It is hardly possible for the most careless reader to overlook the kindred truth set forth in this epistle and in that to the Ephesians. Union with Christ, the Head of His body the Church, has a place here beyond all other scriptures; for though 1 Corinthians may present the same doctrine (1 Cor. 12), it is evident that there is a question of the assembly of God on earth, in which the Holy Ghost is actively at work through the members, distributing to each as He will, much more than of the saints viewed in Christ above, as in Ephesians, or of Christ viewed in them below, as in Colossians.
Nevertheless, distinctions of great moment and full of interest characterize these two epistles, the chief of which lies in this, that, as in Ephesians we have the privileges of the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who filleth all in all, so in Colossians we have the glories of the Head, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. This difference, like others, was due, in the wisdom of the Spirit, to the moral condition of those addressed. In the former case the Apostle launches out into the counsels of God, who has blessed the saints with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; in the latter case there was a measure of departure into philosophy and Jewish traditions, not an abandonment of Christ, of course, but such an admixture of these foreign ingredients as threatened fatal results in the Apostle's eyes, unless their souls were brought back to Christ, and to Christ alone, in all the rights of His Person and work. Thus the epistle to the Colossians, in consequence of their state, does not admit of the vast scope and development of divine purposes and glory for the saints seen in and united to Christ; whereas in writing to the Ephesians there was then nothing in them to arrest or narrow the outgoing of the Apostle's heart, as the Spirit led him to apprehend with all the saints the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ. Here it is largely a question of exhortation, of recovering their souls, of grave warning. Hence the human element is more prominent here. Writing to the Ephesians the Apostle associates none with himself in the address; yet was Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia and well known to his fellow labourers and associated by a thousand tender ties with himself and others. The assembly at Colosse as such was among those that had never seen his face in the flesh. This makes it the more marked when he joins Timothy with himself in their case.
"Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ by God's will, and Timothy the brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colosse: grace to you and peace from God our Father." vv. 1, 2. For himself, he was not unauthorized, nor was his title human. He was an apostle, not of the Church, but of Christ Jesus by divine will; and Timothy stands with him simply as "the brother." Again, the assembly at Colosse is characterized not only as "saints and faithful," as the Ephesians were, but as "faithful brethren." It is evident that here again, while all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, this term "brethren" brings out their relations to one another, as the others suppose God's grace and their faith if not fidelity.* His own apostolic place is named with quiet dignity and with evident appropriateness for all that follows.
*The omission of "and the Lord Jesus Christ" in the best texts is particularly to be noted; for the drift of the epistle is to give especial prominence to the glory of Christ. Some excellent copies which contain the words may have naturally fallen into this mistake; for the scribes would not without an effort abstain from the usual formula in these epistles. On the other hand, it is difficult to account for the absence of so familiar an ending in first-rate witnesses of various ages and countries, and for the express statement of early commentators that it was not found here, if the words be genuine.
It has been well observed that the Apostle quite omits anything answering to the magnificent introduction with which he begins his Ephesian epistle (Eph_1:3-14). There was a check on his spirit; he felt the danger that threatened the Colossians. How could he then at once break forth into an unhindered strain of blessing? The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and deals with hearts and consciences. Still, if that high tone of worship could not find a place here with propriety, there is immediate thanksgiving. "We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ always when praying for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and love which ye have toward all the saints, on account of the hope that is laid up for you in the heavens, of which ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel that is present with you, even as also in all the world it is bearing fruit and growing even as also among you, from the day when ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth: even as ye learnt from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-bondman, who is a servant of Christ, faithful for you, that also declared to us your love in the Spirit." vv. 7, 8.
The Apostle had heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus that was in the Ephesians, and their love toward all the saints, which drew out his heart in thanksgiving and prayer. He knew them personally and well, having laboured with deep blessing in their midst; but it was sweet to hear of the working of the Spirit among them. So of the Colossians, though not known thus, he had similar tidings, for which he could thank God always in his prayers for them.
But is not the difference striking between the two as exemplified in his manner of presenting the hope? In Ephesians it is the hope of God's calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. What can be more profound or boundless? Here he could scarcely say less. Their hope was laid up, it was safe, it was "in the heavens," not (spite of philosophy or of ascetic ordinances) on the earth. Of all these they had to beware, whatever their looks and promises. Of their proper hope he would remind them, recalling them to the heavens where Christ is, the true and only deliverance from all the workings of mind in divine things and from earthly religiousness.
This heavenly hope, blessed as it is, was nothing new to them, they had heard it before in the word of the truth of the gospel. What the Apostle taught would not weaken or undermine, but confirm that which they had heard in the good news which converted them originally, or (as he here styles it, to give it all possible weight in presence of their straining after novelties) "in the word of the truth of the gospel." It was not intellectual groping, but "the word" definitely sent to them, God's revelation; it was not dabbling in legal forms, but "the truth," the truth of the gospel. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The gospel came to them, yea, was there present with them, no more changing than He does who is its sum and substance. Real truth, even when new, never sets aside the old, but on the contrary supplies missing links, deepens the foundations and enlarges the sphere. Had their philosophy, had their novel restrictions (Col. 2) increased their sense of the value of the gospel? Had these things exalted Christ? There is no doubt what the effect of Paul's teaching would be either in general or in this epistle very especially.
