The Epistle to the Colossians

Scope and Divisions of Colossians

The epistle to the Ephesians has already carried us to the height of Christian position. Consequently, we have no further step to take in this direction, but as ever, the carrying out of the truth thus revealed is now to be proved in practice. The fourth epistle here gives us, in fact, if not exactly the walk through the world, at least the furnishing for that walk, that which would answer to the first part of the book of Numbers. A consequence of this is, that we necessarily find the truths of the former epistles brought forward into this. The truths of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians are all found in Colossians. Along with Romans, we have the man in Christ, dead to sin, and to law. With Galatians, we find him also as having died to the world, while the truth in Ephesians, that we are "quickened with Christ and raised up with Christ" is equally before us; but none of them give us, on the other hand, what characterizes the epistle here. We need all these truths for practical use in walking through the world; but the great and governing truth in Colossians is Christ Himself, not even our place in Him, although that enters into it, but the Lord Himself, the Object before the heart.

This is very clearly to be seen in comparing those parallel passages with Ephesians which are so noticeable here. Thus, if in Ephesians the apostle says that "God in Christ hath forgiven you," Colossians has it: "Even as Christ hath forgiven you." If Ephesians speaks of the "new man" as "created in righteousness and holiness of truth," Colossians speaks of the "new man" as "renewed in knowledge," "where there is neither Greek, nor Jew, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all." If Ephesians bids us "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called," Colossians bids us walk worthy of the Lord. The central verse in Colossians is that "all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily" and that we are filled up in Him. Thus, the soul, as one may say, and as most needed for a walk through the world, is under government here. We have received Christ Jesus the Lord and we are to "walk in Him." We are to "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing," and we "are translated into the Kingdom of the Son of God's love." This, then is our main furnishing, as we may say, for the path, while we are told directly of the strength that we receive by the power of His glory before the soul, and are exhorted to hold fast the Head, from which the whole body is ministered to and increases with the increase of God. The truth of the Church is here, but is not dwelt on. It is the Head upon which the apostle insists.

A kindred and beautiful thing, (at first sight, however, seeming unaccountable,) is that the Spirit of God is only mentioned once, and that incidentally. We have no doctrine of the Spirit. How completely in accordance is this with what we know of His work, who has come to take of the things of Christ and to show them to us — not to speak of His own. In the doctrinal epistles which have preceded this, on the contrary, the Spirit is dwelt upon in all connections. Here we are face to face with the Object that the Spirit presents. The dew has brought the manna, and the dew exhales and leaves the manna for our use. Thus, then, we have the character of the epistle. There is not in it the truth of our being seated together in heavenly places in Christ, but this results from the peculiar character of Colossians, as giving us the path through the world, while, if our own position is less fully developed, the glory of Christ compensates for this, and, as has been already said, the very truth fundamental to our position, that we are in Christ before God, in measure involves this.

There are four divisions in the epistle:
1. (Col. 1:1-18) puts us at the beginning under Christ as Head and Lord.
2. (Col. 1:19-29) gives us the double sphere of the gospel and the Church, with the double ministry entrusted to Paul in connection with these.
3. (Col. 2.): We are filled up in Him, in whom all fulness dwells.
4. (Col. 3, 4.) gives us, as usual, the practical consequences.


Division 1. (Col. 1:1-18.)

The sufficiency of Christ as Head and Lord.

Tun first division, then, starts us, as it were, upon our journey. The Colossians are presented to us as "holy and faithful brethren in Christ," of whom the apostle has heard, possessors of a living faith which grows and bears fruit. He prays that it  may increase, and that they may be filled with the full knowledge of His will, so as to walk worthy of the Lord; after which we are shown the One who is Lord of the individual as well as the Head of the body, the Church, and His full glories are made known to us.

1. The Colossians are seen, then, in the first place, as those who have received the knowledge of divine grace in truth, the beginning of everything for the soul, the living and active principle which at once suggests to us the fruits following, the result, in practical life which the epistle insists upon. The apostle addresses himself to them as an "apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God," associating Timothy with himself in his constant, gracious manner. He owns the holiness and faithfulness which characterizes them as brethren in Christ and which gives him courage and confidence in addressing them. As holy, they are not only separate from evil, but separate to God, the first necessity for fruit. The field that bears it must be fenced off from all that would intrude from the world around. They are faithful to the position that God has given them and the light they have received, — another and equal necessity, but implied in the former. They have the "virtue" of which the apostle Peter speaks, and which leads on to knowledge. It is to those who hold in living power that which they have received, that God can still give more abundantly, but they need, as we all do, "grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

He begins now with thanking God in their behalf, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," which, as we have already seen in Ephesians, presents to us the Lord as the One who has given God His character for the soul; and as the Son of the Father, introduces us to all the affections of the heart; divine affections, which so need to be cultivated if there is to be fruit at all. To Him then, he gives thanks continually, on praying for them, having heard that concerning them which encourages his prayer: — not only "faith in Christ Jesus," but "love towards all the saints," a love which manifests its character in that very fact. It is not simply personal, individual, and which may spring out of other connections, but love to saints as saints wherever they find them. This is that true love of the brethren which the apostle gives as an evidence that those who possess it have passed from death unto life. He thanks God because of the hope laid up for them in the heavens, the hope which is to energize them upon the way, pilgrims and strangers as they are now, with no portion in the world through which they pass; and thus the whole energy of their souls laying hold upon that which is invisible.

This hope they found in the word of the truth of the gospel which had come to them, as it was going out in all the world; and which bore fruit and was growing among them, as wherever it was received. This knowledge seems to have been ministered to them by Epaphras, of whom he speaks as his fellow-servant, and for them a faithful minister of Christ. The work manifested the workman, and their love in the Spirit had been manifested towards the apostle himself by his means.

2. He has already said that a living faith is a growing faith. Growth is a necessity of life, and where the life is eternal life, there is here no limit of it reached, as in natural growth. We grow on till we reach eternity. Important it is to realize this, — salvation is so often simply looked at as the end itself which is to be reached, instead of the beginning, that which starts us upon the road. It is Christ in glory who is the end before us, and if we are really travelers, the light of that glory will be shining upon us more and more fully all the way.

