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COLOSSIANS I: 19-23. "For it pleased the Father, that in him should all fulness dwell; And (having made peace through the blood of his cross) by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were some time alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight; If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister."
Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. The longer our thoughts are occupied with its study, and the more we know of it, the more does its sublimity appear, and our wonder increase. From all his writings, it is evident that the apostle Paul felt himself incapable of apprehending, as fully as he desired, its grandeur and glory. Hence was he ever following on to know, and ever seeking to lead his brethren to the fuller acquaintance with what his personal and progressing attainments persuaded him was the glorious gospel of the blessed God, and which at times constrained him, as he proceeded in his researches into divine things, to pause, absorbed in admiration of the stupendous scheme which was the theme of his study and preaching; and, as if unable to utter all he had to tell, to exclaim, Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! and to breathe the prayer for those with whom he was in correspondence:-- the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the spirit of revelation in the knowledge of him. In the chapter before us the apostle dilates on this, his favourite theme; every sentence, indeed, is replete with Jesus Christ, and him crucified, the object of his whole argument being to exalt Christ in the esteem of the Colossians, and to exhibit for their edification the glory and intrinsic interest of his mediatorial work. These things were written for our instruction; let us therefore seek to rise to the post of observation, provided by the apostle, that we may be stirred up to sympathise with him in his feelings, by sharing with him his divine and peculiar revelations, of the riches of the glory of the mystery of the gospel. After an introductory salutation to the believers at Colosse, and an expression of devout gratitude and earnest desire to the God of all grace on their behalf, he proceeds at once to direct their attention to him who was the foundation of his faith, the fountain of every blessing, the exalted head of his church. From verse 15 onwards, he familiarly and distinctly brings before them the Redeemer's personal mediatorial glory and grace, shewing that the church's Lord is Lord of all, one in nature with God, the creator of all things, and their governor; the head of the church and preeminent, not only there but in the universe,-- God over all, blessed for ever. The particle with which verse 19 commences may be regarded as either illative or illustrative in its form. It introduces us to a paragraph demonstrative of Christ's preeminent glory as mediator. Ere examining the paragraph more minutely, we way observe that the supply of the ellipsis after the verb "it pleased," by the words "the Father," is not only in consistency with the scripture doctrine in regard to the Father, as the supreme agent and representative of the Godhead, in the scheme of salvation, but is required, by the construction of the whole paragraph, Christ being spoken of separately as the immediate agent in the execution of the glorious work. It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.
The purpose of the divine plan, the evolution of which was committed to Christ, is here disclosed to us; and to this, in the first place, it becomes us, naturally, to glance. It was to reconcile all things to himself. How enlarged a view of his mediatorial work is thus presented to us! From the immediate and deep interest we have in the work of Christ, as the children of Adam, we are very apt to limit the range of its application, and to imagine that it affects only the relation subsisting between God and man,-- but other is the truth, the design of the Redeemer's mediatorship is universal in its reference, embracing within it the interests of the whole intelligent family of God. The reconciliation to be effected is the reconciliation of all things, "in earth and in heaven." But wherein, it may be asked, does the reconciliation consist? In the passage before us, the original term seems to be of a similar import with what is expressed in Ephesians i: 10, "that he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth." That the case was otherwise prior to the execution of this work of the Mediator, requires but little examination to perceive; on earth there was open rupture and revolt, with expulsion from Eden; exclusion from the holy fellowship, exposure to divine wrath, as its attendant consequence;-- sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and the intercourse between man and God, between heaven and earth, had so completely ceased, that man was separated, all wretched, lonely and vile, from all that is holy and happy in the universe; excluded from the presence of Jehovah, and alienated from the privileges of his people. In their case as in the case of the angels that sinned, sin proved all disorganizing, and so separative in its tendency, that man had to wander, and still, while out of Christ, has to wander, in solitary and sad despair around his earthly prison house,-- a prison house where nothing human can soar, where nothing can even abide. In heaven, too, can we doubt that there was silence and suspense among the spirits of the blessed that kept their first estate : the morning stars, the sons of God that hymned the anthems of praise, and shouted for very joy as they gazed on the beauties of the new creation; --when they found that the gladness and the joy of Paradise was gone; can we doubt that their joy was superseded by disgust and holy indignation at a world, lying under the wicked one, when they found that their friendship and fellowship with the children of earth was no longer practicable, consistently with the purity and spirituality of their own nature? But farther, do we presume, when we venture to say, that direct and peculiar were to be the blessings derived by them from his mediatorial work, that yet mutable and liable to like failure with those who were once their fellows they had still to be fully established in their primitive innocence, and be perfectly secured in their station of blessedness. Thus things "in heaven" and "in earth," yet separated or insecure, it was the design of him who sitteth on the throne high and lifted up, to "reconcile," conciliate or "gather" into one; and, in the counsels of Eternity, was the mediatorial scheme, all consistent and honourable, easy and sure, designed by divine wisdom, whereby his purpose should be accomplished, and man released from his solitariness, and the universe reconciled in its parts, and God all in all. By the emphatic repetition of this design in the last clause, verse 20th, the apostle seems to intimate his own high opinion of the stupendous and sublime scheme, an opinion in which we cannot but coincide, when with Paul, we remember that it is hereby the whole universe is to be united into one vast brotherhood, and every region, save the regions of the damned, be fitted for and filled with one holy, happy family of God.