Further, the gospel being thus the display of God's goodness in Christ, not the measure of human duty nor a system of religious shadows, its theatre according to God's intentions is not a single land or family, but "all the world"; and its operation is not condemning and killing, but producing fruit and growing, even as among the saints at Colosse. Was there this fruit bearing, and expansion too, since they had taken up their newfangled notions and legal ways? The gospel is both productive of fruit and has propagative energy. This addition of its growth (kai auxanomenon) is lost to the common text, having been omitted in inferior copies. That it is genuine cannot be fairly questioned. Certainly both traits were known from the day they heard and really knew the grace of God in truth. And this gives the blessed Apostle opportunity, as was his wont, to strengthen the hands of one who was Christ's minister and faithful on their behalf, "Epaphras, our beloved fellow bondman," as he is here affectionately called. The speculative views, the Judaistic forms, had, no doubt, their exponents, who would seek to ingratiate themselves at a faithful labourer's expense. We can readily conceive that the word thus commending Epaphras was needed at Colosse.
In the last portion we saw how the Apostle could speak of the effects of the gospel from the day they had heard it and knew the grace of God in truth. Grace is not like the law. The ten words are chiefly negative. The law, for the most part, deals with what is evil and condemns it; but the gospel reveals Christ as a quickening power, and a strengthening and fruit-producing power. Being a principle of life, it expands and grows as well as produces fruit, as the Apostle describes it, "and bringeth forth fruit [and increaseth] since the day ye heard it," etc.
But now he says, "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it [heard of this living witness to the power of the gospel], do not cease to pray for you." This is a beautiful expression of the Apostle's love which, spite of fear which he justly entertained about the tendencies of these Colossian saints, still only drew him out in prayer for them the more. "And to desire (or ask) that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will." They had shown rather the reverse of this; they had proved a void in their hearts, which they had in vain sought by legal ordinances and philosophy to fill up. Nothing but an intelligent and growing acquaintance with Christ can satisfy the renewed heart. The very mercy that delivers a soul becomes a danger unless Christ Himself be the maintained habitual object. Alas! the freedom which the gospel brings may be used to take things easily, and, more or less, retain or gain the world; but where this is the case, it is seldom a soul possesses any large measure of spiritual enjoyment, and it is never accompanied by solid peace. The soul becomes thus unsettled and uncertain. These oscillations may go on for a certain time, until God carry on the work more deeply in the heart. The Colossians were in some such state; they had not steadily advanced to a fuller knowledge of God's will; consequently Satan found means to trouble them. They had seen the first precious display of grace; it was real but not deep; for knowing the grace of God in truth is not the same thing as being filled with the knowledge or full knowledge of His will.
The law never gives that in the least degree; it is a righteous interdict upon man's will. Thus there is only one of the commandments - I mean the law about the sabbath day - which has not distinctly this character. Negation never can form a Christian's ways. We want the bracing of the man morally to all that is good. How is this to be effected? As there is in Christ the communication of life, so also from Him comes the filling with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. The believer is not treated by God as a horse or a mule which have no understanding, but as an intelligent and loving being who is brought into fellowship with God. He would not be a delivered man if his own will ruled him; but this is the very reverse of being filled with the knowledge of God's will, and therefore it is that the Apostle prays for them that they may be.
In Ephesians, though we read in wonderful terms about God's will (Eph. 1), the Apostle did not as here require to ask the knowledge of it for them. There was an apprehension of heart in them that did not need that the Apostle should thus pray for them. He does desire for them both a deeper knowledge of their standing, and a richer enjoyment of Christ within, that they might be filled with the fullness of God - "strengthened with might by his Spirit." But to be filled with the knowledge of His will, as we have it here, evidently has to do with practical walk, "that ye might walk worthy of the Lord." In other words, in the Colossians there is an important practical bearing upon the walk; it is more the forming of the child; it is the strengthening and guiding of one that can but feebly walk, to help it along. In Ephesians, it is the communication of the God and Father of Christ to His children, who are now no longer babes, but full-grown men. Hence, there we have the family relations, feelings, estates, interests, responsibilities, and very fully. The Colossians had been misled by the thoughts of teachers who were themselves far astray. Though the saints there were earnest, still there was something t hat blinded their eyes. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." They must have been governed by their own thoughts, else they would surely have rejected these false notions. It is a simple truth, but very important to observe, that what is presented as God's will necessarily forms the mind, and consequently the walk, of a Christian man. If I am misled as to the mind or objects of God, the effect will be most fatal practically; and the more earnest, the farther one goes astray. But the Apostle had prayed for the Colossians, and still continued, "that they might be filled with this full knowledge of him." I do not the least doubt that in this passage there is a contrast with the walk of one who, however well-disposed, is under law. The more the Christian knows about God's will, which is gracious as well as holy, happiness grows and strength too; whereas law works so as to produce misery and convince of utter weakness. No doubt, if there were a deep sense of the presence of God, it would make but little difference with whom we might be, worldly men or children of God. Of course there would be a difference in our bearing to them according to their relation to God or ignorance of Him; but as a fact, we are always deeply influenced by the company which we keep; we affect and are affected by those we are thrown with. Therefore, it is evident that when Christ was a revealed Person before the soul, and just in proportion as the believer realized his right relationship to Him, so would his walk be. If I know my place as bound to Him and Himself as my Head and Bridegroom, having Him as the object of my heart, it is clear a totally different walk will be the result. The measure and character of the walk among the children of God is formed by the measure of our acquaintance with Christ, where the flesh is sufficiently judged to enjoy it.