He was not content, however, to reason that this, of necessity, would be so. He did not cease praying and asking for them, that they might be filled with full knowledge of the will of God, a thing not gained in a short time, although, as possessing the Holy Spirit, every honest soul will find practical competence for the path which he has to tread; but the full knowledge of His will will take nothing else than the full word of God to minister it to us, and here it is not to be a theoretical knowledge, but knowledge in all wisdom, a knowledge which is real for us, and applies itself to all the circumstances of the way. The right understanding of it is spiritual understanding, not merely mental reception; though that does not mean that we are to undervalue the mind, which is, in fact, that in us through which God conveys these things, but the Spirit of God must give it its proper character. The result of it, the desire of the heart, is to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, an immense responsibility indeed as servants of His to show in the world what His service means; bearing fruit, therefore, in every good work and growing by the true knowledge of God. This is found, of course, in the revelation of Christ that is being made to us. Christ is the Life within us, and that which ministers, therefore, to the life we have received. Christ is before us now in all the might of His glory for our souls, that which strengthens for the way, for all that is found here in the world so contrary to Him and to us; but we are furnished thus to all endurance and long-suffering with joy. These things are in God's hand, ordained for us only to bring out in us the Christ-likeness which belongs to a life in Him, to separate us from a world which thus manifests itself for what it is, and to make us realize only the more the completeness of satisfaction which is in that which is our own. We see how Paul's gospel enters, of necessity, into all this. The revelation of Christ is that which is continually before him. Christ is the Goal of his race, and the recompensing Prize, as he will tell us fully in Philippians. Here it is not exactly the pressing after Him which is brought before us, but the power resulting from the apprehension of what He is, the One who has been in death for us and who has now everything in His hand. What a thing to assure and rest the heart!

But he goes on now to the fitness which is already ours to partake of the portion of the saints in light, — and wonderful this is. He does not say that God is making us fit for it, as we might imagine to be more suitable to be said; we are already made fit, and fit for the portion of the holy ones in that light which would discover the least spot or defect. And strange it would seem to many, in view of the indisputable fact that evil is in us still and that the good in us is yet far short of full development, that we are already meet for the inheritance. To have title to it is another thing. Title we should easily recognize that we all have; but a child may have most abundant title to an inheritance for which, as yet, he is by no means "fit." We have not merely the title, we have the fitness also. We can only realize this as we realize the distinctness of the new nature which God has imparted to us. The flesh is in us, but it is not ourselves; we are not identified with it, not in it before God. As a consequence, if the Lord should take us, in whatever way He be pleased to take us, home to Himself, the flesh is gone, and there remains nothing but that which is according to His mind. The development of the life we have is another matter, and we need not consider it here; but even a babe in Christ has fitness, therefore, for his portion. Well may we give thanks to the Father who has accomplished this for us.

We are delivered, as the apostle goes on to say, from the authority of darkness. Darkness may be also in measure in us, but it has no title over us. We are in the light as Christians. Whether we realize it aright or not, depends upon how far the eye is single in us; but we are practically in the darkness, in any measure of it, only by our own consent. God has translated us into another kingdom, put us under another authority, and that the authority of His own dear Son.

This is the only passage in which we find the present kingdom of Christ spoken of exactly in this character. As Son of Man, He waits for His Kingdom. He has not yet received it. He waits upon the right hand of God; but whatever this may imply, that He is still waiting, yet as seated on the Father's throne, in that place to which His title plainly is found in His eternal relationship to the Father, He has, in fact, all things in His hand now. This can only seem in any wise a contradiction to the fact of His waiting for His Kingdom as Son of Man, if we fail to realize that the Kingdom in that character is taken for the final setting in order of all things for eternity, which is put into Christ's hands expressly as the Son of Man. All judgment is thus committed to Him, and as by man the old creation fell away from God, so by man everything must be restored. Thus He is, as Isaiah gives it to us, the "Father of Eternity." He is the One who is going to bring everything into subjection to God. We, in the meanwhile, are the fruit of His work, delivered from the opposing power of evil and brought into the Kingdom of light and peace, as those redeemed by His blood and having the forgiveness of sins. Here, therefore, we have marked out for us distinctly the character of the truth which the apostle presents to us. Already separated from the world, separated to God, we are those who are given to Christ and put into His hand to be led on through the world by the attractive power of what is in Himself; to Himself beyond it. In the "Kingdom of the Son of His love," what can be wanting to us, even though the full blessing has not come?

But we are here filling a place which has its own distinctness of privilege, a place that, in the same way, we can never fill again. We are here for Christ in the midst of a world opposed to Him, and treading in His steps who is the Author and Finisher of faith in His own Person, and who has left us an example that we should walk in His steps. This is our privilege now, and how greatly we should value it! We have not merely to go out of the world and to be with Christ where He is, which will be accomplished for us in His own time, which our souls must, of course, desire at any time; nevertheless that which God is working for us now and that which, we may say, He is working through us now, will be seen in the day to come as amply sufficient causes of delay for a little while, that, in the place of Christ's humiliation, we may learn Him better so, and acquire that mind of Christ which we have use for, in participation with Him in that which is to come.

3. We come now then fully to look at Christ Himself. We have been shown our competence for this. We can look without any harassing question as to our part in Him or our fitness for the blessing which we have before us. We ought to be capable, therefore, of full occupation with Himself. That is what the epistle to the Romans has already shown us, and that is what deliverance means really; deliverance from ourselves, in order that we may be engaged with Him, to be in whose blest company is to grow in His likeness.

Who is He then of whom we are speaking? He is, says the apostle, first of all, the Image of the Invisible God, the perfect and exact Expression of One who is nowhere seen as He is seen in Him. The invisible God has become visible to us, of course to faith; but we have the full revelation of God in Him, who, in order that He may reveal God, has come down into that which is His own creation, has taken His place in it, of necessity, thus, at the Head of it also. If He who is the Image of the Invisible God takes His place in creation, it must be as the First-born of it all, the Beginning, as He says Himself in the epistle to Laodicea, "the Beginning of the creation of God."

