William Kelly Major Works Commentary
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.Colossians Chapter 3
We have seen death with Christ and its consequences applied to the danger which menaced the Colossian saints, judging the evil into which Satan was trying to draw them back. But the effect of this death with Christ was there regarded chiefly in a negative point of view. Why were such as they subject to ordinances? They ought not to be, for in Christ they were dead from the rudiments of the world and had consequently nothing to do with ordinances. These might be all well enough for men alive in the world, but necessarily cannot apply to dead men. It was a total spiritual contradiction. Now the Christian is dead by virtue of the cross of Christ. This is all a matter of faith. Of course, he is alive naturally; he is disposed also, if not occupied with Christ, his life, to have old thoughts and habits revived, etc. As a believer I ought to distrust every judgment, every feeling I have had as a natural man, remembering that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.
But now the Christian is looked at as a dead man, aye, dead to the world doing its best, even the religious world. The best the realm of nature can pretend to is in not touching, tasting, handling. Such is its only way of getting the victory, which is really no victory at all, but merely abstinence from certain things, or a system of fleshly restrictions. That is wholly distinct from the principle of the Christian. He looks for the victory of grace. For the death of Christ has delivered him from the entire ground of nature in not touching, tasting, or handling. This was Jewish in principle, and not this alone, for it was the natural religion for man. It is only thus that men try to avoid evil in the world. Christianity does not merely avoid the evil within and around, but brings in death to it all. Christ has died to it, and the Christian should know himself dead to all that is of the world, moral or religious, as decidedly as gross, intellectual or infidel.
In chapter 3 we advance a step farther. The Apostle reasons from our being risen with Christ. It is not merely that we shall die and rise, but that we are dead and risen. Even many Christians who use the words constantly, do not really enter into the meaning of this language, and for the obvious and sufficient reason: they are not living in the truth of it practically. They are too habitually mixed up with the world to understand such absolute separation from it. It is not that they are dull of understanding in the things and interests of nature. But their speech and their ways betray them, proving how far they are from intelligence of the Scripture itself. They substitute mysticism for the truth.
Before Christ came, God had appointed a system of ordinances. Judaism was the world's religion in its best shape. Those who were formed in that school, till they underwent a total revolution by grace, never understood the distinctive features of Christianity. Its character was hidden from them. The Jews had no notion of the flesh being utterly ruined - sense of sin, understanding of the grace of God, small indeed. As a nation they were put under law, under Levitical priesthood, under outward sacrifices, under carnal ordinances. All this was a part of what they had to go through, great truths being concealed under these rudimentary pictures. Christendom has taken up the things that were right enough for a Jew, but which are now called "the elements of the world," as in truth they are. They were not so judged when God was dealing with Israel. It was, however, what the world is capable of. Now they are treated as elements of the world, but it was not so before Christ died.
There are many, for instance, who think you cannot have fit worship for God without a sacred building and ceremonies in accordance; and the more beautiful the building, and imposing the ritual, the more they count it acceptable to God. Now all this is part of the elements of the world. Again, there are those who think you cannot have the Lord's supper without an official ordained for the purpose of administering it. There is no such custom in the Church of God. The Apostle repudiates the entire system. It is an invention of the enemy. New Testament Scripture, which reveals the Church, excludes all this. Not only is it not a good thing, but all such thoughts and ways are evil now, being opposed to the cross and the heavenly glory of Christ.
Scripture remains unchangeable (whatever the changes of Christendom), and what we need is to betake ourselves to the light of Scripture. This is a simple but immense safeguard - let us go back to God's Word and cleave to that alone. The devil was at this judaising work among the Colossians; his great aim was to lead them away to ordinances, Jewish forms which had their lawful place once, but were not in force now. Christianity treats them as of no account; and, indeed, so far from retaining any value, they are treated as childish, and even idolatrous for the Christian. That was naturally a very serious difficulty for a Jew. All that Moses, David, Hezekiah honoured as religious observances, were they asked to abandon now? Yes, but Christ had come; and were they not to "hear Him" now? Redemption, the substance of their figures, was wrought; was this to be slighted,
The great error of Christendom has always been a going back to ordinances. Take the principle of a consecrated order of men; what is it but the same thing? It is true, all Christians have not the same gift or place; there are only a few gifted to help, lead on, and instruct the many. What seems a difficulty to some is, that up to the cross of Christ was of course bound up with the Jewish system. But this closed with His cross, resurrection, and ascension. The Christian's connection with Christ is since then founded on the cross, which rent the veil and thus dissolved the Jewish system. Therefore it is said, "Seek the things above where Christ is seated on the right hand of God." v. 1. It is very beautiful, the allusion to Christ's place on high outside the world. Thus His settled peace in glory is our keynote. Not that we are here said to be seated in Him there. In Ephesians that side of the truth is pursued and enforced. But the epistle to the Colossians never carries the believer so high! it shows Christ there, but it does not, so to speak, set us there. The resurrection of Christ, or, rather, our being risen with Him, is urged as the ground for our seeking the things above.