The agent appointed and accredited to the execution of this glorious work is here clearly indicated,-- the work was committed to Christ, the son of God, the creator of the ends of the earth, the governor, as he is the God, of the universe, to him who was himself able to exercise all the power required to be employed and intrusted to him, and to execute the whole plan committed to his charge--to him who was alone able to undertake the matter, or to bear the divine fulness. All things are of God, and to Christ, it is said, it pleased the Father, the representative of the whole authority of the Godhead, to intrust the accomplishment of his divine counsels, and to impart all that was necessary for the furtherance of the work, even divine fulness of wisdom, power, and holiness and grace. Into the mysteries of indwelling divine fulness in Immanuel, of the plenitude of divine perfection in him, embodied in human form, it is not for us to inquire; this, however, we doubt not, that he only who was essentially divine in his nature, as well as incarnate, could have received, as the Mediator did, the amplitude of divine perfection; and let us humbly rejoice that, while he was alone able, he was altogether willing, to undertake the great and glorious work of reconciliation.
That the operation of divine fulness was necessary to its accomplishment, is at once apparent, when we look simply at the nature and extent of the work. Who but he whose name is Shaddai, and who is all-sufficient, officially, as well as essentially, could execute the scheme designed by divine wisdom, and prompted by divine mercy;--a scheme surpassing even the pure comprehension of angels? Who but he who is invested with the plenitude of divine ability, could carry out the plan which embraces the interests of the innumerable inhabitants of heaven and the perishing tenants of earth, which aims at the restoration of the unity of the family of God, which seeks to reunite earth and heaven, to establish the stedfast on high, to restore the ruined below, and lead all to the city of the living God? Who but he who is over all and among all pre-eminent, could embrace or develope the plan? Hence was it, that in Christ, when set as repairer of the breach--the Prince and the Saviour--it pleased the allwise Author of the scheme of salvation, all fulness should dwell, and hence was it that, in him incarnate, in whom we were to have access to the Father, dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and that amid every circle of intelligence, and above the universe Immanuel was preeminent.
By the parenthesis inserted between he statement of the fulness communicated, and its availableness to the furtherance of the ends in view, the apostle draws aside for a moment to contemplate this scene, in which divine mercy found for itself a channel not obstructed by divine justice, having made peace by the blood of his cross, andc. A scheme of reconciliation which should set divine justice at defiance, leave the law dishonoured and the sinner unpunished, God could not, in consistency with his character, approve; reconciliation with a holy God, while holiness remained the object of rooted aversion, man in the enmity of his heart could not accept; reconciliation with the inhabitants of earth, while unchanged in character and conduct, while yet polluted and impure, the hosts of heaven could not enjoy. A work of reconciliation based on any other principle than righteousness, the holy Mediator could not have undertaken without affront to his own majesty and stain on his purity. In perfect righteousness alone could proper reconciliation be established, and on such righteousness it was established. To the very end that it might be so was official and dispensatory fulness possessed by Christ--a fulness which should at once fill the souls of those for whom his work was undertaken, and his own sacrifice of peace with merit, so as to render the blood of reconciliation all sufficient and satisfying. That peace could only be secured by sacrifice, "by the blood of the cross," arose from the position of one of the parties to be brought and made one in Christ, from the state of the children of men, children of disobedience, and therefore of wrath. Could we even suppose man to be by any means regenerated, born again of the Spirit of God, while all his sins were unforgiven, and the penalty incurred unpaid, he would still be unavoidably unfit for reconciliation, and far from safety. His propriety in the present would not atone for the errors of the past, and he would still and all his lifetime be subject to bondage, through fear of death, still be the habitation of the spirit of bondage to fear. It was therefore requisite, that sin should be done away in its condemning and enslaving power, and we have but to visit Calvary to see it thus ended, and righteousness brought in; for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,--the end, inasmuch as he endured the curse consequent on its unsatisfied claims of perfect obedience and complete satisfaction; Heb. ii: 14.
