In a certain aspect, the Epistle to the Colossians does not take us up so far as the Ephesians does. The latter takes up very distinctly the purpose and counsels of God and the new creation. Hence the contrast of it with man in the old is presented in a very remarkable way.
In Ephesians we read that God has made us "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus," and the Holy Ghost as the seal of our state; whilst in Colossians we are "risen with Christ," and that life and its place are largely developed, but yet we are upon earth ourselves, and are to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." Hence in Ephesians man is not looked at as a responsible person, to see what can be got out of him, and his responsibility met in grace as in the Romans; it begins with him as dead in sins. It is an entirely new thing. We are created in Christ Jesus. Even as to Christ Himself, it begins with Him as dead - as a man that is raised from the dead - and with man as "dead in trespasses and sins." It is not that man is a living sinner, as we have it in Romans, where the whole question of responsibility is looked at; but the man is dead in trespasses and sins, Christ has come down into the death that he is in. Christ is quickened out of it, and we are quickened together with Him, and raised up together, and seated together in heavenly places. Now Colossians does not go so far as this.
In the Epistle to the Romans man is always looked upon as living in the world; he is alive in his sins; and it takes him up in his responsibility, and brings fully home to Jew and Gentile their state. It does not speak of man being dead in sins, but he is to die because of being alive in sins. And when he is a Christian, he is still a living man in this world, Christ his life, and justified, and in Christ, but alive here though dead to sin, and exhorted to present his body a living sacrifice.
In Colossians you get man dead to sin through the cross of Christ, and then, though in this world, risen with Christ, as in Ephesians (which you do not get in Romans), but not, as there, carried on to sit in heavenly places. Here man is a risen man - not physically so, of course; his hope is laid up for him in heaven; he is not sitting there, but walking in this world as a risen man - risen in Christ; thus, being alive, he is connected with Christ; he is "quickened together with him," and therefore it is "having forgiven you all trespasses." Christ has come down to where we were lying dead in our sins, has borne and put them away by His death, and then we were quickened and raised up along with Him, all sins forgiven. Thus, when we were raised up with Him, we came clean out of the whole thing in which we were.
268 Still in Colossians we get far more of what Christ is in us, than of what we are in Christ. It is "Christ in you," not you in Christ; it is Christ in us down here. And this is what makes the epistle exceedingly precious; you have in it the fullest development of life here, in the Christian in his tried condition on the earth. It is "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 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." And then it is, "When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." He first puts the man as risen with Christ, and then his heart and affections all go up after Him to where He is at the right hand of God. There is no mention of the Holy Ghost in Colossians. It is the fullest bringing out of the life of a person in Christ still walking in this world.
In chapter 1 we see the condition and standing of the Christian, and the bearing of this on his walk. How blessedly he puts the Christian in his place through grace!
In the first place I read verse 14: "In whom we have redemption [through his blood], even the forgiveness of sins." I take this as the very starting-point - the forgiveness of sins. We get the blessed truth - this first truth, if you please - of grace, and joy, and peace; complete forgiveness through Christ. He has come down to us and redeemed us out of the condition we were in.
I am sure, the more we go on from day to day, the more important we see it is to get hold of this, though it be an elementary truth, now that there is so much seeking for an unfinished forgiveness. When I am brought into God's presence, that which I have upon my conscience is the sins I have committed; of course I cannot have those I have not. And therefore when persons are brought to the knowledge of saving forgiveness, the sins of which they have a sense of forgiveness are those that they have committed. But when it comes to those they have not, then comes the question, "What about the future?" And then arise in men's minds various ways of getting rid of them, from the gross form of absolution to the more subtle form of the Eucharist.
269 If you take a person who is upon Calvin's ground, he tells you to look back to your baptism; while the ordinary evangelical teaches you to look to a perpetual sprinkling again with the blood of Christ, a thing unknown to Scripture, and you will find he is never settled. But it is settled, and so completely that, if all my sins are not now set aside to all eternity, they never can be. Christ must otherwise take the cross and have the sins laid upon Him now, which is impossible, for He is in glory. "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." That word "for ever" there means not only eternally, but uninterruptedly; there is permanency in it before God, no discontinuance. It is not the word that speaks of eternity, though, of course, it is that too; but it is permanently perfect before God. As Christ is always ("for ever" here is the same word) sitting at the right hand of God, our conscience is for ever perfect; it is used in Hebrews 10:12, to shew He has nothing more to do.
