Colossians 2Observe here, 1. The holy agony which our apostle was in, and the mighty conflict he had with himself, upon the account of the Colossians; I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you; namely, by prayer, care, study, and endeavour to do you good:
Here we see how passionately good men long for the good of those whom they never saw; as members of the catholic church, they wish well to the whole, and to every part.
Observe, 2. What was the ground and occasion of St. Paul's inexpressible agony and concern of spirit, for and on behalf of these Colossians; namely this, there was a number of men risen up who began very early to corrupt the purity and simplicity of the gospel and the Christian religion: a sort they were, partly of Judaizing, and partly Paganizing Christians; the former joined the Jewish ceremonies, the latter the Gentiles impurities, even in worship with the Christian religion.
Now the urgency of this case put the solicitous and concerned spirit of this great apostle into an inexpressible agony, as his words here intimate; I would ye knew what a conflict I have for you and your near neighbours of Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh.
The men of the world little understand, and less consider, what burden of solicitous care lies upon the ministers of Christ, for and on behalf of the whole church of Christ in general, which is continually in danger of being corrupted by false teachers, who everywhere lie in wait to deceive.
Our apostle having discovered, in the former verse, that inward anxiety of mind which he laboured under, on the behalf of these Colossians, doth, in these words, propose an expedient how the threatening danger might be averted, namely, by mutual love one to another, and by a clear and effacious faith of the gospel; by these he reckons they would be so closely compacted together, as that no subtlety or violence could endanger them: If, by faith, they did cleave close to God and Christ, and by love keep close to one another, he firmly believed they would give no enemies an opportunity, either to be the successful authors, or the delighted spectators of their ruin.
Learn hence, That the maintaining of sincere love amongst Christians, and the improving of their faith to greater measure of certainty and efficacy, in reference to the substantials of Christianity, are the best means to unite, establish, and preserve them against the fatal danger of a ruinous apostasy: That their hearts may be comforted, being knit together in love, &c.
That is, in Jesus Christ, and in his gospel, are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, laid up as in a store-house, and from thence are they only to be expected and derived. The knowledge of Christ and his gospel is an extensive and comprehensive knowledge, a rich and enriching knowledge; the chiefest gain is loss, and the richest treasure is dung, when Christ's riches are displayed; and after all that we have or can attain unto, of the knowledge of Christ, his works is unsearchable, no finite understanding can reach the depth thereof; for in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Note here, How exceedingly desirous the apostle was, that the Colossians might continue sound in the Christian faith, and be preserved out of the hands of false teachers, who by false arguments, and ensnaring persuasions sought to beguile them, in matters of religion: We are in greater danger from the subtle seducer, than we are from the fiery persecutor; sophistical arguments, and insinuating persuasions, captivate those persons whom violence could never have brought over to their party; therefore is our apostle so earnest with the Colossians, that none should beguile them with inticing words.
Note farther, How our apostle gives another reason for this his solicitous care for them, namely, his fervent affection towards them, notwithstanding his great distance from them, for though not in body, yet in mind he was present with them, and having received from Epaphras an account of the good order and government of their church, and of the stedfastness fo their faith in Christ, the notices thereof were matter of exceeding joy and rejoicing to him: Though absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the Spirit, joying &c.
Learn hence, That a church's steadfastness in the faith of Christ, and unity amongst themselves in gospel-order, doth render a church a joyful object to all beholders, and particularly to the ministers and ambassadors of Christ, who greatly rejoice therein.
This is, "As you have received the doctrine of Christ Jesus, the Lord, by the preaching of Epaphras, and therein have embraced Christ by faith, so do you constantly adhere to that doctrine, conforming you lives thereunto; and seeing you are thus implanted into Christ, be like trees, well and deeply rooted in him, or like a house, firmly built upon him, as the only sure and abiding foundation."
Learn, That such as have received the grace of God in truth, ought, to labour after stability in grace and establishment in the true religion, that they may stand like a rock, immoveable in assaults, and unshaken amidst all the batteries that may be made upon their faith by heretics and seducers.
Our apostle comes now in a particular and special manner to warn the Colossians, that they beware of all the enemies of Christianity, whether Pagan or Jewish, for Christianity was opposed by both: The heathen philosophers and wise men did amuse the Christians with their vain speculations: The Jewish teachers were for imposing upon them the Levitical rites, which he calls rudiments or elements fitted for the infancy of the church: but these things were not now after Christ, that is, not according to the doctrine and mind of Christ. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, &c.
Where note, That it is not philosophy, as such, which St. Paul warns them against; for true and sound philosophy is the improver of our reason, the guide of our faculties, and teaches us the true knowledge of God, and ourselves, and is no hindrance, but a great help to religion; but it was the philosophy of the Greeks at that day which is here condemned, because it was vain and empty, fallacious and deceitful. It was vain because it conduced nothing to true piety, and making them better; it was deceitful, because it hazarded their souls, and robbed them of happiness.