There, on the cross, he redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; there he made peace even for the rebellious; and thus, on his making peace by the blood of the cross, that God who cannot pass by iniquity, and whose wrath will yet be kindled fearfully and furiously against remaining wickedness, was well pleased for his righteousness' sake, and thus the believer has access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoices in hope of the glory of God. Thus the ground-work of the development of the great mystery declared in the verse before us was laid on Calvary. There amidst the strange scene of suffering and sadness, of darkness and death, was life and immortality opened up to human view; there righteousness and peace, mercy and truth, met all harmonious and cooperative around and in Christ dying as the sinner's substitute; there, as the Prince of Peace poured out his peace-speaking blood, and his dying shout of triumph, was God revealed as reconciled, and a way opened up for the consummation of the all glorious and infinitely gracious plan by which all in the Church on high, and all in the Church on earth, should be one in Christ, and God be all in all. Ere retiring from this scene of sacrifice, let our hearts rise in sympathy with those of old who spake of him on whom the chastisement of our peace was laid, and let our heart-uttered hallelujahs mingle with those inaugural and coronation songs of celestial choirs on the night of the nativity, in the morning of triumph, as we erase from the tablet of the blood-stained cross the inscription of the mocking world, and with the hands of an appropriating faith write in its room, "He is our peace;" aye, and as we still encircle, let us loudly confess, "worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive honour, and power, and glory!" " Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word. Bless the Lord all ye his hosts, ye ministers of his that do his pleasure. Bless the Lord all his works, in all places of his dominions. Bless the Lord, O my soul;" Psalm ciii: 20-22. Let heaven resound with his praise, let earth be filled with his glory.
Vv. 21-23. The general view of the work of the Mediator, given in the preceding verses, Paul proceeds to apply to the case of those to whom he wrote. Observe what once they were, ere Christ became their salvation; they were all individually alienated, and enemies in their mind, by wicked works, (as see the Bible margin), and such is the natural state of every individual of the human family; he is alienated,--so estranged from God, so ignorant of his love and law, if they by any chance come in his way; it is with him as with a wanderer in a foreign land, among a people of a strange tongue and peculiar habits, and dissimilar manner; has he any knowledge of or sympathy with them, and such a feeling in respect to them, as would lead you to suppose him at home in them? They are all a strange thing, even the great things revealed from on high to him, "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their minds." Eph. iv: 18. How fully is this evidenced in everyday life. We need not go to the lands of heathen darkness, we need not repair to the abodes of idolatry, to be convinced of man's ignorance and estrangement from God. Proof abounds in the midst of us--nay, within these very walls, there may be, we fear there are, some unconscious witnesses; for every sinner whose ear is deaf to the invitations of the gospel, whose eye discerns not the beauty, whose heart relishes not the divine word and divine ordinances, is an alien in spirit; his carnal mind discerns not spiritual things. Conduct him to the scene of Christian joy while the songs of praise are ascending before the throne; introduce him to the assembly of the citizens of Zion, and he is any thing but at home; his heart, all uninterested in the exercises and employments of the people of God, is engaged with his own imaginations. Like Doeg, he is detained before the Lord ; his feelings and position are akin to those of the man who sits in the society of strangers, whose language is to his ears unmeaning, whose habits are, in his apprehension of them, altogether strange, if not actually foolish ; John viii: 42-48.
But the sinner's state is not one of alienation that is negative and unavoidable in his character. It is wilful alienation; alienation springing from, and continued by impiety; there is not merely in his case want of affection, but actual disaffection and hatred in his heart against God. The Colossians were not only sometime alienated, but also, enemies in their minds by wicked works. Strange enough, and sad too, is the thought, that the mind of man--"the offspring of God"--should be by any means the seat of malignity; but it is sadder and stranger still, that its envenomed enmity should be turned against the glorious, ever blessed God, and that every thing, save the glory of him who called it into existence, should engage its interest, and occupy its powers. Strange, however, as it seems, it is fearfully true, that man knows not God, and knows him not, mainly because he has no mind to know him. Observe him in his course through this world, and how manifest is it that he walks as if there were no God to witness or to weigh his actions. Man's aim seems ever to be, to suppress or exclude altogether, if he could, all knowledge of his God; or to change the truth into a lie. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can nor will he know them, for they are spiritually discerned.