But mark again that all through, until we come a little farther down, the Apostle does not touch upon the matters in which they had been faulty. In the middle of chapter 2 he tells them plainly wherein they were to blame. This is very important for us to observe; because, if our aim be really the good and deliverance and help of souls, we should see what God's way is of meeting souls and enabling them to escape the snare. And this we best learn by observing and cleaving to the guidance of the Holy Ghost as shown us in such scriptures as these. It is a rebuke to one's own too frequent bearing toward others, when we think of the marvelous grace and the slowness of the Apostle in coming to what people call the point. I have no doubt there is much to learn in this; and so much was it the case, that from the beginning of this epistle we might almost think these Colossians were in a very delightful condition. The Apostle is most careful to approach gradually that which pained him and must pain them. He is sapping and mining, as it were, to take the citadel; but it is slow work, though sure.
There is another expression here that is well worthy of our notice: "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." It is not worthy of the gospel, neither is it worthy of our calling, etc. These are not the form of the exhortation here. The Ephesians were sufficiently clear of this evil influence and could be instructed freely in the calling of God to which they were called; and therefore he says there "that they might walk worthy of the vocation," etc. But he says to the Colossians, "worthy of the Lord." It would not be so easy for them to get rid of the effects of occupation with philosophy and ordinances. The Ephesians had been kept quite clear of this error, and therefore they are exhorted to walk worthy of what they knew to be their place.
As the Lord Jesus is pointed to here, so "unto all pleasing" is the measure; it is not as pleasing us or others, but pleasing Him. Now this is wholly different from the law, which just asked so much and no more. The ways of grace were to be unlimited, "worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." Therefore he adds immediately, "being fruitful in every good work." It is all positive and not merely negative like the requirements of the law. "Increasing by the full knowledge of him" here appears to be the thought. It refers to the means of Christian growth. I think the "wisdom and spiritual understanding" means a perception of what is good and wise in God's sight, apart from its being His express command. I might do a thing simply because another wished it, and of course this is quite right where there is due authority. For instance, my father may bid me do such or such a thing, and I may do it without knowing why; but here it is my Father who at the same time shows me the importance of it. Thus "wisdom" sees the beauty and propriety of any given thing, and "spiritual understanding" takes the right application. One seizes the cause; the other is occupied with the effect. In this then the gospel differed from the law. Whether a person entered into the meaning of the law or not, he obeyed simply because God ordered. This does not rise to the nature of the Christian's obedience, which enjoys the unfolding of the mind of God in Christ, so that one not only sees His authority, but also its admirably perfect character and its gracious effects. It is quite right that a subject, a servant, a minor, should learn to obey, if it were only for the sake of obedience. But this is not the Christian principle. The obedience of a Christian is not the blind leading the blind, nor is it the seeing leading the blind, but rather the seeing leading the seeing. But there is very much more in this. It is not merely that people are quickened and bear fruit; but, besides that, they grow either by or into a deeper knowledge of God Himself. That deepening acquaintance with God, which goes along with the knowledge of His will, is a very important thing in the path of obedience. One knows God better, one enters into His character better, one learns Himself intimately. Another thing which is of great importance is, that there is not only the growing knowledge, but the being strengthened with all might according to the power of His glory; for this is the idea - it is not "his glorious power," but the power of His glory. It supposes that the glory of Christ has a most decided effect, as the way in which strength is formed or communicated.
If I look at Christ here on the earth, I see Him in weakness and shame and rejection, but in the deepest grace withal, and nowhere so much as on the cross; we cannot do without it, we would not if we could (indeed Christ everywhere is unspeakably precious and absolutely necessary for us); yet for the Christian the place of strength is to look at Christ risen and glorified. No doubt this thought of Christ as one down here in this world is what draws out the affections, even as the cross meets the need of the conscience; but neither gives strength in itself, neither is intended of God to give all that we want. Hence while those who know Christ at all will surely find in Him life and blessing, yet they are never strong where His earthly path is all that occupies their hearts. What then supplies our need as to this? Such should weigh what is said in 2 Corinthians 3: "We all with open face beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory." This gives practical power. So here the question of power connects itself with His glory. If sympathy be in question, it is always connected with His life down here; for instance, in Hebrews, though Christ is spoken of at the right hand of God, etc., yet it is as One who was once tempted in all points like us, sin excepted, and hence touched with a feeling of our infirmities. This is most comforting as to the power of sympathy. Eternal life and strength are two very different things. The only idea with many is following Christ as an example. Of course it is admirable; but what is to give power? I must be in relationship with God first, a possessor of eternal life, and then power is wanted. I am not in the position till I know redemption through the blood of Christ, and power is only found in Christ risen and glorified. The spring of power is not in looking at what He was down here, but having the consciousness of the glory that is in Him, the power of that filling my own heart, and making the certainty of being with Him. I shall thus not shrink from the rejection that was Christ's portion down here, being strengthened . . . "unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness." It is an evil world that we are passing through; but we have this wonderful secret: we have the consciousness of better blessing we possess in Christ. Therefore, let me observe, it should be the very opposite of a man going through trial with his head bowed down. Let it be according to the power of His glory with joyfulness, "giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
This is a present meetness. Sharing the portion of the saints in light is a most wonderful favour; but the Apostle does not hesitate to predicate it of these Colossians whom he was going to rebuke with all solemnity in the next chapter. Still he says the Father has qualified us for sharing the portion of the saints in light. It is purposely put "in light" to show how absolute is the effect of God's work in Christ. It is not simply the inheritance, because that would not of itself present the idea of unsparing holiness, as light does. Again, the portion of the saints in light is not upon the earth or in the heavens merely, but in the light where God dwells as such. Wondrous place for us! Our Father has made us meet for this. The effect of law is always to put God at a distance. Therefore here the Father is put forward.
