Liberation and Separation

Christian deliverance has various aspects; and the death of Christ, by which deliverance is effected, is variously applied in its relation to these. Thus, besides deliverance from guilt, we are said to be "made free from sin" (Rom. 6:18); "delivered from the law" (Rom. 7:6); delivered "from this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). Freedom from the first, viz. sin, is said to be effected by accounting ourselves dead, inasmuch as Christ has died unto sin once, and we with Him; from law, by our becoming dead to the law, finally and absolutely - the link being broken by the (dead) body of Christ. These two deliverances partake of the nature and character of liberation from that in relation to which there has been a condition of bondage; of which the believer becomes conscious by the possession of a new nature, and groans for deliverance, as Israel in Egypt from the tyranny of Pharaoh. Of these two subjects Romans treats in fullest detail, and the manner of deliverance, both doctrinal and experimental.

Beyond, however, a passing though important exhortation,* this epistle does not contain any detailed instruction, doctrinal or experimental, as to the manner of deliverance from the world. But so vitally important a subject for the Christian, cannot fail to be treated of with some detail in the inspired Word.

*"Be not conformed to this world," etc. (Rom. 12:2.)

It is the object of this paper to draw attention to the special epistle in which, from the very point at which Romans teaching stops, the believer is again taken up, and carried on in fuller and further instruction as to the character and manner of his deliverance from the world. The aspect of Christ's death, in its application to deliverance from the world, will be found to vary considerably from its aspect in Romans, where deliverance from sin and law are treated of. The type, furnished in the Red Sea - deliverance of Israel from Egypt - throws a very clear light upon the Colossian aspect of Christ's death, which it is proposed to consider. Israel was clearly liberated, when they stood on the wilderness side of the Red Sea, from that under which, as the people of God, they had groaned. Their willing hearts went into thankful praise with the deliverance; and the pressure of praise found utterance in that wonderful song of Exodus 15. But scarcely did they complete the celebration of their deliverance from the power and tyranny of Pharaoh ere they were brought face to face with the fact which furnished no element of thanksgiving in their song. That same sea, which witnessed to their being perfectly liberated from the hand of Pharaoh, also separated them from the land towards which their fleshly hearts still reached out in desires for those especial gratifications which peculiarly belonged to it. In view of this, the Red Sea furnished an impassable barrier; and it is easy to see that it assumed a very different aspect from that in which, as a means of deliverance from bondage, it had so recently appeared.

The prepositions used in Rom. 6:14 and 7:14, with reference to believers when sin and law are under consideration, and that used when flesh is the subject, are characteristic and important to notice. "Under" is applied to sin and law; "after" to flesh, as in Rom. 8:4-5, 12, 13; and these are nowhere found transposed - "under" expressing domination; "after" inclination or disposition. Hence, uniformly, "under the law," "under sin"; but "after" the flesh. The same distinction is observable in Galatians 3:25 and 4:4, 23, 29.

If the believer finds cause of thankfulness and praise in that aspect and application of Christ's death which liberates him from sin and law, he very early discovers that the attractions and allurements of the world, in which the natural man finds his gratification, still in measure hold their sway. Nor can he honestly say that, as in the case of sin and law, he finds positive relief and delight in Christ's death as a deliverance from what naturally attracts and interests him. It is the instinct of his new nature, rather than an intelligent divine pathway for him, that at this stage makes him sensible that he must separate himself from these things. And he finds pain - which surely leads to blessing - not pleasure, in consistently carrying out his convictions; but there is as yet no full intelligent object that more than compensates, in full, divine satisfaction, the self-denial he practises. It is not deliverance from a tyranny of which he is now sensible, but the pain of separation from what attracts and perhaps fascinates.

The teaching of Romans will not exactly meet this phase of soul experience: even as the sense of deliverance from bondage to Pharaoh failed to affect the cravings of Israel for the fleshpots of Egypt. This was to be effected, according to Jehovah's intention, on a totally different principle, viz. by the impassable barrier which the Red Sea constituted.

But this Red Sea barrier accomplished and involved two things, whether they were appreciated or not: it shut the nation out from Egypt, and IN with Jehovah - whose infinite and unfathomable resources, all indeed that He Himself was, in wisdom, love, and power - were available on behalf of His people. All that He was, was intended now to take the place, as a satisfying portion, of all that had hitherto satisfied and gratified. A fuller, deeper, holier satisfaction was to displace in the hearts of the Israelites, the pleasures, objects, and interests of Egypt, from which the Red Sea effectually cut them off.

