I desire to send you a few remarks from time to time, as the Lord may enable me, on the Epistle to the Colossians, chiefly for the help of the young who have recently been brought, in His great mercy, to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.
Two things in this epistle make it specially precious to such. The first is the way in which it so fully reveals the glory of Christ's Person, whether as Son of the Father's love, in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells, or as Creator, and Redeemer, and Head of His body, the church. The second thing is the way in which it unfolds "the mystery" for joy and consolation of the saints - even Christ in them the hope of glory.
These are the two great subjects set before our hearts by the Holy Ghost in this precious epistle; and what can be more strengthening or gladdening than to have the eye and heart filled with the glory of Jesus, and to have the joy and assurance of our intimate union with Him made good in our souls by the Holy Ghost? To walk in the light of His risen glory, and in the consciousness of our individual interest in His love is the great requirement in these evil days. Nothing else will give courage to confess Him before men; and this alone will deliver from all the snares of Satan, whether of worldliness on the one hand, or of religion on the other, which is not after Christ.
These things will come before us, if the Lord will, by-and-by: meantime, let us follow the course of the epistle from the beginning.
In the first two verses we have the salutation of the apostle, and in the next three his thanksgiving on their behalf. He addresses them as Christ's apostle, clothed with the authority of His name, and charged them with the communication of His grace. Moreover, God had set him apart to this service. In the end of the chapter the apostle tells of a double ministry entrusted to him as the vessel of the grace of God: first, a ministry for the proclamation of the gospel to sinners; and second, a ministry for the church, to make known to the saints the unsearchable riches of Christ. It is in the exercise of this latter ministry that he writes this epistle. It is to bring the hearts of the saints into the assured knowledge and enjoyment of their place and portion in Christ so as to walk in peaceful communion with Him until He shall appear. This ministry he fulfils in the name, and as the apostle, of Jesus Christ. Thus the whole epistle flows directly from Christ through His chosen apostle.
262 It is to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ he writes, and, as we have seen, on the part of Christ. They were "in Christ," the grand centre of the new creation; holy and faithful brethren in Him. Then he ministers the sweet stream of grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus was parted from His disciples in the act of blessing them, so here the apostle of Christ begins his epistle to the Colossians, before entering on anything else by saluting them with the grace or unmingled favour of the Father and the Son, of which they were ever the objects, being in Christ, and with the peace which is the fruit of this favour.
Next we get his thanksgiving. He thanked God, even the Father of "our Lord Jesus Christ," praying always for them, for the hope laid up for them in heaven. Here we see how Paul identified himself with the interests of heaven. He had heard of the faith and love of these Colossians, and his heart at once turned to God in thanksgiving and prayers; thanksgiving that He had linked with heaven this fresh company of believers, and that He had done it. And note well, that it was not what they were delivered from that here occupies him, though he does not forget that, as we see lower down; nor is it what was wrought in them, blessed as that was; but it is what they were called to - that bright and blessed portion in heaven - the hope laid up for them there. Thus he would evidently fill their minds with what they were going to; and in his own sense of its exceeding excellency and glory he thanks God on their behalf as heirs of such an inheritance.
This is a very important point. For there is a great tendency, in the first joy of faith and fervour of feeling, to be occupied with the joy and with the feeling; and when afterwards trials and exercises of heart and conscience have to be passed through, to be occupied with them, or with what will give present deliverance and help, and to forget the bright and blessed hope laid up for us in heaven - the place of rest and glory with Himself, which Jesus is gone to prepare. But how can I journey on to Canaan through the trials and exercises of the wilderness if my heart has lost the sense of the blessedness of the Canaan I am going to? We are redeemed, not for the wilderness, but for Canaan; we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And when the glory of God is indeed our joy, we can add, "Not only so, but we glory in tribulations also." For then we know and experience that these very tribulations are all made to work for our good, and to further us on our way. For "tribulation worketh patience." It free us from the restlessness of our own will, which would turn aside, and delivers us, besides, from the fear of what man can do to us. We learn to trust in God. We learn, moreover, how little we can be the authors of our own blessing, and we count more and more on the constant watchfulness and love, and care of a Father in heaven. His love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. We know that we are in these tribulations because the objects of His love, the ransomed ones of His grace from the fire that shall never be quenched. And then, besides, we are on our way to God. Thus having the end in view enables us to confess that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and it brightens with hope every step of the way. Otherwise we get weary, becoming faint in our minds. But if living in the midst of things that are unseen and eternal, the inward man is renewed day by day, and that, too, at the very time that the outward world is perishing and falling into decay.
263 But we now come to a third point, and that is - the ground of this thanksgiving on behalf of these Colossians. How could the apostle give thanks so assuredly on their behalf, having never seen them? Verse 4 tells us. It was because he had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and of their love to all the saints. These were the grand distinguishing features and characteristics of the divine life in man. And these being of God, he well knew that all who possessed them were bound up for ever in the bundle of life with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that where He was there should they be also. These were the essentials. In Christ Jesus nothing avails but "faith which worketh by love." First, faith, which came to Jesus with all its load of sin and unworthiness because it had nowhere else to go, and because it saw a love and a holiness in Him which received sinners and made Him their companion and their friend; and then love which, having Him for its object, necessarily had all who were His. Faith not only thus comes to Jesus at the first, but it binds the soul to Him as risen, and is ever receiving of His fulness. And love, having seen the saints as the precious ones of His heart, enfolds them for ever in its bosom with a most tender affection. They are dear to Him. This is the motive of love, and it never fails. It clothes with divine comeliness all the objects of His grace. And what it does to them it does as unto Him; and great is its reward.