Here is His link at once with all that is to receive blessing through Him. Apart from those who really set themselves outside it, who refuse and turn aside from this grace of His, all creation is thus linked with Him for blessing. He has become Man. He has taken not only a human spirit, but a soul and a body. In His unutterable love, He has linked Himself, as one may say, with the very dust of the earth, that He might assure us that, of all which God has created, nothing is below His thought. He will lose nothing of it all, but bring it into that which was His mind for it in creating it; for He who has come into this wondrous place, — the very humiliation of which is glory too, — is the One "by whom all things were created, things in heaven and things on earth, visible or invisible," however high, however low you go, "thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers;" the highest are but His creatures, and have not only been created "by Him" but "for Him."

What a wonderful light does that throw upon creation itself and upon its destiny! Christ is not only the One under whom it is; He is not only the One who will bring it all into blessing, but He, the One who has become the Man Christ Jesus, is the One for whom it all exists. Christ, then, and that grace which is manifested in Him, — that manifestation itself, which is in itself grace, — is that which is the great purpose of God in creation. He must manifest Himself; He must make His creatures know Him. He could not possibly leave them without the full display of all His heart. He wants to be near them. He wants to have them near Himself. Christ is the fulness of God's heart thus told out, and as He is before all, as He is the One who holds all things together now, this purpose cannot fail of accomplishment.

But there is another sphere, still, in which He is the Head, and considering that it too is needed for the full display of divine grace, (as it is that, as we have heard in Ephesians, in which God is going to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us, and in which His glory is to be displayed forever,) it must of necessity find mention here. It is not to be lost simply in the thought of creation. He is the Head of creation, but He is also the Head of the body, the Church; and as this, He is the Beginning, a new Beginning, a First-Born, not in creation simply, but from among the dead. Here, full redemptive power manifests itself. He is seen Master of all the evil and not merely Master to subdue it, but making it all show forth His praise. Thus He is pre-eminent in all things. This is the One under whom God has put us to find our way, upheld by His grace, to the place where He Himself awaits us. How blessed should be a path upon which this light shines more and more fully to the perfect day!

Division 2. (Col. 1:19-29.)

The double sphere of the gospel and the church, with the double ministry entrusted to Paul in connection with these.

Here, then, there is a double sphere marked out for our contemplation. There is the sphere of creation into which Christ in His grace has come, and there is the sphere of the Church through which His love to His creatures is to be most signally manifested. We now find these two spheres specially dwelt upon, and the apostle's double ministry in God's wonderful grace to him, answering to these two spheres. He is minister of the gospel in all the world, minister of the Church, the mystery of God now revealed.

1. "In Him," then, "all the fulness was pleased to dwell." The whole Godhead has in Him manifested itself and come forth to bless and to redeem. If we think of Christ, we must not separate from Him the Father's thought and purpose the Father's heart told out, and if we think of Him again, He is the One whom the Spirit of God exalts and glorifies, the One in whom, as we see Him here upon earth, the fulness of the Spirit dwelt, The whole activity of the Godhead is manifested thus in our behalf. It is Christ as Man who is still spoken of. His Manhood it is that is the tabernacle of Deity. We must not so think of His humiliation as to forget, for a moment, the glory that was ever His. He has come down, in fact, to fulfil the purpose which none but He could possibly fulfil. Sin has come in. Question has been raised by the presence of it with regard to God Himself. If left to this, God's whole place with regard to creation is compromised. Thus, as has been said elsewhere, He could not, apart from the cross, from that which has fully displayed His holiness and the judgment of sin, while displaying His love for His creatures, take up even the heavens themselves as that in which He could find delight and display His glory. By Him, therefore, God came to reconcile all things to Himself, not simply individuals, but the whole frame as it were, of the universe. There is not a part of it to which the power of the blood of the cross does not penetrate. Our possession in the heavens is purchased by it. The earth, too, is purchased. Things on the earth or things in the heavens will alike be made once more to be according to God's mind, objects of complacent delight.

2. But if the heavens and earth are thus reconciled by His blood, there are those also who were once alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works, in whom it manifests its power. Here the reconciliation must, of necessity, include the bringing of enemies out of their enmity; while His work, the work of the cross, was needed in a double sense for this needed as that which has made atonement for iniquity, needed as that which, by the power of divine grace in it, conquers the heart for Him. How great a triumph when we can be thus presented holy and unblamable and irreproachable before God! The apostle puts in here a word of caution needed by those amongst whom there may still be those who, whatever their profession, have not, in fact, received the reconciliation. The test of this will be a faith in which men abide on a firm foundation, not moved away from the hope of the gospel, a gospel which is being proclaimed indeed in the whole creation which is under heaven, and of which Paul himself was, in a special sense, the minister. We must remember here what has been elsewhere shown us, that Paul was not only a minister of the gospel, having his place with the rest who ministered it, but was in a special sense the minister of the gospel, which had with him a fulness of blessing which we find nowhere else.

3. But this was only a part of that which was specially committed to him. He was suffering, manifestly (he says this as writing now from his prison at Rome) on account of the Church, Christ's body; filling up, as he puts it here, that which remained of the sufferings of Christ for them. Christ had been pleased to link him in a special way with Himself, in labor for this purpose so dear to Him, the having a body, a people in the nearness of that relation to Himself, near as none other could be, and the revelation of which now completed the word of God — filled it out fully, no principle of truth remaining unrevealed. Of this, then, he was minister; of the mystery hidden from ages and generations but now made manifest to His saints, the long pent up secret of the heart that must now disclose itself; the riches of the glory of this mystery being found, not amongst Jews but amongst Gentiles, — Christ among Gentiles, not therefore glory come, as it will be when He takes His place in the midst of Israel, but the hope of glory belonging to another sphere, and as we know, a wonderfully higher one. This, says the apostle, was his aim, then, "admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, to present every man perfect in Christ." He works according to the full largeness in which the gospel itself goes out. He would have "every man," not merely those who actually are laid hold of by it, but in the thought of his heart, in that for which, if it might be, he works, "every man presented perfect in Christ." This is the character, manifestly, as we have seen, of Paul's epistles. The position in Christ is what is before him continually. This is what he would bring us up to. His writings are therefore the Leviticus of the New Testament. They open the sanctuary, and that to bring us in there. For this he was toiling. For this he was in conflict; and Christ, as it were, toiling in him, working in the power of His grace in the instrument He had chosen.