Note farther, That the Mosaic rites and legal ceremonies, as they were prescribed by God, and adapted to the infant state of the Jewish church, had a goodness ye, an excellency in them; but the observation of them, since the coming of Christ, is sinful, as being an implicit denial, that he is come in the flesh; accordingly, he warns, them to beware of the philosophy of the Greeks and the ceremonial rites of the Jews; neither of which, he tells them, were after Christ, that is, not according to the institution of injunction of Christ, but did draw away the heart from him, therefore, they were both unwarrantable and unsafe.
Here St. Paul gives a reason of the foregoing caution against philosophy; for in him, that is, in Christ, dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; As if he had said, "Let no man impose upon you by a lame and imperfect philosophy, there is no need of that, for now there is introduced an absolute and complete doctrine, namely, that of our Lord Jesus Christ, which has the fulness of all divine wisdom in it, and the fulness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in himself, that is personally and substantially."
Where note, That the apostle says not, that the Godhead is assistant to Christ, but, that it resideth or dwelleth in him; as the Deity dwelt in the the ark symbolically, so it dwelt in Christ bodily.
Note farther, That Christ is not here said to be filled with the fulness of God, as the church is said to be, Eph 1:23 in regard of the gifts and graces which she had received from him; but the whole fulness of the Godhead is here said to reside in him, which can argue him to be no less than really and truly God, his complete essence dwelleth in him. Well might the apostle therefore add, Ye are complete in him Col 2:10, wanting no requisite to salvation; ye need not go to the philosophers for knowledge, for in Christ you have complete wisdom; he is above all Pagan philosophers and Jewish Rabbies; nay, he is the Head of all principalities and powers; that is, above the highest angel in heaven.
Here observe, That it was the opinion of the Paganish, as it is now of the Popish part of mankind, that Almighty God was too high to be immediately approached, and therefore they applied themselves to angels as mediators betwixt God and them; but the apostle acquaints them, that the angel-mediatorship is vain, since Christ is also their Head and Lord.
The apostle had asserted before, that we are complete in Christ: He proves it now, thus; we want not circumcision: Why? Because we have in Christ the thing signified by circumcision, namely, the spiritual circumcision of the heart, which consists in putting off, by the power of Christ's Spirit, the body of natural corruption; which done, there was no need of the outward circumcision made with hands, or the cutting off the flesh of the fore-skin.
Observe, Original corruption is a body, or, as a body to us, it cleaves as close to the soul as the flesh to the bones. This body, with all its members, we must be cutting daily by spiritual circumcision or real mortification; and, where that is done, God is well pleased: He regards not that cirumcision which is outward in the flesh, which is made with hands, but that which is inward, the circumcision of the heart, and of the Spirit, whose praise is not of man, but of God.
Our apostle here compares Christian baptism with the Jewish circumcision, and shews, that the signification and spiritual intention of both was one and the same, obliging all persons who took the outward sign upon them to put off the old man and put on the new; to die unto sin, and live unto God. Accordingly, the ancients made use of divers ceremonies in baptizing adult and grown persons, thereby to represent the death, burial, and resurrection fo Jesus Christ; immersion, or putting the person three times under water, either as our Saviour was under the earth three days, or in allusion to the three persons in the Trinity, in whose name we are baptized; and likewise emersion, their coming up out of the water, resembling our Lord's arising out of his grave.
Note here, 1. That baptism under the New Testament, succeeds circumcision under the Old, and as a right of imitation to Christians as circumcision was to the Jews: For the apostle here proves, that by virtue of our spiritual circumcision in baptism, we have no need of the outward circumcision in the flesh.
Note, 2. That baptism is undoubtedly Christ's ordinance for infants of believing Christians, as circumcision was of old for the infants of believing Jews: For if under the gospel, infants be not received, by some federal rite, into covenant with God, they are in a worse condition than children under the law; and the apostle could not truly have said, we are complete in Christ, that is, as complete without circumcision, as ever the Jewish church was with it, if we had not an ordinance, to wit, baptism, as good as their abrogated ordinance of circumcision. And the Jews would certainly have objected it to the reproach of Christianity had not the Christians had a rite of which sealed the covenant to themsleves, and their little ones, and was the door, by which all persons entered into the Jewish church.
Note, 3. The spiritual fruits and effects of baptism, namely, mortification of sin, and vivification in grace, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, apprehended by such a faith as is of the operation of God, that is, produced by the energy of the gospel, and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit.