There are many persons who only look at God as the Creator and the Judge. Although they admit life in Christ, yet are they not at home with the Father. They make of Christ what the Papists make of the virgin Mary. It is all false. This was what made the necessity of bringing the Father especially forward. In Ephesians it was not necessary to do so; they were intelligent in the truth. Here, although the great object is to make Christ, the unqualified glory of Christ, to be that which shuts out ordinances, etc., yet the Apostle brings in the Father, showing that the Father was acting in His love. The combination of perfect love and our being made meet for light now is a wonderful truth. As to the light, the Christian is always in the light; but he may not always walk according to it. A Christian, if he sins, sins in the light; and this is what gives it such a daring character. He may be in a dark state himself practically; still, he is always in the light. And it is precisely this which makes a Christian's sin to be so very serious. He is doing it in the presence of perfect love and in the presence of perfect light. There is therefore no excuse for it.
This blessing depends upon two things: first, upon the effect of the blood of Christ in completely atoning for our sins; and next, upon the fact that we have the life of Christ communicated to us, which life is capable of communing with God in the light. Both these gifts of grace are absolutely true of every Christian. He has the blood of Christ cleansing him as much as he ever can have, and he has life in Christ communicated to his soul as much as ever can be. That which follows in after experience as regards this (for I speak not of service, etc., but of growth in intelligence) is simply having a deeper estimate of what Christ's blood has done and what He Himself is, who has shown us such infinite favour and done so much for us.
Our Father has done more, as the Apostle shows further how we are thus qualified: "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness." It is not merely a question of wicked works, but of the power of darkness; how could we, then, be delivered from Satan? He says they were delivered and, more than that, "translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love." It is all perfectly done. The deliverance from the enemy of God is complete, and so is the translation into the kingdom of the Son of His love. "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." "Through his blood" has been inserted in the vulgar text and followed in our version, but it really belongs to Ephesians. I do not doubt the copyists put it in here because it was there. There is greater fullness in Ephesians than in Colossians. Hence the former shows us how we can be so blessed, spite of our sins entering into the statement of the account there. But here it is just summing up the blessing, "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins; who is the image of the invisible God."
The object evidently is not so much to dwell upon the work of Christ as to bring out His personal glory. Christ is never said to be the likeness of the invisible God, because it might imply that He was not really God. This would be fatally false; for He is God (and without it God's glory and redemption are vain), but yet He is the image of the invisible God, because He is the only Person of the Godhead that has declared Him (see Joh_1:18). The Holy Ghost does not manifest God. He does manifest His power, but not Himself; but Christ is "the image of the invisible God." He has presented God in full perfection; He is the truth objectively. He who has seen Him has seen the Father. He was always the Word, the One who made God manifest. The word "image," as has been remarked, is continually used in Scripture for representation. Such is the first thought. Christ is the image of the invisible God.
The next glory is that He is the first-born of all creation. This seems obviously contrasted with His being the image of the invisible God. Christ as truly became a man as He was and is God. He was made flesh. He is never, nor could be, said to be made God. He partook of flesh and blood in time, but from everlasting He is God. Having shown that He was the image of the invisible God, the Apostle then speaks of Him as the first-born of all creation. How could this be? Adam was the prototype; we might have thought he was first. But here, as elsewhere (Psa_89:28), the title of first-born is taken in the sense of dignity rather than of mere priority in time.
Adam was the first man, but was not nor could be the first-born. How could Christ, so late in His birth here below, be said to be the first-born? The truth is, if Christ became a man and entered the ranks of creation,* He could not be anything else. He is the Son and Heir. Just so we are now by grace said to be the Church "of the firstborn," although there were saints before the Church. It is a question of rank, not of date. Christ is truly first-born of all creation; He never took the creature place until He became a man, and then must needs be the first-born. Even if He had been the last-born literally, He must still be the first-born; for it has nothing to do with the epoch of His advent, but with His intrinsic dignity. All others were but the children of the fallen man Adam, and could in no sense be the first-born. He was as truly man as they, but with a wholly peculiar glory. What makes it most manifest is, that He is here declared to be first-born of all creation, "for by Him were all things created." This makes the ground perfectly plain. He was first-born of all creation, because He who entered the sphere of human creaturedom was the Creator, and therefore must necessarily be the first-born. This is the plain and sure meaning of the passage, in the strongest way confirming the deity of Christ, instead of weakening it in the least, as some have conceived through strange misunderstanding. Hence these have changed the rendering to "born before all creation." It is unnatural to take it so, spite of some ancients and moderns. But indeed there is no need for a change. God's Word is wiser than men. There is no scripture which assumes His dignity more than this.
*Christ is not, and I think could not, be called (KTISMA); for this would be derogatory to the Creator. He is called the first-born of all creation (PASES KTISEOS) and also the beginning of the creation (KTISEOS) of God.