Division 3. (Col. 2.)

Filled up in Him in whom all the fulness dwells.

Christ then, is He in whom all the fulness dwells. We are now to have distinctly the part which is given us in this fulness. We are to be filled up in it, and that practically for our blessing now, not at some time to come; but that this may be manifested in us here by the way.

1. The apostle tells us, therefore, of the conflict that he was in with regard to them, but specially as to those whose face he had not yet seen in the flesh, his responsibility towards whom was not altered by this fact.

He is in conflict also, as knowing what the world is in which the saints are found. The greater the blessing. the greater incentive to the enemy, if possible, to take it from them; and alas, with this, the surer, if we think of men as such, that they will demonstrate their incapacity of themselves to hold it. But Paul's purpose is the encouragement of those to whom he writes, — not discouragement. The warnings of what man as man is, of the flesh that dwells in us all, the practical warnings which result from the outbreak of this also, alas, in Christians, are still only to discourage self-confidence, never to move one from the assurance that he should have in God. He seeks, therefore, to encourage their hearts, and that they may be united together in love, the true binding principle, in the possession of all that was their own, the riches that God would give them in full assurance of understanding. How much is implied in this! There is to be no failure with us as to the distinct, definite, assured apprehension of all this blessing which God has given us, the full knowledge of the mystery of God of which be has spoken, in which are hid for us now "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

This may seem a strange thing to say that, in that which is only revealed at the present time, all treasures of this kind should be found; but it is manifest that in speaking to Christians, everything depends upon their being in possession of that which makes them distinctly Christian. Except as in this Christian place ourselves, we have not even the right knowledge of other things. For instance, if we do not realize the difference between the Church and Israel, how can we know even Israel aright? How can we know the Old Testament without being in possession of what is specifically ours in the New? He says here, as so constantly with him, "wisdom" as well as "knowledge," putting indeed wisdom first; for without the power to apply, what right gain could there be in the knowledge which is to be applied?

He goes on to intimate his knowledge of the power of the enemy which was abroad, and which would, by persuasive speech, seek to take from them the blessing; but he rejoiced, absent indeed in the flesh, yet with them in spirit, as seeing their order and the firmness of their faith in Christ. It is plain therefore that he does not, as some think, realize in them the beginning of any special form of evil, but that the warnings which we find here and there through the epistle are necessary to the character of it, as having to do with their walk in the world, a place in which every danger would necessarily beset them. He has, as we can see also, not merely those in mind whom he is addressing now Colosse, but us also, for whom the Spirit of God is caring, through him, and who are in the midst of evils of which they are warned here. There could not but be the foresight of such things, and provision made for them, in the love that manifests itself towards all the people of God to the last generation.

2. He proceeds at once, therefore, to bid us, as having received Christ Jesus the Lord, to walk in Him. The place of identification with Him which God has given us is to be carried out in practice here. We are to walk as identified with Him. We are to walk as in this new place and new creation, separated, therefore, from the world and under the authority, as Lord, of Him whom the world has rejected. We have received Him as our Lord, not simply as our Saviour, although these two things will necessarily go together; but we have received Him as One who has rightful title over us and One in whom we have found all that enables us to be independent of the world around. Thus we are rooted and built up in Him. It is from Him that we draw subsistence as the plant through its root, and we are thus built up in Him as the plant builds itself up through the nourishment which it thus receives. How perfectly then are we provided! Christ is our one Sufficiency; and "the faith" is that which has, so to speak, given us Christ Himself, for it is by faith that we know Him. We are to abound in it, says the apostle, with thanksgiving, — an immense point, for if our hearts are not making joy over the truth which God has given us, what shall we have to keep us from the evil around? or to produce in us the fruits which are acceptable to God? Here he adds one of his warnings, not to be led away, therefore through philosophy and vain deceit; that is, through the working of man's mind apart from revelation. Christ is the subject of revelation, plainly. No human thought could have discovered Him: none can add to Him. All mere human teaching has upon it the essential marks of the world itself, a world into which He came in love, but which had no heart for Him.

3. Thus we are shut up to Christ, who is indeed, as has been declared, the Centre and Reason of the universe. The knowledge of Him is, therefore, the only key to the right apprehension of all things. These are the manifestations, each in its measure, of God; and Christ it is in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. That word, "bodily," makes Him our own, He has come out from the invisible to be among us; and not simply for display: He has pledged Himself to service in it, whatever the need may be, as when He showed them His hands and His side. And still "we are complete" — filled full. "in Him," who is — notice how these things are brought together — "Head of all principality and power." To Him the circumstances of the way are absolutely obedient. Here we have the perfect ministry to us, therefore of everything around us, as well as the perfect means of apprehension of it all, as knowing Him. The apostle goes on now to show us how thoroughly we have been cut off from other things. If the Jew was separated from the nations by the fact of his circumcision we, he says, have been circumcised, not with that circumcision indeed, not by something with the hand, but by something infinitely more and deeper, "the putting off of the body of the flesh," the flesh in its totality, "by the circumcision of Christ," that is, by the Christian circumcision. His cross has accomplished this for us. We are privileged to turn away from all that we find thus in ourselves, to give up self in fact altogether, as having any confidence in it, as the apostle tells us in Philippians: "We are the true circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Notice that there is nothing there of self to have confidence in. It is Christ in whom we boast or glory, and that in contrast with all fleshly confidence whatever.

Slow we may be indeed, to realize that every atom of self-confidence is confidence in the flesh. We would fain draw a distinction. We would say that there is a Christian self; that, after all, there must be something in us which is the fruit of God's work but the cross has not set aside self in one fashion to allow it to be brought forward again in another. If we build again the things which we destroyed, we make ourselves transgressors in this sense also, and the apostle adds here what is the complete assertion of this: "We are buried with Him," he says, "in baptism." God has privileged us, thus, to put away ourselves as completely as a dead man is put away amongst the dead when he is buried.