And why is it so? Why this opposition to the God of his life, the God of all truth and grace? The answer is in the text: "his mind" is preoccupied by "wicked works," either perfected in the past, or purposed for the future; with this accords the statement of the great Teacher in John III: 19. A knowledge of the truth is utterly inconsistent with a continued course of sin; and the sinner, preferring his own will and way to God's, is forced to shut out the light of knowledge from his mind, and those duties the law of God inculcates are precisely those which the sinner is resolutely determined not to perform, and the things it prohibits are the very things he loves, and which he loves most ardently, with whatever difficulty attained, with whatever danger attended: they are forbidden things, and he, instigated by the stubborn sovereignty of the carnal mind, which can brook no restraint, and only gathers stiffness from every effort to change it, declares, I have chosen darkness, and in darkness will I walk. Such is the sinner, and such had been Colossian alienation from the truth, and apostacy from God; it was stamped with the impress of devotedness to iniquity, and of impious hatred; Job xv: 11-16.
Yet, with the Colossian believers that had been thus alienated, and enemies in their mind, it was "aforetime." The scene since had changed; the power of divine grace had been manifested; and Christ preached in their hearing, and received into their heart, had proved to them the power and wisdom of God;--you, now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh, through death, to present you holy, unblameable, unreproveable, in his sight. It is apparent at once from the import of the term, "reconcile," in itself, and from the explanation given us in verse 22, that the work of the Redeemer in regard to the sinner is twofold, viz., substitutionary sacrifice for him, and spiritual purification. In reconciliation, it is implied that there exists mutual regard and corresponding sympathetic action. Not only is the sword of divine justice averted by divine mercy, but the enmity of the human heart is subdued, and the whole man subjected to and sanctified for the service of God. In order to effect this for man, and his restoration to divine favour and fellowship, a change both in position and disposition was requisite, he must be justified, and he must be sanctified, and by divine all-sufficiency is the change accomplished. "He hath reconciled you, to present, you holy, unblameable, unreproveable in his sight." Consistent with this statement there is that of Paul to the Corinthians, "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption;" I Cor. i: 30. So complete, indeed, is the change produced, that believers are presented even to the alldiscerning eye of immaculate purity, "holy;" and not only holy in the sight of God, as justified by faith in Christ, and accepted in him, but unblameable, with nothing to mar this purity, nothing to give occasion to the accuser of the brethren, nothing to unfit them for the sanctities of the celestial courts, or the society of pure and holy intelligences.
That this was within the range of the plan of redemption is beyond a doubt; without all this the plan would have been incomplete. In the counsels of the past they were predestinated to the adoption of children, were chosen that they should be holy, and without blame, before the Father in love. This, was the oath that God sware unto Abraham, that we being delivered from the power of our enemies, should. serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life; and in the mediatorial work is it confirmed and fulfilled, "them hath he fully reconciled in the body of his flesh, through death;" or better, in his fleshly body, (as distinguished from his mystical), subjected to death on the cross. There he bore our iniquity, and finished transgression, and received the abundant outpouring of the Spirit of all grace, by which they that believe should be made perfect in holiness, and prepared for the inheritance of the saints of light. Now, there is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, "if, justified by faith, they have peace with God," and now, "they walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; and the law of the Spirit of life hath made them free from the law of sin and death;" Rom. viii: 1, 2. We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. Once they were dead, but now "he bath raised them up together, and made them sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;" Eph. ii: 6. Now, therefore, they are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of faith; once they were aliens and enemies, but now they are reconciled, renewed, restored to divine and celestial intercourse, for he "gave himself for them, that he might redeem them from all iniquity, and purify them unto himself, a peculiar people, zealous of good works;" Titus ii: 14.
