having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross!
I. CONSIDER THE PERSONAL QUICKENING OUT OF A STATE OF DEATH AND DEFILEMENT.
1. The condition of all men by nature - spiritual death. This death is viewed in two aspects.
(1) In relation to definite acts of transgression, as showing the power of sin and the fruit of an evil nature.
(2) In relation to the root of the evil - "the uncircumcision of your flesh;" your unsanctified, fleshly nature marked by alienation from God (see homiletical hints on Ephesians 2:1).
2. The quickening energy of God. "You did he quicken together with him." Spiritual death is put away by the quickening energy of God, which flowed into your hearts out of the risen life of Christ. You are brought up with him objectively in his resurrection, subjectively in his application of the power of his resurrection (see homiletical hints on Ephesians 2:1).
II. CONSIDER THE GROUND AND CONDITION OF THIS QUICKENING. The pardon of sin. "Having forgiven us all our trespasses." Thus spiritual life is connected with pardon, and presupposes pardon. The sins of men must be pardoned before life could properly enter. Our Lord could not have been quickened till we, for whom he died, were potentially discharged (Romans 4:25). So, indeed, the quickening presupposes at once pardon, the blotting out of the handwriting, and the victory over Satan.
III. CONSIDER THE INDISPENSABLE ACCOMPANIMENT OF THIS PARDON. The removal of the condemning power of the Law. "Having blotted out the handwriting in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross."
1. The nature and effects of this handwriting in ordinances.
(1) It is not the mere ceremonial law, though its ritual observances were symbols of deserved punishment or an acknowledgment of guilt. We cannot limit it to this law, though the outward observances of ver. 20 were specially in view; for the apostle is not here distinguishing between Jews and Gentiles.
(2) It is the whole Law, moral and ceremonial - "the Law of commandments contained in ordinances" - which fastens upon us the charge of guilt, and is the great barrier against forgiveness. It was immediately against the Jews, mediately against the Gentiles. It is the Law, in the full compass of its requirements.
(3) The hostility of this Law to us. It was "against us; it was contrary to us."
(a) Not that the Law was in itself offensive, for it was holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12); but
(b) because our inability to fulfil it or satisfy its righteous demands exposed us to the penalty attached to an undischarged obligation. It was, in a word, a bill of indictment against us.
2. The blotting out of the handwriting. It was blotted out, so far as it was an accusing witness against us, by Christ wiping it out, taking it "out of the way, and nailing it to his cross." It was not done by an arbitrary abolition of the Law; moral obligations cannot be removed in this manner; but by the just satisfaction which Christ rendered by his "obedience unto death." It was nailed to his cross, and thus its condemnatory power was brought to an end. Strictly speaking, there was nothing but Christ's body nailed to the cross; but, as he was made sin, taking the very place of sin, "bearing our sins in his own body on the tree," the handwriting, with the curse involved in it, was identified with him, and thus God condemned sin in Christ's flesh (Romans 8:3). Christ exchanged places with us, and thus was cancelled the bill of indictment which involved us in guilt and condemnation.
IV. CONSIDER THE RELATION OF THE ATONEMENT TO THE VICTORY OVER SATAN. "Having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." It was the cross that gave the victory over the principalities and powers of darkness, because sin was the ground of their dominion over man and the secret of their strength. But no sooner had Christ died and extinguished the guilt lying on us, than the ground of their successful agency was undermined, and, instead of being at liberty to ravage and destroy, their weapons of warfare perished. Christ on the cross, as the word signifies, reft from him and from his people those powers of darkness who could afflict humanity by pressing homo the consequences of their sin. He cast them off like baffled foes (John 12:31), made such a show of them openly as angels, if not men, could probably apprehend. He made the cross a scene of triumph to the irretrievable ruin of Satan's kingdom. - T. C.
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances.I. WHAT IS MEANT BY HANDWRITING?
1. Opinions are various; yet all agree in this that something is intended which by force of testimony may prove us guilty before God. Some assert it to be —(1) The covenant of God with Adam (Genesis 2:17), for this being violated, Adam and his posterity were held guilty of death as by a bond.(2) The stipulation of the Jews (Exodus 19:7, 8), by which they bound themselves to perfect obedience, by the non-performance of which they might be justly condemned by their own hand.(3) The remembrance of our sins in the Divine mind and in our own conscience (Isaiah 43:25), by which we are convicted, as by a bond. The Divine law says, "Thou shalt love the Lord," etc. Conscience suggests, "I have not done so, and am, therefore, cursed.(4) Ceremonial rites which testified to guilt, circumcision to depravity, purifications to the filthiness of sin, sacrifices to the heinousness of guilt.
