J. N. Darby.
In taking up Colossians, I will begin by comparing it with the epistles to the Ephesians and Romans, in order to help us in understanding the different ways in which the condition of the soul is treated. The chapter I have read (chap. 1) connects itself too, in a remarkable way, with the counsels of God, as well as containing some of the more elementary truths, such as our hope of glory and our responsibility, which makes it practical to all our souls. You will never rightly connect the doctrines of man's responsibility and God's free grace, until you see them united in Christ. From Paradise and onwards you find these very questions proposed by God Himself in the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But man broke down in his responsibility, and was shut out from the tree of Life. Thus there were the two sides of the question from the very starting-point of God's ways. The same question was raised by the law. The two things were there, and by satisfying the responsibility man was to find the way to life. Then came Christ, who did satisfy the responsibility, and is the Life. Grace, which bestows the life, gave Christ, who met the responsibility. I receive eternal life through the righteousness of God when I have none, and I have to glorify Him in exhibiting this life in my body.
In divine things, people forget (what they see every day, and which is as simple as possible in human things) that duties flow always from the relationship in which we are already placed. Putting a person into a relationship, puts him as naturally as possible into the duties belonging to that relationship. If the place is a constant one, the duty is a constant one, as with parents and children, husband and wife. The statement often made, that if I am saved I may do as I like, is thus disposed of. Can my child say that because he is my child he may do as he likes? No; the duty flows from the relationship. If I am a child of God, duty is always there; I may fail in it, and be chastened as a naughty child - quite true; but the duty is there. That is what redemption does; on the total failure of man under responsibility, it brings me the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. Thus praise, service, obedience - whatever belongs to the child of God - flows from it.
451 Now the epistle to the Ephesians gives us the counsels of God, while Romans takes up the responsibility of man, and his failure in it; then his justification from this state. These are connected with two aspects of sin; first, in its lusts and passions, in which man lives in sin; then its aspect as towards God, in which he is dead in sin. On the one hand I find him alive in sin, away from God, seeking to gratify his lusts. Then, I ask, what is the state of this soul towards God? He is dead. Scripture speaks of both states. In Romans, man is alive in sins; in Ephesians, as towards God, he is dead. If looked at as alive in sins, it is a question of putting them away and justification. If looked at as towards God, dead, there is nothing of this; it is his being quickened out of that state - and, therefore, life and a new creation; all that side is connected with the counsels of God. Taking man as dead, there is nothing to be got out of him; he has not a feeling or a thought towards God: evil goes out towards evil, but not a feeling stirs towards God. When Christ is brought in, he sees no beauty in Him that he should desire Him; that is man.
In Colossians you find both states (chap. 3:7), "In the which ye also walked sometime when ye lived in them" (that is Romans); and chapter 2:13, "You being dead in your sins" - which takes in Ephesians. This epistle then comes between Romans and Ephesians, and takes up both sides.
When we come to Ephesians, we find the counsels of God, the sealing of the Spirit, the inheritance, and then our being made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Consequently, in the conduct of the Christian, it is God Himself who is given as the pattern of it - "be ye imitators of God, as dear children"; and we get the truth in Jesus, which is, you have put off the old man, and have put on the new. It is not a system of doctrine, but that I have done with the one, and have passed into the other. In Colossians you never find the Holy Ghost mentioned, except incidentally and exceptionally, as "love in the Spirit"; but life is the great subject. In Ephesians, the old man having been put off, and the new man put on, the Holy Ghost is in the Christian, as the power to manifest God in his ways, and thus be the expression of God in a man. God is love, and God is light; "walk in love," and "now are ye light in the Lord"; Christ is the pattern for light, and the pattern for love. There are two ways in which love is manifested; first, the divine love, which shews its greatness in having to do with the vilest, in rising above the evil, and putting it away; secondly, where the object characterises the affections in giving oneself up in devotedness to Him who has so loved us. If I love what is base, it is a base affection, and so on; the affection corresponds with the object on which it fixes itself. I find both these characters of love in Christ, in Ephesians 5:2, and it is the path for us. He "loved us," answers to the first; "to God for a sweet-smelling savour," answers to the second. Love going out to us in every need, but to God as its constant object. It is so with us; we must have God always before the soul, to keep up the character of our love. Here, then, I find the fullest description of what the walk of the Christian is: I am sitting in heavenly places in Christ, not in Adam at all. The works are suitable, and, moreover, fore-ordained. They are suited to the place we are in. If the position is Jewish, the works are legal; but the child is not a servant, nor the servant a child. We are called to walk in works as new in kind, as our position. There I find the Holy Ghost, consequently, as the link to connect me with Christ.