In this is presented very clearly the divine principle of deliverance from the world, which leads us directly to the Epistle to the Colossians to examine its structure, and in doing so to gain instruction on this important, but often much misapprehended subject. Like Israel, God's people now may fail to appreciate His ways in accomplishing His intentions and desires; but it is of vital importance that the divine principle upon which He works should be clearly understood. Otherwise all is confusion for the earnest soul. Spiritual results must fail in accomplishment, and legal exercise and practice will usurp the place of happy, intelligent progress in the divine path.

Colossians opens very distinctly with the apostle's acknowledgment that they were well acquainted with the gospel - the line of truth presented in Romans. "Faith in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:25; Col. 1:4); and '" love to all the saints" (Rom. 12:10); and "hope laid up in heaven" (Rom. 8:23-25), are recognised as characteristic, and call forth the apostle's thankfulness and thanksgiving. Of these they had "heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" (vv. 5, 23). They had "known the grace of God in truth," and learnt it afresh from the lips of Epaphras. But all this only serves to furnish the foundation and groundwork of further and deeper desires on the part of Paul for the Colossians: namely, that they might be "filled with the knowledge of His will"; secondly, that they might "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." These two things in themselves go beyond the mere reception of grace through the gospel. In sum (vv, 12-14), relationship, meetness, and redemption in its double aspect - "delivered from the power of darkness" and "translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love"  - carrying with it forgiveness of sins, furnish the elements of the gospel already received by the Colossians, and which may without difficulty be traced in the Epistle to the Romans.

We might pause here to note the general contrast of these two epistles, and the apparent object of that contrast.

In Romans, the first man's degradation and ruin are first brought forward, and then the work of redemption in lowly incarnation by the Second Man, is set forth with the object of liberating man from the guilt and bondage in which he is found.

In Colossians the varied glories of the Person of the Second Man are first displayed, His Headship and His fulness set forth, with the object of separating the believer from the world in every form, by satisfying him with that revealed fulness. Romans sets the believer, as delivered, "in Christ" with "no condemnation." Colossians addresses him as "complete [filled full] in Him." In Romans, where the work, i.e. redemption, is in view, it is opened out in all its full detailed application to the need which it meets. In Colossians, where the Person is the subject, the full and fathomless glories of the Son are presented in counter attraction to the ensnarements and entanglements of the world.*

*Romans deals with the subject of bondage, Colossians with that of beguilings (chaps. 2 - 4), and introduces the world as the scene to which they belong; and the flesh the medium by which they affect the believer.

The introductory verses, having led up to the Person of the Son of the Father's love, the apostle at once proceeds to unfold His glories, which the Colossians are, so to speak, called aside from everything else to contemplate. In view of this, the suitability of a full standing in relationship, meetness, and redemption, including forgiveness, will be clearly apparent (Col. 1:12-14.) The first and transcendent glory of the Person of the Son as man, which the apostle names, is "Image of the invisible God" - absolute in His deity, though man; the deep mystery of which remains a matter for holy contemplation, but is in itself unfathomable and incomprehensible. Then He is the "Firstborn of every creature." A casket of dignities and glories is here contained in the title "Firstborn." Jacob's definition of the "Firstborn" in Genesis 49:3 may be accepted probably, as embodying the divine ideal, "Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of power." The application of each of these terms to Christ is too apparent to need comment. (See also Deut. 21:17 and Psalms 105:36.) Passing on, supreme creatorial power is ascribed to Him: "By Him were all things created," etc.; supreme dominion and authority, "All things were created … for Him"; self-existent before all created things, "He is before all things"; omnipotent in power that sustains all things, "By Him all things consist"; "Head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead." All fulness is pleased to dwell in Him - reconciliation glories rest upon Him, whether of persons now, or of all things in a coming day. How inexhaustible and complete the fulness and the glories embodied in the Son of the Father's love! As children of that same Father, we may well lend an attentive ear to the glories of His Son.

We are then recalled to the fact that whether it be "the gospel," or "the mystery," Paul is the special vessel through which all was revealed. "Whereof I am made minister," is said by Paul of both, but with the latter he is now specially occupied; not "the gospel," of which they had "heard before"; nor yet "the grace of God," which they knew in truth, but rather that which completes or fulfils the word of God, in itself the top stone of revelation.