2. I explain it to mean the moral law binding to perfect obedience and condemning defect, laden with rites as appendages.
II. HOW IS IT AGAINST US?
1. As to the moral law, it is holy, just, and good; nevertheless it has become deadly to us through sin (Romans 7:12, 13), because —(1) It propounds decrees contrary to human nature (Romans 7:12, 13).(2) It arraigns, convicts, and brings us in guilty of sin (Romans 3:20).(3) It denounces against us the sentence of condemnation (Galatians 3:10).
2. As to ordinances, they were contrary, because(1) They were almost infinite as to number, and most burdensome as to observance Hence the appeal, Galatians 5:1.(2) By their signification and testimony. For although they seemed to promise the destruction of sin, yet there entered into them a confession rather than expiation thereof.
III. HOW IT IS MADE VOID.
1. Universally and sufficiently as it respects God; because by the blood of Christ such satisfaction is made to God that according to His own justice He is engaged to acquit those debtors who flee by faith to the Deliverer.
2. Particularly and efficaciously when it is blotted out from the conscience of those who lay hold of God by faith (Romans 5:1). There is no peace to a man who sees himself overwhelmed in debt and entangled by a bond; but when Christ's deliverance is accepted the soul enters into peace.
3. Notice the beautiful gradation. Not content with telling us we are forgiven, Paul subjoins that the handwriting is blotted out; but lest any should think that it is not so, but that a new charge may be raised, he adds it is "taken out of the way"; and lest it should be thought to be preserved somewhere, and may yet be preferred, he says it is nailed to the Cross, rent in pieces.Conclusion: We learn —
1. From the handwriting.(1) Since every man through it is guilty of death, how dreadful is the condition of those who trample on the blood by which alone the handwriting can be blotted out. God will require from them the uttermost farthing.(2) We see the insane pride of those who think they can satisfy God, yea, pay Him more than is due by works of supererogation. But what need then of blotting out the handwriting by the Cross?
2. From its contrariety.(1) The depravity and corruption of our nature; for at its institution it was friendly and wholesome.(2) The error of those who would restore ceremonies and rob us of our liberty in Christ.
3. From the abolition.(1) Since it is deprived of its condemning force we infer that it still retains its directing force, and so we have not a licence to sin but a motive to obey (Luke 1:74, 75).(2) Since the comfort of a troubled conscience consists in its being blotted out, we must labour to maintain by faith not only that Christ has procured that but that it is blotted out as respects ourselves. A debtor does not consider himself safe until he has seen with his own eyes that his bond is cancelled.
I. THE INDICTMENT AGAINST US — the law of God as expressed in the ten commandments and written in the heart (Romans 2:14).
1. Here we hate man's moral obligation, of which men everywhere have been more or less conscious. Moral sense of the two great duties of love to God and our neighbour is everywhere diffused. The handwriting is so on every man's soul that he knows and feels that some things ought to be done while others are forbidden as wrong. Many attempt to efface the handwriting, as well as to defy it, but that only confirms the fact that it exists in all the fulness of its claim.
2. This handwriting is "against us" because we have broken it. The law is for the lawless, and its verdict is only against the sinful. It commands our supreme love to God, and we have not loved Him, This is the debt we owe to God as our Creator and Father; we have not paid it and now cannot.
3. It is also "contrary to us." The terms are not exactly equivalent. The one expresses silent condemnation, the other a positive hostility. A man may owe a debt he cannot pay, and this fact is an obligation against him, even though there be no positive demand for payment. But if by the process of "dunning" the debt is often brought before him, and he is unpleasantly reminded of it, then the obligation is not only against him, it is contrary to him: it disturbs his peace and fills him with dread. So the Divine law acting on the law of our mind is constantly reminding us of our obligation, and is hostile to our peace. Its spirituality is against us, for we are carnal; its purity, for we are unholy; its justice, for we have kept back God's due. Such is the indictment, "that every mouth may be stopped" (Romans 3:19).
II. THE INDICTMENT CANCELLED. The verdict against sinful men is erased or wiped out. This idea often recurs in Scripture in reference to sin — "blot out all my iniquities."
