The moment the eye rests on Him, faith says, 'I am dead to sin.'
*It is all ascribed by God to me, as though it had happened to myself.
**The true mortification of the flesh is accomplished through grace, in the consciousness of grace. Without this, there is only the effort of a soul under law, and in that case, a bad conscience and no strength. This is what sincere monks attempted, but their efforts were not made in the power of grace, of Christ, and His strength. If there was sincerity, there was also the deepest spiritual misery.
And mark how this is brought in. The faith is not in my being risen, but in Christ's having been raised. This distinction is far from unimportant. Many a sincere soul is continually turning in upon itself to know if it be risen; but this is not "the faith of the operation of God." Peter says, "You, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith, and hope might be in God." (1 Peter 1:21.) So Paul, "to whom it shall be imputed; if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." My soul, knowing that all that is flesh is condemned, that there is no good thing in it, has given up seeking good from it; God has found plenty of evil, and I have done so too (He may have allowed me to struggle on in the hopeless endeavour to better it); but I look out of myself, and I see that God has raised Christ from the dead. "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." (Rom. 8:3.) My confidence is in this, that God has raised Christ from the dead, when He was there for me. But then, if this sets aside everything that I am in myself before God, it sets it aside for acceptance also. Am I saying, 'There is no good at all in my flesh, it must die, I cannot mend it;' it is dead, the whole old thing gone, I am in heaven in Him, who has been raised from the dead, and now I have to "mortify," etc.
"And you, who were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (v. 13.) Here comes in another blessed truth. Instead of its being a question as to the flesh getting better, not only is it condemned already, but we have been quickened together with Christ. This is no mere doctrine; Christ is our life. I am in this new man before God. And what has become of all my sins? They are gone. They were put away on the cross, "He bore our sins in His own body on the tree," when He rose again. they were all gone. What can give me such a sense of the heinousness, the hatefulness of my sins, as seeing Christ bearing them! But they are gone.
"Blotting out the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." (v. 14.) He is not setting men to obtain righteousness through that which quickens sin and works condemnation. Am I saying, 'I have not done this,' or 'I have not done that,' where there is the obligation of some act and it is not fulfilled, there is condemnation. In taking up the Lord's Supper - that sweet, and blessed, and holy memorial* of Christ's death, the joy of my heart, so as to put it between myself and Christ, I am not "holding the Head." Christ has taken ordinances out of the way; it is the flesh that does them; let it be a penance, it is the flesh that does it; the same thing that put away sin, put away ordinances; the man who had the sin and was to do the ordinances is dead, because Christ has died. I am alive in Christ, who is alive again from the dead; He is my life. I do not need to obtain a standing before God through any ordinance. Had I to perform the smallest act, as that through which I needed to get completeness before God, it would be a denial of the perfectness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
*The Passover was the memorial of the deliverance out of Egypt for Israel. The Supper is the memorial not only of our deliverance, but of the love of Him who has delivered us.
But more: those "principalities and powers," with whom we have to contend (Eph. 6:12), have been "spoiled," He has "made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." (v. 15.) Does Satan come and accuse me; it is all true, but my sins are gone, God has said He will remember them no more. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Why flee? Because of having already met Christ. Is it temptation through the agreeable things of the world, or the sorrows and trials of life, or the power of death? he has been "spoiled," his power is gone for faith. (Heb. 2:14.) Death, to the believer, is but a departing to be with Christ; all that it could be from Satan, or from the wrath of God, Christ has gone through for him; but He has gone through it, and He is now with God. Dead and risen with Christ, yet here in a dying body, if I put it off, "absent from the body," I shall be "present with the Lord."
And now, having shown us how we have everything in Christ, and not anything out of Him - completeness in the presence of God, and perfect deliverance from all that we are in ourselves, as also from all that is, or could be used, against us, as in ourselves, he goes on to say: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." (vv. 16, 17.) What perfect liberty! we need to see that we use it holily, but it is a perfect liberty.
A "holy-day" (it is well to call it so, as indicative of its meaning) was one God had made to be esteemed above another; this and other things, the meats, and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances of Judaism, had their time and use; "the body is of Christ." In Him we have that which they were designed to typify. If I take them up now, I take up the shadow and not the substance; it is a mere shadow, but, in setting it up again, I make it substantive, and deny Christ. This may be done through ignorance, still it ought to be treated as a thorough infirmity, the soul has not the knowledge of what it is in Christ; whilst ignorance has to be borne with, the saint is beguiled of his reward.
"Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head." (v. 18.) I may talk much about "saints and angels in heaven," their glories, and the like, and call this humility; but it is not so, it is in reality the very opposite, a being puffed up in my fleshly mind. Whilst thus intruding into things I have not seen, I am losing knowledge needed by all saints. The weakest believer is as much one with Christ as an apostle, and as complete in Him. It might seem more humble to say, 'I am this, that, or the other thing;' but can we do without Christ? Do you reply, 'I have not arrived at such a position'? then you are expecting to attain it - that is presumption. - It is because we are lost, poor, and blind, and miserable, and naked, and have nothing in ourselves, we have this all in Christ.
The moment he has brought them there, left nothing between them and Christ, 'Now,' he says (v. 19), 'there is that which flows down from the Head, that which has to be manifested in the members.' We have not a single grace, or thought of grace, until we are complete; we must be united to the Head. People are looking to that to make them complete which they cannot have until they are in that position. Whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we have to do it all to the glory of God; let it be but the purchasing of some article of dress, I should do it for Christ, to please Him. This is our one rule, to do all for Christ; and both as to inward graces and outward manners, the more I realize what Christ is for me, the better shall I know what is pleasing to Him; here spirituality comes in. It is not man increasing in order to get to God, it is "increasing with the increase of God" - all flows down from Christ's fulness.
In Christ I am not "living in the world;" I am "dead with Him to the rudiments of the world." (v. 20-23.) If really dead to the flesh, I cannot be looking to ordinances to get the flesh bettered. But the tendency of our hearts is ever to this; and God has met that tendency. If the flesh must be laboured to see if any good could be got out of it, He has taken it up, and proved that after all had been done for it that could be done there was no good in it; God could get no good from it. Still here is our danger; religiousness in the flesh is that against which there is this special warning. And with all its specious appearance, what does the apostle call it? "Will worship." It may have a great character for humility, but it is the most positive and terrible pride before God; it does not look like this; it looks like mortifying the flesh and putting it down. The only thing that will deliver from it is, the knowledge of our completeness, and a walking in the power of a dead and risen Christ.
*The tendency of bodily austerities, as shown by the apostle here, instead of being really to subdue and mortify the flesh, is to satisfy and exalt it. We are thus taught a most important truth - the difference between the BODY and the FLESH. The very neglecting and afflicting of the former, and not yielding it any honour or respect, may contribute to the inflation of the latter. The BODY may be sanctified to God, may be nourished and used for God, may glorify God; the FLESH never. The body may be the servant of the spirit; the flesh never, for it is ESSENTIALLY opposed to God. (Rom. 8:7, 8.)
Here there is rest for the heart (there will be conflict still; we have not in that sense rest yet); my eye turned from myself, I rest in Christ; there I can delight, and there God delights; I have a common feeling with God. All that I see in Christ is mine; all that perfection that my soul delights in is my perfection before God.
There are these two truths: all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ, and we are complete in Him. My need is met.
God has come down to me in Christ. Am I troubled about my sins - where shall I find any so gracious to me as Christ? I can tell to Him what I dare not to another. Brethren may be kind and sympathizing, but I can tell out my heart to Christ as to no one else. Well, it is to God, and He does not reproach me. All the infinitude of love is brought down to display itself in kindness to a poor sinner; I meet it by my wants, my sorrows, my failures, my sins. The poor woman of the city had not a mouth to tell it out; she was weeping at His feet about her sins; but she had found One who could so meet her in them as to give confidence to her heart, whilst conscience was awakened in the very deepest way. I never add to that fulness; all the majesty of God is there. On the other hand conscience is awakened; God is a holy God, and how shall I appear before Him. The same Christ who is God towards man, is man before God for us. He has come down to meet me in my sins, and He has gone up to be my righteousness before God.
If we desire to manifest Him - the life of Christ in daily walk and conduct - it must flow out from Him; and for this, the flesh has to be mortified, and Satan resisted. "We are not our own, we are bought with a price; let us therefore glorify God with our bodies, and spirits, which are his." In doing anything for myself, I am a dishonest person; He bought me when I was the slave of Satan.
Reader, is your soul honouring God by resting thus in the completeness of Christ? or are you seeking to honour self in ekeing out a righteousness, it matters not how - by doings or by feelings? A child ought to have right feelings for its parent; but if that child is making a merit of its feelings, it is destroying the whole thing. Looking for feelings to make out righteousness through (while feelings are right), is just as bad as looking to works.
The Lord give us so to know that we are complete in Christ, that we may have blessed and happy liberty, loving and serving Him in love, because He has given us all we need, has loved us, saved us, and made us complete.