Col_3:12-14. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
THE end of Christianity is, to restore man to the Divine image, in order to his ultimate restoration to the blessedness which he has forfeited and lost: nor does God ever accomplish the latter but through the medium of the former. Doubtless the Lord Jesus Christ, by his own obedience unto death, effects our reconciliation with God: that is his work, and his alone. But our “meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light” is the work of his Holy Spirit [Note: Col_1:12.]; and it is wrought in every one of “God’s elect:” for no one is “chosen to salvation but through the sanctification of the Spirit, united with, and added to, the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ [Note: 1Pe_1:2.].” Hence, in the chapter before us, the Apostle marks distinctly wherein that renovation consists: it is “a putting off of the old man, and a putting on of the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: ver. 9, 10. with Eph_4:24.].” The particular evils of the old man, which are to be put off, are enumerated in ver. 8, 9. The particular graces of the new man, which are to be put on, are stated in the words of my text: and, inasmuch as this transformation of the soul into the Divine image, or “the forming of Christ within us,” is that which, beyond all other marks of distinction, will operate to our final acceptance with God [Note: This is the meaning of “Christ is all,” i.e. the image of Christ. Compare Gal_4:19.], the Apostle urges us to meet God, as it were, upon his own terms: “Put on, therefore,” the new man: and he urges us, by the consideration of the distinguishing grace which we ourselves have received: “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved,” this new man. Now, the attainment of this change is what we all profess to hope for; and, therefore, it should be sought by us with all diligence, and be manifested by us ill the whole of our life and conversation.
To impress this upon your minds, I will shew,
Wherein the Christian character consists—
If we would have a full view of this subject, we must enter into the Christian’s experience before God. But that would lead us beyond the proper scope of our text, which confines our attention to the Christian in his daily walk before man. Adhering then to our text, let us see what the Christian should be,
In the daily habit of his mind—
[You cannot but know, brethren, what proud, selfish creatures we are by nature; caring for nothing but our own ease, pleasure, honour, and advancement. Except in very particular cases, where relative or social ties have created a more than ordinary interest in our minds, how little do we feel for those around us; either for those with whom we have more immediate intercourse, or those who are bowed down with sorrows of any kind!
But, in opposition to these hateful dispositions, we should put on, in the place of indifference, compassion; in the place of roughness, courtesy; and in the place of pride, humility. We may conceive how a mother’ bowels would yearn over her first-born child, when writhing in agony, and perishing through want. Such “bowels of mercies should we put on” towards all who are in want or trouble of any kind; participating, at least by sympathy, the sorrows which we cannot alleviate in any other way. And towards every person with whom we come in contact, whether he be a superior, an equal, or an inferior, yea, and whether he be a friend or foe, we should “put on kindness,” and exercise nothing but benevolence. As least of all, we should be ever ready to take the lowest place, “putting on humbleness of mind,” and, with unaffected simplicity, rendering ourselves the servants of all around us. This, I say, should be the daily habit of our minds; not called forth by great exertion, but operating readily, naturally, habitually, as the feelings of a mother towards her infant offspring.]
In his deportment towards others—
[Here, alas! we cannot but be sensible what irritability we have shewn on the slightest occasions; what displeasure, when an offence has been of any continuance; what alienation we have felt from those who differ from us in their sentiments and conduct; and what vindictiveness, when any serious injury has been sustained by us. But all of this is sadly unbecoming us as the followers of Christ, whom, by every possible consideration, we are bound to imitate and resemble. For anger, we should “put on meekness;” and “long-suffering,” in the place of retaliation or complaint. Instead of harbouring intolerance, we should “put on forbearance;” and, instead of retaining a vindictive spirit against any, we should call to mind how many and great offences Christ has forgiven us; and should gladly “mete to our fellow-creatures the measure which we ourselves have received from him.” This is the spirit which we are to manifest on all occasions; and this is to be the constant tenour of our way, in all our intercourse with mankind.]
