J. N. Darby.
The character of Colossians is that the saint is looked at as risen: we hear nothing of the Holy Ghost except the expression, "your love in the Spirit." But it brings out the other side, Christ as life in us, more fully here than anywhere. Christ is in us, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." The way the saint is looked at is as risen; the consequence is that he is not, as in Ephesians, in heavenly places. In Ephesians you have the work of the Spirit of God, and the presence of the Spirit revealing things above, and associating us with them: here in Colossians the saint is dead and risen with Christ, a risen man walking through the midst of this world. In Romans you see a living man actually in this world, as we all are, Christ being his life, and rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. We find, therefore, in Romans that a man is to yield himself to God; whereas in Ephesians we are looked at as coming from God to shew God's character in this world. If you are able to do what is in Ephesians, you will be able to do what is in Romans. Christ had given Himself a dying sacrifice; you are to give yourself a living one. In Ephesians we have, "Be ye therefore imitators of God as dear children" (Eph. 5:1); this goes farther. What Colossians gives us is, not heavenly places, but that we are dead with Christ, and risen with Him, and this life is fully developed here.
We see the way the Christian is to live, and this founded on the place in which he has been put by grace. After that he speaks of all things as to be reconciled to God, while the church He has reconciled. First he takes the great truth of what our life is and our walk, and what it is founded on. There is a path in this world, the spring and character of which is that God's will is in it, a path the vulture's eye has not seen, which was perfectly fulfilled in Christ. "He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked," 1 John 2:6. The saint is given a path through this world which has nothing to do with the world, but which displays the character of Christ in it. "But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," Matt. 5:39. This would not be righteousness, but Christ displayed. You will see this immense privilege of walking down here like Christ, who could speak of Himself as "the Son of man who is in heaven," who lived a heavenly — more than this, a divine — life down here. There was not a single motive in Christ which governed the world, or a single motive in the world which governed Christ. "I will even make a way in the wilderness" (Isa. 43:19), that is the Christian's path.
211 Sometimes we get stopped on the road. "Well," I say to myself, "the eye was not single, or the whole body would have been full of light." It is a path of God. Christ come down to this world, and He treads a path like which there is nothing at all. We are sanctified to the obedience of Christ; God's will was the motive of everything with Him, this was the very way in which He baffled Satan. He never did anything but because it was God's will, not merely that it was according to God's will, though this was true, of course. "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." He had been owned as Son, and the Spirit had descended on Him (there He makes our place), and then He was led of the Spirit to be tempted in the wilderness. When Satan comes and says to Him, "Command that these stones be made bread," there was no harm in eating when He was hungry, but He says, "I have got no orders to do it," "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." So He does nothing, and Satan does nothing — he could not, for that would have been an end to his wiles. The blessed Lord comes to do God's will, and He was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
We see this in a striking instance when Martha and Mary sent unto Him saying, "Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick." We would have said, "He will be off directly," but He had got no orders to go. "When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was," John 11:3-5. We can explain and understand it now: the raising of Lazarus was to be a last testimony to Him. Such is the knowledge of God's will, not merely doing the right thing. God tests the state of the soul thus. If there is wisdom and spiritual understanding, and one is going on rightly, looking back at something one had been doubtful about, one feels, "I wonder how I could have doubted about it at all."
There is a path which the saint has to tread through this world, which is God's path for him in it. God puts him to walk there to test the state of his soul, whether he has wisdom and spiritual understanding. "If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light," Luke 11:36. A candle not only is light itself, but it gives light to all around. "In thy light we shall see light." "The spiritual man discerneth all things," there is progress in this surely; the measure of it we get in the next verse, "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." Suppose I did not know my Father, I should not know how to walk worthy of Him. But the babes do know Him.
212 A man's object is always what gives him character: if he loves money, he is avaricious; if he loves power, he is ambitious; if pleasure is his object, it is that which characterises him. The Christian's object is Christ.
We get walking worthy three or four times in Scripture. In Thessalonians we have, "That ye would walk worthy of God who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory," 1 Thess. 2:12. "Worthy of God!" think what this is, and that according to the place we are to have with Him in glory, when all is complete. We have another here, "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." The divine Man in this world is our example. Then in Ephesians we have, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called," Eph. 4:1. Walking "worthy of the gospel" in another passage (Phil. 1) is almost the same. In one sense we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in these three passages.