Keeping fully in view the supreme and transcendent glories of the Son of the Father, already announced to be Head of the body, the Church, the apostle now emphasizes the marvellous dignity and absolute identity of the assembly with Christ as His body. It is not here His dignity who is Head, treated as before, but the Church's identity with Him who is the repository of these many glories; and the dignity of her marvellous relation to Him as His body. This was divinely calculated to rivet and entrance the hearts of the "saints to whom" (v. 27) Paul says, with deep and fervent energy, "God would" (having the force of will or desire) "make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Thus he completes the identity of the saints with Christ in union, by His indwelling, the guarantee of future glory. The full, deep exercise and energy of Paul's heart for them then follows. (i. 28 - 2:1.)

But what means this "divine labour" of the apostle - "Striving according to His working which worketh in me mightily" - a "great conflict"? It is noteworthy that "striving" (i. 29) and "conflict" (2:1) have the same root from which our English word "agony" is derived; literally the strivings of one for victory in the arena, the whole man being in tension. It was a conflict which embraced not only the Colossians and them at Laodicea, but also "as many as have not seen my face in the flesh," i.e., the universal company of the saints on earth. The words seem fuller, and the exercise deeper, even than when Paul's spirit was stirred within him when, at Athens, he "saw the whole city given to idolatry." If the measure of the apostle's exercise is to be taken, and surely it may, as an index of the importance of that which pressed upon him, believers may well be arrested by his earnest agony on their behalf.

The subject-matter of this exercise is announced in v. 2, and concerned not the cold and formal "acknowledgment," as our translation puts it; but "the full assurance of understanding" extending to the "full knowledge of the mystery of God," and that with a view to their hearts being "encouraged - being knit together in love." In these words the apostle unburdens himself of the travail of his soul.

One question remains to be asked, viz., Why did Paul travail in this deep desire for the saints of God generally? Let Paul answer: Because for him the mystery was that "in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (New Trans.), which were alone capable of counteracting the beguilings of man's enticing words. (vv. 3, 4.)

Should it not be a matter of confusion of face, and confession of want of heart, that these unveiled glories of the Son of the Father, Head of the body (of which each individual believer is a member), and the deep, divine emotions of the great apostle of the mystery, should so little affect the saints of God generally? And is not the reason for this to be found in the fact that the very danger and snare, which Paul set himself to meet by a divinely adapted ministry, have first insidiously infected, and then largely leavened, the people of God? "And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words."

But let us follow the apostle a little further, as he unfolds the groundwork of separation more fully. He says, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk (ye) in Him." "Rooted and built up in Him," etc. The fulness and sufficiency of "the Christ Jesus the Lord" (New Trans.) is here applied to the Christian's walk; all that concerned foundation and growth was contained "in Him," and "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" - that is absolutely, as the glorified Man.

The divine intention as to the believer is then set forth: "and ye are complete [filled full] in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power"; i.e., of all that can legitimately claim authority and dominion He is the Head; and He who is such is Head of "the body, the Church," whose whole satisfaction and delights are circumscribed and self-contained in the person of the Christ. Such is the doctrine presented by Paul, but which rests upon a foundation which he now proceeds to unfold, possibly referred to in the expression previously used - "rooted … in Him."

With striking abruptness the fulness and Deity of the Son as man are followed by the words, "In whom also ye are circumcised," etc. It would be difficult to find in Scripture a more instantaneous transition from the full glories of the Son as man to that moment when as man He was cut off "by wicked hands." Is there not divine intention in this? Inspiration does not admit of accident in composition. It is impossible to question that a powerful divine effect must have been produced upon the hearts of the Colossians by the very suddenness with which the apostle turns from the glories of Christ, the Head of that body of which they were members, to the fact that in Him they had been cut off from all that from which His circumcision had cut Him off. If they were identified with Him in a marvellous union, they were identified, too, with that death which severed them from all that which it severed Him from: that is, morally and spiritually, for they were still in mortal bodies.

Let us notice the divine intention which first unfolded all that He was in the fulness of His person; the weight and effect of which would be carried into the conviction, that they were severed by His death from all that was properly "of the world," i.e., severed IN Him who was thus circumcised, TO all that He was in His own divine person.