"Let your mind be on the things above, not on the things on the earth." v. 2. Who can loyally have divided affections? As our Lord Himself said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The Lord put it as a moral impossibility. But here it is urged as an exhortation founded on the immense grace that has raised us up with Christ risen. In vain do you essay to be occupied at the same time with things heavenly and earthly. Our calling is to have our mind on the things above, not merely now and again, but at all times. Suppose a person to be engaged in business; is he not to attend to it? Surely; yet not to set his mind on it, but simply to go through all as a duty to the Lord. Ought he not to do it better than another man who has not Christ? I am assured that such would be the fruit of looking to the Lord, while the same single-eyedness and faith would preserve him from the snares of covetousness, as well as vain glory. The Christian thus taught and walking has an object before his soul which alone is adequate to raise a man above self and the world. Of course, if he is thus labouring day by day to the Lord, the consciousness of the grace in which he stands would deliver him from the carelessness, or self-indulgence, or speculation, which expose men to get into debt or to act in other dishonourable ways. For this is to sink beneath even decent worldliness. Yet, if a Christian does not walk with exercised conscience before the Lord, he is in danger of doing worse and going farther astray than an ordinary man. Humbling and grievous as this may be, it is not surprising. The main object of Satan is put forth to dishonour Christ in those who bear His name, and the power of the Spirit is only with those whose heart is toward Christ. It is not, then, Have your mind partly on things above and partly on things on the earth, but have it not at all on the things that are on the earth.
Whatever the Lord gives you to do, you can take up as service to the Lord; but even here there is need to watch narrowly and, not the least, spiritual work in the gospel or in the Church. There is no security in anything but in Him who sits at the right hand of God. Take, for instance, research into the Scriptures. One might be absorbed in the niceties of the language, the prophecies, the poetry, the history, the doctrine, etc. Any or all these might become a snare. Where is safety for us but in Christ Himself - Christ as He is above?
Moreover, there is added a remarkable statement of the reason why we should have our mind upon things above - "for ye have died." It is not moralizing, like men, even heathen that we have to die, but the fundamental Christian truth that we are dead. All mystics, old or new, have, as their object, to die. Hence it is a dwelling upon inward experience and human effort - the endeavour to crucify themselves - not "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." What was suitable for a Jew, so far from being necessarily for a Christian, is on this side of the cross; our foundation is Christ who is dead and risen. The fact that a thing is in the Bible does not warrant the conclusion that it is God's will for the Christian. We must seek rightly to divide the word of truth. What was formerly right for the Jews is for us nothing but the elements of the world. These forms pointed to a reality that is now come; the body is of Christ. The blessed portion of a Christian is, that he is dead even to the best things in the world, and alive ta the highest things in the presence of God; for Christ is his life.
To have our mind, therefore, on the things which accord with Christ in glory is what we are called to - first of all, Christ Himself, then the mighty work of Christ in redemption viewed in its heavenly effects. What objects to have before us always! The hopes too that we are connected with Christ thus known, spiritual wisdom brought into exercise thereby, the affections kindled and in play; in short, all the fruits of Christ's work in relation to heaven are comprised in these things above. "For ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." v. 3.
The prevalent notion with many is, that the Christian is just the better qualified to fill a place in the world, because he is a Christian. But this is in truth to deny the primary and precious truth of God, that I am dead, which my very baptism confesses. And it is remarkable that the impression of the world about any one who receives Christ is, that he is as good as gone. They feel that he is lost to his former objects; and if he takes his place in any full measure as belonging to Christ, he does justify the instincts of men; for he ceases to act as one alive in the world. Alas! Christendom soon accustoms him to be false to Christ. But the truth is that "ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." As yet it is hidden; Christ has not yet caused His glory to be seen by the world. Therefore should a Christian be content to be for a little while an object of rejection and scorn. Faith and patience are thus put to the proof; God allows it to be so; and a Christian ought not to wonder at it, for Christ had just the same portion. A single eye is not deceived; selfishness is blind to God's glory. We would be true to the moral power of the cross - the night is far spent. The reason why we are despised is thus a blessed source of joy in our sorrow. Then the time is short. All will soon be changed.