In the governing principle of his life—
[Here is man’s great defect. By nature we are altogether wrapt up in self. Self is the principle that actuates us in every thing, and the end for which alone we live. Self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-interest, occupy, for the most part, our every thought, and regulate our every motion. But there is a new principle that is imparted to the Christian, and under its influence his whole life must be directed: and this is, the principle of love or charity. This is the root and essence of every other grace: it comprehends all, combines all, consolidates all. Whatever there be that enters into the composition of Christian “perfection, this is the bond” which unites it altogether, and forms it into one harmonious mass. It is the spirit which pervades and actuates every faculty of the soul, even as the soul directs and regulates every member of the body. The soul, in operation, causes every member to perform its proper office; and love, presiding, will keep every Christian grace in full activity. This, therefore, we must “put on, over all, and above all” the other graces that have been mentioned; that so nothing may be wanting to the proper discharge of all our duties.]
That I may the better commend to you this state of mind, I will endeavour to point out,
The vast importance of it—
Notice particularly what the Apostle urges in my text: “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved,” these several graces. God calls for it: man expects it: consistency requires it.
God calls for it—
[You are his elect. But to what has he called you? Not to salvation only, but “unto holiness [Note: 1Th_4:7.].” Hear particularly how St. Paul states this matter: “God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love [Note: Eph_1:4.].” And again: “He has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Rom_8:29.].” Now if, instead of cultivating these graces, we retain “the old man” in all his power and efficiency, we defeat the very object which God, supposing him to have elected us, has had in view. And will God endure that? Our blessed Lord said, “Have not I chosen you twelve; and one of you is a devil [Note: Joh_6:70.]?” Know, then, if we continue devils, as Judas did, we shall, with him, “go to our own place [Note: Act_1:25.],” and not to the habitation of the just. We can never be “beloved” of our God if we be not “holy.”]
Man expects it—
[If we profess to be “the elect of God,” man will very reasonably demand a proof of it. We may tell him of our faith: but he will reply, ‘Shew me your works. As for your faith, God alone can judge of that: but I must judge of the tree by its fruits: and, it you profess to be distinguished above your fellows by the special favour of your God, I have a right to ask, “What do ye more than others [Note: Mat_5:47.]?” Have you “put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Eph_4:22-24.]?” Let me see what your tempers are in your family, and towards all around you, and especially under circumstances of heavy trial. Tell me not of your inward experiences before God: I must judge by your spirit and conduct towards man: and, if I find you not endued with the graces of the Spirit, I can account you no better than others; yea, rather, I must account you worse; since, with all your high professions, you are no better than hypocrites and deceivers.’]
Consistency requires it—
[This is the peculiar force of my text. When we call ourselves “the elect of God,” we profess to have been “renewed in the spirit of our mind:” for, if we do not profess this, the most abandoned reprobate in the universe has as much right to call himself “elect,” as we. “Are you, then, destitute of compassion? How dwelleth the love of God in you [Note: 1Jn_3:17.]?” Are you proud, passionate, intolerant, unforgiving? “Lie not against the truth [Note: Jam_3:14.]:” ye are “children of darkness, and not of light;” “not children of God, but children of the devil [Note: 1Jn_3:7-10.].” To “call Christ, Lord, Lord,” without walking in his steps, is only to deceive and ruin your own souls.]
Behold then, brethren,
The excellence of Christian principles—
[Christianity requires us to refer all good to God; and to say, after all that we have attained, “By the grace of God I am what I am [Note: 1Co_15:10.].” But will this tend to encourage us in sin? No; “the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world [Note: Tit_2:11-12.]:” and “the hope that we have in Christ will, of necessity, lead us to purify ourselves, even as He is pure [Note: 1Jn_3:3.].”]
The beauty of the Christian character—
[Look at a man habited, as my text describes, in all those lovely graces; and “so clothed with them,” as never to be seen without them: and then tell me, whether he be not a lovely character. Is there a man in the universe that does not admire “bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance, and forgiveness,” and all under the direction and government of “love?” I grant, that, from envy and jealousy, the world may be filled with rage against a person possessing all these graces: for so were they incensed against our blessed Lord himself, in whom these virtues existed in their utmost possible perfection: but this was on other grounds than on account of his virtues: he professed himself the Messiah; and therefore they put him to death: his tempers, and dispositions, and habits, they could not but admire. And so, at this day, the men that hate us, under the idea of “God’s elect,” cannot but acknowledge that the consistent Christian is, of all characters, the loveliest upon the face of the earth [Note: 1Pe_3:4.]. I call upon all of you therefore, brethren, to “shew forth these virtues;” and thus to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, by well-doing [Note: 1Pe_2:15.].”]