Colossians 2:20 - 3:17.
E. L. Bevir.
Christian Friend vol. 18, 1891, p. 323.
In the Epistle to the Colossians we have death and resurrection with Christ, and these two truths are insisted upon in chapters 2:20 - 3:4.
It is not merely an exhortation to avoid worldliness, but the fact of being in an entirely new position by death with Christ, so that the apostle can say, "Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?" It is an immense thing for a saint to understand what death with Christ is, as this epistle presents it. I think some one has said, that in this part of the word of God the saint is looked at as being just on the Canaan brink of the Jordan - dead and risen with Christ, and having the country before him, so that he can already seek the things that are above. The ark (Christ) remained in the bed of the Jordan whilst Israel passed over to the right bank. Here we must stop, for the Epistle to the Colossians does not look upon us as seated in the heavenly places.
"If ye be dead with Christ . . . why are ye subject to ordinances?" etc. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God." It is very evident that there is nothing here on earth that can nourish our souls, not one single thing. Christ is hidden in God. He is our life, and the day shall come when He (and we with Him) shall be manifested in glory. But till then He is hidden, and no one upon earth can see Him who is our life, though men will soon see the fruits of communion with Him in our walk. Seek the things that are above, and think of these things, not of the things on the earth. It is not merely the world in its gross form here, but "the things on the earth." There is a difference. In evangelical Christendom you are told to give up the world in the form of balls, billiards, theatres, etc., and the conception of what the world is has been falsified; but here it is the earth; the heart and thoughts are outside of the whole thing. We have a fairer vista than the world can present - the affections set on Christ in glory.
I wish especially to notice the exhortations that follow, from verse 5-17. Let us note that they are founded upon our death and resurrection with Christ.
"Mortify therefore," etc., is the practical work in the soul of one who is dead with Christ. It has nothing to do with monkish maceration. I read once, in the life of Ignatius Loyola, that towards the end of his time he regretted having destroyed his health in early rude penances, and that he confessed that it had not changed his heart. Poor Ignatius! He is not the only one that has gone off on a wrong tack. You cannot reduce the old man any more than you can compress water. God has made an end of him at the cross; but the members are in us, those deep roots of evil that are to be mortified, and can be mortified because we are dead with Christ. A man who is delivered will have much exercise, but of a very different kind to that of one who is trying by monastic process to bring down the old man. I recollect an old saint once saying that he did not object to blows being given, provided they were interior; that is, true exercise in communion with the Lord.
It has been remarked that, from verses 5-17, there is an ascending order, beginning with the practical mortification of the members that are upon the earth, the judgment of very bad things, and ending with the practice of very good things, doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks by Him to God the Father. Nothing could be higher than this, in our conduct as risen men upon earth.
Verse 8 goes rather higher than the gross iniquity of verse 5, and in verses 9 and 10 we have the putting off of the old man, and putting on of the new man, who is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. Notice the expression new in this epistle; it is neos, fresh, young. In the Epistle to the Ephesians it is kainos, that which has not existed before. This distinction is very important, because in the Epistle to the Ephesians the great point is the new creation in speaking of the new man; whilst here, in the Epistle to the Colossians, it is the freshness of the life - Christ our life. The difference too as to image and likeness (it is rather likeness in Ephesians 4:24) has been already pointed out by another. It is always Christ before us in the Colossians. (Compare Col. 1:13.)
"Christ is all, and in all"; may we ever be learning what this means. One sole blessed object before us, and one life (Christ) in all. There can be no Teutonic or Celtic modes of thought, etc., in the Church of God. Germans, Italians, French, English vanish here. Oh, that we entered into it a little more!
Verse 12, "Put on therefore, as the elect of God," etc. Notice the manner of wearing the new garments - these beautiful graces of the following verses: "As the elect of God, holy and beloved." God has given us to know our full blessing and position in His unchanging favour, and we are to put on the new robes in a becoming manner. God has given us this most blessed position; we are His chosen ones, His beloved ones, separated from the world, and now to put on the robes in a manner worthy of Him. These blessed graces are not what the quarrelsome and fighting world admires - mercies, kindness, humbleness, etc., but it is Christ that is seen here, as all through the epistle, and we are to forgive as Christ forgave. Shall we ever forget the manner in which Christ forgave us when He first met us, laden as we were with sins? Never, throughout eternity! But this should influence our conduct now.
Then love, the bond of perfectness, above all; and the peace of Christ is to preside in our hearts. It is blessed to think that we are called to this in one body. It is not merely a question of our individual difficulties, but being called to know Christ's own peace, which nothing can trouble, in one body. For a moment we see this in the prayer offered up from the upper chamber in Jerusalem, where with one voice the newly-born assembly expressed full confidence in the Lord, and His peace presided in the hearts of the saints in the face of all the tumult in Jerusalem: the thankfulness flows naturally from this.
Then comes the word of Christ dwelling richly in us, and the teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom with a spirit of worship, singing with grace in the heart to God. This is very blessed, the Holy Spirit depicts the state of the saints when there is healthy action, and then comes the service, for as the Levites were given to Aaron after redemption, so we have been given to Christ, so as to do and say everything in His name to the glory of God the Father.
May death and resurrection not be mere dogma for us; but may we thus answer to the exhortations of this most blessed portion of the Word! E. L. B.