There is the further truth, "when the Christ, [who is] our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." v. 4. Christ is not always as now to be hidden; He is about to be manifested; and when He is, we too shall be manifested with Him in glory. God will bring us along with Him, as we learn elsewhere. We shall have been translated to Him, in order that, when He shall be seen by every eye, we may have the same portion with Him. The expression "hid with Christ in God" is a much more emphatic one than simply saying, He is absent in heaven. In John 13 it is said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself and shall straightway glorify him." It is not merely glorification in heaven, but what Christ has now in Himself. It is while He is hidden in God, as was said in verse 3, and in contrast with the display of His glory when He comes by-and-by, as in verse 4.
The Colossians had lost sight of this truth in great measure and were in danger of getting on a track that would have deprived them of all enjoyment of peace and confidence in God. The theory was to add what they could to Christ in order to increase the saints' blessing and security, and make a present display to His glory. The Apostle shows them that their life is hid with Christ in God. Consequently, though they possess the most perfect security, it is in accord with Christ's place, hidden and not displayed yet. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness," etc. v. 5. Because ye are dead, because ye have this new life, even Christ, and so are dead and risen with Him, mortify your members which are upon the earth. What were they? Fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Such is what they - what we - really are. It is a wonderfully strong and pointed way of presenting the truth. God is not mocked. Grace does not hinder His judgment either morally in His Word or by-and-by when it shall be executed. "On account of which the wrath of God cometh on the sons of disobedience: in which things ye also once walked, when ye lived in them." vv. 6, 7.
"But now do ye also put off these all, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, base language," etc. It is sweet to see how the truth of being dead with Christ is brought in as deliverance from nature in all its forms, no matter whether corruption or violence. It is the judgment of the first Adam as a whole; nothing is spared. The "ye" is emphatic in verse 7. "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, renewed unto full knowledge according to the image of him that created him." God would have His children enjoy the fullest comfort; and indeed it is impossible for a person to be practically holy until he is happy. There may be godly desires and the Spirit be at work, but there is not power till the soul finds its peace and deliverance in another that God gives in pure grace. Then, when he is made happy through Christ and His work of redemption, he goes to God as his Father and has the Holy Ghost as power, and all the other practical results which flow from that new relationship. "Where there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all and in all." v. 11.
How beautifully in keeping is the Christian motive seen in this, that we should not lie, etc., not only because it dishonours God, but because we have put off the old man and have put on the new man! An appears in a strikingly characteristic light. God in His very instructions to us fails not to remind us here of our blessing. If we are therefore called to put off anger, wrath, etc., it is because we are dead. If we are told to walk no longer in uncleanness, it is on the ground that, though we once lived in it all, we are now dead to it and alive in Christ. If we are exhorted to speak the truth, it is because we have put off the old man and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. In Him is no darkness at all. He is the true light that now shines.
It is imperative on us as Christians to value nothing but Christ. I speak simply of our place as Christians; but what does not this embrace? As Christ is all and in all, so we have to seek to act upon this always, only prizing in one another what is of Him. If I love and prize Christ, such will be my feeling toward Christians, even as I shall want myself and all Christians to feel that Christ is the only thing worth our thoughts, affections, labour, and life. There is continual danger of the Christian's sinking into thoughts of natural qualities, of those things that make men attractive. The point of faith is to rise above all this. "Let your light so shine," etc. Where Christ is not steadily adhered to as an object and motive, nature will break out as bad as ever. But before God and to faith I am entitled to treat it as dead; and I owe it to Him who died for me and rose again to act upon the great truth that God has passed sentence upon the old man. To this end I must judge myself with my eye fixed upon Christ. Otherwise there is no failure in which I may not dishonour Him. No man ever walks inconsistently while his eye is on Christ. Nor is it merely sense of his own weakness, but the consciousness that the old man is judged and gone from before God. What a blessed standing is the Christian's! The Old Testament saints were kept from sin by expecting and desiring Christ; but we look on Christ now, being dead and risen with Him who has already done all for us. Is it not an incalculable progress? And there is difference quite as marked as the progress, but on this I dwell not now.