We return to the Red Sea type for a moment. On the wilderness side of the sea, Israel was severed from all that Egypt contained; but the sea, that separated them from it, separated them at the same time to the full resources of Jehovah, to whom they thankfully sang, in the joy of redemption, in the recognition of what He had displayed Himself to be in power and resources. Henceforth there was absolutely no provision for them but in Himself. Their position was "complete [filled full] in Him." The type is thus wonderful in its confirmation and illustration of the line of truth in Colossians, and might be further followed, for the beguilings of the land from which they were severed became their danger and their ruin, as with the Church in its history through the wilderness. A Caleb and a Joshua, appreciating the Red Sea severance, and the full and unbounded resources of Jehovah, with their hearts set upon His land, might and did honour Him who had so wondrously redeemed them and brought them to Himself (Ex. 19:4); but the nation as a whole was "spoiled"; i.e., led away by the beguilings (Col. 2:8-9) that belonged to Egypt.

It is of importance to note the aspect in which Christ's death is introduced, viz., as circumcision. In Romans it is not so expressed. It appears to be peculiar to Colossians, and conveys the thought of separation in being cut off, which the idea of circumcision involves; and this is further borne out by the application of Christ's circumcision, as putting of "the body of the flesh." ("The sins of" should be omitted.)

Thus Christ's death is presented as the great barrier, which at once separates the believer from the world in its various forms of beguilings and enticements, and separates him to and in the One in whom all fulness dwells.

Baptism figures or represents what is accredited to the believer by God, viz., that he is buried with Christ, and as really risen with Him, "through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead." As another has said, commenting on this verse,* "We have done with the flesh in Christ: it is not an effort to have done with it, we are dead … But we do find it said, 'Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.' (Chap. 3:1-5.) This supposes us to be dead, and to have "our life hid with Christ in God … all that Christ is, and all that Christ has done, is mine in Him.** Has He been put to death? So have I. Is He risen? So am I. Therefore I am able to mortify, etc. … And mark how this is brought in. The faith is not in my being risen, but in Christ's having been raised. This distinction is far from unimportant: many a sincere soul is continually turning in upon itself to know if it be risen; but this is not 'the faith of the operation of God who raised Him from the dead.'"

*Col. Writings, vol. 27. pp. 422, 423.

**"It is all ascribed by God to me as though it had happened to myself."

Four aspects in which the world beguiles, through the body of the flesh, appear to be indicated by the apostle, from all of which this remarkable ministry is directed to deliver; viz., philosophy, ordinances, the rudiments of the world, and gross lusts. He thus sums up possibly all that by which the world appeals to the flesh in the believer. The Egypt from which Israel was delivered remarkably possessed these different attracting elements.

As a nation of slaves, its philosophy and its science might have had but little attraction for them; but its heathen "ordinances," its principles or rudiments, and its gross lusts and gratifications, held their sway after they had been delivered, as their history records. But philosophy existed as a snare for the Colossians; viz., all that high intellectual culture, of which Greece and Rome were successionally the centre and the source. ordinances, the religiousness of the natural man, to which Judaism, as given by God, had been degraded, mingled as it was with forms of idolatry and Gnosticism. The rudiments or elements of the world - every subtle principle and motive that has its origin from the world, apart from God, involving all that goes to compose the spirit and character of the world, whether religious or irreligious; and, lastly, those gross lusts of which the apostle speaks, when he says, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth," etc. In a sense, all constituted the rudiments of the world; but it is important to note the special term which Paul employs in verse 20, as to the bearing of the believer's death with Christ toward the world. "Wherefore if ye be dead [have died] with Christ [not TO the world, but] from the rudiments of the world." There are many relations in which the believer necessarily stands towards the world, which affect the accuracy of the statement of his having died with Christ to the world, viz., corporeal needs, earthly duties and relationships, etc. What is said with divine accuracy to be true of him is, that he has "died with Christ* from the rudiments of the world"; maintaining again the separation character of Christ's death as bearing upon him. With equal accuracy the believer is instructed to reckon himself to be dead indeed unto sin (Rom. 6:10), and to have become dead to the law by the (dead) body of Christ. (Rom. 7:4.) Divine terms are not only perfectly accurate, but perfectly essential to the clear apprehension of the divine mind in the word. The expression "dead to the world," so frequently used, is fully understood as not to mean absolutely done with the world; "for then must ye needs go out of the world." It is important to note that the term the Spirit of God uses, conveys the divine idea exactly, viz., "have died away from the rudiments of the world."

*A very strong preposition, literally "away from," as translated in chapter 1:23. It also occurs in v. 26 twice, where it gives peculiar force to the secrecy of the mystery.

