William Kelly Major Works Commentary
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;Colossians Chapter 2
Now he commences showing them their danger, but he first wished them to know what a combat he had for them, and for them also at Laodicea, and as many as had not then seen his face in the flesh (v. 1). "That their hearts might be comforted." They were not happy now; they were oppressed; they were getting clouded in their thoughts, and losing the clearness of view they had, "being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, in which mystery [for that is the point] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." vv. 2, 3. There were hindrances to their apprehension of this mystery. His great desire was, nevertheless, that they should understand it well. A person may be a Christian, seeing the grace of God in Christ, and yet be comparatively poor in his thoughts and very feeble in his apprehension of the counsels and ways of God. He may never have been led into this fullness of the understanding of this mystery. Without this it is impossible to have all these treasures. "In which [mystery] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." This brings us into another atmosphere, as it were. Failure in apprehension shows a moral hindrance. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light."
To some minds there may be difficulty in the strong language on the one hand, in which the Apostle speaks of the Colossians' faith and order; and on the other, in the solemn warnings with which the epistle abounds. It might seem hard at first sight to reconcile the steadfastness of their faith in Christ with the warning we have seen given them - "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled." All we have to do is to believe both. What it really proves is, that no blessed order or steadfastness can guarantee a soul that admits wrong thoughts and corrupt principles that shroud, weaken, or lower the glory of Christ. Thus, the seeming incongruity makes the danger more apparent and striking. The fact of their order and the steadfastness of the faith in Christ that had characterized them (v. 5) were in themselves no effectual bulwark against the evil that menaced them. The Apostle felt, and lets them know, that, though they were so blessed, yet by admitting the enticing words of others, their souls would be injured and undermined. No soul, no matter what the blessing in time past or present, can afford to trifle with that which upsets the Person or glory of Christ The Colossians had been remarkably favoured, and the Apostle rejoiced in beholding their order and steadfast faith in Christ; still in the very verse before, he cautions them "lest any man should beguile you with enticing words" (v. 4).
What he presses upon them is, that as they had received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, they should walk in Him (v. 6), abiding as they had begun. Speculation, covered over with plausible language, was what they had to guard against. Therefore, though absent in the flesh, the Apostle says he was with them in spirit, joying and beholding their order, etc. For this very reason they were to be warned of what would mar the Saviour's glory in their testimony. The finest fruit is most easily injured. They would thus practically lose Christ. He does not the least call in question their real blessing thus far. On the contrary, he reminds them of it, and tells them to walk in Christ, "rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught"; not downcast because of perils, but "abounding therein with thanksgiving" (v. 7). It is very close work, the object being to exclude the persuasive speech of false men that, if received, would steal them away imperceptibly from Christ.
When we are at rest in Christ before God, we can enter in and behold the manifestation of Himself in Christ, after the most blessed sort. It is very important to see Christ not only in His work of reconciliation, but as revealing the Father. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." The Holy Ghost does exalt Christ, no doubt, but then the Son is never exalted, so to speak, at the expense of the Father, any more than the Father can accept honour where the Son is degraded.
The important thing for Christians is to be true to what they believe and confess, or rather to what God has revealed for their faith and confession. Whatever takes us away from the grace and truth which came by Christ, always tends to subvert even Christ Himself. The Colossians had been heretofore happy and really steadfast in their faith in Christ; but they were now allowing doctrines among them which, if not rooted out, would infallibly lead them away from Christ. Here lay their danger. It is astonishing how eagerly and easily Christians are apt to admit something new. The Apostle in this case refers to philosophical speculations, which seem to have been brought in at Colosse, as well as Jewish elements, if indeed they were not combined.
It was not enough for them to have Christ; they were to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, assured in the faith, and not caught by these novel dreams, whether of an intellectual or a religious kind. It was thus an early error, that philosophy might be united to Christianity in order to make divine revelation more palatable to earnest, thoughtful minds. It had been all very well, they thought, to preach Christ at first simply; but now that it was no longer a question of a few lowly Galileans, why not address themselves to the great and wise of the earth, sick as many were of heathenism, and repelled by cold Judaism? And, if so, why not meet them as much as possible on their own ground? Why not engraft into Christianity some of the common sense of Aristotle, or, still better, the lofty aspirings of Plato, or yet more readily such high and noble sentiments as Philo represents in his Biblical essays?