Learn hence, That neither sacraments, nor the death or the resurrection of Christ, in themselves, will avail to the mortification of sin, and the quickening of grace, if Christ himself be not applied to by such a faith, as is of the special operation of God, the faith of his working, and of his approving: This alone will effectually enable us to die unto sin and live unto God.
Still our apostle proceeds in proving, that we are complete in Christ, and that the Colossians had no need of circumcision in the flesh, having all in Christ that was necessary for justification as well as sanctification.
To satisfy them herein, observe, 1. He acquaints them with their deplorable condition by nature, you being dead in your sins, without any hope of spiritual life, and by reason of uncircumcision of your flesh, aliens from the church of God (and strangers to all the promises made unto it) hath he quickened and pardoned, having freely forgiven you all your trespasses.
O blessed privilege of justification, to have sin forgiven, trespasses universally forgiven, all trespasses freely forgiven!
Observe, 2. What it cost Christ to purchase pardon for us, to discharge us from our obligation to wrath, and our obnoxiousness to the curse and condemnation of the law; no less then his precious life laid down upon the cross, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances against us, and contrary to us, &c. An allusion to a practice amongst men, who cancel bills and bonds, and all obligations, wherein they stood bound, when once the debt is satisfied.
Now, says the apostle, your debt of sin is paid to the justice of God, by the death of Christ; and seeing the obligation is cancelled, it would be madness and impiety to renew it again, as those do who plead for circumcision and practise the legal ceremonies.
Note here, There was an obligation upon every man to undergo the curse of the law; for violating the commands of the law, there was an handwriting against us. The obligation must be cancelled, before the condemning power of the law can be abolished, and sin pardoned: None but Christ could cancel this obligation? and not he neither, without paying the full sum payable from us; Christ when hanging on the cross, did nail this handwriting to his cross, which shall never be produced in judgment against the penitent believer; but this obligation remains upon the file uncancelled, with respect to all sinners who live and die in their sins, and they shall always lie in prison, ever satisfying, but never able fully to satisfy this obligation.
Observe, 3. That Christ hath not only by his death cancelled this handwriting, and nailed it to his cross, but has vanquished and triumphed over all our spiritual enemies; Satan, and all the powers of hell are led as so many pinioned captives before the triumphant chariot of his cross, making them a spectacle of scorn and shame in the eyes of God, angels and men; having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them, openly, &c.
Note here, 1. Christ's bloody cross was a chariot of triumph unto him. Lord! whilst thou were bleeding and racking upon the gibbet for us, thou wert then rejoicing and triumphing for the benefits redounding to us.
Note, 2. That Satan, that great conqueror, was conquered by Christ, and led in triumph before the chariot of the cross. O Satan, thou wert never thus baffled, befooled, and disappointed before! When thou and thy agents were spoiling Christ, even then was he spoiling principalities and powers, and triumphing over them, when they were insulting over him: The serpent now bruised our Lord's heel, but had his own head and power forever broken; triumphing over them in it, that is, in and by his cross.
Here we have an inference or conclusion drawn by our apostle from the foregoing argument, that seeing the ceremonial law was now abolished, therefore none should take upon them to judge or condemn another for not observing any of the legal ceremonies, either those that related to meats, that is, the difference to be observed in meats, or the other relating to the difference to be observed in days.
Here note, That the days observed amongst the Jews, were of three sorts: Anniversary, which returned every year, called here an holy day; Lunary which returned every month, the first day of every new moon; Weekly, which returned every week, and on the seventh day of every week: All which are abrogated, even the Jewish seventh-day sabbath; and the Lord's day, or the Christian's first-day sabbath, substituted in its place, 1Cor 16:2.
Observe here, 1. That there is both a sinful and a lawful abstinence from meats; that abstinence is sinful, when men abstain from some meats, under pretence of holiness and conscience, as if some meats were unclean, or less holy in their own natures than others, 1Tim 4:4 or as if simple abstinence at any time were a thing acceptable to God in itself, without respect had to the end for which it is sometimes required.
But there is a three-fold abstinence from meats, which is lawful; Political, enjoined by the magistrate for civil ends; Medicinal, prescribed by the physician for health's preservation; Ecclesiastical, when God by his providence, and the voice of his church, calls his people to fasting.
Observe, 2. The reason alledged by the apostle, why Christians should not judge one another, with respect to meats and drinks, times and seasons, namely, because those legal ceremonies were but dark shadows of things to come; but the body and substance, represented by those shadows, is Christ come in the flesh: And consequently, to observe the ceremonies, and regard these shadows under the gospel, is in effect to say, That Christ the body is not yet come.
Here note, 1. The title given to the ceremonial worship, it is styled a shadow, because it was a dark and imperfect representation of the truth: What is a shadow, but the coming of a thick body posed between Christ the true light and us, and so casts a shadow of him.