In the previous verses we had three points brought before us. First, is the apostle's salutation, in which he regards the saints as the objects of the present favour of the Father, and of the peace which He gives. Happy position! secured to us for ever in Christ. And sweet it is thus to be able to view the saints at all times, whatever their practical condition may be, as dear to God, the excellent of the earth, whose present peace and blessing He seeks, even as He has secured it for us for ever in Christ. In fellowship with these thoughts of God, the apostle greets them with grace and peace from God their Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
264 Then, secondly, we had his thanksgiving for the hope laid up for them in heaven. Heaven was near to his thoughts. Jesus was there. He had entered in, and He was preparing a place for them. He is to come again to take us to Himself, that we may be for ever with Him. And when He shall be manifested then shall we also be manifested with Him in glory. This latter, perhaps, was more especially the hope here before him; Christ in them "the hope of glory." What rest of heart the apostle had in contemplating this issue of Christ's travail on their behalf, their being with Him for ever in heaven! Many an exercise he had on their behalf even as to the very condition they were in at the time he was writing to them; they had lost the sense of their place with their risen Head; at any rate it had become much enfeebled, and with the enfeebling of this all else became enfeebled too. He had great agony for them; and this was Christ's Spirit yearning in him over them for their deliverance, and for their entrance in living power into the joy and comfort of the mystery. But when he turned to heaven all was peace; he could give thanks to the Father for the portion He had laid up for them there. Christ was there. The Head was there, and with Him everyone of the members should appear in glory.
Then, thirdly, in verse 4 we had the ground of this thanksgiving as far as they were concerned - even their faith in the Lord Jesus and love to all the saints. Grace had wrought in them already, and he at once connects it with glory.
265 In the close of verse 5, and in the next, a new subject comes before him - the gospel, "the word of the truth of the gospel." In connection with this he makes three statements, each of them weighty and important, as indeed every word of God is.
First, he connects the hope laid up for them in heaven with the word of the truth of the gospel. The gospel, the good tidings of grace, had wrapped up in it also good tidings of glory. It was in the word of the truth of the gospel that they had heard of the hope laid up for them in heaven. Such was the range and scope of the gospel, at least which they had heard; it was God's good news not only of the forgiveness of sins through the blood of His Son, but of eternal blessedness with Him in heaven.
How could it be otherwise? Christ was in heaven, and we are redeemed to be with Him. The cross put Him in glory, and it puts all there who trust in Him too. Blessed is it to know what we are delivered from - the wages of sin - eternal separation from God, who is love, the fountain of all goodness and joy; and this, too, as the expression of His everlasting displeasure. But how much more blessed to know that His perfect love did not spare His own Son, not only that I might not perish, but that I might know Him and be with Himself for ever! Jesus was forsaken for us, that we might be for ever brought nigh. This gives the heart an object as well as perfect peace to the conscience. It delivers also from this present evil world; the brightness and blessedness of that One discovering the true condition of this world - far from God and in bondage of Satan, and under wrath because of having rejected Jesus. The word of the truth of the gospel reveals all this - the true condition of man and his world; and the perfect grace of God which has wrought in the cross for us, and which has wrought in them by the gospel, giving them a place even now with Him who bore it for them, and the hope of being with Him for ever in heaven. It was the word of the truth of the gospel, and on it they might rely with confidence. Man and his glory was passing away, but the word of the Lord should endure for ever. And this was the word which by the gospel was preached unto them.
What firmness of step, and what buoyancy of spirit this heavenly hope gives to him who has it in passing through this world! Then we realise that we are not of it, and that we are on our way to God.
266 A second characteristic of the gospel was its universality. It had reached them, and was among them, as indeed it was in the world. It was no mere Jewish tidings; it was for man. Offences abounded among the Jews; but where "sin" abounded, a far wider thing, there grace did much more abound.
Then, thirdly, it was bringing forth fruit in all the world and amongst them too. It was gathering souls to God through Christ wherever it went, but besides, it was bringing forth fruit in those who were gathered. This last point is plainly implied in the clause which follows: "Since the day ye heard it, and knew the grace of God in truth." Ever since it was the power of fruit-bearing, as at the first it was the seed of eternal life. This is a very important point, and one we are apt often to forget. The seed that fell into the good ground brought forth fruit; some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundredfold. We have become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that we should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God. This is the simple natural result of union with Jesus risen. And the grace of God, when known in truth, sets us thus before God in Christ, the fruits of which union we are to manifest down here upon the earth. We are to walk in newness of life, that is, of response Godward. In order to do this, we must abide in Him. But when simply holding the Head, everything is fruit, fruit unto God.
What a place of honour and glory this is - of being here in this world the living channels of the affections and virtues of Christ hid in God. Oh! that we esteemed it more. Thus it is we adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour, by manifesting in this world of sin and in the trying circumstances of daily life, not what flesh is, but what Christ is; our hearts feeding upon His love, whilst we lean upon His arm and are guided by His eye. What interest He takes in our being fruitful, that His Father may be glorified! Will He fail us in the hour of need? He lets us come into it just that we may prove how abundant are His resources to make us victors over all the power of the enemy.
May He keep us near to Himself that we may be happy in His love, and so be strong to live for Him.