Philosophy is one great bane of Christianity now as in these early days. The whole scheme of God's truth and ways is blotted out or has no room left for it in the teaching of philosophy. They overlook creation and the fall. They defy conscience, which man acquired by the fall. They ignore sin and God's judgment of sin. So also God's grace is unknown and the atonement its fruit. Rationalists would reduce divine truth to a mere set of inferences that people draw. But truth is never a conclusion. The moment I draw a conclusion, I am on the ground of science. Thus logic is a natural science, the handmaid, one may say of all others, which submits facts to it; but what has this to do with submitting to the truth of God? Revelation may pronounce on things as they are in man, as it also gives us things as they are from God; it does not merely show us that such or such a thing must be, which is the province of human reasoning; the truth reveals to us that a thing is. A poor soul might be perplexed to understand what must be; but no one that hears the testimony can avoid receiving or rejecting, if God declares that a given thing or person is. Hence the vast importance of faith.
The Colossians were beginning to let in two snares - a reasoning mind, and certain ascetic mortifications of the body. The one was in connection with philosophy, the other had its root in Judaism. These were the two great errors then slipping in, of whose real character and source they were not aware. The Apostle warns them (v. 8), though he had just told them he rejoiced in their faith and order. How sad in them to slip! But this is not all. He as good as says, Take care of what you are doing, of letting go what has produced such fruits, for the fair promises some are holding out to you. They tell you these new thoughts and ways can be held along with Christ; but let me say that you are embracing and taking up that which will frustrate, sooner or later, the truth which you now profess. The effect invariably is, that those who are not really born of God receive these inner dreams and outer forms instead of Christianity, while true believers are seriously damaged, and lose their delight in Christ and their testimony for Him. The one error suits the speculative, the other would meet those of a more practical turn of mind. No wonder, therefore, he exhorts them to be "rooted and built up in Christ, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." This last word is much to be weighed. I suppose their thanksgivings were beginning to wane, for such is the immediate effect of other objects intruding into the place of Christ.
"See lest there shall be any one that leads you as his prey through philosophy and vain deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the rudiments of the world, and not according to Christ." The earth gives clouds and not light. Man promises and undertakes much, but he can really give nothing but the blinding deceits of the master he is enslaved to. There is the deepest possible necessity for these warnings. Speculation about the origin of things, or about the eternity of matter, for instance, in which the Orientals, Gnostics, etc., delighted, might not have seemed directly dangerous. People are ready enough to say, Our philosophy is one thing, our religion another. They might reason then, as since, that the world must have been made out of something always in existence. This may sound plausible to some minds, but it has a great flaw for the believer; it makes nothing of God and gives His Word the lie. Matter becomes the great circumstance before the mind, and God is made like man - a mere active mind, a manufacturing power.
How grandly the scripture of the Galilean fisherman rebukes all such dreamers! "All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made." How aptly the error had been already met in Colossians 1:16! "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." The idea of the eternity of matter brings in from the first something outside God, independent and antagonistic; for this was the further deduction from the actual state of the world. Hence they reasoned of the two first principles, the one good, the other evil. This was the very error which was so much followed out in and interwoven into heathen philosophy, especially in the east, as indeed to this day. It is evident that the principle as to the eternity of matter, once admitted, leads the way to an abyss of falsehood and moral evil; and he would soonest fall into these inward or outward excesses who reasons most from his false starting point. Faith repudiates philosophy, not only as a rival but as an ally; it rests only on God's Word; it accepts that Word as absolute and exclusive. Therefore had the Apostle the best reason for warning them against philosophy and vain deceit, "according to the rudiments of the world and not according to Christ." They savour of, as they spring from, man as he is, not Christ; they suit the world, not heaven, nor those who belong to it, even while they are upon the earth. "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (v. 9).
What gives a more wonderful view of Christ than this truth which the simplest believer know", or ought to know, however little able to explain it? There is nothing like it. There alone we have the truth. We know God now; and how? Not by reasoning, as if thus we could search and find Him out. We know Him in Christ as a living Person who lived once bodily in this world, who still has His body above the world. We know from God, from His Word, that in the Person of Christ "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," not merely in His spirit, but really in Him bodily, though He be now glorified. He had a real, true body from the incarnation; but He had all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Him thus.