This truth as to baptism is one of those which we derive from Romans, but we are "raised up" also, he adds; and here it is important to get clearly what the apostle really says. The common version makes it to be baptism in which also we are raised up, but what is connected with this makes it impossible to accept it. We are "raised up with Him," he says, "through the faith of the operation of God who raised Him from among the dead." We are not raised up then in an ordinance, but "through faith." The "wherein" may be, and should surely be "in whom;" and we cannot simply take this as what baptism. typifies for us, because the moment we speak of type, it does not require faith to make a type to be such. We could not be raised up typically by faith. One could not say a type was a type through faith. Baptism in itself speaks of immersion, burial. The word would not convey that of resurrection. The force of the baptism is in the burial and nothing else. The resurrection which is to follow is in Christ and from Him alone.

It is thus that we are set free from the thought of deliverance by an ordinance, which so many hold today. We are "raised up through the faith of the operation of God who raised Him from among the dead." Here we see distinctly what is meant. Resurrection is the opposite of burial. In burial a dead man is put among the dead. In resurrection a now living man is given his place among the living; and it is seen that Christ identified with us through grace in His death has been raised up of God; that we might find, therefore, our own title and ability to take our place amongst those truly alive. But then all depends upon this identification of ourselves with Him. Our eyes are now, therefore, to be upon Christ. He is in this character our true self; and our confidence, therefore, is to be in Him. As we have had it in Galatians, we live, yet no more we, but Christ liveth in us. It is the One who is before God for us who is before us now in faith and whom we accept as now our true self, a self in whom we can have confidence, a self that we can contemplate with joy and satisfaction, and without the least tendency to such pride of heart as results naturally from what we call. self-occupation. Here is One who will draw us away from self, who will, as a heavenly Object draw us completely out of the world, and accomplish our deliverance in both senses at the same time.

But he has another side now to present to us; and here we touch Ephesian truth, as before, that of Romans. "You," he says, "being dead in offences and in the uncircumcision of your flesh," not as living then, but as dead for God, having absolutely nothing that He could accept, nothing that is towards Him in your natural condition, "He has quickened together with Him." Here is a change of condition as well as the change of position spoken of before, We have got life, a new life, a life which has come to us through Christ's death, and which is the result of divine power working towards us in Him.

With this, therefore, we have the forgiveness of all offences. Nothing could be allowed to mar the perfection of that work for us or of its fruit in us. There could be no quickening without forgiveness, as its necessary accompaniment. As a consequence, therefore, the "handwriting in ordinances" which stood against us, which was contrary to us, He has taken out of the way. It is not the law itself of which he is speaking, but of our obligation to it. This is what the "handwriting" means, and. this is what is effaced for us, it being nailed to the cross. The law is not dead, as we have seen in Romans, but we have died to it. It is stated here in another way, but the same thing in effect. With this power of condemnation cancelled for us, authorities and powers, (all the power of Satan which could work in sinful men,) are also set aside. Christ has made a show of them openly, leading captivity captive, triumphing over them by His cross.

4. The apostle warns them now that they must hold fast the Head, and for this give up the ordinances of the law and all else which would prevent their drawing absolutely out of the fulness which they had in Christ. No one was to be judged with regard to meat or drink, feasts, new moons or sabbaths. All these things necessarily went with the obligation to ordinances. They were in themselves simply a shadow of the things to come. The body, that is, the substance of them, was in Christ. Christians were not to do their own will in that which looked indeed like humility, as in the worship of angels, but which was, after all, an intrusion into things unseen, and the result of pride instead of humility, while it forfeited the blessing which was to be enjoyed alone through Christ; from whom all the body ministered to and joined together by joints and bands increases with the increase of God. Christians are themselves to be as Christ Himself was, like "a root out of a dry ground," maintained by sustenance from heaven, divine sustenance alone, as he says here. They have died with Christ out of the world and therefore out of that which belongs to it. To subject themselves to ordinances, was to take a position contradictory of this. Like the legal institutions themselves, they could only deal with things from the outside, prohibit touch and taste and what not, things which appear, as we know, wise enough, but which ignore altogether that which is God's only remedy for the evil in man, which is a new creation. Such will-worship will indeed always have an appearance of wisdom and of humility too; and an ascetic treatment of the body will be held as a proof of zeal and devotedness. God has no pleasure in such things. The body, indwelt of the Holy Spirit, is to be held on that account in a certain honor, while the pride of man could be satisfied with that which, if it disregarded the body, built up the flesh.

Division 4. (Col. 3, 4.)

Practical consequences.

Section 1. (Col. 3:1-17.)

Christ all.

We have now the practical consequences, not negatively merely, in the refusal of certain things, but in that which is morally right and fitting, the image of Christ wrought out in the life.

1. The consequence of being raised with Christ is to put us necessarily outside the world. The risen man is in connection with heaven, although, as with the Lord during the forty days, he may actually be upon earth, but as raised with Christ, in association with Him, the things above belong to him where Christ sits at the right hand of God. What is according to God is seen by this place of exaltation in which Christ is. God has bidden us, in this way, to have our hearts in company with His heart; and Christ, the accepted of God is the rejected of man. Thus, a heavenly Object lifts one from the earth. It is not a question simply of what is in itself evil or what is not. Christ has passed out of the whole scene. He is in heaven, and the heart drawn there is God's method of sanctification, therefore, for the soul. The result is that if a true life for God is lived here upon the earth, yet it is in character, in all that in which it has its source and object, a life hidden from the world. Christ is hidden, and hidden in God. As a consequence, to be understood by the world, to be commended and honored, would be contrary to that association with Christ which God has given us. The day is coming when Christ will be manifested, He who is our life even now. Then indeed that for which the Christian has lived will become apparent to all, and the wisdom of his life will be evident. Then we will be manifested with Him in glory, but for this, therefore, faith must be content to wait through all the present time, finding in Him its present joy and satisfaction, but in strangership here. This is the principle which underlies the whole moral condition for us.

2. The result is that we are to put to death our members which are upon the earth. He does not say our bodies. The body is to be offered up to God "a living sacrifice." The members are quite other morally than this implies, as he shows here. If the body is allowed to have a life, then, it is to be put to death; but he will not allow that this is properly the body. He speaks of it as if the members, so to speak, were in revolt from the body, in revolt certainly from subjection to God. On account of such things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. You walked in those things, he says, when you lived in them, but the walk must follow, therefore, the character of the life. What a disgrace to walk in things in which we do not live!