Note, 2. The title given to Christ with respect to the shadows of the ceremonial law, he is the body and the substance of them; now as the shadow vanishes when the substance is come, so these ceremonial ordinances were to cease upon the coming of Christ; and to observe them now, under the gospel, is in effect to say, that Christ is not yet come in the flesh.
Note, 3. That the Jewish sabbath was a ceremonial ordinance, and a part of that handwriting of ordinances which was to be blotted out by Christ; and consequently the Christian is not obliged to observe it.
As the distinction of meats and drinks and the observation of the new moons were confessedly ceremonial; so was also the Jewish sabbath, which with the rest was equally cancelled by Christ as a part of the handwriting of ordinances; so that to observe the Jewish sabbath, or to condemn the Christian for not observing it, is as much a denial, that Christ is come in the flesh as to observe circumcision, or any other part of the ceremonial law.
Our apostle having warned the Colossians against the errors of the Judaizing teachers, comes next to warn them against the practice of the Paganizing Christians, who were directd by their guides to worship the angels, covering their error with a plausible shew of humility, pretending it was presumptuous to go to God immediately, without the mediation of those excellent creatures; but this the apostle tells them was a bold intruding into things they knew nothing of, God having neither revealed nor taught any such thing; and argued, that they were vainly puffed up with the foolish imaginations of their own fleshly minds.
Next he shews, that these angel-worshippers do not acknowledge Christ for the Head of the church, while they apply themselves to angels as mediators; whereas he alone discharges the office of the Head, completely giving life and growth to his whole church, and to every member therof; which members being furnished with spiritual life from him, and knit to him, and one another by the joints and bands of charity and other graces, they grow and increase with such an increase of holiness as is from God, and tends to his glory.
Note here, 1. That the nature of man is prone, extremely prone, to idolatry and false worship.
2. That it is a really idolatry to worship an angel, as it is to worship a worm; for divine worship is only due to a divine person.
Note, 3. That it is a renouncing of Christ, to make use of angels, or any other mediator, besides Christ, unto the Father: not holding the head. It was a notion that the minds of mankind, that God was not to be immediately approached to by sinful men; but that their prayers were to be presented by certain mediators and intercessors, who were to procure for them the favour of God, and the acceptance of their prayers.
Hence they worshipped angels, and the souls departed of their heroes, whom they canonized, and translated into the number of their inferior gods, by whom they addressed their supplications to their superior gods. With this notion Almighty God was pleased to comply so far, as under the Jewish institution to appoint Moses a mediator betwixt him and them; and now under the Christian dispensation to appoint Jesus Christ to be the only Mediator betwixt God and man.
Note, 4. That it is usual for idolaters, and false worshippers, to cover themselves sith a more than ordinary show of humility: Let none beguile you in a voluntary humility.
True it is, that all duties of worship ought to be voluntary, as voluntary is opposed to constrained; but they must not be voluntary, as voluntary is opposed ot instituted or appointed; God doth no more approve of that worship we give him according to our will, than he doth approve of our neglect of that which is according to his own will. But man, vain man, likes any way of worshipping God which is of his own framing, much better than that which is of God's own appointing.
Our apostle being now in the close of this chapter, returns to expostulate, and argues the case with those who were willing to subject themselves to the observation of the old Jewish rites and ceremonies. He argues thus: "If says he, you profess yourselves in your baptism to be spiritually dead with Christ, and to be freed by his death from the Levitical ordinances, why are ye subject to those ordinances? Such are touch not, taste not, handle not; touch not any unclean thing, taste not any forbidden meat, handle not any consecrated vessel; all which observances were to perish necessarily with the very using: And whereas they were set of with a specious shew of wisdom, as if they were voluntary services and free-will offerings to God, he acknowledges, that they had indeed a shew of wisdom, a shew of humility, and seeming to give any honour to the satisfying of the flesh; but all this had nothing of spiritual devotion and piety in it."
Learn hence, 1. That such as do by baptism profess themselves to be dead with Christ to the ceremonial law, may certainly conclude, that the Jewish ceremonies have no more any power over them, or that they ought to yield themselves to the observation of them: If ye be dead with Christ, why are ye subject to ordinances?
Learn, 2. That though God approveth and accepteth willing worship, yet not will-worship, what fair shew soever it may seem to have, either of wisdom, humility, or mortification; whatever is the product of our fancies, is a very fornication in religion, and an abomination in the sight of God, how pleasing soever it may be in the sight of men; and yet men are most forward to that service of God which is of man's finding out and setting up; man likes it better to worship a god of his own making, than to worship the God that made him; and likes any way of worshipping god which is of his own framing, more than that which is of God's appointing. Ah! Wretched heart of man, which, whilst it seems very zealous to worship and honour God, hath not zeal to do it in any other way than in that which reflects the highest dishonour upon him.
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