452 Now, in Romans I find the responsibility and failure of man thoroughly examined and proved. Among the Gentiles there were things too horrible to mention; among the Jews, the law broken; in result, "every mouth is stopped." The judgment of God is in the simplest and most absolute way revealed. Sentence is pronounced, "there is none righteous; no, not one."
The apostle is not ashamed of the gospel, because "therein is the righteousness of God revealed." Why? Because "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." Whatever is inconsistent with God's presence He will not have. Mark, the wrath is revealed, not hidden, and the revelation is just as complete as if He were sitting on the great white throne.
In the second part of the epistle (chap. 5:12 to ch. 8) he turns to the nature that produced the fruit. It is not guilt, but state. The guilt is met by Christ dying for our sins, and we have redemption through His blood. The state is met by our being crucified with Him. Then "the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us," but it is not bringing back the law to give us a rule for right conduct (it required righteousness, but never produced it), but by our walking in the Spirit. He produces the righteousness which the law required. Christ is my righteousness, and the Spirit is the power of life in us, producing righteousness. The law produced nothing but condemnation, provoking the sin. Life and the Spirit of Christ give us the path of godliness in contrast to law, beyond which the epistle does not go as to practical righteousness. Then having been justified by the blood of Christ, and brought to God through Christ, the hope is fully given of being like Christ in glory.
453 The three following chapters (9, 10, 11) are to reconcile the unconditional promises to the Jews, with the declaration "there is no difference." They might ask, What will you make of the promises to Abraham? He shews they could not take the ground of promise at all, and shuts up all to mercy.
In Romans, redemption meets the whole case I am in: Ephesians is the answer to the counsels and purposes of God. In Colossians both are found; and as between the two, you have not the full consequences of Ephesians, but you have more than in the Romans: you find in Colossians "risen with Christ"; which is an immense thing for the soul, as all other things are left behind. If merely quickened, I cannot say that. I was lying dead in sins; Christ comes down in grace to where I was, clearing away, as He comes down, all that belongs to sin. Then God comes in and raises Him and us up together. This involves union; I do not say more, because union is actually by the Holy Ghost. Romans does not give that; for this reason; he takes up an individual and says, You have been living in sins - you must personally be justified. Each has to answer for himself; "I am carnal," - not "we" are - that would take in all. The moment I find that we are all dead together in sins, we are all brought together out of death, God has quickened us together with Christ; wherever you find death and resurrection, it is a step towards union, and involves "one body."
If you are dead with Christ, I have it in Romans; if you are risen with Christ, I have it in Colossians; but I do not go to sit in heavenly places - that is Ephesians. Consequently (in Colossians) I am seeking the things that are above, not sitting there. I am here - not as alive in the world, but risen - and my affections set there, occupied with Christ, going up after Him. If I speak of the Holy Ghost, I must have union. In Colossians it is life, not the Holy Ghost uniting in one body in the heavenlies in Christ. Heavenly things are our hope (chap. 1:5). Instead of beginning in Colossians with the counsels of God, as in Ephesians, we have a long preface of the apostle's desire for the saints to set them thoroughly in this hope of heavenly things. Both aspects of the truth are important. It is most important that we should learn in Ephesians "to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" - most important, too, that my heart and affections should be set there; this Colossians does. My hope is laid up in heaven, but I am not sitting there.