In these days it is really important to get clear on the point of our sins being put away - I mean as to justification before God, and to see that I am before God always upon that ground, because Christ has borne all my sins. That is the first thing given here - the first elementary thing, though not the first thing named. It is an eternal redemption; it is never discontinued or interrupted, for God can never overlook that which has so perfectly glorified Himself.
Then we see another point which the apostle here speaks of. The whole state of things in heaven and in earth - they will all be reconciled - all things made new. And then he adds, "And you, who were sometimes alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled." The creation has got ruined, corrupted, defiled by sin, though, of course, it could not be guilty as active in it; and it will all be reconciled. But he begins now with those who were active in this ruin - who were "enemies in their minds." I am reconciled to God, brought back to Him in a divine righteousness that has been worked out for me; there is not a question between me and God. Here is infinite divine love. We are brought to God - reconciled to God; and it is a great point to be consciously before God, to enjoy His love, knowing that He has nothing against us, and so our hearts in entire confidence, able to think of Him and His favour, not of ourselves.
270 I am made the righteousness of God in Him, if I look at righteousness. There is not a single thing left; nothing but God to be enjoyed. There cannot be any unpleasant feeling between two people if they are thoroughly reconciled; so I am at home with God. All His gracious feelings are towards me, and I know it, and my heart is brought back to Him, and when He looks at me, I can say He looks at His own righteousness - at His Son, who is mine; I am loved as He loves Him. My heart believes it, and I come back to Him. I am reconciled to God.
This epistle especially insists on life - the divine nature which is born of God, and is capable of delighting in Him, and of understanding His righteousness. Having this life I know, through the gift of Christ, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, the divine favour resting upon me: and I can rest there, and that is a great thing. It is not merely that I am forgiven - that my sins are all blotted out, but that God has wrought - even for His own glory - wrought a work in which He Himself is perfectly glorified. By Him I believe in God. And what do I believe? Why, that He has brought me, associated with Christ, into His own presence; sin is gone, and I am made the righteousness of God in Him. I get to the very secret and spring of God's nature; I get the very source of what He is in Himself, and am able to enjoy it. I have not a word to say for myself; I was totally lost, and now I am totally saved, not according to what man ought to be, but according to what God is. If it were according to what man ought to be, there would be no salvation needed; but that is not it.
What put it into God's heart to give His Son? Why, nothing, of course! It was out of His own heart. And is not God righteous in the way He has saved us? Yes, I am "made the righteousness of God in him." He has "made peace through the blood of his cross," and thus reconciled us to Himself. This reconciliation is that in which God has perfectly glorified Himself, and it is to Himself that I am reconciled. The only part that we had in what has saved us was our sins. Imperfect in every sense, how was I reconciled? As redeemed, and quickened, and brought back to God according to that work that He has wrought. And I am not come halfway to God: "Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed; thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation." "I bare you on eagles' wings and brought you unto myself." He has brought me to Himself consistently with Himself.
271 Thus has the love of God to us been shewn out in this reconciliation, Christ giving Himself for it; and it is a blessed thing for us that we are reconciled to God, according to what He is; and God is glorified in it. "If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him." A wonderful thing it is! The enmity of the human heart against God shewed itself to the uttermost at the cross where that work was wrought out, in virtue of which God has put Christ into glory at His own right hand, and God Himself is glorified. It is like the prodigal, most blessedly true, that, when you get the young man back to his home, you do not hear a word about him; it is all the joy of the Father; it is the Father who does everything; it is the display of what God is; and my heart is in consonance with Him.
Thus I get reconciled to God. Things here are not reconciled yet - our poor bodies are not, as we know. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." It is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and never any labour on our part, because who did it? We? Not a bit of it, but God Himself!
Then I get another thing, which gives clearness and distinctness to this. "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Here I get this blessed truth, that, though I am here in this poor body, compassed about with infirmity, and sin dwelling in me, so that if I am not walking in the presence of God, the flesh comes up, yet I get this - "Who hath made us meet?" It is not that there is no progress; there ought to be, and there is, because the Lord will make us make progress by chastening if we will not in any other way. At any rate progress is insisted on continuously: "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure." But you never find it mixed up with being meet. Progress is mixed up with experience, and divine government: meetness with Christ's work and our being with Him. There is the constant government of God with respect to our walk. He looks for progress in it; but here, where it is a question of reconciling us to Himself, there is no progress. There is no progress in the value of Christ's blood-shedding; there is no progress in the life that I have got - that is not in its nature - though there ought to be in the development of it. There must be daily progress in our walk; but, as to our meetness, it is the work of God; it is, "What hath God wrought?" The poor thief on the cross goes straight to paradise, made in one moment a fit companion for Jesus throughout eternity.