In Ephesians the ground for not lying is because we are members one of another. Here it is treated as inconsistent with our having put off the old man and put on the new man. Thus it is an evident contradiction of the new nature, as well as of the judgment and setting aside of the old one. The judgment doubtless took effect upon Christ; but then faith in Him supposes it has been applied to us, and that we have, through Him, renounced self, yea, put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new. The old man is supposed to account for lying; the old man is false, full of deceit. There is not, there cannot be, thorough truthfulness in nature as it is now. We see this from the first; Adam was false directly he sinned. Cain was false also. There may be other evils, such as violence, shown betimes in some and not in others; but all are false - lying one does see in all. The ordinary forms of social intercourse are founded more or less upon deceit in the present state of the world. Men say what is agreeable to others without thought. Men subscribe forms, especially in religion, which they are not expected to believe, and, sad to say, the best men least of all. This all shows how universally falsehood follows the old man - here it is a question of Christians, and therefore we have the new man.
In Ephesians we hear of the members of the body; here it is the nature. In Ephesians also they are to put off the old man and put on the new; but here it is said, "which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." In Ephesians it is as a fresh thing that they had not before, without any reference to being renewed; it is absolutely new-created; whereas here they have received the fresh blessing, but at the same time there is renewing. Both ideas are in the two epistles, but put so as to prove the complement of each other. In Ephesians it is said that the new man is after God created in righteousness and true holiness. What is the difference between the two? Righteousness brings in the idea of authority; it supposes an answer to a just claim; let it be man that meets it, or God, a right to demand underlies it. Holiness is His nature alone and intolerant of evil; it has in itself nothing to do with the claim of justice. To the believer Christ is made righteousness, which is grounded on God's judgment, though it may be entirely settled in our favour; whereas holiness would have been true apart from the question of His authority; it is the essential nature and character.
The angels are said to be holy, but are never said to be righteous or just. The new man rejoices in both. There is entire acquiescence in the authority of God, and delight that the judgment of God has been so met in Christ that He is glorified more than ever. Besides that, there is the moral nature that feels with God. Righteousness is more a bowing to God, holiness is the participation of His own feelings about good and evil. In us the two feelings often mingle. Righteousness is a true balance, the maintenance of what is just in relationships of all kinds. For instance, it is right for a child to obey its parents; it is not merely holy but "right" to do so. The one belongs to the nature quite apart from relationship, or anything of duty, apart from anything that is a sort of obligation which brings in the idea of righteousness.
Hence, we see, Rationalists admit the value of holiness, but they seldom talk of righteousness; for righteousness supposes judgment. Righteousness is a terrible word for a man until he has got hold of Christ. Righteousness, I repeat, proclaims the authority of God. God was holy before sin came into the world; but who could speak of His righteousness before there was the judgment of evil, spite of conscience, and against His express authority? Under the law, therefore, which was the formal assertion of that authority in dealing with men in the flesh, Jehovah, as a righteous God, is continually set forth. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness," etc. There was neither righteousness nor holiness in Adam before he fell. We have both and become both in Christ. Adam was made upright, but that is not the same thing as being righteous or holy; it was the absence of evil; he was innocent, unfallen.
Righteous and holy is the description that God gives of the Christian. Adam knew nothing of evil as yet, neither was there any question of God's righteous claim upon him, save so far as the forbidden fruit tested his obedience; yet there was no limit of doing this and living, but rather of not doing lest he die. Adam was in a place of privilege, and the point was simply to enjoy it in obedience to God, on penalty of death if he disobeyed. We are in a wholly different position, being in the midst of evil, and acted on by a good outside and above us. Hence we are said to be called by glory and virtue; "by glory" as the object, the condition in which Christ is, and "by virtue" as a restraint upon us and practical conformity to Christ (2 Peter 1).
It has been well remarked that in Ephesians Christ is never spoken of as the image of God; He is so, very expressly, in Colossians. If we may discriminate, what we have in Ephesians is more Christ showing me what God is - not His image, but His moral likeness reflected in Christ. Hence it is said, "Be ye imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." It is more the notion of resemblance than representation. Still, although you can say of Christ, He is the image of God, He is never said to be in the likeness of God, just because He is God. In Colossians we hear repeatedly of the image of God. Here, for instance, the new man is said to be "after the image of him that created him"; as in the first chapter Christ is said to be the image of the invisible God. The two ideas of likeness and image may often be confounded in our minds, but not so in Scripture, where likeness simply means that one person resembles another; image means that a person is represented, whether it be like him or not - both of course may be together.