454 We will now look at the prayer of the apostle (v. 9, 10), which comes instead of our calling, as in Ephesians. There you get the blessings and the privileges of the church - the whole body; in Colossians the value and fulness of the Head. It is well for us to see where He sets us. How often we find ourselves doubting about the will of God, and it is always because we have not a single eye. Perhaps we have never thought of the thing before; still if there is doubt, the eye is not single. God puts us through all sorts of things to test the state of the soul. If you do not see, the eye is not clear - the thing is clear. It is the condition of the soul that is tested by all these spiritual exercises. I may think I require wisdom, while all the time it is God testing me. The measure and character of the apostle's desire is, that we should "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing"; nothing short of this. Here, again, the state is tested. I must know the Lord, to know what is worthy of Him. I must know His mind and feelings - must be spiritually minded. It is increasing in the knowledge of Him, and thus we know how to walk. "Strengthened with all might according to the power of his glory." To what? Oh! how different are God's ways and man's! What a poor kind of result it seems! "Unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness!" but nothing tests the state of the heart more. "Patience" - that is just what characterised the Lord's path. Had He a will? Never! He came to do the Father's will; He was patient right on to the cross, and nothing else. In Philippians 2 - emptying Himself, He only goes lower and lower - He is the first example of "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." "With joyfulness" - that, too, was seen in Him, therefore He could say "that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves." Will does not connect us with God; broken will leaves us free to enjoy Him, and I find the very thing that breaks my will in fellowship with Him, and thus it gives me joy.
455 Now, having this growth, what do we find? Why, the man was meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light all the time (v. 12), so that after pressing this "growing by the knowledge of God," he can give thanks to the Father for having made us meet. Am I going to be with saints in light? Then I must get all the sanctity and light I can have here. If I am looking for holiness in view of acceptance, it is not really holiness I want, but righteousness. People call it holiness, but it is not really so. There is no proper holiness until there is certainty of salvation. A child has a nature capable of filial feelings, but he may be an orphan and cannot have them, because he has neither father nor mother. So one born of God cannot have holy affections as such. He wants a spirit of adoption, "whereby we cry, Abba, Father," before there can be true holiness. You have been washed clean in the blood of Christ. Have you been allowing in yourself anything contrary to that? It will not do. The blood has been put upon your ear, and upon your hand, and upon your foot. Nothing must be let into the head or done by the hand or foot that is not fit for the blood of Christ. This is how sin becomes so exceedingly hateful. You have gone and found pleasure, if only for five minutes, in that which gave Christ His agony. It is horrible! We have it in the case of the red heifer, in Numbers 19, whose blood had been sprinkled seven times before God. Sins had been consumed when the heifer was killed; but the ashes of the heifer bring me back to the sufferings of Christ, and shew me the horribleness of sin by the very place I am in. This is for holiness, and is not a question of acceptance. It is the place we are in that gives the measure of the evil.
Now he comes to look at the double character of Christ's glory, and of the reconciliation, unfolding specially the glory of the Head, not of the body. In verses 16, 17, He takes His place as Head of creation - of course, because He is Creator. Then He comes to resurrection from the dead and Headship of the body (v. 18). Here He is not "first-born of creation" as Man, but "first-born from the dead." Then you get all the fulness pleased to dwell in Him. It is not in verse 19, "it pleased the Father"; for given Godhead would be nonsense; but as in chapter 2:9, it is the glory of His Person.
456 Now we go back to get everything brought into order by reconciliation, and this has also a double character. "By him to reconcile all things unto himself" is not yet accomplished. "You … hath he reconciled": that is done. We are a reconciled people in the midst of an unreconciled world. There is no such thing as an unreconciled Christian; but our bodies are not yet reconciled: they belong to the old creation. There is not a thing between us and God, unless you put Christ. If there is the least thing between us we are not reconciled - "to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable" in God's own sight! (v. 22).
"If ye continue in the faith." The moment you find saints on earth, you get "if." Now we have the double ministry - "the gospel which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven," not like Peter's to the circumcision. And "the church, whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to complete the word of God." The moment the church was revealed, the whole circle of the testimony of God was complete. Verse 27 gives us "Christ among you, the hope of glory." The Christ of the Jews was not "the hope of glory," but "a crown of glory" when He came, and not among the Gentiles at all. But now Gentiles who have no title to glory have Him as "the hope of glory." The epistle to the Colossians is a word on the way, in which you get between the two.