272 The world will not have this; many Christians will not have it, because they want their own righteousness. It is not here holiness - which you cannot insist on too much - but it is a question of righteousness. We are "accepted in the Beloved." Of course no fault is there, and no progress; and it injures holiness bringing it in here, because it confounds righteousness with holiness. When you talk of holiness, which is intimately connected with walk, there ought to be progress; but that is not righteousness. Holiness is abhorrence of evil. There is no holiness really developed in us, though a holy nature be there, till we understand we are the righteousness of God, because till then I cannot help mixing it up with my acceptance. Till then the question with me is, what the effect of sin will be as regards my acceptance before God. But when I am settled as to my acceptance, and in the light as God is in the light, then it comes to be a detestation of sin for its own sake; not the evil act so much as sin - the root itself. And that is holiness.
I get then another truth, and this is, that I am delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. That may come in before the other if you will. I have changed my whole place. Darkness is the absence of the knowledge of God. The light shone in the darkness, "and the darkness comprehended it not." "If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship one with another." "If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." People are in light or in darkness. It does not say according to light, or according to darkness. God is light, and if I am walking in darkness I do not know Him at all. Christ said, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness." Dreadful word for man! He is a slave of Satan. He does not say they are reprobate criminals, but that they are without God, and in darkness, though they may be amiable natures or unamiable.
273 In Christ, of course, the light was perfect. He went through this world with the consciousness that all the people He met with, of course, excepting the converted ones, were without God.
In all there is a consciousness - a sense - that man is a responsible being. Though he may try every kind of effort to get right with God, yet, if he has been committing sins, he knows he has been committing sins. There is conscience in everybody, but people confound the rule for conscience with the conscience itself. Man feels this is right, and that is wrong. Now Satan totally hides God from the conscience. I do not believe he can destroy the conscience, but he hides Him from it. Christ says, "I am the light of the world," and then He opens the man's eyes and he sees. All the rest were under the power of darkness. There it was all openly so. The world is utterly without God; there is not one common thought between God and their souls.
Well, we are "delivered from the power of darkness," but is that all? No; we are "translated into the kingdom of his dear Son." That is where we are brought to. Truth could not come by itself. As truth came in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, there could not but love come too. He does not say "translated into the light," though that is true; but "translated into the kingdom of his dear Son." The power of darkness is the rule of Satan over this world; and by vanity, money, knowledge even - by all that is going - he blinds the eyes of men and maintains his power over them; he uses all these various things to keep man without God. Just like Cain, he embellishes his city, and sets it all up and makes everything as pleasant as he can without God. And we are delivered from all that, and brought into the kingdom of God's dear Son.
It is the kingdom - the place where Christ has the rule. It is the effect of redemption. The power of love has come in and has delivered us, and has brought us into the kingdom that He has set up. In the cross the full power of Satan was destroyed; there Satan brought everything to bear. The apostles ran away, and Satan had everybody against the Son of God. For it was Satan's hour and the power of darkness. He carried the world with him against the Son of God. So the Spirit "will convince the world of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." Satan came against the Son of God as the prince of this world, now he is cast out. The cross was the full enmity of man against God, under Satan's power; but he has been met; his power has been judged - it is all destroyed. If we go and listen to him in the flesh, he can ensnare us; but he has no power; if we only resist the devil, he will flee from us; it is not said we shall overcome. As to this, the cross was the very thing that God allowed, so that in it his power might be destroyed. At the cross Satan governed the whole world; there the exercise of his power came to a crisis; he pushed men on to crucify the Son of God; and then all his power was destroyed. So now it is, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations" - not sins, of course; we have only to resist the devil in them, and he will flee from us. We are delivered from the power of darkness, and passed over to the place where Christ is, and spoken of as only here; not only into light out of darkness, but associated in the kingdom with the only-begotten object of His special love - the kingdom of God's dear Son - brought into that. We have got this place into which grace has brought us; we are "made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
274 But then we have it all in these poor earthen vessels, though "risen with Christ." And therefore we are to "seek those things which are above." It is, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth, for ye are dead" - dead to the law, dead to sin, quickened together with Christ, and, ."When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory." The risen Christ at God's right hand is our life, and yet we are not taken out of this world.