Nor is this all. The Apostle adds, "Ye are complete in Him" (v. 10); so you do not want philosophy even if it contained anything good, still less since it is positively bad. What we want is to enjoy Christ better and to walk more according to Him - not to glean other things from man as if they could enrich Christ, whereas they do but corrupt the truth. Man fallen is away from God, and under the power of the devil. This is the fact that makes these human notions so false and ruinous. Philosophical principles spring from death and can only produce death. In all heathenism (and perhaps one might say as much of Christendom) there is nothing more deadly than its philosophy. It is only less deceitful than the world's religion. It sounds reasonable, and a man gets charmed with the beauty or boldness of thoughts, imaginations, and language. Faith destroys both superstition and infidelity by the truth of God, and this by the revelation of Christ. The fullness of the Godhead never dwelt in the Father bodily, or in the Holy Ghost, but only in Christ. He was the only One of whom this wonderful reality could be affirmed. The whole fullness in Him dwelt and dwells still. "The Father that dwelleth in me [said He here below], he doeth the works." Again, "If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils," etc. Here we have not only the Son, but in and by Him the three Persons of the Godhead active in grace in this evil world. And faith receives what Scripture says of the unseen and eternal; faith acts on God's revealed mind as to the present. Unbelieving man refuses what is above himself and draws inferences from what he knows or does not know; but God will destroy both him and them. It is not only that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, but we are (not that fullness, but) filled full in Him. We may be and are said to be the fullness of Christ (Eph. 1), but never, of course, of the Godhead.
Hence we "are complete in him who is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body [of the sins] of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." vv. 10, 11. This is expressly in contrast with the external ordinance of circumcision. It should be "putting off the body of the flesh," not the body "of the sins" of the flesh. The true reading makes it a more complete thing; it is not a question of sins, but rather of sin in the nature. "Sins" would hardly be in keeping with the scope of the passage or phrase. It does not refer to the literal act of circumcising, but to Christ's death. When we believe in Christ, we have all the value of His death made true of us. This is here called circumcision not made by hands, in contrast with the ancient ordinance. The meaning and spiritual thought of circumcision is the mortification of human nature, man as he is being treated as a dead thing. It is Christ's death that gives us this privilege. We are brought into association with His death and have all its value in parting with our own ruined condition, "the body of the flesh," when we receive Him by faith. This circumcision supersedes all others, which in no way stripped off our evil state as man in the flesh.
"Buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through the faith of the operation of God who raised him out of the dead." This brings in not so much Christ's personal glory, as His work. The first chapter gives us chiefly His personal glory; and even though it spoke of His work, it was the reconciliation of all things, and of the saints withal, meanwhile, before the glory is revealed. Colossians 2 presses His work upon the saints. I have no doubt the wisdom of the Holy Ghost is shown in this; we have first Himself and His work in general, then the specific value and effect of His work for us and on us. There His headship is doubly unfolded with precision; here the fact of His being the Head of all principality and authority, is just alluded to, giving emphasis to our completeness in Him.
The reference to circumcision is clearly bound up with Christ's death, etc. - not the legal act to which He submitted, nor a question of His Person, but of His work applied to us. This is entirely confirmed by the statement of our being buried with Him in baptism, in which, says he, ye have also been raised with Him. The great point is the linking us to Christ. By Him alone the work was done; but when we believe in Him, we are brought into its efficacy and acquire by grace a common position with Him. It is not merely that it was by virtue of Him, but in Him this great work was wrought, whereby we have a place in and with Him. The initiatory institution of Christianity sets forth this immense distinctive blessing of the Christian. We owned in baptism that we died in Christ's death out of the condition in which we naturally lived; and now we are raised with Him by faith of the operation of God who raised Him out of the dead. We are thus entered on a new state (not, of course, our bodies yet, but our souls). The practical application of both death and resurrection with Christ, we shall soon see in the hands of the Apostle.
Much as the Spirit of God brings out the quickening power of Christ in this epistle, He never pursues the ultimate or highest consequences of the work of Christ. Quickened or raised up by Him, or rather raised together with Him, is the utmost we find here; hence there He stops. Again in Colossians 3, although He says, "Seek those things that are above," He does not say we are there, but, on the contrary, looks at the saints as being on earth, while seeking the things that are above. Thus, this epistle never goes so far as the Ephesians; it nowhere says we are seated in heavenly places. As we have seen and as is clear, the current of the communications of grace was interrupted; there was a hindrance before the Apostle. The Holy Ghost cannot freely show the saints the things of Christ, where He has to show them their own things. He turns aside to occupy Himself with the truth practically, and apply it to them, which is never the sign of souls being thoroughly bright; for there ought not to be such a need for arresting the flow of grace and truth. In Ephesians, on the contrary, the work of Christ is carried out to all its fullest consequences; the healthy state of the saint is unfolded, and exhortations follow proportionately high.
We have an instance here of the way in which the Apostle, having brought in a general principle, turns to them and says, "you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses"; then in verse 16, he goes aside to show how very pointedly and completely the work of God would take them away from the things of the flesh and law - "Having blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us," etc. Yet you want to get ordinances again! The only effect of this handwriting must be against you; it is very strongly expressed, and the Apostle repeats it in a double form.