If we talk of walking worthy of the Lord, we shall be fruitful; "being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God"; and our hearts, affections, object, mind and walk formed by that: that I get as the walk of the Christian. Then we have the power he walks in, "Strengthened with all might according to his glorious power"; that is the strength to walk right. Now mark how it works, "unto all patience." We would think it was going to do something wonderful; but it is not energy or will, but patience that is the secret of it all. You want to hurry God sometimes, but you never can. We find this sometimes in the desire for restoring a soul — a right thing to wish; but God must go to the bottom. Take a lovely example of this in the Syrophenician woman. The Lord seemed painfully hard; the disciples say, "Send her away; for she crieth after us"; they said this to get rid of her, but He did not answer her one word. She had no title, no promises, nor anything else. At last he said, I cannot "take the children's bread, and cast it unto dogs": this brought her to the acknowledgment of what she was, and of what God was. She insisted that there was love enough in God to meet her as she was. "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then she got all she wanted: Christ could not say there was not. Seemingly the Lord was hard in this case, just as when they sent the message to Him, "Lord, behold he whom thou lovest is sick," and yet, "He abode two days still in the same place where he was."
213 Patience requires thorough confidence in God: God is working His own work meanwhile, but we must follow Him, not go before Him. If I am "strengthened … unto all patience," there will be none of my own will, and I shall be long-suffering to others. Power works in patience, longsuffering and joyfulness. Christ was the "Man of sorrows," yet He could say of His disciples, "That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves," "I do always those things that please him"; but He waited to know what the things were that pleased Him.
In Colossians 1:9-11 we have the state of the soul; then in the following verses the privileges on which it is based.
What was the first sign of an apostle? "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds," 2 Cor. 12:12. Patience was the first grand sign of an apostle. You never find the apostles healing a friend because it was pleasant to them. "Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick" (2 Tim. 4:20); and Epaphroditus who had been hunting up Paul somewhere, "was sick nigh unto death, but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow," Phil. 2:27. There is the path of the saint, he is not of this world at all; he is in it, and he has to walk through it in the spirit and character of Christ, with spiritual intelligence of God's will, and having God's strength, doing God's will when it comes. "Let patience have her perfect work," Jas. 1:4. As regards the grace that puts us into this path, you will find it is the fullest that possibly can be. "Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." All the patience and longsuffering are founded on that. Not only has He justified me, and given me a title to glory, but He "hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." I can say God has made me — all Christians I mean — fit to be in the light.
214 We have seen the path and walk of the Christian; here we see the grace that puts us into it.
The thief could go straight to paradise; he was fit to be there through the work of Christ. We have no more remarkable testimony to the work of grace in the soul than in his case. When the whole world was against Christ, he confesses Him: when He was hanging like himself on the cross, he says, "Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom": he was certain of that, and when in agony of pain he never thinks about it. You see further the perfect work of confidence wrought in him. How should we like to be remembered, hanging, as he was, there? Yet he was fit to be with Christ in paradise. He was the one single person that was a comfort to Christ on the cross, the blessed work of His grace surely: He had none other comfort in this world.
"Which hath made us meet"; there we get the blessed consciousness which introduces us into this walk. "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness." We "were sometimes darkness, but are now light in the Lord." Satan is "the ruler of the darkness of this world": we have been entirely delivered from that, from the darkness of this world, and all that is in it — from Satan, its god and prince. When God was revealed in Christ, He could say, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness," Luke 22:53. This world — we have ten thousand mercies in it to be thankful for; yet it is a world that has rejected the Son of God, and Satan is over it. "This is your hour."
My beloved friends, I dread the influence of the world over saints more than anything. The world is so subtle that it will come in at the back door if you turn it out at the front. When one has more children, one wants a bigger house, and so it comes in often; it is not like gross sin which anyone can condemn. How began the world? It ended by turning Christ out of it, but it began with Cain. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and in the land of Nod (Nod means a vagabond) he built a city, and called it by the name of his son. This is just what the world has done; it has settled itself out from God. Then you cannot have a stupid city; so you get wealth — cattle the wealth of those days — and artificers in brass and iron, and musical instruments, the harp and the organ. People say, What harm is there in all this? The harm is this, that, having been driven out from the presence of God, and now, what is worse still, having driven Christ out of the world, man must try to make the world as pleasant as he can, because he is away from God. There is no harm in brass and iron, but there is harm in using them away from God. If I knocked a man down in the street, there would be no harm in my strength, but there would be harm in the use I made of it.
215 "And hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love"; not only have we thus light but love, the two essential names of God. I have got both according to Christ. While I have been delivered from the power of darkness, I am brought (not simply into the light, but withal) into the kingdom where all God's love displays itself in the Son of His love; there I am living. Then he adds the how of it all, so to speak: "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." Light is a thing of perfect purity: if we have been washed white as snow, the more the light shines, the more it shews what we are. Now we have been delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love. In Him I have this blessedness; my sins are all forgiven, and I have a perfect conscience, so that I am able to enjoy it. We have got walk founded on that.