Enough has, perhaps, been said as to the separation character of the Epistle to the Colossians, itself the very essence of "sanctification." This, according to 1 Cor. 1:30, Christ is said to be made to us of God, and fully brought out in our epistle. The divine ground-work also, upon which separation rests, has also been treated of, viz., full satisfaction in Christ, as the repository of untold and unfathomable glories; cut off as the Christian is, in and to Him, by His circumcision or cutting off, as well as away from the various forms in which the world bids for his interest, after its rudiments, "and not after Christ."

Failing all this divinely adapted ministry, there is but one alternative, viz., that there must be a lapse (and how solemnly the centuries have witnessed to it) into that which the apostle sums up as "the satisfaction of the flesh"* (ch. 2:23, New Trans.); that is, "alive in the world" (v. 20, New Trans.), instead of dead from its rudiments, which effectually hinders the heavenward progress of the individual believer and the assembly.

*See Numbers 2:4-6, and 18.

The closing verses, up to the detail of household responsibilities, include the having put off the old man, and put on the new; i.e., Christ, His order and His life, both accomplished in Him, by His death and resurrection, and the believer's identity with Him. On this is based practical exhortations to "put off all these - anger, wrath, malice," etc., and "put on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies," etc.; the character of the early ministry being fully insisted on, viz., "Christ is all and in all."

Further, the Colossians are exhorted to "let the peace of Christ preside in their hearts" (N.T.), as that to which they were called, in the unity of the body; and to let the word of the Christ dwell in them richly; probably the ministry contained in the epistle about the Christ.

God's divine institution on earth from the beginning is then acknowledged, and the various relationships involved therein separately dealt with: wives, husbands, fathers, children, servants, masters; with their characteristic responsibilities. These may test the Christian, but are not in conflict with his separated character, seeing that they do not partake of the nature of "the rudiments of the world," having a divine, not a worldly origin. If each of these relationships is mutually carried out, through the Spirit, on the principles and lines laid down by the apostle, the "rudiments of the world" are practically excluded from the household; and this divine institution becomes, in Christianity, the expression of what is divine, and not worldly: separated and satisfied in a divine way.

A few final, closing exhortations of deepest moment follow: "Continue in prayer," specially "that God would open … a door of utterance to speak the mystery of Christ," a prayer as much needed now as then; "walk in wisdom towards them that are without"; speech should be "alway with grace, seasoned with salt," i.e., in charity without laxity as to any corrupting tendency; "redeeming the time."

Some special and beloved labourers are then personally named. Epaphras's prayer, at the close of the epistle, supplements Paul's at the commencement very fittingly, and is fully in the spirit of the ministry of the epistle - that the Colossians may stand "perfect and complete [filled full] in all the will of God." (Chap. 1:9; 4:12.)

Noticeably, the Laodicean assembly seems in a very distinct way to be on the apostle's heart. To them this special ministry of separation from the world was commended (chap. 2:1, 4; 15:16); Rev. 3:17 furnishes the sad record of its failure as to abiding effect. The Laodicean assembly there is seen blossoming out into complete separation, not away from "the rudiments of the world," but away from Christ: "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing."

Generally speaking, then, Romans liberates from sin and law, which at first dominate the believer, who is made sensible of the bondage by the possession of the new nature; while Colossians separates from what fascinates by means of the possession of the old nature. The death of Christ is the basis and foundation of both deliverances; liberating in the former cases, and separating in the latter case to Him in whom all full heavenly glories subsist.

As Galatians has been referred to in connection with deliverance from the world, mentioned in chapter 1:4, it may be well to add, that the truth of separation from the world by Christ's death is fully confirmed in that epistle (chap. 6:14), in the double crucifixion there spoken of. Whatever fellowship may have preceded crucifixion, as may have been the case with the two thieves, their double crucifixion effectually brought it to an end: so with the Christian, the fellowship that once existed, has been by the cross of Christ practically annulled.

It is both deeply interesting and important to refer for a moment to John 17:17-19, which presents Christ, as to His Person, sanctifying or setting Himself apart in heaven, i.e., as raised and glorified; not only as object, but as the effective means by which those whom he speaks of as "in the world" are sanctified, or set apart.

We get here the germ truth, so to speak, from the lips of Christ Himself, upon which it would appear the apostolic Colossian ministry is founded, viz., the fully detailed way in which the ministry of a glorified and glorious Christ operates in separating, by fully satisfying, the believer as filled full in Him, in whom he is circumcised, i.e., cut off in His death. M. C. G.