These Colossian saints were not so far gone in legalism as to put Christians under the ten commandments as a rule of life. To bring in ordinances even, was not so ruinous, because they at least derive their entire value from the truth of Christ, couched and shadowed forth in them; whereas, there is nothing like making a rule of life of the law for awakening the spirit of self-righteousness in the confident, and of distrust and despair in more diffident souls, reversing exactly the way of grace with both. The Apostle insists, that even to let in the principle of ordinances now is to renounce the fundamental truth of death and resurrection (that is, of Christianity), because they suppose men alive in the world, not dead and risen in Christ. Those led aside may not mean to do anything of the sort, but the enemy does who misleads them. It is going back to dealings of a preparatory kind, into flesh and the world, and is in effect a forsaking of the glorious privileges of Christ to do so. The Apostle does not dwell here as in Galatians on the consequences of our being made debtors to fulfill the whole law, if we venture under it at all; but he shows, that it is a denial of Christ, as we know Him, if we allow of going back to law in any form, ordinances or not. It is the folly of making a merit of a return to the discipline of the rod and to the value of the letter game and of the dissected map and of the toy rewards for full grown men.
It is evident that, in the handling of men of philosophic tone, the rite of circumcision might be made a much more spiritual thing than any man could work out of the law as a rule of life. For they might say, as men have said, that circumcision was pressed only as the emblem of what we have in Christ, an ancient and divine, though of course, outward sign of spiritual grace. But the step was fatal; for if they admitted that sign, it was a recurrence to shadows when the substance was come; it was a relinquishment of grace too for the principle of law. The fathers had circumcision, no doubt, before Moses, which was then especially connected with promise. Still, although it was originally before the nation's responsibility to the law was pledged at Sinai, it was after that so embedded in the law that they cannot be separated. Take up circumcision now; and if you do not put yourself, the law puts you, under its whole system, and separates you in principle from Christ as an exalted heavenly Head who has accomplished redemption.
Thus, if there was one ordinance that more than any might symbolize with promise and grace, it was circumcision; yet so strong was the Apostle, that he tells the Galatians, that, admitting it all, they became debtors to do the whole law. To the Colossians he goes farther, and shows how it contradicts and sets aside the work of Christ, and the place of association with Him, into which we are thereby brought before God. Hence he here intimates what sort of circumcision we already have as Christians; it is of divine operation and not human: "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh," etc. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him," etc.
In Galatians, the law is in connection with justification; in Colossians, with Christ risen from the dead and in heaven. Christ, at any rate, is there; and although we are not seen to be in Him there, His exaltation to God's right hand really decides our place as dead with Him and risen with Him; not merely as justified by His blood, but dead and risen with Him. Of all this exceeding rich roll of blessing, subjection to ordinances is the denial; for what has Christ to do with the law now? And it is with Christ as He is, not as He was under law, that we are associated. In Hebrews we have another thing; it is not our death and resurrection with Christ, but Christ now appearing in the presence of God for us in glory, which is founded upon the perfection of His work, His one offering, which has forever put away sin. He is there at the right hand of God because He has by Himself purged our sins. The law as a code or system for us is inconsistent with Christ's place in glory as the bright exhibition of our triumph through God's grace; and such is the Christian way of looking at Christ. We do not, it is true, find our association with Christ dead or risen in Hebrews; still less is it the display of our union with Him above; neither is it justification, as in Romans and Galatians; but the value of His work measured by His position in heaven shines there with special lustre. Any allowance of ordinances now is proved to be a gainsaying of His work and of the glory He has in heaven, in danger too of leading to apostasy.
From verse 13, then, the Apostle takes great pains to set before the saints at Colosse their condition without and with Christ: "You being dead in your sins . . . hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." The very life we have received as believers is the token that our trespasses are gone. If God has quickened us with the life of Christ, He has forgiven us all trespasses. It is impossible that life in Christ dead and risen could have anything against it. There was everything against the believer once; but the possession of life in a risen Saviour necessarily attests that all is righteously forgiven to him who believes. It is a remarkable way of putting the matter, an exactly parallel case to which you can scarce find in any other part of Scripture.
In general, as we too well know, recourse is had to ordinances for meeting shortcomings, whetting spiritual appetite, etc. It is never in Christendom the open or despite denial of Christ, but the supply of certain aids to faith (!) or feelings besides Christ. This is precisely what the Apostle affirms to be so unbelieving and evil. "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us," observe, not against you, but against us. When the Apostle comes to speak of the operation of the law, he will not say "you," but "us"; as, again, "which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." The fact is, the Galatian saints, being Gentiles, had never been under law at all; and therefore he does not say "you"; but when he spoke of sins just before, he said "you"; "You being dead in your sins," etc. This makes the distinction very striking. "You" occurs in verse 13, because it applies to any sinner now, Jew or Gentile; while it is "us" in verse 14, because none but Jews, strictly speaking, were under law. The allusion to handwriting was very notable also; for the Gentiles had never put their hands to it, whereas the Jews had affirmed "all that the Lord hath spoken we will do," and thereon had been sprinkled with the blood as a seal of the legal covenant they had signed under the penalty of death.