Then I have all the fulness of the Godhead revealed to me in Christ, "for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." When Christ came there was nothing more to be revealed. To preserve the connection of verses 9, 10 (chap. 2), read "all the completeness of the Godhead," and "ye are complete in him." The completeness of the Godhead is brought to us, and we are complete before the Godhead in Him. Thus we have real circumcision of heart. But what becomes of "the principles of the world"? They are all put away - "Ye are complete in him," and do not want any of these things. First, I go to death as a living sinner, and have the truth of Romans (v. 12). Then I am dead in sins and quickened, and have that in Ephesians (v. 13), in an entirely new creation. He put away my trespasses coming into death, and now He raises me up without them. He does not take the Christian to the heavens, but gets hold of the conscience as to where they are. Ritualism and all the rest of it is smashed. Put a gold leaf between the Head and body, and all is gone - it is death! I can have nothing before God, but that I am complete in Him. All these things were but "a shadow of things to come." What do you know about angels? (v. 18). How do you know they can hear you? Do you know they care for you? Will you say, It is a great thing to have a friend at court - denying you are in Christ? We have Him as a mediator for our weakness: and I trust His heart more than I do an angel's. He has been a Man in my circumstances, and knows what I feel; angels have not.
457 Here we are in Romans again. "Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?" (v. 20). You have died with Christ, and you have done with the whole position in that respect. It was only a satisfying of the flesh. We have come to the practical application of it all. Here we are risen with Christ (chap. 3), and so far on Ephesian ground, only that we are not sitting in heavenly places; we seek them. You have Him in your heart here that your affections may be where He is. Having died with Him, if He is hid we are hid, if He appears we appear. Then we have the most complete statement of what Christian life is, that we find anywhere in the epistles. He will not own any other life, but speaks of "when ye lived in them." First, you find the gross sins spoken of in verse 5, then in verse 8 - no great lust, but the will not broken; and verse 9, untruth. You are to put off all these. They combine the two great characters of sin, violence and corruption. We are never told in Scripture to put off the old man, nor to die to sin. Tell the new man to die? I hope not! Tell the old man to die, and he says, Indeed, I will not; I will live as long as I can! "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh," not have mortified it. I am an active person in putting all these things to death; to mortify is to put practically to death, supposes power - the power of life. Dying is not power. So we read, "seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds."
Now I find the knowledge of holiness according to the nature of God, "renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." This goes far beyond the mere absence of sin like innocent Adam. "Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind," etc. "Holy and beloved"; I am that, He puts them into their place always. This is not what I am to put on, but I am to put on what suits this character and relationship; verse 16 looks for the heart being enlarged in the knowledge of divine things. Verse 17, "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." This gives us a rule that goes far beyond 'what is the harm of this or that?' and is so simple. It comes into any common thing in the day, such as buying a dress. Are you doing it in the name of the Lord Jesus? Can you go to a concert in His name? Of course not. The thing may not be wrong, but it settles everything - hundreds of questions that might arise. It gives me as my measure and rule to be walking in Christ, and living for Christ. I have Christ as my life, and He cannot do it. Then I have got away from Him; I leave Him to do it. If I am in earnest, it is the most comfortable rule possible; but if I am not, it pinches dreadfully: because you may say, Am I never to do anything to please myself? Ah, you betray yourself! What a comfort it is to know what He likes! In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, we know perfectly well if we are doing things in the name of Christ. It goes through the whole character of life in Christ, this "putting off" and "putting on." It does not bring in the Holy Ghost, but life in us - what life is - He is the power of the life, but it is the life of Christ that is in me.
458 To speak of the Holy Ghost dwelling in me as my life, would be an incarnation of the Holy Ghost, which is nonsense. Christ is my life; but it is by the Holy Ghost, on the other hand, that I get life and liberty, power and conscious union with Christ.
And now, in closing let me ask: if you can say you have the consciousness of the place you are set in, as made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, can you honestly say, as to the purpose of your heart, I do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus? Are you conscious of having that as the bent, and aim, and settled principle of your life? I may fail in it, but is that my object? If I am going one way, I may trip or go slowly, but I am not going the opposite way. I know you may trip, but I ask, is it the principle of your life to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus? It is an immense privilege. In the commonest things we are able to bring in Christ. The apostle cannot tell the servant in the house not to purloin without going through the whole scheme of Christianity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, for the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared," etc. (Titus 2). When the heart is set upon an object, it judges of everything according to it. I do a thing because He likes it; this shews I care for Him. If my heart is set upon pleasing Him, I shall have things as He likes it, and simply because He likes it. If we have our hearts filled with Christ, we shall count it no great sacrifice to do without the dross for His sake!