First, then, He is said to be the image of the invisible God. Then we have His human place, in which He was first-born; because, being God, it could not be otherwise. In Hebrews, He is said to be constituted heir of all things, as the Son of God. But here it is said, "all things were created in virtue of him"; it is not merely "by" Him, but in virtue of His own divine power.
"For by him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created by him and for him." All this reaches to things of which we know little, or even beyond our ken. As we had before what was in virtue of His power, so now it is by Him, because Christ was both one who acted in His own divine right, and also one who acted instrumentally for God the Father's glory. All things were created by Him. The word "created" is different; in one case it is a past action, but in the other it is the present effect of what is past, the first expressing the power that made to exist, the second rather the present result of it. "And he is before all things," etc. Not merely was He before all things, but before all (God only, of course, excepted). Nor was it merely that all things were, but they were created for His pleasure. "And by [or, in virtue of] him all things consist." In virtue of Him gives a clearer and more intimate idea. The object here is to take away all vagueness in exalting Christ.
But, again, "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." We shall find a reason for this in what follows. It is interesting to see that there are two very distinct first-borns: first-born of all creation, because He is the Creator; and first-born from the dead, as a new, plain and weighty matter of fact. Thus Christ is not only the Head of creation as man, but He is first-born from the dead as risen. It is in connection with this that He is Head of the Church. He was not in this relationship upon earth; He was not so simply as taking humanity. Incarnation is an entirely distinct truth from His headship of the Church, which involves the further truth of union. It is evident that His headship of the body, the Church, is introduced by His being risen from the dead, and by the place given to Him in heaven.
But Colossians does not at once begin with the heavenly place of Christ. Ephesians presents Him plainly as risen and seated as Head. Here it is more general, and does not speak of His being in heaven; He is "the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." Many confound union with incarnation; but union is not His taking flesh and blood here below, but our being made members of His body, now that He is risen and glorified. There could have been no union with Him until death and resurrection, and the Holy Ghost was given to unite us with Him in that risen condition. Then and not before we have the body, the assembly. He had a human body, of course; but the mystical body is formed by the Holy Ghost sent down after He rose from the dead. The one, as woman-born, was connected with the earth; the other is with heaven.
With the pre-eminence of Christ in all things, two great considerations stand before us. First, all fullness was pleased to dwell in Him. It was not a partial nor ever so full manifestation of God; this might have been in any man; but here all fullness was pleased in Him to dwell. This is the truth of Christ's Person, the glory of the incarnate Lord. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." "If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils, the kingdom of God is come unto you." "The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." Yet we know it was always by the power of the Holy Ghost that everything was done and said. So truly was all the fullness pleased to dwell in Him.
We observed in an earlier verse that it was because of His being a divine person that He could be said to be the first-born of all creation. It was founded upon the fact that He was God who created all and sustains all. But here there is more. In Him all fullness was pleased to dwell. It was not alone a question of acting, but of dwelling, whether He acted or not. Thus it is a very precise and rich statement indeed.
But again (v. 20), there is another unfolding of the truth which sets forth His glory, another reason assigned for His indisputable pre-eminence. By Him, the Christ, is reconciliation effected. All fullness of the Godhead was pleased in Him to dwell and by Him to reconcile all things unto God. There is a peculiar phraseology in the passage which may have led the English translators to put in "Father" in verse 19. If the conjecture be correct, they did it not so much because of this verse as of the following, the 20th - "to reconcile . . . unto himself." They could not make out how it could be unto Him unless it were the Father; but I think the context is purposely so framed, because it is intended to show us, unless I am greatly mistaken, that all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Christ, not one person of that divine fullness acting to the exclusion of the rest. They all had one counsel, not barely similar counsels, as so many creatures might, but one and the same. Hence the object is not to contrast one person with another, but to state that all the fullness was pleased in Him to dwell. It is put in this general form purposely. Then the Spirit of God glides with a scarce perceptible transition from His being the God-man to the work God has done by Him; so you cannot separate clearly the two thoughts, as far as the construction goes in (ELS AVTON). Afterward, as before, the Person of Christ is distinct and prominent.
But man was utterly gone, hostile, dead. No moral glory even of the Godhead in Christ could win him back. A deeper work was needed. "Having made peace by the blood of his cross by him to reconcile all things unto himself." All creation was ruined in the fall; and here we have the vast plan of God first sketched before us, the reconciliation of all things, not of men but of things. It was the good pleasure of the Godhead to reconcile all things unto God. Even the Word made flesh, even all the fullness dwelling in Him, failed to reach the desperate case. There was rebellion, there was war. Peace must be made - it could only be made by the blood of Christ's cross. In a word, reconciliation is not the fruit of the incarnation, most blessed as it is; for it was altogether powerless, as far as that is concerned. It brings before us grace and truth in Christ - God Himself in the most precious display of holy love. Nothing is in itself more important than for a person who has found Christ to delight in and dwell upon Him and His moral ways here below. Everything was in exquisite harmony in Him; matchless grace shone out wherever He moved. All was perfect, and yet would it all have been fruitless; for man was as the barren sand.
Therefore we have another and wholly distinct step - "by him to reconcile all things unto himself." All the fullness dwelling in Him was insufficient; it brought God to man, not man to God. All the Godhead was pleased to dwell in Him, and not as a mere passing thing. This was quite independent of the anointing in due time by the Holy Ghost. It was the continual delight of the whole Godhead to dwell in Him as man. But so far gone was man that this could not deliver him; sin cannot be thus got over. Even God Himself coming down to earth in Christ's Person, His unselfish goodness, His unwearied patient love, not anything found in Christ nor all together, could dispel sin or righteously recover the sinner. Therefore it became manifestly a question of reconciliation "through the blood of his cross."