We have another immense blessedness here. We have had the character and perfection of the walk of the Christian, and the fulness of the grace we have got in Christ; and now he comes and takes up what God's ways and plans are — "By him to reconcile all things unto himself." This is not come yet, but we get Christ in the place He holds, and where we are in the order of divine events. "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" — He reveals God, and when I see the created system, He is the head of it; the ground of this is that He is the creator of it. "And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." There I get the blessed truth for us that, while the Son created all things ("By him and for him were all things created"), yet He would not take them into possession, till He had His joint-heirs. The time is coming when the created heavens shall be all in order, and Christ the Head of all as Adam was lord of the old creation. We find the same thing in Hebrews 1 — "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." He did not take this place simply as God. "Now he that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things." He went down into death, in one sense lower than the creature; He went through death, the grave, hades; and now He is far above all heavens, and He fills all, not simply as God, but in the power of redemption. He is head over all things to the church.
216 All things have not yet been brought into order; but meanwhile where Christ is sitting now is at the right hand of God, "expecting till his enemies be made his footstool"; He has not yet taken His great power, but He has perfected us. "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified," Heb. 10. "We see not yet all things put under him, but we see Jesus … crowned with glory and honour," Heb. 2:8-9. Part of Psalm 8 has been fulfilled, but not all. This is unfolded in 1 Corinthians 15 too. He is now sitting at the Father's right hand, while He is gathering His joint-heirs. He is the Firstborn of every creature in title. He is waiting till it is fulfilled. "And he is the head of the body, the church": this is special relationship. He will have the headship of creation, and He is head to the church, but herein He is the firstborn from the dead. There I find the scheme of God thus stated, that Christ, who created all things as Son, takes all as Man, but then He is not only head over everything, but head to the church. That is an immense truth, not only a fact but a truth. The Son of God met the whole case our wickedness had brought in; He has been under death, under Satan's power, "made sin for us."
The position of man in the Lord Jesus Christ is after judgment has been executed; he has entered a place that Adam innocent never had, after death, after Satan's power. He is in this new place with a totally new life, Christ's own life, in that place. "In him was life"; He becomes a man because God's "delights were with the sons of men." He takes on the cross our responsibility, and, God being perfectly glorified there, He goes into a new place, according to God's glory, that is for us. "For all the fulness was pleased in him to dwell." If you look at verse 9 of the next chapter, you will see the fact. "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." Here you get the purpose: that is all the difference. It was not merely a particular individual with a certain quantity of the Godhead — a thought very familiar in those days, but "All the fulness was pleased to dwell in him."
217 Then I come to the second thing: He will reconcile these things, but "You hath he reconciled" (we get it again in 2 Cor. 5). Here we have this blessed truth that this is our present condition of soul with God. I have learnt His love; I have learnt that my sins are gone; my heart is brought as a present thing into God's presence, and here I am with God, without a cloud or quiver, reconciled to God. "To present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight." This is our condition in the purpose of God: then we go on to our responsibility in connection with it.
We have got back to God with a sense of more love a great deal than if we had never sinned, for we see God not sparing the best thing in heaven for us. Now I can joy in God for myself. You will find warnings afterwards: still that is what we have here. You will soon find your conscience and responsibility exercised with what follows here. Not merely are we fit to go to heaven; but when I go to God by Christ, I believe in His perfect love, and I have a perfect conscience so that I can enjoy Him. That is the reason I find a very touching thing in John's epistle; 1 John 4:9-19. First he speaks of the way in which God's love has been manifested. He has given His Son, given His Spirit to dwell in us, made His love perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; then he goes on to say, "We love him because he first loved us," not we ought to love Him. The heart has drunk in all that this love has brought, eternal life, as well as propitiation for our sins, the Spirit given, boldness in the day of judgment, because we shall be like the Judge; all this streams into the heart, so that we can say, "We love him because he first loved us." The sense of this love is reconciliation. If you hear a child saying, "Oh, if you only know my mother, her love, her tenderness, and though I am so foolish, she is always the same"; that child loves his mother, though the mother's love is always the superior. "We love him because he first loved us" supposes reconciliation.
218 Righteousness shall reign when Christ reigns; righteousness shall dwell in the new heavens and the new earth. The effect of our being reconciled in a state of things not yet reconciled is to put us on our responsibility to go on to the end.