The Apostle declares this was contrary to them and only brought in, as we know, condemnation, darkness, and death. What has Christ done in respect to all this? He has blotted it out, taken it out of the way. Do you want, like the Colossians, to bring it back again? Christ nailed it to His cross - an expression of entire triumph over it. "And having spoiled principalities and powers he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it."
It is very interesting to see the way in which the power of evil is viewed according to the place we are in. When the Church appears, it is not so much Satan's power on earth (which was the way the Jews felt it chiefly); but we have the special disclosure, that he is the prince of the power of the air, and that the wicked spirits are in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). This in no way clashes with what we have in the Old Testament! only now it is brought out more fully, and shown to be the position in which they are as opposed to the Christian. In Revelation 12 we see them (the dragon and his angels) ejected from heaven. They wanted to keep the heavenly places; they desired to hinder the Church, and dishonour God in His saints, that they might have a righteous claim over them, as it were. It was intolerable to them that such as had behaved badly on earth should be at last with the Son of God in heavenly places.
Alas! how many here below of the very race whom God so distinguishes in His mercy betray that they are of their father the devil, by love of falsehood and by hatred of God's grace and truth. Here we have the effect of the work of Christ upon these powers - leading them in triumph on the cross. It is not so high a tone of triumph as in Ephesians 4, where it is said, Christ led captivity captive. The powers that led believers into captivity were themselves vanquished. The reason is manifest. It was when He ascended up on high. Here we hear of what was done on the cross, the power of the cross; but there it is the public manifestation of the victory, in ascending up on high. The great battle was won. Christ had forever defeated the powers of evil for the joint heirs. This ascending up on high, and leading captivity captive, is the witness that they are powerless against the Christian. The language is always adapted to the point of view which the Holy Ghost is taking - whether it be of earth or heaven, whether of Israel or the Church. More than this, it depends on how and where He looks at the saints now. If they are viewed as in the wilderness, there is a different style and figure. Satan is spoken of as "a roaring lion," which suits the wilderness; and hence this is not the way he is spoken of in Ephesians, but in 1 Peter.
Now comes the practical turn to which the Apostle applies this. "Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a feast, or new-moon, or sabbaths; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." vv. 16, 17. A Christian man who knows the victory of Christ for us should not surely entertain the idea of going back to these elementary forms of working good. Hold fast your actual place in Christ, act consistently with it. As to eating and drinking or ordinances relative to the year, month, and week (and the Apostle takes particular care to speak not merely of feast or new moon but of sabbaths) remember that these things but prefigure the body or substantial good found really and only in Christ. In fact, these times and seasons point chiefly to what God will give His people by-and-by. The new moon was a remarkable type of Israel being renewed after fading away, as the sabbath was the type of the rest of God which He will yet enjoy and share. But whether it be peace or drink offerings or the feasts in general, they are connected as the shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. This we have. The Jew had the shadow, and he will have the things to come by the grace of God under the new covenant by-and-by. We are given the substance of Christ now. It is a question here of Jewish days. The Lord's day has nothing to do with Judaism; it is not only apart from, but in contrast with that system.
The Lord's day is as distinctly a Christian institution as the Lord's supper, the Jew having nothing to do with either. It is very important to see that God has put honour upon the day of resurrection and grace. When people are radically loose or begin to slip away from the Lord, an early symptom is carelessness about this day. There ought to be an exercised conscience about it, not only for our own selves, but also as to servants within and others without our houses. It is of very great consequence that the sense of liberty and grace should not even have the appearance of laxity or selfishness.
It is not exactly said the body is Christ. It is said "the Lord is that spirit," not that body, which was within the letter of the law. "The body" is used in contrast with "the shadow." There is no substance in a shadow, but we have the body which is of Christ. The twofold idea is that, while the substance is of Him, He is the spirit of all. Verse 16 deals chiefly with a Judaizing character of evil; but verse 18 goes farther and shows a kind of prying into the unseen, not so much the religious use or misuse of the seen, which was the Jewish snare, but dabbling with philosophy, specially of the Orientals. There was a great appearance of humility in all this, as there always is in false systems. The worship of angels seemed right and due, especially as no term peculiar to divine worship was used. Let it be ever so modified, still the Apostle speaks of it strongly. "Let no man deprive you of your reward, doing his will in humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen,* vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh." The Orientals indulged in abundant speculation about angels. It is true there are such beings; but it is the prying into such subjects that is so evil. They have to do with us, but not we with them. Our business is with God. Now it seemed to be a reasonable inference that if angels had to do with us, we must have to do with them; and inasmuch as they had to do with God immediately, why should we not have recourse to them with Him? It was not an unnatural thought; what then makes it so grievous an error?