There are other things to be put off, things which have not the same character of lust, but which, nevertheless, are contrary to God. We are not to lie to one another, as having put off the old man with his deeds, and having put on the new. This has introduced us, as he says, now, into a new scene. The new man has a knowledge which is derived from faith. It is the knowledge of a new creation where there is nothing but Christ. No human distinctions are recognized in it, no conditions upon which men pride themselves here. Christ is everything and Christ is in all who belong to that place. Here, as we have seen, is that which keeps the heart. We can only be strangers to that which we have been brought out of by being at home in that which is now made ours. We cannot set ourselves right piecemeal. We can only be set right by having our hearts in that, where Christ being all, all is according to God, and where we can let our hearts out freely; where we can covet everything, and nothing will be denied us.

3. The joy of the Lord is our strength. For mortification, we want power; and our power is found in that which lifts us out of the whole scene to which evil attaches. Christ, therefore, is now to give character to every part of our behaviour. As the elect of God, those who owe everything to His will, His choice as those set apart to Him, and those upon whom He has set His love, we are to put on the things which properly accompany this: "bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another." It is striking how, in all these, there is found some form of self-denial. Power is shown by competence for stooping; God turning also the very things that are against us into the means of educating us in this. Things evil in themselves may, nevertheless, furnish us with a wholesome discipline for the way and enable us, in answer, to bring forth fruit which is according to God. We are to forbear as God has forborne. We are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us; to all which is to be added love, as that which is the "bond of perfectness," which keeps everything in its place and perfects every detail of life. Think how the world, even, has to put on the appearance of love, the more if it has not the reality; but love itself has no need to put on an appearance. It will manifest itself in harmony in every tone and gesture. The manifestation of the divine nature has a unity in it which makes everything to be in harmony. If there is love in the heart, the words will not be hard or unseemly; their very tone will be affected.

Here too, the peace of Christ is found, that is to preside in the heart. It is the peace which results from unbroken communion, in a life that is according to God, in ways that are ways of pleasantness and paths of peace. To this we have been called in one body. This peace is the common heritage of all the saints of God; and we may well be thankful as we realize the immensity of such a blessing as this. The word of Christ, too, is to dwell in us richly. All through, it is Christ here; the forgiveness of Christ, the peace of Christ, the word of Christ. We can see how occupation with Christ is that which is necessarily the basis of it all, and His Lordship is fully owned. Thus, the word of Christ is not only owned and bowed to, but dwells in the soul richly in all its fulness and blessedness; and this issues in an ability to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. The truth which God has given, if it be really received, cannot be held simply as one's own. We cannot but impart it. Truth that is not imparted can scarcely be enjoyed, and in the close contact in which God has brought us with one another, the interest that He has given us in each other, the relationship we bear to one another, it cannot but follow that we shall realize one another's needs. Connected with this, the power of it all in our own hearts is beautifully shown us. "In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," the truth makes music in us. We sing with grace in our hearts to God, and what a need there is for this, in order to any true teaching or admonishing one another. Nay, will not this enjoyment in our own souls be the most effectual form of it? Such heart-songs will awaken other songs, and in all this, he says, whatever is done, in word or deed, we are to do all things as representatives of the Lord Jesus, in His Name. How much this would settle for us as to details of practical conduct, if it were only frankly accepted by us all! In word and in deed, identification with Christ in His spirit is to mark us, and here again, as those who are giving thanks to God and the Father by Him. How we see that the spirit of joy and praise is that which becomes us, the atmosphere of heaven to which our life belongs. Here, then, is a beautiful and comprehensive picture of the Christian life in its moral aspect. We are to learn it in His company, or we shall never learn it.

Section 2. (Col. 3:18 — 4:6.)

The Relationships of life.

We have had the character of the new man put before us with a completeness which might make us think that the whole range of Christian duty was contained in it. What are we called to recognize or "put on," but this new man?

But the new man is the man in Christ, and the place in Christ takes one outside of human distinctions; for "in Christ there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28). And thus the most fundamental natural distinction seems to be set aside.

We have, however, to learn that Scripture is larger than our thoughts, and that the God of creation is that of redemption also. As long, therefore, as we are in the unchanged body of the old creation, we are subject to the ordinances which He has made for it. Doubtless also, there are higher purposes to be worked out in this way; but our point is now, the steadfast way in which God maintains His own thoughts, and will have us maintain and honor them. Husbands, wives, parents, children, are thus natural relationships established of God, and honorable in all, as the apostle says of marriage (Heb. 13:4).

But there are other relations here which are not established of God, but have come in through sin, as that of master and slave: here one might expect that there could be nothing but (as among Christians at least) the prohibition absolutely of such. This is a matter important enough to be in effect (though not formally) the subject of a distinct epistle, which finds place as supplementary to this; we shall examine it, therefore, in that connection. Here, however, we see that the slave or bondman is addressed as such, and (what is more to the purpose) the master also.

After this there is insisted on the duty to those who are without, outside of Christian claim, but not of the all-embracing love which in Christ came after the lost, — a love to which we owe our every blessing also, who were all once outside, and among the lost. In this review of relationships, therefore, the apostle will not omit one that is so real as this, however different from, and indeed in contrast with all others,

1. Relationships ordained by the Creator come here first, and are indeed the shadow of higher and spiritual ones. This, however, which Ephesians develops so fully as to marriage, is not in any way referred to here. We have but brief exhortations, which are for the most part repetitions of those in Ephesians; we shall not do more, therefore, than point out how these repetitions emphasize what is the main responsibility in each case. Those who are in authority are to exercise it in love — a love that seeketh not its own; while it is for those under authority to yield obedience as to the Lord: a thing which gives it at once a needed guard from any weak sufferance of evil, while making the hardest task that in which "thy God hath commanded thy strength;" so that His strength may be reckoned on for its accomplishment.