The wilderness is no part of God's purpose; but it is a part of His ways. You will see in Exodus 3, 6, and 15, that God's purpose for the Israelites was to give them Canaan. So it is with us; and He takes the case of the thief to shew that the wilderness is not a necessary thing.
Here we are, going through the world, and with that are connected "ifs." There is no "if" in the purpose of God, there is no "if" in the accomplishment of His salvation; but there are "ifs" in the way He leads us, humbling us and proving us. "If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel." If you give up Christ, you will never get there! He puts them through the wilderness, where they are tested and proved as to their obedience and dependence on God. There is no "if" as to my being in Christ: I know I am in Christ — "At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you" (John 14:20); but the moment He takes me as an actual living man down here, He says, "So run that ye may obtain," 1 Cor. 9:24. I am set to go through the desert, and if I do not go on to the end, I shall never reach Canaan. What is my confidence? "He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous." I get Christ the blessed testimony of it; there promises come in. It is not a promise that Christ is my righteousness, but I have promises along the road.
In the ways of God He puts us through this world, where we are dependent on His faithfulness to keep us all the way. We "are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation," 1 Peter 1:5. We are in danger every moment, but it is as plain in Scripture as A B C, that God will keep us to the end; but do not you tumble, do not you get tripped. What is the good of saying, "Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand"? (John 10:28.) Because we are in danger of being plucked. "Catcheth" is the same word: "The wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep." I have perfect security in the Lord's faithfulness, not in my own; I get therein dependence on Him. "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not," He said to Peter, and his faith did not fail. I get a vast mass of what is most blessed connected with this, not merely the fact that eternal redemption has been accomplished, but that there is not a moment that God is not thinking of me! No outward violence can prevail against us, "Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand"; and no inward decay, "They shall never perish."
219 There is a striking passage, though not nearly so blessed as that in 1 Corinthians 1. What makes it so gracious is that the Corinthians were going on shockingly ill. "I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ," chap. 1:4. "Who shall also conform you unto the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." chap. 1:8. What does Paul do then? He begins to find fault with them, and he blames everything they were doing. We are put through this place of difficulty, exercise, and trial, but we have this word that we are "kept by the power of God": therefore our responsibility is brought out to be leaning on His grace every moment. I may say to my child, If you tumble you will be killed, but I am not going to let him tumble. You are put through these exercises every day to prove whether you are faithful in leaning on His blessed strength, not on your own, to the end of the journey. God's way is to put us through the wilderness, as He did the Israelites, but He never forgot them, never left them without manna. He puts us through this process in bringing us to glory, that we may know ourselves, but He interweaves His grace with all our trials and difficulties. Not only has God wrought eternal redemption for us, but "He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous."
If I undertake like Israel, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do," I shall surely tumble; but if I say like Paul, "When I am weak then am I strong," I shall be safe. Paul was in danger when he came down from the third heaven, and the Lord sent a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him; then he learns that, when reduced to utter weakness, and when he felt his weakness, the strength of Christ was made perfect. We have to go through that — we all have. We are reconciled to God, and His purpose is to present us "holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight"; but we are exercised all the way to see how far we "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." In the desert there are "ifs" constantly. God knows whether we need much sifting like Job, who got a good deal, Satan being let loose upon him; but what was the effect of it all? "Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes."
220 There is no uncertainty as to the perfection of Christ's work, and no uncertainty as to His receiving us to Himself in glory; but He wants our hearts to get practically into the sense of constant dependence on Him, with the blessed promise that in this path He will never fail but will keep us to the end. When there is wandering of heart, there is danger directly; therefore we get such expressions as "Keep yourselves in the love of God"; there daily responsibility comes in, and we gain immensely by it, having "our senses exercised to discern good and evil." Paul does not say, "I believe," but "I know whom I have believed": the soul finds rest there.
We get something, in its measure, like this in the Old Testament in Psalm 23. The psalmist says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." He does not say, "Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong" — I have great blessings, but it is the Lord Himself who blesses me. What is the way he learns that? His soul is restored, the Lord spreads a table for him in the presence of his enemies. He had learnt Him through all this, and he is not afraid of the power of death, or of the enemy: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me": and he knows that God will keep him to the end, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
We find in Colossians 1 these three things: —
1. That we are to walk worthy of the Lord, nothing short of it.
2. The blessed consciousness that, if it be a question of our place, all is settled.
3. God's carrying us through a road where we are sifted and tried as to the motives of the heart, that we may know what is in our hearts, and know Him too.
It is a wonderful thing that God thinks of our dangers, our characters, and our circumstances. He never ceases to think of us along the road.