*Some of the best authorities omit the negative and are followed by Lachmann, Alford, etc., but in my judgment mistakenly. The sphere of angels was invisible, and the saint is not to pry there but believe in what God reveals.
It is the setting aside of Christ who is the Head of all and so above angels. Christ is the One who determines our relation before God; and for all our need with God, we have Christ the great High Priest. Thus the putting angels in this place is a double dishonour to Christ. Such a speculator was "vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh." It might be plausible, but it injured not only the soul's enjoyment of Christ but His nature and glory to indulge in thoughts of the kind. "And not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, by joints and bands being ministered to and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." v. 19. It was false teachers who were thus depriving the saints of their blessing. These men habitually and instinctively seek to ingratiate themselves with the children of God, whose unsuspecting simplicity exposes them to be carried away by them. The worship of angels was one method in which the evil showed itself there and evinced its false character. The Holy Spirit is come down to glorify Christ, not angels. He who we-et beyond Scripture after angels, certainly did not hold fast the Head. The reference here to ministry is not at all the same as in Ephesians, where the Apostle enters into it copiously and shows the spiritual gifts in their chief forms from the highest down to the least, by which the body works for itself the building of itself up in love. Hence, if souls came together in a very simple way, it might still be for edification. Here all is put together, not expanded and distinguished as in Ephesians.
If God has led such into the place where Christ's headship (I may add, too, the Holy Ghost's presence) is held and acted on, how can they expect blessing from those who do not see nor act upon it? These truths are fundamental for the Church, ministry, etc. We have to hold to the will of God; and God has His own will as to all this, and His own wisdom and way, which ought to be something in our eyes. Here we are told of joints and bands - the various means which Christ employs for the spiritual blessing and profit of His people. It enables the body to work better; it concentrates the saints around Christ, and for His glory. It is well to seek the diffusion of blessing to others; but for the saints, the truest thing is the power of gathering to Christ Himself, not merely sending out servants, but gathering to Christ as Lord where there is need of spiritual power to hold together. This is to increase "with the increase of God." There is then enlargement, comfort, and consolation. The power that is expressed is not in conversion only, but works within in positive blessing and self-judgment.
Here we have the application spiritually of these two great truths, the death and the resurrection of Christ. They had been already put together in verse 12. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him." "And you, being dead in your sins, hath he quickened together with him." v. 13. Now, from verse 20 to 23, we have the consequences of being thus dead with Christ, as in Colossians 3, from the first verse onward, we have the meaning of the resurrection of Christ - that which it secures and to which the Holy Ghost calls us as thus risen with Christ.
The use that is made of our death with Christ is not that we are redeemed. In this point of view the blood of Christ is ever made prominent. It is not that the forgiveness of all trespasses is omitted, but the death of Christ and our association with Him goes much farther here and introduces us to another line of truth altogether. We might have seen the offering of His body, the shedding of His blood, and there might have been no presentation of death with Him. What is here founded upon our being dead with Christ is the having nothing to do with nature or the world in the things of God. The whole force of the world's religion denies death with Christ; it does not see and will not admit the total ruin of man as he is. What the world thinks of in a religion is that which will suit people in every variety of condition. Human wisdom provides for each and all, for the becoming religious observance of the entire population of a land. Thus all decent people, all who are not scandalous livers, etc., are made worshippers, and have a religion adapted to their thoughts of themselves and God, mainly occupied with what man essays to do for God. It is a mixture of heathenism with Jewish forms, and finds its element in certain abstinences as its holiness. As there can be no positive enjoyment of Christ, the negative must be its essential characteristic. God embodied these very elements in Judaism, which was a religion of the flesh and a worldly sanctuary. He Himself made the experiment, so to speak, of an immense system of restrictions, which is the only conceivable plan for a man as such to be holy to the Lord. Hence we find the trial under every advantage of this kind of worship in the Levitical law. Besides the restraint put on man's will morally in the ten words, particular meats and drinks were forbidden. They were not even to touch certain ceremonially unclean objects. All this had to do with man in the flesh, though I doubt not that every ordinance in the Jewish system had a weighty meaning as shadowing better things in Christ. There were always precious truths couched under these forms and ceremonies. The letter kills (that is, the mere outward husk of the system), but the Spirit gives life, wherever there was faith to lay hold of the spiritual import.