And then I get, "Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." I get three "worthies" in the epistles. "Worthy of God who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory," in Thessalonians. "Worthy of the vocation," in Ephesians; practically the same thing, the Holy Ghost having us for His habitation, the habitation of God through the Spirit as a present thing. And here, it is "Worthy of the Lord." My path through this world is to be worthy of Him. My life should be the expression of Christ; my life, ways, everything that Christ expressed.
275 "Fruitful unto every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." Here I get growth. I get no growth in reconciliation: there is no growth in the value of Christ's blood; but the moment I get life, there is "increasing" or "growing by the knowledge of God." I know God, and can say, That is not fit for God. I purify myself. It does not say he is as pure as Christ, but that he is to "purify himself as he is pure." As I get my eye purified, I see better; I get my "senses exercised to discern good and evil," and the more I get on, the more I see what I am getting on to.
Here I could say a word (as I find it current in certain circles that perfection is attainable here) that there is no perfection for the Christian except Christ in glory. If I am a risen man I take Him on earth as a pattern for my steps, but not what I am to attain to. Christ down here is unattainable, because Christ had no sin, and I have sin. There is no perfection down here - you never find any maintaining that there is, who do not lower it to Adam condition. I seek to walk as Christ walked, not after the flesh at all, but the point I am aiming at and looking to is Christ in glory. It is "when he shall appear" that I shall be like Him, and not till then. I try to be as like Him here as ever I can be. "This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling" - the calling above - "of God in Christ Jesus." I have no calling down here; there is the calling above - the whole thing that God has set before us.
People say, God cannot give you a rule you cannot attain to. But I say, God never gives you a rule which you can attain - never! First, there was the law. Could man attain to that as in the flesh where it was given to him? It was not subject to the law of God, nor can be. And now there is Christ in glory. Can I attain to that? Never here! But I press on to it; it is before me, and I never attain it till I get to Him. This object that I am aiming at governs me where I am; "I live by the faith of the Son of God"; and, if you are not living by Him glorified, you have not got Him at all. If you look for perfection down here, you have lost your object; it is a complete blunder in the very nature of the thing. Christ in glory is the object to which our minds ought to be always looking on. We are predestined "to be conformed to the image of his Son," and, if you are looking at anything else, you are not looking at that.
276 And now, mark, as regards the path down here, we are "strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power." Is not that a wonderful thing to say? And what is the fruit of it? It sounds a poor thing - "patience!" But I say, you try and see if there be not a working of will in you that does not like to be thwarted. That is not patience! "Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." See if you do not want divine power for patience. "If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." This is the first thing: "Strengthened with all might unto all patience." And what next? "Long-suffering." As we see it in Ephesians, "I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering." And then follows "joyfulness." The moment the will is broken - my will bowing to God's will - bearing with patience everything I come across - then joy is unhindered.
Thus we have got the place in which we are set, and then the behaviour with which we are to walk. What the apostle looks for is that we should be "filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." But do we not often find ignorance of His will? Where we do, there is always our own will working. He looks for a spiritual conformity to Christ's mind to so mark our mind, and walk, and ways, that our life should bear the expression of the life of Christ. It is not merely avoiding positive sins; it is far more than that. The question is, What will please Christ? I do not say a thing is wrong - not merely wrong; but what will please Christ? The question, beloved friends, really is, Is Christ in our hearts enough to make us seek only one thing upon this earth until we get to Him where He is? If our hearts are set on Christ our one desire will be to "walk worthy of the Lord," and then the world will not know us.
Thus we see, that, not only are our sins gone - put away through the precious blood of Christ, but that we are brought into this new place in Christ, "delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son," and that, being thus brought there, we have now to walk in it "worthy of the Lord." Just as I would send a child out into the world, and say to him, Now walk worthy of your father and your family. But how could he do it if he did not know his father?
277 God wants us to be "holy, and unblamable, and unreprovable in his sight." That is what He would have us - what is pleasing to Himself. The earnest seeking to walk worthy of the Lord to all pleasing; forgiven, justified, reconciled to God, fit for the inheritance of the saints in light, fit for the kingdom of God's dear Son, and sent now to walk down here in the consciousness of our place up there.
The Lord only give His saints to have a deeper truer sense in this way of the place into which He has brought them in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they may know what it is to be brought to God according to the acceptance that is in Christ Jesus.