How peculiar and intimate the relation in which Christ is here represented as standing to his people, by the term borrowed from the marital relation, "to present to himself." He willingly identified his own interests with his people's, and made theirs as intimately his own as the bridegroom does those of the bride. Paul expresses the same thought more fully in writing to the Corinthians, when, in speaking of his own labours, as similar to those of a paranymph, he says, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ; for if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit which ye have not received, or another gospel which we have not preached, ye might well bear with him;" II Cor. xi: 2-4. And again to the Romans, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law, that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead;" Rom. vii: 7. And to the Ephesians he still more fully expresses the thought, "That he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, that it might be holy and without blemish," Eph. v: 27. What comfort accrues to the believer from the knowledge of the enduring relation subsisting between himself and his Lord! In his seasons of spiritual depression and difficulty he may solace himself that he is complete in Christ, his head, and thus be assured that the good work begun in him will be perfected, and grace give place to glory, when he shall be presented as faultless and owned as approved before the throne of infinite and omniscient purity.
V. 23. It is by faith, not, however, as a cause, but channel or means, that the believer is brought into union with Christ, and it is only by his perseverance in the faith, his stedfast adherence to Christ as his only all-sufficient salvation, that he can expect to share in the felicity which is the end of faith. Hence does the apostle proceed to exhort the Colossians to patient continuance in the faith and hope of the gospel. The phraseology he employs is somewhat figurative, and is borrowed manifestly from architectural science. The building cannot stand unless it remain fixed and firm on the foundation; and so the Christian cannot be safe unless he continue in Christ, grounded and settled on him, as the only foundation of his faith. As the house, diverted from the purpose of its erection, and, from being a palace, made a prison, loses its character and serves not its end, so the Christian, whose heart Christ, the hope of glory, should fill, loses his character and misses his end, if he is so moved away from him, and the world finds a place in his heart. Hence the need, on the part of the believer, for the constant vigilance advised by the apostle, that he be more and more firmly established in the faith of the gospel, and more and more closely adhere to the hope within the vail, and hold fast that which is good. The exhortation implied in the conditional form of the statement of this verse, is no uncommon one with Paul. The same strain runs through his every epistle, and with his every statement of gracious truth, he intertwines matter calculated to excite interest and devout affection. Thus, after exhibiting to the Corinthians the glory of their hopes, he winds up in language similar to that before us: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be stedfast, immoveable in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord;" I Cor. xv: 58. Nor is he singular in this--Peter adopts the same strain: "Wherefore, beloved, seeing ye look for such things, be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless." And with him, John, echoing the language of his divine Master,--" Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. As the Father hath loved me so have l loved you. Continue ye in my love;" John xv: 4-9.
This testimony concerning Christ, the foundation of faith, the ground of hope, is to be found in the gospel. By the "hearing " of this testimony faith came to the Colossians; by the " hearing" of this testimony, and the belief of it, will every one be in like manner blessed. We say "every one," for there is no exclusion. The gospel is adapted to the wants of all, and will prove adequate for the case of each that receives it. It is for this end it is preached--it is at least in course of being preached--to every creature under heaven; and each and every one receiving the truth in the love of it, and holding fast the form of sound words, will have occasion, in the continued exercise and profession of his faith, to rejoice, and to unite with the apostle in saying, "The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles;" I Peter iv: 3. Of that gospel was Paul honoured to be a minister, and in preaching it was his greatest joy. That gospel even now is made known to you; "and believe and live " is the commission with which we are charged. Admire the glory and grace of the divine scheme, where the attributes of divinity so harmoniously blend, that the observer knows not whether most, to admire the awful holiness or marvellous mercy which it displays, or the profound wisdom, which, by both, are so combined as mutually to establish and elucidate each other.
Seek to be embraced in the number of those to whom it applies.
Mark the extreme folly of neglecting so great salvation, of preferring earth to heaven, sense to faith. As we mark the natural man looking for a position for his soul only in this life, we are inclined to wonder at his simplicity, or question his rationality. What avail all the wealth and property of earth, when the wretched owner has not a day to live? They may serve to gild his coffin, to garnish his tomb but his heart, that now doats so fondly upon them, will but moulder amidst its idols. Behold the so-called happy man, as the summons to depart sounds in his ear, the film of dissolution, the cold hand of the last enemy is at his heart, freezing his very life blood in its tardy passage; the last feeble spark of the light of life is in the socket; the convulsive struggle of departing animation has arrived; the agitated, trembling, and foreboding spirit is being dislodged from its tabernacle; the soul departing solitary, without solace or shelter--departing from its treasures--departing to where mercy is clean gone for ever; where misery is the only, the sure, the full, the eternal portion of the soul.
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