Now if we are "dead with Christ," where is the application to us of "touch not, taste not, handle not"? Such injunctions disappear entirely, because, if already and really dead with Christ, I am outside this kind of language and ideas. You may as well exhort a dead man as to his old wants or duties. The old religious system for man in the flesh is absolutely done with for the Christian. It is to contradict the foundation on which he stands, yea, his very baptism. In Christ he is dead to the world. Hence, if a Christian mingle with the world's religion, he invariably loses the sense of being dead with Christ, as well as the true judgment of the world and man. The only means by which the world could ever be religious is by a resort to the law, as we see in every national system, and indeed in every effort to win the acceptance of man as such. But this is now to give up Christ dead and risen, little as men think it.
Here the Apostle seems to allude to the general system of human restriction in religious matters rather than to any particular part of the Old Testament. When a man dies, he leaves behind him his wealth, rank, ease, reputation, energy, that constituted his enjoyment in this life. So does the Christian from the starting point, by virtue of Christ's death and resurrection. Thus it is a great truth on which he is called to act while he is still on the earth. In Christ he is now dead to the world. There is in many Christians the entire overlooking of this truth either as a privilege for enjoyment or as a reality for practice. To them it is a mere mysticism, the idea of being dead and risen with Christ, which they are too humble and reverent to look on and think about. Let me add that it is not the same thing as having life in Christ, for this was of course ever true of believers before there was or could be such a standing as that of being dead and risen with Christ. After the death and resurrection of Christ, such was the great change in this respect that then came in.
It is thus evident that to be dead with Christ takes a person not only out of the world in spirit, but out of the whole system of its religion. "If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?" Such had been the condition of men, at best, before Christ. They were at the letters, so to speak; the rudiments or elements had their place and trial. But now, the Son of God being come and having given us to know Him that is true, it is the substance and fullness of the truth that we know in knowing Christ. The work of Christ rested on by faith fits the believer now for this place where old things are passed away and all things are made new. "Why, as though living in the world" is a most remarkable expression. It shows that we are not true to our standing, as well as to Christ, if we are as men alive in the world. We have a new life, which is the life of Him who is dead and risen; and this has now brought us into the condition of death to all that is of the world. Hence as to the religion of the world, the Christian has in principle as really done with it as Christ Himself had after His death. What had our Lord from His cross to do with the fasts and feasts of the Jews? Absolutely nothing; neither ought we; and by "we" I mean every real Christian. The time of patience with the Christian Jews is long passed away; there is no longer the smallest ground of excuse in Christendom.
I admit that the great mass of Christians will not hear of such a breach with the world; and thus comes one severe trial of those who see it thus a foundation truth of Christ. Have they in grace made up their minds for His sake to be counted fanatical, foolish, proud, hard, narrow, committing these and all other calumnies to Him who loves them, and knows the end from the beginning? The taking up the rudiments of the world is then a flat practical contradiction to our death with Christ.
The Colossians were in danger of this snare. They did not see why, because they were Christians, they should leave off what seemed good enough done among the Jews or Gentiles. They wanted to hold on to the truth of Christ, but to keep up, or adopt along with it, religious forms which had been observed in olden times. No, says the Apostle, it is Christ who is all our good, and nothing but Christ; we need nothing else. Christ is all. Nothing was so exclusive as Christ and the cross, and yet what was so large? "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." But He was rejected. Since then Jewish forms and principles had lost all their ancient value.
In Galatians the Apostle speaks even more strongly than here. He charged those who would observe days and months and times and years with going back to heathenism. "Howbeit then when ye knew not God, yet did service to them which by nature are no gods" (that was their old Gentile condition); "but now after that ye have known God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" They thought that it was to improve on the early simplicity of the gospel, if they borrowed from the law. How little did they expect the apostolic rebuke, that it is as bad for Christians to take up Jewish elements as to turn back to idolatry! It is in truth now shown to be the same principle; such is the light in which the cross of Christ puts these worldly elements. Before many years are over, there may be seen a strange amalgam not merely between the churches, so-called, but between Christendom and Judaism. The loss of the temporalities of the Roman See is no unimportant step in the chain of events. In due time Rome will be left free for the beast to display his power in, Jerusalem becoming the central seat of religion to which Christendom will turn. There will not only be idolatry, but the abomination of desolation; the man of sin will be set up and worshipped in his time. All works on toward a worse evil than even popery itself.