All things then are to be reconciled, as we see; peace has been made "by the blood of his cross." It is sweet and assuring to think that all has been done to secure the gathering of all things round Christ. It is merely now a question of the time suited in God's wisdom for the manifestation of Christ at the head of all. As far as the efficacious work is concerned, nothing more is to be done. Meanwhile God is calling in the saints who are to share all along with Christ. As it is said in Romans 8, all creation groaneth, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God. They are the first fruits. All was subjected to vanity by sin; but now He who came down, God manifest in the flesh, has taken upon Himself the burden of sin, and has made peace by the blood of His cross. Thus He has done all that is needed for God and man. Morally all is done, the price is paid, the work is accepted; so that here too we may say "all things are ready." God would be now justified in purging from the face of creation every trace of misery and decay; if He waits, it is but to save more souls. His long-suffering is salvation. The darkness and the weakness will disappear when our Lord comes with His saints. For the world, His appearing with them in glory is the critical time. The revelation of Christ and the Church from heaven is not the epoch of the rapture, which comes first. The revelation is the manifestation of the Bridegroom and the bride then glorified before the world.
Thus having brought in the universal reconciliation of created things, the Apostle turns to that with which it was so intimately connected: "and you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled." I do not doubt there is an intended contrast. The reconciliation of all things is not yet accomplished. The foundation for all is laid, but it is not applied. But meanwhile it is applied to us who believe. Us who were in this fearful condition, "now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death." Again, observe, the body of His flesh, the incarnation in itself did not, could not avail; no, nor all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Him bodily. For guilty man it must be "through death." It was not through Christ's birth or living energy, but "through death" - not by His doing, divinely blessed as it all was, but by His suffering. "The blood of his cross" brings in much more the idea of a price paid for peace. His "death" seems to be more suitable as the ground of our reconciliation. At any rate "in the body of his flesh through death" contradicts the notion that incarnation was the means of reconciliation. This brings in moral considerations and shows the most solemn vindication of God, the righteous basis for our remission and peace and clearance from all charge and consequence of sin.
"To present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in his sight." Blessed as the death of Christ is, so that God Himself can find no flaw in us or charge against us, which is the meaning here - so perfectly efficacious is this death of Christ in our favour, yet still it supposes our holding fast: "if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel." Now I take that word "if" decidedly as a condition and nothing else.
It is quite different from chapter 3, "If ye then be risen with Christ," etc. It is the same word, but there should always be a regard to the context. Here, I believe, there is a condition implied, whereas Colossians 3 simply reasons and exhorts from an allowed fact. This would not make sense in Colossians 1.
Unless under specially modifying circumstances, every man, almost every person before conversion, is naturally disposed to be an Arminian (that is, to build on his own righteousness); but when he finds himself undone, yet justified by faith of God's pure grace in Christ, there is often a tendency to rebound violently over to the opposite extreme. When he becomes more matured in the truth, it is no longer a question of party views, but of that which is infinitely larger, even of God's mind as revealed in His Word. The unconditional parts should be taken in all their absoluteness, and the conditional should be pressed in all their force. The Apostle does not bring this in as a condition of our justification. There grace justifies the ungodly; a condition cannot enter. It would be a denial of grace. For all that, there are unquestionable conditions; but in what? God does not let us certainly know who they are among those who profess the name of Jesus that really believe in Him. Some there were even in those early days who followed the truth for a season and then gave it up. Others gradually slighted the pure gospel for philosophy and ordinances, or at least were disposed to add them to it. Hence the Apostle says, "If ye continue in the faith." There he warns those born of God that they should continue in the faith; but along with this, other things have to be borne in mind. May not real children of God waver and even slip for a season into error? Now I cannot say of any who abandon the faith that they are holy and blameless in the sight of God. One may have a hope from previous facts perhaps; but as long as a soul is thus led of the enemy away from fundamental truth, I cannot, I ought not, to speak too confidently of him as of God. It would be a trifling with such unbelief and increasing the danger to his soul by making light of it. Therefore the Apostle says, "If ye continue." A similar principle applies to him who lives under a cloud of unjudged sin.
So in 1 Corinthians 5 we see that a man guilty of gross sin and therefore put away is to be treated as a "wicked person," although the Holy Ghost in the same chapter speaks of the aim that his spirit might be saved, etc. And the second epistle proves that, spite of all, he was a true believer and on his repentance to be restored to fellowship. The Holy Ghost of course knows perfectly, but we can only judge what God permits to be brought plainly before our eyes. This is of practical value to our souls, for it is often difficult to behave rightly to a person out of communion. We are apt to think too slightly of such cases, and what is the effect of thus treating them? They drag on outside. There is feeble power within of restoration. The sin is superficially judged. If we feel it much, we desire earnestly to get the person back. It ought to be a pain, a deep grief, whenever souls are put away from the Lord's table. Our desire would then be continually to know they judged themselves and see them restored.