2. This principle is carried out in application to the poor slave, who is now Christ's servant, and thus truly free. If the Lord has appointed him a lowly and trying service, it will not be counted a dishonor to him in the day of final recompense, when servant and master will stand before their common Master, to receive, not according to the place they may have filled, but according to the faithfulness with which they have filled it. The Master then will be One who has filled Himself the very lowest place to serve us all.

3. This naturally leads on to what in this day and world is truest service, and as to which Paul had a special commission, the manifestation of the mystery of Christ, against which all the world is, and he who is the usurping "prince of this world;" so that, if it is to have way, God must open a door for it. For this, therefore, the apostle seeks the prayers of the disciples, and in general that they persevere in prayer, watching, as in expectation of answer, and with thanksgiving, which implies the tender and encouraging remembrance of abundant mercy. But indeed the very fact of having such a gospel to pray for may well be the greatest encouragement: how could He, who at such a cost has provided salvation, fail to answer the desire of heart which is so completely in sympathy with His own heart? Here is that as to which we may pray therefore with boldness and confident expectation; and here is the secret of confidence, when we have learned to identify ourselves with Christ's interests upon the earth as our real concern. With Paul himself there certainly was no other, as we well know.

4. Finally, apart from the direct preaching of the gospel, we are to "walk in wisdom towards those that are without, redeeming opportunities:" for in a world under Satan's power there will not be always such. For this reason one must be ready when the time comes. At all times, also, the speech is to be characterized by grace, the "salt" of divine holiness preserving this from passing over into mere laxity and inability to stand for God. This in fact alone is grace; but the holiness of grace is as far as possible from that of law, though law is holy. A Christian, as one who owes all to grace, falsifies his testimony if he shows a spirit of legality; nor will there be wisdom found in this way to "answer," or meet according to their need, the various conditions of those around. We must be in the spirit of Christ (which grace is) in order to do His work.

Section 3. (Col. 4:7-18.)

Openings of heart.

Perhaps one may best characterize the closing section of Colossians as "heart-openings." It is in fact the free interchange of brotherly feeling on the part of those who have recognized the place which they have been given with regard to one another. Thus it begins with the provision for mutual knowledge of each other's state. Tychicus, a beloved and faithful brother, able to enter into such things, is sent from the apostle to convey to the disciples the news as to himself; and to bring back from them the account of their condition. This he realizes as what their hearts would crave for comfort, as united together in the love of Christ.

There follow special greetings and remembrances; as to which there is scarcely much needed by way of explanation, though much may be gained by meditation. The apostle closes with the salutation written with his own hand, certifying the letter to be his own, and bidding them keep in mind his bonds for Christ.

The Epistle to Philemon


The epistle to Philemon is plainly an appendix to that to the Colossians, as before noticed. It was written at the same time, sent to the same place, and by the hands of one of those entrusted with the former one, with whom it has to do. As an address to a master, it naturally connects with Colossians and its kindred epistle Ephesians, the only two of Paul's epistles in which masters, as such, are addressed. Here the case of Onesimus incidentally brings before us that of slavery as seen in the light of Christianity; and this seems the real subject of the epistle. That it is not openly treated as such has its evident reason. There is no legislation as to it; but the principles that are, in fact, maintained are only wider in application, declaring, as they do, the relation of Christianity and its disciples to the world-status, in a way which touches much more than a question which, for most of us now, has ceased to be of personal concern.

The purport of the epistle is almost, one might say, to undo what the writer is doing, in returning a runaway slave, now converted, to the hands of his master, himself a Christian. What were these, then, now to one another? Brethren, as the apostle plainly says (ver. 16). He and the assembly which had received Onesimus had not waited for the expression of Philemon's mind before acting in the matter. Manifestly it was for God alone to bring in among His people: the baptism of the Spirit alone could make a member of the Body of Christ. When that was done, it was too late for man's interference. Thus the apostle in the previous epistle introduces Onesimus to the whole assembly as a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you; and associates him with Tychicus as bearer of tidings to them. They could not but receive whom the Lord had received, and own the apostle's messenger as one certified to them with the full weight of his authority.

Of this assembly Philemon formed a part and thus stood committed to the reception of his slave, or to the rejection of those who had received him. There was, in fact, no thought of any dissent; there could be none without the overthrow of an order which was divine, not human; and it is with his place settled as to the assembly that Onesimus turns to meet his master, with the letter of Paul in his hand.

Yet here, it is plain, it is not to meet him, as in the assembly, upon equal terms. Distinctly is it recognized by the apostle that, (although not in the assembly,) the relation of master and slave still remained. Yet this must, of course, be made to accept whatever modification the common Christianity imposed upon it. The eternal must give law to the earthly and the temporal. But how, then, could the badge of slavery abide at all? To answer this is to answer many other questions growing out of or connected with it, relating to the practical life, and with regard to the world side of a Christianity that is not of the world.

But here it is well to point out once more a source of confusion in our common version in the frequent want of proper discrimination between two words which it alike translates "world," but which are in different lines of thought really. Kosmos is the world physically, whether of people or things; while aion has to do with time, and means "age" — a certain defined and limited period of the world's history. There are past ages, a present age and ages still to come; through all of which the kosmos passes; under whatever different phases, the same kosmos still.

The present age has one terrible characteristic. The former ones were all defined by God's various dealing with men and that for blessing to them. He had not then, even for the time (as for a time alone it could be) given up the world. Thus the age of promise and of law alike contemplated blessing on the earth, and therefore the blessing of the earth; but at the present time God is simply taking out from the earth a people designed for heavenly blessing. This is indeed on His part a more wonderful work of grace than ever was before, but for the world it is a diversion from the divine ways which were leading on to blessing. The throne of God which was on earth in Israel, and the more glorious presence which since greeted it, are alike gone; and the way and cause of this, from the human side, give character to this time of His departure, which is the time of His rejection.

One may say, however, that this must not be so taken as to ignore the coming of the Spirit to represent Christ upon earth, and that the house of God in its spiritual reality is here also. This is true; and we may say again with regard to these things, that they express a more wonderful working of divine grace than ever was seen before. But notice that the world does not see this. Nothing is visible to human eyes any more; and "the world seeth Me no more" is Christ's acceptance of rejection by it, and the seal, therefore, of its condemnation. The gospel goes out world-wide among men but that changes in no wise anything of this. And though it can be said that "God so loved the world as to give His Only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him might not perish, but have eternal life," yet, that we might be delivered from the aion — this "present evil world," or "age" (Gal. 1:4) — Christ gave Himself according to the will of our God and Father.