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering." v. 12. These are the positive, moral qualities of Christ - the tone, spirit, and inward feelings of our Lord. It is not exactly as children, but "as the elect of God, holy and beloved," that we are called on to manifest the same. We are to feel and walk as the Lord walked here.
There is this character about Scripture, that, being divine, it never can be mastered by intellect alone, but always appeals to the affections and conscience as well as mind. It needs the power of the Holy Ghost to connect it with Christ in order even then to feel, judge, and act aright. "Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." v. 13. Christ is looked at as Head of everything in this epistle. He is viewed as the ideal of all that is good and lovely which God looks either for or from us. "And above all these things, love, which is the bond of perfectness." v. 14. There is more in love than simple kindness and forgiveness; it goes beyond these. Love always brings in God, being the activity of His nature. His nature morally is light, but the energy of it is love that goes out in goodness to others.
Thus, love tends to bind together, whereas self or flesh is the very opposite, the one as decidedly removing difficulties, as the other brings them in. Love not only bears and forbears but overcomes evil with good. "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." The peace of God is that perfect calm in which He rests as to all circumstances in this world and into which He brings the believer who looks up to Him, committing all circumstances into His hands without allowance of will or anxiety. Instead of our way of escape, which is what man's mind loves to take, because he has always a notion of governing for himself, faith enables a man to look up to God, and brings in the Word of God to bear upon what passes around us. But our epistle speaks of a peace more intimate. It is the peace that Christ has now, the peace He ever had when here below. Thus Christ Himself met all difficulties, as He saw all perfectly, resting in perfect peace about all; and so should we. No sense of evil without, no sense of weakness among His own, disturbs His perfect peace about everything.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body, and be ye thankful." v. 16. Thus it is peace, but not an isolated spirit, not as having done with one another, but, on the contrary, cleaving to all, spite of all. Supposing, for instance, something painful troubled me about one in communion, am I to be troubled by this so as to be hindered from going to the Lord's table? That would be adding wrong to wrong; for if it were right for me to stay away, it would be equally incumbent on others also. I am never warranted to yield to trouble about such matters, but entitled to have the peace of Christ ruling in my heart. There is always a way of Christ in everything, and this is very important for our souls to remember. "And be ye thankful"; not anxious nor fretful, but thankful. Everything that is wrong may be matter for judgment; but the best preliminary for judging soundly is to do what is according to God - perhaps to judge ourselves. It is our privilege to think of Christ in all that we enter on.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to God." v. 16. This is a remarkable contrast of the gospel with the law. The law decided this and that; and not this only, but the obedience of the law is definite; it does not leave room for a growing measure of spirituality. Now, in Christianity, there is an elasticity which leaves room for differences in spirituality. This does not suit the thoughts of human nature; it is too vague for it; but it is perfection in the mind and ways of God, who thus forms the affections and judgments. It is precisely what leaves room for the word of Christ. Here there is growth in every kind of wisdom, and also room left for the exercise of spiritual judgment. In the first chapter there is a similar principle, only there it is "being filled with the knowledge of his will, that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." Here it is "That the word of Christ may dwell in you richly in all wisdom"; it is not a question of walk, but of enjoyment and worship. Hence, immediately after we have "teaching and admonishing one another," etc. By speaking of enjoyment and worship, its public exercise is not meant, but the spirit of it in intercourse with one another.
As to the difference between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, I suppose a psalm was a more stately composition than a spiritual song, which admits more of Christian experience and expression of our feelings. This may be very good in its way and season, but it is not the best or highest thing. A psalm, then, is more solemn; a hymn is a direct address to God and consists of praise. By psalms, of course, I do not refer to the Psalms of David, but to Christian compositions.
The exhortation, again, to sing with grace in their hearts was because the Colossian saints were far from the excellent state in which we may gather the Ephesians, for instance, were. "And whatever ye do in word or deed, do everything in [the] name of [the] Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." v. 17. This exactly meets what has been already remarked about bringing in everything as a matter for blessing the Lord, instead of finding only sorrow. Doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus includes not the mere thought of belonging to Him, but of perfect grace. Still it is the Lord Jesus, not Christ simply, but the "Lord Jesus," which involves our relation to His authority. Whatever grace may be shown us, the authority is not weakened, and the effect is that we give thanks to God and the Father by Him. A Christian man, woman, or child dishonours the Lord by yielding to the thankless spirit of the world. "Whatever ye do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus." Thus our tone and speech, as well as ways, should testify our subjection to Him before whom all heaven bows.