It is not, If ye continue in faith, but "in the faith." When Paul speaks about the common faith, he means the thing believed. So when he speaks about the "one faith," he does not refer to the reality of our faith, but to the objective truth received. Real believers or not, if they forsook the faith, how could they be owned as such? Modern times have greatly thrown people upon what is inward or subjective; whereas "the faith" is the revelation that is offered to faith, outside the man. It is a great mercy that in these last days, to truth, the truth in the Person of Christ, great prominence has been given. One cannot absolutely pronounce on an individual's faith; but we can judge of the faith he owns, and tell whether what he professes is the truth or not. Love would assume, if a man professes the faith and there is nothing clean contrary to it in his words and ways, that it is real faith. A person may be sincere in what is wrong, or insincere in what is right; but the truth is an unbending standard. If one judged on the ground of an individual's heart, one could never speak at all; for of that who can pronounce but God? If one acts on the ground of the faith, the moment a man goes against the truth, giving up what he professed, we are bound to judge it, leaving the question of his heart's faith in God's hands.
The Apostle urges also, "and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel." The Colossian saints were in danger of slipping away; for they were striving to make themselves holier by asceticism or other efforts, not by the application of Christ to judge themselves. But no, says the Apostle; it is in the body of His flesh through death that ye are presented holy and unblamable, if ye continue in the faith, etc., and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard, etc. What is "the hope of the gospel"? It is in a heavenly Christ who died for us, giving us the assurance of being with Himself there. The hope of Israel (one can hardly say of the law) was the earth; this "hope of the gospel" is above. The Colossians were most unwittingly but practically losing sight of their heavenly hope, because the thought of adding to Christ philosophy or ordinances tends to deprive one of Christ. He calls it the gospel which they had heard; he would not admit of any other. It was that which had been "preached to every creature which is under heaven, whereof I Paul am made a minister." How the Apostle puts forward that which some then, as now, would make cheap - the being a minister of the gospel! He does not regard what would exalt himself in the eyes of the would-be professionists, but what gives glory to God and His grace in Christ. There is a stress accordingly upon "I" here.
I should judge that there was a slight put upon the gospel by some of those who were exercising an evil influence at Colosse. They may have thought it good in its place as awakening the unconverted; but what had Christians to do with it? The Apostle insists not only on the dignity but also on the depths of the gospel. No doubt, a Christian does not need it in the same way as the unconverted; for he is the one who has found rest, has remission of sins, justification, sonship, etc., while the other has no real link with God. A Christian, therefore, does not listen to the gospel as if it were an unknown sound, or as if he had not certainly received it. But he rejoices in it still, and admires with increasing fervour the matchless display of God's grace therein. The Apostle therefore takes particular pains to say that he, Paul, was made a minister of the gospel. He did not consider it a thing merged in his apostleship, but emphatically declares himself a minister, not only of the Church, but of the glad tidings to every creature under heaven. It was evident then that if any at Colosse had been induced to regard that message as a thing too elementary for the saints to occupy themselves with, the Apostle did not sympathize with such feelings. He served and gloried in the gospel.
It is wrong, of course, to put myself on the same ground as the unconverted person, as if I needed it; but it is also depriving myself of much if I do not delight in it, for its own sake, so to speak, as the vindication of God Himself. No other part of the truth brings out such a display of grace and divine righteousness as the gospel. As far as the testimony to souls is concerned, it may be more what relates to their need as lost sinners; but for Christians it is of no small importance to have the heart engaged with its active grace, and the mind filled with its vast scope, and the conscience invigorated by the truth which proclaims how perfectly the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. It is impossible to see how the gospel vindicates God until a soul has peace with Him. This is practically important. A person that barely knows God's mercy in Christ, has relief, has the remedy for sin; but such a remedy does not always bring in the sight of God fully vindicated. It is more the idea of the scapegoat, than of the goat that was killed. In the gospel we see not only the resource of our sins, but God's truth and majesty and love and whole character glorified. It is not only a question of evil judged and sins forgiven, but a testimony to His rich grace in Christ.
But the Apostle adds here, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church; whereof I am made a minister." vv. 24, 25. It appears that the two ministries, the connection of them, and the assertion of the Apostle's relation to both, are intimated. As to the gospel, he says, "Whereof I, Paul, am made a minister." So also it is here; but, inasmuch as this was a more intimate thing, it is added, "According to the dispensation of God," etc. The gospel of which he was made the minister leads him at once to speak of his sufferings for them, not exactly the sufferings of the gospel, but his sufferings for them. Next, he speaks of filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, etc., for His body's sake, which is the Church. No doubt there was that which pertained exclusively to the Saviour in substitution for us. But in all other respects Christ did not suffer, however perfectly, so as to shut out others, His saints, from fellowship with Him. His sufferings were absolutely perfect, as the witness of righteousness, as man upon earth and the witness of grace as on God's part. But there was far more than testimony in the cross when made sin for us, and all that God was as judging it fell on Him there. Righteousness and grace were the occasion of His sufferings in life here below; the holy judgment of sin was that which characterized His sufferings upon the cross, that God might be able righteously to show His grace to us who believe without any question of judgment remaining.