In the world therefore of this "age," (an age whose end will only be when Christ appears in judgment upon what will then be in ripest, fullest rebellion against Him,) the Christian can be but a stranger; and thus Scripture ever contemplates him.

This, of course, cannot alter his relation to God as the Creator, upon which Scripture equally insists; nor does it affect that moral government of things which God necessarily exercises, or He would not be God. It is this that makes us bow to the authority of those who, like the Nero of Paul's day, may be wholly set against Him. We recognize the mercy which acts, even through such as these, to restrain worse evil, and by a government of man by man, which was God's own institution after the flood. Spite of the disorder, therefore, we own God's order, and submit ourselves to His government, which we are sure is a wise and holy one, though faith is needed to realize this.

The character of the age has not been changed by the Christianity that is in it; and the apostle declares (none more conscious, surely, of the immensity of the blessing) that Satan is its god. "The god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4) is a terrible indictment indeed, after Christ has come, His work accomplished, and the Spirit here upon earth; but there it stands, and cannot be erased: we cannot alter it, but are delivered from it.

Slavery is the fruit of a world estranged from God. It is a sample of what sin has wrought, not to be imagined in a paradisaic earth, and in its whole spirit opposed to the free and equal spirit of Christianity. When these things meet, the antagonism might be expected to be sharply pronounced; and while it could not legislate for the world, or deliver its disciples from an oppressive yoke under which they might be born, yet one might expect the Church to purge itself absolutely from an incongruous practice such as this.

Yet we have already seen, both in Ephesians and Colossians, masters addressed as such, without even a reproof for what they were. Simply they were to give unto their bondservants that which was just and equal; while their Christian bondmen were (as we read in the first epistle to Timothy,) not to despise their believing masters because they were brethren, but rather to do them service as faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit (1 Tim. 6:2). Such an admonition may well be thought to show that among Christians the severity of these bonds was greatly slackened; but it shows still more plainly that they were not annulled.

Was this then all that Christianity had to say? It was a large and pressing question. The number of slaves in the empire was immense; the miseries resulting were excessive; in the judgment of the haughty Roman the new religion suited. well this class of the oppressed and downtrodden, who in fact soon largely sought to it. Here another Master was found, with truest liberty for the slave, even while the old service might continue. And under the heathen master it did continue, for the cross was the symbol of the world's present sway, and the faithful unto death were they whom the crown waited.

It was another matter, however, where Christianity had won master as well as slave; and here, where it was mistress of all the conditions, were the relations caused by sin, and embodying so different a spirit still to continue? To such questions Philemon, as a supplement to its connected epistles, yields the answer furnished by the New Testament.

Philemon means "friendly, loving," and it is in this character that Paul appeals to him. The Christian heart is what must decide in the matter before him; and Paul's comfort is the assurance that Philemon, the "friendly," or "kind-hearted," answers to his name. It was faith that wrought in this love, and gave it its Christian verity, and found therefore in the saints its special objects. This naturally introduces what is on the writer's heart; for the formerly unprofitable Onesimus is now one of these saints of God, who as such has a claim upon Philemon that will not be denied.

Confident, therefore, in his readiness of heart, the apostle will not insist upon any apostolic authority, but pleads for Onesimus as for a child of his own, spiritually, begotten too in his bonds, a solace given to him of God, who was now Paul the aged, and the prisoner of Jesus Christ. How many motives here to compel a free heart's obedience! Doubtless Onesimus had been an unprofitable servant, yet now he was profitable as a Christian, ready to do service to Philemon, as he had already done to the apostle, to whom he had endeared himself so much as to make him as his own bowels. Yet he was sending him away who might have performed the service for him that Philemon doubtless would have rendered had he been at Rome. He might well have been glad, therefore, to have such a representative in his place; and it would have been a thing most acceptable to the aged prisoner. He would indeed have retained him, but would not assume what was Philemon's mind, nor appear to force what should be freest action. Had not God, moreover, overruled the temporary departure of a slave to bestow upon Philemon in his place the far greater gift of a brother beloved? Let him receive him then as such, nay, as if it were the apostle himself; who would take upon himself also all the responsibility of any loss that he had sustained. Yet to the apostle Philemon owed a larger debt, even himself as a Christian, — a self to which his former one was of no value. As a brother then to a brother, and with all brotherly confidence, Paul appeals to him to give him joy in the Lord, satisfying the longings of a heart taught and enlarged by divine love itself.

This is the substance of the epistle; and at first sight it disappoints our expectations as the last word upon such a subject. There is no direct doctrine in it; there is no decree that Christians should set free their slaves; no appeal even to the heart of one who so clearly has a heart as Philemon has, to do so. The claim of the master is recognized, an escaped slave in the liberty of Christ is sent back to whence he had fled. It is clear that Christianity holds out no worldly inducements to its disciples, — is not to serve as a leverage to lift a believer above his position when called by divine grace. Ambition will not here be gratified, nor ease be served; but rather the scandal of the cross added to all other burdens: this, while the blessing of liberty is not denied; and if "thou mayst be made free, use it rather." But no worldly motive is to take rank with or supplement the spiritual: the misery of which has been seen abundantly from even those early days till now.

And yet it could be said, "Not now a servant, but more than a servant, a brother beloved;" and in the family of God, where none serve except the free-born children, none are bondmen but in the love of Christ. How such principles would work out in practice, we may easily conceive. Slave and brother must reveal themselves in inevitable contradiction; the Church, too, which knows only members of Christ's body, being set in charge to maintain needed discipline, that these principles might be kept from violation. In the assembly the slave had equal right and voice; and it was likely that he would be at least as fully represented as the master.

Thus though there might be no immediate change, or imperative proclamation of release to the bondman, a spirit had entered with Christianity which was really much more than this. A new life was swelling the buds of a spiritual growth which should snap every bond that would constrict it. The life of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, might be safely trusted to do this.