Hitherto, the exhortations have been entirely general. Now the Apostle enters upon special relationships. The Spirit begins, as a rule, in these exhortations with the subordinate ones, with those under authority, rather than with those who are called to exercise it. The wisdom of this is manifest. If the one who should be subject behaves with humility, there is nothing more conciliating to such as are in authority. First of all, then, we begin with the most important of earthly relationships, that of wives and husbands. The wife, in accordance with that just principle, is exhorted before the husband. The emphatic word for the wife is to submit herself. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in [the] Lord." v. 18. Where she is not submissive, it is unseemly even in nature, but more especially in the Lord. The wife's subjection is fitting in the Lord, though no doubt "in the Lord" acts so far as a preservative, that if a husband required anything wrong, submission could not be right. The point here, however, I think, is rather the suitability of it as a Christian principle without entering into the question of how and when it should be made.
Some have inferred that as we are all one in Christ Jesus, there is now no submission due from the wife; that it was part of the curse and woman's special lot in and by the fall; but that now, when she becomes a Christian, the inferiority vanishes, and the woman stands absolutely equal with her husband. Now it is true that Scripture shows us a place and relationship in which the question of man and woman disappears. Thus, "if ye then be risen with Christ" applies in a manner quite independent of age or sex; Christian man and woman and child are equally risen in Christ. But the moment you come down to special relationship, there are distinctions. If a person indulge in wrong thoughts about this, he is in danger of destroying weighty principles. The husband would abandon his right seat of authority; the wife as a matter of course would lose her only happy place of subjection; and where would the Christian child be if the scheme were followed out? As children of God, no doubt all stand on a level; father, mother, child, if believing, enjoy like spiritual privileges. The differences as to flesh and the world entirely disappear in Christ; but the moment you think of earthly relationships (and this is what we have here), there are differences, neither few nor unimportant, in what pertains to our present life and the shape of our walk as Christians. The difference between man, woman, and child, was not destroyed, and still less was it originated, by the fall; it existed before there was sin; the fall did not touch it in any respect. So far is Christianity from taking these differences away, that it strengthens them immensely.
When the Apostle forbids a woman to teach, etc., he does so on the ground that a woman is more likely to be deceived than a man. Adam was not deceived; he was no better for this, for though not deceived, he sinned boldly with his eyes open, while the woman was led away weakly. What the Apostle infers thence is that the woman should not teach nor rule, being stronger in her affections than in her judgment. A man may be worse, but is less likely to be deceived. The woman is governed by her affections instead of judgment guiding her. A woman is not so apt to fail on that side. A wise woman would show her wisdom in not putting herself in the place of, still less above, her husband. If she compared herself with him, she might be easily misled; but if she thinks of the Lord, she would rather put her husband forward. The principle of submission to the husband is here without any guard. "As it is fit in the Lord" does not mean so much acting as a measure, but that it is a seemly thing in the Lord for wives to submit themselves.
Next comes the word to the husbands. "Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them." v. 19. The wife needs not to be exhorted to love her husband; it is assumed that therein her affections are all right. But it is very possible the husband might allow anxiety and outward pressure of life so to occupy him that he might not take sufficient care of his wife or interest in her anxieties; accordingly, this is the exhortation for him. The wife is necessarily thrown upon her husband; she leaves father, mother, and all, and is cast peculiarly upon her husband; and if he be not watchful, he may fail in thoughtful love, in the attention of every day, not sufficiently guarding his temper, which seems to be what is meant by being "bitter." There should be this affection for the wife, this vigilance against the influence of circumstances; the outward world might often occasion irritation, and then the husband is liable to vent his spleen at home, especially on his wife. This is human nature and what we know too often happens; but it is not Christ; and here it is guarded against. "Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them." Let none presume to think it needless.