Again, the Apostle rejoices in his sufferings, instead of thinking them hard or shrinking from them. What a contrast with Peter in the close of Matthew 16! Christ did not monopolize them, as it were; He left some for others. The sufferings spoken of here are mainly sufferings of love for the Church, for the saints of God; but they also include what the Apostle suffered as being a witness for Christ in this world. They were real external sufferings from enemies, as he says, "in my flesh." He does not make it merely a question of his spirit; although, if this had not gone along with the trials, there would have been no value in the suffering. But he did not take it easily even as to his body. Some at Colosse, we know from the end of Colossians 2, were contending for ascetic practice in mortification of the body, which, the Apostle lets them know, is quite compatible with thorough puffing up of the flesh. But, as for him, he would fill up the afflictions of Christ for His body's sake. Paul was pre-eminently a minister of the Church, in a sense in which others were not. No doubt, the mystery was revealed by the Spirit unto the holy apostles and prophets. But God had entrusted it to Paul to complete His Word.
There are two great parts in this hid but now manifest mystery (v. 26). The first is that Christ should be set in heaven above all principalities and powers, and have the entire universe given to Him, as Head over the inheritance on the footing of redemption - Himself exalted as Head over all things heavenly and earthly, and the Church united to Him as His body, He being thus given as Head to the Church over all things. Then the other side of the mystery is Christ in the saints here below, and in such a sort as to bring in the Gentiles with the utmost freedom. "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [or nations], which is Christ in you the hope of glory." v. 27. The hope of glory is the hope of all the glory that flows out of His heavenly place as now at God's right hand.
In Ephesians the Apostle dwells more upon the first of these aspects, in Colossians on the second. Hence the point here is not our being in Christ as Head over all, but Christ in us, the hope of all. But it is in contrast in both cases with Jewish things. The Messiah's reigning on earth over Israel, with the nations rejoicing also, is a true expectation gathered from the Old Testament prophets. In Colossians it is Christ now in us, but the glory not yet come. Christ in us is the hope of the glory that is coming by-and-by when we shall be glorified and appear with Christ. This was a state of things entirely foreign to Jewish anticipations. Christ in heaven and the saints not yet with Him there, but waiting to be with Him, and meanwhile Christ in them the hope of glory, but of a glory not yet come. There was nothing like this in the older oracles. Then they could not have expected that Christ would be in heaven and a people be one with Him there, still less that Christ should be in them, Gentiles or not, here.
It is well to weigh the expression, "to complete the word of God" (v. 25). It is not the mere idea of writing a book; for James and Peter and John had done this, and yet they could not be said "to complete the word of God." It was not only bringing out truths already revealed, but adding a certain portion that was unrevealed. Even Revelation did not do this in the same sense. We have there a fuller development of what had been previously referred to, a giving further revelations as to prophecy, but all that was not completing the Word of God. It does not mean that Paul was the last of inspired writers; for if he had written before the others of the New Testament, it would still have been true that he completed the Word of God.
Christ is said to be in us here, not dwelling in our hearts by faith, but actually the hope of glory. The hope of glory is contrasted with the Jews having Christ to reign over them in Palestine, bringing in manifested glory. The Apostle speaks of saints as now down here, but Christ in them the hope of the glory they will have with Him by-and-by above. It is Christ's life in us in its full risen character of display. The epistle to the Colossians never rises above it.
The Holy Ghost, it has been noticed, is hardly spoken of in this epistle. In their then state the introduction of Him would not have been good for them; they would have used the Holy Ghost apart from Christ, as something to draw the eye away from Christ. A religion completely of forms makes much of the Holy Ghost, but it puts the Holy Ghost in the clergy as dispensers of blessing, and thus Christ is dishonoured. Again, there are Christians who have no forms at all and who consequently make much of the Holy Ghost but apart from Christ. There was much of the old legal feeling that had come in at Colosse. therefore the Apostle presses upon them the truth of the riches of the glory of this mystery being among the Gentiles. God did not reveal this mystery when the Church was at Jerusalem; indeed it was only fully brought out among the Gentiles. That is, the full heavenly character of it is only properly known when the Gentiles are in the foreground. Hence Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, is the very one who especially handles it. The full gospel is not mere forgiveness, but deliverance, liberty, and union with Christ above in Spirit.
"Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." Perfect in Christ means full grown. A man may be very happy, may enjoy the pardon of his sins, etc.; but without the unfolding of this heavenly secret (that is, Christ in the saints and the heavenly glory connected with it), he can hardly be said to be full grown in Christ. This "every man" is very striking here; the repeated individualizing is the more beautiful in connection with the body. The two truths are singularly characteristic of Christianity, which unites the more opposite things in a way that nothing else does. In the Millennium, individuals will not have such an important place as now; nor will there be "the body" on earth. Now "he that hath an ear" comes in as well as "what the Spirit saith unto the churches"; there is the richest place of blessing given both to the individual and the Church, the body of Christ; and both are brought out in the fullness. The human way, on the contrary, is that if what is public and corporate be much pressed, the individual suffers; so also vice versa.
Christianity makes every individual of eternal value to God, and also shows the Church's place wherein you find the large feeling of desire and self-sacrifice and seeking the good of the whole. Paul who brings in the Church so prominently, says pointedly, "every man." "Warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." "Whereunto" has reference to the need. "I also labour striving according to his working which worketh in me mightily." Strong words are used here, to show what it cost him. It all supposes great difficulty, and the need of a power entirely beyond himself. It proves the necessity of Christ working in it all. It was not only for those who had seen his face, but for others, too, as we see from Col_2:1. What is to be noted is this: while the Apostle loved those whom he had seen, there was no such thing as oversight or insensibility as to those whom he had never seen. It was for the Church he felt, for the saints as such, whether known or unknown; and more than this, he had a keen conflict for them because of their difficulties.