But if such will be the end, the way now is "living in the world," which means that the heart is here, that one has settled down to the world's religion. A Christian, on the contrary, is one who belongs to heaven. The error of embracing these Jewish elements practically denied this, and especially the being dead with Christ. The only sure way to judge of anything is to bring in Christ. The question here is, How stands Christ in view of the world's religion? When He lived here below, He, undoubtedly, went to the temple, owning and practicing the law (however truly the only begotten Son of the Father), for God did; He had not yet given up Israel, man, the earth, all things here below. But where and how is Christ now? One cannot, again, have and keep truth unless it be followed out; and God does not mean that we should possess it otherwise. He gives a testimony; the light shines; but the truth only fills a soul when acted on, else the light that is within becomes darkness; and then how great is that darkness! Need one hesitate to affirm that if a man professed to understand what it is to be dead with Christ and yet went on with the world's religion, he would show himself to be a thoroughly dishonest man? It is more than a want of intelligence. What more solemn, save sacrificing Christ's Person? Those who seem to have the truth but refuse to act upon it, will ere long become enemies of the truth which they do not follow.
The religion of the world has to do with this creation; it belongs to those things of which people can say, "Touch not, taste not, handle not." Take the principle of consecrated buildings, holy places within the holy, sacred vestments, anything of that kind which perishes with the using, all is connected with the world; and the flesh is capable of enjoying it. To say it does not matter where or how we worship God is as bad as any evil. There is nothing worse than indifference in the things of God. Those who are thus careless in what regards God, are not wanting in vigilance as to what concerns themselves. I speak, of course, of the general facts, not of individuals. If we did not know ourselves associated with Christ dead and risen, our worship ought to be a kind of accommodated Judaism, which was the religion of a people living in the world.
Now, on the contrary, all that is entirely judged in the cross to be enmity against God; and Christians are called to have nothing to do with it. There is wonderful blessedness in realizing where the death of Christ puts us. It has quite closed with whatever is alive in the world, with all that a man in the world might value. Living in the world takes two great forms, one superstitious, the other secular, self being necessarily the root of both. Being dead with Christ delivers us from both. Take the American churches as the secular form in religion; the one idea is to make themselves comfortable even in devotion. The idea of worshipping God is gone. They have no notion what it is to be dead with Christ. The greater danger, however, lies on the other or superstitious side, because that has a fine show of humility, piety, and reverence. But those who are truly, wonderfully, delivered through death and resurrection with Christ ought to avoid all reproach of lightness and negligence. Unbecoming behaviour is nowhere so painful as where the Christian standing is known, and the ground of God's Church is taken.
Then the Apostle gives us a sample of what these ordinances are. It is not the power of the Spirit of God unfolding the things of Christ, but something that relates to self, chiefly of a negative character. Such of old was the dealing of law with flesh in an evil world. Faith is now entitled to look on Christ in heaven. "Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." This is not God's will, but man devising means of pleasing Him out of his own head. All this clothes itself with a great apparent lowliness, and cherishes asceticism. It is exactly what philosophy has done - denying the proper place of our bodies. How strikingly, on the contrary, does the New Testament bring out the vast importance of the body! It proclaims, for instance, that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost. This is most important, and, itself the effect of redemption, is the true ground of Christian morals. "Yield up your members as instruments of righteousness to God"; "Present your bodies a living sacrifice," etc.
The philosophic mind of Corinth went on the principle that it mattered not about the body, provided the spirit was all right. The Apostle insists that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Further, there is the truth of the resurrection of the body, and not merely the immortality of the soul. The emphasis is upon the body; so that although the body is fallen under sin, the power of the Holy Ghost is there, who is said to dwell in each believer. You cannot reclaim the flesh, you cannot improve the will. The old man has to be judged, denied, treated as vile; but the body is even now made the temple of the Holy Ghost. Adam, before he fell, had body, soul, and spirit; but directly he fell, he acquired self-will - the loving to have his own way. This is a thing we should always treat as evil, and judge ourselves if in any way we allow it to act What can give a man such power against it as Christ known thus in full delivering grace? Like the captured sword of Goliath, "of weapons there is none like that." If I am dead and risen with Christ, where is the old man? It does not exist in the sight of God; therefore we are not to allow it in the eight of men.
The prime thought of worldly religion is correcting the flesh, and improving the world. The mind finds greater glory in itself by ascetic efforts. Neglect of the body may be at the same time a puffing up of the flesh. It was a heathenish idea, the foster child of philosophy. They willingly believed that the soul was holy if not the body, some contending that the soul came from God and the body from the devil. This was productive of frightful evil, to the destruction of an morality. Is there not an answer in Christ to all these wanderings of the human mind? Receiving the truth in Him, you get that which defeats the object of Satan; but the Holy Ghost alone, if I may so say, makes it to be truth in us. May it be received in the love of it, that thus there may be abundant fruit of righteousness by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;
In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.
For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:
Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
(Touch not; taste not; handle not;
Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.