In the same order parents and children appear, the fathers, however, more particularly. "Children, obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing in [the] Lord." Here this also is put quite absolutely. We know elsewhere there are landmarks to guard us. It is evident neither a father nor a husband has any title to insist on what is contrary to the Lord; but accordance is assumed here. What the Apostle urges is that the children should in all things obey their parents. And how good is obedience! Scripture elsewhere brings in a limit, but not here. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord" furnishes a very important restriction; at any rate it defines the sphere of obedience; it determines how and how far one ought to go. As a rule, even a bad father would like to have a good child. Many who drink or swear would be very sorry for their sons to do the same. "Children, obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing to or in the Lord." This directs us simply to the Lord as the One to whom this obedience is acceptable, but well pleasing in the Lord goes a great deal farther. It is not the bare fact of regarding the Lord as the ultimate judge, who then will be pleased; but the Christian has the consciousness of the Lord's love now and of His interest in all his ways and trials day by day. No doubt He will manifest His judgment of all that was done in the body by-and-by; but this should only strengthen the Christian now to do that which is well pleasing in the Lord. The best authorities are unanimous that it should be here "in the Lord" rather than "to the Lord." It is well pleasing that children should obey their parents, not naturally only, but (for the Christian, let it be) in the Lord. "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." v. 21. The mother is not thus exhorted, for as a rule her general fault is to spoil them. There is nothing that more discourages a child than a parent's continual needless fault-finding. Again, where a child is punished without deserving it, what can be more apt to create distrust, and so weaken the springs of love and respect?
We now come to the lowlier members of the household. "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God." v. 22. It is absolute in every one of these cases in Colossians; not so in Ephesians, where there is more of a guard brought in. I should think this attributable to the happier and better tone of the Ephesians. They required rather the limits than the pressure of the duty. The Colossians, on the contrary, stood in need of exhortations to obey. Thus, for instance, if a man had to do with a well-ordered family, he would not have to urge obedience in the same manner as if they were disorderly. Strange to say, you will always find self-will the companion of a legal spirit There is never true obedience without the power of grace. Who were the most stiff-necked people in all the world? The Jews, the same who boasted of the law. You will find, since the law has been taken as a rule of life for Christians, they too are less obedient and think nothing of going against the Scriptures. This was one danger for the Colossians - a spirit of ordinance and legality.
No person becomes obedient by good rules. What is it then that produces it? The heart must be filled with right motives; and what brings this about? Love for a person gives a sense of duty to him, and acts upon the heart. This makes obedience easy. Rules are never the power but only the tests of obedience in certain cases. This is even true of Christ's commandments. He keeps them who loves Him, and he only. This induces obedience, and then what Christ says lies upon our hearts and minds and memories - not only His commandments but His word - whereas if we love not, how readily all is forgotten! This is an important difference in John 14. First the Lord speaks of His commandments, then of His word. The truth is, where there is a loving heart, any expression of will, even without a positive command, governs the affections.
"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh." This is very important. Feelings, habits, etc., no doubt, have been brought in by Christianity - difficulties also (not that these ought to have been, but by reason of a fleshly mind) all these arose. A bondman found himself suddenly a brother to his master; if he did not watch, he would soon begin to judge his master, whether he ought to say this or do that. If his master blamed him for anything, he might consider his master to have acted in a hard, fleshly way. How easy it is to slip into a wrong spirit, especially for a servant in presence of his master's infirmities daily before him, and in danger of judging his master according to the evil thoughts of his own heart! But surely a man ought to do all better after, than before, he knew Christ. The notion that, because they have to do with Christians, the latter ought to put up with ill-done duties is all selfishness. The fact that servants are not bondmen now in no way alters the matter. In those days they had often to serve heathen masters. In any case the great thing is to remember the Lord Jesus and His will in every place. We belong absolutely to Him to do His bidding in all things. In order to walk well with God, let me take care that I am in a position according to His will where I have no qualms of conscience. A scrupulous conscience however is dangerous, though far preferable to a burdened or bad conscience; but it is dangerous, for the strain tends to break and to end in a bad conscience. There is no place in this world where one may not glorify God, sin of course excepted.
"And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ." vv. 23, 24. But not so occupied with the fact that you are serving an earthly master; remember, "ye serve the Lord Christ." Thus will you be the more subject to your earthly master, doing heartily whatsoever ye do, not as being right only but with heart. The Apostle adds a remarkable word here, "he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done, and there is no respect of persons." v. 25. This takes in both the present and the future, as I suppose, being a general principle.
The condition of the Ephesians was such that the love of Christ to the Church could be developed and urged on them. The Colossians, not being in so healthful a state, are exhorted on a lower ground. Conscience needed to be exercised.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
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.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.