2. It is taken out of the way; not that the law and moral obligation are abolished, but the verdict is removed so that it cannot be adduced for our condemnation. Literally it is "taken out of the midst," as if the handwriting had lain between God and His people — a barrier to their approach to Him, and to their peace with Him.
3. The means. Nailing to the cross and so destruction. Its condemning force was exhausted on Christ, so that it is powerless against all who are in Him. This is our discharge: the law has been fulfilled, and its finding against us for ever taken away.
(J. Spence, D. D.)I. THE HANDWRITING OR BOND.
1. "Law" means primarily the ceremonial law which was being pressed on the Colossians. The early controversies on this matter are difficult for us to understand. It is harder to change customs than creeds, and religious observances live on, as every Maypole on a village green tells us, long after the beliefs which animated them are forgotten. So there was a party Who refused the admittance of Gentile converts to the Church except through the old doorway of circumcision. This was the point at issue between Paul and these teachers.
2. But the modern distinction between moral and ceremonial had no existence in Paul's mind, nor in the Old Testament, where we find the highest morality and the merest ritual inter-stratified. The law was a homogeneous whole.
3. And the principles laid down are true about all law. Law, as such, is dealt with by Christianity in the same way as the God-given code.
4. Law, Paul tells us, is antagonistic. It stands opposite, frowning at us and barring our road.(1) Is it then become our enemy because it tells us the truth? This conception is a strange contrast to the rapturous delight of Psalmists in it. Surely God's greatest gift to man is the knowledge of His will, and law is beneficent, a light, and a guide, and even its strokes are merciful.(2) Nevertheless the antagonism is very real. As with God, so with law — if we be against Him, He cannot but be against us. We make Him our dearest friend or our foe. The revelation of duty to which we are not inclined is ever unwelcome. Law is against us because —(a) It comes like a taskmaster bidding us do, but neither putting the inclination into our hearts nor the power into our hands.(b) The revelation of unfulfilled duty is the accusation of the defaulter.(c) It comes with threatenings and foretastes of penalty. Thus, as standard, accuser, and avenger, it is against us.(3) We all know this. Each of us has seen that apparition like the sword-bearing angel that Balaam saw, blocking our path when we wanted to "go frowardly in the way of our heart." The law of the Lord should be "sweeter than honey," etc., but the corruption of the best is the worst, and we can make it poison. Obeyed, it is as the chariot of fire to bear us heavenward; disobeyed, it is an iron car crushing all who set themselves against it.
II. ITS DESTRUCTION IN THE CROSS.
1. The Cross ends the law's power of punishment. Paul believed that the burden and penalty of sin had been laid on Christ, and trusting ourselves to the power of that great sacrifice, the dread of punishment will fade from our hearts, and the law will have to draw the bolts of the prison and let the captive go free.
2. The Cross is the end of the law as ceremonial. The Jewish ritual had the prediction of the Great Sacrifice for its highest purpose. When the fruit has set there is no more need for petals. We have the reality and do not need the shadow.
3. The Cross is the end of the law as moral rule. Of course it is not meant that Christian men are freed from the obligations of morality, but that we are not bound to do "the things contained in the law" because they are there. Duty is duty now because we see the pattern of conduct and character in Christ. The weakness of law is that it has no power to get its commandments obeyed; but Christ puts His love in our hearts, and so we pass from the dominion of an external commandment into the liberty of an inward spirit. The long schism between duty and inclination is at an end. So a higher morality ought to characterize the partakers of the life of Christ. Law died with Christ on the cross that it might rise and reign in our inmost hearts.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
New Testament Anecdotes.There is a beautiful oriental custom which illustrates the Atonement. When a debt had to be settled either by payment or forgiveness, the creditor took the cancelled bond and nailed it over the door of him who had owed it, that all passers by might see that it was paid. So there is the Cross, the door of grace, behind which a bankrupt world lies in hopeless debt to the law. See Jesus our bondman and brother, coming forth with a long list of our indebtedness in His hand. He lifts it up where God and angels and men may see it, and there as the nail goes through His hand it goes through the bond of our transgressions to cancel it for ever. Come to that Cross! Not in order that you may wash away your sins by your tears or atone for them by your good works, or efface them by your sophistries and self-deceptions. But come rather that you may read the long black list that is against you, and be pierced to your heart by sorrow that you have offended such a Being; and then that lifting up your eyes you may see God turning His eyes at that same cross at which you are looking, and saying, "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions," etc.
(New Testament Anecdotes.)
(J. Edmond, D. D.)
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